A/N: Sorry for the delay. A crapload of real life problems has a way of taking away inspiration. Hope this chapter is up to snuff. Lemme know!
A half an hour after the fact, and Dean is still having trouble getting used to the thought of being an uncle. Even harder still is accepting the idea that his baby brother is a father.
Denial is a very tricky thing to hang onto when the very object your mind is rebelling against hasn't left your side in all the time you've known him. Mini-Dean, as the original Dean Winchester has come to think of him as, has apparently decided without consulting anyone that his newly discovered uncle is the greatest thing since the until recently defunct Metallica reunited for the greatest live tour in the history of American music. He is reclined on the bed next to said uncle, his right leg hooked over Dean's casted left one, his cheek pressed against the only part of Dean's upper body, his left shoulder, not covered in bruises or stitches or in some process of healing. Sam is sitting in the armchair he pulled closer to the bed, watching the scene with a light in his eyes that his older brother isn't going to acknowledge.
His niece, previously so terrified she couldn't even consider looking him in the eye, now sits at his feet, doodling on the bottom half of his cast with every colour and shade Crayola produces in a marker.
"Dean, you need to take your meds." Sam motions to the tray still on the night table where Kellie deposited it before heading back downstairs to start dinner. The small collection of white pills and red and yellow capsules look innocuous enough, but Dean knows better. Antibiotics are all well and good, but the painkillers, as much relief as he knows they will bring, will also put him to sleep. And he's not quite ready to give up these kids just yet. This new life he seems to have stumbled into is still too unreal; a part of him fears that if he falls asleep, he will wake to find he dreamt the whole thing.
His hazel eyes fix on Lizzie, testing the colour on her hand before leaning over to fill in a drawing that vaguely resembles a person, if he unfocuses his gaze and tilts his head just so. At his side, Mini-Dean is driving miniature race cars up and down the cast on his wrist, following the dotted yellow lines Dean himself drew there. Dean sticks his hand into the small basket filled with old Matchbox racers, sorting through Mustangs and Porches and firetrucks until his searching fingers encounter a familiar shape. He pulls out a '65 Chevy Impala, black, with movable front doors and trunk. Quirking an eyebrow, he holds the car up for Sam's inspection.
"What?" Sam says, holding his hands out and doing a remarkable job of feigning innocence. "It's a cool car, nothing to do with you."
Dean rolls his eyes, puts the car down on his cast and runs it up and down the "road" next to Mini-Dean's pick-up. "Wrong year anyway."
"Yeah, they were out of '67's." Sam shrugs, smiles sheepishly when his brother looks at him. Dean laughs, and shakes his head slowly. He would have never labelled his brother as a sentimental guy, despite his penchant for soul-baring and chick flick moments. Perhaps as a side-effect of their upbringing, Sam never had any trouble letting go of something that belonged in the past. He never had a favourite stuffed animal, or blankie, and even at a young age understood that clothes and jackets and shoes could be replaced. But the evidence Dean has seen so far suggests that maybe Sam's outlook on the matter has changed with the years.
"Would you quit laughing at me and take your pills? They have to be on schedule."
"Dude, you sound like the nurses at the hospital. Will you take it easy? A few minutes isn't going to make a lick of difference."
Sam rolls his eyes. "No, it won't. But an hour will, and you're already forty-five minutes late."
Dean rolls his eyes, nudges the kid next to him so hard he nearly tumbles off the bed. "Hey, kid. Can you tell your dad to lighten up a little? He won't listen to me."
Little Dean looks hard at his Uncle, then across the room to his dad. "I don't know, Uncle Dean. Dad's real smart. If he says you need to take your pills, you should probably take your pills. Mom puts mine in some jello; d'ya want me to ask her if we have any?"
"You know what, kiddo? I think we do. Why don't you go ask your mom to whip some up? Make sure she knows it's for your Uncle, because he's not man enough to swallow them like an adult. Would you rather lime or grape, Dean? We have both."
"Yeah, yeah. Real funny, Sammy. Get over yourself already." He holds out a hand, deadpan expression on his face. "Give me the damn pills."
Beside him, Mini-Dean gasps in righteous indignation, one hand flying to his mouth, the other poking his Uncle hard in the upper arm. "Uncle Dean! That's a bad word, you can't say that to dad. My mom says people who use those words aren't smart enough to come up with something better."
"Is that right?" Dean takes the pills Sam drops into his hand, and swallows them noisily. "Your mom sounds like a real smart lady." His tone is drier than the Sahara, and one does not need to have known him nearly their entire lives to recognize the sarcasm and disrespect inherent in his tone.
"Dean." Sam's voice is low, a warning interlaced in that one word in the way only a father can manage. And just like that, as quickly as it came on, the good mood has vanished. Sam can't even begin to imagine what hidden mental landmine either he or his son somehow skipped across, but whatever good nature was written across his older brother's face has vanished. Dean rolls his eyes again, though this time without the humour and amusement of earlier.
Sam turns from his brother and focuses on his two remaining children. "Guys, why don't you head downstairs? I bet your mom could use some help setting the table."
Like his namesake, Little Dean is more than capable of producing a good whine, but he must recognize some hidden meaning in his father's voice. He hops off the bed, takes his sister's hand in his own, and leads her from the room without a second glance. Sam waits until he can hear their footsteps moving down the stairs before he looks back to his brother. His older brother, who is staring down in his lap with such a sullen expression Sam wonders what could've possibly happened in the past few minutes.
"Something you want to tell me, big brother?"
Dean's scowl is so deep Sam wonders if it will cause permanent facial damage. "Don't start that shit up again, Sam. It's been a long time since those big doe eyes worked on me."
"I'm not even going to mention the fact that a doe is a female deer, because somehow I'm sure it was intentional."
When Dean smirks, nods his head just noticeably, it's almost like it used to be, the two brothers trading insults in a kind of verbal war, sometimes taking them hours and crossing state lines in the process. But years ago it had all been in good fun, and Sam can feel none of the comraderie of the old days. Now the words are nothing but spiteful.
Sam sighs, looks down at his hands white-knuckle gripping the armrests of the chair in which he sits. He knew before ever coming to the decision to bring Dean home that this would be far from easy. Seven years is a long time, even for two people as close as they used to be. He knows it's going to take time to get to know his brother again, to learn a whole new set of triggers and tells and the thousand other different things that tell Sam what his brother is thinking when he won't say it out loud. But damn him if Sam isn't a little frustrated it didn't happened all at once.
"Look, Dean. I know how much you hate being injured like this. And I understand it. But I need to know you're not going to fight me at every possible turn."
Dean looks like he wants to roll his eyes, or much worse, but all he manages is to hitch one shoulder up in a half-shrug. "Don't worry, Sammy. You don't have to worry about upsetting the delicate balance of your family. Would you mind closing the door on your way out? The painkillers are starting to kick in, and I'm having a hard time keeping my eyes open."
Sam sighs. He should have known any attempt at serious conversation with his brother would be shot down. It's a rookie mistake made when dealing with Dean, and he was a fool to try and enter into it without some kind of plan. Next time he won't be so unprepared.
He rises from the armchair, watches for a minute as Dean struggles to turn over and show his back, before shutting off the light and closing the door behind him.
Down in the kitchen, Kellie moves from one side of the room to the other, dodging kids, dog and all manner of associated paraphenilia, carrying stacks of dishes, stirring soup, and checking the pot roast cooking in the oven. She's stubbornly refusing to think about this sudden addition to her husband's distanced family, simply because she has no idea what to think. This brother, who to her didn't exist until a few hours ago, seems to be the exact of opposite of Sam in every conceivable way. They don't even look all that similar. But any doubt she might've had evaporated the moment she witnessed the brotherly banter they passed back and forth, on the driveway, and then later in the kitchen. Having grown up with two brothers, one older and one younger, Kellie finds it impossible to mistake that exchange for anything else.
Of course, on the other hand, she can't imagine simply cutting her brothers out of her life. They are as much a part of her as Sam, or the children are. And knowing her husband as well as she does, she has to wonder what could have possibly happened between them to make Sam act as though his older brother never existed.
But all this is a moot point, anyway, because Kellie is stubbornly refusing to think about it.
She hears footsteps moving down the hallway, and greets Sam with a smile as he enters the kitchen. "Dean's not joining us?"
Sam makes a face. "Uh, no. His pills made him sleepy."
Kellie senses there's more to the story, but doesn't push. She watches with a smile as Sam lifts Emma out of her highchair, and plants a noisy kiss on her cheek.
"I made some soup for him," -she motions to the pot of soup simmering on the stove- "but I guess I can just put in the fridge until he wakes up."
He's tense; she can see it in the set of his shoulders, and the downward droop at the corners of his mouth. But nonetheless, he crosses the room in two easy strides, kisses her deeply and squishes the baby between them when he pulls her in for a tight hug.
"I love you so much," he whispers fiercely, kissing her behind the ear before releasing her just as suddenly as he embraced her and replacing Emma in her highchair.
Pleased by the display despite her worry, she rubs the goosebumps from her arms. "Sam, honey, it's just soup. Are you all right?"
He leans against the counter, crossing his arms against his chest and his feet at the ankles. The smile he gives her is a shadow of its capability, a little self-deprecating, and does nothing to assuage her concern. "I'll be fine. Don't worry about me."
She would like to push the issue a little further, but Dean Jr. and Lizzie choose that moment to come breezing into the kitchen, Moose following closely on their heels, to inquire about the state of dinner. Kellie decides to let it go for the time being, because knowing from experience, it will be quite some time before they have another chance to be alone.
It takes Dean a fair amount of time to become aware of his consciousness. Earlier, he might've used the pills as an excuse to avoid a heart-to-heart with Sam, but there is no denying the effect they ultimately have on him. He feels groggy and slow-witted, like he's been asleep for the past three days. And if the pressure he feels on his bladder is anything to go by, that might just be the case.
He opens one eye, blearily looking around the room for his crutches. It's dark out; the curtains are still open and from Dean's position on the bed, he can see stars lighting up the night sky. He wonders briefly what time it is, before ultimately deciding it doesn't matter because it's not like he has any place to be.
Sitting up is undeniably hard; stitches and bruised ribs pull and push on each other until his eyes are watering with the effort. But in the end, it's worth it because he hasn't been this close to wetting himself since he was four years old, holding his baby brother in his arms with the dew of grass wet beneath his feet. He grabs his crutches and levers himself to his feet.
The hallway outside the guest room (not his room, he has to remember that) is dark, and he is unfamiliar enough with the house that the going is slow. The first couple of doors that are propped open turn out to be the kids room, but the third one's a charm and he makes sure the door is shut behind him before turning on the light.
He looks like hell. There really is no getting around it, and since he'd rather not be confronted with evidence of the fact, he carefully avoids looking in the mirror to his left while he empties his bladder and washes his hands. Then it's back down the darkened hallway, barely lit by the 101 Dalmations nightlight and back to his room (the guest room, he can't let himself get comfortable).
With the door safely shut behind him, he leans the crutches against the wall and hops back towards the bed. The idea of going back to sleep is a dismal one, but he isn't left with that many options. There is no tv in the room, no stereo or even clock radio. He might be able to find a book if he looked hard enough, but the idea of reading isn't that much more appealing than more sleep, and as such, isn't worth the effort. One thing the room does have, however, is a bowl of soup, sitting on a wooden tray placed on the bedside table. He turns on a lamp to get a closer look, and sees that not only is there soup, there is also crackers, a small bottle of orange juice, and a couple of aspirin sitting atop a paper napkin. Underneath the juice there's a piece of paper, folded once with his name written in precise script across the top. He pulls it out, unfolds it, and holds it under the light to better see it.
"Hope you like vegetable soup, it's all I could find in the cupboard. There's some aspirin too, the warning on your painkillers said not exceed the maximum dose, but aspirin or tylenol is okay in the meantime. Hope you can join us for breakfast. The kids are looking forward to getting to know their Uncle.
The soup's been cold a long time, a skin has already settled over the surface. And the condensation pooling under the juice has warped Kellie's handwriting, making the paper stiff and still damp in some places. But Dean doesn't care. It had been a long time, years, since someone has gone out of their way to make sure he was all right. The realization that someone not related by blood cares hits harder than he ever thought it would. He tries to reread the note, but his vision has gone blurry and it's too difficult.
He sets the note back down on the table, and lowers himself slowly to his pillow. He doesn't want to think, doesn't want to admit to the fact that maybe after all this time, he might deserve to have someone care about him. The thought is too painful, and he strikes it from his mind. Much better to think of himself as a lone wolf, one with no attachments and no dependents. Besides, that's what he'll be as soon as this damn leg heals and he can get moving again. Why prolong the inevitable?