Rating/Warnings: Season 5 tag, spoilers for 5.22 beyond this point. GEN but HET-ish, PG.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Beta: The fantabulous bellatemple
Summary: Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed.
A/N: This story has been sitting on the back burner since the finale, so it may be over-cooked. Posting now because it won't stop bugging me.
Laundry basket on one hip, Lisa looked at the full duffel bag between the dresser and her 'office' desk in the corner, then glanced at the conspicuously still-empty space in the closet and put a hand on the knob of the top drawer of the dresser.
Not my drawer anymore, no looking in it. She dropped her hand and turned away to fold laundry on the bed. He'll use it when he's ready to.
It had been a month.
This was the third time he'd randomly shown up in her life after that first weekend years ago, and this time the monsters he was fighting were inside him. Back when Dean had saved her and Ben from the changelings, she'd asked him to stay with her. Considering the last two times she'd seen him there had been literal monsters trying to suck the life out of her and epic drama on her doorstep that had messed with her head for weeks while she scoured the news for reports of his death, she wasn't sure if Dean was someone she could add into her life with her son.
He seemed to be trying though. He'd gotten a job at a local garage, he was great with Ben, and he wasn't pushing for anything more than she was willing to give. But there was still that full duffel bag, sitting next to a dresser with an empty drawer.
Lisa pulled the few socks and t-shirts of Dean's that had got mixed in with her and Ben's laundry and put them on top of the dresser. Dean can decide where he wants them to go. I'm not deciding for him.
The kid at the plate swung at an inside pitch, dropped the bat and hopped around shaking his hand. Dean winced.
Lisa was teaching a class at the senior's center that afternoon, and Ben had a baseball game. Dean never missed a baseball game; he'd taken a half-day off work at the garage. Ben might not be his kid, but he was an awesome kid, and someone needed to be there at his ball games. It was also as deliberately apple-pie as Dean could think of and Sam wanted him to-
Sam wanted him to live normal. It was the only thing he'd asked besides not going after him. Lisa and Ben were as normal as Dean knew. She'd asked him to stay once, and he'd hoped she wouldn't mind him coming back. The job at the garage wasn't bad. He hadn't taken the guns and stuff out of the Impala's trunk, but there really wasn't any place to put them in Lisa's house. They didn't belong there.
Dean frowned, and tried to clear his thoughts by focusing on the game. Sam wanted him to live normal. He'd be normal even if it killed him.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning when Dean saw Sam. One shaggy head sticking up above the others in the bleachers on the other side of the field like a mossy stump sticking out of a bog. Dean froze. Blinked. Sam was still there.
He scrambled off the bleachers on the home team side, and ran around behind the backstop, skidding on the dusty grass next to the away seats. No Sam. He looked around, shielding his eyes in the sun. No Sam anywhere in sight. Not a hint of a too-tall shadow. A few people on the home team bleachers glared at him. He must have done some shoving. He didn't care.
Dean clenched his jaw and made himself list off all the things that he might have seen. Things that weren't his brother, trapped in Lucifer's cage with Michael and Adam, impossibly lost.
Shapeshifter. Would need Sam. Big daddy changeling. Would need Sam. Ghoul. Would need Sam's corpse. Djinn. Would explain a few things... actually a lot of things, but no. Gabriel. Dead. Ghost... Could Sam's spirit escape a cage Lucifer couldn't for thousands and thousands of years? Dean shook his head. No. No.
With each option eliminated, Dean's heart fell a bit further. Sam was gone. He'd promised not to even try to get him back. Not out loud, but he had.
Maybe he was just cracking up. People did that; saw dead and missing relatives, happened all the time. Dean hadn't even buried Sam, or set him on a pyre like Dad. Sam buried himself deeper than Dean ever could have.
"What'd'ja switch sides for?"
Dean turned. "What?"
Ben stood behind him, batting helmet in hand, squinting into the sun with a smirk. "I didn't figure I played so bad you'd switch sides, Dean."
Dean looked around to see the game breaking up and parents collecting their kids. He glanced over at the chalk score board for the final score. "Hey, you guys didn't lose by as much as last time! That's great!"
Ben snorted. "We still lost. We suck."
"Hey," said Dean, crouching in front of Ben. "Dude. Even if you got beat a billion to one, I'd still be on your side."
"Thanks, Dean," said Ben, grinning.
Dean clapped him on the shoulder, raising a puff of dust. "Come on. Ice cream before we go back to your place, okay? We can pick some up for your mom too, maybe she won't say anything about eating ice cream before dinner."
"Awesome!" Ben jogged off to return the batting helmet and collect his jacket. Dean looked around the park again at the dissipating throng of people leaving the game.
No Sam. Of course there was no Sam. There would never be any Sam.
Dean gathered up Ben and headed toward the parking lot, not feeling at all like ice cream.
Lisa heard Ben and Dean come rattling in, Ben's higher voice chattering and Dean's deep voice mostly silent. She finished totaling the month's yoga class attendance fees at her desk in the corner before Ben invaded the bedroom.
"Hey Mom! We didn't lose by as much this time! And we got you ice cream!"
Dean leaned against the doorway with a smile that didn't come close to reaching his eyes.
Lisa smiled at Ben. "That's great, honey! Why don't you go put it in the freezer and get washed up."
Ben charged back out the door, leaving her and Dean alone. "What happened?"
"What?" Dean said, gaze snapping back to the room from somewhere far distant. "Nothing."
Lisa just looked at him. His eyes slid away from hers, then flicked back.
Dean ran a hand over his eyes. "I thought I saw him."
Dean hadn't talked much about what had happened to Sam, but from what she knew about Dean and Sam's lives, Sam was dead, and it hadn't been natural causes.
"I know it's not him, it can't be him." Dean swallowed and looked lost. "But there's tons of things, evil things that like to look like-"
"Like the changelings? Look like family to get inside and..." Lisa rubbed the back of her neck.
"Homegrown spinal tap, yeah."
A quiver of nauseous worry slid through her. No. Not more monsters. I'm not going to let Ben be taken from me again.
If it was really something that would endanger them though, she didn't think Dean would be this calm about it. No. Calm wasn't the right word. Immobilized.
The quiet stretched. Dean stayed standing in the doorway, hunching into himself a little, eyes flicking everywhere in the room. Everywhere except her and that damned duffel bag by the dresser.
"Everyone sees people they've lost Dean," she said after a while. "It doesn't have to be something evil. It's just human nature. After mom died, I saw her everywhere for months. I thought I was going nuts."
"Thought the same thing myself this afternoon." Dean smirked sourly. "Not that that was the first time."
Lisa put a hand on his arm. "It takes time to let go."
Dean's arm tensed. "Yeah. I guess." Rubbing his face, he turned away and headed for the kitchen.
Lisa stood alone in her empty room. It takes time, and you have to be ready to let go.
Dinner was burgers on the grill. Kitchens were still mostly a foreign country to Dean. Any skills he'd picked up in the years of scraping together meals in hotel rooms growing up had been forgotten in the intervening years, particularly the most recent few. Open fire? Dean could make that work.
Ben and Lisa were chattering about something behind him, chopping up onions on her patio table, and her crappy little outdoor radio was set on the only decent classic rock station in town. If Sam was here he'd be complaining about the music and the onions. That was the one thing that made him sure this wasn't a Djinn's dream-life; Sam wasn't here. This was as normal as you could get with your brother in Lucifer's cage. Dean watched the meat dripping into the coals of the grill and tried not to think too much about it. About anything.
Lisa's radio crackled. Between the boards of her back-alley fence, something moved. Dean's eyes snapped up to focus on the motion.
Walking speed, flickers of blue plaid and olive drab between the slats, topping out at about six and a half feet.
Dean dropped the burger flipper and ran to the seven-foot high wooden fence, pulling himself up and over and dropping into the back alley. Empty.
"Dude!" Ben shouted from the other side of the fence. "That was awesome!"
Dean spun, looking up and down the alley. No motion, nothing. "Dammit," he whispered, "If this is some monster jacking me around, I swear I'm gonna-"
"Dean?" came Lisa's voice, somewhat less exuberant and somewhat more concerned than Ben's. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah," Dean shouted back over the fence. "I'm- I'll be back in a sec."
Lisa's neighbor Mr. Fenske came out the back gate of the yard next door with a bag of trash. "Evening," he said, nodding at Dean in a way that was halfway between 'friendly to the neighbor's new boyfriend' and 'appeasing the potential axe murderer so as to survive the inevitable slaughter-spree'.
"Hey, did, uh... Did a guy just go by in the alley? About so tall?" Dean held his hand six inches above his own head.
The elderly man held the bag of trash in front of him as though expecting to use it as a shield. "Haven't seen anyone..."
"Yeah. Yeah. Okay."
"You have a good night now." The old man smiled again and nodded, not taking his eyes off Dean as he hurriedly dropped his trash in a can and retreated into his own yard.
Dean nodded back, closing his eyes and rubbing a hand over his mouth.
If it's Sam, I have to know. If it's not Sam, I have to leave. I'm not bringing anything down on Lisa and Ben and I'm not letting anything walk around wearing Sam's face.
Or I could just be going nuts.
He heard Ben laughing about something on the other side of the fence.
I have to know that too.
"Hey. Hey, Bobby."
"Good to hear you boy! You could call, you know. I've only got seven or eight phone lines to pick from."
"I..." He couldn't. At first everything had been too raw, too bright with pain. Then Dean was trying to do as Sam had said; live normal. Bobby was not a part of normal. But at the sound of Bobby's voice, Dean felt something unbending inside him. "Yeah. I could've. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry. Call. Idjit. "
Dean's mouth quirked into a half-grin.
"So. What's going on, Dean?"
"Bobby, I-" For a second Dean wanted to just talk, tell Bobby about Lisa and Ben and working part time at an auto repair shop and remembering rebuilding the carburetor of the Impala in Bobby's back lot when he was fourteen and Dad was laid up with-
Dean shook his head. "Bobby, I've seen Sam."
Silence crept down the phone line like a tentative spider. "For real?"
"It feels like it's real. He looks real. But I get closer and he's gone. Like not 'poof' gone necessarily, just not there anymore."
"You know there's half a hundred things that mimic people, Dean."
"You've hunted most of them yourself."
"I know, I know. It's-" Dean took a breath. "Is there any chance, any, that it could be Sam?"
"I mean what if... What if someone pulled him out, like Cas did to me? What if Sammy's alive, Bobby?"
Bobby's voice softened. "It's not the same situation, Dean. Sam isn't just in Hell like you were, he's in Lucifer's cage. Unless someone opened it up and let that sonofabitch out again, nothing and no one gets out of it. And if Lucifer was out again, I'd sure as hell know. So would you. So would everybody."
Dean glanced at the cover of the newspaper on Lisa's kitchen table. Next to a headline about some city council decision was a photo of a class of grinning second graders holding cookies they'd baked to raise money for a classmate's surgery.
"Yeah, the news looks a whole lot different now."
"Have there been any other signs when you see him? Flickering lights, sulphur smell, you know the drill."
He ran a hand over his head, staring down at the floor. "First time was in a crowd of people in broad daylight, the next, I don't even know for sure if it was him, but..." Lisa's radio in the back yard, crackling. But it always crackled.
But Lisa'd said it had been fine before Dean arrived.
"Radio static. Lisa has a radio in the back yard, we have it on any time we're back there, every so often it'll just start popping with static. It did the other day, and that's when I think- I'm sure. I saw Sam."
On Bobby's end of the line, Dean could hear the rustle of paper and a pen being clicked. "Okay. Could just be a crap radio, but I'll look into it, check for omens."
"And keep in touch, dammit, boy! Next time you call I want to hear what you're up to and who this Lisa person is."
Dean quirked a smile. "I'll tell you all about her. But Bobby-"
"You need to know about Sam first."
"I do too. But if I do find anything out, it's likely not gonna be good news."
"...I know. Bye Bobby."
Dean couldn't sleep. TV was pointless. He wound up pacing the hall.
"Dean?" Ben called from his darkened bedroom as he went past.
Dean frowned, shook his head and turned back to Ben's doorway, pushing it open far enough to see the boy laying in the bed. "What's up, buddy? Need a drink or something?"
Ben shrugged. "No. I'm cool."
"I know that already." Dean smirked, leaning in the doorway.
"What's wrong, Dean?"
Dean's shoulders tensed. "Nothing's wrong. I just couldn't sleep."
"Nuh uh. Something's wrong. I know something bad happened before you came here, I hear you and mom talking a little, but not really. You smile, but you're not really smiling all the way. I know a faker. Something's wrong." Ben wiggled up onto his elbows. "I want to help."
Dean looked down at the toy cars on the floor, a wry laugh escaping before he could stop it. "It's nothing you need to worry about, Ben. Go to sleep."
Ben tilted a stern look at Dean. "Don't treat me like a kid. Is it a monster thing? Because you know I know monsters are real."
"It's not that simple."
"Is it something to do with why you didn't bring Sam?"
Dean braced an arm against the other doorframe for a second. Damn, this kid. He shook his head, and went into the room to sit at Ben's small desk.
"Sam..." Dean willed his voice to steadiness. "He's gone, Ben. He's gone forever, and I can never get him back."
Ben nodded gravely, smoothing the blankets over his legs. "Some monster got him, right? It's why you aren't hunting monsters anymore and came to live with us."
"He's dead, isn't he?"
Dean couldn't answer. He found himself suddenly wrapped in a hug. "I'm sorry," Ben said, muffled into his side.
"Me too, buddy."
They sat like that for a long while.
After Ben fell asleep and Dean extricated himself from the boy's grip, he needed air.
He went out the front door, closing it silently and sat on the front steps. The air was damp and chilly; he found himself thinking of graveyards and fires. And Sam.
Nothing moved in the neighborhood. A dog barked a block or two away. The sky was cloudy, no sign of the moon or stars. Streetlights lit the road in pools of orange-tinged light. The trunk of the Impala shone under one.
It was dark. Dean could name two or three significant occult dates due soon or just past, and here he was sitting, in the dark, outside, unarmed, while some thing walked around wearing Sam's face.
Or while Sam was alive, and walking in the dark alone.
Dean nodded to himself, stood up and went back inside.
The next morning after Ben had gone to school and Lisa had gone to teach her 'Early Riser' yoga classes at the local rec center, Dean was packing up his shaving stuff and clean laundry, just like he had a hundred thousand times before. The only thing left to decide was whether he was going to do the chicken thing and leave Lisa a note or try to catch her between her yoga classes and say goodbye in person.
Don't be an idiot. Show up in the middle of her day to say goodbye? Just leave a note. Or voicemail. He felt sick. He'd inserted himself into their lives without warning, and now he was leaving.
He was still trying to figure out what to say to Lisa when she spoke from the doorway. She was still wearing her gym clothes.
"I knew, you know."
"I knew you wouldn't stay. Even before you jumped the fence," she chuckled. "Literally."
"You still put your clean laundry back into your duffel bag."
"Well, I didn't want to take up space in your closet-"
Lisa held up a hand and smiled sadly. "Dean, you've been here a month, and you don't say 'my closet', or even 'the closet', 'the table' or 'the house'. You say 'your.' Every time."
"They are yours, though. The house, everything. You worked hard for all this stuff."
"It scares you."
"Nothing scares me."
"All the 'stuff'. It's more than you can pick up and pack into the car, so you can't think of it as being yours too."
Dean frowned. This was so not the point. "Look, if you're gonna go all armchair psychology on me-"
"No, no. I'm sorry. What I'm saying is... you aren't here, Dean. Not really."
A shiver threaded down Dean's spine as he suddenly thought of Djinns again. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, you're here, obviously, but you aren't. You aren't done yet. And until you're done what you have to do, and find peace with yourself and what happened to your brother, you won't really be here. You'll be waiting."
Lisa picked up his bag.
"Whenever you're ready, Dean, I'll be here. Ben'll be here. You're welcome in our lives, and you always will be. Whenever. End of the world or a boring Wednesday."
Dean took the bag. "I'm sorry."
"Stay safe. Come back. Even if it's just to visit."
"Promise me." Brown, brown, endless brown eyes, looked up at him. A wisp of hair clung to her eyelashes at one corner.
Dean reached up and brushed the hair away from Lisa's face, then kissed her softly and pressed his forehead against hers, closing his eyes.
Dean watched Lisa and her house dwindle in the Impala's rearview mirror. She stood in the doorway, waving until he turned the corner, then she was gone.
I'll be back, he promised again, and if Sam's alive, I'm bringing him back with me.
(That's all there is. Season 6 starts Friday Sep 24, NO SPOILERS please!)