AN: Oneshot. Tag to the episode "Bad Day at Black Rock." After everything is over, Sam and Dean explore John's storage room, and find yet another secret he kept from them. Angsty!Dean & Dean-centric. 'All Dean Winchester has ever wanted is the approval of him family.'

.1.

Acceptance and Approval…

..

Sam and Dean glance around the small room at the treasure trove of items from their past.

After destroying the rabbit foot and leaving a pissed off message for Bella, Sam had insisted they go back to John's storage room in case he had any information that would help Dean break out of his deal. Dean had consented, albeit reluctantly.

Sam ruffles through the paperwork while Dean pays more attention to the weapons, sighting down the barrel of some, grinning in recognition at others. Until he hears Sam's confused, furious voice growl, "What the hell?"

Dean strolls back to Sam, glances over his shoulder, and proceeds to turn pale. He grabs the stack of envelopes out of Sam's hands and flips through them, ignoring Sam's angry questions, ignoring everything but his name printed in every address and the neat even work of the printers that so nicely wrote each and every school name, the envelopes mostly big, obvious acceptance letters and what the hell?

"You applied to colleges?" Sam growls, oblivious or ignoring the pale, shocked features of his brother, the obvious signs of his own surprise.

"I don't understand," Dean whispers, but Sam is unaccountable angry and not understanding is not enough and—

"You wanted to leave?" Sam continues, and Dean is still staring, still not hearing and not understanding—

"Why didn't I get these? Why did he—why did Dad take them?"

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sam asks, and Sam might be feeling betrayed but as far as Dean is concerned Sam can wait one god-damned minute because yes, he'd applied, but no, he'd never got these letters, and what the hell are they doing here?

But Sam has never been good when it came to waiting for his brother and he's feeling all sorts of colors of confusion and anger and so he yells, so as to get Dean's attention, "How the hell could you keep this from me?"

"I didn't!" Dean finally snaps back. "I never got these letters, I never knew I'd been accepted—he must have taken them!"

"You still applied, you still wanted to leave," Sam spits back, and Dean looks up, surprised and furious in one go.

"I was never going to—"

"Because he stopped you! If you gotten them you would've—you wanted to leave!"

"I didn't—" Dean whispers, and his voice is tight and his throat hurts and it's taking more then he cares to admit to hold himself together. "I was never going to leave you—either of you—ever. I just…"

"—wanted to know if you could?" Sam interrupts, and he knows he shouldn't be bitter—or feel like his world is destroyed—because isn't that what he did? Run off to college and leave Dean and John on their own? Didn't he know what it was like to feel trapped? And why shouldn't Dean have felt that, too?

But when Dean looks up his eyes are burning, and he looks so furious at the hand his father has dealt him that Sam takes an involuntary step back.

"You don't understand," he growls. "You, Stanford boy, never understood me. I guess Dad didn't either."

"Dean—"

But Dean can't even be mad. Because he knows—knows—knows—that his father, the mighty John Winchester, wasn't doing it to screw with him. He probably didn't even realize how much he was hurting his son.

Dean knows that John was just protecting Sammy any and every way he could, and that is one thing that Dean understands. He's given his life so, so willingly for this family. What's his self-respect, his self-esteem, his opinion of himself that received another little crack as day by day by day no letter arrived?

Dean Winchester would never leave his family willingly.

That's what John and Sam never understood, because John could see how he was dragging his boys down and Sam had left as soon as he could.

But Dean—all Dean wanted, in all his years, was to have someone take a little pride in him.

His father didn't, Sam didn't, only Bobby ever seemed to show interest, but that guidance counselor with the soft voice and steel determination, who worked him and worked him for months, who made him apply and helped with the application fees and edited his letter and wrote him a recommendation and was with him every single step of the way—

He would've been proud. So unbelievably proud that Dean had succeeded where he had always said he could, so proud of him and Dean had wanted it so much he had tasted it, had tried not to admit it, but wanted, so much, that approval.

He had been crushed, and as other seniors had gotten their letters and acceptances or even rejections Dean had gone hot and cold and ill and finally, after two weeks, stone.

You build a wall high enough and you can't get hurt. So I'm stupid. Whatever. I can hunt, I can take care of Sammy, I can be a good soldier for Dad. What else do I need?

And Dean, looking down at these letters in his hands, wet eyes making the letters blurry and hard to read, knows he needed everything. Anything. Anyone.

He thinks…what? That he should hunt down that counselor and show him proof—proof that everything he did and said wasn't for nothing? That he should yell at Sam until he finally understands? Hate his father for what he did so many years ago?

But Sammy won't understand and the counselor wouldn't remember and John Winchester spent too much of his life buried in hate for a little bit more to matter.

Besides, Dean's life is ticking away, and what's a few more months—really—without approval? What's weeks and days and minutes wondering what all those years of self-loathing could've been with just the smallest bit of real self-respect?

He wants to say nothing. He wants to believe that his life is Sammy and his life always would've been Sammy except…maybe…he wouldn't have been destroyed when Sam left him. Wouldn't have been crushed every time that John or Sam—possessed or not—said something that left him sleepless and aching for weeks.

Maybe Sam would've stayed. Maybe Dean would've tried. Maybe the thousands of moments he'd turned away from the turmoil he knew was inside, the hundreds of times he'd risked his life, each time he realized that he was all that was holding their family together…

No.

Nothing would have been different. Nothing could have been different.

John had seen those letters, had held them in him hands and slid them in his jacket and greeted Dean with a gruff nod and a lie and Sam…

Sam, standing in front of him, staring at him with a mix of anger and fear and confusion doesn't understand what those letters symbolize to Dean, what they have always symbolized to him. That secret, forbidden fantasy he'd kept despite years and distance and time, a desire he'd long since tried to overcome or forget.

All Dean Winchester has ever wanted is the approval of him family. To be congratulated, or approved, or to simply have one of them, once, one fucking time say that they were proud of him.

Just once.

And when those days had turned to weeks and no letter had come he had accepted the inevitable the best way he could, accepted what he had always suspected, that he simply wasn't good enough.

Except, years and years later, years and years of living with his failure, accepting his failing, he's holding irrefutable proof that he is.

And now he knows, with a pain so piercing he almost wishes his year is up, because really--what can compare with this?—he knows that nothing he could have done was ever going to be good enough, that John Winchester was never going to be proud of him and that Sam Winchester would never understand that.

Except that Sam is still staring at him with so much anger and—

"I was never going to leave you, Sam!" Dean repeats, eyes burning and bitter and a thousand emotions that Sam can't quite place.

"Then why? Why do these matter, Dean?" Sam pushes, and Dean closes his eyes for a moment. Gathers himself up.

"You don't understand."

And Sam rips the letters from Dean's hands, the large envelopes scattering as Sam flips through them.

"Then explain it to me! Look at these—these are good schools! You're saying that if Dad had given them to you wouldn't have left? Why did you even send them then, Dean?"

And Dean breaks.

There's a thousand little reasons why he speaks—too much too fast, because he's never been allowed out of this family while Sam and John have always been too willing to walk away, because he is pissed and aching and he is surrounded by his father, and his father's lies, and he can see the dark swell of hatred that swallowed John Winchester and he will be well and truly fucked before he turns that loose on Sam.

"I needed to know I could, and I wanted Dad to know that I could and you to know that I could and I wanted just once—just one fucking time to be someone other then Dad's soldier to you and your keeper to Dad. Is that all right with you, Sam? Is it all right that maybe I just wanted the smallest bit of reassurance that I was someone on my own? That I wasn't just the bodyguard or the soldier—that maybe I just once wanted Dad to look at me the way he looked at you?"

And Sam hates himself in that moment, but Dean has had a lifetime to turn self-loathing and self-sacrifice into an art, and he turns away before Sam can say a word, before Sam can give him back the letters or apologize or do anything but stand there shell-shocked.

"We should go," Dean grinds out. "There's nothing more to see here—we should move on. Places to go, demons to kill."

"Dean—" Sam whispers, and Dean starts to walk away but there is a desperate, pleading note in his voice and really—what more can Dean give? What more can he lose? "Dean, I thought you didn't want to go to college because you were too busy saving the world. I was never as fast or as strong, so I studied, because that's what I was good at. But damnit, Dean, I still knew I was a good hunter, and I thought that just because you didn't go to college you still knew you could have."

Dean inhales shakily and then nods sharply. "It doesn't matter," he lies easily. "They're just ink and paper. That was a million years ago, Sam. None of it matters anymore." And this time Dean does walk away, because words are useless even though Sam has never seemed to grasp that fact. And really, after years and years and years what's one more addition to the pile? It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. Except Sam calls out to him as he walks away, making him pause for the smallest second.

"Dad knew we wouldn't last without you, Dean. Why do you think he tried so hard to keep you? He wasn't a man of words or emotion, but he was proud of you, Dean. Why do you think he kept those letters? I think he just thought you knew. You knew everything else we never said, after all."

Dean walks away as if he hasn't heard, but not to the car, where Sam goes and waits for him. Dean walks away because Dean Winchester isn't vulnerable and Dean Winchester doesn't do chick-flick moments, and Dean Winchester sure as hell will never admit that he needs to get away before he breaks down and starts sobbing.

Thirty minutes later Dean Winchester slips into his car, not meeting the worried stare of his brother. Twenty miles later, with only the road before them, no destination or plans or deadlines, Sam turns off the music and says, so quietly that Dean has to strain to hear, "I'm proud of you."

They both keep their eyes glued to the road but Dean's lips tighten and he blinks furiously and breathes back, "Proud of you, too, Sammy." There's a long pause with a thousand things these two will never need to say aloud, and the one thing they have said hanging between them.

Sam's eyes just barely flicker to Dean.

"Jerk."

And Dean allows himself the smallest smirk.

"Bitch."

Sam flicks the music back on and all is right with the world. Except it isn't, and for them it never will be. But it's enough, and that's all that matters in the end.

..


AN(2): Hopefully you enjoyed reading it! I just kept thinking about what else would've been in John's room and I'd been wanting to explore how Dean feels about his own intelligence/self-worth and this is what appeared... kk, thanks for reading!! Much love, Wolfie.