Title: Becoming Dean—A Character Study with Artistic License
Disclaimer: Not mine or I'd sit them down and set them straight and give them hugs and cookies.
Beta: The awesome sandymg
A/N: I am not completey sure what to call what I have written. Lately I have been obsessed wondering about what Dean's childhood must have been like, since I am scared to speculate about his future just now. So I combined my own ideas about what Dean experienced growing up with tidbits from canon, and I give you the result. I'd love to know if you think it could have been like this.
At four years old, Dean Winchester was a moderately precocious child. Not necessarily in a verbal way, but in his ability to concentrate for long periods of time assembling and disassembling things — his Lego blocks, his train set, his race car track — as well as things like the old alarm clock John gave him. Dean was fascinated with his dad's tools, and loved to spend weekends at his dad's elbow, handing them to John as he tinkered on the Impala. At four-and-a-half Dean could tell the difference between the socket wrenches and hand his father the requested size.
He was also preternaturally sensitive to the moods of others, especially his mother. He would become perturbed if she seemed sad, and would offer hugs and childish comforts — his teddy bear, a fistful of dandelions, a drawing — until she smiled and he was satisfied the world was good again.
Six-year-old Dean was a different little boy, sober and wary of interacting with anyone other than his father and brother. He said very little, though it looked as though he was absorbing the world through his serious green eyes. It took only a few days of school for him to understand he was different — he did not have a mother — and he quickly figured how to sidestep mother-related inquiries by either pretending to misunderstand or simply ignoring them.
Dean still had an unusual level of focus for a little boy, although an observer might have noticed how, even when deeply involved in a project, he would, at regular intervals, check his surroundings to ascertain the whereabouts of the toddler that was only apart from him when Dean was in school. Any indication of possible distress from the other child would immediately result in Dean ceasing his activity and attending to his brother, either handling the problem on his own or bringing it to his father's attention, and then staying attentive until John had resolved the issue.
At seven, John taught Dean to shoot a gun, the first of many age-inappropriate skills he would learn throughout his childhood. Dean was a natural, and it was one of the rare times his father was effusive about Dean's accomplishment. However, Dean understood other children his age were not given guns, and it was necessary to keep his pride in his talent a secret.
Dean was developing his own internal chart to differentiate what other people could know about the Winchesters. For example, when teachers found out his mother was dead, not just 'gone,' they generally treated him more kindly and paid him more attention.
On the other hand, they could never know that their father left Dean and Sammy alone for hours at a time or, as Dad solemnly explained one day, 'the authorities' would come and take Sammy and Dean away from him, and not necessarily keep them together. The authorities would do that because other children their age couldn't be left alone, they might get into trouble or get hurt, but Dad knew Dean was smarter than most other kids his age and could take care of himself and Sammy. So while it was okay that Dad left Sammy and Dean alone, the authorities wouldn't understand that.
The idea of being separated from Dad and Sammy was scarier than monsters.
The truth about monsters being real, and his dad hunting them, was of course, in the category of secret from everyone, except for Pastor Jim and later, Uncle Bobby. While Dean was too young to know the word 'liberating,' nonetheless, that was the feeling he experienced during the times the he and Sam, with or without John, would stay with one of the other two hunters, because Dean did not have to remember to keep his real life tightly hidden from them. He could, in fact, freely ask his questions and discuss what was out there that he would have to fight someday as well.
The one caution he had to remember was not to talk openly in front of his little brother. Dean couldn't have said when he exactly realized he was implicitly a partner with his father in keeping Sam in the dark, but he convinced himself that he was protecting his brother from things Sam didn't need to know about as long as Dean and John were there to keep him safe.
When Sam finally figured out what their dad really did that Christmas when he was eight, Dean wished his brother could understand that their dad was a hero, instead of being afraid that something bad was going to happen to John. Dean believed in his father's invincibility, absolutely refused to let himself believe anything bad could happen to the anchor in his life.
He desperately wanted his brother to see that the moving, the doing without, the times on their own were worth it. All the sacrifices the Winchesters made mattered because Dad was doing a job that only he could do, saving people from the evil things others didn't know existed. But no matter how hard Dean tried explaining this, Sam never got it.
By his middle-school years Dean accepted that the best he could do for friendships was a kid or two to hang out with for a little horseplay and to talk about TV shows. He'd stopped keeping scraps of paper with addresses, having learned that there was no point in attempting to maintain a connection. He was always going to be moving on.
He had a faint memory of a little girl Sarah playing with him in a wading pool in his backyard in the warm weather. He was pretty sure it was a real memory, not a dream, because he remembered looking at a picture of the event in a photo album, sitting alongside his mother while she still had Sammy in her belly. He had a vague idea she had been his 'best friend,' though now, of course, the concept was foreign to Dean.
But Dean had a brother, and that was better than having a best friend because he would always have Sam to goof off with, and fart at, and laugh at stupid movies with. In a corner of his mind was the notion that someday he and Sam would go out to a bar together after a hunt and flirt with girls and act just like regular Joes do after working a 9-to-5 day.
Over time, most of his school friends' faces merged into a generic blur.
It became a game for Dean to create a different persona for himself each time he transferred schools. Through trial and error he determined the best attitude to use to avoid being the automatic 'target new kid' for the class bullies. The problem was not the danger of being physically hurt, but rather that Dean knew if forced to defend himself — or Sammy— that he had enough fighting skill to inflict real damage on another child, even one larger than himself.
And the possibility that protecting himself and his brother would bring the authorities' attention to how they were being raised meant he needed to appear either insignificant enough to not be worth messing with or too capable of beating the shit out of the other guy to risk provoking.
Being inconspicuous was made challenging by the fact that Dean was a good looking boy. He acknowledged that as truth, not a boast, because it was not merely his own evaluation. He'd been the recipient of too many compliments (you are so hot!) and barbs (hey pretty boy!) to be falsely modest over how attractive he looked. And being physically comfortable with his body, confident that he was faster, stronger and tougher than his peers made Dean noticeable no matter how self-effacing he tried to be. So he didn't bother trying to fit in. Cocky new kid became his default for handling the procession of school lunchrooms where he had to choose at which table to sit.
By the time Dean was a sophomore in high school, he had perfected the tough smart-ass attitude to such a smooth fit that it was more or less who he was all the time, except when hunting with John or when dealing with Sam's anxiety. Although, as Sam had gotten older, Dean found he had less and less patience coddling Sam. It had been one thing to protect Sam from the reality of their life when he was too little to understand why their dad needed to fight the scary things, why their family had to protect the rest of the 'civilians.' Dean eventually found himself routinely using his default snarkiness on Sam just to keep Sam from going on about the unfairness of things.
Life stopped being fair to the Winchesters the day their mother died in flames on the ceiling, and the sooner Sam understood that, the better.
A pleasant side effect of the way he carried himself now was the way girls responded to the 'bad boy' vibe. And if girls were going to throw themselves at him, Dean was not going to turn down his opportunities. He figured he sent out the signal that he was for fun — for danger — not for anything long-term or serious. And he was careful not to pursue any girl who might not understand he was just looking for a good time. He got to the point of being able to tell within a few days of being in a new school which girls wanted to be able to claim him as a notch on their belt, and he was always happy to oblige.
And once in a while, knowing he was only going to be there for a few weeks, if he decided to make friends with a group considered the school losers, it was his own acknowledgment that beneath the cool leather jacket he had much more in common with their outsider status than anyone realized.
Of course, there were teachers and grades to deal with as well. It was easier in the earlier years because John did try to minimize moving as much as possible in the beginning, and because he still took an interest in making sure Dean learned the basics of reading and arithmetic. And Pastor Jim, and to a lesser extent, Uncle Bobby, would help tutor when Sam and Dean stayed with them.
By the middle years of school, however, Dean ran into the problem of each school having its own timetable for what was taught, and he would find himself missing a critical lesson that had not yet been covered where he was transferring from but had already been taught in the new school. He never did, for example, learn how to figure percentages because of exactly that gap.
Sometimes he would find himself repeating what he had already learned, and depending on his mood and how long he was likely to be at that school, he would either coast through the class or, if he felt like it, apply himself to earn an 'A' and screw with the teacher's stereotype.
Fortunately his dad pretty much didn't care if Dean's grades were 'A's or 'D's. Neither John nor Dean gave a flying crap whether Dean passed American Literature. Learning Latin exorcisms from Pastor Jim and Bobby had a significantly higher priority, as did analyzing patterns and interpreting snippets of supernatural lore from obscure books.
Sam never seemed to have the same difficulty with grades. If there was a piece missing in his knowledge he plugged the hole by finding what he needed in a book. There were times Dean wondered if Sam slept with a book under his pillow and absorbed facts by osmosis — and yes, Dean knew what that word meant, and used it to annoy his brother. Still, Sammy's book smarts sometimes made Dean feel inferior, and it bothered him enough to make it something he teased Sam about.
Much later, Dean regretted that he hadn't shown how proud he was of Sam for his braininess.
Interestingly, Dean ended up in one school for almost seven months when he was learning algebra, and Mr. Franklin presented it in such a very logical, methodical manner that Dean was able to use what he learned there to extrapolate what he needed to make it through chemistry two schools later. It helped that chemistry's innate promise of blowing things up piqued Dean's interest to understand the subject. And whenever he had the opportunity to take a shop class, be it in woodworking, mechanics, or electronics, Dean exhibited his natural talents effortlessly.
Dean's brash armor worked both ways, protecting his innate empathy from the emotional hurt he witnessed in others and from his own stifled need for human connections. His father and his brother became Dean's barometer for his own happiness, and his desire as a little boy to comfort his mother was transferred to protecting John and Sam from themselves, each other, and outside monsters. The complexity of soothing the discord between them allowed Dean to ignore his own wants and desires. While it was a frequently frustrating and thankless job to keep his family together, it was also the driving force that kept Dean from missing what he wasn't allowed to have.
The transient nature of the Winchester life resulted in Dean being eighteen when he started his senior year of high school, a year older than his classmates, and John's hunts that year were particularly disruptive to educational continuity. After his fourth school in as many months, Dean felt no kinship with the seniors in his class who were angsting over college choices and homecoming dates, and decided he had all the formal education he needed.
He was ready to embrace his life as a hunter full-time, to devote himself to his family and to saving others. In other words, the family business.