Killing threads since 2000 CE (gwendolyngrace) wrote in wee_chesters,
Killing threads since 2000 CE

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Fic Post: Levels of Achievement

Title: Levels of Achievement (1/1)
Author: gwendolyngrace
Rating: PG
Genre: Gen
Summary: Dean Winchester vs. the SATs. First he has to take them, and then he has to face the consequences.
Author's Notes: This is a smart!Dean fic. After jedi_diplomat wrote her Geek is Sexy and I mentioned this fic being in my pipeline, and seeing her response, I decided to bump this up in the queue. Complete. No animals were harmed in the creation of this fic. Thanks to the lovely relli86 and etakyma for their ever-insightful beta-reading.
Disclaimer: Me =/= Eric Kripke, Robert Singer, or the CW / WB. All in good fun.
Feedback / Recommend / Archive: Will love you long time.

Part I

John figured out pretty quickly that with all the moving, the school systems were bound to be dissimilar. Whenever possible, he asked them to test the boys, place them in the right grade based on competencies. This meant a slightly spotty transcript and changing gaps between them--sometimes Sam was a level closer to Dean, sometimes Dean jumped forward or back an extra year--but to John’s way of thinking, at least it meant a more well-rounded education.

It had been his best policy since the time when Sam was eight and the boys were enrolled at Bowling Green Elementary--Sam in third grade and Dean in sixth, as determined by their birthdates. Sam had come home in distress that not even Dean could console.

“What’s wrong with him?” John asked over Sam’s head, and Dean could only shrug.

“I’ve been trying to get him to make sense all the way home.”

“Sammy, come here,” John sighed, pulling the boy into his lap.

“She said I had to be meatial, Dad,” Sam choked between sobs.

“What?” John’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Be what, Sam?”

“Meatial?” Sam repeated, though this time there was a doubt in his voice.

“What does that mean, Sammy? Tell me what she told you--and who is ‘she?’”

“Miss Wilson,” Sam said, wiping his nose noisily on his sleeve. John glanced at Dean imploringly and Dean went in search of the tissue box. Sam leaned into his father’s chest. “We got our tests back from last week an’ I only got four out of ten right! She asked me about jography and what I knew about C’lumbus.”

“The explorer?”

“Well, that’s what I thought. So I told her about the three voyages, and Isabella, and she said no, that wasn’t what she meant. She wanted to know about Ohio.”

John sighed. Frigging heartland states. Figured that in Bowling Green, they’d focus on state geography instead of national, or world, for that matter.

“What did you tell her?” he prompted.

“I said it was high in the middle and round on both ends!” Sam said proudly. Dean, who had found a box of tissues and was about to hand it over, dropped it hastily and turned to make for the bedrooms.

“Stay right there, mister,” John called out. Dean froze, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. “Sammy, did Dean teach you that?” He reminded himself that he should pay more attention to their backseat nonsense, but honestly, for sanity’s sake, he had learned to tune out a lot.

“Yep! Didn’t you, Dean?” Sam betrayed his brother innocently.

“Okay,” John squeezed Sam but his eyes were on Dean. His eldest son smiled weakly, and shrugged as if to laugh off his guilt.“We’ll come back to that,” John said, ignoring Dean’s tiny flinch. “Then what?”

“Then she said I was behind and I’d need to be meatial, and she gave me this for you.” Sam reached into his pants pocket for a folded piece of stationery. “And all the kids laughed at me! Dad, I don’t want to be meat!” Sam dissolved again, burying his head against John’s shoulder.

John suppressed a quip about starting with the note instead of having to draw the context out of thin air. He found that even if their stories were garbled, listening to Sam or Dean first usually shed better light on the situation than whatever pop-psych feel-good babble their teachers spewed. His boys knew that, just as they knew that too often, their teachers’ well-meaning notes did not apply to John’s domestic arrangements. This time, however, it seemed he would need some outside assistance to confirm the source of contention. He took the note and scanned it, parsing for the essence, though he thought he’d got the message from Sam. Sure enough, Miss Wilson was writing to say that although Sam had very impressive skills in reading, language, and math, he was woefully under-educated in social studies, including local and state geography, writing, and basic science. In light of Sam’s uneven schooling to date, I recommend placing him in a remedial program, three afternoons per week, to bring him into compliance with state-approved program requirements.

“Sammy, it’s okay,” John told his youngest. “It’s not meat, it’s ‘remedial.’ It means she just wants to give you a little extra help in places where your last school didn’t teach you the same stuff.”

After that incident, John tried to make the schools level his kids by skills and knowledge base, not by age alone. Still, it didn’t always work out that way, and he worried about the toll the constant up and down of their grade levels took on the boys.

Sam, he never had to fret about too much. Sam loved school, loved learning, even liked poring over town records on the occasional Saturday. Dean, though--Dean’s problem was that he was perhaps too smart. Ordinary public schools bored him to tears. John couldn’t help but wonder, sometimes, whether he and Mary would’ve been able to send their boys to private school once they’d found out they had two geniuses on their hands. She would’ve been so proud. He especially regretted the nomadic life they lived when his sons proved, time and again, how ahead of the curve they were. The only thing holding Dean back, he thought, was how often the curriculum changed on him. Well, that and how much John relied on him, more than he cared to think about, sometimes.

So it was no real surprise to John when Dean, fifteen and holding his own in 11th grade in Lexington, Kentucky, came home with the SAT paperwork. “They’re making everyone take them,” he complained bitterly, as if it were a prison sentence. “Dad, can’t you just write a note or something?”

John sighed and told Sam to do the dishes, asked Dean to come out with him to the garage, take a look at the filter with him. Under the hood of the Impala, the two teamed up and checked all systems, fluids, belts. John found the words while replacing the nut on the oil pan cover. “I think you should take the test, Dean.”

“Why is that, sir?” Dean put down his rag and leaned on the open frame.

“Couple of reasons,” John said slowly, debating his next statement. He thought better with a wrench in his hand, twirling it in his fingers to focus his argument. When Dean was born, he and Mary had dreamed big: Varsity football, Rhodes scholar, President. John wasn’t ready for Dean to leave--doubted he’d ever be ready--but he wasn’t ready to give up entirely on the idea of his firstborn doing better in life than his old man. So while on one hand, he didn’t want Dean to jump at a four-year stint, he also didn’t want Dean to close the door on his options quite so soon. He didn’t quite know how to explain that to Dean, though, so instead, he simply said: “For one thing, there’s just not many jobs anymore don’t need some kind of college degree. Can’t go to college without SATs.”

“Not going at all,” Dean muttered under his breath.

“What’s that, son?” John said, not too sharply.

Dean took a deep breath before answering. When he did, he plunged into it like a boxer bracing for the punches as he closed on his opponent. He brought his weight off the grille and stood square to his father. “I don’t want a regular job, Dad. I don’t want to go to college. Matter of fact, I’ve been thinking--I want to drop out.”

John blinked. “Drop out…of school?”

“Yes, sir.” Dean’s jaw was set, his gaze carefully cast not at John’s eyes, but somewhere around his chin.

John turned back to the engine, opened the radiator cap, put it back. He could feel Dean watching him, parade rest, waiting with the patience of Alec Guiness in “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” He’d stand and wait as long as it took. Sam would have pushed. But Sam was eleven, all pre-teen hormones, and ready to take on whatever frontier he could find or make. No, thought John, it wasn’t just age that made his boys so different. Even at eleven, Dean would have waited this way: silent, resolute, thrumming with energy but holding it all in until John cut his leash.

With another cleansing breath, John tightened the oil pan cover, closed up the hood, and turned to lean on it for strength. “No, son.”

Dean didn’t yell, he didn’t argue. But his head rocked back as he took in John’s answer, just back once, as if absorbing that blow he’d been expecting. Then, softly, voice cracking with contained, unexpressed emotion, he asked: “Why not, sir?”

John thought of all the reasons why not. He could have said, because I want a better shot for you than I ever had. But that wish died the day they left Lawrence. He could have said, because if I let you drop, then what about Sam? But Sam would never quit school willingly, Dean’s example or not. He could have said, so that when we finish this, when we catch this thing, you can move on, go back to have a normal life. But he knew, for himself at least, that if the quest didn’t kill him, he’d go on hunting. Would Dean see it that way too, already? He should have said, because your mother would have wanted you to finish school. But even after eleven years, it was still too hard to talk about Mary.

John touched his eldest son’s shoulder and squeezed it encouragingly. “First off, next place we go, you and Sammy might wind up in the same school, or they might be next door or something. If you stay in school yourself, you can keep an eye on him better. And I gotta admit, I’m curious about the test. We know Sammy’s the straight-A student, but wouldn’t you like to do well, so you can brag about your scores to him? Give him a goal to beat?” God above, he hated using their friendly rivalry against Dean, hated making him be Sam’s nursemaid even when he was supposed to be concentrating on his own education.

Dean’s eyes flashed for a second, but then he rolled them. “Sammy’d never believe I care about a lousy test,” he said sagely. “He’d be looking for the holy water and silver bullets.”

John grinned. “All the more reason--give him incentive to train.” Then he sobered. “But honestly, Dean? I want you to finish school.” He let that one truth hang between them, knowing it was all the reason he needed to give, after all.

Dean smiled back and shrugged. “That’s your final decision, sir?” he asked.

“Yes, Dean,” John said, nodding. “Take the test.”

“There’s a fee, you know,” Dean added suddenly, as if this one barrier might make the difference. “Can you believe that?”

“Son, that’s what fake credit cards are for,” John laughed.

Part II

Mr. Humphries came into homeroom to pass out slips for everyone. Dean threw his away during first period, but Mr. Humphries caught up with him at lunch the next week.

“Dean!” he called cheerily, walking up to him. “Dean, you missed your appointment with me. Did you forget?”

Dean sneered inwardly at the lengths to which guidance counselors went to assure goodwill. He almost felt sorry for the guy. Ever since the East Carter and Richland shootings, all the guidance counselors in all his schools carried themselves with the same mix of fear and desperation: fear that their kids would flip out on them because of something they said, and desperation to stay on their good side while still being able to do their jobs. “Uh, yeah, Mr. Humphries--it’s just that I had a big test and--”

“Now, Dean, that appointment was during your Study Hall.”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean, you see, I was studying for the test. In Study Hall. Got caught up. American Revolution, fascinating stuff,” Dean confided with a smarmy grin.

Mr. Humphries’ frozen smile cracked even wider. “Well, I’ll tell you what, then, Dean. I’m going to make another appointment for you next Tuesday. I’ll be sure to mention it to Ms. Connor, so she can remind you. How’s that?”

“Well, honestly, Mr. Humphries? That’s not really necessary, see, I--”

“Dean, I don’t think you understand,” Mr. Humphries said, and Dean took satisfaction from the way the short man’s teeth were clenched. “This meeting is to discuss your SAT scores. It’s to talk about your plans for the future.”

Dean smirked. “My plan for the future is to build a rocket car, Mr. Humphries,” he said sincerely. “Right after I crack the formula for steel polymer body armor.”

“Steel polymer….” Mr. Humphries looked lost. “Well, there’s a lot to be said for the field of defensive technology, Dean. Have you thought about where you could find a good program?”

Dean smiled widely. “Well, yeah, I mean--Wayne Industries is always looking for talent.”

“Wayne Industries? Is that in Indiana?”

“No,” Dean said, and walked with him out of the cafeteria. He adopted a confidential tone. “Trouble is, the owner of Wayne Industries? He’s a real whack-job. Insists that his apprentices live with him, you know what I mean?” Dean held out his palm, fingers spread, and twisted his hand up and down quickly to indicate something shady. “And I’m really not the cape-and-tights type of hero. Especially not when they’re red, yellow, and green.” He sighed dramatically. “Too bad, 'cause I don’t see old Bruce giving up that sexy black cowl anytime soon. See you around, sir,” he offered to Mr. Humphries’ hard look. He chuckled and strode off toward his locker quickly, leaving the slightly dazed counselor in his wake.

Mr. Humphries didn’t let up, however, and on Tuesday, in the middle of Study Hall, Ms. Connor called out his name. All the kids looked up from their books and papers. Ms. Connor was probably about three years away from retirement, she was universally feared, and to be called up in her class was akin to a sentence of death. Dean had tried to flirt with her at every interaction, hoping to spark even a smidgen of humor in her famously Vulcan demeanor. So far, his only success had been to gain at least one detention every other week. Not in the least deterred, Dean smiled warmly at Cynthia Mallard, winking at her as he got up from his desk. “Finally coming to your senses, Ms. C?” he asked, matching her volume. “I knew you couldn’t resist me forever. So…supply closet? Teacher’s lounge? Where’s good for you?”

Ms. Connor probably had very wilted vegetables in her fridge, given the withering gaze she fixed on him. “Mr. Humphries’ office, Mr. Winchester,” she told him flatly.

Dean sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Kinky, Ms. C. With or without Mr. Humphries? And by with, I mean as a spectator, not a participant, 'cause they tell me I don’t play well with others.”

Ms. Connor looked as if she’d welcome the return of corporal punishment to the Piermont public school system. Heck, she probably remembered being able to give kids the paddle in her class. She held out a hall pass. “You have an appointment, Mr. Winchester. And,” she continued, pulling out a second slip, a yellow one, “you also have a detention this afternoon. Care to comment on that?”

Dean’s smile faltered. “No ma’am,” he said respectfully. She handed him the pass and the detention slip and he shuffled out of the room.

Five minutes later, he was heading for the street.

“Oh, Dean!” he heard a man’s voice call out in greeting. “There you are!”

Dean pulled up short. Sitting on a bench near the bike racks, wearing a visor and holding a book, was Mr. Humphries. He had a perfect view of the main entrance to the school from where he sat. He stood up, grinning, when Dean turned and walked over to him. “I had a feeling you might decide a hall pass was too tempting an opportunity to ignore.” He looked up at the clouds. “Not a good day for a walk, though. I’m glad I caught you before it started raining--let’s go to my office, shall we?”

Dean sighed and followed. He’d underestimated Humphries; clearly he was not the first student to skip out on his guidance counseling.

Mr. Humphries opened his office door and waited for Dean to enter first. Dean soon saw why: the tiny room was so crammed with boxes that one had to go single-file. An orange plastic chair sat before an ugly battleship-grey metal desk. “Have a seat,” Mr. Humphries said, and once Dean cleared the way, he sidled behind the desk to the swivel-chair parked behind it. Dean angled his chair to leave as little of his back exposed to the door as possible, but there were enough boxes between him and the wall to form a decent barrier.

“Sorry about the mess,” Mr. Humphries said, taking his seat. “The basement storage locker flooded last Friday; we had to move all these files into our offices temporarily while the city fixes the pipes. Now.” He pulled a manila folder off his blotter. “Winchester, Dean. I have all your records here.” He flipped through pages of pink, yellow, green, and even white paper. “Clearly with your…domestic situation, moving around so much, there are some gaps, some overlaps…. Your academic transcripts are somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle, but you’ve been a fairly solid C student. Some Ds, an A here and there…. Do you like school, Dean?”

Dean shrugged, remembering the conversation with his father months ago. He’d wanted to quit, but he wasn’t going to beg his Dad to let him. “Not really, sir,” he said honestly.

“Mm. Why is that, do you think?”

Dean paused to decide how to phrase his answer. He wondered how much pop-psych, feel-good babble Mr. Humphries usually spewed in his chats with students. Where could Dean draw the line and not be considered a threat, a test case, or a wunderkind? “Well, if you’ve seen my transcripts, you know we move around a lot. It’s hard to fit in when you’re constantly trying to find out what everyone else has already done, or not done. I’ve had to study the Civil War four times in different schools.” He snorted. “I thought it was boring on the first pass.”

Mr. Humphries nodded. “That’s about what I’d expect. Thing is, Dean, I think you’re too smart for most schools. And your test scores indicate that if you were studying at your level, you wouldn’t be bored.”

Dean frowned. “How do you reckon that?”

“Are you familiar with how the SATs are scored?”

“Yeah, 800 each, Math and Verbal, right?” That much had sunk in.

“That’s right.” He leaned forward. “Dean, have you seen your scores?”

Dean thought back. Had they even come? When did they last check the PO box? “Uh…no, actually. I haven’t.”

“Your previous school forwarded their copy of the results when I requested them--apparently you’ve been to a couple places since you sat for the exam, so it took a while for them to find their way to us. Perhaps your own copy was lost when you put in your forwarding orders.” He smiled in what Dean assumed was meant to be a kind and understanding way. “Dean, on the verbal and math combined sections, you scored a 1530.”

Dean didn’t have to feign surprise. “I…what…come again?” he stammered.

“Your scores, Dean. Fifteen-thirty. Seven-ninety on the math sections, seven-forty on the verbal. Now, even with your mediocre grades, these scores are tremendous. Enough that you could have a real chance at a good four-year school.”

Dean’s brain had stopped somewhere during the breakdown. “But…I’m not…Sammy’s the smart one.”

“Who?” Mr. Humphries asked.

“Sam, my brother Sam--he’s the genius, not me. I hate all that crap.”

Mr. Humphries chuckled. “Well, whether you hate it or not, you’ve got an aptitude for it, especially math and science. Have you ever considered applying to college?”

Dean shook his head miserably. “No thanks, Mr. Humphries.” A look that might have been pain crossed his face. “I mean, that’s, those scores are…. But, um, no. No, I’m not going to college. Thanks. Not for me. No guidance needed, okay?”

Mr. Humphries looked stricken, like he’d been about to offer Dean all the ice cream in the world only to learn that Dean was lactose intolerant. “But…Dean…you realize the difference a college education can make? Ten years ago, a high school diploma could still get you into some decent-paying professions, but now?” He sighed. “I know that high school seems boring, and probably too structured, but in a school where you can pick the classes that fit into your program--”

“What program would that be, Mr. Humphries?” Dean asked angrily. “Colleges don’t teach anything I’m going to need to use. I’m not gonna be a white-collar joe, okay? Wanna know what I’m good at? Fixing cars. And…digging ditches,” he said after trying to come up with something that wasn’t shooting things, credit card fraud, hustling pool and poker, or breaking and entering. “What’m I gonna do with a degree? Sweep streets?” He choked off a laugh. “I already know what I’m doing with my life, thanks. And I sure don’t need college to do it.”

He realized he was standing, and wasn’t quite sure how or when he’d gotten to his feet, but figured his instincts were usually worth following on things like this. Worse than that, Mr. Humphries had shrunk back in his chair in surprise. He had that wide-eyed look, like he was wondering whether Dean was about to go postal on him. Dean forced himself to breathe, modulated his voice, and held out his hands in a gesture that meant half “I’m unarmed” and half “It’s cool.”

“Look, I know you’re just doing your job. But so am I. I already have a job waiting for me when I get out of here, and I’m getting good at it. It’s good enough for me.” He pressed forward, ignoring the crack in his voice. “It’s good enough for my Dad,” he tapped a finger on Mr. Humphries’ stack of files, voice rising again in spite of his attempt to calm himself down, “and it’s good enough for me. Hell, it’s probably better than anything I’d do on my own.” He pushed his way through the boxes to the door without bothering to ask for a hall pass. Screw’em, he thought. At the threshold, he turned to look at Mr. Humphries, who was regaining his composure after Dean’s outburst. “Just…tell me something, okay?”

“What, Dean?” Mr. Humphries asked. To his credit, he kept the weariness in his tone to a minimum.

“Do you…. Is it school policy to share scores with parents?”

Mr. Humphries adjusted his swivel chair to tuck in to the desk. “Well, no. Usually the student gets an original from ETS, sent directly to them, so….”

“Good,” Dean said decisively, cutting off any rambling explanation. “That’s perfect. Thanks.” He took a cleansing breath and nodded to Mr. Humphries - back straight, businesslike, mature. Resolute. “Thanks for telling me about them, Mr. Humphries. I appreciate it. But we’re done here.” Dean closed the office door gently and sauntered back to class. He told himself it wouldn’t do to get caught skipping detention, since then he would have to explain why to his father, and that might lead to Dad finding out about the scores. The next time they swung by the PO Box, he promised himself, he’d make sure he was alone to retrieve the contents, just to be on the safe side.

Tags: dean, fic, gwenfic, teen!chesters
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