Author's Notes:I have an AP exam tomorrow. I wrote this instead of studying. Ummmmm, oops?
can't make it sparkle so you gotta make it shine
Years afterwards, Ben dreams. Long after Dean's face has dissolved into hazy pixels and the Impala morphed into an impressive-looking government vehicle, Ben wakes up panting, shaking, sure that he's back in a cage and not his bed. And he's no longer afraid of the dark or houses under construction, but he's developed a vicious hatred for zoos and labs that test on animals.
He knows what it's like, being on the inside, being watched and fed and poked at for amusement's and curiosity's sake. The scar on the back of his mother's neck—round, mouth-sized—will never full heal. She never wears her hair up anymore without making him put cover-up over the pink, fleshy scar first.
For a while after Dean—that's the name he remembers, the one his mother wouldn't let him forget—he thinks that maybe he's going to get a new Dad, that Dean is going to come back and move in and love him and Mom forever. He might be eight, but he's not stupid—he sees the way that his mother looks when she watches Dean get into the Impala. (Or was it a Mercedes?) And he doesn't get it until he's older, why she never remarried.
Why she had six locks on the door. Why she made him take self-defense lessons. Why she never once complained when he fell further and further in love with Led Zeppelin and spent more time rocking out to No Quarter than studying for school. Why she was simply exasperated the first time he got into a fight ("Did you at least win, Ben?") and didn't ground him for life, like he'd expected. (Just two weeks.)
"Dude," his friends said, "You have the coolest mom ever."
And yeah. He did.
But sometimes—when he woke up panting, shaking, sure that he's back in a cage and not in his bed—sometimes he hears her in her room, pacing, pacing, waiting for the sun to rise. And he can't help but maybe hate Dean too, a little; because he swooped in, saved the day, got the girl and then didn't follow through. Just left them with a smile and a kiss and see-you-around.
Still, it's not like he's not grateful. The whole ordeal made him some pretty sweet friends—friends he might not have had before, friends he wouldn't have necessarily tried to make if they hadn't been the ones with him, in that basement, waiting to be eaten by something none of them could name.
His first girlfriend's name is Sarah. She was in the cage right next to his, and she hadn't cried once, not until she was back safe in her mother's arms, and afterwards she kissed him on the playground. Which, at the time, he thought was fairly disgusting, but seven years later he's whistling a different tune.
When Ben turns 17 his mother sits him down at the kitchen table and plays with her lighter—she doesn't smoke, she just likes to watch it burn—and tells him quietly, "Ben. It's time you… it's time we talked."
He cocks his head to the side, biting into his pizza with relish. "About what?" He asks through a mouthful of cheese.
She shook her head at him, smiling fondly as she brushed a bit of sauce from his cheek using her thumb. "Your father," she says simply, using her palms to push herself to her feet. She takes a deep breath, smiling at him from the corner of her mouth, and then says, "His name is Dean. Dean Winchester."
Ben chokes on his food, spitting it back onto his plate. "Dean—Dean, Dean?" He asks, voice high-pitched. "But… you said… I remember, you said…"
His mom sends him her best glare. "I know what I said," she tells him sharply, before sighing. "I'm sorry. It was—it's complicated, honey. Just trust me. Dean is your father. He doesn't know he's your father because I didn't tell him. But I… I might not always be around, Ben, and I want you to know that you have family somewhere, family that will love you just as much as I do."
His mind is shooting off warning bells, bells louder than the voice asking Why didn't you tell me? "What…Mom, what are you talking about?"
She just smiles at him, and shakes her head. "Eat your pizza, baby," she deflects with a laugh. "I just wanted you to know. You both deserve that." The teapot whines and she pours herself a warm mug before padding over to the couch. "Zeppelin of Pink Floyd?" She asks, holding up the two DVDs. And he knows she's hiding something, but she's also offering him the chance to watched his favorite band while eating some delicious 'za, so he lets it go. She'll tell him when she wants to tell him. That's the way Mom worked, dropping information at random times until the whole puzzle fit together.
So they sit and watched Zeppelin and eat pizza and make bad jokes, and two months later she's dead from a brain tumor she conveniently forgot to mention.
For a long time he just sits in the emptiness of the house, listening to the tea kettle scream, eyes misted. Sarah comes over twice a day to feed him and they don't speak; she just makes him macaroni, or orders Chinese food, or tosses leftovers into the most disgusting lasagna ever, and he's not sure he's ever going to be ready to make sounds again.
His mother's old lighter is still sitting on the dining room table and he plays with it, not smoking, just watching it burn.
Eventually Sarah gets fed up with his pity party and shoves a piece of paper with a number on it into his hand. Dean Winchester, it says, 555-243-7689. She puts her hands on her hips and says, "I'm not going to breast-feed you anymore, dude. Punch the number, find your Dad, and take a fucking shower." Then she kisses him once and leaves. He doesn't call Dean, but he does take a shower. And then he cleans the house. And then he gets into the car and doesn't drive, just sits there watching the sun rising and setting and blasting Zeppelin IV in the CD player.
Eventually he pulls out his cell phone and calls the number on the scrap of paper. A woman picks up. "Frank's Comfort Hotel," she says, her voice low and scratchy and oddly hot for someone who's probably around forty. "How can I help you?"
His voice catches in his throat as he makes reservations for a room. She gives him the address—it's in Idaho.
Who the fuck lives in Idaho?
Ben puts the keys in the ignition and finally starts the car, leaving behind the sleepy little town that was almost—but not quite—destroyed by bloodsucking little clones. And when he thinks about it, how badass is it that his father is the devilishly handsome stranger that swooped in to save them all?
But Ben thinks about his mother, still awake at 3:00 AM, pacing, pacing. Waiting for the sound of an Impala (or was it a BMW?) pulling into the front drive. Flicking her cigarette lighter on and off, just watch it burn. And it's hard to love a man that saved your life if it was at the price of his mother's possible happiness with someone else. Because Dean Winchester is one of those people that you don't forget, that you can't forget.
It takes him something like four days and two hundred cups of coffee to get to the hotel, but eventually he pulls in. It's worn-down, maybe rates half a star, and there is a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. If he's quiet he can hear the couple next door having sex. But there's a '67 black Chevy Impala (so it was an Impala, and that's right, he remembers it now—long and black and dangerous looking) parked in the lot so Ben figures he can ignore the horny honeymooners next door, for now.
He has to wait two days before he finally sees either one of them—Dean or the man he's traveling with. He knows it's creepy, but Ben just doesn't have the courage to talk to him yet, so instead he bides his time by watching, listening, learning. Dean is wearing a leather jacket, worn at the elbows, and jeans with patches in them. He looks… older, somehow, than Ben remembers; and that makes sense, because he was in his twenties when Ben was eight and it's nine years later now so he's got to be around forty. His father—his father—his limping, just slightly, not wearing shades despite the glinting sun. He goes into room 321 and shortly after the angry strains of Metallica can be heard from four rooms away.
Ben can't sleep that night. Instead he paces, paces, waiting for the sun to rise. Around 4:30 Dean and his friend leave their room and pile into the car. Not thinking, not wondering, just moving, Ben follows. He gets into his truck and drives at a safe distance until they pull into a graveyard. He's thinking: so don't want to know where this is going, but gets out of the truck anyway and, from gravestone to gravestone, follows them.
They spend an hour digging up a grave—he's thinking: what the fuck, what the fuck?!—and then pour salt and gas onto the coffin and start to burn it. And Ben's about two seconds from turning heel and hauling his ass home, far away from this shit crazy person he shares little more than a strand of DNA with. But just as he makes to move, he sees it—a full grown man, charging towards them, flickering--But just as he makes to move, he sees it—a full grown man, charging towards them, flickering—yes, flickering—and howling.
"Look," Dean is saying, raising his gun to point it at the man, "it's for your own good, you sonuvabitch. I heard you were a nice dude during life. Let's end on a happy note, shall we?" And then he pulls the trigger and shoots him in the face.
Ben is waiting for blood and the thud of a body, but what he sees is the man evaporate into nothingness, only to reappear a hundred yards away and start the charge again. "This game gets really boring, really fast," Dean says lightly to the man at his side, who is watching the scene with an amused calm.
"Fat boy can run," he comments cheerfully. "Wonder if he was that quick when he was alive?" He pulls of a shot at the—the—well. It dissolves again. Dean's lips quirk up.
"With all those doughnuts weighing him down? Nah. Duck, Sammy." Another shot. Dean glances into the grave. "The bones are almost gone. I'd say he has one more harmless charge in him, if he wants to give it a go." He pauses. "Personally, if I were dead, I'd spend my time haunting brothels. Can you imagine what a sweet deal that would be?"
Sam rolls his eyes tiredly, climbing to his feet and dusting his hands off on his pants."Dude, you are such a jerk," he laughs, and grabs a shovel. He starts to haul the dirt back into the still-smoldering grave.
"Don't be such a bitch, bitch." Dean unhelpfully kicks some dirt into the hole. "I'm getting too fuckin' old for this shit, Sammy," he says, stretching. "My back is killing me."
Sam snorts. "You're thirty-five, dude. You aren't too old to do anything but play in the indoor playground at McDonalds."
Ben walks away, quietly freaking out, silently wondering if he should have done that to his mother, if he was supposed to burn her all up, but he can't, he couldn't, he won't. And he doesn't want any part of what his dad was doing, with the burning and the shooting and the all-too-casual jokes about dying and death. So he gets back in the truck and pays for his room and gets the hell out of Idaho.
The house is too big and too empty but it's all he has left of her, of the woman whose idea of a sex talk was: "Seriously, Ben, don't knock anyone up. Because I will make you care for that baby." So he stays. Turns 18. Goes to a local community college because what the hell else is he going to do?
And it doesn't start until the one year anniversary of his mother's death. He wakes up panting, shaking, sure that he's still in a cage and he hears it. His mother's footsteps, pacing, pacing, back and forth across her bedroom. He walks cautiously down the hall and pushes the door open and—and there she is, just like he remembers her, walking back and forth across the floor and playing with a lighter.
"Ben," she says, and flickers, and steps towards him. "Why didn't he come back?" His heart is in his throat and he's gasping for air and her hand is on his shoulder and it's colder than he's ever felt and ohmygodohmygodohmygod—
She flickers. Then she's gone.
Ben calls Sarah. He doesn't tell her about—about—
He tells her he had a dream, about being in a cage, about his neck being sucked on and those razor teeth stirring his blood. So she comes over and curls up on his couch and they fall asleep watching Garfield. But even in his dreams he can hear them—footsteps, back and forth across his mother's bedroom.
"Ben," she whispers, her cold hand shaking him awake. "Why didn't he come back?" Her nails tickle along his neckline and then slowly begin to scratch his shoulder, digging deeper and deeper as she begins to wail. "Why didn't he come back? I should have told him. I should have told him."
"Mom," he chokes out, trying to wriggle away, not sure if his heart is beating or if he's even breathing, "Mom, you're hurting me."
She steps away from him, breathing heavily, eyes still full of tears. "Oh, God—" She swallows heavily. "Oh God. I'm sorry. I'm sorry." Then she flickers, and then she's gone, and he's left sitting in the dark of his room and wondering when he'd gone crazy and why he never noticed.
The third time he sees her she is in the kitchen, pacing, mumbling to herself, "I wasn't enough, sometimes you just aren't enough," and she isn't hurting anyone but she's throwing the pots around.
"Mom," he says tiredly. "Please."
"Shut up, Ben," she snarls, and throws a saucer at the cupboard. "I love you, but shut up." She turns to face him, eyes glittering. "Why did he never come back to us, Ben? He said—he said he wanted to be your father. He said…"
He drops his head into his hands. "I don't know," he mumbles. "I'll find him. I'll bring him back. Is that what you want? What do you want?"
She flickers. Then she's gone.
"Sarah," he says into the phone, "I think I'm going crazy. I keep seeing her, everywhere, and she's asking for my Dad, but my Dad's into some crazy shit, Sarah, really, really crazy shit and I don't know what to do because ghosts aren't real."
There's a pause. Then Sarah says, "Dude. You were almost eaten alive by some supposedly mystical creature that has its freaky little babies morph into your look-alike so they could suck on your mom. You're seriously ruling out ghosts?"
He pauses. "This is different," he says. "I mean, ghosts are—they're…my Dad is…I don't even know how to find him," he finishes helplessly, frustrated, his headache pounding with every footfall of his mother's pacing upstairs.
Sarah comes over the next day and just smiles serenely at his mother's ghost, who is breaking glasses on the linoleum, before handing him a sheet of paper. "I am God, and you owe me big," she tells him flatly. "Now go bring him back before your mom destroys all your good china."
He doesn't know what to do but kiss her, so he does, and reaches for the phone. But there's no number on the sheet of paper, just an address, so he sighs and packs a suitcase. He wonders if he's proper etiquette to say goodbye to a ghost so he just… doesn't. He leaves to the sound of her crying, getting into the truck and driving toward the horizon.
They're in Wisconsin. What is it with Winchesters and states no one wants to live in?
This time he doesn't wait a day or a week; he just pulls into the hotel and asks where they're staying and knocks on the door.
The one called Sam answers. "Uh… can I help you?" He asks, and Ben has this hysterical and fleeting image of his being Dean's gay lover. He decides he doesn't really want to know.
"I'm looking for Dean Winchester," Ben says, his heart pounding, voice scratchy, eyes red from driving.
Sam hesitates. "What do you need? Maybe I can help you."
And Ben is too tired to try and play whatever game this guy is putting on him, so he says, "Not unless you had crazy weekend sex with my Mom and accidentally created me and know how to get rid of a ghost that wants you back."
Sam blinks. Then he says. "Oh my God. Are you…Ben?"
Sam turns on his heel. "Dean? Dean! Get the hell in here. It's fucking Ben!"
Dean pokes his head around the door of the bathroom and emerges with only a towel wrapped around his bottom half. Ben gapes, taking in the innumerable scars that are scratched across his father's chest and arms. "I, um," he says, suddenly a lot more conscious of himself and how he looks and what he sounds like and how crazy he's about to sound.
"My, um, Mom," he says haltingly, eyes locked with Dean's, "She, um. She died."
It's like all the air is sucked out of the room and Sam puts his hand on Ben's shoulder. Dean's eyes shutter closed and his lips form a tight line. "How?" He asks softly.
Dean rubs his face with his hands, murmuring "fuck" over and over again. "Ben…" he won't look at him. "I'm sorry."
"There's something else," Sam says, chancing a glance at Ben. "He's, uh… he's your son, Dean. Lisa…failed to mention that little detail, but he says… he says he's your son."
Dean's head shoots up so quick that water sprays everywhere. "No," he says, "That's not—Lisa said—I asked her twice, and she said—"
"She told me she didn't want you to feel…obligated," Ben offers hesitantly, maybe a little scared, maybe a little uncomfortable with the lack of joy radiating from Dean Winchester's person. "But, um, she really loved you, and…um…now she won't leave me alone."
Dean blinks. Sam blinks. Ben says, "I think she's a ghost. And she's breaking all my nice shit."
There's a long pause until Sam breaks in, "Yeah, Dean, definitely yours," and out of nowhere he's pulling Ben into this long, welcome-to-the-family hug that Ben wasn't expecting at all. "Dude. I'm officially an Uncle Sam. That is so badass."
"You're still a little bitch," Dean corrects, and takes a nervous step forward. "Ben," he says slowly. "I…I mean, I don't…" he trails off, frustrated. Finally, helplessly, "Please, God, tell me you aren't into chick-flick moments."
Ben makes a face. "Please, God, tell me you aren't about to turn into Oprah or Dr. Phil," he returns. He grins, a little bit. "Maybe we could just do the father-son-bonding thing over some Metallica or Zeppelin while we drive back to a state where there are actual people so we can help my mom?"
Dean grins, and his whole face lights up, and for the first time Ben considers the possibility that this—the son-thing—is making Dean actually happy, like maybe he wants to be his Dad and not just… obligated to be.
Dean and Sam are in the Impala and he follows in the truck. By the time they get home Ben is burning with all the questions he never realized that he needs answered—like why did you go, why didn't you come back, what the hell do you do for a living, are you happy to see me, how could you not know that you destroyed my mother?
Sarah is waiting for him in the driveway when they pull in. She takes one look at Dean and grins and says, "Okay, at least now he has an excuse," (whatever that means), and then introduces herself as his girlfriend (which isn't strictly true) and then says, "Dude, you're Mom is getting kind of loco. She's throwing some really pointy shit; it's getting dangerous in there."
Dean takes a deep breath, and he hesitates before going in. Sam puts a quiet arm on his shoulder. "Okay?" He asks softly.
"Not even a little bit," Dean says honestly, and then tosses Ben a half-hearted smile over his shoulder and goes inside. "I need to do this one alone, Sammy."
Sam shakes his head. "Don't give a shit. I'm not letting you go in there by yourself, and not just because it's a knife-throwing ghost." He follows his brother inside. Ben and Sarah hover in the doorway, watching.
"Lisa?" Dean asks softly. A fork whips just past his nose and he drops to the ground. "Jesus! I know was I'm a deadbeat, but easy, Gumby!"
His mother flickers. "Dean?" She asks.
He stands up, smiling at her with tired eyes. "Yeah," he says slowly. "Hey."
"You came back," she murmurs wonderingly. "But you didn't want to stay before."
Dean points a finger at him. "Yeah, well, you failed to mention the fact that I have a son. In fact, I distinctly remember you telling me that Ben wasn't mine."
Lisa shrugs. "I lied," she tells him shamelessly. Then she sniffs. "I haven't been sleeping," she says slowly. "I can't. I just pace and pace. It's like—it's like you were here for just a little while but I got a taste of what…what I almost had, and I…I'm not that kind of girl, Dean. I wasn't going to be anyone's obligation but you've got those eyes, and that smile, and…and I have a type, you know?"
His smiling at her, eyes bright. "Lisa," he says softly, "It was never about you, or Ben. I was…I had six months to live, when I came to see you. I never told you that. I sold my soul for Sam and I had six months. I couldn't let you two get attached just to leave you at the end of less than a year." He hesitates. "But I…I wanted to. I did. You were the only chance to settle down that I ever wanted to take, and Lisa, it took everything in me to leave you and Ben."
She's flickering. "I wish you'd stayed," she murmurs. "It would have been enough."
Dean's voice is laced with genuine regret. "Maybe," he says. "Let go, Lisa."
She looks over at Ben, grinning like she used to. "Sorry for breaking everything," she says, reaching out to touch his face. "I love you, baby." She looks over at Dean, smiles once, and then flickers out forever.
"We've still got to burn the body," Dean says after a long silence. Sarah's hand has found Ben's.
"Okay, dude?" Sam asks.
"Ask me that again and I'll punch you in the face."
"So that's a yes."
The brothers turn to look at Ben. Sam and Sarah make a hasty exit to the car, citing the need for fresh air, and Dean digs his hands deep into his pockets. "Ben," he says slowly, "I'm not sure how good I'm going to be at this whole 'Dad' thing, but… if you wanted to… try, I… I mean, I want to try."
Ben hesitates for a moment, thinking, why did you go, why didn't you come back, what the hell do you do for a living, are you happy to see me?
Then he sticks out his hand. "I want to try," he says.
Dean grins, and takes it before throwing his arm around Ben's shoulder and they walk to the car. "Great," he says. "Then the first rule of the family is that I am infinitely cooler than Sam."
Ben gets into the backseat with Sarah and Dean slips into the driver's side. "Dude," Sam says, "Please don't make me listen to Leonard Skynyrd again."
"The second rule," Dean goes on, ignoring his brother, "is that driver picks the music and shotgun shuts his pie hole."
He starts the car, and Ben can barely feel anything but the bright June sun on his back.