Sam shifted the layers aside to get a good look at the contents of the box. Photos, drawings, exercise books, a yoyo with an AC/DC sticker on it. Anyone looking through the box would have thought they were a normal family. Sam was floored that his father had kept any of this stuff. He barely even remembered the photos being taken, but there they were: evidence of the Winchester family existing over time, the boys older and taller in sequence. Anyone glancing at them might have thought they were a happy family. Sam could see though, looking closely the expressions of the boys changing with the passage of time. Each a little sadder, a little more wary, a little less innocent.
Sam had some distance now though. He was less angry with his Dad, had found some peace in that respect. Well, maybe not totally, but he could see the other side, the loving side now. There were still things in those photos to smile about. In one, he was about 9, Dean about 13. They were standing in front of the Impala and Dean had one arm around him, the other hand resting lovingly on the hood of the car. His grin widened – it could be captioned "Dean taking care of his kids." One when they were smaller still, Dean maybe 8 and Sam 4; their Dad crouched between them grinning and them laughing at something he'd said. He felt a lump in his throat looking at Dean in that photo. No one but Sam would see the bittersweet in it, but Dean was looking at his father while he laughed and Sam could see the worship, the devotion in his expression, as though he wanted to tell the world, "Look at my Dad, isn't he the coolest?"
Sam put the photos back and reached into the box again, this time pulling out an old school report. He flicked through and stopped when he saw it was Dean's, not his own. He was surprised that one of Dean's reports had survived; assuming Dean would have thrown it out the day he got it. It was true that it didn't look as though it had ever been read. The cover was unbent and the corners still pristine. He flicked back to the beginning and started to read, more stunned with every sentence. Four years younger than Dean, he had never had the opportunity to see him in class, but Dean's attitude about schoolwork and homework, and the reactions he had seen from most of their hundreds of teachers at their dozens of schools whenever they saw his brother in the halls had led him to the conclusion that Dean had never bothered to do more than show up in his entire school career.
"What cha lookin' at, Sammy?"
Sam jumped as Dean appeared beside him. "Dude, it's your report card from 9th grade!"
"Oh yeah? What's it say? Dean can look forward to a long and distinguished career in either serial killing or underwear modelling?"
Sam snorted at the image, trying for disgust but not quite managing to stifle laughter, "No, Dean, listen to this…" but he was cut off from continuing by Dean taking another crack.
"Or is it: Dean has the attention span of a fruit fly. If he spent as much time on his schoolwork as he does looking out the window and napping, he'd have just enough brainpower to be classified as a mammal and date a B list actress…"
This time Sam interrupted Dean, "No dude. Seriously. Have you ever even read this thing?"
"No Sammy, what would've been the point?"
"You didn't care at all?"
"No. You know this: school was your thing, not mine. I was there to watch out for you and keep Dad from getting in trouble with the school board. And meet chicks, obviously."
"And that's it? Didn't Dad ever have anything to say about that?"
"Oh jeez, Sam, you're not gonna start up on Dad again, are you?"
Dean's 8-year-old face in the photo flashed in his mind and he felt bad, "No. Sorry. That came out wrong. I just meant…he got frustrated when I wanted to spend time studying when he wanted us training, but sometimes he got that it mattered to me. Occasionally he would even say something complimentary about my grades. Not enough to pull a muscle, you understand. Now and then, though. Didn't he ever talk to you about school? Didn't he even ask to see this?"
Dean sighed, might as well humour the kid; definitely wouldn't get any peace until he did. He cast his mind back. He knew he'd never really had many report cards. They'd moved around so much that most of the time they missed the handing out day and the cards had probably been posted to the last known address and ended up thrown away by a motel cleaner, or they'd been at school but didn't get a full report because they hadn't been there long enough for their teachers to know anything about them.
Did he remember showing that report to his Dad? No, he didn't, he just signed both Sam's and his own receipt slip with his Dad's signature and mentioned later that Sammy had done real good, straight As all the way.
"I didn't show it to him. I just said I'd signed the receipts and handed them back and that you'd been typical geek boy as usual."
"Did he ask how you were getting on?"
Dean's face hardened and Sam held up a placatory hand, "I'm not getting at him; I'm just curious. Not judging."
"Yeah. He said, 'I got anything to worry about with your card?' and I said it was same old, whatever. He said that I knew the drill well enough and I just needed to do enough not to be noticed. I said I had it covered and that was it. We moved on to other subjects."
Sam hid his disappointment in their Dad for Dean's sake. Couldn't believe he didn't even want to look at the card, see what other people had to say about his boy. Well there was nothing to be done about that now, but Dean could stand to hear a few things about his younger self. Things he obviously had no clue about. Thought he'd done such a good job laying low, not being noticed.
"Ok, so listen to this then."
"Oh god, do I have to? I know what they say – they weren't exactly shy about sayin' it to my face too. 'You need to concentrate, focus, apply yourself. Think about your future.' It was frustrating. I was thinking about my future. I was thinking about this," he gestured at the weapons on the wall, "And how none of what they were telling me was going to help me fight, help me do my work with Dad, help me keep you safe."
Sam's heart lurched painfully at those words. There were a few comments like that, from teachers who clearly didn't have the first idea about Dean. Unable to focus? They hadn't seen the way Dean had applied himself when he sat with him and helped him with his reading when Sam was 5 and Dean only 9. They hadn't seen the focus Dean had when he thought Sam or his Dad were in danger. They sure as hell hadn't seen Dean after the Striga attack, when he didn't take his eyes off Sam for months, barely slept for fear of messing up again. They hadn't seen the concentration Dean could lavish on his baby, his Impala. Hours spent tinkering, until she purred like a cat who'd never known such bliss before. He started with the Shop teacher's card.
"Dean is a natural with anything mechanical. He is hard working and conscientious. Not only was he the first student in the class to complete the assignment to build a two-way radio, he was the only student to build it from scratch, without help and to have a fully functioning end product. Full marks. Dean's attendance and punctuality have been excellent this semester. I look forward to seeing what else he'll build this year. He would be well advised to consider a career in engineering. In addition to producing outstanding work, Dean is patient and helpful with the less capable students and has been instrumental in some of these students producing significantly improved work. On a more personal note, Dean is a very fair-minded and kind-hearted young man. He is always willing to stand up for an underdog. You should be very proud of him."
Dean's changing expression as Sam read had been a sight to behold, from defensive, to surprised, to shocked, to ready-to-run-out-of-the-room embarrassment. Sam flicked to another page: music.
"Oh, come on man! That's enough all right?"
"Dean has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic rock music. Sadly he has no aptitude for any kind of musical instrument and is completely tone deaf. It's hard to see how his finely tuned appreciation for 1970s Americana and Blues Rock will be of any use to him in his future, unless he wants to make his living as a roadie or a game show contestant."
Dean pulled the report from Sam's hand and looked at it himself, a smile replacing the slightly constipated look he'd worn for the first card.
"Ah hell, I wish I'd read that one. He wrote it for me, not Dad."
"What do you mean? It's a little unkind…I was going for balance after the other one."
"That guy cracked me up and he knew everything about Zeppelin. I even stayed after class to talk to him sometimes – he was at Woodstock! Awesome. I remember this one time, I was working on the Impala out front and singing Gallows Pole at the top of my voice and I caught sight of him walking past. He didn't look at me, he was just shaking his head and muttering "Dean, Dean, Dean, kid, you break my heart!" Dean laughed softly at the memory. He flicked the pages absently and threw the report back into the box, turning away to study the weapons.
Sam wasn't finished. He retrieved the booklet and turned to the Geography teacher's remarks.
"Dean's grasp of Geography is impressive. His family camping trips have clearly paid off as he has a strong understanding of geology, cartography, and the topography, flora and fauna of the United States. He also has a remarkable knowledge of obscure small town trivia with which he has entertained the class on many occasions."
"Yeah, well. I still hate camping."
Sam flicked to the front to read the Homeroom teacher's comments, "Dean has had mixed results this semester. It's clear that when a subject interests him and he puts his mind to it, he is more than capable of succeeding. He seems to have his mind elsewhere a lot of the time, which has resulted in merely average results overall. While he is clearly not living up to his potential in some areas, and this is a concern, I have received positive reports from some of his teachers and have seen for myself that he is a bright student and a natural teacher and protector. From my own experience, Dean is charming, thoughtful and a pleasure to have in class. I hope that next semester we can help him to achieve more consistent results in his academic work."
Dean snorted, "Pulled the wool over her eyes, huh?"
"I don't think so Dean. That's how I remember you too. You were always looking out for me and for other kids who needed it. Face it, dude. You have a soft spot for the geeks. And that shop teacher was right. You are good with mechanical stuff. Like that EMF meter you made."
"You mocked that thing."
"Yeah, well I was being pissy. It worked, didn't it?"
"Whatever dude, look at this."
Dean was clearly done with the self examination, but Sam hoped that he'd think on it later. However Dean had convinced himself or let Dad convince him that it didn't matter, Sam was glad he wasn't the only one who appreciated Dean for something other than his hunting, pool hustling or flirting skills. He joined his brother over a pile of old X Men comics.