Title – The Road Home
Summary - It takes only one event to turn a boy into a man. Dean Winchester learned to be a man at a young age and would never wish it upon anyone.
"The Road Home"
"Chapter One: In a Blaze of Fire"
It's hard to remember the days of childhood. What is remembered is just fragments of miss-matching pieces. Dean could vividly remember his mother plump and full with baby Sammy inside her belly. That image was the one that had implanted itself into his mind. When he'd look at some photographs that survived the fire, it was strange to see his mother's slim body. Dean could vaguely remember his mother's voice, smooth like honey and soft like a low humming melody. One memory that stuck out in his mind was the day Sam was born. He was small and pink, and Dean instantly hated the kid. His mother was cradling the baby in her arms and his father swooned over them. Dean felt like an outsider looking in and being insanely jealous until his father had beckoned him over. He could remember his father picking him up and sitting him on the hospital bed. Sammy was just this disgustingly small baby that was loud and an attention hog. Dean couldn't really remember when he actually started to like his baby brother.
There was only one other childhood memory that seemed to haunt Dean's dreams for years after it happened. He woke up to his mother screaming. He ran down the hallway and saw his father rushing out of Sammy's nursery. This little bundle was thrust into his tiny arms and he was told to protect his brother. Dean remembered running, remembered the heat, the fire, the explosion, strong arms, tears. He could remember crystal clear what his father had said to him the next morning when he asked if his mom was all right and when she was coming home.
"Sh-she didn't make it out in time, Dean, she's not coming home. I-I couldn't get to her. I'm so sorry."
It was the single worst memory in Dean's entire life, and he would never wish that on his worst enemy. So when Dean got a call about a little boy who had been through the same horrific thing, he had rushed to the town with his father in tow. This little boy could only be empathize by Dean, because he was this kid's age when he went through the same thing.
It was a small space, white and sterile. The room looked like some twisted brick prison that no child should ever be seen in. There's a two-way mirror for some reason that Dean and John can't really comprehend. Perhaps observation? Used for some sick psychological experts? Who knew? All Dean could think about was how much he didn't want to enter the room and how part of him hated his father for thinking the whole situation was slightly amusing. It definitely wasn't amusing in the least.
He peered at the child sitting at the small table scribbling with a green crayon. Brown locks fell into his eyes but he either didn't care or didn't take notice. His concentration was solely on the wobbly doodles that seemed to represent something that none of the adults could understand. If Dean tilted his head slightly to the right, he swore he could see a person standing in giant flames.
The kid looked young, and Dean's calculated the math in his head more times than he's willing to admit. Four. The kid was four years old. He kind of saw Sammy in the kid, the unwavering concentration and the coloring of his hair. Except, the kid was clearly not Sam since was brother was off at Stanford doing college things. Dean's heart ached slightly at the thought of Sammy. Should he even call and tell him the news?
"You gotta go in sometime," John's voice is low, affectionate.
A calloused hand found its way onto the nape of Dean's neck. A squeeze of comfort and encouragement was meant in the tiny action. Dean didn't feel the effect. It only made him more nauseous. A four year old. A tiny, living, breathing four year old who watched his life vanish right in front of his eyes in the cruelest of ways was sitting just on the other side of the glass, and all Dean could think about was how he was so not prepared for this.
Taking a daring step forward, Dean entered the small room and immediately felt like he was trapped. The kid didn't look up from his scribbles. He merely switched crayons and started on the sky - or what Dean thought was supposed to be the sky. He sat down in one of the plastic chairs next to the kid, a lump in his throat.
"Hey, I'm Dean," he introduced himself awkwardly. "Doctor Tate said he talked to you about me."
The kid focused his attention on the hunter, and Dean felt like he was looking at some old toddler picture of himself. He had the same green eyes, the same skin coloring, the same array of freckles across the nose and cheeks, the same sad expression. Hell, Dean would be lying if he said he wasn't freaked out by the whole situation.
"I guess, uh, I'm your... what are you drawing?"
"Mommy." He pointed to a lopsided blob that somewhat represented a person if the head was titled the right way. "Bad man." He pointed to a dark figure in a swirl of oranges, yellows, and reds.
"Who's the bad man?"
The kid shrugged his shoulders before turning back to the drawing at hand. Dean glanced up, looking straight into the mirror where he knew his father was watching. He needed his father in the room, needed him to deal with this hurting boy in front of him. Except, Dean doubted his dad would enter the room. The support was there, that had been made clear, but John also made it clear that the first steps had to be all Dean.
"Did Doctor Tate talk to you about me?" The kid nodded. "Do you know who I am?"
"My dad," the kid whispered softly.
"Yeah, I knew your mom a few years ago… and… I'm your dad," he said lamely.
"Ben," he introduced himself half-heartedly without looking at his newfound father.
"I know," responded Dean with a chuckle. "Ben Braeden, a totally awesome four year old."
Ben didn't respond. Dean figured the kid didn't really want to talk or he just instantly hated him. Either way, Dean wanted nothing more than to leave the room and not look back. The door opened silently. John and Doctor Tate walked in.
"Hey, Ben, you wanna meet your grandfather?" asked Dean in relief.
John didn't bother with the small child's chair like Dean. He squatted down onto the balls of his feet and rested his elbows on his knees. A soft smile graced his face as he gazed lovingly at the small child in front of him.
"Hi, Ben, I'm your grandfather," he introduced himself in his usual low rumble. "I know I look a little young to be a grandfather, right?"
Ben barely acknowledged John or the feeble attempt at breaking the ice. He pushed the drawing towards his newfound grandfather before grabbing a new piece of paper. The scribbles continued. Dean looked at his father almost pleadingly. He didn't know where to go from here but John had been down this road before. John had somehow broken a four-year-old Dean out of his melancholy after Mary died.
"Ben, do you know what a will is? We talked about it the other day," Doctor Tate hovered over the table as he spoke. "Remember when we talked about how your mom wrote down who you would live with if she couldn't care for you? Well, Ben, your mom wrote down your dad's name in her will, and your dad wants you to live with him if you want to."
Ben didn't acknowledge that he even heard the doctor. The scribbles on the paper became large, dark circles and sort of looked like some kind of endless pit. Dean was at a total loss on how to communicate with the withdrawn four-year-old, and he kind of hated Doctor Tate for not taking better care of Ben in the last four days they were together. Glancing up at his father, Dean gave the man the most desperate look he could muster. If anyone could get through to the kid, it was John Winchester. In Dean's eyes, John could do anything - even after all these years.
"Hey, Ben, do you mind if your dad and I color with you for a little bit?" questioned John as he gave the doctor a look that clearly read get the hell out, we'll take it from here.
The kid didn't say anything, but he pushed pieces of blank paper towards John and Dean before going back to his own picture. John eased down onto the floor until he was sitting Indian-style. Then, he started to draw something with a black crayon. Dean didn't exactly know what to draw, but he picked up a crayon anyways and started to draw a stick-figure.
They sat in silence for about five minutes just drawing. Ben had already started working on this third drawing in that time. Dean finished long ago after drawing his best imitation of a person with floppy brown hair. John was still going at his picture, a lopsided Impala Chevy but it was the best out of everyone's attempts.
"This is my kid brother Sammy," Dean said softly as he pushed the drawing towards Ben. "He's off at college studying to be some big shot lawyer."
Looking up, Ben studied the picture briefly before turning back to his own drawing. Dean noticed it, and he was sure that John did too. Ben seemed to respond to Dean a little but didn't really acknowledge anyone else.
"I'm gonna get a cup of caffeine," John announced. "Dean, Ben, you guys want anything?"
Dean shook his head in the negative while Ben just ignored the question all together. There was a part of Dean that wanted to shout out, to stop his father from leaving him alone with a traumatized four-year-old. Except, he didn't have the heart to say anything.
"When I was about your age, I saw something real bad happen to my mom," Dean started as he picked up a yellow crayon. "I didn't feel like talking much either, but I had to because I was scaring the crap out of my dad and my kid brother."
Ben frowned deeply, his eyebrows tilting down, as he continued to draw his picture. He didn't say anything though, but Dean knew he was listening.
"I know you don't know me too well. I'm sorry I haven't been around either. I didn't know about you, Ben. I didn't know I had a son." Dean cleared his throat. "I'm here now, and I'm not leaving you, okay? I'm gonna take care of you. I promise."
"You go away like Mommy?" the words are so softly spoken that Dean wasn't sure if he actually heard them right.
A tightening happened in his chest. It felt like he'd been kicked in the gut as all the oxygen left his body. He could remember thinking the same thing. Dean could remember being alone, scared, and wondering if his dad would leave just like his mom had. He'd been scared for months that one day he'd wake up with fire licking his face and his father and Sammy burning alive.
"I promise you, Kid, I'm not going anywhere."
The crayon slipped from Ben's fingers as he turned his head to look up at his newfound father. The kid's lip quivered as tears burned his eyes. Dean could see the struggle within him: dare to hope or cast aside the words as lies. What Dean wasn't expecting was to suddenly have little arms wrap themselves around his neck in a death grip. He felt Ben's tiny fingernails pierce his neck. Dean didn't care though. He just slipped his arms around the boy's midsection and pulled him close to his chest.
Dean didn't know how long he sat in the little plastic chair with his arms wrapped around the crying toddler - his crying toddler. All he knew was that it didn't seem longer than a few minutes. The kid's breathing slowly evened out, his grip loosened, and his body stopped trembling. Dean kept holding on as though both their lives depended on it long after Ben drifted off to dreamland.
When John walked into the room, a soft smile danced underneath his thick whiskers. Dean slowly rose from the chair so that he didn't wake Ben. It was a skill he acquired years ago when Sammy would fall asleep against him on the couch watching movies. Sam would fall to sleep halfway through a movie and expected Dean to carry him to bed when the credits rolled.
Cradling Ben carefully with one arm, Dean signed the release forms hastily. His name scribbled the endless amount of documents. Ben's breath was even against his neck indicating that he was still sleeping peacefully. Dean just wanted to get the hell out of the hospital, wanted to lay Ben down in a bed that didn't smell sterile or have restraints attached to the metal.
"Mister Winchester," a vaguely familiar male voice called.
Dean turned around slightly to catch sight of the doctor. Suppressing a groan, Dean flashed a fake smile towards Doctor Tate. Dean liked to believe he was a good judge of character. This doctor, he reeked of untrustworthiness. Well, he was mostly a good judge of character except for Cassie Robinson. He pinned her as some understanding chick who would be cool with the whole hunting evil business. She so wasn't.
"I would like to see Ben again, continue our sessions. I believe that he will come around. He's in shock after his mother's… demise."
"Doctor Tate, with all due respect, I think Dean and I can handle Ben accordingly," responded John.
"Can you? I didn't know I had two highly qualified child psychologists on my hands here."
"We've been through this before, all right? I know how to handle this situation."
Ben started to stir, his arms tightening around Dean's neck. His face burrowed itself deep into his father's collarbone. Dean shifted the slight weight in his arms and didn't dare look at the doctor or his father. It felt like John had hit below the belt, stirring up bad memories to get the doctor to back off. Dean didn't think it would do the trick though. Deep inside, he feared that bit of information would not work in their favor.
"I will go to the judge and make a recommendation that Ben stay in my care if you won't cooperate," the doctor bit out.
"You do that," John snapped. "This kid lost his mother and now you're going to tear him away from the only family he has left? You think any judge in their right mind would pick you over Dean?"
Anger radiated off John as he motioned for Dean to move. They walked out of the building and made their way towards the Impala. John had left the truck at the motel. Sliding into the passenger's seat, Dean eased the kid onto the bench seat. His head lay idly on Dean's lap, his shoes brushed up against John's thigh.
"What if they don't grant me custody?" questioned Dean quietly as John started the engine.
"Why wouldn't they give you custody?"
"I'm a single guy who's never held a steady job for more than a month and lives out of a car while traveling across the great American frontier with his dad. Yeah, you're right, that screams responsible parent material."
As soon as the words left Dean's mouth, he instantly regretted them. Glancing towards his father, he smiled apologetically but John kept his eyes on the road.
"You know what I mean, Dad."
"Nah, I get it. You're right. It's not a responsible way to raise a kid, but you're his father, Dean, and the judge is going to be weighed heavily by that. When they can keep a kid with a parent, they do that. We'll bullshit the judge, say we'll settle down for the good of the kid. They love that crap."
Dean's hand rested on Ben's head. Ben's hair was too long and reminded Dean of the days when his dad would bribe Sammy into getting a haircut. They'd offer him sweets, toys, anything to get Sam to sit down in a chair and let their father cut his hair to a decent length. When the kid got older, he wore his hair long purposely to piss off their dad. After awhile, John gave up and accepted it.
A lump formed in Dean's throat at the very thought of his kid brother. He wanted so badly to whip out his phone and tell his brother that he was an uncle. He wanted - needed Sammy in Indiana and be there when Dean went in front of the judge in a few days. His need for Sam was just as great as the need for John.
"Should I call Sammy?" questioned Dean.
John sighed, his grip tightening on the wheel. They'd talk about Sam in the sense of do you think he's safe or let's go place some extra protection on the dorm. They never openly talked about calling Sam, trying to fix the rift that was gaping and painful.
"It's up to you, Dude," replied John. "I honestly doubt he'd come though if that's what you're thinking."
"He's an uncle," whispered Dean. "Wouldn't he want to meet the squirt?"
Glancing sideways at Dean, John let out a small chuckle. Sam was stubborn beyond all else. There wasn't a chance in holy hell that he would come to Indiana knowing that their father was there. For Dean, yes Sam would come. With his father there, Sam would stay his distance.
Once back at the motel, Dean gathered his son up in his arms and made his way to the room his father and him were sharing. Once inside, he laid the kid gently down onto his bed. John said he was going to go out and grab some food and supplies. Dean sunk down on the bed next to the sleeping boy… his sleeping son. The whole thing felt foreign and weird to Dean.
Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulled out his cell phone. Scrolling down his contacts, he stopped at "Sammy." A lump formed in his throat as he pressed the green send button. The phone rang for a while before Sam picked up.
"Dean? Are you okay?"
"Hey, Sammy, I'm fine. How are you?"
There was a pause on the other end. A sigh rang through.
"I'm good. Why are you calling?"
"I, uh, thought you'd like know you're an uncle."
There was another long pause. Then, there was a snort of disbelief. Dean sighed and glanced over at Ben. He was still sleeping soundly.
"Dean, do you even know what a condom is?"
"Listen, smart ass, I called you because the kid is four years old. His mom died in a house fire, which seems fishy, right? Anyways, I only got temporary custody of the kid right now. On Friday, I go in front of a judge to see if I get granted full custody. I thought you'd like to know or would like to come."
"Shit, Dean, you're serious?"
"Dammit, Sam, if you don't want to come, just tell me."
"No, no… uh, if it's alright with Dad, I'll come. Where are you?"
Dean sighed in relief. Ben stirred slightly, his head knocking against Dean's thigh.
"Dude, I know you think Dad hates you, but he doesn't. He misses your nerdy ass. There's no one here to fix his computer now."
"What time is your hearing on Friday?"
"Okay, I am done with classes on Thursday at 3:25. I'll see about catching a red eye or something Thursday night. Friday morning you can pick me up at the airport, we can get some food, and then go to court?"
"Sounds good. I'm in Cicero, Indiana."
"Okay, I'll do some research tonight on flights. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know when I'll land." Sam paused briefly. "Hey, Dean, what's the kid's name?"
"Ben. He's a good kid. Kind of quiet but that's to be expected, you know?"
"I never thought I'd be an uncle. I'm excited to meet the kid. I'm glad you called me. I've missed you."
"Yeah, me too, dude. See you Friday."
The line clicked.
Dean sat his phone down on the nightstand and then slid down to lay on his back next to Ben. The small boy felt his presence and unconsciously shifted his body closer. Dean watched his son sleep, an odd feeling filling him up inside.
Author's Notes - Hope you enjoyed the first chapter. Please take a few seconds to leave a review before you leave. :)