Author's note: I considered having this chapter start immediately after the last, but then it occurred to me it would take forever to write. I know nothing about trauma victims, medical procedures, or even the lingo. So, to spare everyone another six months of waiting for me to research all those things, I decided to jump ahead along the timeline. If anyone feels up to the challenge of writing the "missing scene", be my guest. I have many excuses for not updating sooner, including but not limited to: graduating college, finding a job, starting my own business, getting a new horse, cleaning out and painting my grandfather's house after he died so that we can sell it (hadn't been cleaned since the 70's), and helping a friend whose dad is dying of cancer and has maybe weeks left.
On another side note, and this isn't to be bitchy or mean, but I really do update as fast as I can. Don't harass me further by telling me I don't have a reason for not updating when you think I should. I don't do it to anyone on here, so show the same respect. Thank you!
Penelope Marquette tried not to fidget as she rode the elevator up to the sixth floor. The music playing on the loudspeaker, meant to soothe frazzled nerves, was really starting to wear on them.
Two weeks passed since the incident in the cafeteria. Two weeks since she saw two of her favorite students almost ruin their lives.
In those past fourteen days, Penelope ran the whole scenario through her head more times than she cared to consider. It was amazing how many details she could recall after the fact – the sound of the heating system turning off, the buzz of an errant fly zipping around the room, the echo of the gunshot that almost ended the life of the boy who saved them all.
Peter Welling, the school's only security feature besides locks on the doors, mistakenly shot Dean Winchester, thinking that he was the gunman holding them all hostages.
Penelope tried not to think too badly of the poor man, she really did. She tried to convince herself that the middle-aged former crossing guard couldn't tell the difference between Dean joking around and Dean threatening them with the rifle. If she had to pick between Jake Taylor and Winchester coming to school with a gun, she would've picked Dean too. The last time Peter had to fire his weapon, which the school assigned him with the caution that students could become violent and he'd need it for his own protection, was at the qualifications at the firing range before getting his current position. He panicked under the situation, and he took out the most obvious threat.
And yet, she still couldn't bring herself to look Welling in the eyes every time she passed him in the hallway. He was just as torn up about it – he was a gentle man at heart, and knowing he almost killed a hero instead of a villain had him petitioning for early retirement.
The elevator pinged and the doors squeaked open, startling her out of her thoughts and revealing a stark white hallway.
Dean was just moved out of the ICU two days ago, so visitors were finally allowed to visit outside of family. Unsurprisingly, Sam hadn't been in school for the past two weeks either. She wondered if he'd even been home in the last two weeks, or if he'd camped out beside he brother the whole time. It wouldn't shock her if he had.
Penelope took a deep breath and stepped out of the elevator just as the doors started to close again. She really didn't know why she was so apprehensive about visiting the Winchesters. She liked them, from the little interaction she had with them. But for those two boys to turn out the way they did, their father must be a force to be reckoned with. Her imagination that helped her see all the characters in the books she taught in class was now conjuring an eight foot tall behemoth who only spoke in grunts and growls with a voice like Darth Vader and an even shorter temper.
As she walked hesitantly down the hall, she glanced at the numbers on the rooms, but in her daydreaming she almost walked by room 667.
Penelope stood outside for a moment, clutching her box in her hands as if it was a life raft and she was drowning.
"He's asleep, but you can come in if you want," a gruff voice said, making Penelope jump a foot in the air.
She poked her head in the open doorway, finally seeing the man who spoke.
As far as looks went, he wasn't half bad looking. Jet-black hair graying just around the edges, a beard, which was beginning to do the same, and dark, tired looking eyes. He sat in one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs all hospitals seemed to have, feet propped up on the edge of Dean's hospital bed, with a thick, leather bound book propped up on his lap.
"Hi, you must be Mr. Winchester. I've heard nothing about you," Penelope greeted, trying for the humorous approach. She was rewarded with only a tired smile.
"Not surprising. Boys don't talk much about their dad. I think I embarrass them," Mr. Winchester said, dropping his feet and closing the book quietly. Penelope caught a quick glance at the title and raised an eyebrow at the Latin, wondering if the whole book was written in the same language.
"My name is Penelope Marquette, I'm Dean's lit professor. Nice to meet you," she introduced.
"Ah, so you're Miss Marquette. I've most certainly heard a lot about you. Almost got yourself killed during the school hostage situation." Mr. Winchester…John, if she remembered the boys' file correctly, didn't sound condemning or cold – it was more curious than anything else.
Penelope felt herself blush. "Yes, that's me…"
At the mention of the shooting, she finally forced herself to look at Dean, who was sleeping, she assumed, with the help of the IV hooked up to one hand. His face was pale, lines apparent on it that made him seem older than seventeen years. Since the wound was to his mid-upper chest, he wasn't wearing a hospital gown, but thick white bandages cut across his torso and across his collarbone. A blue padded sling fastened around his chest below the bandages to keep his arm immobile while his shoulder healed.
"He looks…" Penelope struggled for a word.
"Like death warmed over? Craptastic?" John supplied. "Yeah, getting shot has a tendency to mess with your natural good looks."
"I am so sorry about that, Mr. Winchester. I really, truly am, and I wish I knew how to make it all right again, but I don't. I wish…so many things right now, but they don't mean a thing because wishes don't come true like that. But I do hope that your sons recover from this, and I hope you do too. I hope…" she trailed off and lamely finished, "I just hope."
John Winchester studied her carefully for a moment and Penelope tried not to fidget. After what seemed like longest minute in her life, he nodded with a short jerk of his head. "I can see why he likes you, Miss Marquette. And Dean doesn't like a lot of people. It takes a lot of guts to do what you're doing now."
"Visiting a student in the hospital?"
"No, teaching high school."
Penelope couldn't help the short, embarrassing bark of laughter, which she quickly smothered with her hand.
"But yes, coming to see the damage first hand is an act of bravery. An often underestimated one."
When John didn't say anything further, Penelope awkwardly held out the gift she brought for Dean, wrapped only with a red bow. "I was thinking about what to get him while he recovered, and flowers don't seem like Dean's thing."
John took the book from her hand, reading the title. "It's Dean's favorite. He hasn't had a copy in years. The old one practically disintegrated."
John brushed aside the ribbon around the cover, running a calloused thumb over the raised image of the black swan.
"Dean always reminded me of a black swan," Penelope said without thinking.
John raised an eyebrow. "Really."
Penelope blushed. "It's sort of silly, I know, considering the way Dean acts, and he's probably hurt me if I told him that's how I saw him, but…" she shrugged.
"Black swans are exceptions to the rules." John's mouth twitched slightly at the corner. "Dean always believed we were exceptions."
"Both your boys are exceptional. I always hope for students like them."
John smiled at that. "Sammy I can see. Boy always has his nose in a book. Always flips to the Discovery or Learning channel."
Penelope laughed quietly. "Yes, Sam is the traditional student. Always eager, always a step ahead of everyone…but Dean is…different. It's like he thinks sideways from everyone else. And he hardly ever does the work, but he's so hyper-observant that he aces all the tests just listening in class."
John was staring at her now, an almost unreadable expression on his face. Penelope tried to dig herself out of the hole she suddenly found herself in.
"What I mean is, both boys are smart, just in different ways, you know? Like the difference between two jigsaw puzzle pieces…and I'm just going to stop talking now and pretend like I said nothing beyond 'hello'." Penelope suddenly found the floor very interesting.
"So Dean is a black swan puzzle piece?" John asked.
"That's not what I meant…"
John waved off her apology. "Probably the most astute observation anyone has ever made of him. Most people see exactly what he wants them to see. He'll be pissed when he finds out that his cover is blown."
"Beg pardon?" Penelope said.
"We won't be staying in town after this. Once Dean's healed, we'll be leaving. For what it's worth, I'm glad he met you." John paused, glancing down at his still sleeping son, who actually seemed to be a little more at peace than when Penelope first arrived. "And I'm glad you got to meet him. Dean doesn't get the attention he deserves, except maybe from Sammy."
"Will he be all right?" Penelope asked, reaching out a tentative hand and smoothing a wrinkle near Dean's foot.
"Dean's a soldier. He'll recover."
For some reason, that simple statement sent shivers down her spine. Penelope couldn't help but think that this was not the last time Dean would wind up here. But somehow, she didn't think that he would do it any differently.
"How's Sam taking it?"
"Finally got him to go home and take a shower this morning. Wouldn't budge until he knew Dean was out of ICU. That kid will have gray hair before I do."
"He does love his brother," Penelope agreed. "Almost makes me wish I had a sibling."
"I can guarantee it wouldn't be the same. Dean's been taking care of his brother since Sammy was six months old. Most brothers don't spend half as much time with one another as those two. Frick and Frack."
"When do you think Dean will be up to moving?"
John shrugged, putting a hand lightly on Dean's, wincing only slightly when Dean shook it off in his sleep. "Doctors think in about six weeks."
"And then you'll be gone?"
"We move a lot. This is the longest we've spent in one place in a while. My work takes us on the road a lot."
"In that case, Mr. Winchester, I wish you the best of luck finding whatever it is you're looking for. For both you and your boys. I hope some day you can all leave the road for good."
John snorted. "Some wish."
"I still wish it. I'll miss them, I really will. Tell Dean thank you for what he did. He's a local hero now. Has his own wall and everything in the gym. The girls will definitely miss him in class."
Penelope turned to leave. Just as she stepped out the door she heard John Winchester talking to his son.
"Well kiddo. Finally got someone pulling for us. Hopefully she's got some good connections."
Penelope Marquette smiled to herself as she closed the door behind her and heading for the elevator.
Perhaps the Winchesters weren't normal by Southern California standards. The boys knew equally about how to load a rifle and how to write an MLA format five-paragraph essay (though Dean tried to deny it). Their father, though not the eight-foot monster her imagination conjured was a force to be reckoned with. And while she hoped for a normal life for them, she had a feeling that the Winchester boys were not meant for an average life.
They were meant for much, much more. And given Dean's bravery at the school, she could just imagine them as heroes, saving the world.
The elevator door chimed, and she fought the urge to look back. She knew she wouldn't see them again.
But then, heroes were always supposed to disappear into the sunset.
Penelope Marquette kept post cards from her friends' travels, taping them to a map where they had come from. By far, the pride of the collection was a worn, tattered card from a gas station in Missoula, Missouri. All it said was "Thanks for the book."