A/N: Usual and customary thanks to LdyAnne for playing Spot the Typo. Also, please to not bash characters. Me? Sure, if it'll make you feel better. Them? Never. ;)
Caught in a Landslide
"Aw, Mom," Ben said.
The whining edge in his voice was familiar, reminiscent of Sam at that age and for a second Dean was positive he would lose it again. He could do that in front of Lisa, maybe, but not the kid. Never in front of Ben. His hand shook as he reached for the whiskey, a fine, scarcely visible tremor. He needed another drink or two before that would go away. He drained what was left in the glass and willed his hand to steady. It betrayed him. He resisted the urge to pour himself another drink.
"You don't really think you're getting out of clean up and homework just because Dean is here, do you?" Lisa asked, appearing slightly exasperated and hugely amused. "Dishes. Kitchen. Now."
Dean sat back, watched Ben grumble all the way to the kitchen with his dirty plate and fork. He smiled a little at how normal this was, and how he could feel good while he also felt certain he was dying from an internal slow bleed. It was too soon. He knew it was too soon, but there was nothing else. He'd made a promise. He didn't want to keep making the same mistakes over and over so he was going to keep it if it killed him.
"You okay?" Lisa asked quietly as soon as Ben was safely out of earshot. She shook his shoulder. "Hey."
Was he okay? No. Not even a little. He wasn't sure he ever would be, though he'd try. Deep down, he knew it wasn't going to happen. Dean should be used to the emptiness, he had been empty for so long. This was somehow different. He stared distantly, to the picture window in the other room. There was nothing but peaceful suburbia outside, but he realized he expected to see something else. It was dark, a diffuse glow from streetlights filling in a gap left by a burned out one in front of Lisa's house.
"I'm okay," Dean heard himself say.
"You don't have to lie to me, Dean. I don't want you to."
"I can't. Not right now." Not ever, he thought. "I can't talk about it."
He pushed his chair back, gathered his plate and Lisa's, left his glass. Still needed it. This was what people did. They ate dinner and did dishes as if the world weren't crumbling around them every second of the day. The world wasn't. crumbling anymore. It was time for him to do the normal things he now couldn't remember why he wanted.
"Mom is so stupid," Ben said as he slammed his plate into the dishwasher. He didn't seem to know Dean was there. "Stupid dishes. Stupid homework."
Dean cleared his throat and watched Ben jump a little. He almost smiled. He remembered that stupid stage, where any and everything was absolutely designed to screw with his need to watch TV or play video games. Mostly, it was Sam who screwed things up. Jesus. His hands shook harder again, plates rattling together like they were in an earthquake. He shoved them into slots next to Ben's.
"Hey, little man," he said, trying and failing, too, at keeping his voice steady. "You shouldn't rag on your mom. Family's important."
Family was everything.
"Aw, I thought you'd be on my side."
Two years could change a kid a lot. Dean was out of practice, but he understood that and he knew the last time he had seen Ben it was under unusual circumstances. He knew firsthand a kid didn't witness the supernatural and go back to the way he was before. He wondered, though, if Ben was going to stop reminding him of Sam soon. Ben was, in fact, nothing like Sam and everything like him. Someday that might make him happy. Today it made him sick.
"I am on your side, but I know school's almost as important as family. Besides, the quicker you get your homework done, the quicker you can do the stuff you want." Dean shrugged. "But what do I know?"
Ben narrowed his eyes, appraising him. "You know anything about fractions? You could help and it would go even faster."
Fractions. What he knew about fractions was that yesterday there were three Winchester brothers and today there was only one. From three-thirds to one-third. One-third survived the apocalypse. One out of three had only just started to accept Sam as he was to lose him anyway, and one out of three would never know Adam at all. He knew he was only one-third of the way through that bottle of whiskey. That was the sum total of what he knew about fractions. For a second, his vision wavered and threatened to blink out. He shook his head.
"Dean?" Lisa said, sounding small and scared from where she stood at the door, platter in hand.
"I…" he said. His tongue was too thick. He knew his face had given him away by the way Lisa and Ben stared. It was too soon. He had to go, now, go. "Not tonight, Ben. I should … I'm tired, I should go find a room, get some sleep."
"It's not even seven o'clock!"
"Ben." Lisa brushed his arm as she moved to the sink. "Dean's had a rough couple of days, okay? Go start your homework. I'll be in to help, in a minute."
Ben left without a word or a grumble. He also didn't take his eyes off of Dean once, a mix of disappointment and suspicion and maybe also pity in his eyes.
"Sorry about that. He's just … this is a lot for him to take in. He's got this picture of you in his head, you know?"
He heard what she was saying through the sound of his own blood rushing in his ears. Dean knew what it was to have mental pictures of people. He nodded, didn't speak, barely registered that Lisa studied him closely.
"You can stay here. It's no problem, Dean." Lisa tilted her head, not judging but acknowledging. "You shouldn't drive."
She probably meant the booze, but Dean could have driven with a little whiskey in his system. He hadn't had enough to dull anything. The fact that he had zero memory of getting to her house in the first place; that was a bigger concern. He nodded and allowed himself to be steered to Lisa's bedroom. Allowed her to help him with his clothes, tuck him in like a child. He was so exhausted, but he wouldn't sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Sam falling into the Pit, and Adam too.
Dean knew if he gave it enough time, the pain he felt as if it were a gaping, bloody hole in his gut would go away. It had to.
He listened to the sounds of Lisa and Ben downstairs. A laugh track from a TV sitcom, the tink of dishes being put away, running water, muffled conversations he wanted to be a part of and as far away from as possible at the same time. All of it was better than hearing Sam tell him it was going to be okay, over and over. But that was there, too, residue of what never was and never would be.
When Lisa came up after what must have been hours, Dean pretended to sleep. He wanted this to work, for her sake and for Ben's and for Sam's. For his, too. But it wasn't going to work tonight. As she settled down and her breathing slowed into sleep, he tried to feel comfort in his surroundings. He felt nothing but pain. He got up after another hour or so of fighting mental ghosts, time seemed irrelevant, and headed downstairs. He already knew where Lisa kept the liquor. As he silently walked through the house, his attention was again drawn to the picture window, the broken street lamp.
He drank the rest of the whiskey, and found a bottle of vodka to nurse. He sat at the dining room table, trying to drown out the voices and images that would not leave him alone.
For a while, it worked. Then, as the sun began to rise, the coffee maker began to brew on automatic timer, and Dean started to sober. He scrubbed the memories of Hell from his brain, remembered Sam laughing instead of falling, told himself he could do normal. By the time Ben came tearing down the stairs, full of energy and life Dean could not help but be taken with, he was nearly human again. Nearly, but not whole. He smiled, silently watched Ben bring in the daily paper and set about getting his own breakfast. Lucky Charms. He wanted to cry, and he wasn't even sure why.
"You were up all night," Lisa said.
"Couldn't sleep," he said, but it was really please don't ask.
And for a brief, wonderful, horrible moment, Dean thought Lisa meant she saw Sam. And then he realized that was as much a fantasy as him thinking he could live this apple pie life so soon after he lost everything he ever truly loved. He knew she was saying she knew what was wrong without him having to say it. He nodded and offered no other information. She hugged him. It felt so good to have her in his arms. Her hair smelled like sleep and faintly of sweet flowers. He could love her if he tried, but he knew he didn't yet.
"Coffee?" Dean asked after a moment.
He went to the kitchen, poured her a cup, then one for himself. He observed the Braeden family morning routine like the outsider he still was. That could change. He wanted to not be an intruder. Lisa tussled Ben's hair as she passed him and perched on the chair adjacent to his. She unrolled the paper. Dean expected the headline to read: Apocalypse Averted, World Saved. Of course, it was something about a state tax initiative or something. He was almost relieved by that. A sense of peace and normalcy came over him, but it was a balm that wasn't quite strong enough to heal him. It was a start.
But that was when he noticed Ben had something around his neck. Something he knew. The hole reappeared, just like that, bloodier and messier than ever.
"Ben," he said, and in his own head his voice sounded far away. Hollow. "Where did you get that?"
"This?" Ben asked, holding up the end of the pendant. "I found it on the doorknob when I got the paper. Isn't it cool? Want to see it?"
Dean couldn't tear his eyes away, though somewhere it registered that Lisa had risen and stood next to him. A hand on his arm he felt but didn't, the coffee cup being taken from him before it slipped through his fingers. He remembered the night Sam had given the amulet to him, and then many other memories flooded through him so fast he couldn't sort them out. It was like his whole life flashed in front of his eyes, like he really was dying, the slow bleed ripped wide.
"Dean," he heard Lisa say.
"It's Sam," he said.
He took the amulet from Ben. It didn't glow or burn or do magical things, but Dean had missed it. It was as much his home and reality as … Sam. He walked as if in a trance, looked out that picture window one more time. He couldn't tell the light had burned out now, of course, but under it stood a man. It was not the something else he expected and wanted. It was something, though. There was no escape from reality; it was a landslide. He knew that now.
Somehow he was across the street himself. His heart pounded. His legs felt weak.
"Was it you?" Dean asked. "Where is he?"
"It was not me, and I don't know," Castiel said. "But I would like to help you find him."
Dean looked back at the house, to Lisa standing at the door with a sad smile on her face.