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Then

“Dad’s going to be mad,” Sam whined. “Education is important and Dad wouldn’t like it if we --” 

“Dad’s cool.” 

“Dad’s never been cool about anything, Dean, and he definitely won’t be cool about this.” Dean figured Dad’d probably be a lot more cool with him dropping out than sucking cock in a back alley, but he didn’t tell Sammy that. Whatever. A month and a half was a long time and it didn’t matter in the long run what Dean did or didn’t do to keep the lights on for Sam. 

“I’ve already talked to Dad about it. He’s cool. I promise.”

“Liar,” Sam scoffed. 

“I have, Sammy. You really think I’d be doing if Dad didn’t say I could?” He fixed his younger brother with a hard look. Sam, for his turn, only lifted his top lip into a sneer. 

“No,” Sam agreed, only it was spiteful when he said it. “You wouldn’t.” 

“Exactly,” Dean pretended he didn’t notice Sammy’s tone and cuffed him upside the head. “Now get to class.” 

In truth, Dean hadn’t told Dad he was dropping out. He’d just stopped showing up and started working and Dad hadn’t noticed. ‘Sides, Dad liked to leave them for longer and longer these days. A week here, a month there -- who knew how long it’d be next time? Dad didn’t seem like he was ever about to start letting Dean hunt with him no matter how much Dean went running before school or read books about the supernatural instead of his school books. 

And if he kept leaving them longer, there was no way Dean could make that kind of scratch while staying in school. 

Dean’d actually marshalled all the arguments together in his head and even practiced saying a few of them out loud in the gruff voice he’d been trying to get better at now that he voice didn’t crack so much. 

When Dad got home, though, he didn’t say anything. Well. “Pack it up,” he’d said and “don’t be a brat,” when Dean complained about the food Dad bought them for breakfast. Dean should’ve been relieved when his Dad didn’t mention anything about his lack of attendance at high school, but his chest just felt kind of like it was pulled taunt. Ridiculous, he knew. His Dad had more important things to worry about than Dean’s secondary education. 

Dean shoved the stupid, irrational feelings aside and went to pack it up before he woke Sam up and got them on the road. 

John had actually been on time that week. A month and a half he had told them and only a month and a half he was gone. Meant Sammy got a bit of stability in his education and meant that Dean had a bit more money socked away than he strictly needed. 

The extra money would be nice. For next time. Maybe he’d go to the grocery store and try to get some turkey for Sammy for Thanksgiving. Give the kid a nice surprise. He’d expected John to ask about the money or, hell, Thanksgiving, in the car, but he didn’t. 

Instead, Dean brought Sammy out to the back of the car, sleeping, while his Dad silently but impatiently gestured for Dean to take a seat up front with him. 

Dean did. His stomach clenched and Dean found himself telling his Dad about Sammy’s grades and his meeting with Sam’s homeroom teacher who thought Sammy could really be something like some damn idiot, just to break the silence. 

“Son,” John said, “I’m tired.” 

“Right,” Dean licked his lips. He fell silent, restless. “Y’know. Might be good for Sam to get a little stability,” he said. “He’s doing real good here. Sir.” 

“If I’d have known you’d be making such a racket,” his Dad said sternly, “I’d’ve kept you in the back with your brother.” 

“Yes sir,” Dean said. He curled around the side of the car and tried to get comfortable. His Dad really did look tired. The bruise on his Dad’s face was purpling. “G’night Dad.” After a slight hesitation, he added, “Sir.” 

He rolled over and squeezed his eyes shut, heart pounding too loudly to let him hear if his Dad said anything in return. He thought he heard a sigh and maybe the back of his Dad’s hand against his shoulder briefly as Dean drifted in and out of sleep. Dean held himself still just in case it was. 

John woke him when they got to Bobby’s and Dean woke Sam. 

“Come on,” Dean said. “We just gotta get your stuff inside, then you can go back to sleep.” 

Sam followed Dean’s instructions without a word and then immediately went up into the room he and Dean shared during their stays at Bobby’s. Dean stood outside the room, clutching the duffle for a bit. Dad was going to continue the drive for another few hours. Another hunt, a few states over. He’d be back for Thanksgiving, though, he promised, and he pressed a few twenties into Dean’s hand. Less than a quarter of the money Dean had rolled up under his waistband. 

It was good, though. Money, in general, was good, even if Dean suspected that Bobby wouldn’t take it. 

“Kid,” Bobby came up behind him so quietly it took everything Dean had in him not to jump. 

“Bobby,” Dean said. “Dad gave me some --” 

“You put that away, son,” Bobby replied, like Dean knew he would. “I know you’re not about to tell me your Daddy thinks I’m some kind of charity case.” 

“No sir,” Dean told him and Bobby looked at Dean in a way that made something hot and heavy inflate in Dean’s chest. Bobby grunted and nudged the edge of his baseball cap teasingly at Dean. 

“You going to bed, boy? Or you just gonna stand here and watch your brother all night?” 

Dean fiddled with the ends of his flannel. “Sammy was doing real good,” Dean told Bobby. “We were down in Port Plymouth for a while, y’know? I think he liked it. I was wondering if there’d be some way of contacting the school and making them send nice things over here.” 

“I’ll give them a ring in the morning,” Bobby said. “I’m sure Sam’ll be talking my ear off about it at breakfast anyhow.”

“Thanks,” Dean said. 

“How long are you guys staying this time?” 

“Dad said he’ll be back for Thanksgiving,” Dean said and tried to pretend like he didn’t hear Bobby snort. “Not more’n a few weeks.” 

“Well, it won’t do for you to be missing that much school, especially so close to the end of the semester.”

Dean looked down and licked his lips. He’d gotten so nervous over Dad, he hadn’t even thought about Bobby. Though, he supposed, Bobby wouldn’t really even care so it’s not like he had much call to be nervous. 

“I’ll take care of it,” Dean said. “Get Sam re-enrolled.” 

“And yourself,” Bobby said. “Don’t think I ain’t aware you’re about to be graduating this year. You ain’t done with school yet, boy.” 

Dean nodded. Bobby didn’t ask, so Dean wasn’t technically lying. Dean went to bed that night, sour feeling in the pit of his stomach. The next morning, he went down to enroll Sam in school and went to head to work -- but then Dean realized they weren’t in Port Plymouth, that he had money enough for now, and that Bobby wasn’t about to come round banging on the door about next month’s rent. 

Stupid. Dean’d done what he had to. What he thought -- they’d been real low on food. Dean didn’t want Sam knowing that. Kid kept complaining, though, and he was sprouting right up and they didn’t have any vegetables and Dean’d gotten arrested last time he’d tried stealing and Dad hadn’t liked that at all. Dean hadn’t liked it either. He’d put Sammy at risk and then he didn’t get to see him again for months. Dean was never going to do that again. 

But rent was a lot and food was a lot and money even after school and weekends at the grocery store or hustling wasn’t -- stable. And then Dad had been gone a good, long while. Stopped texting, too. Working that case up in Minnisota. Dean’d started wondering if this was some kind of test or -- reward -- but Dean didn’t want to think about it. Prime directive , he told himself instead. Take care of Sammy

So Dean dropped out. Started taking more shifts. Starting working the street corner near the motel when that didn’t work. Started doing a lot of things he hadn’t done before. Stuff he had to do. Had to. 

Then John came and now they were here and Dean was a high school dropout who had more money than he’d ever seen in one place and Dean didn’t know what it meant. 

Dean didn’t know what any of it meant. 

He sat in the car, and pulled out a copy of Slaughterhouse Five Bobby’d given him the last time they were here out of his glove compartment. He had time. He’d read it again. Might even be able to sneak into a movie, town as sleepy as this. Dean relaxed. 

 


 

Course, Bobby was waiting for him when he got home. “Go’n wash up,” he directed Sam, “and stay up until I call you. I gotta talk to your brother.” 

“Stop treating me like a child,” Sam scowled. 

“Boy,” Bobby said, exasperation wrinkling his face. “You think I got time for this?” 

“Sam,” Dean said, heart racing. “Listen to Bobby. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.” 

“Dean --” 

“Sam,” Dean repeated, firmer. 

“You’re such a jerk,” Sam said. 

Dean’s smile lightened, even if his eyes didn’t. “And you’re a bitch,” he said. “Now, get.” 

Eyes still narrowed, Sam turned to look at Dean. He peered at his older brother for a few minutes, then said, “okay,” and left. 

Bobby waited for Sam to be gone before turning to Dean and gently batting at him with the rolled up coupon book sitting next to him on the counter. “You some kind of idjit?” 

“No --” 

“You think I’m some kind of idjit?” 

“No --” 

“You got worms for brains?” 

“Bobby,” Dean protested, grabbing the coupon book. 

“You ask me to call Sam’s school for him and you think I’m not going to find out you’ve dropped out?” 

Dean winced. He dropped the coupon book down onto the kitchen table. He hadn’t thought about it like that, actually. Still. He stiffened his shoulders defensively. Bobby didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. 

“You think I don’t know what I’m talking about?” Bobby asked, and Dean started and stared at him with shocked wide eyes. “I didn’t finish my secondary education with flying colors either.” 

Dean’s eyes hardened. “I’m not going back,” he said. “It’s stupid and there’s no point and besides, I’m more useful to Sam and Dad when I don’t got to be taking classes.” 

“I’ll tell you again,” Bobby said. “You oughta be doing this stuff for yourself. But --” he held up a hand to forestall Dean’s objection. “If you ain’t doing that, you gotta know that a GED is gonna be more helpful to them than anything else.” 

“A --” 

“GED,” Bobby said. “Come on, boy. I know you ain’t stupid.” 

Dean ducked his head. “It’s a lot of studying,” he told Bobby. “It’s not for me.” 

“Dean --” 

“Bobby,” Dean interrupted. “I’m not doing it. I’m going to go work on the cars a bit before dinner, alright?” 

“Alright,” Bobby said and even Dean could tell it was reluctant. Still, Dean let out a small exhale of relief, knowing that Bobby was letting him go. 




 

Now 

When Claire said she was dropping out of college to pursue hunting full time, Dean said, “right,” and left the room. 

Claire turned to Castiel, glaring. “Well? I’m not asking permission.” 

Castiel, for his part, looked torn between going after Dean and staying to argue with her. “You’re right, you do not need our -- permission.” He tilted his head down towards Claire. What does Jody think about all of this?” Castiel had not been expecting this conversation. Castiel had been expecting something that Claire had sarcastically called a “funky fresh family fun time” over the phone and which Castiel had taken to mean lunch with Jody and the girls. 

“She’s against it. Just like I knew you would be. Hypocrites,” Claire crossed her arms and set her posture back on its heels, she was boarding up her defenses and battening down her hatches. 

“Claire,” Castiel started, face scrunched up. 

Claire scoffed. “It’s so unfair. Literally none of you went to college. And I tried it, okay? And now I know I don’t want to do it, so I’m going to go into full time hunting.” 

She looked like she wanted to say something else. 

Conflicted, Castiel waited to see if she would. “If it’s what you want,” he said, after a longer pause than Dean instructed him to tolerate, “of course we’ll support you.” 

“Good luck telling Jody that.” 

“Has she said anything?” 

“She doesn’t have to. She just looks at me with that -- she’s disappointed in me. I can tell. She took me in and I can’t even -- I mean, the way she looks at me -- like she’s so fucking -- whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m an adult and it’s my life and I get to choose what I do with it.” 

“There’s nothing more adult than stubbornly insisting you are one,” Alex said from the corner of the room. 

“No one was asking you, Alex!” Claire snapped.

“Real mature,” Alex snipped back. Claire stomped out after that, leaving Cas lost. He stood there for a second, then tried, with greater success than he had anticipated, to follow Claire. 

Unfortunately for Claire, consumed by the fury of a twenty-something who was mid family squabble, she had failed to factor in the fact that Jody did not have a very large house and that there was really and truly only a place to go once you were outside of the living room. The consequence of this was, of course, that she walked into Dean, who had stormed out of the room less than a minute before she did, almost immediately. Though both Claire and Dean would have loudly protested that they did not storm anywhere, much less “out”. 

She also didn’t factor in the fact that, obviously, Cas would follow her. 

“Oh,” Cas stopped short, looking between Claire and Dean. 

“Ugh!” 

“Claire,” Cas said. 

“Don’t worry about it, Cas,” Dean said without looking at him or Claire. 

“Oh, like you’re one to talk, Dean,” Claire told him. “I can take care of myself. You just stormed out of there.” 

“Hey! I did not storm out of there!” Dean objected. “I don’t storm places. Teenage girls,” he said, with a pointed look at Claire, “storm places.”  

“You do storm some places,” Cas contradicted him. 

“Really, Cas?” was the only thing Dean said but he was sending Cas one of his patented Are You Kidding Me My Name Is Dean Winchester And Are You Kidding Me I Cannot Believe This Is Something Angels and Also Maybe God Are Forcing Me To Deal With Right Now On Top Of Everything. It was a very familiar, oddly fond look. 

“I --” Cas stopped himself. “No, Dean, I did not think it would be, as you say, helpful. I thought it might break the tension. But I can see that you are not looking to calm down right now.” 

“Cas --” Dean protested. “Come on, you know I didn’t -- come on, man.” 

Cas gave Dean his Silent Judgement Eyes. Dean gave Cas his Winchester Eye Roll. It was almost identical to his Are You Kidding Me look. Dean did not permit himself an extensive diversity of facial expressions.  

“Am I needed for whatever this is?” Claire asked, gesturing between the two of them. “Or can I go now?” 

“Claire,” Cas said, turning to her and frowning. “We should talk about this. It is important that you discuss pressing issues with the people in your life.” He sounded like he was reciting a textbook. Dean realized he probably was. “Right, Dean?” 

What ? “Keep me out of this, man,” Dean told him. 

This didn’t seem to help Claire, who somehow became even more defensive at those words. 

“Great,” she said, words completely contradicting her body language, “I don’t care, you don’t care, Cas does care but who cares that he cares --” 

“Hey!” Dean interjected half heartedly, which really made Claire roll her eyes. “You do that too much, your face’ll get stuck like that.” 

“You,” Claire said viciously, “don’t know anything.” 

“I know that you shouldn’t be dropping out of college,” Dean said back. “I know what a dumbass move that is.” Dean’s jaw snapped shut at the end of the sentence and clenched tight around his teeth but he didn’t say anything else. 

“Dumbass?” Claire snapped, ignoring the flicker of emotions darting across Dean’s face. Her heartbeat roars up, deafening. “You and Cas and Jody -- you’re all the same. Stop trying to change my mind, okay? Especially not using something wearing my father’s face. That’s just -- low, all right? And you don’t even care, Dean. You just dropped me off and left me here and that was it!” 

“Cas is not a thing,” Dean said at the same time Cas said, pained, “Dean --” 

“Great. Right.” Claire said. “Should’ve expected that. With you two it’s really all about each other, isn’t it. Forget about Claire. We don’t have time for Claire. Except for when we want to judge her.” 

“You know that’s not true,” Dean said. 

“Really?” Claire asked, shoulders hunched over. “Do I? Because it seems like you only come when I’m in trouble and maybe I’m done with everyone looking at me and seeing some poor little orphan who can’t help herself from pissing on the carpet.” 

“Now, that’s --” 

But Claire didn’t let Dean finish. “You didn’t even make it through high school!” She pointed out sharply and then fucking finally, managed to stop the flow of poison out of her mouth. That, Claire felt the concern starting to break into her fury, might have been a line. She wasn’t sure. She swallowed. 

“Didn’t realize you were so desperate to follow in my footsteps,” Dean returned, face carved stone. Looking at him made Claire feel worse, unable to remember how she’d gotten here. She hated this. She hated the way the anger seemed to boil, thick and heavy under her veins. She hated the way it poured out of her without permission. The way it sent words from her mouth lashing around across the room and bouncing off the walls and into innocent couches and chairs until they just came, ringing, back to her ears. 

Dean’s voice, when he spoke next, was hard. “If you’re looking for some sort of respect with this stunt, you can forget it.”

“Fine. Forgotten.” Claire tried to leave, but Cas was blocking the only other doorway. “Would you get out of my way?” It wasn’t that she wanted to yell or that she was trying to yell it was that she was yelling and she wasn’t even realizing until the words were wrapping back around to her ears and it was too late. She didn’t wait for an answer. Luckily for them both, Cas stepped out of her way before she could push him. 

When Claire was gone, Cas turned to Dean. “I do not think that went very well,” he said. 

Dean let out a humorless laugh. “That’s one way of putting it, buddy.” 

Cas frowned. “I --” 

Dean held up a hand, stopping him. “Just. Don’t. Alright?” 

Cas acquiesced and left Dean. Dean closed his eyes and took a deep breath in through his nose. He wrapped his arms around his sides. He took another breath. The blue walls were a nice touch. It was funny. Claire had looked exactly like he used to whenever he was on the outs with Dad. All anger, no channel. Looking for punishment.  

“Dean?” Sam’s voice startled him. A lifetime of training that kept Dean still. He opened his eyes. 

“I keep saying the wrong thing, Sammy,” Dean told Sam’s kneecaps. 

“Teenage girls are hard,” Sam said, which made Dean give a short laugh. 

“You can say that again.” 

“What went wrong?” Sam’s voice is soft and careful and slow. Dean can’t find it in himself to be angry about the kid gloves. 

Dean shrugged. He still wasn’t looking up at Sam. He didn’t want to see that stupid little squished together pity face right then. 

Luckily, Jody came into the room then. “Come on,” she told Sam and Dean, herding them outside. “I got beers. Let’s go.” 

She dragged them out to the porch, letting them take a seat across from her at a large oak table. Sam looked up at the sky, the sun in a sea of blue almost blinding without an underground bunker to hide it away.  

“We should get out more,” Sam said. 

“What?” 

“Out of the bunker,” Sam clarified. “Go camping or something.” 

Dean brightened immediately. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Get our grill on. Some real live roughing it. Build a nice little fire -- you, me and Cas sharing beers. Jack pouting because he’s too young to drink. Real nice.” 

Sam rolled his eyes. “I was thinking we could bring along Eileen --” 

Dean elbowed him roughly. “Oh?” 

“Shut up.” 

“What am I,” Jody asked, “chopped liver?” 

“No,” Dean said jovially. “No, of course. Bring the girls!” 

“If Claire ever talks to me again,” Jody muttered, pulling the morning’s mood back into their orbit. 

“She will,” Sam said, earnestly. “Jody, I’ve seen how much she loves you. She’s just having a hard time right now.” 

Jody rubbed her hand against the beer bottle sticker. “Yeah,” she said, sounding unconvinced. “I hear you. Dunno what else I can say to her. She won’t be convinced to do anything but hunt, these days. What about you, Dean? You manage to get through to her at all?” 

“No.” Dean cleared his throat. “No. It’s hard to get through, you know. I’m not sure what to say. When I dropped out, no one ever -- no one raised a fuss.” 

Sam frowned at him. “That’s not true.” 

Dean rolled his eyes. “Oh, right, I know you wouldn’t shut up about it --” 

“No, no,” Sam said. “That’s not what I meant. I meant Bobby. He got you that book, didn’t he? And he’d call me, to make sure you were studying.” 

“He did?” Dean asked. 

Sam snorted. “Of course he didn’t tell you.” 

“Well, I probably would’ve told him to stop,” Dean admitted and then took a drink of his beer. 

“You boys were lucky you had that man,” Jody said. 

“Yeah,” Dean agreed softly. 

“And those girls are lucky to have you, Jody,” Sam added, face the picture of earnest concern. 

“I don’t know about that,” Jody replied. “I’m certainly doing my best, but.” 

“You’re doing a hell of a lot more than that,” Dean said, unexpectedly. Sam frowned at him and cocked his head. “I mean, if I was that age? Having someone who cared? Well. It would’ve meant a hell of a lot. Shit, it did. Even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Knowing Bobby gave a shit? Means more’n I probably ever got a chance to tell him.” He took another sip of beer. “So give Claire a minute. She might not show it, but she’s glad. She’ll be glad.” 

Jody’s lips twisted. “I hope so,” she said. “I just wish I could talk to her. I don’t understand what’s going through her head.” 

They lapsed into silence again, all three of them looking at the endless expanse of sky rolling out in front of them. Jody put up a hand to block out the sun. Sam leaned back against the simple wooden chair. Dean took a long pull of his beer, which tasted sickly warm, condensation chilling his fingers. A slight breeze ruffled through the grass in front of them but other than that, the day was perfectly still. 

“I’m going to try to talk to Claire again,” Dean said, unexpectedly. 

“What?” Jody said. 

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Sam asked. “Might be best just to let her calm down a bit first.” 

“Nah,” Dean said. “I actually think I got this one. Sam gave me an idea. I’m going to take a leaf from the book of an old friend.” 

Jody gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you,” she said. “And if it doesn’t work, hell, I’ll be right here. With alcohol.” She waved the beers cheerfully at him.  

Dean grinned. “Oh,” he said. “I’m counting on it.” And then he went back inside to talk to Claire. 

 




Then

Bobby got into an argument with John a few days before Thanksgiving. Dean was pretty sure that Bobby thought he was asleep and in Bobby’s defense, Dean had been. He’d just thought he’d heard something and wanted to do a perimeter check just in case. 

That’s when he realized he had heard something. He took a creaky step down and then froze. Bobby’s voice. 

“Fucking -- Thanksgiving --” he heard. Then, “oh that sure as hell ain’t gonna cut it -- no, I -- you ever think about it, John? How come those kids are surviving so good without -- yeah. That’s what you wanna call it? Two months -- oh, month and half. Like that makes it better. You know, Dean actually seems to think you’re coming -- yeah, yeah. John -- You give that boy of yours half a kind word and he’s swelling up like a balloon, John, what the hell are you --” and that’s when Dean’s hands flew, involuntarily, over his ears and he sprinted back up the stairs. He could still hear Bobby cursing as he fumbled the door outside his bedroom. He laid down on the bed, but the heat of his shame kept him up longer than any nightmare ever had. 

John showed up a week after Thanksgiving to collect them and Bobby fired his old beat up shot gun at him twice while Dean laid very still and resolved to do a better job keeping it all in next time. 




 

Sam had ended up doing Thanksgiving with his girlfriend that year, so that made Dean’s turkey dinner idea bust. Which meant that Dean still had a fuck ton of cash burning a hole in his jeans. Probably better, about the Thanksgiving thing. They weren’t a family for the holidays and, anyway, Dean didn’t want to subject Sam to anymore of his cooking then he had to anyways. 

Dad had called Dean last night, told him to be ready to go tomorrow. Told him Bobby wasn’t happy with him at the moment and could Dean and Sam meet him a ways down the road in the afternoon? And Dean had said yes sir, even though Sam had crossed his arms and frowned at him. 

Dean packed up all he could last night but he hadn’t been able to sleep much. Which didn’t leave him much to do but did give him much time to sit and think. 

It would be smart to keep the money, Dean knew. It would be real smart and anyway, Christmas was coming up and Sammy would be needing presents and the money could go to that. If Dean really needed to get rid of it. But hanging onto the cash that long -- for another month -- made something turn, thick and slow in Dean’s stomach. 

Money was money. Money was always valuable no matter how Dean got it or when. Dean clenched his fist and then stopped, suddenly, the crinkling of the bills drawing his attention. Bobby’d been getting Dean to do some part time work in the Savage yard since Dean had straight up refused to go back to high school but if Dad and Bobby were really fighting, it wasn’t anything he’d be able to rely on. Made it more important to keep what he could and not do anything stupid, boy. 

‘Side. Dad found a case and he wanted them with him for it. Said he might let Dean come along after he assessed his shooting. Didn’t matter what Sam said or what Bobby’d yelled last night. Didn’t even matter that Bobby had chased John off the property with a shotgun, making the pit in Dean’s stomach grow larger and larger. 

Dean was ready to go. 

He should keep the money. He didn’t understand why he didn’t want to, but he was packed and he was ready and he wasn’t going to just sit around Bobby’s house feeling weird. He got up to get Sam when Bobby stopped him on the stairs. 

“Now,” Bobby said. “Where do you think you’re going?” 

“Dad called,” Dean said. “Got another job.” 

“What, he can’t leave you two here for another few weeks? I heard him hollering last night that at least I was cheaper’n a motel.” Dean didn’t wince because John had trained that out of him and he didn’t apologize because -- well. John didn’t apologize for John so why should Dean? 

“You know how he is when he gets to drinking,” Dean said instead. He wished he sounded less squeaky and more steady but that Dean supposed, was just puberty giving him a good old smackdown. 

Bobby grunted, which was unusual. Bobby usually shrugged it off like Dean did. “Now, I’m sure you heard that last night, right boy? Me and your Daddy getting into it?” 

“Yeah,” Dean said, relaxing a bit. This was okay. Bobby just wanted to teach him a lesson. Dean straightened up his spine, even though Bobby never seemed to care about that stuff like John did and tried to widen his stance. Something warm, something like pride seemed to brighten him up from the inside. Bobby thought Dean was important enough to give lessons to. Dean wanted to be worthy of that trust. 

“Now, I might be mad at him, but that don’t mean I’m mad at you and your brother,” Bobby said. “You two are welcome anytime. With or without your Daddy’s permission. In fact, I might prefer it that way. You catch my drift?” 

“Bobby,” Dean said, hesitantly. 

“Alright, alright,” Bobby conceded. “If I know that stubborn bastard like I think I do, you and your brother probably ain’t going be back for a while.” Dean nodded because Bobby was right. “So, I wanna give you this.” He shoved a book into Dean’s hand. 

“I already packed up Sam’s books,” Dean said. 

“It’s for you, idjit,” Bobby said. 

Dean looked down at the book in his hands. Across the cover it said GED Test Prep. There was a picture of a gold star and some stupid college looking building. 

“Bobby,” Dean started, fury pushing the shame down his throat and keeping it there, “what the hell am I going to need this for?” 

“I ain’t stupid,” Bobby told him. “And I didn’t think you were neither. I know you ain’t going to go back to school. You wanna drop out, fine. But you think you’re going to be able to support yourself --” Dean scoffed and Bobby pushed deeper, “support Sam without any kind of degree?” 

“It’s been fine,” Dean spat back, even though it hadn’t, even though Dean was barely hanging on. “I’m going to be a hunter. I don’t need class or school or any of those stupid things, okay?” 

“It’s a damn gift,” Bobby said. “You take those and you shut your mouth. Use it, don’t use it. But you ain’t ever been dumb, Dean. It ain’t going to be fine forever. You don’t want to grow into some crotchety old bastard without a degree, sitting up in a big house alone.”

“I don’t need --” 

“Did I say anything about need, boy?” Bobby asked, exasperated. “No. It ain’t about that.” 

“But --” Dean said, not really sure why or what he was still arguing. He had a terrible feeling that if he let the conversation drop, he’d have to think about it and that was more terrifying than anything that had happened to Dean yet. 

“It’s a gift,” Bobby repeated. “You take those and you keep them. And then you say thank you.” 

Dean took the book. “Thank you.” 

“There you go,” Bobby said gruffly and put a big warm hand solidly and firmly on Dean’s shoulder. “Now, like I said, I know you boys are leaving. Just take care, all right?” 

“Yeah,” Dean hoped his voice didn’t feel as strung out and needy as he felt. “I hear you. You too, Bobby.” 

Bobby squeezed his shoulder again and then let Dean go. 




 

Now

Dean entered Claire’s room without knocking. 

“Can you just leave me alone for one goddamn second Jody --” Claire snapped and then desperately tried to dial that back. “I mean -- Dean, I didn’t mean that -- I --” She stopped when Dean brought himself over to sit down next to her. 

“How badly do you want me to leave you alone right now?” 

“So badly,” Claire said, but she smiled a bit. 

“Come downstairs,” Dean said. “I promise to stop pissing you off.” 

“Everyone’s gonna --” 

“Hey, you kind of owe me,” Dean said. “Hitting below the belt like that?” 

“I didn’t --” Claire looked down. “I just get angry. I know you and Jody just want to --” she cut herself off. “It’s whatever. I don’t know why I’m not angry.” 

“Besides everything?” 

Claire actually grunted a laugh out that time. “Besides everything,” she agreed. She got up and tried very hard not to bite her lips. 

“Nervous?” Dean asked. 

Claire rolled her eyes. 

“I used to dig my fingernails into my palms,” he said. “Thought it was real subtle, too.” 

“Dude,” Claire scoffed. “That’s like, the most obviously one in the book.” 

“Yeah, well. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I was kind of dumbass.” 

“I’m sorry.” 

“Hey,” Dean said. “Shut up. You’re stealing my best lines.” 

“What?” 

“You’ve got -- well, not nothing to apologize for, but we should’ve known better than to push you. I shoulda known better than to push you.” 

Claire looked off to the side. “Still.” She said. 

“Come on, kid,” he gestured to the door with his head. “Let’s go.” 

Grumbling but smiling, Claire followed Dean out through her house all the way to the kitchen where Dean, abruptly, stopped. Claire almost stumbled, caught herself, then opened her mouth to tease Dean. The words died in her mouth, however, when she noticed how tense he seemed. Claire took a step back. The edge of the counter was cool beneath her palms. Maybe Alex was right. Maybe the kitchen island was a good idea. 

“I didn’t graduate high school,” he grunted out at the wall directly in front of him. “No one bothered me about it either. Well,” he chuckled. “Bobby did. A little bit. Damn near took me head off when he --” Dean lost himself for a bit in the memory. “S’not important.” 

“I get it, little orphan Annie,” Claire said and she was trying not to roll her eyes and trying not to let the guilt claw its way out of her throat and trying to hang on to her anger because it didn’t hurt so goddamn much that way. Dean said he wasn’t going to push her he said --

“Do you?” Dean looked at her. 

Claire tried -- and failed -- not to twist uncomfortably under Dean’s searching look. “Whatever,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean. Whatever.” Claire hated this. She felt like a small twig or a bush looking up at a mountain, craggy and unrecognizable and dangerous. It wasn’t her fault that Dean was a minefield and that she was never any good at this anyway, no matter how badly she wanted to be. If she could just explain it to people how hard it all was -- really explain it people. In a way where they’d understand and not just scoff at her with disgust, not just roll their eyes. Claire looked up at Dean’s immovable, impassable face and suddenly she was furious. “Alright, I don’t know,” she hissed. “It’s not like you’ve ever said. It’s not like you’d ever say shit.”  

Dean swallowed and turned his gaze away from her. It made Claire feel worse. But Claire didn’t know how to stop. It was like when Jody would come home and ask about her day and Claire would just see the anger welling up inside her, hear the words snapping to just leave it even if all she wanted to do was say that it was bad and that the kids didn’t understand and that she sat alone, again, in the dining hall. 

She closed her eyes and tried to wait until Dean left to sink her face into her knees. But Dean didn’t leave. He just sat next to her, looking somewhere between her and the kitchen wall. 

“Well?” She snapped, after she couldn’t take it anymore. 

Dean stood up and pulled an arm over his head. “I could go for some lunch,” he said. “What about you?”

Something inside Claire sunk down and thunked, heavy as lead in the bottom of her stomach. Of course. “Sure,” she said, dully. “Whatever you say, old man.” She got up to go to her room, but Dean stopped her. 

“No, no, none of that.” He said and he was smiling and he was acting like they weren’t fighting or he didn’t just sit in dead silence for thirty fucking minutes like some fucking PTSD ridden Rottweiler pulled out of a dog fighting ring getting zoinked out of its mind on Klonopin. “You think I’m doing this on my own? You ain’t getting out of work that easy. Now, pull out some tomatoes and a couple of those cheese strips.” 

Out of shock more than anything else, Claire did it. Dean slid her a knife, nice and easy. Claire grabbed it and lifted it, questioningly, into the air. 

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Cut the tomatoes,” he said. 

“What?” 

“Cut ‘em thin,” he told her. “I think the two of us owe Jody a nice lunch after everything she’s done for us.” 

Claire wanted to strangle him. “You’re actually going to make me help you make lunch for everyone?” 

“Attitude’ll get you a lot of places,” Dean said in response. “But not with me.” He smirked and for a second, Claire could see the echo of a much younger man in his face. “I know all the tricks.” 

Claire felt something hot slide down the side of her face and she bit the inside of her cheek before turning back to the cutting board and started -- awkwardly -- cutting the tomatoes. 

“Don’t forget the cheese,” Dean said cheerfully, waving a second knife he’d pulled out of who knows where around. “I’m getting the bread.” And then, with a surreal twinge, Claire watched him actually get the bread. She swiped quickly at her eyes and grabbed the knife.

“What are we making?” 

Dean scoffed. “It ain’t obvious?” 

“Would I be asking if it --” 

“Grilled cheese,” Dean interrupted. Claire grinned. Victory . “I’m not a big fan, but you know. You can make a lot and they’re not too overwhelming to the newly human among us.” Claire nodded in understanding. Cas. “Tomatoes are for Sam, so he doesn’t act like a little girl.”

“Is it fun for you to say that to actual girls?” Claire asked, mostly just curious. It was worth it, though, to see Dean get a little red on the back on his neck. 

“Hey,” he said. “I’m supposed to be lecturing you.” 

Claire immediately soured. “What, Jody ask you to do that?” 

“Jody cares about you,” Dean said. 

Claire slammed the knife through the cheese too hard. The wooden cutting board jiggled precariously. 

Dean turned on the stove and waited for a minute. When he added the butter, it sizzled. He dropped one piece of bread on. “Cheese?” he held out a hand. 

“I’m not done!” Claire objected. 

“You have, what, three slices? That’s good enough.” 

“None of the tomatoes are ready.” 

“Those are only for Sam.” 

“Dean --” 

Dean grabbed the three slices and put them on the bread. He put another slice on top. Then, he licked his fingers, pursed his lips, and looked down at the grilled cheese in progress. “I don’t know if that’s enough cheese,” he told Claire, cheekily. She didn’t her best not to throw the block of cheese at his head. Dean winked at her. “Don’t tell?” he asked. “We can split this one?” 

“You’re actually an asshole. You know, Jack and Cas and Jody and everyone think that you’re such a nice guy or whatever but you’re actually just such an asshole.” 

“Yep,” Dean agreed, smiling insouciantly back at Claire. “

She shook her head ruefully, and turned back to the cheese. She was clumsy with the knife and the block of cheese in a way she wasn’t clumsy with a knife and a monster which was a sobering realization that Claire decided to box up tightly and never think about again. 

She cut the cheese and Dean manned the stove and it wasn’t long before he was tapping the table next to her and gesturing to a small but growing pile of grilled cheese sandwiches. 

“Thought you didn’t like them,” Claire said. 

“Yeah, well,” Dean said. “They’re growing on me.” 

Claire picked up one of the triangles. “Why triangles?” She asked, then took a bite. “Or is it connected to your super secret depressing tragic past?” She added, through a mouthful of bread and cheese. 

Dean gave her a look. “Don’t think Sam noticed which way I cut his sandwiches. Cas likes the triangles better though. Dunno why. That good enough of an answer for you?” 

Claire swallowed her bite of sandwich. She knew what Dean was really asking. “Everyone cares,” she told him. “Everyone cares so damn -- I don’t need that.” 

Dean cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t?” 

“No!” 

“Why?” he asked, then took his own bite. 

“They’re just going to get in my way, okay? I’m going to be a hunter and I’ve always said that and it’s not my fault that people are going around having expectations or whatever.” 

Claire’s going to make Dean angry again. Claire’s trying to make Dean angry again. She doesn’t know what’s wrong with her, why she can’t stop talking or saying these things but she just needs Dean of all people to stop looking at her like that. Like she’s letting him down when all she’s ever done is be exactly who she is and it’s not her fault they have preconceived ideas and expectations when she’s just shit and she’s just exactly as she comes. Claire isn’t surprised they’re all disappointed in her, because Claire sure as shit is when she looks in the mirror. But she didn’t ask them to have expectations. It’s not her fault they care. It’s not her fault that all she seems to do is let them down. 

“Get up,” Dean said. “We’re not done making sandwiches.” 

Claire looked up. 

“It’s interesting,” he said, “you having all these people who believe in you and not wanting them to. I never had too much of that, you know.” His voice was even. Neutral. 

“What about Bobby?” Claire asked. “Sam says Bobby helped him apply to college.” 

Dean smiled softly at the bread, then sunk the knife rapidly down and into it over and over and over again. “You know,” he said. He sounded surprised. “You’re actually right about that. Bobby -- when I dropped out, Bobby just about strung me up by my ears. Gave me a book on the GED and said that he expected me at six the next morning or he’d dock my pay.” 

“Oh my God,” Claire couldn’t help herself. “Does every single story you recount have to sound like it’s something Hemmingway adapted from a Charles Dickens plot because the orphan children sweatshop angle wasn’t depressing enough?” 

Dean swatted her with the cutting board. Bread crusts rained down onto the floor. “I’m imparting sage wisdom,” Dean told her. 

Claire rolled her eyes. “You’re like forty. You’re not wise. Also, why’d you cut off the crusts?”

“Jody let slip that Alex doesn’t like ‘em,” Dean said in a tone that implies it’s not important at all with body language that implies it’s the most important thing of all. Claire wished, not for the first or the last time, that she could hit him. 

“One day,” she said, “you’re going to get married and I’m going to have to talk you out of your wedding day jitters. I bet I’ll do a better job then than you’re doing now.” 

“What are you talking about? I’m doing a great job!” 

“You’re conscripting me into manual labor,” Claire returned. 

Dean shook his head. “Isn’t that just what childhood is?” 

“Has anyone ever told you that you have an exceeding warped view of life?” 

Dean shrugged. “Only most of my teachers.” He made a face. “Couple of ‘em thought I was meant for greatness -- or that they were meant to save me or some shit. Forgot how much I hated that.” He sliced the bread again, but in like, at Claire. In an aggravatingly meaningful way. 

“You aren’t subtle.” 

“I’m no Bobby Singer,” Dean agreed. “But I think you’re a bit less of a dumbass than I was. So it should all come out in the wash.” 

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” Claire muttered. “I can’t seem to stop letting everyone down. Messing everything up.” 

“You’re not messing up these grilled cheeses,” Dean said. 

“Ha ha,” Claire said, dryly. She picked the knife back up, started slicing again. She picked up the tomato. “It’s just school,” she said eventually. “It’s stupid. None of the girls -- none of the kids -- nothing there matters. And the kids they just don’t get it. They haven’t seen what I’ve seen and they don’t even want to and I sit alone -- Fuck!” the tomato exploded all over Claire’s hand. “Stop laughing!” 

Dean did not stop laughing. 

“I’m pouring my heart and soul out to you, and you’re laughing?” 

“Come on,” Dean said, “you gotta admit that was pretty funny.” 

Claire refused to give him the satisfaction of smiling but she did take what remained of the tomato and pushed it into the trash. “Who gives a fuck about what Sam wants,” she said. “He can deal.” 

This made Dean laugh even harder. “Knew you were a good one, kid.” 

Something big and round and hot seemed to swell from deep inside Claire and this time, she couldn’t hold the smile back. “Anyway,” she said, turning to the cheese this time. “It’s all kind of bullshit.”

“What about your classes?” 

“Who cares, man? It’s pre-reqs and it’s, I don’t know. I know what I want to do. At least for now. And spending time not doing that just feels --” selfish -- “wrong.” 

“You want to be hunting? Or you want to be doing something more meaningful than school?” 

Claire paused for a second. She ignored the stab of guilt in her sternum. “Hunting,” she said, and it really came down to that, didn’t it. It was fine to stop hunting. There were other ways to help. Safer ways. Hell, Alex saved lives too. Without hunting. There were other things she could enjoy. But she was selfishly choosing hunting because it felt unfinished. It felt like what she needed to be doing. Like it was the only way she wanted to help. That it was what she wanted to do. “I like it,” she said. “I think I needed it before but now? I like it. At least right now I -- I want to hunt.” 

“Okay then,” Dean said. 

“What?” 

“Okay, I believe you.” 

“You -- what?” Claire repeated. 

“Okay, I believe you. I think you should -- not drop out, but take a leave of absence or something and hunt. In a safe way. With a partner.” 

“That’s it?” 

“Yeah.” Dean shrugged. “I mean, I think you should probably also tell Jody everything you told me, but. That’s it.” 

“That’s -- you’re fucking serious?” 

Dean softened. He grabbed some cheese slices for the bread in the pan. “Kid,” he said. “No one is disappointed in you. We just want you to talk to us and let us know what you’re thinking.” 

Unexpectedly, Claire felt a lump in her throat. She swallowed. Hard. “Oh.” Her voice was smaller than before. She swallowed two more times. “How many more grilled cheeses do we have to make?” 

That made Dean laugh again, which made Claire hit him which made Dean throw bread at her which made Jody, Sam and Cas bust in. Jody and Cas immediately started eating the few grilled cheese slices they’d managed to make and Sam gave Dean a hangdog look until Dean inclined his head and even Sam dove in. 

“Would it kill you --” 

“Don’t look at me, Sammy.” Dean gestured at Claire with the spatula. “She’s the one who threw out the tomatoes.” 

Sam moaned and Claire shot Dean a betrayed look but before anyone could say anything else, Cas chimed in. “Is there more?” he asked. 

Dean let out a comically loud groan. “You ate them all already?” 

Jody looked abashed. Sam looked devastated. Cas looked proud. 

“Alright,” Dean turned to Claire. “Get chopping. Looks like we got a house full of hungry hippos to feed.” 

“You’re the worst,” Claire told him, grinning ear to ear, as she turned back to the cheese board. “The actual, literal worst.” 

 


 

Then 

 

Dean left Bobby’s house and sat in one of Bobby’s old Junkers, flipping through the GED prep book. He was supposed to head on out and meet his Dad. He’d need to get Sam first, though. 

Dean didn’t get Sam. Dean put the car in drive, rolled down the windows. The wind bit his cheeks hard, in a way that made Dean feel like he was standing in a snow drift alone. Dean pushed the memory and the car down the steep lane into Sioux Falls. It was easy enough to find parking outside the run down looking bookstore downtown. 

He dropped a dollar into the cup of the old man outside the book store and rested an extra beat outside, before ringing the bell and entering the store. It was a small place. Dean could lift a book, easy, he was pretty sure. 

“Hey,” he asked the cashier instead. Dean thought she was pretty in the same way a well cared for car was gorgeous: clean lines around big unconventional features. Worn around the well-kept edges. “I’m looking to get a gift.” He dialed up his smile. “Think you can help me out there?” 

Bored eyes flicked over him, slowed then flicked back. “Nope.” 

Dean blinked. “Nope?” He asked. 

“Nope,” she smirked. “Sorry.” 

“You can’t recommend one frigging book? You got a whole store full of them!” 

The chick was definitely interested. She raised an eyebrow at Dean. “Well,” she said. “Not without a bit of help. Who’s this gift for?” 

“My uncle,” Dean said, decisively. 

“What’s he like?” 

Dean scratched the back of his neck. “I dunno, books? He’s got lots of them around his house.” 

“You don’t know?” The girl scowled at him. “You don’t have a single guess?” 

Dean crossed his arms. “He gave me Slaughterhouse Five for my birthday.” That wasn’t strictly true. Bobby had tossed Slaughterhouse Five at his head the last time Dad had dropped them there so ‘I don’t have to listen to your yapping for about five minutes’ when Sam was trying to study for his math exam. Dean’d read it straight through twice. He’d tried to give it back but Bobby wouldn’t take it so Dean still had it. It was the first thing he packed when Dad called. “So I guess he’s a fan of that dude. Vonnegut.” 

“Oh well that narrows it down,” the girl said. “He’s only written ninety-two different novels.” Okay, ouch. Dean kinda liked it though. 

“Um,” Dean said. “If you could just point me in the --” 

“Wait,” the girl said. “I’m teasing. I’ll help you. I just need a bit more info.” She leaned over the cash register and pulled one of the old receipts towards her. “Okay, so a Vonnegut. And your uncle, he’s, what, a vet?” 

Kind of. “Yeah,” Dean said. Then he corrected himself: “Kind of.”

“Mean old man?” 

“Crotchety,” Dean expanded. 

“Nice?” she asked. “Or kind?” 

“Don’t really know that there’s a difference,” Dean said. 

“If you don’t want my help --” the girl moved the pen off the receipt threateningly. 

When Dean came over to ask for help he hadn’t realized she’d be off her rocker. But whatever. Bobby was worth a few conversations with the town loonies. “Kind,” he said. “He ain’t very nice at all.” 

“Good.” The girl wrote a couple of numbers down. “Political?” 

Dean laughed. 

“How’s he feel about the apocalypse?” 

“Prepared,” Dean said, still laughing a bit. “Probably the first person I’d turn to, things started going haywire.” 

“Paranoid?” 

“You don’t even know the half of it.” 

The girl didn’t ask anymore questions, just crossed off a few numbers, added a handful more. “Okay,” she said. “I’m closing in on it. I’m going with the big hits, not the deep cuts, all right? No offense, but I don’t want to go too obscure with a newbie like you.” 

Dean was a little offended. “None taken,” he said. 

“Just two more questions.” 

Dean spread his arms wide. “Ready whenever you are.” He winked. 

“He's one of those guys who's really concerned with technology and the dark potential of science fiction? Or is he more of a dark societal force at work kind of nutsack?” 

“Definitely not the technology one,” Dean said. “I don’t think the dude even owns a tv. You wanna talk mythology though?” Dean laughed privately a bit. “Or the supernatural? Now, there’s a man who really knows where his towel is at.” See Ms Smart Book Lady Cashier? Dean read science fiction. Dean knew science fiction, okay. Dean wasn’t some off the street rube who couldn’t understand a deep cut science fiction novel.  

The girl laughed back and Dean felt himself matching her energy effortlessly. This was more fun than he’d expected. 

“Final question,” she said. “What does this gift mean?” 

“What do you mean?” Dean asked. 

“I mean, is this the kind of gift that means a whole lot you can’t say or this the kind of gift you’re doing because it’s close to the holidays and you pulled his name out of some hat?” 

Dean paused. “Well, I definitely didn’t pull any name out of a hat,” he said, and then stood there, awkwardly, wondering if that was enough. 

It was. The girl stepped out from behind the counter, which made Dean realize that she was about half the size he thought she’d be and just perching on a very, very tall stool. Dean wasn’t sure if he should follow her or not. He didn’t. He riffled nervously through his pockets, running his fingers reassuringly along the ridges of the bills while he waited. 

“Here!” The girl grabbed Dean’s shoulder. “ God Bless You Mr Rosewater . It’s fifteen dollars. Your uncle will love it. Guaranteed.” 

Dean pulls out the wrinkled wad of bills and pulls out a twenty. “Keep the change.” His voice is gruff now , which is just so unbelievably unfair. 

“If you keep this,” the cashier replied as she reached behind her to grab the receipt. “My number,” she explained. 

Dean looked down at the receipt. “Thanks, Rhonda. I’m on my way outta town for the holidays but maybe I’ll give you a call when I’m back in town.” 

 


 

Dean left the book on his bed in Bobby’s house. Wrote the words thanks and his name on it, so Bobby’d know it wasn’t a mistake and wouldn’t try calling John to bother him about coming back to get Dean’s stuff. Started stacking everything up by the door, getting Sam out the door and up the road for John’s arrival. They only had to wait a few hours for him to pull up and leave Sioux Falls in the dust. 

 


 

Now

Dean read God Bless You Mr Rosewater years later, in between hunts when Dad was gone and Sam was gone and Dean was just stalling in a car from hunt to hunt. When Bobby died, it was one of the few things he’d taken from the junkyard. Still said “thanks” in the messy sprawl of a teenage drop out. Had a couple of other quotes Bobby had underlined, and one he’d written out on the back:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” (Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You Mr Rosewater )

Dean thought he’d pass it on to Claire on his next visit. See if she liked it. 

 

…