Here we are with chapter 2. More angst in this one than the last, but I figured the introduction of a baby into the John/Dean dynamic would have been a big shock, and one that Papa Winchester might not have taken so well to in the beginning.
There has to be a build-up to him becoming the beloved Gumpy. Don't worry though, it's coming shortly.
The car ride was awkward and silent, with nothing but the constant babbling of the sugar-high toddler in the backseat. Sam watched as his brother's eyes flicked between watching the road and his daughter in the rearview mirror, a smile stealing its way across his features every now and then as he watched her talking to herself in the backseat. They weren't sure where they were going, just driving aimlessly so that they could 'talk' and clear the air about what had happened in the last two years. Sam had so many questions, and he intended on getting the answers now. He wasn't going to help Dean so much as find a number in the phone book, let alone taking off to find their Dad, until he'd gotten the whole story.
"So tell me how this happened," Sam said at last, stealing a glance at his niece in the backseat.
"Well..." Dean drawled, rolling his eyes. "There's this thing that happens when a guy and a girl get bouncy in the sheets, Sammy. Didn't Dad ever give you the birds and the bees talk?"
Sam heaved an aggravated sigh.
"Cut the crap, Dean! I'm so not in the mood."
Dean smirked. "Jesus you're touchy."
"Can you please just fill me in, Dean?" Sam heard himself whining. "Just... let me know what the hell happened, okay? Please... I just need to know, okay? Please?"
"Okay," Dean placated. "Okay." He paused and scrubbed a hand over his face, making a strange kind of guttural growling sound to wake himself up, energize himself for the talk that was to come.
"So I guess it would have been, what, November of '02...? And uh, well you were at college. And Dad and I were on this hunt in Massachusetts – a witch. Then halfway through the hunt Dad gets a lead on another hunt and takes off."
Sam halted Dean with a hand on the dash.
"Takes off? As in he left you to finish the hunt by yourself?"
"Yeah," Dean said absently. "So anyway, I was kinda pissed." When he noticed his brother was scrutinizing him like a hawk, he amended. "Okay, a lot pissed. The witch was pretty low on the pay grade. Was hexing the other girls in her 'coven.' And I so gotta use scare quotes man, 'cos these chicks – these other chicks – were not witches."
"Then what were they?" Sam queried.
"Idiots, mostly," Dean explained. "They were like new agey Wiccans, you know? With the crystals and the tarot cards, a blessed altar with some dirt, water, and scented candles representing the four elements. Amateurs, basically. All lovey with the Earth Mother, Gaia-blessed-moon shit. Tree-hugging, vegan witch-wannabes, man."
"Yeah, I've met a few of those."
"So anyway, this bitch was hexing her fellow Sisters-of-the-Rag – one got hit by a car and broke both her legs, another fell down the stairs and broke her nose 'n lost her front teeth."
"Yikes!" Sam said, wincing.
"Yeah, the witch was workin' them over, man. So anyway, I caught up with her, stopped her, and then I had some time to kill 'til Dad came back."
Sam halted his brother again.
"And by stopped her you mean...?" God he was hoping his brother hadn't killed a woman.
"I burned her shit, told her if I caught her castin' any more spells I'd put a bullet through her head. Pretty much converted her back to Christianity."
Dean grinned. "You thought I killed her, didn't you?"
"No," Sam replied sullenly. "So anyway... How did this lead to 'new life,' Dean?"
"I'm gettin' there," Dean promised. "Right. So the witch properly thwarted, and no sign of Dad, with me stuck in town waiting for him to come back... So naturally I did the gentlemanly thing and comforted the poor non-mutilated Wiccan hippy chick that was left."
"And that was Mary's mom?"
Dean nodded. "Ellie. Man she was hot. And bendy. She had this huge loft apartment that she shared with a couple other chicks, and I ended up crashin' there with her for almost a month. Kinkiest month of my life, man. Except for that long weekend with Lisa Braeden..."
Dean coughed and continued.
"So okay, we hooked up. But being the tree-hugging, PETA-loving vegan that she was, she wasn't really into, uh... How do I say this without offending your delicate sensibilities...? She preferred things au naturale..."
Sam wasn't quite following and raised both eyebrows expectantly, his face urging his brother to continue.
"She wasn't, you know, on anything. And she didn't want to uh, use anything."
This was too much. Sam pursed his lips in consternation and then bit his bottom lip tightly.
"You're not serious," he scoffed at last. "You willingly shacked up for a month of sexcapades without using any form of protection whatsoever. Were you trying to knock her up, or get Dad to kill you?"
"She said she had it covered!" Dean defended, though he cast his brother a guilty look before returning his gaze to the road ahead. "And to be honest, I wasn't really thinking that clearly. Chick had a ready supply of Shrooms, man, plus a whole lotta other 'natural herbal remedies.' She said she was on some kind of natural abortive menstrual shit and at the time it didn't seem, you know... retarded."
"Well it wouldn't seem retarded when you're stoned!" Sam snapped. "I can't believe you, Dean! I always thought that, at the very least, you were being careful when you were out screwing every woman you could get your hands on. I never realized you were actually just running around being both stupid and selfish."
"Okay, will you calm down?" Dean whispered harshly. "I get that you're pissed at me, but the time for lectures is kinda past. And believe me, every judgment you want to slug at me's already been dealt my way ten times over by Dad."
God, Dad. Sam felt his shoulders slumping in defeat, his anger deflating like hot air leaked from a balloon at the very thought of the sheer rage that would have been John Winchester's upon hearing the news of his eldest son's life-altering mistake. Sam actually felt himself wincing at the very idea.
"Fine," Sam conceded with a heavy sigh. "So you rocked her world for a month while the two of you were stoned and then what?"
"Then nothing," Dean replied with a shrug. "Dad showed up sometime early December. We shagged ass and I never saw Ellie again."
"So then how...?"
"To be honest, I kinda almost forgot about her. Until I got a phone call."
The highway was a slick, seething canvas of running water, rain pummeling from the sky as if the heavens had opened up and wept in the very biblical, 40 days and 40 nights kind of way. Dean had to be very careful, his hands gripping the steering wheel tight and his eyes trained on the dim lights of his father's truck ahead, as he sped along, attempting to keep up with his father's grueling pace. He had to suppress a sigh, thinking of his father in the black pick-up, sailing leisurely along with the four-wheel drive that promised relative safety from hydroplaning, while Dean saw his life flash before his own eyes every time his tires fell into the water-filled grooves of the road. The Impala would shudder beneath his feet and he knew that his control of the classic vehicle was tenuous at best – and this was in a car that was prone to fishtail when it wasn't raining a monsoon on treacherous roads. And visibility was so bad that he really had no way of knowing if he was even driving in the right lane. The lack of any kind of oncoming traffic from the opposite lane either meant that he was in the clear, or that no one else was stupid enough to be driving in this weather.
Hating himself for what he was about to do, Dean fished around with a hand inside his jacket pocket and retrieved his cell phone. If his Dad didn't slow down Dean was certain he was going to run off the road, and much as he loved his black beauty of a car, he didn't want to die in it.
"Come on, Dad," he muttered, flipping the phone open with eyes still trained on the road ahead. He was about to scroll through the contacts list to call his father when it suddenly buzzed in his hand.
Heaving a sigh of relief, Dean pressed the talk button.
"Are we trainin' or something here Dad?" he half-joked, "cos if this isn't some kind of high-speed chase exercise in vehicle maneuvering, I'd swear you were trying to kill me."
The frightened, timid, female voice was most definitely not the voice of John Winchester.
"Who is this?"
"Uh...." The woman on the other line sniffled and took a deep breath before speaking. "It's Lindsey. Um, Lindsey Porter?"
She said her full name as if she were asking a question. She wasn't sure he would remember her, which meant either they had met a long time ago, or their acquaintance had been brief. But then again, when weren't his encounters with women, or even people in general, brief? Lindsey Porter... Lindsey Porter? Wow – didn't ring any bells whatsoever. She sounded hot, though.
"Yeah, hey Lindsey," Dean said brightly, deciding it would look better if he pretended to remember who she was. Chicks liked you to remember their names.
"Ellie Sykes's roommate," she supplied.
Ellie Sykes. Ellie Sykes. Right! Seriously hot Wiccan chick with the herb stash from heaven.
"Oh hey, Lindsey!" Dean replied, his voice now ringing with genuine recognition. Though it was a little strange for the roommate to be calling, and not Ellie herself. With that thought, Dean felt his pleasure at having been reminded of his month-long sojourn into hedonism with the leggy blonde Ellie sink like a stone into his gut. Something was obviously wrong.
"What happened?" Dean asked sharply, thinking of that witch and berating himself for not having put a bullet to her. He knew he shouldn't have left her breathing.
"Ummm..." Lindsey took a deep shuddering breath and sniffed loudly, obviously suppressing tears. "Dean, it's not good. You need to get here. You need to get here now."
"Lindsey, what happened?" Dean pressed. It wasn't like he could turn around and head back to Massachusetts, especially not with his father blazing a trail through Noah's flood to get to their next hunt in Seattle.
"It's Ellie, Dean," Lindsey choked out. "The doctors say it's bad – I don't think she's going to... You need to get here now!"
It had to be the witch, Dean thought. Dean had mentioned to Ellie that the bitch had been harming her friends, though he'd deliberately omitted the details as to how she had been doing it, so that at least Ellie would be on her guard in case the bitch decided to continue where she left off after Dean took off for good. He'd wanted her prepared, and had told her to call him if anything suspicious happened. Now it appeared the bitch was back to her old tricks.
"She wanted to tell you," Lindsey suddenly sobbed. "But she didn't want to drag you into it – said you had your own life and wouldn't want to be held back... But now she's dying and she wants you here – she doesn't want her baby raised not knowing where she comes from."
Dean had to blink. Several times. The road ahead was a blur of loud splotches of water pelting against the glass planes of the windshield. The battery of rain pellets overhead was suddenly so loud he thought maybe he couldn't hear. He definitely hadn't heard right.
"What?" he heard himself ask. And wow, was that his voice that sounded so small?
Fuck – hands on the wheel, Dean! The car lurched as he maneuvered it back into the groove of the road.
"What?" he repeated, more loudly this time.
"I'm sorry!" Lindsey continued to sob. "She didn't want you to find out this way. Ellie's pregnant, Dean... Or was pregnant... with your baby. And there were complications and now she's... God, you have to hurry!"
Any other words she might have said were lost to her sobs, and she quickly ended the call, leaving Dean sitting in stunned silence, staring at the phone in his hand as if it might bite him. The car lurched again and Dean eased his foot off the gas, feeling the car losing speed as he prepared to pull over. He had to stop. He had to just... stop.
It was a strange sensation, being cocooned inside the metal and fabric of the car with the storm bashing away outside, pounding to get in, inundating his ears with the constant drumming of a thousand plink, plink, plinks of gargantuan raindrops pummeling metal. To be inside, safe inside the now stationery vehicle, while at the same time being so distinctly outside, sitting outside of himself, feeling far away from his body and from the world and from reality, just listening to the elements trying to force their way in. It was surreal.
Too many thoughts were running through his head at one time, jumbling together into a confusing, writhing mass. Snippets of 'whatthefuckamIgonnado?' and 'whythefuckdidn'tshetellme?' and 'howdoIknowit'sevenmine?' paraded in a round, each one singing over the other so that he couldn't pull them apart – like that time that Sammy went to church summer camp when he was six and sang that stupid "Fire's Burning" song and tried to get Dean to do the round with him. Over and over.
But one thought rang out loud and clear, drowning out the others. I have to get to Massachusetts.
With trembling fingers he gripped his phone and opened the menu on the display. Contacts. He had to find his contacts list and call his Dad, tell him to turn around. But the sharp rap on the window, while startling him so badly he actually dropped the phone, meant calling his father was no longer necessary. Dean watched as the dark hulking figure rounded the front of the car to the passenger side, prying the door open with a plaintive creak and easing his dripping wet form onto the seat.
"Why the hell have we stopped?" John barked, large beads of rainwater dripping down his bearded face. "We gotta burn rubber if we wanna get out of this storm, son."
Dean swallowed convulsively.
"Dad..." The words wouldn't come. Dean looked up into his father's expectant brown eyes, seeing the impatience and mild irritation already building there and knowing that, as sure as the sun rises in the East, he was going to so thoroughly get his ass kicked. His Dad was going to kill him. And suddenly he was terrified. The words wouldn't come.
"What, Dean?" John pressed, leaning forward as his brow drew together in a frown.
How the hell was he going to tell his father? This was something so monumentally huge – if it was even true – and though it might seem melodramatic to flag this moment as the moment when his life officially ended, Dean knew that he was so seriously dead the minute he opened his mouth. His. Dad. Was. Going. To. KILL. Him.
He was a difficult man to please at the best of times: demanding, harsh, critical, and stubborn as a mule. Even when he was performing at his best, when he made no mistakes, when he did everything right, in record time, without breaking a sweat or getting a scratch for his troubles, Dean felt like he could have done it better (at least in his father's eyes). Sam leaving for Stanford had been bad. The Cosmos are raining down fiery vengeance upon you for daring to defy the gods bad. You don't walk out on John Winchester without suffering his wrath. Or, if you're Sam, you do – and leave your big brother Dean to suffer said wrath in your stead.
And that was Sam going to college. At least going to college was something John could brag about to his acquaintances, pretending that he hadn't stormed like a raging bull at the betrayal of his son's abandonment to go earn himself a better life. Sam getting a full ride to Stanford was at least something that, rationally speaking, was something to be proud of.
But this? This was so many kinds of fucked up and stupid, and Dean knew before he even spoke one word that his Dad would be beyond disappointed in him. He'd be furious. He'd be let down. He'd be disgusted. He'd be ashamed. Because family was everything, wasn't it? That was what John had always taught his boys. Family sticks together: family watches out for its own, takes care of its own. Family is responsible for its members, steps up to the plate and does what needs doin'. And being responsible was rule #1. Knocking up some random chick spat in the face of everything that family was.
"Dean, get your head out of your ass, son!" John barked, moved from annoyed now to angry. "We're back on the road. Now!"
He reached for the handle to open the door.
"Wait!" Dean cried, panicked. Then, more calmly, "Wait."
John paused, eyeing his son suspiciously. Then he softened, sensing his son's upset.
"Dean, what is it?"
"We have to go to Massachusetts."
All throughout his childhood, and even during his teenaged years, Dean had never been one to be embarrassed by his family. He'd seen other kids rolling their eyes and wanting to shrink into themselves when Mom or Dad said something in public that promptly led to instant mortification. He'd seen kids sidling surreptitiously away from the parent accompanying them, pretending not to know them because it was embarrassing to be out with the 'rents in public. And he had never understood why. But then again, he'd always thought he had the coolest, awesomest Dad ever. John Winchester was a hero who handled guns and who drove a wicked awesome car, and who had the best taste in music and clothes and who had the coolest hunter friends. What was there to be embarrassed about?
Now, at age twenty four, Dean keenly felt, for the first time in his life, that he wished the ground would swallow him whole so that he could be spared another moment of tortuous shame – public shame – because of the antics of his father.
It had been a silent drive to Massachusetts, after the dressing down of a lifetime. Dean would never forget the harsh words his father had thrown at him, about his selfishness and irresponsibility, about being a goddamned fucking slut – he'd actually used the word slut – and about how he had better hope that the baby wasn't his, or so help him God. Dean had weathered the weather for the remainder of the journey in mute resignation, following behind his father's truck with a heaviness in his chest that he hadn't felt since Sam left for Stanford.
But nothing could have prepared him for his father's behaviour when they arrived at the hospital. To say that he'd been belligerent would be like saying water can be kinda wet sometimes. The man had shouted and ranted and caused such a scene that the receptionist threatened to call security. He'd shouted at the doctors when they informed him that Ellie Sykes was two days dead; he'd shouted at Lindsey Porter when she arrived after receiving Dean's frantic call; he'd shouted at the vending machine when it ate his dollar bill without dispensing the coffee he'd attempted to buy. And Dean had been helpless to stop him, because the man was on a rampage and, it seemed, was also on a mission.
"I want to get to the bottom of this now," John seethed at the social worker who'd been assigned the case. With the baby's birth mother now dead, and no family to claim the child, social services had been dispatched to take care of the placement of the parentless child. It appeared there were also prospective adoptive parents chomping at the bit to get their hands on little Baby Girl Sykes.
"Paternity test," John had seethed. "Now!"
Dean had been dragged along like a scolded child, watching despondently as his father 'took control' of the situation. He had insisted that there was no need to see the baby until paternity was established. No point in forming any attachments to a child that may or may not be Dean's. Four tortuous days of waiting, not even being able to see the baby that might be his, while they waited for the results to come in from the lab. Lindsey was there throughout the whole ordeal, speaking on behalf of poor Ellie, trying to see that her best friend and roommate's wishes were adhered to.
They'd finally received the call from the lab: the results were in. The moment of truth was upon them. The agonizing wait in a crowded waiting room with too small chairs and far too many hushed voices, while the minutes that would decide Dean's fate ticked by in slow motion, was enough to drive him mad. So they talked about Ellie.
"She grew up in the system," Lindsey explained sadly, trying to ignore the pacing caged tiger that was John Winchester. "She swore she wouldn't let her kid grow up not knowing where she came from."
Dean nodded absently. He could understand that. If the baby was his, he didn't know if he could just walk away from it either. Not that he'd really be in any position to give a child a good or safe home – quite the opposite, in fact – but the idea of leaving his own flesh and blood behind to be raised by someone else turned his blood cold.
"So she tried to do the whole birthing at home thing?" Dean whispered, not wanting to upset his father any further with what he deemed to be unnecessary conversation.
"Yeah," Lindsey replied, wiping a tear away as it formed in her eye. "You know how she was with the whole 'natural' living thing."
Dean laughed hollowly in his gut.
"Yeah," he said, wishing he could strangle Ellie for being so freaking stupid, and at the same time wanting to cry at the thought of her dying in childbirth. Who the fuck dies in childbirth anymore?
"You know there's a reason we have hospitals and neo-natal units and all that shit, right?" Dean found himself whispering harshly. "What the hell did she think she was doing, giving birth at home with a goddamned midwife?"
Lindsey's expression darkened.
"Hey, midwives were delivering babies for hundreds of years before modern medicine came along," she said, feeling automatically defensive for her recently deceased friend.
"Yeah, and the death rate for women in childbirth was also like, what, one-in-four?" Dean shook his head ruefully. "Leave it to Ellie to become a fucking obsolete statistic!"
"She was just doing what she thought was right," Lindsey defended hotly. "It's not like having a baby in a hospital is cheap – and it's not like you were helping out!"
"Hey!" Dean hissed. "I wasn't given much choice on the helping out front. You might remember that you were the one that called me to fill me in on all this! I'm not a freakin' psychic, Lindsey! I couldn't have known about this when she didn't bother to tell me."
And at that Lindsey visibly deflated.
"I know," she admitted. "I'm sorry. It's just... I just... I can't believe she's gone."
Dean felt bad for making her cry, or for reminding her of the tears she'd apparently managed to stop shedding since Ellie had died six days ago. But it was feeling decidedly crowded in the pediatrics wing of the hospital. Between his pacing father, the weeping Lindsey, the in-and-out doctors and nurses, and the prospective adoptive parents who'd already been brought in on behalf of social services, Dean felt like his entire life was being observed under a microscope.
It felt wrong that the would-be adoptive parents were here now. They'd swooped in like vultures, desperate for a healthy white baby in need of a home, their home, and since finding out that there may be someone present to lay claim to their prize, someone with a possible biological connection who would have legal custody of her, they'd refused to leave. And he couldn't help it, he could feel their eyes on him, sizing him up, taking stock of his attributes as if appreciating the genes that would be inherited by their soon-to-be bundle of joy. He really wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves.
The past four days, since the swab of Dean's DNA had been taken to be processed in a lab God only knew where, had been the longest of his life. Now they were all gathered and waiting at the hospital, waiting for the results to be revealed so that Dean could collect his child or leave a parentless orphan in the capable hands of social services.
"Dean Winchester?" a man in a white lab coat called out to the assembled crowd, and Dean felt his hands go both hot and cold with dread.
The man opened his mouth and in that instant Dean couldn't say in his heart of hearts what he was hoping to hear, that he was a father or that he was in the clear.
"We have the results of the paternity test," the man said simply, tucking a clipboard under his arm.
Dean swallowed hard, feeling all eyes on him.
"Baby girl Sykes is a genetic match. Congratulations. You're a father."
And just like that, his whole world changed.
Dean approached the hospital incubator/crib as if walking through a haze. It was surreal to be standing here, even after six days of imagining himself standing here – two of them spent worrying about how he and Ellie would manage to raise a child while not being married or even in a relationship, and the other four spent imagining doing it completely on his own because Ellie was dead – and yet here he was, his body moving of its own accord as he took one fateful step after another until he was there, peering over the edge of a white crib railing and onto the writhing, wriggling mass of gurgling legs and arms that belonged to his daughter. His daughter.
The pale pink face that met his eye was still slightly squashed from childbirth, but her eyes were open – dark baby blues peering intently up at him. Her mouth was open, her tongue poking bubbles through pink gums. And she had the tiniest cleft in her chin. Like me 'n Sam, Dean thought.
Dean inched his way closer, afraid to touch her because what the fuck am I supposed to do with a baby? He hadn't held a baby since Sam was one, and back then he'd been too young to realize what a fragile thing young life was, how easily a single mistake could shatter that life forever. Now he was positively terrified, a tremor running up his spine and leaving cold beads of sweat to trickle down his back beneath his t-shirt. He thought he might throw up.
"Go ahead," the nurse beside him urged. "She won't bite."
Dean smiled weakly, feeling even more like he might throw up, and reached into the crib. Then he paused, froze. He looked at the nurse helplessly, a deer in the headlines expression clearly etched across every inch of his face.
"Here, let me help you," she said soothingly, bending down and retrieving the wriggling bundle from the crib and placing the tiny weight in Dean's waiting arms. "There's nothing to it, see?"
And really, there wasn't. This wasn't so bad at all. Baby Girl Sykes – or rather, Winchester – weighed almost nothing at all. Just a tiny little squiggly thing, with the most perfect pink little toes and fingers Dean had ever seen. He was staring at them like an idiot, counting them just to make sure that everything was where it was supposed to be. How strange that a romp in the sack, the electrifying, toe-curling gratification of sex, could lead to this. This perfect little thing looking up at him with perfect faith and trust, as if this is where he was always meant to be, and she had just let him in on the secret.
Feeling suddenly overwhelmed, Dean eased himself into a nearby chair. Sending the overwhelming emotions playing out for the young father, the nurse took her leave. Now Dean was alone.
So this was it. This was his baby, his child, his daughter. This was Baby Girl Winchester, the nameless little person who may or may not be in his charge for the rest of his natural life. No pressure.
And that yuppie-looking couple waiting outside? Well they'd just have to wait until Dean made up his mind, wouldn't they? After all, this wasn't the kind of decision that could be made in one day. He'd have to think about it. He'd have to weigh the pros and cons. He'd have to endure his father's lectures about responsibility and the dangers of hunting and how their lives didn't allow for small children. 'The timing's just not right, kiddo.' But in the end it all came down to what he decided. It was up to Dean.
"Whaddya think?" Dean whispered. "You wanna go live with Mr. And Mrs. Yuppie, be Baby Girl Yuppie? Or you wanna get your pink little butt dragged across the country in the coolest car ever to grace the highway?"
No surprise, she didn't reply.
"You gotta tell me what to do," he said, feeling suddenly desperate and alone. "If you wanna stay with your crazy, sexy, cool dad, you gotta give me a sign or somethin'." His throat was getting very tight, and it hurt to swallow. And were those tears misting in his eyes? Aw, crap!
"I never thought it would be like this, you know?" he said to her, to which she replied by blowing another spit bubble and licking at her gums happily. "Not that I ever saw myself with the white picket fence and the two kids with the dog, or whatever, but I never thought I'd be doin' this alone."
He inhaled a hitched breath and allowed a few tears to fall.
"What should I do?" he whispered dejectedly, feeling the heavy weight of the life in his hands, even though she almost weighed nothing at all. "What should I do, huh Mary?"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Dean knew he'd already placed the first nail in his own coffin. He'd just named her.