Soul Food

Dean has been with them seven, maybe eight weeks when Lisa arrives home from the school run to find her house smelling like chicken and herbs. She almost does a double take and looks around to make sure it is her house. She looks at Ben, who looks almost as confused, and she tries to keep her face calm as she tells Ben to go start his homework, all the while thinking that Dean is in her kitchen, finally gone postal, doing some crazy ass ritual with a chicken. It's not like she hasn't been expecting it. The past few weeks have been difficult to say the least and between the nightmares and the paranoia, there is very little Dean could do that would shock her.

She walks calmly into the kitchen and stops dead in her tracks when she sees Dean standing there, knife in hand, her apron on over his clothes.

"Dean, you, you are cooking"

"Yeah, I eh, thought I'd surprise you"

Dean looks nervous, his eyes wide. He has that deer caught in the headlights kind of expression and he runs his hand through his short hair and worries at his lip.

Lisa's laugh startles him a little and he sets the knife down.

"I can, we, em, can order take out if you'd prefer"

He shifts awkwardly from one foot to the other and heads for the cupboard where Lisa keeps the menus but she reaches her hand out to stop him.

"No, this is great, it smells great, you just surprised me is all'

She runs her hand down his arm and she can feel a little of the tension leave him.

Almost two months in the house and this is the first thing he has done that isn't on auto-pilot. Its so far from the routine of get up, drink whiskey, have coffee for breakfast, stare into space, drink whiskey, do some repairs in the house, freak out at a noise, or a sound or a memory, drink more whiskey, half eat some dinner, help Ben with his homework, drink whiskey, freak out some more, salt the doors and windows and check them over and over and over until Lisa is dizzy watching him, drink whiskey, go to bed, sleep, not sleep, wake up shouting or crying or frozen, drink whiskey and get up the next morning to start all over again. It's so far from all that, that for one blissful moment Lisa thinks that maybe, just maybe he really will be alright.

She is so damn glad to see him like this that she doesn't care if he has made cardboard soup. She kisses him on the cheek and his nervousness settles.

"Should be ready in about 10, table is already set so go sit down for a few minutes"

She wants so badly to say "I could get used to this" but she is so very afraid to startle him or put pressure on him that she just smiles and walks out of the kitchen and goes to find Ben.

Ben is a smart kid, too smart sometimes. Lisa tells him Dean has cooked and he has this brief look of genuine happiness, where he too thinks maybe things will be fine with their odd little family.

"So, you'll eat it right, no matter how it tastes"

Lisa says quietly, she knows Dean has the ears of a hunter, the ears of a hawk but she doubts even he could hear that but she doesn't want to risk upsetting him in any way.

"Even if it's burnt on the outside and frozen in the middle"

Ben pronounces and she loves how it gets it, how he understands how important this is. She pulls him in for a tight hug and they hear Dean call.

"Dinner's up"

By the time they enter the kitchen Dean has plated up and sets down a plate in front of them as they seat. It's Italian. Its chicken and spinach in pasta with a cream sauce. He has made garlic bread from scratch and a large bowl of salad. It looks like it is straight out of a high class restaurant and neither Lisa nor Ben knows exactly what to say.

Dean sits, that nervous look back again, and Lisa notices the slight tremble as he picks up the fork.

"Well, dig in"

His voice is hoarse and unsure. Two bites in a Lisa can't help the groan of pleasure.

"Dean this is good, this is like seriously so good"

And Ben nods in agreement around a mouth full of pasta.

"Well there is more in the pot so keep eating"

Dean looks relieved now and begins to relax into the meal. They laugh and chat as they eat. The atmosphere is comfortable. Ben talks about school and Lisa about work and Dean listens and joins in, the lines of his body not as tense as usual, the haunted look in his eyes a little less pronounced.

When the meal is over, Ben leaves the table and Dean and Lisa sit on. They talk for awhile about nothing in particular and then she does it, she out and asks.

"Where on earth did you learn to cook like that?"

And the minute she does, she regrets it. She can see his walls shoot up, the tension back. She has spent weeks on eggshells around him, careful with her questions and the second things become a little more relaxed around them she goes and ruins it. She mentally kicks herself and Dean doesn't have the ability to tell her it's alright, he is too broken to try.

"Want some coffee?" she asks and not waiting for an answer she stands to go put the machine on but Dean grabs her by the arm and pulls her back down.

"I, eh. "He stammers.

"It's ok Dean, you don't have to tell me"

It's heartbreaking she thinks that he can't talk about something as simple as cooking. He is a level of broken she didn't even know existed

"No, I eh, I want to"

His voice is shaky as he starts

"Dad, Dad was away, a lot, ya know hunting, he'd be gone longer than he planned or one job would turn into another and he didn't always leave enough money for ya, know food"

He looks away, not wanting to see the look of sympathy.

"Wasn't too bad when, when Sammy"

And there he says it, he says Sam's name for the first time in all those weeks, the first time not in a nightmare or one of his rambling freak outs and he doesn't die and he doesn't stop breathing and he doesn't cry or just up and try and kill himself and he doesn't know who is more shocked, Lisa or himself.

The not passing out or freaking gives Dean strength and he allows himself to continue.

"So, it, eh, wasn't too bad when Sammy was little, could make do with sandwiches or cereal or tinned soup or ya know those stews in a can, I could make a hellavu stew in a can but when he started gettin' older he got fussier, started readin' about the importance of vegetables and reading all that food pyramid crap. Me? I coulda lived on mac and cheese for months on end but nah, that kid would drive me crazy about livin' healthy. He was still too young to get the money thing or that I couldn't cook for shit. He always kinda figured I could do anything, ya know, had this dumb blind faith in me."

Dean takes a couple of deep breaths, his green eyes shining with unshed tears and this is where Lisa expects him to lose it, to fall apart like she has already seen him do so many times but he steadies himself and continues.

"So I had to be inventive. Bought veg when I could, stole it when money was low, watched daytime cookery shows and figured out how to make casseroles and stews, things ya can make in bulk. Became pretty damn good at it too. Shocked the hell outta Dad. Its not that he didn't cook when he was home, he did but he usually fried stuff or "assembled things" as he liked to call. Got take out when money was good, or went to a diner. So I become a regular old Rachael Ray. Summer of '96 we stayed in an apartment above an Italian restaurant. Real traditional type. Dad was gone most of that summer and the owners took to lookin' out for Sam and me. Sam was the littlest thing back them, really short for his age, with the biggest puppy dog eyes, type of kid that woulda made Cruella de Ville feel maternal"

The first tear slips down, almost unknown to Dean. Lisa feels her eyes fill up. This is the most Dean has spoken, he looks surprised at himself, he never talks this much about anything other than cars and music buts its like he cant stop so he goes on

"I got a job waiting tables and they paid in food for Sam and me. Joe, the guy who owned it called me into the kitchen one day, asks me to help out, one of porters was sick and he saw I was handy with a knife so he kept me in there, spent the summer workin' for him, the longest job I ever had, sides from hunting. That was Joes' special I made tonight. Taught me all kinda tricks, more so than the other porters, reckon he figured I needed the skills. Ya know I never minded movin' on, we spent most of our lives on the road, a few nights here, a few weeks there, a few months on occasion but I never minded it, Sam though, Sam would cry and bitch and moan. But when Dad said we were leavin' I hated to go. Was nice ya know, not havin' to worry about making sure Sammy was fed"

And that's were he stops and Lisa sees him fighting back tears, sees this glimpse into his past, this story that surprised them both being walled back up, tightly inside him.

"Did you ever just worry about you?"

Lisa can't help but ask, taking his hand tightly in hers.

"Huh?" Dean looks confused.

"You just said how it was nice not worrying about Sam getting food, but didn't you ever worry about yourself, about when you would get fed? You were just a kid Dean"

"He was, he was my responsibility" he chokes on the words "I had to take care of him, I had to, Christ Lisa" and he is breathing too fast and whatever else Dean says is lost in tears as Lisa pulls him close and holds on for dear life, her hand running up and down his back like she has done so many times in the past few weeks. And she cries with him and shushes him with nonsense's but she doesn't cry for his pain, for how broken a man he is, he cries for the little boy he was, the little boy just trying to survive and protect his brother, going without food and god knows what else and that's when it hits her that its not just heaven and hell and Sam's death that has him so very broken, his whole life has brought him to this moment, a life of hurt and survival that has created this, beautiful, broken man.

She doesn't care how she will do it but by god she will. She is going to save Dean, she is going to fix him because he deserves fixing, he deserves happiness, he deserves to feel safe. So she holds him tight, and tells him how she won't let go until he is ready, that they can get through this and he will be whole again,

Whether he believes it or not Dean clings on to Lisa, he has spent too many years fighting the tears, too many years not feeling safe and in Lisa arms he can finally get some rest.