Title: Other People's Promises

Summary: Dean is forever making promises he can't keep. Tag/coda/thing to 5.22.

Warnings: Very mild swearing.

Spoilers: 5.22 & all aired episodes, to be on the safe side.

Disclaimer: Kripke's toys, I'm just playing with them while he's busy running away from hordes of rabid fangirls.

Neurotic Author's Note: This isn't a fix-it fic. Not even remotely. But the end of 5.22 isn't really the end, as we all know, and this is what I think might happen behind the scenes.

Neurotic Author's Note #2: For the record, roque_clasique did this way better than I did. I'm posting it anyway, because I legitimately had the idea on my own and wanted to write it. That being said, her fic is a jewel, so you should go read it.

Neurotic Author's Note # 3: If, like me, you're a wreck after 5.22, you may not want to read this. It's not a happy fic. I haven't been able to read unhappy fic without bawling like a calf, although for some strange reason writing it doesn't appear to be a problem. I dunno, I got nothin'.

~SPN~

Lisa feels as though she's failing some subtle test which she never signed up to take.

It's been ten years, give or take, since she made a very deliberate choice, one which led her to a house in the suburbs and the friendship of women who would never have given her the time of day before. It's a life of baseball games and trips to the park, of birthday parties and arguments over how much TV it's healthy for a ten-year-old boy to watch. It's book reports and PTA meetings, Christmas pageants and chaperoning field trips. She's happy, too. Not in that ambiguous, angst-ridden way that characters in novels and movies have, either, in which they suddenly have an epiphany that life in the suburbs is really making them die a slow, soulless death.

She's also genuinely relieved when Dean shows up on her doorstep, after all but declaring that he was about to do the equivalent of committing suicide by cop with some supernatural entity so terrible that he wouldn't even name it. He looks worse than the last time she saw him, and she didn't think that was even possible, and when he smiles and asks to take her up on that beer she wants to recoil in horror. Instead she breathes "Thank God," wraps her arms around him carefully, convinced he might shatter if she hugs him too hard.

She doesn't know how to explain his presence to Ben, settles on not explaining at all, and Ben takes it in stride. He remembers —how could he not?— but the sharp terror of those few days has blurred and dulled, and to him Dean is a story now, a larger-than-life figure, all quick action and brave words. He sits at the table across from Dean, watching him carefully, then turns back to his mashed potatoes with the sullen air of a prisoner on death row (she's still not feeding him french fries), casts glances their way all through dinner. Dean makes one single attempt at casual conversation which is so awkward she tries to forget it ever happened.

Ben puts himself to bed, and for once she doesn't have to nag him about taking a bath or brushing his teeth. He's in bed with the lights out in record time, holding tightly onto Roger, his stuffed dog. He tilts his cheek up for his goodnight kiss, face scrunched with worry, and she smooths the hair away from his forehead.

"Sleep tight," she whispers, and fights the surge of rage and hatred, however unjustified, at the man who brought fear into her home again.

Dean doesn't come upstairs, and she thinks it might actually be out of a sense of delicacy, a desire not to intrude on the sacred ritual between mother and son. She finds him outside, sitting on the hood of his car, holding a bottle of whisky that doesn't belong to her. It's about half-full, and she has no idea how much of it he's consumed in just the past fifteen minutes. He didn't drink when he was here two years ago. Or, maybe back then he did his drinking in private.

She doesn't move to sit next to him, just stands by his knee, carefully places a hand lightly on his arm, the leather soft under her fingers from years of hard use. It's not hard to see the ghost he's brought with him, sitting next to him on the hood of the car. She's grateful Sam isn't a real ghost —an unsettling possibility, given Sam and Dean's line of work— but his presence is palpable, nonetheless.

"Do you want to tell me about it?"

He shakes his head, but she doesn't think he's refusing. "Sam's... I can't."

"I'm sorry, Dean."

He scoffs quietly, but it's not directed at her. He tilts the bottle, takes a drink with the air of someone who's had a lot of practice at it, but he doesn't protest when she gently pries it away from him a moment later.

"You can stay for as long as you need." She doesn't want to promise this. She thinks maybe his entire life has been built on broken and half-kept promises.

He stays.

She puts him in the guest bedroom, and he stares at the doily on the chest of drawers, the vase of dried flowers, as though they're strange animals he's never seen before that are liable to bite him. She has to nudge him toward the bed, convince him with a reassuring squeeze of his elbow that he is, in fact, allowed to sleep in a clean bed, that comfort doesn't make him a terrible person. She leaves him to his privacy, goes back to her own room and curls up under the bedclothes, staring at the shadows on the wall, and it's a long time before she finds sleep, listening to him pace back and forth in the night.

Dean doesn't exist. Not in a legal sense. Officially, he's been dead for years, since before she met him. He's a ghost, haunting her home the way his brother haunts him. He moves on quiet cat-feet through the house, sticks close to the walls unconsciously, out of habit. The first day he lines the doorstep with salt before realizing what he's done. She only finds out because she catches him sweeping it up with a broom from her closet, and neither of them mention it again. He spends a couple of days asking around locally, but no one wants to hire someone with no social security number, no references and no home address, and who looks as though he hasn't slept in weeks.

He spends the third day sitting on the top step of her patio, making his way through another bottle of Jack Daniel's without seeming to feel it. That's the first night he manages to get any sleep since he arrived, and an hour later she's got both arms wrapped around him as he half-wakes from a nightmare that has him screaming so loudly he chokes. When she releases him she hears something clatter to the floor, sucks her breath in in a quiet gasp when she sees the wicked-looking blade of the largest knife she's ever seen. He's shaking, sweating, tear-stained, won't meet her eyes.

"I nearly killed you," he says, and she shudders.

He sets her barbecue on fire the first time he tries to light it, and it's only quick thinking on her part that prevents her back yard from going up in a giant fireball. He doesn't apologize except with his eyes, orders them a pizza and pays for it with some worn-looking bills out of an even more worn leather wallet. Ben is thrilled, because they almost never order pizza except for his birthday, and he spends the couple of hours between dinner and sunset tearing around the yard, involved in some very complex game to which only he knows the rules, providing accompanying sound effects as needed, and occasionally running back to Dean to get some sort of validation that she doesn't think she'll ever understand.

Dean starts trying to clean up the charred mess of the barbecue, wordlessly expressing his regret at wrecking his attempt at a normal evening. He's still at it when she returns from putting Ben to bed, head bowed over the job, biting his lower lip in concentration as he scrubs. She stands just inside the screen door, hesitant —Dean barely talks at all these days, and she's been ridiculously grateful for it, because she doesn't want to hear anything he has to say. Every instinct in her tells her that whatever words will come out of his mouth are bound to fill her home with shadows that can't be banished by the light of day. She's about to go back inside, leave him to it, changes her mind when she hears his breath hitch, so quietly she's not sure she didn't imagine it.

"Dean?"

He drops the ruined rag on the ground, drops down to join it, scrubs his forehead with the back of his wrist, smearing it with black, and just stays there, resting his head on his arm. She crouches next to him, feels as though she's trying to pet a wounded panther. So she just waits, and after a moment, to her surprise, he actually does speak.

"Sam wanted me to have barbecues."

"What?"

He gestures helplessly with one hand. "This. He made me promise."

"He made you promise to barbecue for me?" she asks, and regrets the flippant tone immediately, but he snorts, seemingly amused.

"He made me promise to be normal. To come back and find you and be happy and shit."

It's wrong to think ill of the dead. She understands that Sam was only thinking of his brother, only wanted what was best for him, and it's not like she doesn't know Dean deserves to have something good in his life. She just wishes that Samuel Goddamned Winchester had stopped for half a moment to consider if she deserves Dean. While she's being honest with herself, she also admits that she doesn't mean it in that happy, sappy way people tell loved ones that they don't deserve them —that's not how this works. She doesn't deserve this; doesn't deserve Dean Winchester and his promises to his brother; his ghosts and his guilt and the darkness that wraps him up more softly even than his leather jacket.

She blows out a slow breath, and all the words that she wants to say are angry and frightened and cruel, so she stands and turns, heads back into the house.