Sam woke slowly, stretching the tiniest bit, wrapping his arms more fully around the body spooned in front of him. He could tell by Dean's breathing that his brother was already awake. Sam begrudgingly opened one eye and glanced at the clock. They had twenty minutes before the alarm would go off. He kissed the back of Dean's neck and rested his chin in the hollow of a lightly freckled shoulder.
"Dean," he started in his most supportive voice.
"I'm losing her, Sam," his brother interrupted forlornly.
In loving exasperation, Sam closed his eyes and nuzzled closer. "It's kindergarten, Dean. She'll be fine." You? I'm not so sure about.
The nearer her first day of school drew, the more excited Isabella had become. In what Sam hoped to God was not a preview of her teen years, Isabella had insisted upon color coordinating her school supplies with her new school attire. Everything HAD to be pink. Pink, as it turned out, was Isabella's signature color. Or 'sigature' as she pronounced it.
Sam was pretty sure they could thank Liv for that particular declaration, but seeing as how he'd have to explain the only reason he knew that for certain was to own up to more than one late night viewing of Steel Magnolias on Lifetime, Sam decided Dean didn't need to be made aware of its origins.
Dean sighed as Isabella's sweet voice ever so faintly floated down the hall as she carried on a conversation with Spooky. She'd woken early today as well, excited about her first day of school, no doubt. When Dean turned his face into the pillow Sam tentatively asked, "Aren't you supposed to be making someone pink pancakes for breakfast?"
Another sigh, this one resigned.
Sam just held him. The first day of kindergarten was a milestone for every child...and every parent. While Isabella could barely contain her excitement, Dean was doing his best to just hold it together. It was as if before he knew it Isabella would be graduating, going off to college, getting married, having a child of her own. It all just seemed to be happening too fast...and while it wasn't, not really, to Dean this particular milestone marked the beginning of a journey that he wasn't ready for.
It wasn't too long before they heard the patter of excited footfalls that preceded the burst of sunshine that was Isabella. "Wake up, Daddy!"
Isabella was already dressed in the pink and chocolate plaid outfit they'd laid out for her the night before. In her hand she held two pink ribbons that Sam assumed were for her as yet untamed hair.
"There's my girl," Dean said, propping himself up on one elbow. He made a show of looking surprised at Isabella's attire. "Where are you going all dressed up?"
Isabella giggled, knew she was being teased. Proudly she said, "I'm going to school, 'cause I'm a big girl now."
"No," Dean was playfully dismissive. "Where is she?" he asked, making a show of looking around and behind Isabella.
Confused, she too turned a searching gaze around behind her. "Who?"
"My little girl," Dean clarified. "Where'd she go?"
Isabella stood straight, looking a little perplexed. Then she walked the few steps to the bed and put her hands on either side of her father's face, pink ribbons peeking between her fingers. "I'm right here."
Dean smiled softly at the innocent and earnest reminder, a sweet contradiction that reassured him that no matter how 'big' Isabella got, she would always be his little girl. Dean relaxed a little, melting into his brother's embrace before leaning forward to place a kiss on the tip of her nose. "There you are."
They shared a momentary glance filled with all the love and adoration each held for the other, before Isabella's smile-filled gaze slid happily to Sam.
"Morning, Sunshine," he greeted, Isabella leaning forward so he could kiss her forehead over Dean's shoulder.
She held up her pink ribbons hopefully.
"Me?" he asked, pretty sure he knew what she wanted.
Isabella nodded. On any given day she was perfectly fine with Dean combing out her golden tangles and pulling her hair back or pinning it up. But this wasn't any old day. It was a special day. While Dean was good with tried and true, Sam had proven himself willing to experiment.
"French twist or French braid?" he asked, ignoring Dean's snort. Hey, when in Rome...
"Braid," she said decisively.
"Okay, then," Dean said, getting out of bed, sleep pants riding low as he pulled on a clingy gray t-shirt. "I'll leave you girls to it." He purposefully ignored the look on Sam's face as he left the room.
By the time Sam and Isabella made it downstairs, pink satin ribbon threaded through the most awesome French braid ever, Dean was pouring his first batch of pale pink pancakes onto the griddle. While they set he added a couple more drops of red food coloring to the batter before putting it back in the cupboard. Isabella no longer had a booster seat, but sometimes her climb up onto the stool at the island was a little less than stable. She wanted to do it herself, like so many other things these days. Today, Sam counted on her excitement overriding his assistance as he scooped her up under her arms and planted her in the seat. She gave him a sideways glance that hinted her displeasure, but let it go at that.
As Sam turned to make himself a cup of coffee, Dean pressed a warm mug into his hands and a feather-light kiss to his lips, holding his gaze just long enough to let Sam know his support had been appreciated. When he would have turned back to his pancakes, Sam's hand at the small of Dean's back held him close as he dipped his head for a deeper kiss. He loved that Dean had to tilt up to meet him and that he could wrap his much larger frame around his brother at any time. He loved it even more when Dean let him.
He let Dean go, watched as his brother hurriedly flipped the cakes so they wouldn't scorch. Sam got Isabella a drink of juice and joined her at the island to await breakfast. He took a sip of his coffee, smiling at the sweet combination of sugar and creamer that Dean had perfected just for him.
"You talk to Liv?" He asked.
"Yeah," Dean responded, slicing up some fresh strawberries with which to top Isabella's pancakes. "She's on her way."
Normally Isabella would be getting on the bus at Miss Chloe's but they all wanted to be there to see her off on her first day off school so Dean had made arrangements with the school.
With a flourish, Dean presented Isabella with two pale pink pancakes topped with fresh strawberries and a small dollop of whipped cream. She was suitably tickled and beamed her pleasure up at him. Isabella had a way of showing her gratitude in small ways that often left Sam wondering if she had some idea that much of what Dean did for her he would never do for anyone else. Like Dean would ever be caught dead making pink anything for any other person in the universe. Or braving the girls' clothing section at JCPenny, when he easily could have left the school shopping to Liv, just because his little girl was, "Cute as hell and should look the part."
Of course Sam had learned a long time ago that Dean would do just about anything for the people he loved. It pleased him to see in Isabella an innate appreciation for that trait in her father. It was something Sam was pretty sure he took for granted at that age.
"Eat up, Sasquatch," Dean said, earning a giggle from Isabella, as he set a stack of steaming pinkness in front of Sam.
Sam opted for maple syrup instead of the strawberries and whip cream. Light, fluffy and tasting faintly of vanilla, his breakfast was pure heaven. While blueberry remained his favorite, Dean had come up with a new pistachio creation that offered some serious competition. Sam had been skeptical when he saw the mint green batter, but his first taste test had put him at ease. In a moment of creative inspiration Dean had added a packet of instant pudding to the batter. He only hoped that his brother would avoid experimenting with the butterscotch and lemon pudding Sam knew was also hiding in the back of the cupboard.
Sam heard a car door slam minutes before Liv made her entrance through the breezeway. "Good morning, everyone," she said in a decidedly chipper manner.
"Gramma!" Isabella nearly slid from the stool in her haste to get down. Sam managed to grab one of her arms and slow her descent. Dean cocked an eyebrow in her direction but she had eyes for Liv only at that point. "It's my first day of school!"
"I know!" Liv matched Isabella's excitement, picking her up off her feet for a big hug and then putting her down to look over her outfit. "Look at you, my pretty girl."
Isabella struck a pose to showcase her new ensemble, thrilled to have another female present to fully appreciate it. Liv was appropriately taken, considering she'd seen every outfit via the modeling show Isabella had put on last week.
"And your hair," Liv said tipping Isabella's chin for a better look. "It's lovely, Sam."
Despite the fact that he was absolutely not embarrassed, Sam still managed to flush under the praise - 'course that may have had more to do with Dean's smirk in his direction.
"Morning, Hon," Liv said with an undertone of gentleness as she kissed Dean on the cheek. She shared a look of understanding with Sam, aware that Dean was struggling with this particular milestone.
"Hungry?" Dean asked.
Liv made her way to the island to bless Sam with a peck before answering. "Starving."
Sam gave his seat up to Liv so she could eat with Isabella, who had climbed back up into her seat to finish her breakfast. He put his dish in the sink, leaning back against the counter with his coffee to watch his family.
Once he and Dean had decided, okay, yes, they were gonna do this, they'd taken things very slowly since that night on the roof two years ago. For the first year Sam had given up his motel room in favor of a small apartment and his rental in favor of more permanent and spacious transportation when he was offered a full time position at the University. It had been a necessary transition under the guise of making things easier and less complicated for Isabella, which Sam was all for, but he also suspected that slow was exactly what Dean had needed as well. It had been less than a year since he'd moved in with them fully.
Surprisingly it was Liv, not Isabella, who was Dean's biggest concern. Isabella had proven him right by adjusting to all of the changes with relative ease compared to the rest of them. In the end they'd decided to be as truthful as possible with Liv, with obvious exceptions. Explaining that Dean had regained his memory was the easy part. Explaining that he and Sam had a relationship prior to his accident and the exact nature of that relationship, well, that was another matter entirely.
Sam had fessed up to tracking Dean down and insinuating himself into his life. That in itself implied closeness beyond that of just 'friends.' They'd left out any mention of being brothers and their hunting lifestyle, because really, there was only so much they could expect Liv (or anyone else) to understand. They were lifelong friends on the verge of something more intimate when fate had intervened and torn them apart.
It was as truthful as they could be, but also a tricky spot for Dean to be in with his mother-in-law. He didn't want it to appear as if his relationship with Jenna had been anything less than what it was, didn't want her to think that Jenna had in any way been a substitution for someone else - even subconsciously. What he and Jenna shared together had been real. Dean was so concerned about Liv's reaction that he'd nearly made himself physically sick over the whole thing. While no one would ever replace or compare to Mary, Dean loved and valued Liv as the maternal figure he'd longed for since her death. She was real to him in a way that Mary no longer was. He'd been so afraid that her love for him was conditional.
Liv hadn't been nearly as surprised as Sam had expected, which pretty much confirmed his suspicions that she'd had some idea about his feelings for Dean. When it came down to it, Sam secretly believed that Liv was more than a little relieved that she would never have to worry about another woman taking Jenna's place in any way - with Isabella or Dean. That's not to say there wasn't an adjustment period of sorts for all of them. While times were more liberal, they lived in a relatively small town. Once the nature of their relationship became known, they'd all dealt with some expected fallout. Dean lost some of his regular customers, but they'd been replaced with ones who appreciated the quality of his work and didn't give a fig about the rest. Every once and while they had to deal with some ugly comments, but so long as they didn't touch Isabella, those were easy to ignore.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect they'd had to face was finding another church. It had hurt Dean, more so for Liv's sake, to be informed that he and Sam would not be welcome, together, in the church in which he and Jenna had been married, the church that Liv had attended for years and in which she was was so active. Liv was a force to be reckoned with in that she adamantly refused to allow Dean to feel any guilt about her departure from Holy Grace. In no way would she stay in a church where her loved ones were not welcome. Instead, she made it a mission to find them a new place of worship where they could attend as a family. And so she had.
"Mmph, Dean, honey, these are delicious," Liv praised. "Is that cinnamon I taste?"
Dean's ears pinked a little at the acknowledgment, barely noticeable as he rinsed out the batter bowl and wiped down the griddle. "Added a pinch to the last batch," he said. Just for you.
Sam watched as Dean retrieved Isabella's lunch box from the fridge and put it in her backpack. They'd attended an Open House last week to meet Isabella's teacher and check out her classroom. In the midst of the impressive amount of paperwork they came home with, including emergency contact information and immunization record requests, was a hot lunch menu for the first month of school. Suffice to say, Dean's idea of nutritional food for his daughter clashed with that of the school system. "Too much processed food." he'd said, and noted that Isabella would be bringing her own lunch, thank you very much.
"Hey," Sam abandoned his spot at the sink. "I'm gonna head back upstairs and get dressed."
"Yeah," Dean looked down at himself, realizing he was still in his pjs. "Me, too."
They went upstairs together. It was quiet. Sam sensed that some of Dean's melancholy had returned. There wasn't really anything to say that hadn't already been said. It was something his brother would just have to work through. Dean opted to keep the gray t-shirt, sliding on a pair of boxer briefs and then his favorite faded denim. He looked at his watch.
"C'mere," Sam said, holding his hand out.
Looking both grateful and exasperated by the understanding, Dean took the proffered hand and let Sam pull him in for an embrace, resting his forehead on his brother's shoulder. It was about more than just Isabella's first day of school, Sam knew that. While Isabella saw the day as an adventure, Dean saw it as the first day of a journey that would eventually take her from him. It wasn't the same by any means, but Dean had already suffered enough loss in the last few years. Jenna. And more recently...John.
When Caleb had shown up nearly a year ago with a report that John was missing, Sam knew if he didn't do something about it that the older hunter would eventually go to Dean. So he had gone with Caleb under the guise of finishing up some old business at Stanford. There was no way in hell he was going to jeopardize his brother's safety - and he knew Dean well enough to know that while he would've been conflicted about leaving Isabella - his brother was a man of action. He would've done something.
It was his father after all.
So Sam had lied, figuring it would be easier to ask for forgiveness later. Of course, he'd had no idea how terribly wrong things would go, either. The whole horrible mess had culminated in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, his father possessed by the same yellow-eyed demon that had killed his mother - with Sam holding the gun that could kill them both. The demon took great pleasure in using his father to get to him, confident that Sam wouldn't shoot, taunting him in great detail with the disgust he'd always feared John held in regard to his feelings for Dean. Caleb had tried to intercede, pinned helplessly to the opposite wall, but the distraction had only escalated the confrontation.
"I don't know, maybe I'm missing out here, boys," Demon John had said calculatingly, looking back and forth between them before holding Sam's gaze. "That brother of yours is a prime piece of meat... got you boys all hot and bothered, doesn't he?"
Caleb's eyes widened at the implication, very much surprised that John had even been aware of the brief flirtation he had shared with Dean. Sam gripped the gun tighter, a sinking feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach as John leered suggestively.
"What do you say, Sammy? Think I should tap that, see what all the fuss is about?"
He'd had enough. Sam took aim and fired, hitting his father in the leg. He watched as John collapsed, unconscious and unmoving. Freed from his spot pinned against the wall, Caleb joined him, both of them eyeing John warily. When nothing happened Sam lowered the gun and took a step forward. He pulled back quickly taking aim once again when his father woke with a startled gasp.
"Sammy!" John's eyes were a wild mix of pain and terror. "It's still inside of me, I can feel it!" He focused on Sam, desperate determination overriding everything else. "You shoot me, Son. Shoot me in the heart."
Despite his uncertainty, Sam's grip on the Colt was steady.
"You can end this now, Sammy." Straining against the presence struggling for control inside of him, John softened his voice but was unable to deny the urgent need for action. "It's okay, son. Do it. It's okay."
Sam shifted, torn. His voice cracked. "Dad."
John let his head fall back against the floor, exhausted, frustrated. Sam knew they were running out of time.
"This demon wants you, Sam. It will use Dean and Isabella to get to you."
Sam's finger twitched on the trigger, even as the comment confused him. What could the yellow eyed demon possibly want with him?
"They will suffer, Sam. Don't let that happen. End this. Now. I'm ready." John had a measure of peace in his eyes, even as he strained to hold onto the demon for as long as possible. "I'm ready, son."
John held his gaze, pleading. Sam could feel the trigger starting to give, a breath of pressure and it would all be over. Still, this was his father, he hesitated.
John's gaze slid to Caleb. "Now! I can't...
Sam heard the shot before he registered the feel of Caleb's hand wrapped around his, watched as his father convulsed, a static glow of energy lighting the wound from within and spreading outward, dissipating with the life force of its vessel.
Sam shivered at the memory, even as he held Dean tighter. Dean immediately lifted his forehead from Sam's shoulder, looking up at him. "You okay?"
"Yeah," he said, one hand smoothly trailing up Dean's spine to wrap around the back of his neck. "Just...yeah," Sam ducked his head, tongue sweeping into his brother's mouth in gentle exploration, hand sliding upward to cup the back of Dean's head - offering and receiving comfort.
Dean had been devastated by John's death. Sam had seen firsthand how badly he'd wanted to withdraw from everything. It was Isabella who forced him to remain in the land of the living. It was hard to pull away from life, after all, when you had a little bundle of sunshine who depended on you for everything. Still, it had been a precarious balance for a few months, Dean only allowing himself to falter when he was alone with Sam. Liv had assumed the reason Dean took John's death so hard was because it had been as unexpected and sudden as Jenna's and had brought back all those memories. They would never be able to tell her otherwise.
"Dean, honey," Liv called from downstairs, "the bus will be here soon."
With a heavy sigh, Dean pulled away. Sam followed him downstairs where Isabella was just donning her backpack, all but vibrating in her excitement. It was a bit contagious, as evidenced by Liv, and Sam couldn't help but let himself get caught up in it a little bit for Isabella's sake as well. Standing in the breezeway with a view of the street, they heard the bus before they saw it. Isabella gave them all a quick hug, saving Dean for last and holding on the longest. Sam may have imagined it, but he thought he saw a flicker of anxiety in her eyes.
Liv followed her outside with the camera as the bus pulled to a stop at the end of the driveway. Dean leaned against the door jamb, arms crossed, watching her with a small smile despite himself. Sam stood behind him, chin resting on his brother's shoulder arms clasped around his waist, as Isabella marched with purpose towards the bus. About halfway there Sam felt Dean tense as her steps slowed. When she froze completely, Dean was already moving, making his way to her as Sam joined an emotional Liv on the lawn.
Dean held a hand up to the bus driver, asking him to hold for a minute. The man looked understanding enough but glanced at his watch. He had a schedule to keep. Dean nodded before settling to his haunches in front of Isabella, everything about him softening as he just looked at her.
"You know that feeling you have, right here," he said as he gently poked her belly, "those butterflies? You know what? Everybody else has them, too."
Off to the side, Sam watched as Isabella raised her chin, but didn't deny her fear. A look of such tenderness crossed Dean's face that it nearly stole Sam's breath away.
"But you know what?" Dean asked. "You're gonna be just fine. You know why?"
Isabella responded by tipping her head slightly.
"'Cause you're my big girl," he said, voice rough and proud. "It's okay to be scared, darlin', but you can't let that stop you. You're gonna be just fine," he repeated. "And tonight you're gonna tell me about all the fun stuff you did and all the new friends you made. You don't want to miss out on that do you?"
It was a small movement, but Isabella shook her head.
Sam was pretty sure he saw Liv wipe away a tear out of the corner of his eye as Dean stood and held out his hand. "Ready?"
Isabella took a deep breath and looked up at her father as she trustingly placed her small hand in his. It was another of those frozen snapshots Sam would forever treasure. Dean walked her to the waiting bus, released her as she boarded, and followed her along the outside until she found the seat she wanted. She still looked nervous, but Dean had helped her find her courage.
Sam and Liv joined Dean as the bus pulled away, relieved to see a small smile grace Isabella's features as they waved to her. It wasn't until the bus rounded the corner and disappeared from sight that Dean completely deflated, folding forward with his hands on his thighs.
"Oh, my God," he said in a dramatic but serious fashion, "I'm never gonna make it."
"Oh, honey," Liv laughed, "you did just fine. Trust me."
"I'll take your word for it," he said, more than a little emotionally drained.
"You do that," Liv said as she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, using her thumb to wipe away a trace of lipstick. Dean stood passively and allowed it. Sam smiled. Dean would never admit it, but he loved to be mothered.
"I'm off to meet Clint for coffee at Smitty's," Liv informed them.
Liv had adapted well to retirement. She'd opened a small greenhouse that she worked part time and found great pleasure in, and she'd devoted herself actively to their new church...where she'd met Clint Roderick. Their relationship had progressed slowly from friends to something a little more that Sam thought they were still defining. Being the alpha male of the family, Dean had been resistant and more than a little protective at first. It helped matters significantly that Clint recognized it for what it was and afforded Dean the respect he deserved as the head of their family. This, of course, scored points with Liv, who, with God's grace, would never find out about the background check Dean had run on the man.
"I told Rand you boys would be in later," Liv said with a smile at Sam as she passed him on the way to her car. His classes at the university weren't scheduled to start until next week, so he'd been a pretty regular fixture around the garage. Which really wasn't anything new.
Dean looked a little confused at that before clarifying, "We won't be too long..."
"Yes," Liv interrupted firmly, "you will."
Sam remained quiet. He had a general idea where this was headed and he was very much okay with it.
"There are certain activities," Liv continued, "that couples with small children don't always get to engage in at this time of day...if you know what I mean."
Dean was beginning to get what she was driving at, if the blush spreading across his face was anything to go by.
"It's a special day for Isabella," she said. "Make it a special day for you, too." Then coyly added, "some of the best sex of my marriage was on Jenna's first day of kindergarten."
Dean's mouth opened a little at that. Sam didn't think he'd ever heard the s-e-x word out of Liv's mouth before, unless it was related to gender - and maybe not even then.
"I'll see you at dinner tonight," she said with a wink, climbing into her SUV. She'd planned vegetable lasagna in honor of Isabella's first day of school and they had orders to be at her place at six sharp.
They watched her go, standing silently side by side, not quite touching. Dean glanced at him with a curious mixture of seduction and bashfulness. You really wanna do this? And it did, just a little, feel like they were being naughty and playing hookie when they were both supposed to be at work.
Sam shrugged, meeting his brother's gaze. Hell, yeah!
He registered the glimmer of intent in Dean's eyes just before his brother took off running. Putting his long limbs to use, Sam passed him easily as they pushed and elbowed each other as they headed for the door. Sam was a foot from the threshold when Dean plowed into him from behind, sent him careening into the siding, and slipped past him into the house. Sam heard him laughing as he raced up the stairs.
He would never tire of that sound.
Sam took his time, stopping along the way to pick up the trail of clothes his brother had discarded.
He knew exactly what awaited him. And it was all he'd ever wanted.
A/N: Thank you for reading! I'm not gonna lie, more reviews would have been nice. But I learned a long time ago to take pleasure in the journey and writing this fic was certainly that. It took me over 2 year to write. I call it my lunch hour fic, 'cause really, that's the only time I get to write. I knew going in that domestic, kidfic, slash wasn't everyone's cup of tea. But this was a case of following my muse. Course that last chapter gave me so much trouble I couldn't touch it for 9 months, but that was my issue ;) Anyways - whenever you accomodate your muse, you're bound to end up with work that you're proud of. And I'm happy to say that I'm very pleased with how this turned out. Thanks again to all who read and enjoyed - especially those faithful few who reviewed along the way! And for those who asked - yes, there will be more from me in this fandom...eventually. The next bunny is already vying for attention...