Spoilers for 4x19, "Jump the Shark." Otherwise, pre-series. For the first time in his life Dean may actually be pissed off at Sam, really actively pissed off for a damn good reason, or maybe not that good of one but it's working for him now. The aftermath of Sam's decision to go to college, and leave his family.

A is for Approval

Hunting isn't a happy life. Dean wouldn't say that, not even on the best day. On the best day you're at least digging up graves and on the worst your nightmares are coming to life right in front of you, but you get used to it. It grows on you. There are worse lives, plenty of people Dean wouldn't trade lives with in a second. Sure, no kid says they want to hunt monsters when they grow up -- okay, yeah, they do, but they aren't thinking the whole thing through. Monster-hunting is a crap job that doesn't even pay, but someone has to do it.

Whatever. It's not so bad. He can think of worse things than hunting, like being eaten alive by any of the damned things they hunt without knowing any better, to start.

There are worse things, but there are better things, and that's why Sam left yesterday.

So, Dean is cleaning the guns. It's something to do while he's stupidly waiting for Sam to come back, as though his freakishly smart little brother's going to change his mind, turn heel and come right back to the motel, and everything will go back to normal.

Because yeah, he has so many reasons to come back. Right.

For just a second, Dean has to envy the kid. College chicks are easy. Desperate for approval. Looking for an A+ in something, and it might as well be in something naughty and fun before they have to go work for a living.

He misses college chicks. He hasn't been to a frathouse in months. Or a sorority.

Heh.

"Dean."

Oh. Dad's awake. Dean almost forgot he was there at all. "Morning," he greets him.

Dad is anything but a morning person even on his best day. "What are you doing?"

"I'm cleaning the guns."

Yeah, the second after he says it, he realizes it's a stupid thing to say. The guns are there, and he's cleaning them, so it's obvious that he's cleaning the guns. Dad gives him that you idiot look in case he didn't manage to figure that one out. "Yeah, all right. Why?"

"Haven't in a while." Dean lightens his tone, tries to look helpful, and keeps on cleaning. "I thought it'd be a good idea."

Dad measures him with a stare, and when Dean doesn't react, shakes his head and gets out of bed. He picks up a shotgun from the bed and weighs it in his hands. "Don't bother," he says. "I'm headed out."

News to Dean. "For what?" he asks, keeping it as casual as he can.

He gets the you idiot look again, and he's not even sure why this time. "Minnesota," Dad says finally. "Not a hunt, so forget it." He drops the shotgun to the bed. "We're headed to Bobby's first. I'm not taking the Impala and I need something to drive." He yanks on a pair of jeans and jams his knives into place at his ankle and his belt. "Just hope he's feeling generous. Bastard better not give me a minivan again."

"He's got what he's got," Dean says in a really bad imitation of Bobby Singer -- and again, when he gets that do you think you're funny? look from his dad, he stops right away. "Yeah, okay, you're right, the minivan sucked."

Dad begins to dig into his pack. "No man drives a minivan," he says in what sounds like agreement, and Dean relaxes just enough to set down the .45 he's just finished cleaning. Good timing, too, because Dad tosses something at him. He manages to catch it. "In case anyone calls me with a job."

Dean looks at it. It's one of Dad's cell phones. "If they call you with a job?" he repeats, and his eyebrows shoot up as he puts two and two together.

"If they call me with a job, you take it. If you don't know what the hell it is, then you call me." Dad pulls a shirt on over his wifebeater, and eyes Dean. "What?"

Dean pauses, and his eyebrows knit. "Let me get this straight."

Dad sighs, swipes a hand over his face. "Dean -- "

"So if someone calls this thing with a job, I go out and finish it, myself." Dean raises his eyebrows.

"Yeah. That's it. Just keep your eyes open and don't get distracted." Dad warns him, with that look like he'd like to whack him on the side of the head.

Dean ventures to look tough, prepared, but not too arrogant. "I won't."

He's twenty-two and this sounds a hell of a lot like the lectures he got as a kid. But it's been the same damn thing for years. Take your eye off of the damn thing for a second and it gets away.

Usually Sam's there to take the shot that he misses.

Son of a bitch.

And that's when it hits him. Now he gets to go hunting alone. Now he gets to go hunting -- alone. No Dad, no Sammy. All that responsibility, none of the fucked-up family fun, scrubbing blood out of your clothes, salting and burning the bones, savoring the glory of the kill all by yourself like some sort of creepy supernatural serial killer. Son of Sam on a mission from Daddy instead of a talking dog.

Awesome. Sounds like a party.

Dean tries to shake it off but he can't. Son of a fucking bitch. He sort of wants to kill something now.

Dad shoves his journal into his pack and looks up at him. "Got it?" he prompts, when Dean's too busy staring off into space.

His voice is a little dull when he replies. "Yeah, I got it."

"Then get those back in the car." Dad scratches his jaw and heads for the bathroom. "I'm shaving, then we're out of here."

"Dad," Dean interjects quickly. He's about 99.9% sure he knows what answer he's going to get, but he's asking anyway. "What the hell's in Minnesota?"

Dad shakes his head and goes into the bathroom, looking seriously damn irritated at the question. "None of your damn business," he says.

Dean shrugs to himself. Yeah, that's what he thought. He sits back and looks at the shitty hotel art, taking a minute to think.

But thinking's a stupid idea. Because for the first time in his life Dean may actually be pissed off at Sam, really actively pissed off for a damn good reason, or maybe not that good of one but it's working for him now. It's better than blaming Dad. None of it's Dad's fault.

Anyway, he has to ask the question because it won't come up otherwise. Dean's only heard girls do this thing before, where they wait for you to say something that'll piss them off and get pissed off if you don't actually say it. (Not that Dean would ever compare his father to a woman in any other way and not out loud, because no matter what anyone thinks, he's not a complete idiot.) And it's definitely going to suck for the two of them, both of the Winchesters still kicking ass and looking good in the Impala, but not for Sam. Sam's not going to take the flak or have any idea what sort of trouble he's causing his big brother, because he's on the road to college.

Whatever. Dean shoves the cell phone into his pocket and clears his throat before he says it. "What if Sammy comes back?"

Dad doesn't hear him over the running tap. "What?"

Dean grimaces and straps on a newly-sharpened knife. "What if Sammy comes back?" he calls back, louder.

There's the silence -- a silence that's different, hasn't been heard in a while, but Dean recognizes it. It's the same silence that takes over conversations whenever anyone mentions Mom around him, and that doesn't bode well at all.

And Dad doesn't answer. Dean just gives up on it and starts to pack up, waiting for the next cutting remark, but it doesn't come. Dad leaves the bathroom without looking at him, and finally says as he's stuffing his travel bag into his pack, "He won't."

Dean wishes he'd said something else. Anything else. Even boot camp-level nasty John Winchester is better than this.

"Then I guess we're going," he forces out as lightly as he can, and starts hauling the stuff out to the car.

Dad shuts the trunk when Dean tosses the last duffel bag in, and tosses him the keys. "If you can't handle her, I'm not going," he warns. "This is a test drive."

Dean looks down at the keys in his hand, and suddenly all of the other annoying questions that he was going to ask have magically vanished from his head, and he's fighting off a damn stupid grin. "You won't regret it," he tells his dad.

That garners one last skeptical look, but it could be worse. "I damn well better not," he says. "Now go on, she's waiting for you."

Dean has no idea what he's done to deserve this, but he tries to swagger and not bolt into the car like the excited teenager he feels like, and has to force himself to not think about Sam missing this – how now it'd be the two of them in a car with an empty seat looming.

No. This is good. He can feel the power as he settles into the driver's seat and smirks ahead, so he twists the keys in the ignition and laughs at the feel of it. "Oh baby," he purrs.

"Don't get too excited," Dad says, weary, and watches him.

"Just settling in," Dean dismisses, and pulls the Impala out of the parking lot.

He turns up the Zeppelin that they left in the tape player, hums along, and by now he's convinced himself, it's all good. At least, it could be a whole hell of a lot worse. Sure there's no Sam, but that's not his fault, and Sam's not coming back (who could blame him? No ghosts in college). Dad's leaving for Minnesota for some reason, but he's leaving Dean the Impala and one hell of a music collection. And yeah, he's no college man, but college is for drunk rich kids and losers anyway.

And really, that just reminds him.

So, Dean keeps an eye out for any highway signs about landmarks on the way to Bobby's. After all, you don't need to go to college to get a great big A+ in some co-ed's little black book.