A/N: This hasn't been beta'ed, but hopefully, there aren't any glaring mistakes. If you see something major, let me know, though, and I'll take care of it. Set shortly after the twins joined the family. Ages are twins (8), Sam (13), and Dean (17). Hope you enjoy!

Disclaimer: Kripke's stuff is still his, and I only own that which I came up with.

Establishing Priorities

"You wanna explain to me why I'm here, son?" John asked without preamble as he walked into the classroom where Dean was slumped in a chair placed front and center before his English teacher's desk.

Dean's face paled and he slowly sat up straight, his eyes on his father, as though trying to gauge what sort of mood he was in. He must not have liked what he saw, John guessed, because Dean bit down on his lower lip and looked away, unable to maintain eye contact.

"Mr. Winchester?" the young woman asked as she stood from her desk to greet him. But he held his hand up, motioning for her to wait as he set things straight with his errant seventeen-year-old.

"Let me rephrase," he told Dean when the teenager failed to answer him. "I want an explanation, and I want it now."

"I pissed Ms. Lyman off," Dean mumbled.

"Excuse me?"

He could see the instant it dawned on his oldest that his phrasing wasn't appreciated because Dean winced and tried again.

"She's ticked at me," Dean said lamely, and John fought the urge to roll his eyes heavenward as he stared down at his oldest.

Damn. I thought we were past this kind of shit.

Things were still a shade rough at home, John knew, but he hadn't thought it was bad enough to elicit this sort of behavior again. The twins had been with them for two months now, and they'd all finally started adjusting. But with school starting back, they were all floundering a bit. John had just gotten used to no longer having to inspect homework and enforce bedtimes, and now, he found himself having to start all over again.

Hell, Sam's the only one who's glad school's back in session.

Aubrey had been tearful and resistant, clinging to John with growing panic every morning at the thought of letting him out of her sight. He'd been called in for parent-teacher conferences three times already and it was only the fourth week of school.

Unfortunately, with all of the drama going on with Aubrey, John had failed to keep abreast of his oldest son's school performance, and the oversight was now coming back to bite him on the ass.

"John Winchester," he said, turning to face Dean's teacher finally.

"Theresa Lyman," she told him, reaching over her desk to offer her hand. He shook it, pleased by the strong grip before he dropped into the chair she's placed beside Dean's. "It's nice to meet you. Though I wish it could be under better circumstances," she said with a regret-tinged smile.

"What seems to be the problem?" he asked, readying himself for what would no doubt be a laundry list of offenses.

"I'm afraid Dean's struggling to adjust to my class. He's informed me that his previous English teacher didn't assign homework. And while I can appreciate a certain measure of difficulty in readjusting to homework," she went on, "I feel like four weeks is enough time for him to have gotten used to how I run my class."

What the fuck? he thought, turning a harsh, incredulous look on his wayward seventeen-year-old.

"You told her what?"

Dean squirmed in his chair uncomfortably, unable to meet John's eyes as his lie came to light.


"Tell her the truth, Dean."


"Now, Dean."

"My last English teacher did give us homework," Dean admitted, unable to meet his teacher's eyes.

"I see," Ms. Lyman said softly, and though he couldn't be sure, John thought she looked a bit dejected, as though hurt that one of her students would lie to her.

"And?" John prompted, giving Dean a hard look, one which Dean knew well enough the meaning of as well as what the consequences would be if he didn't.

"And…'m sorry," Dean mumbled. "I shouldn't have lied to you."

"Yes, I wish you hadn't," she replied, giving him a disappointed look before turning to John. "Mr. Winchester, I'll be honest with you. Dean is a very bright young man—I expect a lot from him, as I do all of my students. The work I assign is intended to help Dean prepare for college as well as—"

"Well, I'm not going to college," Dean broke in, " so what does it matter if I do the homework or not?"

"Dean," John said tightly. "Apologize."

"For what?! All I said was—"

"For interrupting for starters. Is that enough, or shall I continue?"

"'s enough," Dean muttered, knowing better than to argue any further. "Sorry," he told his teacher sullenly before looking back at John with an 'are you satisfied?' expression that was guaranteed to piss John off on a good day. And this was not a good day.

Leaning over, John gripped the collar of Dean's jacket and tugged him closer, waiting until Dean's eyes locked on to his before he spoke.

"This attitude of yours is neither wanted nor appreciated. So I suggest you get your act together and start showing some respect for me and your teacher. You understand me?"

"Yessir," Dean said, his jaw tight as his face flushed with a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

Yeah, nothing like getting called on your bullshit by your old man in public.

"Is he giving you this kind of attitude in class?" John asked, turning his full attention back to Ms. Lyman.

"When he's actually here…yes, a bit," she replied, and John could tell from her tone that she was most likely downplaying the severity of things.

Shit. Wait a minute…

"When he's here?" John asked, not really sure that he wanted clarification, but knowing he needed to hear it nevertheless.

"He's actually missed quite a bit of my class. And on the occasions where he does make it, he's tardy more often than not. What it all boils down to, Mr. Winchester, is that I can't get any work out of Dean, and if he continues in this manner, I'm going to have no choice but to fail him."

"Do you have a list of the assignments that he hasn't turned in?"

"Yes sir, I do," she said, rifling through a file on the edge of her desk before producing a stack of stapled sheets which she offered to John.

"This everything?" he asked, idly flipping through the sheets to skim the various assignments.

"All but this week's."

"I'll make sure he does them. You'll have them by the beginning of next week."

"Dad—" Dean began, no doubt about to protest, but John held up a hand, forestalling any further complaint.

"As far as him making it to class every day—on time, I should say—do you think you could sign the bottom of his notes at the end of class to let me know he was there and not tardy?"

"Dad, c'mon, that's crap! I'm not a kid!" Dean exploded before she could reply.

"If you insist on acting like a little boy, I'm gonna treat you like one," John told him sternly. "So if that means I have to get your teacher's signature every day in order to ensure that you make it to class, then so be it. And I don't wanna hear another word about it." He turned away from the now glowering teenager and faced Ms. Lyman again. "Ms. Lyman, how does that plan sound to you?"

"I think it's a wonderful idea."

"Is there anything else I need to be aware of, his attitude aside?"

Because I'll nip that in the bud as soon as we get home.

"No, I think we've covered everything."

"In that case, Dean, go wait in the hall with your brothers and sister."

"Why?" Dean asked belligerently, the disrespectful tone raising John's hackles like little else could. John raised his eyebrow, wondering when his oldest son had gotten so recklessly defiant.

Or downright stupid.

"How about because I said so? You're in enough trouble as it is—you really want to keep on?"

"No sir," Dean ground out.

"That's what I thought. I don't care how old you think you are, I won't tolerate you being disrespectful, to me or to anyone else. So you apologize for the last time to Ms. Lyman, and you go out in the hall like I told you to before I really embarrass you."

Without another word, Dean stood, his body rigid as he bit out an apology and stormed out of the room.

"If you have any more problems with him, give me a call and I'll take care of it," John told Ms. Lyman as he watched Dean go.

"I'll do that," she replied. "I'm sorry I had to bother you."

"No, you were right to call me in. Dean likes to test authority figures, see how much he can get away with, how far he can push the limits. Now he knows. He'll straighten up," John said, climbing to his feet.

Because he knows the consequences won't be pretty if he doesn't.

"Thank you so much for coming, Mr. Winchester," she said, standing as well. "I appreciate your help," she told him, reaching out to shake his hand once more.

"I'll look for your signature in his notes on Monday. I'll be in touch." Bending, he picked up Dean's abandoned backpack as well as the packet of assignments and headed for the door.

In the hallway, Dean was slouched against a row of lockers, his hands stuffed in his pockets as he stared morosely down at the floor. Sam was sitting by his feet, his back to the lockers as he pored over his math homework, no doubt wanting to ask for Dean's help but sensing that the older boy wouldn't be too amenable to the request.

Braden was beside Sam, doodling who-know's-what in his latest sketchbook, and as for Aubrey, she was beside the door when John came out, latching onto him the second he emerged.

"Are we goin' home now, Daddy?" Aubrey asked, grabbing a hold of the corner of his coat as John handed Dean's backpack off to the moody seventeen-year-old.

"Yeah. Pack up, boys, and let's go."

Without releasing her hold on him, Aubrey stooped down to lift her backpack off the floor where she'd dropped it, sliding one of the pink and purple straps over her shoulder.

John led the way to the parking lot, Aubrey's hand was now firmly clasped in his own and Braden walked sedately beside them as Sam and Dean followed more slowly behind them.

"So what happened?" he heard Sam ask Dean, but Dean was silent, his sense of self-preservation finally kicking in to prevent him from saying anything that might rouse John's ire any further.

About damn time, too. Too bad it's too little, too late.

"That bad, huh?" Sam asked.

"Shut up, Sam," Dean growled, obviously not wanting to be reminded of how much trouble he faced.

"Hey, don't get pissed at me—'s not my fault you're gonna get your ass handed to you when we get home."

"You're gonna get your ass handed to you if you don't shut the hell up," Dean sneered, the menace in his voice all too real, and John knew it was time to step in before things between the two of them got ugly. Dean was entirely too quick to lose his temper these days, and as pissy as Sam was, letting them go at it was risking actual injury.

"Boys. Enough."

The hostile seventeen-year-old bit down on whatever else he might have said, and wisely, Sam shut his mouth as well, which was good considering that the last of John's patience had been used up in the meeting with Dean's teacher.

The twins piled into John's truck without preamble, Aubrey scrambling into the middle, as Dean and Sam slid into the Impala, which was parked beside the truck.

"Dean, no detours, no pit-stops. You'd better be right behind me when I pull into the drive, understand?"


John climbed into the truck, and pulled out of the parking lot with a roar of the engine, his eyes going to the rearview mirror to ensure that Dean was behind him. Aubrey fell asleep on the way home, the constant state of paranoid vigilance she'd maintained during the school day having drained her.

"How'd your sister do today?" he asked softly, causing Braden to turn, the little boy looking back at him with eyes that were far too old.

"She cried a lot again. We don't like the other kids there, and they're mean to her. It hurts her feelings, and that makes it worse, since she's scared, too."

"Shit," John muttered.

It was exhausting. The emotional turmoil of dealing with her sobbing and pleading with him every morning when it was time for school was definitely beginning to take its toll.

On all of us it seems, John decided. Dean obviously wasn't handling things well. John normally kept a close eye on him, well aware of Dean's tendency to challenge authority figures as well as his inability to sit still for long in a classroom.

And when Dean gets antsy, shit happens.

Having Aubrey to deal with had caused John's attention to waver, which had been the equivalent of issuing an open invitation for trouble. And that was exactly what had happened. Dean had reverted to form, pushing the envelope and being an all-around pain-in-the-ass for at least one, if not all, of his teachers.

Hell, I don't even know how many he has at this school. You're slipping, Johnny. Not good.

Anyone who knew Dean knew what a horrendous mistake it was to leave Dean to his own devices without first establishing the boundaries. All of them. Because Dean was nothing if not brilliant when it came to finding the weaknesses and loopholes in any given order.

Aubrey and Braden weren't faring so well either. Though Braden wasn't quite so obvious about it as his sister, having to deal with Aubrey's emotional distress all day at school more often than not left the eight-year-old just as drained as his sister at the end of the day.

Which left Sam. Who had been surprisingly easy to handle since school had started back.

Shit. I know things are bad when Sam is the least of my problems.

By the time John pulled the truck to a stop in the driveway of the house they were currently renting, Braden had succumbed to sleep as well, the throaty grumble of the GMC's engine combining with the boy's own exhaustion putting him down for the count pretty fast.

With a tired sigh, John got out, noting with satisfaction the sound of the Impala rumbling up behind them as he gently slid Aubrey out of the truck and into his arms before quietly shutting the door.

"Sam, get Braden out," John ordered softly over his shoulder. "And Dean, I want your ass parked at the kitchen table."

There was no response, but then, John wasn't really expecting one.

With Braden and Aubrey settled on their beds, John quietly shut their bedroom door and headed for the kitchen. Dean was there, glaring mutinously at the table, his backpack discarded on the floor.

"So you wanna explain to me what the hell you were thinking?" John asked, bracing his hands on the back of one of the kitchen chairs as he stared down at his oldest.

"Not really."

"Tough. 'Cause I wasn't really giving you a choice. Start talking. Why were you skipping class and not doing the work? Was it too hard?"

"No, I just—"


"No sir," Dean corrected.

"Then why?"

"I just didn't feel like it."

"Do you realize how fucking ridiculous that sounds? You're gonna have to do better than that, Dean."

"It's stupid, Dad," Dean blurted out. "I mean, what's the point? How the hell is 'Ode to a Fucking Nightingale' gonna help me, huh?"

"It doesn't have to help you, Dean. Whether you want to or not, your teacher told you to read it, and I expect you do it. That goes for all of your assignments. Now you've got a lot of work to do, so I suggest you get started."

"But it's Friday," Dean protested, staring back at John incredulously.

"Yeah, so?"

"It's just…I have plans with Laura Sullivan—I'm supposed to take her to a movie tonight."

"Too bad you're gonna have to call her and cancel," John told him mildly as he turned away to open the fridge and grab a beer.

"Aw, c'mon! Look, what if I took her to the movie and then took her right home after—I could start my English shit right after that," Dean offered, giving John a game-winning smile that might have worked on anybody but John Winchester. John stared back at the kid over the top of his beer, wondering distantly if his son was truly that deluded.

"Dean, I just got called in for a parent-teacher conference because of your behavior. Do you honestly think I'm in a mood to play 'Let's Make a Deal' with you so that you can do your damnedest to get in some girl's pants by bribing her with a movie?"

"Dad, c'mon, it's only a couple of hours!" Dean begged, but John was having none of it.


"You don't understand, Dad—this girl is fuckin' hot! If I blow this date off, she might not give me another shot," Dean explained to him earnestly. "Look, I'll sweeten the pot—I'll clean the guns tonight before I start on my English."

"Oh, you're gonna clean the guns anyway," John told him bluntly. "It just won't be tonight, because tonight, you're working on your English."

"Shit! C'mon, Dad! You gotta help me out here!"

"I'm sorry, you must have me confused with someone who cares about the nature of your social life. One missed date won't kill you. But I will, if you don't get this English finished and start pretending you give a damn about your schoolwork. You know I don't expect you to get A's, Dean—I just ask that you pass, which you won't if you keep skipping class and screwing around. We can't afford the attention, for one thing, and your mother…" He paused, looking down before turning his stare once more on his son. "Your mom would have wanted you to pass. And I'll be damned if I'm gonna let either of our boys flunk out and not get a diploma."

Dean slumped in his chair and fell silent, though John couldn't say for certain whether it was the mention of Mary and the realization that he wasn't going to win that silenced him.

"Now, you get your English done, then we can talk about you taking this girl out next weekend. Call her now and then get started on those assignments. You're gonna work until dinner. Lights out at eight thirty."

"Eight-thirty? Are you serious?"

"As a heart-attack."

"But that's before the twins even go to bed!"

"I'm aware of that. You're going to bed early—first, so you can think about how unwise it was to neglect your schoolwork and then think I wouldn't find out about it, and second, because you need to be well rested for when I wake you tomorrow morning at five."

"What the hell for?!"

"So you can get an early start—four weeks' worth of English assignments really pile up, son. You've gotta stay on top of 'em," John told him placidly, taking a swig of his beer.

"Dad, this is bullshit!" Dean barked out angrily, and John set his beer down on the table with a loud thump, crowding into Dean's personal space so that he could look Dean straight in the eyes.

"No, what's bullshit is you not handling things the way you should have, the way I taught you. I may not win any 'Father of the Year' awards, but I know I raised you better than that. I didn't teach you to blow off your responsibilities, Dean," he said sternly, waiting for Dean to drop his gaze before he straightened and backed away. "Now, you had the option of doing your assignments on time, and instead you chose to dick around. These are the consequences of your choice, and you're gonna have to live with them. Maybe next time you get the urge to screw around at school, you'll remember this and make a better decision. Now go call the girl and then get to work. We'll talk about the rest of your punishment later."

"The rest—what, this isn't enough?"

"Son, this isn't even the start of it. This is just you catching up on everything you failed to do at school. We haven't addressed your irresponsible behavior or the disrespect you showed your teacher, not to mention this attitude problem you seem to be having."

"Shit," Dean mumbled.

"Yeah, but like I said, we'll talk about it later, after I've had time to think about it," John said, dropping his empty bottle into the recycling bin that Sam had been bitching at him to use before heading for the door.

"Oh, and Dean?"

"Sir?" Dean asked slowly, obviously wondering if John had suddenly changed his mind about addressing his other transgressions.

"No more than five minutes on the phone."

With a sigh, Dean pushed away from the table and headed for the phone, and John knew without a doubt that Dean would watch the time carefully, unwilling to risk the consequences of disregarding the order.

He learned that one the hard way, John thought wryly, recalling the one and only time Dean had overstepped the time limit on the phone with a girl. John had picked up the phone, and by the time he'd finished talking to the girl, Dean had been too embarrassed to risk it every happening again.

Gotta hand it to him—he doesn't make the same mistake twice. 'course, that doesn't mean he won't come up with some new way to get away with the old mistake. Too bad he's awfully damn good at it.