Title: My Hero, by Dean Winchester
Challenge: Firsts Chart: First Friend
Genre: Gen, Pre-Series
Word Count: 5020
Disclaimer: I don't own the boys, I'm just stalking them for a while.
Summary: As vaguely disillusioned as Mrs. Jessup was by the last twenty-eight reports given end-on-end to the realization that the overwhelming majority of her students had absolutely no idea what she was trying to teach them, she knew she’d saved the best for last, and he was standing now, walking to the front of the classroom with his report scrunched in his hands, looking terribly nervous as if he thought maybe he’d gotten the whole assignment completely wrong in choosing a hero who wasn’t fictional or famous or otherwise unworthy of a child’s unabashed adoration.
Author's Note: While this would more than likely stand alone, it is actually a sequel to Parental Instincts, so if you haven't read that, you might want to click over and read it first.
My Hero, by Dean Winchester
If Elaine Jessup heard one more My Hero report on Alf, or Captain Picard, or Michael Jordan, she was going to retire from teaching and become a nun. She’d decided: just one more would tip the boat right over.
Not that there hadn’t been a few bright spots in the day; there had. Keisha chose to do her report on Jesse Jackson. She got a little confused on a few things, attributing the dreams of a social visionary to a political preacher – much to the preacher’s benefit – but at least she chose a hero who was real. More or less. And who didn’t play basketball.
Derek, on the other hand, did his report on Ronald Reagan. Or perhaps more accurately, Derek’s father did Derek’s report on Ronald Reagan. It never failed to amuse her how a parent could actually speak about economic reform in a second grader’s hero report and think the teacher wouldn’t figure it out.
Either parents thought teachers were too dumb to be teaching their children anything; or they were simply too dumb to cheat on their child’s homework. Either way, Derek chose a President for his hero report, and he was still going home with a grade card daddy wasn’t going to like.
And, of course, there was Gregory. Gregory was always a bright spot when it came to pretty much anything. Gregory made her laugh, and now she knew why. Because evidently, Gregory wanted to grow up to be a California raisin.
She’d saved Dean’s report for last for entirely selfish reasons. Dean was her favorite. He was more than a bright spot, he was her hope for the future of his entire generation.
He’d come so far since his first days in class, sitting silent and still in the third row, saying so little those first few months she found herself talking directly to him at every opportunity, asking him questions in specific, by name, just to draw him out, just to encourage him to engage.
But he didn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t. The harder she tried, the deeper he sank inside his shell of isolation.
Parent’s Night was a turning point in their relationship. Meeting Dean’s father was a revelation; finding out about Dean’s past gave her the key to unlocking the little boy who sat in silence while the world lived itself around him.
He became a secret revealed who, in turn, felt he could reveal himself simply because he’d already been seen.
What began that night evolved quickly. He brought her an apple the next Monday. He blushed when he gave it to her, made a point to say it was from his dad, not from him.
She accepted it, telling him apples were her favorite thing.
He blushed harder but looked her straight in the eyes when he told her his dad had said that would be the case. That his dad had said she would like an apple, and she would understand it wasn’t him sucking up, it was just him saying thank you for being a good teacher.
A couple weeks later, he brought her seven chocolate chip cookies. Not six. Not eight. Exactly seven. He still blushed a little when he gave them to her, but he made a point to say they were from him this time, not from his dad, although his dad had helped bake them, and so had Sammy. She asked why seven. He said seven was a good number, a smart number. And then he told her these cookies were him sucking up, because he was hoping to get a good grade on his report card, and he’d heard chocolate was the quickest way to a teacher’s heart.
Or it was if she was a woman teacher, at least.
She’d never seen a child look more confident or more fragile in her entire life, and he looked both at the same time. He wanted her to laugh so badly she would have laughed even if she hadn’t. But she did, not because he wanted it, but because she had no other choice. It was, hands down, the funniest thing a second grader had ever said to her in twelve years of teaching; and she laughed at it in a way that made her put a hand to her mouth in mild chagrin.
Dean looked very proud of himself and told her he hoped that was a good sign he’d be getting that good grade. And then he clarified that he meant her laughing, not her being embarrassed about laughing.
She could hear his father’s coaching in the way he’d said chocolate was the quickest way to a woman’s heart. John Winchester’s sly fingerprints were all over how his young son turned those words to his own advantage.
But what Dean said about it being a good sign was something his father hadn’t ever touched. She could tell as much by how quickly he explained himself to make sure she understood his good sign was making her laugh, not embarrassing her.
They’d been talking ever since.
She didn’t realize how important he’d become to her until he began to respond to what she was doing; didn’t realize how much succeeding in her efforts to engage him meant until he started opening his doors to let her peek inside.
He still didn’t have any interest in being social with children his own age. He didn’t talk to his classmates, didn’t play with others during recess or interact with anyone he could avoid interacting with.
But he did respond to her now.
When she asked him a question, he answered, and not in the bare minimum of words required, but rather in fairly specific detail. He started raising his hand when no one else knew the answer, or when she looked directly at him in a way that implied she wanted him to raise his hand and answer.
And he was always right. She always called on Dean when he raised his hand, and he was always, always right.
And he spoke to her on his own now, too. He stopped by her desk in the morning before the other kids arrived, or in the afternoon when the other kids were leaving, to tell her something his brother had done, or to tell her what they’d had for dinner, or to just tell her she looked very pretty today, and he liked her shoes, or her necklace, or the story she read to them after lunch.
More than once, he’d come over to sit beside her in the lunchroom when the other children were in their clumps and clutters of chatter and argue. He didn’t do it on a regular basis – only on occasion, and only when he seemed like he had something on his mind – but when he did, he’d sit beside her and talk about nothing while he ate his sandwich, tell her knock-knock jokes his little brother liked, or tell her everything he knew that she hadn’t mentioned about something they’d talked about earlier in class.
She always asked him what he was thinking and he never told her; but he seemed to like sitting with her on those days and talking about things that didn’t matter, so she let him because the rest of the time he sat by himself and didn’t talk to anyone about anything.
Dean was talking to her one day, not telling her what was on his mind but telling her all about Minnesota because he had a friend who lived in Minnesota, and they were studying the Great Lakes in Social Studies, and his friend had taken him to see one of the Great Lakes when they lived with him for a while, but he couldn’t remember which lake he saw, but he knew he saw one of them, and suddenly he stopped.
He just stopped, right in the middle of a sentence, and looked at her like he wanted to ask something, but he wasn’t sure whether or not he should. So she asked him what he was thinking. And this time he told her.
He asked why she never brought an apple to school in her lunch.
The way he asked it was almost an accusation, like he’d only now realized if apples really were her favorite thing, she’d probably eat more of them than she did. But she didn’t eat apples; she ate oranges. And that’s what she was doing when he stopped talking about his friend in Minnesota to look at her like he’d just figured out she might have lied to him.
The simple fact that Dean would accost her on such a thing – challenge her and demand an explanation – made her feel like she’d conquered the whole world. But it also made her feel a little guilty, so she told him the truth this time. She told him she didn’t really like apples all that much, but she’d said she did because she understood his apple was a "thank you" and "thank yous" were her favorite thing in the world.
Dean looked at her for a long, long moment, like he was trying to figure out whether or not she was lying again, and then he nodded. Just like that. He nodded. And then he went back to eating his sandwich and talking about Minnesota.
In late October, he had several days in a row where he sat with her, but he didn’t talk to her on those days, didn’t say a single word the whole time, not about anything. He just sat beside her and ate his sandwich, not answering any of her questions, not responding to any subject she brought up for discussion. He shrugged a few times, then looked at her like he wished she’d stop asking him questions. So she did. She started talking to him instead of with him, carrying the conversation so he could just sit beside her and say nothing if that’s what he wanted to do.
And it was. He wanted to just sit beside her and listen. So she let him.
When he came to school on Halloween in regular clothes instead of a costume, she offered to paint his face like a jack-o-lantern, or a ghost, or a pirate for the party and to go trick-or-treating in the other classrooms, but he wouldn’t let her and wouldn’t tell her why when she asked. He sat in a corner all day and wouldn’t play any of the games or take any of the candy every teacher tried to offer him, so she called his father that night, just to see if everything was okay, to see if John understood they’d had a party, to see if he understood Dean was supposed to take part by dressing up, joining in.
At least as much as Dean ever joined in.
John didn’t say much more than his son had, only that they didn’t celebrate Halloween, and he was sorry he hadn’t mentioned it before. His voice was flat over the phone line, dull and quiet in a way that reminded her of Dean the first time she saw him, a hollowed out shell of a boy sitting in the third row like he wasn’t even there.
Dean didn’t speak to her the next day. He wouldn’t raise his hand and just shrugged like he didn’t know the answer when she asked him questions anyway. He didn’t come to school on the second of November at all; and when she asked him why the following Monday, he said it was none of her business and she should just shut up about it and not ever talk to him again.
He wouldn’t even look at her for the rest of the next week. He moved from his seat in the third row to an empty chair in the back of the room. He stared at his desk all day, never looked up, didn’t do any of the assignments. He just sat there like a wooden statue until class was over, and then he got up and walked out like no one knew him, like no one saw him, like no on had any right to even look at him.
And she let him.
She didn’t ask him any questions in class that week. She put worksheets on his desk and collected them untouched. She gave him his spelling test and collected it untouched. She let him sit where he wanted and didn’t say a thing about it, even when several other students objected that he got to change seats but she wouldn’t let them follow suit.
By the next Monday, Dean was back in his chair in the third row. It took him another two days to start meeting her eyes again, and another day after that to take the worksheets she put on his desk and do the assignments the way he’d always done them.
She didn’t ask him anything until he raised his hand – until he showed her he was ready to talk to her again – but the first time he did, she called on him and he answered the question perfectly. On Friday, she asked him to stay in the classroom over recess. When the rest of the children were outside, she placed the first assignment he’d refused to do the week before on his desk and walked away.
He finished it the way he always did. Perfectly. By the following Tuesday, he’d finished all the assignments he’d missed. On Wednesday, he took the spelling test at recess and spelled every word perfectly.
On Thursday, he brought her an orange and gave it to her after class. She accepted it with a smile and asked him what it was for. He said he knew she liked oranges better than apples. When she told him he didn’t have to say thank you just because she let him make up his assignments from the week he was sick, he looked her straight in the eyes and told her he wasn’t saying thank you.
Apples were thank you.
Oranges were I’m sorry.
And then he turned and walked away like he was neither confident or fragile, simply broken and doing the best he could to try and fix it, or hide it, or both. He didn’t come over to sit with her the next day for lunch, so she went over and sat with him. She offered him some of her orange, and he said she didn’t have anything to be sorry for.
That was when she realized Dean Winchester talked to her every day, she just didn’t always hear what he was trying to say.
The last day of school before Thanksgiving, Dean stopped by her desk after school and asked why it was turkeys instead of pheasants or chickens or some other bird. She started to tell him about the pilgrims, but he interrupted when she was only a couple of words in, saying that was wrong, he’d looked it up and the pilgrims ate deer, not turkey, and deer was called venison by the way, just in case she didn’t already know that.
So she told him maybe turkeys were just a tradition then. Kind of a myth or a legend, where the actual details of something got a little mixed up but the overall point stayed the same. He told her that was very dangerous, and people should always pay close attention to the details because the details were the most important part of any myth or legend or story or fable or lie.
When she asked about details and lies, Dean changed the subject, announcing he and Sammy and his dad were eating spaghetti this year instead of turkey. She asked if they were going to have any family over, and he said no, they didn’t have any family except themselves; but they were going to have a friend over, and he was Dean’s best friend, so he was very excited about that.
And then Dean asked if she was going to have family over, and if she was going to have turkey, and if she like spaghetti at all, and if she did, if she wanted to come eat with them.
Which might actually be why, among other reasons, Dean was her favorite. She’d never actually had a second grader ask after her plans for a holiday before, let alone think to ask her to join them if she didn’t have any. Which she did – have plans, that is – but that wasn’t the point. The fact that Dean merely thought to ask was such an amazing thing to her that she couldn’t quite get over it.
And she probably never would.
She thanked him and told him how thoughtful it was for him to ask, but she was spending Thanksgiving with her husband this year, and they were going to have turkey, although she might think about having deer next year, now that she knew that was what the pilgrims really ate.
At which time Dean reminded her it was called venison once a deer was put on a plate with potatoes, which was one of those details it was very important to remember.
Thanksgiving and Christmas had both come and gone now, and the New Year brought January’s syllabus on making goals and looking to the future. Which is how Elaine Jessup ended up sitting in a chair at the back of her classroom, listening to My Hero reports about starship captains and basketball players and muppets, with the occasional political treatise or California raisin thrown in for good measure.
How much the world needed heroes these days, and how little most children seemed to understand about what a hero actually was.
But as vaguely disillusioned as she was by the last twenty-eight reports given end-on-end to the realization that the overwhelming majority of her students had absolutely no idea what she was trying to teach them, she knew she’d saved the best for last, and he was standing now, walking to the front of the classroom with his report scrunched in his hands, looking terribly nervous as if he thought maybe he’d gotten the whole assignment completely wrong in choosing a hero who wasn’t fictional or famous or otherwise unworthy of a child’s unabashed adoration.
Mrs. Jessup smiled at Dean from the back of the room, trying to reassure him that, of all the reports she’d heard today, she was sure his was going to be the most correct in who he chose as his hero and how he chose to tell his classmates that looking to a father for direction was an admirable thing that would earn you an A plus and a gold star and the undying appreciation of a second grade teacher who had absolutely no desire to retire herself to a nunnery.
Standing in front of the class, his eyes fixed on her as if she was the only one to whom he was speaking, Dean said, "Um, I’m not really sure I did this right. I didn’t know we were supposed to pick someone from TV or anything, so I might have done it wrong if that’s what we were supposed to do."
"That wasn’t the assignment, Dean," she assured him. "Your report is supposed to be about someone you look up to, and why you look up to them. I’m sure whoever you picked is perfect, especially if they aren’t famous or on television or not real."
He nodded. "Okay. Because I didn’t pick anybody like that. I picked somebody else."
"Why don’t you tell us about him," she encouraged.
Drawing a deep breath, Dean looked down at the papers in his hands and began to read:
"My Hero, by Dean Winchester. My hero is my friend Pastor Jim because he is a smart man, and he knows everything. And he is my dad’s friend, too. And whenever I have a question, I ask Pastor Jim, and he gives me good answers. And he gives my dad good answers, too. And he believes in God, which I think is really hard to do, but he does, and he does even when bad things happen, which is even harder to do, but he still does. And he’s a Marine, too. And so is my dad. And when I need something, I call Pastor Jim even in the middle of the night, and he never yells at me. Even when he should sometimes but he doesn’t. I’ve known Pastor Jim for a long, long time, and he’s never ever once yelled at me, which I like about him. And sometimes I ask him questions to make him give me the wrong answers, but he never does. Which is hard to do, too. But that’s why he’s my friend because even when I’m trying to trick him, I can’t. And because he’s nice to Sammy. And because my dad likes him. And because he knows everything. And he still believes in God anyway. Which is really hard to do. And because he talks to me. The end."
Dean looked up from this paper then, looked straight at her to ask, "Is that okay?"
"Yes, Dean," she said quietly. "That was very good."
"Your hero is your minister?" Gregory asked uncertainly.
Dean looked at him. "No," he said. "Pastor Jim is my friend. He just happens to be a pastor, too; which is like a minister, only a little different."
"Thank you, Dean," Mrs. Jessup said, standing. "You can go ahead and sit down now."
She waited until after class to talk to him simply because it wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have around other children. "Dean, can I talk to you for a moment?" she asked as he walked by her desk to leave.
Hesitant to join her in a way he hadn’t been for months, he came back from the door cautiously, saying, "Okay. Am I in trouble?"
"No. Not at all. I just want to talk to you."
He relaxed a little. "Okay. What about?"
"I wanted to tell you how much I liked your report."
He sighed unhappily. Shoulders slumping, he looked down at his feet, staring at them instead of meeting her eyes when he said, "You don’t have to say that just because I screwed up the assignment, Mrs. Jessup. It’s okay to say I did it wrong. My dad says you can’t ever learn anything if you don’t do things wrong sometimes."
God, how she loved this boy’s father.
"I’m not just saying this, Dean," she assured him quietly. "I really mean it. I really, really mean it."
He looked up, confused. "You do?"
"Why? Everybody else picked famous people."
"Which is exactly why I liked yours. You picked someone real. Someone you know and who you have very good reasons to think of as a hero. That was the assignment. You’re the only one who did the assignment right."
"I am?" He smiled, brightening. "Cool. I thought I totally screwed it up."
"Not at all. Your report was the best one of all of them. But I would like to ask you something, if you don’t mind."
"Um … okay. Is it something bad?"
"No. Why would you think it was something bad?"
"Because you asked if you could ask it. People only usually ask if they can ask something if they know you aren’t going to want them to ask it."
She looked at him for a long moment, amazed.
He fidgeted. "Well they do," he said finally, defending himself against her silence. And then, almost as if he was apologizing for defending himself, he asked, "Don’t they?"
She shook her head. "No. You’re absolutely right, Dean. I just never thought of it that way before."
"My dad always says no if I ask if I can ask him something," Dean said. "He says if I have to ask if I can ask it, then he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want me to ask it. So I never ask him if I can ask him anything any more. Which I think was his point anyway, because if you ask if you can ask something, then you’re asking two questions instead of one, and Sammy already asks like a hundred questions about everything, so I think he mostly just says no so he’ll have one less question to answer. Which I can see his point on that because Sammy can make you nuts asking questions. He makes me nuts asking questions, and he doesn’t ask me nearly as many as he asks Dad."
"So your point is that I shouldn’t ask you if I can ask, I should just ask?" she teased him.
He blushed a little, fidgeted more. "I didn’t mean about you. I meant about Sammy because Sammy asks a hundred thousand questions every day." Then, before she could comment to that effect, he corrected himself, saying, "I know, there’s no such thing as a hundred thousand. But a hundred at least, which is why you sometimes have to just start giving him stupid answers, which Dad tries not to do, but I do it all the time and it works, too, because Sammy doesn’t like stupid answers so he gets mad and stops asking questions, which is the whole point, but he hasn’t figured that out yet. So what was your question, Mrs. Jessup?"
She laughed, shaking her head. "I just thought you might write this report about your dad," she said. "So I wondered why you decided to write it about your friend instead."
"Because my dad said I couldn’t write it about him," Dean answered simply.
Of course he did. "He did?"
"Yeah. Dad was my first choice, but he said he wasn’t a hero, he was just my dad, so I should pick somebody else to write about."
"And did he suggest Pastor Jim?"
"No. I picked Pastor Jim myself. Because other than my dad, he’s really the only person I could think of who I might want to grow up to be like, only not a pastor like him, just smart like him, and able to do hard things and be a Marine if my dad will let me. And because he’s my friend, too. My best friend really, except for Sammy, who doesn’t really count because he’s my brother. And my dad, too, but he doesn’t count either. Plus my dad said once that Pastor Jim was kind of his hero, so I thought if he’s Dad’s hero, then that makes him sort of my hero, too. And since he’s my friend, I could say all the reasons he’s my friend in my report and that would be why he’s my hero, too, because I didn’t figure Dad would let me say Pastor Jim was my hero just because he’s Dad’s hero. Because that’s mostly like saying Dad is my hero which he told me I couldn’t do."
"Does he know you picked Pastor Jim?" she asked.
"And what did he think about that?"
"He said he couldn’t think of anybody in the world who would make a better hero. But I made him promise not to tell Pastor Jim though, because that would make things weird, I think. And if I had to pick, I’d rather have Pastor Jim as a best friend than a hero, so Dad said that was fine, he wouldn’t breathe a word of it to Jim." Dean hesitated for a moment, then added, "Dad calls him Jim instead of Pastor Jim because they were in the Marines together before I was even an itch in my dad’s pants. But he makes us call him Pastor Jim even though Pastor Jim doesn’t care one way or the other as long as we don’t call him … well, a word I’m not supposed to say, but I would never call him that anyway, even though Dad does sometimes. But Dad’s only teasing, or sometimes mad, but he doesn’t mean it in a bad way, because Pastor Jim’s his hero, too. And his best friend. Which is different though from him being my best friend, because we’re not friends just because he and Dad are friends. We’re friends for different reasons."
"The reasons you talked about in your report?" she asked gently.
"Yeah. And because he talks to me. Kind of like…" Dean stopped suddenly, just looked at her. His expression was that of a rabbit who’d talked himself right into a corner. "Well, you know, he just talks to me and stuff, which is why we’re friends," he finished finally. "And he knows stuff, too. Lots of stuff. He’s really smart."
Dean blushed, looked away, then looked back at her to see if she was listening.
"So is that all you wanted to ask?" he asked after a long beat.
"Yes. That’s all I wanted to ask."
"Okay. I’m going to go then, I guess. But I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay," she agreed. "But I want you to tell your dad what a good job you did on your report today. You tell him it was the best report in the whole class. You tell him I said so, okay?"
Dean grinned. "Okay. I will. Thanks, Mrs. Jessup."
"I’ll see you tomorrow, Dean," she said.
John Winchester moved his sons out of state that summer. They dropped by Elaine’s house on the way out of town so Dean could say goodbye. It figured that he drove a muscle car, yet that car seemed somehow suited to the U-haul hitched behind it.
Dean didn’t have much to say. She told him she was going to miss their lunchtime talks, and tried not to cry when he wrapped his arms around her neck to hug her as they left. He held on until his dad said in a quiet, gentle voice, "It’s time, son," and then held on a couple seconds longer so he could whisper in her ear, "Don’t forget me, Mrs. Jessup."
"I won’t, Dean," she whispered back.
He nodded against her neck, then let go and walked away without a backward glance.
the full trilogy ...
1. Parental Instincts
2. My Hero, by Dean Winchester
3. A Warm Summer Rain