St. Louis, Missouri
November 6, 1986
John pulled up to the school's front lot. He groaned when he saw that Dean wasn't walking out to the car alone. He was being marched out by his teacher.
"Great," John muttered. "Must be Thursday."
As always, the minute he spotted his brother, Sammy began to kick excitedly and yell "Dean!" at the top of his well-developed lungs.
"Sammy, knock it off," John growled. Sammy kept kicking, but more quietly.
Normally, John would've shrugged off Dean's troublemaking. Unfortunately, Dean would be attending this school for at least the next three weeks, maybe longer, depending on how his recon shook out. He'd only been going here for two weeks. The first week was okay, but this week John had met the teacher twice already. Judging by her face, the third visit was incoming.
It was at times like these that John realized how they must have looked to other people: Himself with a rough week's worth of beard and (he just noticed) dirt and who knows what else under his fingernails. Dean in his faded hand-me-down Aerosmith t-shirt, a flannel over it to cover up the holes, newly-cut hair standing in tufts on his head, the right sole of his canvas sneaker about to come loose at any moment. Sammy, forgetting his scolding and screaming joyously again for his brother, was wearing his finest red Kool-aid moustache and a ketchup-stained shirt with a giraffe on it, a shirt that he had staunchly refused to take off for the last three days. The Impala idled under two layers of rain-streaked grime.
As Dean got closer, John saw that one of his eyes was red and starting to swell. It'd be black tomorrow. The teacher grabbed on to Dean's shoulder. Angrily, Dean shook her off.
The neutral expression he'd been trying to maintain melted away as he cranked the window down. "Who hit you?"
Dean shrugged, dislodging the teacher's hand again in the process.
John managed a tight smile at the frowning dark-haired woman next to him. "Hello, Miss Adams."
"Mr. Winchester," she said back, just as stiffly, pushing Dean slightly toward him. Dean raised his chin and looked up at his father. And if there was ever a facial expression that stated "you should see the other kid", it was this one.
"We have to stop meeting like this," John attempted, knowing it was going to fall flat as soon as it was out of his mouth.
She dodged this as neatly as she could. "Mr. Winchester, I've tried everything, I really have. And I'm not getting through to him. The cursing is one thing, and the attitude, but I won't tolerate fighting. If he has another day like today, I'm going to request that he be kept at home for a few days until we figure out what to do."
John looked down into his son's sullen, angry face. "Did the other kid hit you first?"
"He hit me once," Dean said, raising his chin.
"That's not what I asked you."
Dean's big green eyes cut quickly to the side, giving John his answer.
John sighed and glanced back up at Miss Adams, hoping he could cut the legs out from this conversation before it got started. "Listen, I'll talk to him. If he's out of line tomorrow, call me and I'll come get him, no problem."
"Is there something going on with him this week, Mr. Winchester? Last week, there were some assignments he didn't turn in, a few swear words… but nothing like this."
John saw in her face what he always saw in their faces: accusations and suspicion. He felt the anger rise up, like it always did, feeling the unspoken request hanging there: What are you doing wrong? Why is this kid like this? What kind of father are you? State your qualifications.
"You know, we just moved here," John offered up, trying to keep his tone light even as he felt his hands go tense on the wheel. "He's just been a little homesick this week." This had the merit of sounding true, but they were always moving, and Dean's adjustment time was a few hours or so, tops. And as soon as Dean settled into a new place, Sammy would settle down, too. It only now occurred to John that he'd never had to worry about it.
Lie or not, Miss Adams' face softened a bit. "Well, of course, I can see where that would be –" She seemed suddenly embarrassed to have marched him out so harshly, to have taken the tact she did. She put her hand back on Dean's shoulder. Dean started to shake her off one more time, but John stilled him with a hard glare. Her tone had gone almost warm. "We'll work with him, together. Maybe you can help me out with some stuff in class tomorrow, Dean?"
John kept his glare steady on Dean's face. So help me, if you roll your eyes —
"He and I will talk about this tonight," John chimed in Dean's big mouth got a chance to form words. "I'll make sure he gets a good night's rest and maybe he can start fresh tomorrow." He dialed up his nicest smile, which he hoped looked sincere and not deranged.
Miss Adams crouched down so that she was on Dean's level. Dean drew back, but didn't shake her off. "You hear that, Dean? Clean slate tomorrow, like wiping off the chalkboard. You can apologize to Bradley, and Bradley's friend –"
"What about Bradley sayin' sorry to me?" Dean addressed this to John, not Miss Adams, his tone edging close to derailing everything John had managed to fix so far.
"Dean, not now."
"Of course," she added hastily. "Of course, Bradley said something to… to upset you." Clearly, she didn't think whatever Bradley might have said merited Dean's response, but she smiled anyway. "You're not in trouble, Dean. You both just need to put some ice on your faces and cool off a little, that's all. And I know what it's like to move to a new place and try to make new friends. I just moved here two years ago myself."
John nervously watched Dean's face. Luckily Miss Adams wasn't familiar with Dean's "this is bullshit" face, because that's the one he was making.
"Thank you for understanding," John said with a somber nod. "I appreciate it."
Miss Adams gently touched Dean's face. Dean gritted his teeth but didn't flinch.
Seemingly satisfied, and with a soft smile, she turned and walked back toward the school. She gave John a little wave as she moved out of sight.
Dean stood at attention, facing his father. "What's homesick?"
"Get in the car," John ordered.
Dean's shoulders slumped until he opened the door and saw Sammy there. He cheered up a little and slid across the backseat.
Sam put his hand up to his face, in response to Dean's rapidly swelling eye. "Dean, you cry?"
"Nah, I got into a fight, Sammy. I won, too."
"Try not to sound so proud," John drawled from the front.
"Bradley said –"
Staring at him in the rearview mirror, John cut him off. "You know what, Dean? I don't care about some brat running off at the mouth, and you shouldn't either. Just tell me this: if he says it tomorrow, are you going to hit him again?"
Dean pursed his lips, considering. "I don't think he'll be able to talk."
"Dean, answer the question: if this kid or some other kid says this same thing tomorrow, are you going to hit him again?"
"Yes!" Dean yelled indignantly.
John sighed and rubbed his hand down his face. This wasn't working. "Dean –"
"What? I will!"
"Sit down and buckle up." When he heard the click of the belt, John got out of the car, opened Dean's door and crouched down, holding his face only inches from Dean's own. "Are you listening to me?"
Dean raised his chin again, pressing his back into the seat, face dead serious. Sam's expression inside the carseat matched it muscle for muscle. "Yes, sir."
"I have been tracking something, to this town, for three months. And it's holed up here somewhere and it hasn't moved on. So whatever it's doing here, it's gonna be here for awhile, okay? I can't afford to be dealing with your temper tantrums right now –"
Dean opened his mouth, offended. Temper tantrums were for Sammy.
"Let me finish talking: You're normally a pretty good kid, Dean. I don't know what's crawled up your ass, but you need to get the hell over it and toughen up. You can't just full-on sucker-punch some kid for saying stupid shit. You gotta let that stuff blow past you and help me out and go to school and do whatever it is they ask you to do. I'd like to just let you hang out in the motel room, but then truant officers are gonna start sniffing around just like they did in Jackson. Do you remember what happened in Jackson, Dean? Do you remember the social workers coming around and checking on you and asking if Sam had eaten and checking you for bruises?"
Dean remembered very well. When Dean overheard one of them talking about placing Dean and Sam in a shelter, separate from their father, maybe even separate from each other "just temporarily", Dean had packed a duffel bag full of food and blankets and took Sam out into the woods. It had taken John, terrified out of his mind, an hour to find them both. If Sammy hadn't been so loud, it probably would've taken longer.
So now, Dean went to school every time they were going to park someplace for more than a week.
"So if you don't want a repeat of that, I need you to focus. I need you to go there, put your head down and do whatever they say. What did I tell you last time?"
"Don't draw attention to us."
"Right. So what do you think cussing at your teachers and getting into fights is doing, Dean?"
"Drawing attention to us," he said sadly.
Sammy looked from his brother to his father and back again, dark eyes getting bigger, face growing more upset. John would need to wrap this up quickly or he'd have two kids to defuse.
He rose to his feet. "So put your head down and deal with it, just like we talked about ten times before. Think about what you could be doing to Sammy if you get people from the school asking a bunch of questions. Think about if we had to blow town and the trail goes cold on this thing. I just – I just don't have time for this shit, Dean. You may not know what's on the line here, there's stuff I can't tell you, but you know this is about your mom. You know how important this is."
Dean nodded, fidgeting with a hole in his jeans.
John got back in, slamming the door. He eased the car forward across the school's lot. A red and white banner flapping across the main entrance caught his eye, and he read it as they passed.
It didn't register until he was out on the road.
In huge letters, surrounded by drawings of balloons, read: CAREER WEEK AT OAK STREET ELEMENTARY. In slightly smaller print under that: SHOW OFF YOUR PARENTS.
John's jaw went stiff. He felt like all the wind had been knocked out of him.
He wondered what bothered him more: The fact that Dean had to sit through dozens of eagerly normal parents talking about stuff like running an office or driving a truck, or the fact that Dean had known better than to ask John if he could come and talk to his class about "hunting."
"Career week," John said quietly, watching Dean's face again in the rearview mirror. "Is that what all this is about?"
Dean was staring out the window, but snorted to himself.
"Is it? Because I've tried to explain to you what I do and why we can't really –" John didn't know where to begin. "What did this Bradley kid say to you anyway?"
Dean shrugged in the rearview.
"Don't shrug. Answer me. Now."
After a long silence, Dean said, "He saw us pulling out of the motel Monday morning when you took me to school. He said that's the motel where the hookers work, and he asked if I wasn't bringin' mom to school 'cause she's a hooker."
Jesus, John thought. I'd've belted the little shit, too. "Wait a minute… a 7-year old brat asked if your mom was a – really? Seven?"
"He's not seven. He's a fifth grader."
"You belted a fifth grader in the mouth?" John had to bury his pride quickly, unless Dean get the wrong (or the right) idea. "Do you even know what a hooker is, Dean?"
"No, but it sounded bad." Dean tried to meet his eyes in the rearview mirror. "He said it like it was bad. Should I not have hit him or –?"
"Listen, if the kid is stupid enough to come at you again –" Beat the shit out of him, John finished in his head. Instead, he added, "Just see if you taught him a lesson. If he talks to you again, just… try to lay low, okay? We won't be here much longer and we don't need this kind of trouble."
Dean nodded to himself, scooting closer to Sammy in the back. Sammy grabbed at Dean's flannel shirt, pulling him into a gleeful hug.
John tapped the steering wheel, watching the roadside signs as they sped by, wondering which of the local diners made a good pie.