Dedicated to those who encouraged me along the way.
Parenting Your Gifted Child
"Hey, Dean!" Sam called out to his brother, "Man, come look at this!" He pulled the dusty box out further from where it had been wedged under the old desk in one corner of their dad's storage container.
They'd come back after the incident with the cursed rabbit's foot, to try and secure the place a little more, to reset the booby traps, and to see if there was anything useful their dad had left behind that they might want to add to the weapons box in the trunk. For his part, Dean kept trying to convince Sam that they really needed some landmines, but so far Sam was holding firm on that one.
The box had caught his eye, though, because on the side, their dad had written "BOYS' STUFF" in thick black marker. Pulling it the rest of the way toward him and lifting it up on top of the desk, Sam beckoned for his brother to join him as he prepared to go through it. He blew the dust off the top, sending an apologetic "Sorry" and grimace to Dean when his brother sneezed.
"What do you think's in there anyway?" Dean looked the box over curiously as Sam worked to pull the flaps apart.
"I don't know, man. I'm surprised to find any of this stuff here," Sam swept a hand around to encompass the soccer trophy, Dean's sawed-off shotgun, and the few other personal effects that were in plain view. "I wouldn't have taken Dad for the sentimental type."
Dean smirked. "Yeah, he must've been going soft in his old age."
Sam snorted. The idea of John Winchester going soft—at any age—was laughable. Still, he couldn't hold in a nostalgic smile as he pulled out the item at the top of the box. "Hey Dean, man, look at this. Isn't this the glove you used that time you went out for little league?" Sam held up the small, much worn leather ball glove. He could still remember Dean sitting with it for hours at a time, taking great pleasure in oiling it up to keep the leather supple.
"Huh. You're right." Dean reached over to take the glove from Sam and work it between his hands. The old leather smelled just the same as always. "It was dad's, ya know."
Sam looked confused. "What d'ya mean?"
"It was his mitt. From when he was a kid playing ball. He always said it was good luck. Caught some sweet fly balls with the thing." Dean grinned at the glove appreciatively.
"Do they even have fly balls in little league?" Sam raised an eyebrow, clearly skeptical.
"Whatever. Anyway, he said I could have it if I ever went out for the team. So, next school we were at, I did."
"You know, I don't remember ever going to any of your games."
"Never played any." Dean shrugged. "Went out for the team, made it, went to a couple of practices, then the hunt ended and we moved on."
Sam didn't know what to say. He felt like this one story represented his brother's entire childhood. No time for little league, only spirits and sawed-offs. "I'm sorry, man."
"No biggie," Dean brushed it off as unimportant, leaving Sam unsure as to whether it actually had been or whether his brother just wanted him to think it was.
After a moment though, Dean brightened and grinned at Sam, his old irrepressible self again. "Got the mitt anyway." He set it aside with one last glance and nodded toward the box. "What else we got?"
Sam turned back and pulled out a stack of old papers. "Uh, looks like…a couple of my report cards." He glanced at these, touched that his dad would keep something like that, then passed them off to Dean as he continued rifling through the box.
Dean glanced at them and rolled his eyes. "All As, of course. Geek." It was said with fond amusement though, and a hint of pride.
Sam pulled out more papers that he passed to his brother, "Here are some notes from your teachers about you getting into fights." Sam raised an eyebrow in his brother's direction. "Seem to be quite a few of those."
"Dude!" Dean managed to look indignant, "I was provoked. Those kids had it coming!"
"Uh huh, right." Sam pulled out a small bundle of papers and began to unfold it so he could see what it was. "Anyway, and here's… my valedictorian speech?" He froze and looked up at Dean quizzically. "Where'd this come from? I never gave Dad a copy of my speech."
Dean shifted uncomfortably, scratching an eyebrow with his thumb. "Yeah, I, uh, I gave that to him."
"What?" Sam was genuinely puzzled as he looked between the speech and his brother. "Why?"
"Well, you know—he didn't get to hear you give it—"
"Because he took off on a hunt the day before graduation," Sam broke in harshly.
Dean continued as if he hadn't interrupted, "—so I thought he might want to read it. Ya know, see what he missed." He shrugged, defensive. "What? It wasn't like you didn't have plenty of copies of that thing layin' around. I didn't think you'd miss one. Besides," he looked away, not meeting Sam's eyes, "it was a good speech. And you worked hard on it. It was only right he heard it."
Heard him was what Dean really meant. He'd helped Sam with that speech, and knew how much he'd wanted his dad to hear what he had to say. The arguments between Sam and John had been so bad by that point, that neither of them ever really heard what the other was trying to say. They each talked more and more, louder and louder, but heard less and less.
For his part, Sam had been hoping that when his dad heard his speech it would make him understand, just a little, that Sam wasn't abandoning the family, wasn't turning his back on everything he'd been taught, by going away to school. He was still going to be helping people, just in a different way. He'd been hurt and disappointed, though not surprised, when his dad had failed to show up at graduation as he'd promised. Sam found it eased the sting of that memory a little, to know that his dad had heard him after all. Dean had made sure of it.
Yeah, in the end it hadn't made much difference. His dad had still issued the ultimatum, he'd still gone to school, and they'd still been estranged for years, but it mattered to Sam that his brother had tried. It mattered a lot. "Thanks, man," he offered quietly.
Dean just nodded before turning his attention back to the box. "Awesome! Hey, Sammy, look at this!" With childish glee, he pulled out a small stack of slick comic books with superheroes on the covers. "Dude! Do you remember these?"
Sam smiled affectionately at his brother's enthusiasm. It was the little things in life that made Dean happy, a quality he found endearing, but knew better than to comment on. He leaned over to look at the stack of bright books and was immediately taken back. "Yeah, man. You taught me to read on those things."
Dean chuckled, "Hey, it was that or dad's journal. Somehow I don't think you would've blended in as well at school trying to sound out the word 'wendigo'."
Sam snorted. "Ya think?" He pulled one of the comics from the stack and started flipping through it, remembering rainy Saturday afternoons when their dad was out on a hunt and Dean would sit down with him and the comic books and help Sam sound out the words inside. He was always patient, explaining what the words meant if Sam found one he didn't know yet, and encouraging him when he got frustrated that he couldn't just take off reading full-speed ahead.
They both flipped through the books, silent now, each lost in their own memories of another time. For all that it hadn't been perfect, it had been a simpler time, before Sam's powers, before their dad's death and final warning to Dean, before the clock was ticking down what might be their last year together unless they could find a way around Dean's deal.
Dust motes swirled in the glow cast by the overhead light and all was quiet for a time, save for the turning of pages. They allowed themselves to be comforted by the reminder of life's little pleasures. Time with your brother, a good superhero comic—what more could you ask for, really?
Finally, they placed the books to the side with the rest of the stuff they'd pulled from the box, and started to go through it again, though a bit more subdued than they had been before.
They found other small treasures: a card Dean had made for his dad one Father's Day; their high school diplomas; the crumpled acceptance letter from Stanford—thrown at his father during that final terrible fight, Sam couldn't believe he'd kept it; a note from Dean's high school shop teacher praising his natural aptitude for mechanics; a poem Sam had written in grade school about his family. Just little pieces of their history, preserved for a day when they might want to look back at them. Preserved against a day when the man who packed them away wouldn't be there anymore.
Down near the bottom of the box, they found an old cigar still in its cellophane wrapping, with a band around it proclaiming, "It's a boy!" and a similar blue bubblegum cigar with the same band. Sam took both in his hands and studied them, "I wonder which of these was from when I was born."
Dean pointed to the blue cigar. "That one."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, mom made him get the bubblegum ones, even though Dad said a real man would hand out real cigars. But she said it was my celebration too—you being born—and they should get something I could enjoy too." He smiled at the memory. "That was the first time I ever had bubblegum—the day you were born. I'd been begging for it for a while, and mom said that since I was a big brother now, I was finally old enough. It was the best thing I'd ever tasted." Dean's face had softened. "That was a great day," he finished quietly.
Sam smiled softly. "You never told me that before."
"Yeah, I guess I forgot till now."
They were both silent for a moment, thinking. Then Sam spoke up, "Hey, Dean. You ever think about it? You know, having kids of your own one day?"
Dean didn't answer right away, his thoughts going back to Ben and the feelings he'd had when he'd thought he might be a dad. His first instinct was to blow Sam off with a glib answer about how he'd be dead in a year, but that would be the easy way out and he knew that wasn't what Sam was really asking. After a minute, he sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know, Sam. Bringing a kid into all this?" he gestured to indicate all the weapons, the curse boxes, the friggin' land mines that lined the room. "I just don't know."
Sam just nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean."
Something about his posture caught Dean's attention. "What about you, Sammy? You think about settling down, popping out a bunch of mini-Sams?" He kept his voice gently teasing, striving to lighten the mood and keep Sam from the dark thoughts he could see stirring beneath the surface.
Sam looked at him, something lost in his gaze. "Jess and I were going to have kids. I mean, we wanted to. A big family," he smiled sadly, "she would've loved that. She loved kids. And ya know, she got me excited about it too. I really wanted that—to be a dad…" Sam's voice trailed off. "Guess it doesn't matter now, huh?"
"I'm sorry, man." Dean's voice was gentle, his gaze compassionate. Inside, he wanted to curse and kick and kill something for yet another dream that had been ripped away from his brother. It was beyond unfair—Sam deserved to be happy, to have that normal life he'd always dreamed of. "But ya know, maybe you could still have that one day. When this is all over." When he was gone...
"Never gonna be over, Dean, you said so yourself." Sam's sigh was weary, burdened.
"For me, Sam. Doesn't mean it has to be that way for you." Dean was adamant. Sam would have a choice about this if he had anything to say about it. "You want that apple pie life, man, we'll find a way. We'll work it out."
Sam knew he meant it, knew his brother would move heaven and hell to get Sam what he thought he needed. And that made it a little less painful when he said, "Nah. I'd probably be a lousy dad anyway." Thinking of demon blood and passing that on to innocent offspring.
Dean opened his mouth to hotly refute that statement, but stopped when Sam reached past him and pulled out the last item that had been in the box, shoved down at the very bottom. He held it up for Dean to see, dark thoughts set aside for now, as he stared in bewilderment at the dog-eared book in his hand. "Man, are you seeing this?" Sam shook the book for emphasis.
Dean peered closer, though in truth it was unnecessary. He already knew what Sam had found and cursed his father for the sentimentality that had lead to this sure-to-be-awkward moment. Still, he was nothing if not a good poker player. "What? It's just a book. Hey, let's pack all this stuff back up and head out to get some grub. I'm starving, Sammy." He patted his stomach for emphasis. "We haven't eaten all day. C'mon, I'll even let you drag me someplace healthy." He made the word sound as distasteful as the food itself, then turned and started to gather up the items on the desk and stack them back into the now-empty box.
"Dean." Sam was having none of it, clearly intent on talking about this newest discovery. When his brother just continued what he was doing, Sam grabbed his arm and pulled him around. He gestured to the book. "Don't you think this is weird, man? That Dad would have a book like this?"
Dean didn't have to reach hard to come up with impatience. "What's the big deal, Sam? It's a book on parenting, Dad was a parent. Case closed, mystery solved." He reached for the book to stick it back in the box, but his brother held it out of his reach.
Sam just looked at him, incredulous. "First off, Dean, it's a book on parenting. Have you ever seen dad read a book on parenting? Or read anything, for that matter, not related to the job?" He didn't bother waiting for Dean to reply because, really, what could he say? Sam was right. "Second, it's a book called Parenting Your Gifted Child. Do you think—I mean…do you think Dad knew then? About…my powers?"
And no matter what, Dean knew he couldn't leave Sam with that haunted expression on his face. He sighed, wanting to be anywhere but there. To be doing anything but having this conversation. "No, man. That's not the kind of gifted they're talking about." He tapped his temple. "Just regular old geek-boy smarts, Sammy. I'm sure Dad was just trying to keep up with that ginormous brain of yours." He smirked. "Now, can we please go get some dinner? I'm hungry." He let a little whine enter his voice, hoping his brother would take pity on him and release him from what was sure to become his own version of Chick-Flick Hell. He reached again for the book, but again Sam moved it out of reach.
"In a minute, Dean." Sam was already lost in thought as he started to flip through the book, his voice betraying his distraction. "Look at this, man. It's got highlighting in it." He held the book up so Dean could see. "Can you believe this? Dad actually highlighted stuff in here." Shaking his head incredulously, Sam turned back to a page that had been dog-eared, and started looking through the highlighted portion.
Dean was growing increasingly desperate. He needed to get that book away from Sam before he looked at it too closely. So he lunged for it, trying to pull it out of his hands. Freakin' little brother reflexes had gotten quicker than they used to be though, and Sam managed to hold onto the book long enough that Dean lost his grip on it and it went tumbling to the floor. Where it landed, the hard front cover coming open to reveal the name written inside.
Sam was clearly annoyed and confused. "Dean, what the…" And then he looked down.
Dean knew there was no hope for it now, no chance that Sam wouldn't see it, even if he dove for the book and covered it with his body. Not to mention that the slight overreaction might tip him off anyway. So he closed his eyes, braced himself, and waited for the inevitable.
He didn't have long to wait. Sam's indrawn breath was so loud he'd have been able to hear it from the other side of the room, heck; people down the street had probably heard it.
He heard Sam pick up the book and then a strangled, "Dean?" Disbelieving. Astounded. "This has your name in it. This is your book?" The sound of pages being rifled. "And…dude, there are notes in this. In your handwriting." He made it sound like an accusation.
Dean hadn't opened his eyes yet, still hoping against hope that a sinkhole would open and swallow him. What? Weirder things had happened. Especially in their line of work.
"Dean!" Clearly, his brother was not going to let him get out of this. Okay then. Time to man up. Dean squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and opened his eyes. Sam was still staring at him, book clutched in one hand, looking both perplexed and astounded, looking at him as if he'd never seen him before. "What's this all about, man?"
"It's just a book, Sam. Let it go." Dean's tone brooked no argument, but naturally Sam, being Sam, just ignored it and plowed on.
"No, Dean, I can't. Why did you have this?"
Dean rubbed a hand wearily over his face, wondering if his father was somewhere laughing over the trouble he'd caused. "It's no big deal, Sam. It's from when Dad went for parent-teacher conferences at that one school we were at." There was no need for further clarification; their dad had only done the parent-teacher conference thing once before deciding it was overrated and the time could be better spent making ammo for his next hunt.
"Anyway, your fourth-grade teacher talked to him. Said you were really gifted. That he needed to start doing some stuff with you at home to keep that big old brain of yours occupied." Dean smirked and Sam just rolled his eyes at the description, gesturing impatiently for him to continue. "She said he needed to give you more challenges and stuff so you wouldn't get bored. She gave him the book, said it had some good ideas in it for things we could do to help you; make sure you lived up to your potential. Or whatever," he shrugged. "Seemed to think it was pretty important."
Sam had gone back to the page he'd been looking at when Dean had knocked the book out of his hands. "Dean…this is one of the games you used to play with me when we were kids." He flipped to another page, skimmed it quickly, flipped again. "All of these are games we used to play."
"Yeah, well…didn't want that big old brain to melt or anything, right?" Dean forced a laugh, trying to play it off as no big deal.
"I don't get it though, man, if she gave the book to Dad, how'd you end up with it?"
"C'mon, Sammy, you know Dad. He thought the whole thing was a crock. Said researching hunts should be enough of a challenge. Threw the book in the trash soon as he got back. I fished it out the next morning after he left for work and started reading it. Figured if you really were the genius she seemed to think, we should make sure you had whatever you needed to keep your brain busy. Figured you wouldn't be happy otherwise." Dean shrugged again, nonchalant, hoping Sam would just let the matter drop without turning it into a big thing.
Obviously, it wasn't his lucky day. "Dean," Sam's voice sounded like he was talking around a monster-sized lump. He gestured helplessly, thinking of a young Dean reading the book so carefully, highlighting the parts that seemed important, dog-earing pages with activities he could use as "games" with a young Sammy. Dean, who hated doing homework, who had a hard time sitting still to read anything that wasn't a comic book.
It wasn't that Dean wasn't smart; he was one of the smartest people Sam knew. He just had the attention span of a five-year-old on a sugar high. And it made Sam ache to wonder who there had been to make sure Dean lived up to his potential. He cleared his throat and tried again, "Dean…I don't even know what to say, man."
"Good." His brother flashed a plastic grin. "Then don't say anything. Let's just pretend this never happened." Dean knew it was unlikely, but thought it was worth a shot.
"I can't do that, Dean. You…what you did for me…I won't forget it, man." Sam's voice was earnest, touched. He suddenly wondered what other things Dean had done for him, without being asked, without him even knowing, to make Sam's childhood better. He'd done a lot that Sam knew about; when you added in all the rest—the things Sam had been unaware of or taken for granted—well, it added up to a lot. A lifetime's worth of love and devotion and self-sacrifice. Sam felt a rush of love for his big brother and seriously considered risking life and limb to give him a hug.
Dean cleared his throat, awkwardly. "Yeah, well…since we're already having a monster chick-flick moment, which will be ending soon," he glared at Sam, as if daring him to protest, "I just wanted to say...I think you'll make a great dad someday, Sammy." He was sincere, confident.
Sam swallowed hard against the tears that wanted to well up in his eyes. Dean would kill him for real if he started getting all teary on him. But his brother's belief in him meant a lot. Meant everything.
"If I am, it'll only be cuz I learned from the best," Sam responded quietly.
Dean's eyebrows rose in surprise; Sam didn't usually compliment their dad on his parenting skills. But when his eyes met Sam's, he saw that Sam hadn't been talking about their dad. And now the kid was looking at him with those sappy, emo eyes, clearly jonesing for another chick-flick moment, or a hug or something.
Dean cleared his throat, shifted, looked away. He didn't handle praise, or gratitude, well. He could feel an uncomfortable flush rising to his face. Sam gave it a minute, to let what he'd said sink into his brother's thick skull, then rolled his eyes and let him off the hook. "C'mon man, let's go get you a burger before you wither away to nothing. My treat."
It was worth it to see Dean's smile, bright as the noon sun and just as warming. "Burger? Dude, haven't you heard? I'm Brother of the Year. I'm getting a steak!" A beat. "And pie. Lotsa pie!"