TITLE: Dead Beats, or five times Dean Winchester almost dropped out of school and one time he did.
CHAR: Dean, Sam, John
PARINGS/GENRE: Gen (+ a tiny bit of unrequited Dean/OFC), teen!chesters, angst
RATING: PG-13 for swearing
NOTE: Thanks to my mad awesome beta, mad_server aka: the ellipse police. Also, WOOT! My first "five times" fic!
SUMMARY: This isn't about some kid from a broken home. This isn't about the shortcomings of the education system. This isn't even about how much Dean hates doing homework. This is about family and choices and being a man.
Five Times Dean Winchester Almost Dropped out of School, and One Time he Did.
“Expelled? Christ, Dean.”
Of course Dad’s pissed. But he’s pissed from 150 miles away, which makes things a hell of a lot easier.
Dean holds the phone to his ear with his shoulder, wraps white gauze around his bleeding knuckles. It hurts like a bitch.
“He deserved it.”
“I don’t care if he deserved it! He was your goddamn English teacher!” Dad’s yelling directly into his eardrum, and Dean flinches as he throws the first-aid kit back into the trunk.
He stands there with his good hand holding the lid open, trying to think of the right thing to say. His mind is a fucking desert.
“I know. I… I messed up.”
“Jesus Christ. I’ve got three more jobs lined up in the area. I wasn’t going to pull you boys out of school for another month, at least. And Sam’s got that damn soccer tournament coming up. Damnit, Dean!”
“We can stay, Dad. It’s no big deal. I don’t… “
He can hear Dad breathe, and then his voice gets much lower. “You don’t what?” It almost doesn’t even sound like a question. Because he knows. Dad can see right through all this garbage.
Dean shuts the trunk and leans back on the bumper. He’s parked across the street from Sam’s school, some ugly brown box built in the sixties surrounded by small apartments and tiny bungalows. There’s something really depressing about this town, but Dean can’t put his finger on it.
“I don’t want to go back, alright? I’m done.”
“You are not done, Dean. You have nearly five months left.”
“Dad. Come on. You could use my help, and you know it. Sam can take care of himself for a couple of nights a week, and I could come meet up with you. I don’t need my fucking diploma to hunt ghosts. I need experience.”
“Dean,“ Dad says slowly, like he’s sad or something. “Maybe I act like school’s not as important as hunting, but… Christ, kid. You—“
Dad’s almost there. Dean can sense it. All he needs is a little nudge.
“Saving lives, Dad. That’s important.”
There’s dead silence for a few seconds, then Dean hears a loud thump on the other end of the line, like Dad’s just slammed his fist down on the dashboard of his truck, pissed ‘cause he knows Dean’s right. “You’ll get your GED as soon as we’re out of the weeds. Is that clear?”
It’s an order like any other, and Dean can work with that. As long as he doesn’t have to step foot in another fucking high school ever again.
“Yes, sir. Clear as day.”
Ann Arbor, Michigan
It can’t be much further. It feels like they’ve been driving forever, and every tiny pot-hole Dad hits feels like someone taking a cheese-grater to his insides.
“There was a hospital back in Ann Arbor, Dad,” Sam whines, leaning over the front seat to get a better look at his brother’s misery, a grabby hand catching on Dean’s shoulder. “We should have taken him there. I think he’s getting worse.”
Without looking, Dean swats Sam’s hand away. “’M fine. Lee’me alone,” he mutters, failing to sound as coherent as he intended. The pain is worse than when he was curled up on a cot in the nurse’s office at school. But he’s with Dad now, so he’s calmer, at least.
Dad reaches across from the driver’s seat and lays the back of his hand on Dean’s forehead. It’s freezing. “Sam’s right. You’re burnin’ up, kiddo,” he says, and Dean feels the seat give against even more of Sam’s weight now.
“So what are we doing?” Sam asks, his voice prickly with fear and incomprehension. “Turn around!” Dean wishes he had the energy to smack the kid on the head, but right now, it’s all he can do to keep from howling in agony.
“Christ, Sam. Sit down!” Dad yells, in that low-volume, extra-intimidating quiet yell. “And I told you already, we can’t go back there. CPS was about to pounce on you boys like hungry cheetahs. I’m not going through that shit ever again.”
“But Dad…” Sam whines.
“You want to get sucked into foster care, Sam? Is that it?”
The seat creaks a little, and Dean can hear Sam’s butt thump back down behind him. “I guess not.”
“Then shut the hell up. Your brother doesn’t need the added stress of your bitching on top of… whatever those cracked ribs are doing to him right now.”
Dean presses his head against the cold, snow-spattered window and swallows the lump in his throat that warns him he’s close to tears. Whatever they’re doing… it isn’t good.
And maybe he lets out a faint groan or croak of some kind, because suddenly Dad cups the back of his neck with his hand and lets his fingers twist up into his hair. “How’d you make it through half a day of school like this? Jesus…”
“No idea,” Dean groans. “I hated that school.”
“Agreed. You see that damn vice principal? Looked at me like I was some degenerate redneck.”
“It’s not worth it, Dad. I just… I just shouldn’t go at all. No one understands—”
“Hey. No way in hell. You just… be more careful, that’s all. For one thing, you need a better cover story than auditioning for the ultimate fighting championship. Seriously.”
Dean starts to laugh, but he coughs instead, and it leaves a spray of blood on the back of his hand. “Fuck.”
Dad looks at it. His chin stiffens and he nods. Both his hands are on the wheel. “Okay… not much longer, son. Just hang in there.”
Dad doesn’t sound scared, but they’re driving a hell of a lot faster now.
Enid, Oklahoma (one day earlier)
“I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record.”
The office smells like Glade plug-ins and pencil shavings. Dean slouches as far down in his chair as he can without falling off entirely and picks some lint off the front of his Slayer t-shirt. He doesn’t have time for this shit.
“Are you listening to me, Winchester? We here at Jefferson do not tolerate such abhorrent behavior,” the principal continues, waving her clipboard at him as she leans back on the front of her desk, too cool to actually sit behind it, apparently. She’s a hefty pants-suited woman with a hypnotizing mole on her neck and chin length politician’s hair. She coaches the girls' field hockey team, and she’s probably intimidating. To someone.
“Winchester! Do you even know what abhorrent means?”
“Sick, perverse, disgusting, gnarly, putrid, horrific. Abnormal. Do you need me to—”
“That’s enough. Look. You’re clearly not as dumb as your grades would lead all your teachers to believe. Is there some reason you’re determined to be kicked out of school your senior year? You’ve come this far… even if it wasn’t at this school…”
“I don’t know. I’m just sick of it,” he tells her. And he is, but that’s not exactly why he was burning the 1991 State Champions basketball pennant in the gym at four in the morning. But no one’s going to buy the story about it being a precautionary measure to ensure that the dead cheerleader who painted the thing doesn’t come back to exact her revenge at this year’s state finals.
Being dropped from the top of a human pyramid. What a way to go.
“Five months and that’s it, Dean. Just five measly months.” She’s pleading now, and Dean feels a twinge of guilt because he can tell she actually cares. She’s still young. Thinks she can make a difference. Thinks she has a clue. Like all he needs is an inspirational pep-talk.
“So. Am I suspended?”
She sighs and shakes her head. “Detention. For two weeks. Room 303.”
Dean lets his head drop against the back of the wooden chair, and rolls his eyes. “Awesome. Can I go now?”
“Wait at the admin desk. I’m calling your father. Maybe he can talk some sense into you.”
“Don’t bother. He’s out of town.”
Big Timber, Montana
He’s on his third beer, and he’s not even buzzed. Sherrie Wilcott’s another story.
“So… Dean,” she says, her cold hand slipping under the waist of his jeans and up against the small of his back, her crotch pressing into his thigh. “Can we go back to your place?”
Under different circumstances, Dean would be more than game. But Sherrie is also referring to the five other kids from Big Timber High that are currently drinking with them around the bonfire and freezing their butts off. And Dean’s pretty sure they’re a bunch of assholes. Wannabe cowboys who wouldn’t know what a hard day’s work was if it jumped them in the boys' room and gave them a rim job.
“Sorry but… my uncle’s not a big fan of cleaning strangers' puke off his floor.”
Matt Poirier, the quarterback with perfect black hair and three girlfriends, smashes an empty beer bottle into the fire and squints at Dean. “Who’s your uncle?”
“Caleb McFarlane. He’s got a cabin out on route 191.”
“The Unibomber? What the fuck, man! You’re staying with that nut-job?”
Yeah. Definitely assholes.
“He’s not nuts. He’s awesome,” Dean says simply. Because really, he’s not about to explain how the guy’s been staving off a pack of goblins from attacking the entire town for three years now. It probably wouldn’t go over very well.
Slowly, Sherrie is backing away from Dean like she’s just found out he has an STD. Everyone else has stopped talking and drinking. They hold their half-finished Molsons and stand there stupidly, staring at him through the flames, laughing like brainless hyenas.
How did he end up here?
“I can’t believe that guy is your uncle,” Sherrie says “He’s psycho. My Dad said he’s like, a Satanist or something. He has all these weird symbols carved into his front door. And he has like, a bunch of guns and knives and whatever.”
“Dude… one day he’s just gonna lose it and start shooting everyone in town,” Matt’s buddy Shaun speculates, kicking a piece of stray timber into the hot coals with black snake-skin boots that he wears as if his entire reputation hinges upon them. “You must be his fucking protégé or some shit.”
Dean’s had enough. He chugs the rest of his beer and points it at the guy. “Shut the fuck up. Caleb helps people, he’s not a goddamn terrorist. You don’t even know him.”
“Yeah, no one does. He only comes into town to stock up on Dinty Moore and Ammo. So what people is he helping exactly? His friends down in Waco?”
“You know what? It’s just too complicated for your unsophisticated minds to understand.”
“Whatever, man. He’s a head-case, and you’re just little Head-Case Junior.”
“Yeah? Go fuck yourself,” Dean says, directing a quick right-hook at Matt Poirier’s smug face.
He hands out more black eyes than he gets that night, but then he’s only got two eyes.
He’s actually doing pretty good in Chemistry. He’s worked out a sweet deal with his lab partner, Charlie, a geek who needs a few self-defense lessons and knows his way around a Bunsen burner like nobody’s business. Also, Miss Robertson is cool, and looks sexy in a lab coat with her curly blonde hair springing out from under the elastic of her goggles. She actually seems to like him, which is surprisingly motivating.
“You nailed all these sublimation points, boys,” she tells him and Charlie, reading over their lab sheets as they break down the equipment. “Awesome.”
She smiles and pulls off her goggles, her wild hair now completely unrestrained. Dean nods and stops what he’s doing for a moment, watches as she pulls a couple of bobby pins from her coat pocket and wrangles her hair off her face. She has these thin little lips, and the tip of her nose is pink, like she’s always on the verge of catching a cold, and theres something about her that is just so damn irresistible.
“Dean,” she says to him, nearly a whisper, leaning closer to him than she ever has before. “Stay after class. I need to ask you something.”
A half-smile curls up his face unwittingly. “You got it,” he tells her, and he has to seriously restrain himself from showing how stoked he is. Because this is like something out of a movie. A very, very naughty movie. It’s too fucking good to be true.
Turns out, it is.
“I heard about what happened yesterday. The banner in the gym?” she tells him after class, wiping the last traces of the day’s lesson off the chalkboard. There’s a little sample of mercury on her desk in a tiny sealed beaker, and Dean picks it up and examines it as the weird metallic liquid moves around like hot lava. He’s not surprised. Hell, the whole school’s probably heard. “Pretty intense stuff. I mean, you’re lucky you weren’t suspended for that.”
“Yeah, I guess. Lucky me.”
Miss Robertson replaces the chalkboard eraser and steps back to her desk, where she faces him, her attention divided between him and the students passing by the classroom on their way to lunch. “Dean, I just… look. I’ve heard some of the other kids talking, and I know your dad isn’t around much.”
So that’s what this is; another ignorant civilian who thinks he’s just a dumb attention-seeking kid that they can try to ‘reach out to’ in order to validate their crappy career moves. God, he was really hoping for chem lab sex. He should walk out the door right now, but for some reason he can’t stop staring at her mouth and wants to keep staring at it for as long as possible.
“I… um… yeah. I guess. But it’s cool. You know. He’s got a lot of important shit to do.”
“What does your dad do for a living?” she asks and steps a few feet from the desk to close the door out to the hallway.
“He’s an independent contractor. For the public health department,” Dean tells her without a moment’s hesitation. It gets easier every time.
Back behind the desk, Miss Robertson folds her arms, her hands disappearing under the wide sleeves of her white lab coat. “That’s… uh… interesting. Is he always gone for long stretches of time like this?”
Dean lets out a sigh and sits himself down on the lab stool closest to the front of the classroom. She’s not letting up anytime soon.
“Look, Miss Robertson, we’re fine. And Dad… he’s doin’ the best he can. He’s a way better parent than a lot of kids are stuck with. I mean... he protects us, you know? Even when he’s not around, he’s still takin’ care of us in his own way.”
She cocks an eyebrow at that, and nods slowly. “Sounds like you really admire him.”
This is so stupid. Of course he admires his dad. He shouldn’t have to say it out loud though. It makes him feel really fucking weird.
“Yeah, well… I guess he deserves it,” he manages, rubbing at his elbow like a shy five-year-old at his first day of kindergarten.
“And you? You’re taking care of your brother, and yourself. Plus going to school. That’s pretty admirable too.”
Dean stares straight at Miss Robertson then, squints at her like she’s out of her mind.
“That’s nothing,” he tells her, shaking his head, insistent. “What my dad does is way more important, and it’s a battlefield out there right now. I just want to help him out. Is that so crazy?”
“Instead of finishing school.”
“Yeah. Pretty much exactly.”
Stepping around her desk, Miss Robertson tilts her head like a confused android, pulls in her lips and stands right in front of him. She presses her hands together at her chest, the smallest glimpse of cleavage visible past a fake prayer.
“Dean… what you’re doing now is very important too, and I hate to see you sabotage it. I know it may seem like your dad needs help, but, God… you’re not responsible for that. You’re 18. You need to think about what you need,” she urges. “Your dad is a grown man; he shouldn’t be asking you for that kind of support.”
He’s sick of all this. So sick of it. She doesn’t have a damn clue.
So why does he feel so defensive?
“He’s not asking, okay?” he tells her, practically tripping off the stool, putting it between him and his teacher, clinging to the rim of the metal seat. “I just know. You have no idea the kinds of things he… how hard it’s been for him.”
He scratches nervously at the back of his neck. How is she doing this to him? Why did he let things get this far? He needs to get the fuck out of here.
“Okay, Dean,” she says softly, like he’s a wild animal that needs calming. “You’re right. I… I don’t know. But what about how hard it’s been for you?”
He tries to ignore the words, but he can’t. This isn’t something he normally lets himself think about. It does no one any good. But right now, there is a beautiful woman with hair like an angel from heaven staring at him like she wants him to spill his entire life story to her. Her hand is rising, and now it’s touching his arm and he can feel her warmth through his shirt. He stares down at her hand there where it touches him, and swallows and tries not to feel.
Not that he can sort out what it is he’s even feeling. Lust? Pain? Anger? Fear? It’s a goddamn mess. All he knows is she’s looking at him like he’s about to fall to pieces, and he needs to prove her wrong. So he leans over and kisses her. He doesn’t know what the hell else to do.
She pushes him away before their tongues even touch.
“Dean, no!” she snaps, jumping back with her hands over her mouth like she’s about to puke. And he feels like such an idiot.
“That’s not what…“ She turns away for a moment and sighs down at the grey linoleum floor, her hands now clamped together under her chin. “I didn’t mean… I’m sorry,” she says, but it’s not an apology. “You should go.”
It takes an effort to unfreeze himself from where he’s standing, stunned and confused and so fucking embarrassed that he could rip his own face off just so no one can associate him with this school ever again. But walking away will have to suffice for now. So he forces himself to take a stilted deep breath and heads for the door.
“Forget it,” is all he manages to mumble, watching his own feet walk across the floor and past Miss Robertson, and it takes everything he’s got not to run down the hall like a gazelle.
“I meant what I said, Dean,” he hears her spit out as he passes through the door, but he pretends not to notice.
There’s something twisting inside him now, something really awful. And he seriously needs to find a place to put it.
Sam’s all about the pouting when Dean finally picks him up from school. He’s sitting on a swing, his head slumped against the rusty chain and his Chuck Taylors dragging slowly back and forth in the sand. The strained squeal of old iron echoes through the deserted schoolyard.
“It’s been forever, Dean! How come you forgot me?”
“I didn’t forget you, Sammy. I had detention.”
“You got in trouble again?” Sam asks, his eyes a little wider. He’s off the swing, hugging his schoolbag to his chest.
Dean shakes his head. They idea of his big brother getting in shit sure does brighten Sam’s spirits.
“It’s this stupid project I was supposed to hand in last week.”
“What kind of project?”
“A school project” he tells Sam as he helps him tug his backpack over his shoulders.
“What kind of school project?”
Dean sighs as they head down the street. It’s a fifteen-minute walk back to the tavern where they have a room above the kitchen, through a back entrance over the big trash bin that smells like wet French fries and sour beer. The man who owns the place is a friend of Dad’s though, and he serves them dinner at the bar downstairs every night, which is really cool.
“A family tree.”
Dean has to think about what to tell him for a second, thinks about all the other kids’ family trees hanging on the big brown bulletin board at the back of the classroom. How some of the shapes of their trees were crooked and weird because they ran out of space for all the people in their families.
“S’like a picture that shows the names of your parents and your parents’ parents and your parents’ parents’ parents. Your family history and stuff like that.”
Sam looks up at him and smiles. “And your parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents’ parents?”
“That sounds fun to me,” Sam shrugs. “So why didn’t you do it?”
“Because it’s stupid. We don’t have any grandparents, Sam,” Dean explains, even though it’s not the whole truth. He'd thought about doing it. He had. A tree with four branches for him and Sam and Mom and Dad. But after he'd seen the other ones, he’d changed his mind, couldn’t see the point in doing it when it would just mean everyone asking him questions about it, about why his was so different, so much smaller.
“No. I mean… I don’t think so. Dad doesn’t really talk about it.”
“Did you ask him?”
“No! No way. And don’t you, neither. It’s just you and me and Dad. And that’s plenty enough family. Don’t let no one tell you it ain’t,” Dean says, kicking a rock ahead of them on the sidewalk.
“Are you in trouble? Because we’re different?”
“No. I’m in trouble ‘cause other people are all the same.”
The sun is setting behind them, and Dad is supposed to be back from the hunt he’s on tonight. As they turn the corner, Dean closes his eyes, imagines the Impala sitting there in the parking lot of the avern. But he doesn’t hold his breath. Not anymore.
Behind the old auditorium there’s a little corner where the new wing juts out against a cluster of big oak trees. The drainage is bad there and it doesn’t get much sun. There’s no grass on the ground, and it’s dark and hidden and Dean finds it almost instinctively.
He pulls a low-hanging, brittle branch off one of the trees as he careens into the side of the building and holds it tight in his fist, letting it drag in the dirt.
He can’t go back in there. Not today. Not ever. His guts hurt just thinking about it.
He stabs the jagged end of the branch into the ground with a grunt, and twists on his heels. He kicks at the base of the wall. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters and leans his elbows, his forehead on the rough, sandpapery brick.
They always try to confuse him. He needs to block out all their voices, chattering in his head like a dozen scratchy radios. These are the people who would rip his family apart if they had the chance, and they’ll never, ever understand how much his father has done for people like them. Miss Robertson is no different.
It’s not fair. He lifts his head a little and drops it hard back against the wall, but the shock and sting aren’t enough to turn off his brain.
He let his guard down. He let her get to him. But she doesn’t care about him. Not the real Dean Winchester, whose father is a Hunter, whose family was ripped apart by the monsters in the dark that aren’t even supposed to be real. She cares about some troubled kid with a dead-beat dad.
And that’s not him. It’s not.
He pounds his fist hard into the wall above his head, his feet planted firmly, his body entirely tense. And then he does it again.
He feels the pain shoot up his arm and all the way to his spine. He rolls against the wall and his knees give out and he’s suddenly sitting on the ground, holding his hand in his lap, crying.
He’s done. He’s just done.
The school looks fine. The teachers, normal. The hallways, clean. The playground, safe. There are brightly colored cardboard flowers and insects on the windows of Dean’s classroom, and the other kids are all the same size as him, and the other parents look like regular small-town Pennsylvanian folk. John has no good reason to be scoping the place out like it’s infested with poltergeist, but that doesn’t stop him.
He holds Dean’s hand tightly, and they traverse the room together, John peering suspiciously around miniature kitchen sets, puppet theaters, bins of over-sized Lego and shelves of 10-piece puzzles. Dean spots a cluster of toy trucks and pulls at his arm like an anxious pup.
“Just hang on there, kiddo,” John tells him, kneeling down and hooking Dean back in with a hand that covers half the boy’s back. Dean’s huge green eyes are everywhere but on John, and John can’t bear to look anywhere else. Almost all the other parents have left.
For a moment, he thinks he’s gone insane. Comes this close to scooping Dean up in his arms and getting the hell out of there, driving back to the Kimball farm, to Sammy and the family he just saved from a vicious pack of werewolves, and never letting either of the boys go. He should be relieved, though. It’ll be nice to have one less rug rat to look after 24/7, bring places he shouldn’t go, see things he shouldn’t see. Won’t it? Besides, John sure as hell can’t home-school the boys. He really needs to get a hold of himself. Christ.
“Be good, Dean. You listen to your teacher like you would me, alright?”
Dean nods, finally looking back into his father’s eyes, like he’s sensed John’s need for it. Making it that much fucking harder.
He knows it’s crazy, but he needs Dean. Leaving him here in this perfect little classroom with all these kids from perfect little families feels like more of a challenge than anything he’s hunted so far. Which granted, he could count on one hand, but still.
“It’s nice to see,” Dean’s teacher says, a sturdy girl with long auburn hair and purple overalls rolled at the ankle, like someone out of a Jane Fonda workout video. “We don’t get many dads on the first day.” She smiles down at them and winks at Dean, who grins back at her wildly. Already a ladies' man, this one.
John takes a deep breath and lets Dean loose, nudges him towards the trucks he’s been obsessing over from afar. Dean makes a run for it, like he thinks this will be his only chance.
John stands up, rubs at his jaw and watches Dean fondle a fire truck. “His mother passed in November.” It comes out cold and flat now. It’ll be a year soon. Jesus.
“I’m sorry. That must have been very hard.”
“He’s doin’ better. Didn’t speak a word for a few months there. Still doesn’t talk much, just so you know,” he tells her, trying to sound pragmatic but hearing the crack in his voice that he can’t control.
She gives him that pity smile he’s seen a million times now.
“I’m sure he’s a sweetheart.”
“I’m happy to have him then,” she says, her attention being pulled away by some girls bickering over a tiara on the other side of the room. She gives John a quick pat on the back before she leaves him there, tells him, “You know, goodbyes are always harder on the parents than the kids. He’ll be fine as long as you don’t make a fuss.”
John takes her advice to heart. He doesn’t need to make this about himself. Dean needs this. Because once John finds the thing that did this to their mother, once it’s dead and gone, maybe they can find some semblance of normal again. And his boys need to be ready for that too.
When he wanders over to his son, kisses him on the top of his head and whispers, “See you later, kid,” Dean barely notices. It’s not like John hasn’t dropped him off with Missouri or Jim or Bobby before. And Dean’s too young to understand the implications.
But John? John has to leave his heart there, on the floor of the kindergarten when he walks away. Because he knows what this means, knows that Dean is about to learn that he’s not like the other kids.