This is AU, I guess. It's pretty much in keeping with the storyline of the show, but I've avoided the part where Sam takes a flying leap into a metaphysical prison, and more or less pretended it doesn't exist. The rest of it, I suppose, takes place much the same, except that here Dean leaves to be with Lisa, instead of going to her after he believes Sam is dead. And that's all the spoilers you'll get from me :)
Dean cupped his hands around his mouth, leaned forward in his seat, and bellowed with all his might, "Woo!"
Not, "Kick his ass!" or "Own that fucker!" Not even "Kick him in the nads!" Dean nowadays had a Lisa-imposed filter between his brain and his mouth, which inevitably turned his best advice into "Woo!" or sometimes "Yeah!"
But for her credit, these new-and-improved war cries of Dean's earned him a lot of brownie points with the other parents, who at first had viewed him as the Antichrist (which never failed to make him giggle, seeing as how he knew the real Antichrist, and the real Antichrist would have never sworn to ream an eight year olds' ass).
Ben heard Dean's yelling and waved, just in time to get a baseball to the face, thrown by the pitcher, who apparently thought he might as well see if he couldn't get Ben out. Nevermind that Ben was obviously standing on first base already, and had been for nearly a minute. It was still worth a shot. But the player who was on first base with Ben sidestepped and Ben caught the ball full in the face.
Dean was on his feet in a second, but Ben shook his head and gave his team the thumbs up. A few rows down, though, another parent was on their feet, yelling, "Yeah! Cream that lousy Braeden kid!"
"Dean," said Lisa, but Dean barely heard her. Dean was seeing red. As in blood. Lots of it, running from the holes he was going to punch in that dirtbag's face.
"Hey asshead," Dean said, and the proud father turned to look at him. "That's my kid you're talking about."
This was news to a great deal of the audience, who had known that Dean was living with Lisa, and certainly had seen some—let's call them similarities—between Dean and Ben, but had never dreamed of assuming something so serious as parentage. Dean won a few extra gold stars in many a mom's heart in that moment.
"Yeah?" the father said.
"Yeah," said Dean.
"Well, your kid sucks ass," the father told Dean, a feral snarl on his face. "My son's averages went in the shitter thanks to your no-good kid!"
"That's not all that's going to end up in the shitter if you don't shut your mouth," said Dean, leaning forward ever so slightly. It was a threat, but one that the father misinterpreted entirely.
"Yeah? What are you going to do about it, huh? You gonna take me on, hot stuff? You think you could possibly take me down?"
"Oh no," said Lisa, seconds before Dean replied, "I'll certainly try, gramps."
The hot-head father was turning a vicious mottled red, contrasting awkwardly against his pale hair, and lunged to grab Dean by the shirtfront despite the distance. Dean clocked him neatly in the head, sending him tumbling, which was in his opinion enough of enough: due justice, in his book. But as he was turning away, the opposing father came up again, and shoved Dean down the steps. By now the whole game had stopped to watch.
"Look, man," Dean said. "You mouthed off, I hit you, we're good. Even's even. There's no need to turn this into a bloodbath."
"You afraid, peacock?"
"I just don't want to see an old guy like you get hurt," said Dean, half-joking, because a part of him—a bigger part than he liked to admit—was aching for fight.
"We'll see who gets hurts," the dad growled, and swung. Dean dunked and gave him a swift jab to the stomach, but this one was like an old bull, ornery and mad as hell, and only getting angrier the more blows he was dealt. Fighters like this were dangerous; they didn't know when to quick.
Dean had fought worse. A lot worse.
Bellowing and charging, the dad attacked again, so Dean tripped him, laid him out flat. But up he came, and he came up swinging, and caught Dean under the chin. They both stopped and looked at one another. Dean was thinking, that's it. I've had enough of this dance. I'm going to end you, pops. End you like I'd end a demon, slow and painful. And the dad was thinking, that's not fear in his eyes.
It wasn't. Dean right-hooked him into a wall and followed it up with a neat combo of hits that had won against more than one big-time baddie. Against a regular gone-to-seed human, it was devastating. Coughing blood and bruised, the angry father from the opposing team slipped to the ground.
Dean crouched in front of him, held the other man's chin between two fingers. "Listen to me, gramps," said Dean, in a low snarl that only they could hear, "I don't like killing people. But that doesn't mean I won't make an exception. You stay away from my kid, you hear me? You stay away and you keep your mouth shut."
The fear in the other man's eyes was real. Dean had tortured enough people to know it when he saw it. He straightened, stepped away, and opened his cell phone. The parents were staring at him, all of them afraid, too afraid to move or even to have stopped him. Dean dialed 911.
"There's a man here who needs an ambulance," Dean said, voice calm and even, like he did this every day. "A few broken ribs, a broken nose, and a cracked sternum. Yeah. He's been beat to hell all right—who did it?" Dean grinned. "I did, lady." He hung up.
"Dean," said Lisa, standing up. She looked angry—really angry—and for the first time, Dean looked chagrined.
"I warned him," Dean said to her, to all of them. "I told him it'd get bad. You think I wanted to lay out an old man?"
"You could have stopped," Lisa said.
"Yeah, I could have. And he would have kept hollering at other people's kids for the rest of his life. If you're all right with that, fine. But I'm not. No one talks like that about my kid—and they sure as hell don't challenge me to a fight and expect to win."
He swept a challenging gaze across the crowd, and then, unexpectedly one of the women said loudly, "Damn straight. If he hadn't done it, I would have. Bob Gerty, you have said one too many filthy things about our children."
The rest of the parents began to nod, and when he retook his seat beside Lisa, a few of them even shook his hand. Lisa looked at him sternly as he sat, but as he waited, steeling himself for the onslaught, in the end she just rolled her eyes heavenward and tucked her arm through his. "It's my fault anyway," she said to no one in particular. "I always was attracted to fighters."
Ben had a science project. Of course. All kids had science projects, it was like death and taxes, except Sam was the one who knew the science stuff, not Dean. He knew salt melted spirits and which herbs to plant if you wanted to ward against demons, and he knew how to make a Molotov cocktail. But science? Forget it. He'd flunked science.
"You don't know anything?" demanded Ben, in total disbelief.
Dean gave an uncomfortable laugh. "I know something, kid, just not … science-y things. I can rebuild an engine. Just don't ask me to do science."
"But that's science," said Ben.
"Says my teacher. Tommy is taking apart a telephone for his project."
"Science," Lisa said from the kitchen, "does not mean astrophysics, Dean."
Dean looked at them.
"We could rebuild an engine!" Ben said excitedly. "Mom could take photos of us doing it! It'd be great!"
Dean looked across the way to Lisa, thinking an engine was a big thing for a kid to handle, but she was smiling into her mixing bowl, which he took to be an affirmative. "Yeah," said Dean. "Sure. We can pick up an old junker after school tomorrow, all right?"
"Yes!" yelled Ben, punching the air. "This is going to destroy Tommy's stupid telephone!"
Lisa peeked at Dean from out the corner of her eye and couldn't help but laugh at his expression, equal parts terror and something suspiciously like contentment. Her friends, when they didn't think Lisa could hear, said things like "I'd do him, but I don't think I'd keep him around," or "How would you even know he'd make a good dad?"
All valid points, things which Lisa herself had agonized over time and time again; whichever way she looked at it, though, it still felt right. Dean was great with Ben, even if he was a little overenthusiastic, and his old life leaked into this one too often for her liking—like the incident at the baseball game—but at the end of the day Dean's heart was in the right place. Yeah, he was a little rough-and-tumble, but then, so was Ben, and it felt good to have someone around to fight her battles for her, to give her a chance to be the damsel in distress for once.
It wasn't exactly quoting the feminist bible, but some things a woman forgives, and when an ass like that was the persuasion—well.
Dean had taken over picking up Ben from school, to give Lisa a few more minutes to herself, and usually it all went off without a hitch. All the kids were suitably impressed that Ben's mom's boyfriend (who was now widely known to be Ben's actual dad) drove such a crazy car, and looked so—well—cool. Everyone always said how lucky Ben was. Coolest dad ever were the words most commonly used, especially after the time Dean showed up with burgers.
Today was special because Ben was going to be very shortly engaged with the world's coolest science project (sure to win!) and Ben ran out of the school right off, not even saying his farewells to his friends. He ran up to Dean, who was leaning against the Impala, waiting, and said eagerly, "You ready?"
"Are you ready?" Dean said right back, and Ben grinned.
Tires screeched—brakes whined—Dean and Ben turned their heads to look as an old Mustang did a fast U-turn in the middle of the street, nearly crashing into a green Civic. It missed the Civic by a hair and charged straight into the school parking lot.
"Oh, God," said Dean, and drew Ben behind him. The Mustang slid to a stop beside the Impala, and out of it came Edison, better known for his old-school poltergeist exorcisms, old as the hills and twice as ripe. The smell hit them just before Edison did.
"Dean Winchester!" Edison boomed. "I heard you were dead! Just wait till I tell the boys I found you!"
"Yeah, you found me," said Dean. "So what?"
"So what?" Edison seemed baffled. "So what? So, we could use the help, son. I heard you've got some high-level mojo with the angels. That's a nice thing to have in our corner."
"Your corner," Dean interrupted. "I'm not hunting anymore."
Edison laughed, but when Dean's expression didn't change, the laugh tapered off into nothing. "You're kidding me. A Winchester, not hunting? Look, Dean, we need you. There's just not enough young blood in the business, and you Winchesters are the best."
"I'm retired," said Dean, stubbornly.
"Kid, no one retires. They just get killed."
"Dean?" Ben whispered from behind Dean's legs. "Can we go to the junk yard now?"
"Who's that?" Edison asked, grinning suddenly. "Oh, he's a lovely little fella!" His eyes moved to Dean's face, suddenly stony. "He ain't yours, is he?"
"Get out of here, Edison," Dean growled.
"He is. Dean Winchester's got a kid. Lord, if there ain't a woman in every state who just keeled plumb over. This really is news. I guess I was lying about the young blood bit, eh?"
Dean reached out, grabbed Edison by the shirtfront, and slammed him bodily into the Impala's hood. Ben jumped like a gun had gone off. "You listen to me, Edison Grimes," Dean snarled. "You didn't see me. You didn't see Ben. If I hear that you've been spreading this story around, I will hunt you down myself, so help me God. You're not dragging my family into this!"
"Christ," Edison said, his lips against coal-black paint. "I was just happy, Dean. I didn't mean no disrespect."
"You stuff that happiness somewhere down deep, because no kid of mine is going to be a hunter unless he asks to be," said Dean. "And I'm not asking that question anytime soon. Get the hell out of this town, Edison, before I kick you out."
Edison got up, shook out his arms (which were numb from being twisted back), and shook his head at Dean. "You disappoint me, son."
"Don't make me call Bobby," Dean warned, and this time, Edison backed off. He got back into his Mustang, shaking his head still, and drove away.
"Who was that?" Ben asked.
"Somebody I used to know," said Dean, opening up the passenger door for him.
"Is he bad?"
"Not bad." Dean squinted after the Mustang. "Just—misled."
Misled was an understatement. Dean knew he had scared Edison, at least for a second, and the threat of calling Bobby had probably done some work on him, but with enough miles between him and Dean, the fear had apparently worn off. Dean figured this must be so because a few weeks after Edison had dropped in, Bobby showed up.
Bobby knew what Sam knew: that Dean was off the grid, staying with a girl, and that this girl had a kid. Stranger things had happened. Neither of them knew that the kid was Dean's. It wasn't like he was lying to them. It wasn't like he didn't want them to know. He just wasn't—ready. To share. Lisa and Ben were separate (mostly) from his former life, and he wanted to keep it that way.
Didn't stop Bobby from being rip-roaring mad about it, though.
Dean was out in the garage with Ben, working on the engine, which was turning out better than he'd imagined; Ben had a real appetite for the work, and could spit-shine like no one's business. It had become something that Dean looked forward to so much that he even dreamed about it. He apparently said things like "wrench, boy, I said wrench," in his sleep, which Lisa thought was hilarious.
"If we really haul this weekend," Dean was saying to Ben, who had a streak of grease on his cheek and still didn't know it, "we might actually finish, dude. Early. When's the last time you did your homework early?"
Ben looked astonished. "Never!"
"Oh yeah," Dean laughed, and high-fived Ben. "Now hand me that Phillips."
"Yessir," Ben said importantly, and it was while he was running to the toolbox that Dean noticed the junked Dodge Challenger idling across the street. He couldn't see in the windows well, but he could make out a baseball cap, and that was one too many coincidences for him.
"Hang tight, Ben," Dean said, with a warning gesture that had become shorthand for "and I mean it, boy." Ben nodded. He was a good kid. Most days, Dean felt Ben was a little better than he deserved.
Dean started up the driveway, and the baseball hat turned to watch. By the time he'd hit the sidewalk the decision had been made, and Bobby climbed out of the Challenger's depths, beard failing entirely to hide the deep frown of disapproval.
"Bobby," said Dean, as if he were expected.
"Dean," Bobby answered, as if that were the truth, and followed it up with, "Are you goddam serious, boy?"
"Most days," Dean said. "About what, exactly?"
Bobby leveled a finger at Dean's chest. "Don't play the smartass with me, boy. I've been watching you and that kid for an hour now, and I think the talk is right."
For a second Dean thought Bobby might actually haul off and hit him. "You have a fucking son and I had to hear about it from a weasel like Edison Grimes?"
"It's not like that," Dean said, dropping the nonchalance.
"What's it like, then?" Bobby pointed towards the garage. "Does Sam know?"
Dean just looked at him. Bobby's arm dropped.
"You'd better think of something quick, then," Bobby said, all the fight gone out of him suddenly. He looked tired—and old. "He's on his way."
"You can drop the life, son," Bobby said, "but not your family."
Dean stared at him, eyes squinting like he wanted to tell Bobby where to stick his family. And then—"Dean? Honey?"
Lisa had come out of the house, wiping her hands on a towel. Ben was still standing in the garage, but Dean could tell he wanted badly to run out and see what was going on. Good kid. Dean looked at them for a moment, every instinct in his body wanting him to pack Bobby up in his beat-up Challenger and send him off, but he didn't. He ducked his head a little and went to fetch her. She met him halfway, eyes on Bobby, who was trailing in Dean's wake.
"Lees," Dean said, eyes focusing on something distant and uninteresting, "this is Bobby. He's an—old friend."
"Like an old friend, or an old friend?" Lisa asked. She cocked her head at Bobby, her hand absently entangling with Dean's, as if it were the natural way to stand. Dean didn't seem to notice either, and it hit Bobby hard, right in the chest, that Dean had finally found himself a home.
"Family friend," Dean amended. He hesitated a moment longer, gave it up, and slapped Bobby on the shoulder lightly. "Bobby's like a father to me."
A smile bloomed on Lisa's face, and she reached out to shake Bobby's hand. "You must be that Bobby. The one with all the old cars."
"You've heard of me?" Bobby asked, obviously taken aback.
"I probably haven't heard everything, but yeah."
"That's for the best," said Bobby, in relief, and Dean grinned.
"Babe," Dean said, turning his face to her, "Bobby's come to meet Ben."
It was a question. Permission, Bobby thought, which was a novelty in and of itself. Dean Winchester shot first and asked questions later—but not anymore.
"No swearing and we won't have problems," Lisa told Bobby, in a tone that Bobby had heard more than once from Dean. He didn't think she'd learned it being a soccer mom, though he'd met a couple in his time that could have scared the mustache off Hitler. He nodded, and Lisa turned to wave Ben forward. Ben waited until Dean nodded to drop the screwdriver and run forward. Bobby found himself reminded of Dean as a child, always waiting for orders from his father, always following them to the letter—ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time.
"Ben," Dean said, when he was close enough, "this is Bobby. You remember the story I told you about zombies?"
"Yeah?" Ben's eyes were round.
"That's him." For a second, Bobby thought Ben was going to be afraid, but then the kid grinned and let out a devil-may-care laugh that was textbook Dean. Dean gave Bobby a little smile that did nothing to hide his pride. "That's one of his favorites."
"Zombies are awesome!" Ben shouted, and gave a few air-punches that were too solid and straight. Dean had been giving the kid pointers, Bobby could see. He stilled long enough to grin up at Bobby. "Dean says I'm not allowed to fight zombies," he shared in a stage whisper. "But I bet there are kids who are allowed, right?"
Kids like Dean and Sam, when they were little, Bobby thought, but he caught the identical warning stares from Lisa and Dean, and said, "You kidding? You can't kill zombies until you're at least twenty. Them's the rules, kid."
"Aw!" cried Ben. He gave the air a few more punches and followed it up with a nice right hook. "I bet I'd slaughter them. Like, mow them down!"
Dean rolled his eyes. "I told you to stop watching HBO, kid."
"I haven't!" Ben protested, looking horrified. Then a little smile crept onto his face, a little too mischievous. "Jordan down the street has Resident Evil on his PlayStation, though."
"Oh, does he?" Lisa said, with interest. "I thought I heard his mother saying he wasn't allowed to play Resident Evil."
Ben's eyes widened. "Uh."
"What's this?" Bobby asked Dean in an undertone.
"A video game," Dean answered, "where you kill zombies. It's a blast."
"Heck yeah it is," Ben piped up.
"Ben," warned Lisa.
They all fell silent, looking at one another, until finally Lisa said, "Why don't you come inside, Bobby?"
"Don't mind if I do, ma'am," he answered, and followed them in.
Bobby and Dean sat together at the patio table, sipping beers and watching Ben play catch with the neighbor boy, Jordan. Bobby had a weird, topsy-turvy feeling of being a grandfather, watching his grandkid, and it wasn't going away, just getting stronger. He shook his head and took another sip of his beer.
"I'm telling you what, Dean," Bobby said, "in theory I'm pissed as hell, and I expect I will be once I leave, but right now—" He stopped.
"Yeah," said Dean. "I know the feeling."
"I think I'd peg him for a Winchester even if I met him on a street somewhere."
Dean gave him a craggy grin. "Tell me about it. I keep having Twilight Zone moments. Some things, man, I was hoping they weren't genetic."
"Like what bite-sized means?" Lisa suggested, flopping down into one of the other patio chairs. She had a can of coke in her hand.
"No way," said Bobby, beginning to smile, and when Dean rolled his eyes heavenward he gave a short laugh. "I have to tell you, I'm having déjà vu so bad it hurts. He's the spitting image of you, son. And he has that same eager puppy thing."
"I was never a puppy," Dean said, with great dignity, until Lisa said, "You are a puppy."
Bobby raised his eyebrows. "Have you been domesticated, boy?"
"Hardly," said Lisa. "I still can't get him to stop putting his feet on the coffee table."
"Oh, is that all," said Bobby, and turned to give Dean a long stare. "You have really mellowed, son. And lord knows I thought it'd never happen. I had nightmares of you with a walker, hobbling after nurses. What's next? Tucking in your shirt?"
"Working on that," Lisa put in.
"Lord," said Bobby, and he laughed.
"Shut up," Dean snapped.
"I'm not making fun of you, boy," Bobby told him soothingly. "It's just hard to wrap my mind around. I'd have said yesterday that you're the sort who can't ever settle down." He looked at Lisa. "You must be one hell of a woman."
Dean scowled at him. "She is."
"I can't wait for Sam to get here," said Bobby, taking another sip of beer. "He's going to go nuts. He's met Ben, right?"
"Briefly, I think," Lisa said contemplatively. Her eyes were watching Ben and Jordan, and a second later she called out, "Ten steps the other direction, boys! No more broken windows!"
The two boys obeyed, albeit with a lot of eye rolling, and resumed their game.
"You shouldn't have called him," said Dean, to which Bobby replied, "You're right. You should have."
Sam let the engine idle, sitting a comfortable five miles from the address Bobby had given him, and took stock. It was a thing he did now, a checklist in his head to make sure he was prepared. No more gung ho bull-rushing into the fray. His temper had been his Achilles heel, and he was damned if it was going to be that way again.
This time, though, it felt more like stalling than double-checking, and he found himself looking at the dashboard of his '72 Chevelle and worrying that Dean might not like it. Which was a load of crap, because what did it matter? He hadn't seen his brother in months—hell, nearly a year—and he hadn't heard from him, either, not even a lousy phone call. He'd checked the obits just last week to make sure his older brother was still in one piece, a ritual he went through every month or so, just to be sure. Because he'd never be one to make the first move, that was on Dean.
Stubborn. They were both stubborn. It didn't matter much now, though, sitting on the side of the road in a dark red Chevelle and worrying about the scratch on the back bumper, where he'd accidently hit it with a rifle. He'd had his hands full. It wasn't even that deep, and he'd buffed most of it out, but he'd bet every dollar in his wallet that it would be the first thing Dean would notice. Not the custom work he'd put in, even though cars didn't come naturally to him like they did Dean, or the pristine shine of the interior, which he'd spent a full hour detailing this morning at the hotel.
It didn't matter. It didn't matter. Dean had cut him off, cut him out. He didn't care what car his little brother drove. Maybe he'd smile to hear it was a Chevy, and maybe he'd cringe at the fact that it was a '72, but he'd be smiling and cringing like it was someone else's ride, not a '72 Chevy that Sam had bought even though there was a near-perfect BMW sitting right next to it, a 2001 for a full grand cheaper. And Sam had wanted that BMW.
Sam leaned his forehead against the steering wheel and drew in a long breath. Dean Winchester, brother … and father?
Sam Winchester, brother and unapprised uncle.
When Bobby had called him a few days past, to tell him about a piece of gossip that had a disturbing ring of truth to it, he'd wanted to tell Bobby he didn't care. He was on a job and if Dean wanted to play family, fine. Let him. But Bobby said something along the lines of "if this is true, this is your blood" and Sam felt a familiar weight settle over his shoulders, something that rode and ached like responsibility and duty and meant he'd be going whether or not he wanted to.
But Dean hadn't even called. Not once. The message was clear: no Antichrists allowed. And Sam was cool with that, especially if Hell really had frozen over, and Dean had a family. It was something Sam himself wanted, and tried valiantly to pull off, but separation from this life wasn't possible, or didn't seem to be.
Eventually he pulled the Chevelle out of park and got back on the road. He drove two miles under the speed limit, but five miles was five miles, and he found himself parked behind Bobby's junker-of-the-week in what felt like no time at all. There was no blood on the street, which boded well: Dean hadn't pummeled Bobby on sight.
Get your ass moving, the voice in his head said, sounding like Dean. It always sounded like Dean. Or are you gonna sit in this Chevelle all day like a pussy? Sam could remember being thirteen and wondering why the voice in his head wasn't Gandhi. And then again, at twenty-two, hoping that his favorite professor could take residency. But no, for as long as he could remember, it was Dean.
"Jerk," Sam muttered, and banged his head once against the steering wheel. The dull ache made him feel less like a chicken. I don't see those big-ass feet of yours moving, sunshine. He turned the key in the ignition, killing the Chevelle's purr, and spent five minutes pretending to look for his wallet, even though he knew full well there wasn't a blessed reason he'd need it inside.
He just wasn't sure if he could do it—meet the family that had replaced him in his brother's heart. He tried to recall Ben's face from the last time he'd been in town, from the changeling murders, but he hadn't known it would be important then, and he'd forgotten. All that surfaced was a dim recollection of a jacket, a lot like the kind he and Dean wore.
One of the neighbors was peering out her window at him, brow furrowed like she was thinking of calling the police, so Sam climbed out of his Chevelle and made for the front door of Lisa's house. It was a little different than he remembered it. There was an engine being rebuilt in the garage, the hole in the fence had been fixed, and there was a pair of worn, discarded boots on the front steps that he knew were Dean's. Or had been Dean's a year ago. They looked like they were being used for yard work now.
Sam said a quick prayer, for the hell of it, and pushed the doorbell.
The door opened soundlessly—well-oiled hinges, he thought—and a pair of eyes peered up at him, not unusual, except that they were level with his waist. The door opened a little further, revealing a boy of ten, and Sam recognized him as Ben.
"Hey," Sam said. "You probably don't remember me, but—"
"You're Dean's brother," Ben said promptly, and grinned. It was a wicked, devil-may-care grin, and it was all Dean, so much so that Sam felt a little sucker-punched. Ben turned his head towards the interior of the house and bawled, "Dean! Sam's here!"
There was a pause, and Sam wondered if Dean would appear at all, or just ignore him, but then his brother stepped out into the hallway. He was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and though there were oil stains on the jeans and his T-shirt was faded from black to grey, he still looked as if he'd been scrubbed and polished, a newer and improved version of Sam's brother. His eyes were dark and there were lines in his forehead that said he'd been worrying over something—probably this.
"Dean," Sam said, hating the fact that his voice had gotten thick, but then Dean came forward down the hall, and hugged him.
"It's good to see you, Sammy," Dean said, before he pulled away. Sam remembered that he was supposed to be pissed and said, "Yeah, I guess it would be, after nearly a year."
Dean's eyes moved to Ben, and Sam waited for a snappy response he was beginning to realize wasn't coming. Dean nodded down the hall. "Beer?"
"Sure," said Sam, and Dean shut the door behind him. There were pictures of Dean and Lisa and Ben on the walls, Dean's jacket on the coat rack, Dean's shoes in the hallway, and when they reached the kitchen, Dean's brand of beer in the fridge. This was Dean's life now—a house, a family, a life. A life that had nothing to do with hunting and nothing to do with Sam.
"Dean says you still hunt monsters," Ben said eagerly. "Did you just come from killing one? Was it big? Was it Bigfoot?"
"Whoa," said Dean, grabbing Ben and tucking him into his side so he could ruffle the kid's hair, "slow down there, Tex. Give him some time to breathe, will you?"
"I was just asking," Ben pointed out, giving Dean a smile that looked as if it were engineered for one thing, and one thing only: getting his way.
"Yeah, yeah," said Dean. "Trolling for info, more like. You know the rule."
Ben sighed. "No monster stories unless it's bedtime."
"You ain't in PJs, kid, and this ain't nighttime."
Dean's eyebrows rose. Slowly. It was almost a perfect imitation of the look Dad had used to give them when they'd crossed a line, a subtle reminder of who was parent and who was child, and it worked the same here. Ben's mouth snapped shut and he nodded, just like Dean had used to, like he was a little soldier taking his orders.
Christ, Sam thought. That really is Dean's kid.
That really is my nephew.
"I tell you what though," Dean said in a hushed voice, "if you finish sweeping the garage for me, I might find myself in a position to talk ten more minutes tonight."
Ben's eyes sparkling, and before Sam could blink he was gone. Dean was smiling, clearly pleased with himself, and confided to Sam as they entered the kitchen, "Lisa's asked him to sweep out that garage at least five times this week."
"Sam," said Bobby, coming up to give him a hug. "Good to see you."
Sam believed him, though he was still having doubts about his brother.
"You've met Lisa," Dean said, when Bobby let him go. Lisa shook Sam's hand politely, and then said, "I take it this little impromptu family reunion is about Ben?"
"Ben, and the fact that we didn't know," said Bobby. He handed Sam a beer. "We ain't the type of family who keeps secrets like this. Are we, boys?"
They all looked guiltily at one another. They were exactly the sort of family.
Lisa leaned against the table and folded her arms across her chest. Her eyes went to Dean's, and for a split second, they looked to Sam like the married couples he saw in stores, intimately connected. You could always tell who they belonged to even when they were yards apart. "Dean's tried really hard," she told them. "Not just to make this work, and be a good father to Ben, but to keep us safe, too."
Dean cleared his throat uncomfortably and took a pull off his beer.
"Yeah, well, we ain't gonna torch the place," Bobby remarked.
Lisa's eyebrows rose.
"No one said you would," Dean said harshly. "Look, I'm sorry for keeping you out of the loop, but I wanted time to—to—"
"Put down roots," Lisa said.
"—to put down roots without my old life haunting me. And let's face it, you two are my old life, plus or minus a few hookers. I needed space. Time to breathe."
"Yeah," said Sam. "I get that. You also could have told us that."
"You think I could have left if I'd had to say goodbye to your face?" Dean asked, looking his brother in the eyes, and the silence that dragged on filled with things only the two of them knew, until it was so thick neither of them had the strength to breathe anymore.
Sam said, "No."
Their gaze didn't break.
"That's why I wish—" Sam stopped, looked around. The kitchen, spilling over with things, with tools and newspapers and dishes and comic books and cookbooks and the general flotsam that comes with a family. The yard outside the window with the swing and the discarded baseball gloves. "It's just that I wanted this too," he said finally. It sounded lame. Flat.
"I thought you'd be the one to have it," Dean said. "Honest. And—the Stanford thing? I get it."
Dean said I get it but Sam heard I forgive you, and a breath left his chest like he'd been punched. He coughed manfully and drank his beer, because if he spoke he'd cry. He heard Dean snuffle and scratch his chin.
"You want to see my car?" Sam said, pathetically, like that was the reason he'd come all this way. In some ways it was. Dean nodded and set down his beer, and without looking any of them in the eyes, the brothers filed out of the kitchen.
Dean stopped on the porch to admire the red gleam of the sunlight across the Chevelle's hood, eyebrows coming up. He drew a hand over his mouth. "Damn, Sammy," he said. "That is a hell of a ride."
"I've been doing some work on it," Sam told him, feeling a swell of pride starting in his belly. "It's been tough going, always being on the move, never having a steady mechanic. I did the exhaust myself though."
Dean pursed his lips, impressed, and then walked over with Sam to look it over. He peeked under the hood, crouched to look at the chassis, and even laid on his back to see Sam's work on the exhaust. When he came up grinning and clapped Sam on the shoulder, Sam felt a familiar heady rush, like his eyeballs were going to explode with happiness, just because his brother approved. No. Because his brother approved and therefore it mattered.
"You feel like staying on a few days?" Dean asked. "Ben's got a baseball game this weekend."
"Sure," said Sam. "I'd love to."
Dean cupped his hands around his mouth, leaned forward in his seat, and bellowed with all his might, "Hey Sasquatch!"
Sam turned and squinted up the bleachers at his brother.
"Don't forget the nachos!"
"Yeah, yeah," said Sam, rolling his eyes at him.
"I got it," Sam said, already walking away.
"Bitch!" Dean called, and over his shoulder, Sam called back, "Jerk!"
"Friend of yours?" one of the women asked, the same fiery brunette who'd backed him up against Bob Gerty.
"Not a chance," Dean said, grinning. He watched the tall shape of his brother wander its way into the line for the concession stand. "That's my brother."
"Figured as much," she agreed. "You walk the same. He in town long?"
With perfect honesty, Dean said, "I sure hope so."