Disclaimer—Characters belong to Eric Kripke. No copyright infringement intended. Any similarity to events or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Author's Notes—There were definitely things missing from Mannequin 3: The Reckoning. Had to fill in at least one blank. Unbeta'ed.

Life's No Fairytale—Dean's no prince. Lisa's no damsel in distress. But can Dean make Ben understand all of that?


How could he respond to that?

He couldn't, could he? Ben had him pinned, dead to rights.

Ben was still a kid, though, and Dean would've traded anything to have the life that Ben had, to let Sam have the kind of life that Ben had. While Ben had been touched by the odd, the weird, the supernatural, he hadn't been consumed by it. Dean kept hunting as far away from the kid as he possibly could. He'd hung up his hat for a year, he'd tried to be normal, but it hadn't ever quite worked, not entirely.

It wasn't for lack of trying.

All Dean had ever wanted was a family.

To be with his own kind, to be safe, to be stationary.

He just never verbalized those desires, not until years had passed, not until he'd seen what kind of damage wanting, craving that normalcy did to his family.

His father couldn't be normal, not after what had happened to his mother. And he understood that. He did.

If something had happened to Lisa...

His jaw tightened as he thought of the emotions that would've tumbled through him, struggling to keep them at bay.

But, he knew exactly what he'd do. He'd snap, just as his father had. And, as he looked at Ben, at the innocence that was still there, hiding behind the pain and sadness, he knew he couldn't steal that from the boy.

When it all boiled down to it, he was still the adult. He could make every bad choice in the world, provided he could deal with the consequences. Even if he couldn't, that was what alcohol was for, and anger.

Ben shouldn't want to be Dean. Even if he said he did, the truth of the matter was, no one wanted to be Dean, least of all Dean on most days.

He just didn't know how to explain it to Ben, to make it make any kind of sense at all. Running a hand over his face, he realized that was the problem. None of it made sense, and none of it ever would.

"You want the de-crapified version, huh?" Dean asked, his voice haggard and low.

Ben looked up at him, nodding.

"I love your mom. And I love you. And nothing you do, nothing I do, nothing your mom does will ever change that fact."

"Then-"

Dean closed his eyes at the interruption. He wasn't sure he could get through it, if he wasn't able to plow through it. "It's just not enough, for your mom, for me... What I do, and you know what all that entails, or at least part of it... It's not something I want to bring home to you, to her. You guys shouldn't have to put up with my crap."

"Just stop, Dean. Stop hunting."

"Do you remember when we met?"

The boy looked up at him quizzically.

"The very first time."

After being rescued, after being returned to his home, Ben rarely spoke about what happened. It was all like a distant kind of memory anymore. He only had vague recollections of cages in the darkness, of other kids needing help.

"You needed me that day, even when you didn't know me," Dean said.

"I need you now, though, and not... Matt," he grumbled.

"Matt can..." Dean winced slightly. "He can give you a hell of a lot more than I can. Going to see baseball games, going... bowling. I dunno. Normal stuff."

"I don't want normal, Dean. I want what we had for the last year, that..."

"What you had, Ben, was an empty shell of a guy living in your house. I've seen more things than you can ever imagine, lived through more hell than you can imagine. It's not right, for me to bring that here, to surround you with it, and your mother. To infect you with it, like some kind of sick, twisted disease."

"You said... You said before, that we were family... That I..."

Dean quieted for a moment. He'd slipped up, more than once, and called Ben his son. He felt like the boy had been his own. "I, uh... I've told you about Bobby, right?" Off Ben's nod, Dean looked at his hands, worn and calloused, scarred and mended. "Bobby's like a father to me. Really, truth be told, he probably treated me more like a son than my own father some days. And just because your mom winds up with... Matt... or... whoever... It doesn't mean I'm going to care about you any less. It doesn't mean I'm not going to worry about you any less."

Ben looked away, his eyes downcast at the carpeting beneath their feet.

"Doesn't mean, no matter what I'm doing, that I won't be there if you need me. If you need proof of that..." Dean reached out, putting a hand on Ben's shoulder. "I'm here. I'm here because you called me."

While it was somewhat encouraging, the boy wasn't convinced. "You won't come, not if Matt is here."

"Screw Matt," Dean said, eliciting a shocked gasp from beside him. "Seriously. You need me, Ben, I'll come running, because you're my family."

Ben swallowed hard, nodding a little. "Just..."

"Just what?" he asked quietly.

"Just, I don't want you to have to go. At all."

Dean took a slow breath. "Believe me, kiddo. If I could figure out someway to make this work... I would."

"You just haven't thought hard enough!"

He let out a mirthless laugh. "If you knew how many hours, how many sleepless nights I tried to figure it all out..." He shook his head. "Your mom and I tried the living together part... the moving around part... That didn't work. We tried the distance part..." He shivered involuntarily when he remembered nearly feeding on both Lisa and Ben, when he'd become a monster for a while. "We're too different, your mom and me. It's not bad. It's not good. It's just the way that it is."

Ben was silent for a long moment. "You'll really come back for me?"

Dean nodded. "Just you though. Your mom going out with Dr. McSkeezy, that's..." He sighed. "That's her choice, okay? Life's no fairytale. I'm no prince; she's no damsel in distress. There's no happy ending there. I shoulda known that before I stepped foot in your house, before I put myself in your lives."

"It wasn't like you forced anything," Ben was quick to say, to defend.

"I'm not saying I regret it," Dean told the boy honestly. "I'm just saying I chose to ignore certain facts, which was my bad. I did this, okay? I caused the rift between me and your mom. The fact that I caused you any kind of pain by leaving... Ben, believe me, that's not what I wanted to do." He watched the child for a moment. Ben was still a child. It was clear that the boy desperately wanted to be grown, to have a say in his life. He could admire that, the tenacity. He'd always looked at Ben like his own son. Secretly at first, and then not so secretly, he wished that the boy was his. Even if the biology wasn't there, he saw a lot of himself in the dark eyes, in the squared shoulders, in the clenched jaw.

After all, it had always been Dean trying to be the peacemaker between his brother and his father.

And here was Ben, trying to keep his family together.

Dean kissed the top of the boy's head. "You need me, you call me."

Ben's response was almost too quite for Dean to hear. "You don't answer..."

"Tomorrow morning, you wake up... check the mailbox. Early, though. Before the mail runs, before your mom wakes up."

"Why?" Ben asked, glancing up.

"'Cause you'll have a phone in there, with all my numbers programmed in, your..." He paused. "Your Uncle Sammy's numbers, and your Grandpa Bobby's numbers. You need your family, all you have to do is call, you understand? Just, uh... your mom might not understand, so, might not want to tell her that part." After all, Lisa wanted to get over Dean. She'd made that abundantly clear.

Though his dark eyes were moist, the boy nodded dutifully. "Yes, sir."

Dean ruffled the kid's hair. "Be good, yeah?" When Ben didn't respond, Dean turned to go.

Ben didn't allow him to get too far, however, as he wrapped his arms around the only father he'd ever really known tightly. "Love you, Dad."

In all his days, Dean never figured he'd ever hear those words spoken to him. "Love you, too, son," he whispered.


End.