Summary: Luke Danes, Dean Forester, and a game of softball. What could possibly go wrong? A part of Faye Dartmouth's Redemptive!Dean verse.
Summer Project – Part 2 of 2
Luke was antsy. They'd arrived over an hour ago and he hadn't heard anything about Dean's condition and he also hadn't seen Dean. Maybe he should have milked that whole father angle a little longer.
Tests. They were running tests and said Luke would be in the way. Dean had protested, a panicked look pinching his face, but the staff hadn't cared as they whisked him down the hallway out of sight.
He'd found the coffee machine and treated himself to one of, if not the worse ever, cups of coffee. Luke didn't even like coffee but he needed to do something, anything, and for some reason, when push came to shove, all he could think was what Lorelai would do and even she would have hated this cup of coffee. Although calling it coffee was probably kinder than it deserved. Tasteless sludge. Even the Styrofoam it was served in looked like it was in revolt, curling and buckling under Luke's fingers.
Jiggling his knee, Luke tried to distract himself from the chaos of the waiting room. Two little girls were playing in the corner with dolls. At least until an older boy walked up and yanked one girl's long hair and swiped the doll out of the other's hands.
Surveying the chaos, Luke realized he didn't mind that he'd missed out on parenting a young child. Between those three in the corner, he wanted to smack the boy and put a muzzle on the girls who were now squealing like banshees. But he had to admit he enjoyed older kids. Teens. Maybe even a little older. He liked mentoring and helping them discover themselves.
Without the toilet training, terrible twos, temper tantrums, etc., parenting didn't seem like such a bad gig.
It had started slowly. First, his nephew had come into his life. Lorelai had warned him that Jess would be nothing but trouble and she'd been right. But Jess had also taught Luke something about not being self centered, that there was more to life than just taking care of yourself. And then Jess had gotten his act together and left town. Sure, Luke still received a post card and occasional call but it had been three years since he'd actually set eyes on Jess. Then again his nephew was quite the literary celebrity these days, living the high life in New York. Which Luke really did like to think was partly because of him.
And then came April. Luke hadn't seen that one coming. Because really, wouldn't you somehow know if you had a daughter running around somewhere? Anna had always been a bit of a free spirit, that was for sure. And April had an independent streak just like her mom. Although Luke liked to think April got her dependability from him. Maybe he was delusional. Likely, given that he was in a waiting room for a kid he used to hate drinking coffee that he didn't even like. Lately, he'd been alone as Anna had whirled April away on a tour of the states for the summer. Travel was good for the mind so Luke didn't protest overly much. But he missed her.
And that's how Luke came to have a little extra time on his hands. Luke had planned on doing a little fishing, maybe do some repairs around the apartment. But instead, he apparently had a surrogate son in Dean. The kid he'd once wanted to tear to shreds for touching Rory was now someone Luke had taken under his wing. And Dean was damned receptive to Luke's teachings. Unlike Jess, who had bristled at the rules. Or April, who was too busy getting to know Luke to listen to him much.
Dean was ripe for listening to the teachings of the Zen master Luke and he had to admit he was getting a kick out of it.
Except now. When his grasshopper was flat on his back with a broken wing and a scrambled brain.
"Family for Dean Forester?"
Luke was on his feet so fast he nearly trampled one of the children masquerading as ants littering the waiting room. "That's me."
"You must be Luke. Right this way. We've settled Dean in a cubicle and he's been most anxious to see you. Try to keep him calm and the doctor will be in to see you both."
A short man, thin and wiry with graying hair, strode into the cubicle with a chart in his hand. "Hello, you must be Luke. I'm Dr. Hansen. It looks to me like softball has gotten a lot rougher than when I played, eh, Dean?"
Dean's eyes were drooping as he relaxed against the pillows propped behind him. A shy smile slid across his face. That was good. Dean liked the doc.
Someone, probably a nurse, quietly entered the room and handed the doctor a large envelope before swishing back out. The doctor pulled out a film negative and stuck it on one of those boards that lights up and voila, they were looking at an x-ray of Dean's arm. "This bone here that runs along the thumb side of Dean's arm is the Radius and you can see the fracture right here. And this bone here, the larger one that runs along the little finger side of the arm is the Ulna, also fractured. The good news is they're clean breaks so we just need to cast the arm."
Two breaks. That didn't sound fun. First Dean goes on a mission to break all of Luke's plates at the diner and apparently not satisfied, he decided to move on to his arm.
Of course it really wasn't Dean's fault. The arm, that is. Luke could blame Lindsay's preppie boyfriend, and he certainly deserved most of the blame, but when you came right down to it, Luke also played a part in it. He'd ordered Dean to show up for practice, no room for argument, and the rest was history.
Luke's attention was recalled back to the doctor as he began shining a penlight in Dean's eyes. The younger man flinched back against the pillows but the drugs they had him on must be working well; if they hadn't, Luke had no doubts that the tiny doctor would have been flattened by the much larger, crazy with pain kid. "Dean did sustain a Grade 3 concussion – he had a loss of consciousness for about a minute which means he'll most likely suffer from dizziness, confusion and irritability. We could keep Dean here for observation but in cases like this, I will release a patient if there's a responsible adult willing to monitor the symptoms."
At the mention of staying for observation, Dean had totally tensed up and looked nauseous. Luke had to admit he'd feel a whole lot better if Dean stayed where people who knew what they were doing could watch him. The ride over in the ambulance with the kid talking about Kirk and Lorelai, thinking the collision with the motorized bike had just happened instead of taking place last summer, had really thrown Luke for a loop.
But he just couldn't do that to the kid. Luke wouldn't want to stay here. It smelled. Like a hospital. Which Luke supposed it was, but still. The kid's family had already ditched him for the summer and hadn't even left him a place to stay. The last thing the kid needed was more alone time. So there was only one solution to be had. He'd take Dean home with him. Just for a while. Until the kid was back on his feet. Or at least maneuvering better with his broken arm.
"I'll take care of Dean. Just tell me what to do."
There. He'd said it and there was no taking it back. And the gratitude shining from Dean's eyes, glazed from drugs, was more than compensation for his decision. At least at the moment. Something told Luke his young friend was going to be a pain in the ass but it couldn't be any harder than taking care of the Gilmores. They'd elevated being a pain in the ass to the highest level, what with their total disregard for good nutrition and other bad habits. Dean, in comparison, would be easy. Of course, anything in comparison would be easy.
Luke returned to the waiting room to see if Pete was there with his car keys. He found not only Pete but the whole team. Pete was the first to his feet. "How's the kid?"
Swallowing past the lump in his throat, Luke made eye contact with everyone. "Broken arm. Concussion. But the good news is they're releasing him as soon as the cast is on his arm."
Pete slapped Luke on the arm. "Fantastic! What with the way that bruiser laid into him, we weren't sure what condition Dean would be in."
Still feeling overwhelmed about the whole team packing into the ER waiting room, Luke couldn't stop himself from asking about it. "So how come everyone is here? I thought you'd be out celebrating our win, talking about the next round of the playoffs."
Jim beat Pete to the punch. "Dean's got a lot of heart. We couldn't raise a toast until we knew he was okay. After all, he is one of us now."
It was well known that Jim liked his beer so it was really saying something that he'd given up his reserved seating at the local pub to check on Dean.
Amidst the hand slapping and manly hugging, Luke finally retrieved his bag and keys from Pete and herded the team outside into the warm summer air. "I'll let Dean know you all stopped by."
Luke went inside and sank down in a cheap plastic chair. He just wanted to collect himself for a moment. And then he wanted to take Dean home.
Pulling up outside the diner, Luke put the truck in park and turned off the ignition before going inside to unlock the door and turn on some lights. Dean had fallen asleep the moment they'd left the ER parking lot and Luke didn't want to disturb him.
The doctor had cautioned him about Dean and his pain medication; he had to find the happy medium between not so zonked he couldn't function and not enough that he couldn't rest. The nicest thing Luke could do was let him sleep through it. But first he'd have to get Dean inside and upstairs.
Luke opened the passenger side door and almost wasn't ready when Dean started to pitch out. Luckily, his broken arm was on the other side as he made a mad grab to halt the kid's downward progress; Dean had kissed the ground one too many times tonight as it was, he didn't need to add any more war wounds to his collection.
Propping up Dean against the back of the passenger seat, Luke unlatched the seatbelt. "Dean, come on. Time to go inside."
Eyelashes lifted infinitesimally. "Luke?"
So much hurt and confusion in that one word. It made Luke's own head ache. "We're home. Let's get you inside."
Dean's eyes widened and he straightened in his seat. Craning his neck around, he winced. "This isn't home."
Luke reached back in and maneuvered Dean onto the sidewalk. "Yeah, kid. For the next couple of days this is home."
Eyes drooping again, Dean sagged most of his weight into Luke's side. "It's a good thing you don't weigh any more otherwise I wouldn't be able to drag you around."
The younger man made a noise, it could have been agreement or opposition, as Luke dragged his stumbling form along.
He didn't know how they made it, but Luke finally maneuvered Dean up the stairs and settled him on his bed.
On the way up the stairs, Luke felt like he was forgetting something. Now, looking at Dean all pale and hurt in his apartment, it came to him – they really should let Dean's family know what had happened. If it was April, Luke would certainly want to know.
Dean was awake and looking miserable so Luke offered to make the call. "Why don't you give your mom's phone number and I'll let her know what happened?"
He'd couched it as a question but it was really more like a directive. Dean met the directive with silence and a frown.
Luke reminded himself that Dean had a concussion. His memory might be a little off. "Don't you remember her number? Or your father's?"
Scrunching his face up, Dean sighed. "I don't think that's a good idea. They're out of town, I'll let them know when they get back."
It was Luke's turn to sigh. "Dean, they're your family. They would want to know."
Head buried in the crook of his uninjured arm, body occupying every square inch of Luke's bed, Dean emitted a groan. "You don't understand. My mom will…"
Luke saw Dean's groan and raised him another sigh. "You don't understand how this parenting thing works. We always want to know. Everything that it is. When things are going good, bad or in between. It's a parent's right to know. Now give me a phone number before I choke it out of you."
Bleary eyes peaked at Luke through a tangle of hair. Dean's lips pulled into a straight, mutinous line. And then he caved, head dropping back into his arm. His muffled voice slowly recited the magical seven digit number.
Reaching out to lay a hand of encouragement on Dean's shoulder, Luke withdrew it at the last minute. Dean's body was sore from the collision on the field and he didn't want to injure his friend anymore.
Friend. Luke was getting sappy in his old age. But really, what else was a friend but someone you could leverage to do things for you, like play on your softball team? Or force your opinions on, like how the world really works and how to navigate through it? Or someone you worried about and who worried about you once in a while?
Luke moved to the stairs, out of Dean's earshot. He had a call to make on behalf of his friend.
"Hi, is this May Forester?"
The voice was sharp with confusion. "Yes, who's calling?"
"This is Luke Danes, from Luke's Diner. You're probably wondering why I'm calling."
There was silence before the woman gave what could be called a sigh of long suffering. "Is this about my son?"
So far this conversation was going okay. Now for the tricky part. "Yeah. You see, we were playing softball, and this big guy, really big guy, ran into your son and…"
May interrupted him, a note of dry amusement in her voice. "What did he hurt?"
The tone she struck just didn't sit well with Luke. He was calling to tell her that her son was hurt and she was amused? "He's got a concussion and a broken arm."
The amusement seemed to have dried up and instead there was bitter resignation in its place. "Of course he did. I'll see if I can get a flight out tomorrow. Clara will be disappointed but I guess Dean can't be counted on to take care of himself, even for a month."
Luke let her prattle on in this vein, making and breaking plans out loud, until he couldn't handle it anymore. He'd expected worry, fear, maybe a little resentment that she wasn't there, but this sounded altogether too resigned, a little too I-told-you-so and not nearly maternal enough. Not that Luke knew a lot about being maternal, but he would guess that it would mean having bigger things on your mind than exasperation. Maybe Dean had been right. "No, May. You don't have to come home. Dean will be fine. He's got friends, lots of friends, and we'll make sure he's taken care of. I wouldn't want you to cut short your vacation on Dean's account."
He knew his sarcasm had flown over her head when she didn't miss a beat. "Well, if you're sure. I mean he is my son and I really should take care of him. But you see, things like this always seem to happen to the boy. I don't know where we went wrong with him, but…"
That was it. Luke was at the end of his patience. "It's okay, you don't have to worry about Dean. I just thought you'd want to know. Please call the diner if you have any concerns about your son. But don't worry, he's in good hands."
Better hands than with his mother. What a piece of work. May "I don't know where we went wrong with him" Forester. It was kind of hard to believe that Dean was related to her.
The call was quickly terminated and Luke slid back into the room. Hoping Dean was asleep so that he wouldn't have to explain his mother's response to his injuries, Luke was dismayed to see the younger man had propped himself up on the pillow at the head of the bed. He was lopsided, in danger of tipping over, and Luke swooped in to straighten him out.
Once Dean wasn't perched so precariously, he looked Luke in the eye and Luke braced himself. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
Okay, Luke hadn't expected that. He wondered what kind of pain medication made you blurt out things like that. He certainly didn't want to end up on anything like that in the event he was injured. Uncomfortable. He'd rather be uncomfortable than made completely vulnerable like that.
Deciding to go the smartass route, Luke quipped back, "Are you implying that I'm not usually nice?"
Hazel eyes, wide with confusion, pinned him. "No. Yes. Wait, what I mean is I'm such a screw-up, you know it, so why are you helping me?"
The words were bad enough but the tone was forlorn and Luke felt ill equipped to respond. But there was no one else in the room and Dean was still staring at him so Luke took a stab at it. "Did you make a bone headed mistake in the past? Sure. It was really bone headed but you were young. And since then I think you've paid for it. It's time to move on."
"How can I move on when everyone around me reminds me of it every time I turn around?"
The words were softly drawled, filled with pain, and then Dean flinched and closed his eyes.
Luke was at a loss. This was crucial to getting Dean over his issue with self hate but neither person in the room was feeling up to the talk at the moment.
And Luke didn't even want to dwell on what the kid meant when he said everyone around him reminds him about his mistake. Maybe Luke needed a set of new self help books. Time to worry about it later. After Dean was done looking like death warmed over and sounding just as bad.
Luke drew a blanket over Dean after gently easing him down until he was flat on his back. Eyes moistly stared at him before blinking in exhaustion. "Close your eyes and get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning."
He wasn't sure he believed it, but it sounded good. Platitudes did have a place sometimes, this being one of them.
Tomorrow Luke would work on putting Dean back together again.
Luke had managed to snatch a few hours of sleep here and there, as he perched on his couch. He had a second bed but that was April's now and on the other side of the room and he'd wanted to be close to Dean. The kid had been restless throughout most of the night, only settling down when Luke had to get up for work.
He wasn't sure he should leave Dean alone, but at least at the moment, his guest was sleeping soundly. He'd had a dose of pain medication an hour ago and Luke thought maybe the kid had finally turned the corner.
Grabbing a hurried shower, Luke threw on his usual uniform of worn blue jeans, t-shirt, flannel shirt and baseball cap, backwards of course.
After tying his Nikes on, he paused by the bed to adjust the covers and found Dean staring at him. "Morning. How you feeling?"
Dean shrugged his right shoulder, his face a tight mask.
"I need to start getting things ready to open. Once Cesar comes in, I'll swing back up and check on you. Do you need anything before I go downstairs?"
Dean shook his head no but accompanied it with a wince. "Nah, I'm good. Thanks, Luke
Good. Right. Because brackets of pain etched on each side of Dean's mouth coupled with ghostly white pale skin always was a fair indication that someone was doing good.
Luke had only once heard Dean complain in the years he had known him and it wasn't really a complaint, but it was a rant but maybe after the crap he'd given the kid, it was probably earned so he found it hard to imagine that Dean was such a burden his mother didn't want to deal with him. The injustice of the situation ignited the slow burn in the pit of his stomach and Luke swallowed back the words of anger he wanted to direct at Dean's family.
He awkwardly patted Dean's foot, the only area of the younger man's body that Luke suspected didn't ache at the moment. "Okay, try to get some rest and I'll see you in a while."
Dean's eyes were already sliding shut as he gave in to the heavy narcotics Luke had shoveled down him an hour or so ago. Luke didn't think he had to worry about Dean going anywhere without his help; the kid had already passed out if the quiet, deep breaths were any indication.
Luke hustled downstairs and started the coffee as he ran through the mental checklist of what needed to be done.
Unfortunately the drugged, injured body upstairs kept distracting him and Luke probably loped up and down the narrow stairway ten times before Casar made it in for the morning rush. Dean never stirred but that didn't prevent Luke from worrying about him.
Concussion. Broken arm. Unsupportive family. Low self esteem.
Luke couldn't do anything about the problems facing Dean at the moment so he returned to the already bustling diner.
He did his best to interact with the customers with his usual cheery demeanor but several of the patrons were shooting him looks on the sly. Why, Luke couldn't be sure why, people in Stars Hollow were crazed lunatics for the most part and Luke had made it a point to never question crazed lunatics even when they were looking at him like he was a crazed lunatic. And that thought alone made his head hurt enough to wish that he could take the painkillers and sleep this God awful day away as well.
Finally, someone had the nerve to approach him. Although it was Kirk so it probably wasn't nerve involved, more likely his lack of common sense. "I heard things got a little out of hand at your playoff game last night. Care to comment?"
Kirk had tried just about every occupation known to man and here he was giving his best Howard Cosell impersonation. Only coming from Kirk, it sounded more like Howard on helium.
"No, Kirk, I don't care to comment. More coffee?"
Another man, someone whose name escaped Luke at the moment, chimed in. "I heard the other team had a big bruiser who took it out on that kid that helps out in here sometimes. Kid's still in the hospital."
Kirk turned his attention to the other guy. "Tall, thin kid...dark hair...used to date Rory? That's Dean Forester."
This time it was a female voice egging Kirk on. "Oh, I heard it was quite romantic. Dean stood up for his ex-wife and her new fiancé took it out on him, messed him up good. But Lindsay threw her engagement ring at the loser. I heard Dean and Lindsay might get back together again."
And so it went. By the time Luke made his escape upstairs for an extended break, the town had Dean and Lindsay engaged again even though Dean was still in ICU from the life threatening injuries he'd sustained while defending his former wife's honor. It was so preposterous that Luke didn't even waste his breath trying to explain what had really happened.
Dean was still blissfully out, sleeping deeply even though Luke had tripped over the sports bag he'd dropped inside the door last night and just about wiped out the shelf of books immediately inside the apartment.
Actually, the fact that Dean hadn't stirred was concerning. His breathing was still deep and even but his pale skin was glistening with sweat. Crap. It looked like the kid had a fever.
He found the tympanic thermometer and inserted it inside Dean's ear. Despite the commotion, the injured man slept on. When the thermometer beeped, Luke wasn't surprised to see that Dean did, in fact, have a fever. 101.3 to be exact.
Not off the charts but definitely not good, especially considering that it was morning and fevers tended to spike as the day wore on. Luke had learned that the hard way when April was recovering from her appendicitis.
Luke fumbled for the discharge instructions and verified that they didn't say a word about fever. He didn't know if Dean still had a doctor in the area and if he did, who it was, and Dean didn't look like he was interested in waking up anytime soon.
Sighing deeply, Luke realized it was time to call someone who had more experience with this type of thing.
"Hi, Lorelai, I need your help."
"Well, good morning to you, Sunshine! When you ask so nicely, so sweetly, how can I possibly refuse? What is the nature of the favor in question?"
Despite his worry, a smile flashed across Luke's face. Lorelai could be maddening, obtuse and flaky but when he needed her, she was there for him. The fact that she was often there even when he didn't need her didn't stop her willingness from being endearing at the given moment. "I need to know when someone has a fever, how high should it be before I get help?"
The joie de vivre fled Lorelai's sultry voice and she was all maternal concern. "What's the matter? Are you okay? Or is it April? No, wait, April is out of town. Are you okay? What's going on? Luke?"
"I'm fine. Really. However, there was a little mishap at the game last night and Dean got hurt."
"Tall, handsome kid with floppy hair and dimples? Used to date my daughter? That Dean?"
"Yes, that Dean. He got mowed over and he broke his arm and has a concussion. This morning he's got a fever of 101.3. Is that bad?"
"Why would Dean Forester be at your place? And concussions and broken limbs don't usually cause fevers as far as I know. Tell you what. I don't have to be to the inn until this afternoon. How about I stop by and see with my own eyes how he's doing?"
Another glance at the still body beneath the covers sealed the deal. "That would be fantastic. Thanks, Lorelai. You're one in a million."
"That's right, bucko. And just you remember that. I expect compensation for this good deed at a later date."
And then Lorelai was breaking the connection and Luke was left with the dial tone buzzing in his ear.
He dropped on to the couch and tried to remain calm. Dean was just sleeping. There wasn't anything seriously wrong. Lorelai would tell him what to do.
Luke didn't know what it said about him that he was willing to take advice from a Gilmore but she knew Dean and she knew sickness and injury from raising a daughter. And most importantly, Luke trusted her.
A short while later there was a brisk knock on the door and the dark haired beauty was letting herself in to his apartment. "How is he?"
Without even looking, Luke knew the answer. "The same."
Lorelai slung her huge purple purse onto the couch, barely missing Luke's head, as she moved quickly to Dean's side. "Dean, honey...I need you to wake up for me."
Perhaps Luke had been too hasty. Dean's eyes immediately sprung open and he gasped as he found himself nose to nose with the mother of his ex-girlfriend. "Shhh, it's okay. I heard you were under the weather and thought I'd see how you're doing with my own two eyes. Not so good I'm guessing. How's your head?"
Dean crinkled his nose. "It's not as bad as when Kirk ran me over."
Lorelai smoothed her hand over Dean's forehead and pushed his hair back off his face. "Yep, you've definitely got a fever. Does anything else hurt?"
The younger man seemed to have his wits about him but he looked exhausted and his words sounded like they were being forced out of him. "Does my broken arm count?"
The maternal hand shifted from Dean's forehead to lightly tap his cheek. "You're still sassy. Must not be too bad off. Seriously, are you nauseous or light headed or anything like that?"
Dean tried shifting himself up on his good elbow but flailed a bit and Lorelai smoothly slid pillows behind his back to support him. Luke marveled at how easy this was for Lorelai. "No, I'm good."
Lorelai's bright blues flashed at Luke as she mouthed this is good? Luke shrugged his shoulders. He was at a loss. Of course he'd never suffered a concussion and he'd been five years old the last time he broke a bone. What did he know?
"Can I get a glass of water and some ibuprofen? I think we'll try to take down the fever the good old fashioned way with liquids, fever reducer and maybe a cold cloth."
Dean grimaced but he didn't argue. "Do you think I could shower after a while? I've got dirt in uncomfortable places."
"Of course you do, sweetie. We'll see what we can do." Lorelai waggled her eyebrows at Luke but didn't miss a beat in her ministrations as she accepted the glass of water and pills from him.
"Open. Good. Swallow. I need a damp, cool washcloth."
It took Luke a moment to get with the program and realize Lorelai was talking to him. He moved into the bathroom and found a clean washcloth, running it under the cold tap water. Wringing it out, he handed it to Lorelai with crisp efficiency. This whole parenting thing was way easier with a partner.
She gently dabbed it against Dean's flushed face and his eyes drifted close.
"Wow, those must be some seriously good drugs they have him on."
"It's been about five hours since he had anything. I'm afraid to give him anything more, at least while he's like this."
Like this — arms akimbo, mouth slack, reclining limply against the pillows wedged behind his back.
"Honey, I think I've got it covered up here. Don't you need to check on the diner? I'll let you know if Dean's fever doesn't come down."
Honey. He was pleased his on-again/off-again girlfriend called him a term of endearment, however, he didn't want to leave. He felt like Dean was his responsibility and it didn't feel right passing him off to someone else. But he saw reason in what Lorelai said and she had volunteered to stay with the ailing kid until she had to go into work. But still, this was his friend. "Fine, I'll go back downstairs. But you'll come get me if anything happens, right?"
Lorelai made a shooing gesture. "Yes, Luke. Cross my heart. Now scram!"
With a final concerned glance at Dean, Luke left his apartment and went back down to check on things. He rolled his neck and hitched his shoulders in an effort to relieve some of the tension building in his body. It had been a long twenty-four hours and he still had the lunch rush to get through before he could turn the diner over to Cesar.
Luke entered the apartment to find Lorelai reclining on the couch, a magazine spread across her lap, and the shower running in the bathroom.
"His fever is down, I wrapped his cast in a plastic garbage bag to keep it dry and if he doesn't come out soon he's going to have more wrinkles than a raisin."
Lorelai was relaxed and breezy, a far cry from the maternal number she'd pulled earlier; Dean must be doing much better.
Luke vaguely remembered Lorelai mentioning that out of the boyfriends Rory had, Dean had been her favorite. At the time, Luke had been disgruntled. After all, Jess was his nephew and a pretty neat guy if Luke did say so himself. More than that, he'd always thought Dean was a punk. A presumptuous kid who didn't know what he wanted and who was never good enough for Rory. The fact that no one, not even Jess or the little rich kid Rory nearly married had ever been good enough hadn't really mattered at the time.
But having spent more time around Dean, Luke realized why Lorelai felt that way. Dean wasn't moody or needy or snotty. He was even tempered most of the time, and when he wasn't, Luke might have to admit that it was with good reason, and Luke enjoyed the hell out of his subtle sense of humor.
Lorelai cracked the bathroom door open and bellowed into the small space. "Gotta run, Dean! Luke is back. He's setting the timer so you'd better wrap it up in there or he's going to cut off the water supply!"
A disembodied voice, stronger now, yelled back. "Thanks for your help, Lorelai!"
The brunette cracked a smile as she kissed Luke on the cheek before fleeing the apartment. Over her shoulder she shouted, "I'll call later to check on him. But call me if there's a problem. Kay? Bye!"
And just like that, Hurricane Lorelai churned out of his living space. Only instead of leaving debris and broken homes, she left a much healthier Dean in her wake.
The water finally cut off and Luke found himself hovering by the doorway. Just in case Dean got dizzy or needed something. This nursing thing was hard work.
Time dragged on but Dean finally emerged from the bathroom, clad in clean jeans and a t-shirt. His feet were bare but dragging on socks in the tiny bathroom would have been a bit much for anyone, never mind a six foot someone with a broken wing.
A sheepish smile graced Dean's face. "I left the bag in the sink. Thanks for letting me shower. I feel a lot better."
"Well, you look a lot better, too. A little less horizontal. Can I get you something to eat?"
Dean's stomach chose that moment to rumble loudly. "I, um, guess I could go for something."
"You're in luck. Chicken noodle soup is the house special. I'll go grab you a bowl."
"Oh, hey, no. You don't have to wait on me. I can go downstairs."
Luke looked closely at Dean. He looked battered, pale and bruised but he was upright and coherent and although he wasn't over flowing with energy, Luke could certainly understand the need to move around and stretch a bit. "Okay. And I'll dispense with the no shoes rule just this once."
Dean's eyes traveled down to where his bare feet peeped beneath the ragged hemline of the denim and he blushed. It was such a Dean like thing to do that Luke instantly felt better about how his friend was doing.
Leading the way, Luke escorted Dean down the tight stairwell; he figured if Dean stumbled, he could at least help break his fall. Not that he wanted to get squashed by a six foot something kid but he really didn't want to be responsible for Dean getting hurt while he was in his place. That one time had been enough to last a life time. He still had nightmares of Dean's hair standing on end, fried by the current that had blasted him across the room, body twitching uncontrollably.
Two customers were just leaving as Luke plunked Dean down on a stool at the counter, leaving the restaurant free of other people. The lunch rush was officially over so it was the perfect time to wait on Dean. The kid deserved some peace and quiet. "I'll be right back with that soup."
Cesar was in the back, tidying up his work area. That was one of the main reasons they got along so well – they both liked to run a tight ship. "Hey, Luke, is that Dean out front? He doesn't look so good."
Luke grabbed a bowl and ladled out a steaming helping of chicken noodle soup. "He seems to be doing much better now. He's a tough kid."
There might have been a touch of pride in his voice but Luke couldn't really explain where it came from. It wasn't like Dean was his son, or even his nephew or that Luke could reasonably claim any responsibility for how Dean had turned out. Luke had heard through the grapevine – not that he tended to trust the Stars Hollow grapevine but he'd made it his business to find out how the kid was doing after the whole electrical shock thing – that Dean had been offered a scholarship after his first year at college and he was set to graduate a year early. Although Dean would never mention it himself. He was a good kid and deserved a lot better than life had been dishing out to him lately.
Sailing out into the dining room, Luke was startled to see the same cute blond from the game last night who had caused the ruckus – Lindsay Lister. And she was chatting up Dean.
Luke couldn't decide if Dean was uncomfortable at the prospect of talking to his ex-wife; his injured arm was cradled tight against his chest and there were frown lines between his eyes and around his mouth but then again those could just be due to pain. He decided to fill the salt shakers at the end of the counter. He'd be close enough to hear the couple's conversation but far enough away to give them the illusion of privacy.
"No, really, it's okay Lindsay. It's not your fault. I'm just sorry it caused you to fight with your fiancé."
"Ex- fiancé. I couldn't believe his nerve. I didn't ask him to attack you like that! What was he thinking?"
Dean fidgeted and looked down at his feet. "He was probably thinking that your crappy ex needed to be taught a lesson. Are you sure it's over with him?"
Lindsay tucked a strand of shiny blond hair behind her ear. "I'm sure. I liked Blair at first because he was different from anyone I'd ever met but I didn't realize that sometimes he could be such an ass. I mean look what he did to you!"
Grimacing a little, Dean nodded. "I'm not condoning what he did but you know I might have wanted to do the same thing if the situations were reversed."
Smiling a little, Lindsay continued. "That's such a Dean thing to say. But no matter what, I'm still sorry Blair acted like a jerk. There's no way I could stay with him after the way he treated you. You are my favorite ex you know. I'm really sorry that he hurt you like this. Speaking of hurting, I've been doing some thinking since I ran into you last night and I'd like to say some things before I lose my nerve."
Luke caught himself gawking at the couple and reminded himself to at least look like he was doing something useful. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dean put his right hand on Lindsay's arm. "Lindsay, please, you don't have to…"
"But I do! It's about our marriage. I know you think I totally blame you for everything that happened, but I've been taking a long, hard look at myself and I have to tell you, I was way too young to be married. I loved the idea of playing house and taking care of you but I was being selfish. I knew you wanted to go to school. I knew you wanted a real career but I just let myself think that you'd be happy with other things. I wasn't thinking about you at all--I was thinking about me. I should have gotten a job, not pushed you so hard about all of the things I thought we needed in order to look like the perfect couple. I pushed you to work and then I got mad at you for always being busy and I thought that making you a roast could fix everything – I was so naive."
Holding his breath, Luke waited for Dean's response. "Linds, we were both too young. And it is all my fault. I shouldn't have…"
Lindsay reached out tenderly and shushed Dean by placing her index finger against his lips. "No, Dean, you shouldn't have, but I was putting too much pressure on you, had unrealistic expectations. Hell, we were both just out of high school! But you were my first love…"
Dean grasped Lindsay's hand and cradled it against his cheek for a moment. "Your first love and I totally blew it. I really screwed up. I'm so sorry things happened they way they did. I never meant to hurt you, you know that, right? I just...I don't know. There aren't any excuses for it and you never deserved any of it and I didn't even have the guts to tell you myself how I felt."
The blond had a wistful look on her face as she learned down and brushed Dean's cheek with her lips. "It's time to move on, Dean. Time you forgave yourself. I have. It took me a long time. Hell, I wanted to pull a Lorena Bobbitt on you for awhile, but once I got over it, Dean, I can't tell you how relieved I was. Not that you cheated, of course, because sometimes that still hurts but that we're not married anymore. I mean, God, can you imagine? Us? Still living in the townhouse? Having a kid or something equally outrageous? We were young. Too young. And the life I have now, Blair notwithstanding, makes me so happy. So stop punishing yourself, okay?"
And with that Lindsay picked up her purse from the counter and darted out of the diner. Luke picked up the bowl of soup and moved down the counter, placing it front of Dean. The younger man's head was down and there was an air of dejection about him. "Hey, kid, you doing okay?"
The head snapped up and Luke noted the red rimmed eyes and pale skin. Not okay. But hanging in there. "Yeah, I'm okay. I didn't expect…that was really weird."
Shoving the bowl forward, Luke grabbed some silverware wrapped in a napkin from beneath the counter and slapped it down. "Eat. What can I get you to drink?"
Dean brushed his shaggy hair out of his face and despite the bruises dappling his skin, Luke could see he had a sparkle in his eyes. The visit from Lindsay must have done him some good.
Dean opened his mouth to answer Luke and was interrupted as the door opened and a younger blond flew into the diner. "Dean! Are you okay?"
The young man swiveled on his stool and stood up, absorbing the fast moving body as she threw herself into his arms. Well, make that one arm. "Clara! What are you doing here?!"
The girl stepped back and smiled up at Dean. "Mom said you got hurt again and I made her bring me home. I wanted to make sure you were okay. Are you okay? You don't look okay."
Luke vaguely remembered Dean's little sister from the days when Dean and Rory were dating; the boy stopped in faithfully to get Rory coffee for her bus ride to school and on a couple of occasions his younger sister accompanied him.
Luke could see the resemblance as the siblings stood side by side. Clara was a tall young woman with fair skin and hair whereas Dean was dark but the features were similar. Same hazel eyes. Same toothy white smile. Same dimples.
Tugging the girl into his side with his good arm, Dean hugged his sister. "I'm doing much better. Luke here took good care of me. Hey, how did you get here? Where's Mo…"
May Forester bustled into the diner. "There you are, Clara. I wish you wouldn't gallop down the sidewalk like that. What will people think?"
Both Dean and Clara rolled their eyes and Luke tried, but failed, to stifle a grimace; apparently Dean's mom thought it was more important what people thought of her daughter than how her son was feeling after getting knocked out.
Bypassing her son with only a cursory glance, May sought out Luke. "I'm so sorry that you had to mind Dean for us. I hope he wasn't too much of an imposition. I mean, really. He certainly does have a propensity for getting run over by anything and everything. I should probably just block off the summer months as Dean-watching months at this rate."
From someone else, say Lorelai, the words might have sounded amused and indulgent. Out of May's mouth they just sounded mean spirited and Luke's protective instincts rose to the fore. "Dean was run over by…"
"By a bike? Zapped by an unchecked electrical outlet? At this point, really, the details don't matter much. We've been traveling for more than eight hours and I'm just ready to drop. It's time we head home." May tilted her head at Luke and that gesture was just about the only thing she seemed to have in common with her son as Luke had seen Dean do that while talking to the customers while waiting tables. But May didn't seem to have any of Dean's compassion, sense of humor or even his dimples. As far as Luke could see, she didn't have any redeeming qualities.
Dean dipped his head. "Sure, Mom. Just let me go upstairs and get my bag."
Luke didn't like the way Dean's shoulders were hunched forward, as though being in the same room with his mother was sapping all of his strength. Not that Luke could blame him if that was the case. But after his short chat with Lindsay, Dean had seemed to buck up a bit. Now, in the presence of his family, he was back peddling.
It occurred to Luke that he'd been in a position to help Dean once before in this very diner and he'd missed the boat; after Dean's bachelor party Luke had tried to talk the younger man into doing something – postponing the wedding, calling it off, anything – since the only thing Dean could talk about was Rory. Luke could tell the marriage was a mistake but he'd been unable to get through to the kid. But this Dean was different, more willing to listen to Luke. Maybe there was something he could do now.
Clara had Dean's good hand and was leading him toward the stairs. Luke was suddenly struck by inspiration. "Dean, why don't you have a seat and finish your soup? I'll drive you and your bag over to your mom's when you're finished. That'll give your mom and sister a chance to unpack."
May Forester positively beamed at Luke. "Clara, dear. Come along. There's a lot we need to do at home. We need to get Dean's room ready and…"
Luke noticed the way Dean relaxed once his mother vacated the premises. "So, um, I hope that was okay. You can take your time here and when you feel up to it, I'll drive you over."
The relief was apparent on Dean's face as he looked up at Luke, a shy smile on his face. "Thanks, Luke. For everything. You've been…well, you've been really great."
Funny, Dean didn't look tense when he was around Luke any more. If anything, he was casual, even natural. And he looked like he belonged. Luke was going to miss having Dean around. Although he wouldn't miss all of the broken dishes from Dean's stint as a waiter.
A few extra minutes was a good start, but it wasn't enough to really do the trick. The only way to make sure his little summer project, helping Dean with his self esteem issues, was on track was to spend more time with the kid. Time he had to admit, he might actually be looking forward to. "So listen, if you're feeling up to it I thought you could come to our next game. You know, like our mascot or something. I know it's not the same as being out on the diamond but it might be, you know, fun or something. But only if you don't break anything else."
White teeth blinded Luke, dimples deeply slashing the pale cheeks. "I think I've met my quota of broken bones for a while. And I'd like that."
When Dean's stomach rumbled loudly again, he started spooning his soup and drawing it up to his mouth; it was a good thing he had broken his left arm because he was having a hard enough time guiding the soup with his right.
This time when Dean walked out of the diner, Luke would make sure he kept up with the kid. His friend. Even if it was to make sure Dean still came to softball games and had fun despite all the crap in his life. He could learn about the kid's college, about what his plans were, help him reconnect with people in town and maybe make it so he didn't try to disappear whenever someone talked to him. He could do all the things friends do, all the things that make someone feel like the mattered, because, well, maybe Dean did matter.
Luke sighed contentedly, grabbing his wet cloth and continuing his methodical wipe down of the counters while Dean ate. It took all Luke had not to smile.
Because call him sentimental, but somewhere along the line, Dean had turned into way more than a summer project.
A/N: I really feel as though I should give Faye co-writing credit on this story; that's how much she contributed to it. However, I did mess around with it after she helped me so all mistakes are mine and mine alone. Thanks again to Faye for the heartfelt beta and letting me play in her Redemptive!Dean 'verse.
And thank you for reading this story; it's the first time I've dipped my toe outside of Supernatural and you all have made it a very pleasant experience.