Title: One Step at a Time

Rating: Teen

Pairing: Dean/Lisa

Summary: The Winchester way of life changes, and Dean adjusts accordingly.

Author's Note: This was inspired more than a year ago by a prompt on one of hoodie-time's hurt/comfort memes.

Dean's response to waking up to stark white and the smell of antiseptic was, "Aw, hell." Then the pain washed over him, sharp and stabbing and building until he thankfully blacked out again. All in all, it was one of the worst hospital awakenings he'd ever had, though still second to the time he got a piece of rebar shoved through his intestines. He hadn't been able to eat solid food for six months that time, as he recalled.

It was better the next time he woke up. The pain was still there, throbbing incessantly along with his pulse, but it was covered with what Dean recognized as a thick blanket of opiates that made everything fuzzy around the edges. Dean pried his eyes open, squinting against the brightness, only to see his father's bearded face inches from his own.

He jolted back on reflex and immediately regretted it. The dulled pain sharpened instantly, making him gasp. "Easy, son," his dad said. "Don't move like that, not yet."

"Duly noted," Dean managed between gritted teeth. "What happened?"

"What do you remember?"

It took him a moment to put things into place. "Black dog. It snatched up a couple of kids from some neighborhood."

"Good place to start. You chased that damned thing out of the suburbs and onto a four-lane highway. It got hit by a semi, which didn't kill it but slowed it down enough for you to catch up and take care of it."

"I remember running," Dean said, fighting against the pain and the vagueness of the drugs. "I don't remember the semi. Did it get me before I put it down?"

"No, son." His dad looked weird, which Dean attributed to the drugs. There's no way John Winchester was crying. "You were standing on the shoulder, calling me to say you'd gotten it, when some asshole driving an SUV and talking on his cell phone clipped you. You went down, but you were still talking to me at that point, telling me what was going on. While you were down, as far as anyone can tell, someone else ran over you." His dad's hand clenched into a fist, a gesture familiar to Dean that meant something or someone was about to be laid flat. "That's something we don't know for sure, since whoever it was didn't stop to check. You screamed and then you weren't answering."

"How long until I'm back to kicking ass?"

What little color had been in his father's face drained, leaving him ashen and drawn. "The doctor can explain it better."

"Reader's Digest version, Dad."

"A year, at least." There was something he wasn't saying, and the idea of his Dad leaving out information about him pushed all his worry buttons, but he couldn't keep his mind focused long enough to ferret it out. "Go back to sleep, Dean. I'll keep watch."

His body relaxed like it had been conditioned to with that phrase and the warm, comforting dark swallowed him up again.

There was someone waiting with Dad when he swam back up into consciousness, a doctor if Dean went by the white coat and the clinically sympathetic expression. "Dean," he said as Dean blinked at the two of them. "Glad you decided to join us."

"Well, it's my party," Dean managed to quip. They'd dialed down on the painkillers, which meant the pain was sharper but his thoughts were as well. "Be a shame if I didn't show up for it."

The doctor nodded. "We have to talk about your options. Your father refused to make a decision in your stead, since it was not life-threatening at the moment, we complied, but now you have some decisions you need to make." He pulled the sheet covering Dean's lower legs back, like a stage magician making a reveal, and brushed his hand against something that sent fireworks off behind Dean's eyes. The doctor didn't seem to notice. "I'm sorry, I wish we had more time to ease you into this, but we must take advantage of your awareness. You've been mostly unconscious for the past week and not truly lucid for those rare moments when you were awake. The damage done by the vehicle was extensive. Some of it can be repaired, of course, but the recovery time will be at least a year and you will never have full mobility again."

Dean could feel himself slipping again at the doctor's words. "Bottom line it, Mengele."

The doctor didn't flinch at the insult, continuing to look at him with mingled pity and sympathy. "With your legs as they are now, you will require multiple surgeries and at least a year of physical therapy before you could walk, even with crutches or canes, and you will be in constant pain for the rest of your life. The bones of your feet and ankles were crushed. I think you need to consider amputation." He put up a hand, probably to forestall Dean's knee-jerk refusal. "At the moment, your lower limbs are little more than useless pieces of meat and bone. You will experience far less pain, have far more mobility, and be up and moving much more quickly. This is the best option for you."

"How long do I have to think about it?" Dean asked.

"Not long. The longer you wait, the more problems you're going to have. We're having a very hard time maintaining blood flow and preventing infection, and the more time passes the more complications we're likely to see. You have an hour."

Dean looked down toward his feet, still feeling the sharp stabbing pain that had occurred when the doctor had barely touched his leg. He couldn't see anything past a set of bulky braces and didn't want to try wiggling his toes. He pictured the future the doctor had predicted, with him trapped in a wheelchair or basically stuck on the bed in some cheap motel room while his father hunted. He thought about his dad carting him around like an extra piece of luggage, lugging him in and out of the Impala like a broken weapon that John Winchester refused to discard, dead weight that his father would be better off without. "Do it."

"I'll bring the papers you need to sign and schedule the surgery," the still unnamed doctor said, hurrying out of the room.

"Don't call Sam," Dean said once the man was gone. He didn't meet his father's eyes because he didn't want to see the pity that was probably there.

"Your brother would want to know," his dad said, almost hesitantly.

"Don't call him." It wasn't that he didn't want Sam there. Short of his dad, there was no one he would want at his side more than Sam. But somewhere deep in his subconscious he doubted his brother would come when he called. It was better to not have him here at Dean's decision than to find out Sam's classes and normal life were more important than his brother.

Things moved very quickly after that. A doctor came in, not the same one as before, with a sheaf of papers that needed signed. The double whammy of pain and opiates was threatening to put him under again, so he made his father read them, signing everything blindly once his dad was done. The original doctor came back and finally introduced himself as Dr. Vjotek before running through an overview of the procedure.

"You put me to sleep, you cut off my legs, I hopefully wake up," Dean summed up.

"Without nearly as much pain, if everything goes well." The doctor made some weird, solemn expression that was probably supposed to be wise and kind, but missed the mark.

"All right then." Dean glanced over at his father, purposefully didn't look down at his mangled feet, and laid back on the gurney. "Let's do this." He could handle it as long as he didn't think about it as they wheeled him down to surgery, his dad keeping pace at his side for as long as they would let him. Instead, he mentally detailed exactly how he would take apart his favorite gun and put it back together. He started humming Metallica under his breath, then moved on to Zeppelin. He dismantled and rebuilt the engine on the Impala in his dream garage and had begun to tweak it when they put the mask on his face. And then there was blissful nothing.

xxx

"It's done."

"The next pieces are in place?" He knew he didn't have to ask the question. His companion was nothing if not meticulous and completely devoted to this project, two invaluable, irreplaceable components of the plan, after all. But the act of asking was part of the lesson for that particular companion.

"Yes," the answer came to his unnecessary question. "I am still unsure that this much damage was needed."

"Dean has to be kept out of hunting for at least a year if you're going to keep him alive through this whole thing. Azazel wants Dean almost as badly as he wants Sam, because Dean is the real threat. The oldest Winchester brother is the fulcrum on which the family turns. The only way to manipulate Sam or John is to use Dean as either the carrot or the stick."

There was a tilt of confusion to his companion's head. "You may be right. And Dean himself is almost impossible to steer."

"Unless you've got the little brother or Daddy on hand," he finished. "Trust me, this is way better. He'll have a hard time believing it for a long time, but this way he lives to see thirty."

xxx

He had no memory of the surgery, something he was very thankful for. Dean had undergone emergency surgery twice before, and during the time that a vengeful spirit had shoved a piece of rebar in his stomach he had woken up. There hadn't been any pain, but he could hear the doctors talking about their children and the local schools while they were wrist deep in his insides and it made an impression. Thankfully the anesthesiologist had noticed what was going on and rectified the situation, but that experience was on his list of 'never again.'

His dad was there when he woke up in recovery, looking far older than Dean remembered. The morphine was still swimming through his system, making his thoughts languid and the pain a dull throb behind the curtain.

" 'S it over?" he said, his words slurring a little. He couldn't really get a good look at his father's face from this angle, so he tried to push himself up and turn. It was a bad decision.

"Easy, Dean," his father said, easing him back when the sudden spike of pain made the edges of his vision white. He nudged the bed control toward Dean. "Do me a favor and use this first. I'm getting too old to pick your ass up off the floor."

"You could just call for a nurse or something to help you." Dean attempted a smile, but he had a feeling that his face wasn't quite cooperating. "I know you like the nurses, Dad."

"Yeah, right." His dad shook his head, but he looked a little better. Mission accomplished. "Smartass," he added.

"I come by it honest," Dean told him with mock gravity. He was about to follow that up with a pithy comment about how Mom had been the one with a sense of humor when the Dr. Vjotek came into the room.

The man walked down the row of beds, half of them containing patients, and headed over to Dean. "I see you're awake. How are you feeling?"

Actually, the longer Dean stayed awake and aware the more the pain came into focus, though it wasn't nearly as bad as the first time he'd woken up. "About like someone cut off my legs. Thanks for asking."

"I can give you something for that, but I need to check a few things first." The doctor ran through the usual battery of 'you just woke up and we need to make sure you're going to stay alive' tests before tossing back the sheet to check the incisions.

Dean looked down and involuntarily tensed. He had avoided that glance down since he'd woken up, much like he'd avoided thinking about it while they'd wheeled him down the hallway, but now the facts were staring him in the face.

He'd never given his feet much thought before, as long as they weren't hurting. They were just there, part of the mechanism of walking and running. And now they were gone and his legs ended in two swollen lumps about six inches below each knee, heavy gauze wrappings undone and tubes sticking out of each stump. Dean gagged a little at the sight and turned his head away.

"So far it looks good," Dr. Vjotek murmured. "We'll move you into a regular room now. It looks like you're not reacting to the anesthetic or the blood we gave you, which is a good sign. Just try to rest for the remainder of the day. The physical therapist will be up to talk to you tomorrow morning to give you a timeline for your prosthetics."

"How long do you think you'll keep him in the hospital?" John asked. "We don't have the greatest insurance."

Dean felt the edge of a bitter, hysterical laugh bubble up in his chest, which he quickly suppressed. They didn't have any insurance, really. Nothing legal, and certainly nothing that would hold up for however long it would take to make it so he could hobble along.

"I wouldn't worry about that," the doctor said. "It's been taken care of."

Dean shot a worried glance over at his father. "By who?"

"The benefactors wish to remain anonymous. I can tell you more about it once we get you into a more private room."

It took a fair amount of engineering to accomplish this; moving Dean from the bed onto a gurney took two people since Dean was still in too much pain to do much to help out. The ride itself was smooth, although Dean couldn't stop himself from believing that everyone was staring at him as they wheeled him down the hall, into an elevator, and through three more corridors before they reached a semi-private room. Transferring him to the new bed wasn't quite as difficult; Dean was already figuring out how he had to move with his new, overly abused body. There were bruises on his shoulder and on his back and hip that he had noticed when they transferred him, coming out in all their violent color schemes.

The doctor pulled a seat up next to Dean's bed. The other bed in the room was currently empty, although Dean didn't' expect that to last long. He'd been in enough small-town hospitals and clinics to know that space was at a premium. "All right, Mr. Winchester. Here's what I can tell you about your anonymous benefactors. Your story made the front page of the local paper. Three different mothers witnessed you saving those children and pursuing that animal. We've already had several locals make donations to help pay for your medical expenses. Yesterday it got picked up by the national wire service, as a two-paragraph blurb, and then showed up as a short news story on the Internet. The story mentioned your name and that you had no insurance. We got a call from New York asking about making a donation while you were in surgery and three more from Illinois, Texas, and Ohio while we were moving you into this room. Do not worry about the money for your treatment and rehabilitation. It's been taken care of."

Dean felt his face grow hot and he avoided looking at his father. His whole life he'd been taught to never accept pity or charity, and now he had no alternative. The entire fucking world knew that Dean Winchester was a helpless, useless cripple.

His dad stirred in his own seat. "What about prosthetics?"

Dr. Vjotek smiled. "The owner of one of two shops in the area that deal with prosthetics limbs has a daughter and a granddaughter. They live in the neighborhood that you helped protect. I wouldn't worry about that, either."

Dean clenched his fists and closed his eyes. He refused to cry right now, and getting mad and punching either his father or the doctor would be pointless. "I need to be alone right now." He was remotely proud that the words had come out evenly, with no hint of the emotion underneath.

After a lengthy pause his father took the hint and ushered the doctor from the room. Dean waited until they were long gone from range before he clenched his fist and punched the plastic rail on the bed. It cracked slightly and scraped along his knuckles, but compared to the signals the remains of his legs were sending out the pain was dismissed as soon as it was noted.

He closed his eyes against the fluorescent lights and ignored the hot prickling behind his eyelids. It didn't mean anything, after all. None of it did. He was useless now. He'd never be able to do things the way he was raised and trained to do again.

There was a slight rustling sound, somewhere between the movement of lab coats and the flapping of wings, and Dean felt a cool hand rest on his forehead for a second before it was gone. He opened up his eyes, startled at the intrusion, but there was no one there.

xxx

The morning after his embarrassing breakdown, and also the day after the surgery that amputated his lower limbs, the physical therapist appeared. They'd already started dialing back his painkillers for this visit and the ones that would follow, so he was miserable and grumpy but fairly clear-headed. The guy introduced himself as Tom and talked with Dean for about two hours, laying out both the long-term plan for Dean's recovery and specifics about what the next few weeks would entail. His visit was concluded with a preliminary test of reflexes and muscle tone which the man seemed pleased about and a friendly warning to go easy on the coffee before the next couple of sessions.

It was incredibly depressing to Dean how much that little chat drained him. Once the physical therapist was gone he fell asleep, only to be awakened by a nurse after half an hour for a vitals and stats check, a slightly humiliating bathroom break, and a change of the blood-spotted sheets. His dad showed up just as he was transferring back to the bed, dashing most of his prospects when it came to a possible nap. There was no way he could show his father that kind of weakness now, not after yesterday. So he kept his bed propped up in position and they talked about hunting, using as many neutral terms as possible to keep from freaking out civilians.

In some ways, it was exactly what he needed. His father kept to old stories and legends without mentioning any future hunts. It was nice to have the moment when his father walked away from his now-useless son delayed and to be reminded of the good stuff he'd managed to do before.

Dad didn't bring up contacting Sam, but Dean wasn't expecting it. His dad had the ability to stick to his decisions like a pitbull regardless of whether they were the correct ones and while Dean had cautiously brought up his brother when things were good John Winchester sometimes pretended that he'd never had a second son. He did mention Pastor Jim and Bobby Singer, his slightly shifty expression revealing that he'd already called the two men, and Dean didn't bother with telling his dad he didn't want them here. It was already a lost cause. He was going to have visitors and he was going to have to deal with it.

xxx

It was Jen who brought the article to her attention, dropping the paper down onto a table in the break room with an aggravated sigh. "People suck," she announced, sitting down on one of the plastic chairs.

"What brought about this revelation?" Lisa asked. She didn't argue with the assessment.

"This." She pushed the paper in front of Lisa, stood up and turned to the fridge. "Some guy was hit by a car while protecting a bunch of kids from a rabid dog. SUV-driving asshole didn't even slow down. 'Dean Winchester, 23, remains in critical condition.'"

Lisa started at the name. Dean was kind of unforgettable, after all, since he'd given her the best night of her life and a little boy that was in pre-school right now. The age was right as well, but Lisa was sure that there was more than one Dean Winchester out there that was about her age. "Are you done with this paper, Jen?"

Her coworker shrugged and closed the fridge door, returning to the table with a yogurt and a plastic spoon. "I'm done. Do whatever you want to do with it. Hey, did you see those shoes Peg was wearing? It's a good thing she's on desk duty right now. Those things would kill after a shift on the floor."

Lisa nodded, because she had seen the shoes and they were both cute and painful-looking and would be entirely impractical for anything that didn't involve strutting down a runway or sitting behind a desk, but most of her attention was on the article in front of her.

It wasn't a local story, so it only took up a few inches in the 'Nation' column. Lisa read every word carefully because the name of Dean Winchester alone was enough to make her heart climb into her throat. There weren't any further details on his identity beyond name and age, which was incredibly frustrating, but the incident it described sounded very much like Dean (THE Dean, best night of my life Dean, as she'd called him to a couple of her friends). They'd met at a bar when he'd basically been her knight in slightly rusted armor, helping her get rid of the guy she'd nicknamed 'Poor Choice Rick' when that particular ex-boyfriend had gotten a little too persistent. She'd took him home for the night for that and kept him for two more when she saw him help her elderly downstairs neighbor into her car. Little things like that were more important than most guys realized.

Five years later, she still had his telephone number scribbled down on a folded scrap of paper in her wallet despite the fact that she'd never called to tell him about the little boy with his father's eyes and smile. Lisa wondered what would happen if she called that number now. Would he answer at all? Would he be fine and healthy and safe, or in the hospital and in pain?

Lisa carefully folded up the paper and tucked it into her bag. It was something to consider. Dean was the kind of guy who deserved a second chance, especially since she'd never really given him a first chance. She would think about it when she got home.

Part 2

They had him up and on the weights by mid-morning on the second full day after his surgery. The speed of it was surprising to him. He'd just had both of his legs chopped off, after all. It would only be fair to get a break, but Tom was insistent on getting him started right away. Apparently the threat of losing the necessary muscle in his upper body was something to worry about and Tom was adamant that it would set Dean back months in his schedule if he allowed that to happen.

After an hour of rehab, Dean fell asleep in the wheelchair back to his room, which was just plain embarrassing. The orderly woke him up when it came time to transfer back to the bed, and then again an hour later when the doctor came in to examine and rebandage the incisions on what remained of his legs. After that came lunch, and then another session with Tom the sadist.

He nodded off after the second session of the day. Somehow he'd never expected something like this to be so exhausting, but by the time he got back to his room his hands were trembling and it took all of his willpower to make it into his bed. When his cell rang he reached out for it, still groggy, and spent about ten seconds staring at it blearily before he figured out how to answer it. " 'Lo?"

If he'd been a little more clear-headed, he would have checked the caller ID and not been quite surprised at the pleasant, vaguely familiar voice. "Dean? Dean Winchester?"

"Speaking," he managed to get out, sitting up a little better on the bed in an effort to help him wake up. Dean didn't give out his real number to many girls, though he'd had a cell phone since he'd dropped out of school. There were really only about four contenders, and he was pretty sure he could figure it out from there with a quick glance at the number: Indiana area code. "Is this Lisa Braeden?"

She laughed, the sound a little relieved. "Yes. Glad you remember me."

Dean smiled at the thought of the girl he'd privately nicknamed 'Gumby' because of her flexibility. "I'm pretty sure I'd never forget you, Lisa. How's everything going?"

"Can't complain. Well, I could, but it wouldn't really change anything to whine about my boss and her insane organizational habits. How about you?"

Dean froze for a second, torn between honesty and a good story. He hadn't had to make this decision since his accident. Everyone that had spoken to him had been at the hospital, and with the exception of his father they were all hospital employees. Bobby and Jim were both planning visits, but neither one would manage to be here until next week and his father had already told them everything. His knee-jerk reaction was to brush her off with a 'fine' and a change of subject, but something kept him from doing just that. Lisa was one of the few good memories of Sam's incredibly rough teenage years and he'd always hated lying to someone like her. "Not great," he finally admitted, leaving the circumstances purposefully vague.

There was an indrawn breath. "Are you the one in the article? The one who got hurt helping those kids?"

Damn it. Why did someone like Lisa read the story and immediately think of him when his brother obviously hadn't noticed it at all? Even though he didn't want his brother to be distracted by this whole mess, part of him couldn't help but wish his brother gave some sign that he'd noticed. "Yeah, that's me."

"Are you allowed to have visitors?"

Allowed visitors? Yes. He wasn't sure if he wanted them, though. He didn't know if he wanted people to see him like this, at least not anyone that mattered, and it was quickly becoming clear to him that Lisa Braeden did matter. "Yeah, but I'm in Missouri. Are you still in Indiana?"

"Back in Cicero," she said absently. "What about weekends?"

"They're going to be wide open for the foreseeable future," he told her. "You still teaching yoga?" he asked, because he was absolutely shit at small talk and he had no idea what to say to her. They'd had some awesome sex and they'd watched superhero movies, but there hadn't been much more to their relationship. He was kind of surprised she'd even bothered to call him when she'd seen the article.

"Sometimes. I'm an RN now, too. Needed something to fall back on." She paused and Dean had a horrible realization of what she was going to bring up next. "How's your brother?"

"He's good," Dean said simply, because that was the truth as far as he knew. "At school at Stanford, if you can believe it. Managed to get a full ride."

"Wow," she said, sounding impressed. "I guess smarts run in your family."

Dean had no idea what to say to that. Sam was the smart one, the one who really enjoyed school. He'd simply tolerated it until he could move on. Luckily, Lisa filled in the gaps without him needing to say anything. "So, how bad is it?"

"They're moving me to the rehab center if everything goes all right tomorrow. Sounds like I'll be there for a few weeks." He didn't go into the details. Somehow it was harder to say the word 'amputation' over the phone when the evidence wasn't right in front of the person's eyes.

"And after that?"

"Learn to walk again," he told her bluntly. "Find a new job, because I won't be able to do the old one anymore."

There was a quiet moment on the other end. "Are you interested in a visitor this weekend?"

Not really, but he was already going to have visitors forced on him when Bobby and Pastor Jim showed up. His dad had been there from the beginning, in and out while he tried to arrange something a little more permanent for lodging and possibly a job to keep them both fed once they cut him loose, the staff at the hospital didn't know him before his accident and they were the only people who had seen him like this since the surgery. He didn't want Lisa seeing him as weak. He meant to say something diplomatic about not being allowed visitors, but when Dean opened up his mouth the word 'yes' came out instead. "If you have time," he added quickly to the end, not sure how he'd ended up agreeing to this.

"Great! We'll head down on Friday." She hung up before he could ask who she was including with that 'we.'

He managed to get transferred to the rehab center the next day, once the doctor's were sufficiently satisfied that his legs were healing according to schedule. It was more grueling work than the hospital, which was obvious from the hours of PT that his therapist planned out for every day of the next week. The first full day was something akin to torture, even though Dean had thought he was in top shape before all of this began. The only real bright spot was that he had a reduced load on the weekends and tomorrow was Friday. If he could handle John Winchester's special brand of training while he was a teenager, he could handle this.

Friday he actually had a little more of a break as well. He met up with Tom and the prosthetics guy and got his first look at what he could reasonably expect, and the answers were far different than he was expecting.

Dean had thought that all this work was just to make it so he could hobble along through life. When Jim the prosthetics guy showed him the running legs and demonstrated how they worked, he felt the first bit of hope and light since the moment that he'd woken up on his hospital bed. "These things can make it so I can run?"

"You'll be able to run on flat, even surfaces," Jim said, demonstrating how the curved leg worked. "With both legs in prosthetics, you'll still have trouble handling places where the footing is a little more uncertain, like the beach or the woods. Sidewalks or paved streets, though, should be just fine. Eventually you might even become good enough to handle even the more uneven terrain. There are amputees competing in running competitions now, serious runners who stand a chance of winning. Day-to-day, though, these will be impractical. So you'll also probably need to learn about these."

The next thing he handed to Dean lacked the simple, clean lines of the running prosthetic. It was much more bulky, for one, though the cup at the end was similar, and it had something that looked like a crude replica of a human foot. The space between was a bare metal rod and it somehow looked more wrong with that foot at the end than the curved metal of the running leg. "This is a little more appropriate for most other activities. With this you could easily walk on almost any terrain, though you might want a cane for a balance when things aren't entirely steady. These are a little more stable than the running legs, which are really only designed for one purpose."

"This is going to get really expensive," Dean said, a tiny bit of doubt in his voice. They didn't exactly have a lot of funds and no matter what the doctor said he kept waiting for that lack of money and insurance to get him kicked out onto the curb.

Jim looked at him with steady blue eyes. "My daughter Jennifer lives in the neighborhood where that rabid dog was spotted. She's expecting her second child, a little boy, and her daughter Rachel is four years old and was playing outside that day. You saved all three of their lives when you went after that animal. Don't ever worry about paying me."

Dean swallowed hard. All his life he'd been told not to take charity; that Winchesters would always find a way, and it was almost physically painful to go against that now. Even when Dad had left him with Sam and not enough money for food, he'd always found some way to make it work without giving in to any kind of handout. Accepting something like this, something obviously expensive, was a lot harder than he'd imagined. Especially when you considered that these things were probably priced somewhere in the thousands when it came to a price range. "I'm not sure I can take that," he told the man.

He waved the words away and returned to the prosthetics in his hands. "You can help out at the office to help cover the costs. I'm going to be taking some preliminary measurements of your residual limbs now, so I can get started. As your legs heal and the swelling goes down we'll get a few more measurements and start to build something a little more permanent, but for now we'll get you something temporary so you can learn how to walk."

Once Jim was done Tom had Dean up and on the parallel bars, supporting his weight with just his arms. Again, Dean had thought he was in excellent shape before the accident, but after one trip he was already panting a little. A second trip back made sweat pour off of his body, but he was going to keep going. He'd seen a tiny spark, one that would make him useful sometime in the foreseeable future, and Dean was going to go for that. He might not be able to hunt again like he did before this happened, but he had a feeling he could still do something. Maybe sometime soon he could talk his dad into taking him to a shooting range or someplace where he could try to work with a sniper's rifle. He'd always been an excellent shot and he wanted to see if that had changed.

The stack of musty books loomed from his small bedside table by the time he made it back to his room, one of those strange 'get well soon' gifts from Bobby and Pastor Jim. Right now he was in a private room, since there weren't enough patients currently here to make it necessary for double occupancy. Given the subject matter of the books (a few of them might not even be in English, suggesting he'd need to use at least some of his free time to pick up the basics of something a little older), he was definitely glad for that privacy now. Sounding out ancient Greek would go a lot easier without an audience.

Tom came back after giving him an hour of rest and grinned at him, the expression one Dean was starting to dread. "Time for some weights. Don't want the scrawny muscle you do have to waste away, after all."

Dean snorted and closed his book, the dust that puffed out making him sneeze. "Yeah, right. You guys are secretly training super soldiers here, aren't you? The million dollar man and the bionic woman are down the hall."

"If we were I couldn't tell you," Tom said. "It would be a shame to kill you after all the work we've already put in. Come on, we're late for your mid-morning brainwashing session."

Tom ran a continuous line of patter while they worked, keeping Dean distracted from the work he was doing and the toll it was taking on his body. It gave him something to focus on besides the burning of his muscles as he kept working. It took a while for the physical therapist to run out of immediate topics from his own life before he started asking Dean questions. "Got any plans for the weekend?"

Dean almost lost his grip on the weight machine bar. "Yeah, I do," he answered once he was secure again. He caught Tom's quick expression of surprise out of the corner of his eye and almost instantly went defensive. "Old girlfriend," he explained, deliberately not looking at the man. "She heard I was hurt and she called. Pretty much made the decision to come visit me before I could really get a word in edgewise."

"Does she know about your legs?" Tom asked bluntly, making Dean wince a little.

"No." He focused on the weights in front of him and his lifting goal. "Couldn't figure out how to say it over the phone."

"Maybe you should try." Tom kept moving with the weights while he talked. "It's not exactly something you can hide, and it's bound to be a bit of a shock. It might be a little bit easier to be rejected over the phone rather than face to face, if it came to that."

"I've never done things the easy way," Dean grunted, lifting his latest load. But in the back of his mind he saw Amanda Heckering embarrassing him in front of an entire school, bringing up things she had no business mentioning. The only thing that saved him was his father showing up almost immediately after to move them yet again. Tom might have a point.

He called once his second set of PT was done for the day, but lost his nerve when he heard Lisa's bright, happy voice on the voicemail message. "Hey, it's Dean," he said when the beep prompted him to speak. "Just calling to see if you were still coming down to visit. You, uh, you know you don't have to come if you don't want to, right?" He rolled his eyes at that message while he was leaving it. "Anyway, I'll talk to you later." He closed his cell phone before he could embarrass himself any further.

Lunch was simple and not entirely satisfying, but Dean was quickly becoming used to hospital food and he had more important things on his mind than what he was eating. Now that Tom had planted those doubts it was hard not to dwell on them and he was progressively becoming more and more tense as the time passed until Lisa's arrival. He finished his food and wheeled back to his room. He'd have a little time for the meal to settle until he was back to the sanctioned torture of physical therapy. Hopefully the physical activity would help to calm his nerves. It always had in the past.

Tom didn't bring the subject up again, which was nice of him. Dean didn't want to think about that right now. Instead he concentrated on the stretch of his muscles and the weights that he was using right now. "Your incisions should be healed enough for the pool on Monday," Tom told him. "Then we'll be doing some switching up on the PT. And if the doctor's clear it, about a week after that we might see about starting out on training with the prosthetics."

"We can start out that soon?" Dean grunted. "I thought it would take at least a month."

"You won't be on them for long, but you really ought to be up as soon as possible. You wouldn't think it, but your body can forget how to walk pretty easily when you're not doing it every day. That's part of the reason we're doing these exercises in the first place. Swimming will help a lot to keep your body in tune with what you'll need to start walking. It should help preserve the muscle memory." Tom helped him change position on the bench and adjusted the machine. "The thing you'll have to remember is that once you start walking, it's going to be painful. The human body was designed with feet for a reason and you'll be switching the place where the weight falls on the human body. The remaining muscles in your calves will need to adapt and you'll develop blisters on the residual limb until the skin toughens up a little. Being a double amputee is going to make it much more difficult, because if one leg develops blisters you can't rely on crutches. You'll screw up the other stump putting all of your weight on it. You'll be back in the wheelchair until they heal if that happens."

"So basically, I should stop before I feel the start of blisters."

"Exactly. It's already going to take you at least six months to a year to be up and about. Don't push yourself too hard and set that clock back even longer. The key to this going smoothly is to listen to what your body is telling you."

Dean pushed up and exhaled roughly. "How long would it take to get me up and running if it was only one?"

Tom looked a little uncomfortable at the question. "It's not a good idea to play around with 'what if's,' Dean. Most of the time you're happier not knowing."

"Yeah, well, in my line of work not knowing gets you killed. Come on, how long?"

"Six weeks until you're up and walking with a single amputation, usually. The setbacks don't usually take as long."

"So if they'd managed to save one of my legs I'd be up and running much faster," Dean said. The idea was more than a little disheartening.

Tom sighed and eased the weights back into place. "No, you wouldn't have been up and running. I saw the x-rays, Dean. You were never going to have much functionality from either one of those legs. The bone there was splintered into a hundred shards, the muscles were severely compromised, and you would have been in constant pain. Trust me, this is better."

It was hard to think about it like that, especially when he was this exhausted and still feeling the occasional jolt of pain from what remained of his legs. "We done for the day?"

"Done for the moment," the man said matter-of-factly. He helped Dean negotiate the transfer back to the wheelchair. "We've got one more session today, then you'll get dinner and you'll have the rest of the evening free to think about the company you've got coming."

Dean groaned. He'd managed to put that to the back of his mind while he was working, but now it came rushing forward again. "She didn't give me a time. I might not see her until tomorrow."

"Just so you know, there's no protocol that won't keep the nurses from barging into your room. Unless she's an exhibitionist, it's not really a good place for a quickie."

"Pretty sure I'm not up for that anyway," Dean said, unhappy with the topic. He hadn't had more than a half-hearted spark of arousal since the accident, which he chalked up to the combination of pain and drugs and exhaustion he'd been feeling since then.

"That'll come back, trust me," Tom said, eyebrows raising like they were just two guys talking about girls in the locker room instead of a therapist and a patient traveling down the hallway of a hospital. "And no offense to the nurses here, but you haven't exactly been exposed to anyone that would get your attention yet. Once you get back out into the world you'll be surprised how easily it all comes back."

"Thanks," Dean muttered, propelling his wheelchair down the hall and trying not to dwell on the likelihood of getting laid without fucking legs. Tom kept pace easily and helped him into the bed waiting for Dean in his room.

"I'll be back in an hour or so to take you back down for your last round of therapy," he said before vanishing from the room. Dean was fairly sure he had other clients in the building. It wouldn't make sense for the man to be spending all of his time on just one patient.

Rather than spend the time dwelling on Lisa's impending visit and how badly that was probably going to work, Dean pulled out one of the notebooks, one of the books that Bobby had left behind, and a dictionary that the man had managed to dig up for Ancient Greek, thankfully one that gave all of the supposed grammar rules for the language. It was one of those things destined to take a long time to sort through, and was therefore perfect for a recovery period. Dean knew that Bobby had a stack of such books at his house, things that were probably useful but that didn't have any immediate need behind them. Books designed to kill time and keep the recuperating hunter from going entirely stir-crazy. Dean wasn't sure exactly how useful they would turn out to be, but it was better than nothing.

He was deep in the book when Tom returned, looking back and forth between the translation guide, the book in question, and the notebook open on the small table. Sam had been much better at this kind of thing, but Dean had a system that worked for him and Bobby claimed it was just as functional as anything else, if a little more scrambled than most. Jim was going to be bringing a laptop that he'd picked up somewhere, probably something outdated that the church had gotten as a donation, and Dean would probably type up most of it once he had his hands on a computer. It was better than trying to make someone else decipher his chicken scratch.

Tom's hand rapping lightly on the table startled Dean out of his effort and the young man looked up to see his physical therapist's quizzical expression. "Whatever that is, it must be riveting."

It was actually someone's collection of monster legends from sailors that mostly traveled along the Mediterranean, at least some of which were probably overly-hysterical tales told under the influence of too much alcohol. He wasn't sure how to take the stories of leviathans, reluctant to count them out entirely but similarly reluctant to consider them any sort of threat, since no one had heard of them in thousands of years. "Just a project I'm working on for a friend. One last round of torture for the day?"

"One last round, then I'll bring you back here so you can shower and have dinner and get ready for your company." Tom gave him a smile as he locked the wheelchair in place and Dean managed to complete the transfer without any outside assistance. "Getting better at that," the man commented as they traveled down the hall, Dean propelling himself and Tom keeping pace.

"I pretty much have to get good at it. This place will make me crazy and I've got to learn how to do stuff without needing to call for a nurse."

"Good. The sooner you get out of my hair, the better. All this work is really cutting into my time on the dance floor." Tom performed a couple of hokey moves, the kind of thing you might see at a high school dance, and Dean couldn't help but laugh.

"You move like my kid brother after someone shoved ice down his pants." He regretted the words almost immediately, because he hadn't mentioned Sam to anyone. It would inevitably lead to the kind of questions that Dean wanted to avoid for the rest of his life.

"You've got a kid brother?"

Dean snorted out a bitter laugh, because he'd called it. That would be the first question. The second was-

"When is he going to come visit you?"

"His name is Sam, he's a student at Stanford, and I don't want to distract him right now. He's on a full ride there and he's got to keep his grades up. We can visit once he's on break or something." Dean had absolutely no intention of contacting his brother anytime soon, but he wasn't about to tell Tom that. He seemed like a nice guy, and he was one hell of a physical therapist, but he was still a stranger and Dean wasn't about to bring him into Winchester business.

"Fair enough. How much younger?"

"Four years difference. Seriously, he's majoring in pre-law," something that his father had found out during their last visit, "and we're going to need all the help we can get someday. The kid has to become a lawyer. He doesn't need any distractions right now." And also, apparently, the news story about his injury had gotten national coverage. Sam had always loved to read those kinds of news stories, so if he hadn't bothered to call it was because he wasn't interested in talking to his family. That wasn't anything new, really. Sam hadn't picked up the phone to call his family in a year and had only answered the phone twice when Dean had called him. He would be just fine without his little brother there to wait at his bedside.

Tom must have figured out that the little brother was a difficult topic, because he changed subjects abruptly. "So when's your girlfriend going to show up?"

Dean blew out a frustrated breath and picked up his speed. Tom kept pace effortlessly. "She's not my girlfriend, she's just a chick I used to know, and I don't know when she'll be here. If I wanted that kind of therapy, I'd – no, wait, I'm never going to want to talk out my feelings. Just drop it."

"Maybe if you'd ever answer the questions. You're a man of mystery around here. Everyone wants to know about what makes you tick."

He couldn't help but smirk at the description, but cool logic overtook that emotion pretty quickly. They couldn't afford for people to take a closer look at the Winchesters. Most of what they did skirted on the edges of being legal, some of it would just be considered immoral, and none of it was anything that recommended them to strangers. Winchesters did what they did and they shut up about it, because no-one wanted to be called crazy for believing in things that belonged in creepy ghost stories and urban legend books. Dean had never told anyone who wasn't already a hunter about the way they lived, and most hunters thought that the Winchesters were a little too far on the extreme end of things. "I'm not mysterious," he muttered. "I'm a pretty boring guy, really. I just don't like seeing kids get hurt so I stopped to help them. End of story."

"Why were you in the neighborhood that day?" Tom asked, and Dean felt his heart freeze in his chest. No one had asked him that question, and it was the one question that he didn't really have a good way of answering. He'd been there specifically because he'd been tracking the black dog, which had been sighted a few blocks over snacking on someone's pet lapdog.

"My dad and I were looking for work. We're pretty much traveling handymen most of the time," he said finally. "Not exactly steady work, but it's pretty much kept us fed and clothed for the past few years and I'm good at it. Sam, that's my brother, he always wanted something better, something normal. He hated moving around all the time, but I always liked it. Fresh start every single time, with people who don't know you at all."

It hadn't been the answer the man had been expecting, and for a second he stopped in the hallway while Dean kept rolling on. "So you're basically homeless," Tom said, and Dean sighed. He hated the word. Home was Sam and Dad and the Impala and occasionally Bobby or Pastor Jim, and he'd always had those open to him.

"Haven't lived in one place for longer than six months since I was four," he said, instantly regretting the words since he knew what question would follow them. Damn it, he used to be so much better at keeping his mouth shut and not letting these things slip out. He was getting too comfortable with these people, especially Tom.

"Why not?"

Dean felt his shoulders stiffen, an automatic reaction to this particular topic. "My mom died. Dad never could settle down after that." He wasn't exactly a praying guy, but he couldn't help a quick one that Tom would change the damn topic now.

It seemed like that was actually working for once because Tom nodded and started talking about what this last session would entail. "We're pretty much doing occupational therapy this afternoon. There are a lot of tools that you can use to help with your reach, especially since you'll spend a lot of time in the wheelchair for the first few months. This afternoon we're just going to go over some of those things, have you practice with them. Your father mentioned you were pretty handy and that you liked to build things, so it's possible as part of your therapy that we'll let you dismantle and reassemble some of them so you can build your own."

Dean felt a little bit better at that. He'd always loved tinkering. The idea of building devices to help him function appealed to him. "What kind of things are we talking about?"

Tom directed him to turn right instead of the left he'd become used to taking, leading him to a small room that, from the smell of things, wasn't too far from the kitchen. It was set up like a fairly good replica of a living room, with a variety of different objects on the coffee table. "We've got a kitchen as well," Tom told him, moving into the room and sitting down on the couch. "They're basically here so you can learn how to function in a house or an apartment once they turn you loose for outpatient therapy instead of staying here. Every afternoon we're going to spend some time in one of these rooms until I'm satisfied that you could handle independence in the real world."

"Except this isn't the real world," Dean pointed out. "This is a house. What about shopping and driving and all that shit? What about finding a job? What about doing that job?"

"That'll come later. First you learn how to handle things inside the house. Then we'll go over getting in and out of a car, first as a passenger from a wheelchair and then into the driver's seat. After that, we start taking field trips during occupational therapy. When your physical therapy progresses, we'll start doing all of it with the prosthetics on."

Dean took a moment to think about it all. At least part of this meant that he'd need to go out in a wheelchair, with the stumps of his legs hanging out for all to see. The thought made him uncomfortable, but he had a feeling if he said anything Tom would probably start in with that touchy-feely crap again. "What about driving?"

"You'll need hand controls for that. We'll work on that, too." Tom smiled. "It's a full-service operation, Dean. For today, let's just work with the tools."

Dean got a good, long look at several of the tools and was confident he'd be able to recreate them given some materials and a workshop. Once he was back in his room, getting ready for dinner, he sketched out a few plans in one of the notebooks. He had a feeling he could improve the trigger mechanism on the grabbing tool, for one thing, make it easier to handle with fewer fingers. It wasn't really designed for heavier things either, so he'd need to make one that could handle more than two pounds.

Lisa called just as he was transferring over to the wheelchair to head towards dinner. "I'm on the road now," she said. "I probably won't be there until tomorrow morning." There was music in the background, along with the low hum of a car engine. Dean couldn't quite identify what was playing. "I managed to finagle a long weekend, so I'll be there until Monday morning."

"That sounds great," Dean said, forcing enthusiasm into his voice. As long as she handled the fact that he no longer had any legs, he would welcome the company. His dad was busy looking for a long-term place that Dean could handle when he got out of the hospital and trying to find work to keep them both fed when that happened. It was honestly a little more than he expected. "I'm not sure how good of company I'll be, just so you know. I'm so bored I'm about to start climbing the walls. I've been here for over a week and the only person I've seen who wasn't hospital staff was my dad."

"Good, I love a captive audience." He could hear the smile in her voice and it made him relax a little. "I'm getting ready to merge onto the interstate, so I'm hanging up now. I'll see you tomorrow, Dean."

She hung up on her end and Dean closed his cell and tucked it into the pocket of his wheelchair. Part of the therapy was rolling down to dinner on your own, so he took the brakes off and headed down.

The food wasn't bad, even though they never had pie and rarely had cheeseburgers. Now that they were dialing back on the painkillers he could eat again. He ate quickly and headed back to the room, not quite up to bonding with his fellow patients right now. Maybe after he was a little more settled into the idea of being a cripple. For now, there was a stack of musty books that needed translating and an ancient foreign language to learn. It wasn't exactly his favorite way to keep occupied, but he couldn't exactly take his frustrations out on a werewolf or get underneath the hood of a car right now. At least this way he was doing something useful while he figured things out.

He gave up on the books and turned off the light at an unbelievably early hour. Despite the fact that he was physically exhausted from several different sessions of PT, Dean couldn't keep his eyes closed long enough to go to sleep. He had no idea why he was so nervous about this. Lisa had been great, easily in his top five of sexual encounters and possibly at the top of the list completely, but he hadn't heard from her since then and he'd definitely left his number. Damn it, why was he overthinking this so much? Dean huffed out an exasperated breath, double-checked for the knife his dad'd smuggled in, closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.

xxx

Lisa had gotten into town somewhere between nine and ten Friday night and managed to drag a sleeping Ben into the small motel room before collapsing on the bed. She'd started having second thoughts about two hours into the drive, brought about by the surprises waiting at the end of this trip. Life had been good, nice and steady, and she couldn't help but wonder why she was risking that for a man she hadn't seen in years. Once she introduced Ben to him, Dean would figure it out almost immediately. She had no clue what she was going to do when that shitstorm landed, but there was a good chance it wouldn't be pretty.

It was hard to figure out why she was doing this at all. Dean had been one of the best memories from those wild days before her son was born, and not just because he had a hand in making Ben. He'd been fun and funny and more generous than she would have expected of someone who'd clearly had a rough upbringing. He had also been firmly rooted down in the past, but for some reason when she saw his name in the paper like that Lisa knew she had to see him again. She still couldn't say why, exactly, but the idea of turning around without seeing him caused almost physical pain in her heart. No matter what happened, she was in all the way now.

Ben's even breathing eventually lulled her into a light sleep, though she woke up several times during the night when she heard some odd sounds. It was almost like when birds nest in an unused chimney or something, the sound like fluttering wings. Ben slept like a rock, like always. Earthquakes and tornadoes couldn't wake up Ben when he was really tired, which was a very good thing sometimes.

She gave up when the sunrise started to lighten the drawn curtains, slipping out of bed and grabbing her bag to take a shower. Afterwards she got dressed in the semi-private conditions of the bathroom and then stood in front of the mirror fiddling with her hair for several minutes before she realized what she was doing and stopped abruptly. She had to wake up Ben, deciding not to force the issue of a bath right then. Tonight or tomorrow morning would be soon enough for that particular argument. His presence would be enough stress today.

She still absolutely refused to do fast food when it came to a breakfast for Ben, but there was a Bob Evans across the street from the hospital and it would probably serve oatmeal and fresh fruit. She might even let Ben have eggs and bacon. That would kill a little time, since visiting hours wouldn't start until nine-thirty. Lisa had two hours to kill without dwelling on what was about to happen, and she filled the time with Ben. Her son had always been one of her favorite people. He was funny and he liked to help out and he had really, really strange tastes sometimes for a four-year-old. Someday she would like to figure out who turned the kid onto Zeppelin, for instance, but ever since he could toddle around on two chubby legs he would find that CD and hand it over to her.

The time passed quickly with that magnificent distraction and before Lisa knew it visiting hours were about to start. She briefed Ben on the broad strokes of what they were doing as they walked across the parking lot, leaving out the details of who exactly Dean was to him for now. If this went badly, or if the Dean of now didn't match up to the Dean from her admittedly slightly fuzzy memory, Lisa wanted a way to pull the plug.

There wasn't a sign-in sheet or any type of receptionist, so she walked past and wandered until she met up with someone in scrubs and with an ID hanging around his neck. The man smiled when she introduced herself, the expression oddly mischievous. "Yeah, I can take you to Dean Winchester. He's this way."

He led them back the way they'd come and took a left where she'd taken a right. There was a nurses station, which put her on a little more familiar ground, and then the man turned down a long hallway with patient rooms. "He's in here." He knocked on the door and waved. "I found you some visitors wandering the halls, Winchester."

"Seriously? Or are you just screwing with me?"

"Maybe both," the guy said. He stood aside and gestured toward the door. Lisa grabbed hold of Ben's hand and stepped into the room.

Dean was on the bed, dressed in basketball shorts and a T-shirt, and he was still impossibly, unbelievably good-looking. Her eyes traveled down from his face (and now that he was in the same room as Ben, she could see that they had the same nose and cheekbones, and a similar jawline) and stopped on his legs.

Ben asked the question before she could say anything. "What happened to your legs?"

Ben's presence startled Dean, who looked from him to Lisa with surprise that quickly edged into comprehension. He swallowed hard and looked down at the stumps of his legs, clearly not exactly sure how to explain it to a small child who might possibly be his son. Lisa took pity on him, buried her own shock, and took her son in hand.

"Ben, you need to wait before you can ask that question," she scolded. She looked back up from her son to Dean, who was staring at her. "So, nice to see you again, Dean. This is my son Ben."

"Hey, Ben." There was a quiet, slightly awed (and slightly panicked) tone to his voice. "You sure you want to know?"

Ben nodded and moved in closer. "You don't have to tell him," Lisa said. She wasn't sure if she wanted Dean to tell her son what happened, but hopefully he would have the sense to know what was appropriate for a small child to know.

Dean nodded, his attention still flicking back and forth between Lisa and Ben. "I was hit by a car," he said, his voice calm, even warm. "My old feet weren't going to work anymore, so they're giving me new ones."

Ben's eyes turned round at this prospect. "They can do that?"

"It won't be the same as the old ones, but yeah, they can." Dean smiled, the expression familiar (and incredibly similar to the one she received from her son when he'd had a good day in preschool). "So, Ben, how old are you?"

"I'm four," he said, displaying four fingers on his right hand. He then proceeded to tell his entire life story, such as it was, with Dean as the attentive audience. Lisa interjected a comment occasionally, most of which went straight over Ben's head but made Dean chuckle. She still wanted to talk to him alone, but that would be a problem right now. When Ben made a friend like this, it took a long time to pry him away before he'd shared everything up to what he'd had for breakfast that morning. She was glad the two of them were getting along so well, though. It was a relief, knowing her son got along so well with his father before he even knew who he was talking to. The reasons she'd had for not telling Dean had started to evaporate.

Ben stopped talking only for a bathroom break (at which point he protested that he do it all by himself) and Lisa sidled in closer while he was gone. "So, I guess I shouldn't have sprung this on you quite like this."

"No, it's . . .," his voice trailed off. "He's mine, isn't he?"

She could have probably gotten away with lying, and if he'd shown anything beyond an odd sort of wonder she probably would have. "Yeah, he's yours. Yours and mine."

For a second Lisa was worried that he was going to ask the big question right then, when they didn't really have time to talk, but instead he nodded and looked down, fidgeting like Ben did sometimes when he wanted something but didn't really know how to ask. She reached for his hand, squeezing it for a moment, and then rested her hand on his cheek. "We'll find a way to talk about it," she told him. "Ben has to sleep sometime."

Dean laughed. "You'd think that, but I still remember when Sammy was four and would fight to stay awake for as long as his possibly could."

"Ben does that too. Must be genetic." She smiled. "I never did any such thing, of course. Went right to sleep when my mom sent me to bed."

"And look where all that lack of rebellion led you," Dean pointed out, no doubt remembering the long weekend they'd spent together. Lisa laughed at the memory. There was a reason why he was THE Dean, after all.

The toilet flushed. She dropped her hand from his face, but Lisa stayed close to Dean. They really did have to talk, in person, for a fairly long time, and uninterrupted, but for now they had this. The two of them listened and watched Ben as he continued to talk at Dean, only occasionally pausing so that the man could interject some form of encouragement. Her son was usually friendly, but this was a little further than he normally took things. Dean was swiftly becoming Ben's new best friend.

Around eleven the man who led them to Dean's room showed up and told them they were welcome to stay for lunch if they wanted. Dean looked at her, his face pleading, and Lisa readily agreed. Hopefully Ben wouldn't put up a fuss. He was going through an oddly picky stage when it came to food right about now and she wouldn't want anyone to be insulted because of it.

It was surprisingly decent cafeteria-style food, and Lisa had experienced her share between school and working at a hospital. Dean managed to encourage Ben into eating everything on his tray, even the two servings of vegetables that had ended up on Ben's tray, by making her son defend his food from Dean. It was a surprisingly simple but effective method of getting a kid to finish his dinner and Lisa couldn't help but wonder where he'd picked it up.

Ben started to droop shortly after lunch, no doubt worn out from the traveling and the running around he'd done all morning. The recliner in Dean's room unfolded into something resembling a cot so they put him in there and draped a blanket over him. "Guess we can talk now."

Dean nodded. "I know why you didn't call when you found out." He rubbed at his knee and the top of his thigh and Lisa wondered if he was experience some phantom pain or was simply doing it as a habit. "I've never exactly been the kind of guy anyone would consider reliable or trustworthy or anything. Hell, I haven't had an address for longer than a year since I was four years old."

"That was a little bit of it," Lisa agreed. "But it was more about me. I wanted to do everything on my own. It wasn't exactly fair to you, though, and I'm starting to figure that out. My mom wanted me to go to a clinic, but I just couldn't do that. When I didn't do what she wanted she cut me out completely. My sister just graduated high school and found me, but she wasn't allowed to see or talk to me until then. And I wanted to prove to her that she was wrong, that I could raise Ben by myself, so I didn't call you or ask for help."

"He's a good kid," Dean said, his voice quiet. "I don't know that I'd have been all that useful back then, either. I was still a pretty dumb kid four years ago."

"We both were. We're not now." She looked at him, at a body that was a little too thin from a prolonged hospital stay, hazel eyes that her son had inherited, a mouth that she knew made a beautiful smile. The legs would cause some adjusting, but Lisa was open for that. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if they could try again, but she swallowed down the words instead. She would wait until she was leaving on Monday.

Dean seemed to pick up on what she wasn't saying and changed the subject. "My dad is coming in tomorrow," he said, his voice still low. "He had to go out of town to help out a friend. Can he meet Ben?"

She thought about that for a moment, one hand resting on the chair where Ben was sitting while the other was close to Dean's. Lisa trusted Dean, completely entirely. She wasn't even entirely sure why, but just being here with him was comforting. His father was a completely unknown quantity, and she didn't have those same feelings of trust when it came to a man she'd never met. "They can meet," she said cautiously. "But I don't want him introducing himself as Ben's grandfather. Not yet. That will have to come later."

"I'll make sure he knows," Dean promised. "So, is there any kind of yoga you can teach me that I can do with my body like this?"

Lisa laughed and looked at him consideringly. It was a question that had never come up before, oddly enough, but she could see how yoga would help with his muscle cramps and to relax his body after all of the weird ways it would have to compensate for the changes. Cobra would be a good place to start. There were several stretches that focused more on the upper torso, and a few others that she might be able to adapt. "We've got some time. Ben's going to be out for at least a half hour, maybe longer. Want to try a few things and see how they work?"

His answering grin had a slightly wicked edge to it and Lisa rolled her eyes but smiled back. "If you haven't been doing those stretches like we talked about back when we first met, Winchester, you won't enjoy this nearly as much as you think."

xxx

Tom poked his head back into the room once Lisa and Ben were gone for the day. It was pretty late by the time they'd left and he was already starting to fall asleep with the lights on. "You have a nice visit, Dean?"

He couldn't stop smiling, which was possibly answer enough. "Bite me, Tom."

The man laughed and sat down in the chair next to Dean's bed. "I'm pretty sure I'm not your type, given your reaction to her."

"Super-hot, right? Did I tell you she moonlights as a yoga instructor?"

"Nope." The smile on his physical therapists face dimmed a little and his expression became a little more serious. "What was with the kid?"

The light mood slipped away, but Dean was still fairly happy. "He's mine," he said. "She didn't tell me about him at the time, but I think she's changing her mind."

The other man whistled. "Wow, that's big. How'd she handle the legs?"

Dean glanced down. "Pretty good, actually. Better than me, I can tell you that."

"Well, there you go. And hey, at least she showed up with the kid. That's something, at least." Tom patted him on the shoulder in a friendly fashion and headed out the door, turning out the lights as he went. "Get some sleep, Dean. This emotional family crap is worse than anything I'm going to put you through any day of the week."

Dean couldn't help but agree.

Part 3

John took a long, deep breath before he squared his shoulders and walked into the building. It had been years since he'd had to do anything like this. Most of his employment since he'd pulled up stakes from Lawrence had been under the table jobs at places that were clearly up to something shady. He didn't think he'd had a real job since he sold his half of the garage, and without anything on his resume that he could report to an employer it had been difficult finding a job close enough to Dean. He'd spent most of the week checking in at every place in town that might possibly hire him and desperation meant that he was still making the rounds on Saturday.

The guy who owned the place came out of the garage's small, greasy office. He was probably a World War II vet, given his age and the way he held his body, and despite that age he was basically a walking slab of muscle. John had learned a long time ago how to recognize a United States Armed Forces veteran. It had bailed him out of trouble more times than he could count. "You the one who called about a job?" the man asked, peering up at John with a studying gaze.

"John Winchester," he said promptly, offering his hand. Polite respect was the best way to make an impression on a member of the Greatest Generation. Dean was better at this than he was, in a lot of ways. The kid could pull of genuinely earnest in a way that John had never truly been in his life, despite all of the crap that had happened in his son's life.

"Well, Mr. Winchester, I'm Jim Phillips. Folks mostly call me Butch. Mind telling me why you're looking for a job?"

It was a deceptive question, simple on the surface but really asking a lot more than was obvious. It was the kind of question John might ask when he was trying to get a witness to open up on a hunt, and there were all kinds of answers that he could give. John settled for the most truthful. "My son's in the hospital. Going to be there for a while, so I'm going to be in this town for a while. Figured a job was better than sitting around getting drunk, and this way I'd be able to pay some of the bills."

The man looked at him, gaze steady if a bit myopic. He seemed to be taking in what John had said and rolling it around his head before he finally nodded. "What do you know about those damned trouble code readers?"

Lucky for him, Dean had picked one of those up about two weeks before the accident. His son had been intending to take it apart for some no-doubt nefarious plan, but he hadn't had the chance and John had found it and a manual in a cleaning sweep of the Impala. He'd even taken the time to read through the manual, desperate for any distraction while he waited for the doctors. Right then he couldn't bear to look at his journal or anything that reminded him of hunting. "I can use them."

Butch shook his head. "I know what the problem with a car is. I can find it and fix it. But the damned light won't go off unless someone uses that thing, and the customers complain. Damned idiot lights are more trouble than they're worth."

"I can help with that." John had professional references, of a sort: Bobby Singer had promised to vouch for him if he gave someone the number to Bobby's salvage yard. It wasn't perfect, but it should work. John was a good mechanic and he was going to be in this town for a very long time. It was long past due, honestly. "And I'm good with all of the other stuff, too. See that car out there?" He pointed to the Impala, because it was pretty much the best resume a mechanic could have. "That car has been the family car since I bought it in 1973. We've driven it across the country four separate times, and it still runs as good as it did back then."

As he'd suspected, the Impala got him a probationary shot at a job and his skills with a wrench helped him cement it a little. He hadn't even had to bust out the sob story of Dean, though he'd held it in reserve. John was rusty when it came to getting and holding legal gainful employment and he'd been prepared to pull out all of the stops if he'd needed to do so. Most of Dean's recovery was being covered by all of those anonymous benefactors, but John needed to sleep under a roof and eat real food and build up some sort of nest egg for when Dean was released from rehab but not ready for the road. Every aspect of their lives was going to have to change, at least for a while. It would take some getting used to, and John hoped it didn't come crashing down on his unprepared shoulders and hurt his son even more. Dean had already lost too much to hunting.

Once he had a job secured, John headed over to see Dean. It would take a little more time before he could turn the job into a semi-permanent residence, though he'd probably end up trading in some of Dean's accumulated good will with the kind of history he'd built up, even if most of it wasn't in his name.

Dean looked oddly, genuinely happy when he made it to the hospital. It wasn't an emotion he was used to seeing on his son, even before the accident, and it didn't take long to realize that there was something going on with Dean. "Lay it on me," he said, sitting down in the visitor's chair next to the bed. "What happened while I was gone?"

There was a long pause, too long really, before Dean spoke. "I think it might be better if you don't know right now. I really don't need the headaches it's going to stir up."

That sounded like an excuse to John, and a pretty bad one at that, but the chance that whatever revelation he was hiding would ruin both of their moods meant that John let it go, for the moment at least. "Tell me later. Got a job in the garage in town. It should help tide us over."

"A job or a ijob/i?"

"Mechanic work," he answered shortly. "Probably boring, but I can take on a few local hunts in my free time to keep my hand in. I'll start looking for a place to live on Monday." Finding a place with wheelchair access would be a real bitch.

Dean nodded. "I'll tell you everything tomorrow, Dad. I just want to keep it to myself for now."

xxx

Once they had moved him to the rehab center, the days quickly became routine. He changed into a T-shirt and sweatpants after breakfast and wheeled down to the large gym, where Tom would help him onto the weight machine. They'd work his upper body first thing in the morning, and then switch over to exercises designed to keep the muscles of his legs from atrophy while they waited for his legs to heal. After about an hour and a half of free time to rest, he'd be back down for a second round. The last round of the day started about an hour after lunch and was always the longest, combining the exercises with what the man called occupational therapy. Dean thought that it was a stupidly long name for what basically amounted to relearning how to do certain tasks now that he couldn't bend his ankles.

It was the hardest Dean had worked in his life. Tom kept pushing and Dean could appreciate that. It was clear that he would never be exactly the way he used to be, but he'd traded the mobility for some increasingly impressive upper body strength. His dad was in and out a little more frequently once they moved him, occasionally gone on hunts but more often looking for work . Winchesters didn't do well on charity. Bobby dropped off a stack of old, dusty books and a stack of empty notebooks with the promise of more to come and that served to keep him occupied whenever he wasn't being tortured in physical therapy.

The weekends, of course, were quickly becoming another story entirely. Lisa drove down with Ben every Friday night that she could swing, crashing in the apartment that his father had rented once he'd realized that this was going to take a lot longer than any other previous hospital stay. The place probably wasn't great, but they still hadn't let him out overnight so Dean hadn't seen it. Tom told him they were waiting for him to get enough physical dexterity to be self-sufficient and that they would re-evaluate him soon for that particular decision. Dean was going a little stir-crazy at the rehab place and was ready for the change. He hadn't had a weapon handy since the accident unless one counted the small knife that he kept in his bedside drawer; it would be too much trouble to conceal it from Tom during all their different activities if he was carrying it all the time.

The work paid off before too long. Jim brought his first prosthetics by the rehab hospital on a Tuesday afternoon. They were ugly as hell and slightly uncomfortable because they still needed padded in a few places, which was the point of the visit. Dean pointed out where the thing was uncomfortable, where it pinched a little and where it was way too loose, and the man took careful notes and disappeared with the legs, leaving Dean to Tom again. Jim was back with the adjusted prosthetics the next afternoon and this time they took special care in strapping the things into place.

He realized that it was a little strange to be so ridiculously excited about getting to try his first pair of prosthetics, but Dean had missed just walking (all right, he missed a lot of things including alcohol, but walking was about to be fixed so he was willing to let the others go for a moment) and while it wouldn't be the same as having his real legs, it was a start towards normalcy. He was still hoping that someday he'd be able to hunt again, but right now being able to pee while standing would be a nice start. He'd been on his ass for two weeks and was ready for a change.

He was wearing shorts for the day, and probably for the foreseeable future, and the stumps of his legs still looked swollen to him and felt tender. Looking at them irritated him a little. That wasn't how his legs were supposed to look. He had already lost some muscle there and the pain meds had made him nauseous enough that he'd also lost weight in general since the surgery, so to him his legs looked skinny and short, ending with swollen lumps instead of feet.

Tom had explained that the prosthetics he would be using today wouldn't be on more than thirty minutes at the most. They would gradually increase the time that he spent wearing them while his body adjusted, and then he would be fitted with more permanent prosthetics. Today Tom was hopeful that they'd get up on the bars before the end of this session, but he didn't seem to have any further goals. Dean was going to prove him wrong, though. He was going to take a step today if it killed him.

He had a fine sheen of sweat built up by the time both prosthetics were in place and he was ready to begin, more from nerves than exertion. The bars almost seemed to be mocking him from where he was sitting, and Dean clenched his hands into fists and glared at them. Those things weren't going to beat him, not today and not fucking ever. He wouldn't let it win.

xxx

It was shaping up to be a bad night, and Dean could tell that from the moment he woke up that morning. His thigh muscles were knotted with cramps for some reason, back muscles tight from trying to compensate, and he was having phantom limb pain before he even opened his eyes. It wasn't only pain today, which was even more aggravating. The sole and toes of his right foot itched like he had athlete's foot and nothing Dean tried could convince his body that the itch wasn't real.

He knew from experience that medication probably wouldn't touch what he was feeling, and Dean hated the feeling he got when he took anything stronger than Tylenol. The pain and the muscle cramps eased back as he massaged his legs, going back and forth between them, but it never truly disappeared. Therapy was cancelled for the day, which further soured his mood. Any time spent not working on his recovery was time he was probably going backwards.

Tom took a turn when Dean let him because his hands were tired, his professional detachment mask on after a very brief conversation. He was glad about that. Today was one of those days when he wanted to pretend that this body wasn't his at all, and that was hard to do when you were having a conversation about pain levels and phantom limbs and muscle cramps.

Eventually the pain backed off, but the weird itch remained. Dean reached for a fresh notebook, one of those leather-bound books that looked like it was in active decay, and, after a quick perusal of the text, something that would help him translate Hebrew. Hopefully if he focused on something else for a while his brain could figure out what was going on with his body, and when he was working on something like this at least he was doing something more productive than arguing with his own body. He would rather be working on weapons, but that would probably get him kicked out.

The contents went back and forth between the two extremes of 'dry as dust' and 'overly flowery shit' and Dean sighed as he slowly translated it into English. Some parts of it made him stop, pause, and re-read, turning the grammar around a little in his head. He might not have learned Hebrew yet, but he'd picked up fairly easily that the only real difference between Modern Hebrew and Ancient Hebrew were confusions with grammar.

He was ten pages into the book when his eyes widened and he reached for his cell phone. His dad needed to be here, to read this. It was couched in that super-poetic language, but if Dean was doing this right this reference resembled his mother's death a little too closely for coincidence. He left a terse message on voicemail, instructing his father to come to the hospital as soon as he could.

While he waited for his father, he continued the translation. This wasn't really his thing, after all, and it had mostly become his job because he was on the disabled list and John Winchester didn't have the patience for it. They'd have to have someone else look it over, Pastor Jim or Bobby most likely, because Dean was positive he was missing things. The things he was scribbling down with more and more speed were more than enough to keep him horrified and he couldn't help but hope that some of what he was writing down was a mistranslation.

His dad showed up an hour after Dean had called, looking typically rough. Dean knew he'd gotten back from a hunt at some ridiculous hour and gone into work right afterwards and that his call had woken the man up. That didn't quite account for everything, but Dad's drinking was his own business. "What have you got?"

Dean swallowed. "I think I've got a lead on what killed mom."

There was a sharp, sudden intake of breath from John Winchester, letting Dean know that the words had hit his father like a sucker punch. "You're sure?"

"I said I think, Dad. Of course I'm not sure. But as long as I'm reading this right, it looks like this might be a solid lead." He passed the notebook over to his father, his eyes flickering to the slim, musty-smelling book sitting on the table. He wasn't far into the thing and needed to keep translating in case there was more that they would learn from the thing.

He half-expected his dad to tear through the pages, reading the information he'd jotted down as fast as possible, but he was as thorough as always, reading quickly but carefully. "How soon can you get this finished?"

"Tomorrow morning," he said, confident he could have at least a rudimentary translation by then if he worked through the night. "Do you think we've finally got a bead on the damn thing?"

"Maybe," John admitted. He set the notebook down on the bed and rubbed his face with both hands, the calloused skin of his palms scratching audibly against his rough beard. "We're closer, anyway. We have at least a possibility of a name. Good work, Dean."

Those words had the same effect as always and Dean couldn't help the smile that crept up his face despite the context of the whole mess.

xxx

Tom stayed just outside of Dean Winchester's room, listening carefully to make sure those two were on the right track, but he didn't need to worry. They were some of the best hunters in the business and both John and Dean had caught on almost immediately.

It had been a risk, slipping that book into Dean's pile. If they started to question where the book had come from in the first place and talked to Bobby Singer the whole thing might unravel. There was just no other way to get the information to the Winchesters without the big reveal and he didn't want to attract the kind of attention that he would gather from both sides of this little squabble if he just spread his wings right there in Dean's hospital room.

He walked down the hallway until he was far enough away from the bustle of the everyday crowd to fly to his little brother's side. Cas had been keeping watch over Sam Winchester and getting increasingly antsy about it. Angels were all created with specific purposes and Castiel wasn't really meant to be a guardian. They could all do everything, technically, but they all took care of their specific niche the best. No other angel bore messages or communicated information like Gabriel, for instance, and there wasn't any one better suited for leading the armies of heaven than Michael. Cas was meant as a warrior and a keeper of knowledge.

"Anything new?"

"A demon attempted to get close to him," Castiel said. "It was possessing his roommate. I sent it back to hell."

"Kid still alive?"

"The demon had destroyed the body beyond normal repair already. The reapers took his soul to its destination."

Gabriel sighed at the matter-of-fact report. Dean had loosened his brother up in the original timeline, but he could still do with a little relaxation. "Sammy know anything was up?"

"I believe he was unaware. They know little of demons at this time, despite the fact that Sam has been shadowed by them his entire life. He mourns Brady, though. They were friends before the demon took him." Castiel turned to him. "Is Dean well?"

"He's still learning how to handle things. I had to make sure he was down today. It was time for him to start figuring things out."

"I am still unsure if it was right to keep them apart like this," Castiel said, his tone unhappy. "We both know they're stronger together."

"We can't let any of those yahoos use them against each other," Gabriel said, the argument a familiar one. Castiel had been in charge of making sure Sam didn't read the article that had pointed Lisa Braeden toward Dean. Sammy was safe here at Stanford right now, especially with Gabriel's little brother keeping an eye on things. With John and Dean becoming aware of old yellow-eyes, Azazael would have to make a play for them. That information had been closely guarded by both sides so that no one figured it out and stopped things. In the original timeline, John Winchester had still managed to put large chunks of it together and Gabriel was confident that John would put the playbook he had put together to good use. It wasn't straight information sharing, which would have made the Winchesters openly suspicious, but it wouldn't be hard to connect the dots with that and with the other things that John had figured out over the years.

There were a handful of causality loops caused by the angels in the original timeline, but Gabriel had taken care of those this time so that the already strained timeline didn't shatter completely. It had been a bitch, keeping all of the details the same without anyone figuring out that 'Dean' was actually Gabriel, but he'd managed it without any problems. Part of him wished he could have stopped the whole thing right there, but that kind of thinking would get him dead real quick. His current plan was to derail the plan for the time being and then do a shake-up in heaven with his spare time afterwards. Really, he was surprised the whole thing had worked the first time. It all hung on just the slightest details and had taken an incredible amount of work to line up. And here he was, Castiel at his side, fucking the whole thing up.

Gabriel smiled at the thought.

"Well, if there aren't any problems on this end I'm heading out to start a few rumors, get things moving in the right direction." He needed to work in more than one direction so that John Winchester ended up with the Colt and Azazael realized that Dean was vulnerable. He'd already made sure that old yellow eyes had recognized the possible threat of Dean Winchester with one of those trips to the past, so as soon as the demon got wind that Dean was holed up in the hospital he'd be on top of that.

The trick to it would be keeping the two rumors from meeting up. The demon couldn't realize that John Winchester was close to the Colt, though he was fairly certain that John would end up using his supposedly weakened son as bait.

xxx

John rubbed at his eyes, feeling old and bleary and worn-down. He'd driven straight to the hospital after his trip with just a quick stop at the apartment to drop off a package for Dean, just in case. It looked like he wouldn't be able to be around this weekend, so it made sense to make sure the apartment was stocked.

Dean was working on the parallel bars when he got into the room, bulky prosthetics strapped on for the world to see. It was hard to see him like this, to think of his sweet, good-natured little boy as a disabled man, and even harder to realize that it was at least partially his fault for putting Dean into the situation in the first place.

He must have drifted off while he was watching his son, because the next thing he knew he was being gentle shaken by Dean's quirky physical therapist. "Dean, I think you better take your old man down to your room before he takes up residence in the gym," the guy said, his tone joking.

Dean rolled his eyes at the guy and turned to John. "Good trip?"

"I found what I was looking for," he said, mindful of his surroundings. "Stashed it back at the apartment for safe-keeping. It's in the usual place for things like that." They'd always kept weapons in the same places in every apartment, rental house, or motel room, and a few other necessities tucked in common places. It added stability to their lives. "Think I'm going to head back out tonight, though. See if I can't play Killdeer, buy you some time."

Dean nodded. "Lisa has the spare key?"

"As long as your girl hasn't lost it," John grunted. He'd only met Lisa once or twice, and while she seemed like a nice enough girl, he wasn't sure if it was a good idea for Dean to get involved with her right now. Of course, his son was effectively out of the game for the immediate future and possible forever, so now was as good a time as any to try for a relationship. "Just came by to see how you were doing and let you know how things went."

"Be careful, Dad." Dean wouldn't say 'I love you.' John didn't think he'd heard those words from his son since Mary had died. Instead Dean used actions to say what he couldn't get out. It was a problem they shared.

"You too, son." He bent down and hugged Dean close. "I'll call you from the road."

xxx

Lisa showed up at the apartment at her usual time, though she was a day earlier than normal. This was Dean's first weekend out of the facility, sort of a dry run before they moved him to outpatient status. Ben had stayed behind this weekend, giving her sister a little time to spoil him, and she was looking forward to seeing Dean without their small shadow for once. She loved Ben, don't get her wrong, but it was nice to have a break every once in a while.

John wasn't home, so she unlocked the door with the key she'd been given and stepped inside, preparing to crash on the bed. They had an unspoken agreement that she got the bed when she visited and he took the couch.

She dropped her bag next to the garage-sale coffee table, like always, and turned on the lamp. The sight that greeted her with that light made her freeze.

John wasn't exactly into decorating and other than a handful of faded pictures propped up on handy surfaces there normally weren't any personal touches to the place beyond the battered secondhand furniture. Now, though, the walls were completely covered. There were maps and printouts and photocopies of something written in Dean's oddly neat hand. It looked like a combination of something the U.S. Marshals might use for fugitive recovery and the Hollywood version of conspiracy theory. She was suddenly very, very glad that Ben had stayed in Indiana for the weekend, no matter how much he had groaned about not getting to see Dean.

There was no sign that John was anywhere in the apartment or that he would be back within the next few minutes, which was oddly settling for her. Lisa wasn't exactly sure what she'd do if John Winchester picked this moment to show up and talk to her.

There were a lot of things that she could have done with this particular sight. She could have called the police, of course, but there probably wasn't anything illegal here. Just a whole lot of weird and strange, and definitely not something she would have expected from John Winchester. The guy had seemed fairly level-headed the first time she'd met him, though he was a bit closed-off.

Her next instinct was to call Dean and she followed through on that one, pulling out her cell phone and hitting the speed dial as she sat down on the threadbare couch, eyes focused on the wall of crazy. It rang three times before he answered, his voice sounding a little odd. Lisa couldn't tell if it was because of the connection or if there was a problem at his end, but right now that didn't matter. "Why does your dad have a wall of weird in his apartment?"

There was a long pause while static crackled over the line. The cell reception in this place was pretty bad. "I can take a pretty good guess. Come over to the hospital. I'll get Tom to let you in."

"It's after hours," she protested. It was always a pain when people ignored those kinds of things where she worked.

"Trust me, Lisa, Tom won't mind. It's not always a good idea to be around my dad when he's like this. I'll explain when you get here."

Lisa really didn't like the way that sounded. John hadn't seemed like a bad guy at all when they'd met, though she hadn't really spent much time with him. This kind of instant turn-around was frustrating and more than a little worrying and she was doubly glad that Ben was back in Indiana. No matter what was going on, though, she wasn't about to leave Dean alone in this whole mess. They might not have defined their relationship beyond her mentally calling him 'boyfriend' but with Ben in the picture tying the two of them together Lisa was fairly sure they were stuck with each other.

When she got to the hospital Tom was waiting by the door. The keys were in the lock and once he let her inside he locked up behind her. "Past couple of days have been kind of rough on him," he said quietly. "We were thinking of changing the plans for this weekend, but Dean managed to push through therapy like always and I've got a feeling that if we tried to stop him he might just make a break for it."

Dean looked drawn, more tired than usual which was saying something, but he smiled as bright as ever when she walked through the door. "Hey, just who I wanted to see. It was getting boring around here. All they ever do is make me work."

"And it's paying off, since you're getting away this weekend," Tom said. "I'm going to head down the hall and work on some reports. Call if you need anything."

He shut the door behind him and Lisa headed over to the bed and dropped down into the chair sitting next to it. "All right, what's going on?"

Dean looked her over, the gaze more assessing than appreciative. "It's a very, very long story, Lisa. Are you sure you want to know?"

"You better tell me right now," she said, working to keep her tone firm.

"All right." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "When I was four years old, my mother was murdered and the house set on fire to cover it up. My dad has spent pretty much all of his time since then searching for the son of a bitch who did it. I didn't see what's at the apartment, but I can almost guarantee you that's what it is. We got a fresh lead this week and Dad's back on the trail."

"Wow." She reached for his hand, both to try and offer comfort and to find a lifeline for her own use. "That's . . .that's a lot."

He laughed. "Yeah, it is. The cops never believed Dad when he tried to tell them what he saw, so he took Sam and me on the road looking for the bastard that killed my mom. We never talked about it to anyone except a couple of friends that Dad decided we could trust. I've never told anyone about this before."

"What did he do when he wasn't looking for the killer?"

"PI work and bounty-hunting, mostly, but he didn't have a license so it was all under the table. A little mechanic work on the side when he could get it." She had the feeling he was skirting around something, but for the moment she let it go. This was already enough for her to handle.

They talked for a while and Dean managed to talk her into crawling onto his hospital bed. He was having muscle cramps in his thighs and what was left of his calves, and she helped work those out. She kept waiting for Tom to come back in and throw her out, but somehow she fell asleep like that, curled on her side around Dean, and didn't wake up until the nurse came in for morning wake up call.

No one made a big deal about her presence, even though it was clear she shouldn't have been there overnight. Dean was pretty well-liked here, it seemed, and Tom must have vouched for her with the rest of the staff because they mostly left her alone. It probably didn't hurt that she helped Dean with his shower and other tasks that the nurses would typically need to do.

Lisa had planned on spending most of her day at the rehab hospital before this latest twist, watching Dean's therapy and discovering if there were any specific exercises that they wanted Dean to do while he was 'on leave,' so those plans didn't change. There was an odd tension in the air, thick enough that it was almost tangible against the skin on the back of her neck, and it was hard to tell where it was coming from. Most of the nurses were behaving the same as normal, or what she would consider normal. Dean, though, was still carrying that drawn, tired expression from last night. Lisa was starting to suspect that it had less to do with pain and more with worry, since John was apparently AWOL. She'd think the stress was coming from him, but Tom was oddly distracted this morning as well.

John didn't show up when it was time for Dean to leave for the weekend, which surprised Lisa but apparently not Dean. Her boyfriend seemed resigned to it and they managed to climb into her little plastic Hyundai without problems, wheelchair folded up in the backseat and duffelbag with a surprising number of books tucked in next to it. That stack of old, musty books that had rested on his bedside table and practically redefined what she thought about Dean. He wasn't wearing the prosthetics, but they were tucked into the well behind the passenger seat.

The apartment was the same as she'd left it the night before, suggesting John was gone for a little longer than she'd originally thought. It made her angry, the casual disregard he held for his son. Dean was so easy to love, most of the time, and it was clear that to him this was business as usual. It was a bit of a revelation, honestly. His entire childhood must have been a series of variations on this particular theme, with the search for Mary Winchester's killer taking precedence over anything else. It explained a lot about him and his relationship with his brother.

It was technically only barely wheelchair accessible inside this place, but John had kept the place so sparsely furnished that it worked that way. The bathroom and kitchen were decently set up and that was what really mattered, even if the doorways were just barely wide enough in a few places to allow the wheelchair through. Dean needed to line up perfectly and build up speed to get into the larger bedroom because he had to pull his arms in to make it through, but he seemed to like the challenge so Lisa left him to it and brought in her bags while he was finding his way around the apartment.

Even though they'd left the hospital behind Lisa could still feel the tension building, so it must have been coming from Dean. It had gotten worse as they settled in for the evening, so much so that she would have sworn someone was watching her as she rummaged around looking for takeout menus. They couldn't quite afford it, but after the day she'd had she was in no mood to cook. The two of them would figure out how to navigate the kitchen tomorrow, since it looked like it would be just the two of them.

On the plus side, time without John Winchester might mean that they could see about resuming the physical aspects of their relationship. It had been a long dry spell on her end at least, and probably for Dean as well. If they had the apartment to themselves it meant that they would be able to take their time and figure out how to make things work now that things were different.

Lisa smiled at the thought. Yes, if she could manage to dispel the feeling that she was being watched she would definitely jump right into that project, with enthusiasm. This was as close to date night as you could get when you were a parent. Better make the most of it.

She and Dean argued over their dinner choices for about ten minutes before settling on Chinese. Once the order was placed Dean made the transfer over to the couch. Lisa got something for both of them to drink (Dean couldn't have alcohol right now because the doctor still had him on painkillers and so she made a pot of green tea instead) and they ended up staring at John's wall of maps while they waited. "Can you tell where he is from that?" she asked into the silence.

"Yeah, it's not a problem. Black pins are old sightings. Dad had a theory that the son of a bitch was doing the same thing all over the country, basically as a serial killer. He found fourteen different deaths, though they weren't all identical. Then things went quiet for ten years and there were seventeen more over the course of a year, and those are marked with the yellow pins. Quiet again after that until a few months ago, but there have been nine deaths that fit the pattern so far. Those are in red."

"I probably don't really want to know this, but what is the pattern, exactly?"

"There's always a baby involved, one that turns six months old on that day. There's always a death, with an unexplainably hot fire, but sometimes it's the mother and sometimes someone else in the family, like the father or an aunt or uncle or grandparent or sibling. The baby always makes it out, no matter what else."

"And that's the way it happened with your family?"

His arm wrapped around her a little more tightly. "That's exactly what happened with my family. No one would ever believe my dad when he said something strange happened, and he's never been able to get someone to see the pattern since. He gave up last time when it was clear that the FBI guy he was talking to thought he was the one doing the killing."

"God, that's horrible."

"Dad's pretty determined to stop the guy this time," Dean said. "That's why I'm not making a fuss now. It's been hounding his ass for the last twenty years. Maybe if he can stop the guy he'll finally be able to let it all go."

Lisa was on the verge of pointing out that it was technically a job for the cops to bring that guy in, but she was trying to think of a polite way to phrase it so that it didn't cut into the possibility of making out later when someone knocked on the door.

"There should be money in the silverware drawer," Dean told her as she got up. "If not, my wallet's in the pocket of my jacket."

It turned out that John Winchester had about two hundred dollars stashed in the drawer, tucked underneath the plastic divider. Lisa shook her head at the odd habit, probably one that the Winchester family had started years ago, and went to answer the door and hopefully intercept dinner before the delivery guy got bored and left.

The guy at the door was older than the typical delivery person, but he had the bags in his hands and the typical frustrated expression from someone with that particular job description. Lisa wasn't particularly worried about security, but she'd been a single mom too long to not be cautious. She left the chain in place and opened the door enough to speak to him.

He smiled when the door opened, the expression smug. "Well, you're pretty much exactly what I pictured when I heard Dean was shacking up with a girl. Those Winchesters always did have great taste in women."

Lisa took a few hurried steps back, more in confusion and panic than out of any deliberate escape plan, slamming the door with as much forced as she could muster and running for Dean. For his part, Dean was in the process of moving into the wheelchair as quickly as possible. Whatever was going on, Lisa was going to stay as close to him as possible.

The door flew into the living room like it had been propelled out of a cannon and the man strode inside, hands now empty and held in front of him. "That was pretty rude, honey, but then the Winchesters always did favor fiery women." That same smile from outside, the one that promised cruelty, slid onto the man's face, and his eyes turned a shade of yellow that closely resembled a urine sample. "Long time no see, Deano. Heard you were laid up and thought I'd pay you a visit."

Dean shook his head. "I really don't plan on it, douchebag."

"Oh, but we have so much to catch up on. Just let me take care of this little detail and we can chat." He waved his hand in Lisa's direction.

Nothing happened, and Lisa tried to catch Dean's eye so that he could explain what the hell was going on. From what she could see of his face, Dean was smirking.

"You really didn't think we knew you were coming, Azazael?" His eyes flicked up to the ceiling of the room. Some part of Lisa winced, because John was never going to get the security deposit back with a massive occult drawing on the plaster above them. She didn't know what it meant, or what it was stopping, but it was pretty clear that it pissed off the man with the yellow eyes. Maybe later she'd be in the mood for that pun.

"I won't exactly have a problem busting out of this thing, Dean, and you won't be able to leave in the time it takes to get out since John drew this one right over the doorway."

"I know," Dean said simply. "That's why Dad left me this as a little insurance policy." He reached into the drawer of the garage-sale end table and pulled out a revolver that looked like it had just managed to escape an old John Wayne movie. "He had a feeling that you'd try something like this."

"You really going to kill me, Dean? Right here in front of your cookie?" The nasty smile had never really disappeared, but it was almost gone now. "I'm pretty sure pretty little Lisa is going to run screaming for the hills if you try something like that. Besides, I know a few little secrets about Sammy that I'm just dying to share."

For a moment Dean wavered. Lisa could see it in his expression and the way his eyes flicked over to her and back to the man in front of him. Then his shoulders went back and his chin raised. "Not interested," he said, and fired the gun.

Lisa's hands flew up to cover her ears and she almost yelped at the sound, her eyes glued to the sight in front of her. The man dropped to his knees, worn hands clutching at his chest, and then fell forward.

Dean let out a breath. He looked from the gun in his hand, lowered now that the threat was gone, to the dead body lying on the living room floor. He wasn't looking at her, which Lisa was fairly certain was a deliberate choice on his part. "Lisa, call 911. The neighbors probably heard the gunshot. We need to call it in now."

She nodded, reached for her cell phone, and fumbled through the numbers with shaking hands while she attempted to process it all.

xxx

In the end, the police brought him in for questioning and then released him without pressing charges. It would never have flown in a larger city, but out here in a more rural area they let it go with self-defense. It helped that he now had a good reputation with this community because of the accident and that he'd been 'helpless' to attempt any less lethal measures.

Lisa stuck with him at the police station for as long as possible and then waited for him when they did separate them for questioning. She still wasn't saying much, but Dean was sure that wouldn't take much longer to break. The first time you saw someone die it was always weird and strange and scary.

They didn't make him go back to the rehab hospital, though they probably should have tried to for at least another week. After that close call, he wasn't in the mood to feel trapped and helpless in a hospital bed at night, especially once Lisa headed back to Indiana.

The silence was held until they got into a hotel room (since the apartment was currently a crime scene) and Lisa had clocked the door behind them. "All right," she said, calmer now that she'd apparently had time to think things over. "Tell me everything."

Dean smiled.

Epilogue

It had taken Sam almost a month to find his brother, once he'd started really looking for him. In the end, he'd had to plead with Bobby, apparently the only one of his father's old friends that knew where Dean could be found, to get here.

The Impala sat outside of the garage, gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Sam was willing to bet it was probably some of the best advertisement they could get. At least he knew he was in the right place. Where the car went, Dean went as well. He trailed a hand across her sun-warmed black skin, fighting back the feeling of home that this car always brought, and headed inside.

It wasn't quite as pleasant inside the building. The bay doors were all open in a futile attempt to catch a cross breeze, but it remained stuffy and a little too warm. It was also incredibly noisy, between the hard rock blasting out of one dilapidated radio and the power tools in use, and it took a minute or so until someone noticed Sam.

The noise level dropped a little and one of the workers headed over to him, wiping rough hands on a shop cloth. "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Dean Winchester," Sam told him. He knew he looked out of place here, in his law-student clothing instead of the worn flannel and denim that he'd grown up in. He'd almost changed to fit in a little better, but decided not to. This was who he was now.

The man grunted and gestured toward the corner, where the radio was located and two booted feet stuck out from underneath a minivan. Sam headed over in that direction, feeling the eyes boring into his back as he approached what must be his brother.

He had been beyond surprised when Bobby had told him that Dean wasn't hunting, that he'd settled down in a small town in Indiana and was working at a garage. Bobby had refused to tell him why, or where John Winchester was. Sam was willing to bet that Bobby didn't know and didn't care about John. His dad and Bobby had problems with each other, but then John Winchester had problems with just about everyone. "Dean?" There was no response, so Sam reached over and turned down the music. "Dean?"

"What? I'm almost done." Sam fidgeted for a minute or two, looking down at the boots in front of him, before the dolly rolled out from underneath the vehicle, opposite the direction of Dean's feet and Sam. His brother took his time climbing to his feet, hidden by the vehicle, and Sam held his breath. This was the moment of truth. He could have called Dean; Bobby had his number, but Sam had wanted this face to face meeting. Dean took one step, moving from the driver's side door to the hood. He was still mostly hidden by the bulky thing, but Sam could see his face now and could see the moment his brother realized who was standing there. "Sammy?"

"Hey, Dean." There was more that he wanted to say, a lot more, but it got lost in the overwhelming joy of being in Dean's presence. "Been awhile."

Dean snorted and walked around the front of the minivan, catching his brother in a hug that probably smeared grease and oil on Sam's clothing. The small part of his brain that wasn't caught up in 'Dean' and 'home' noticed something wrong with Dean's slightly stiff walk, but that was a distant concern compared to everything else. When he finally let go, Sam could swear he saw tears in his brother's eyes for just a second, but he dismissed it. That wasn't Dean's style. "Ralph! I finished the Wilson soccer-mobile, heading out for the day."

The man who had pointed Sam towards Dean grunted in acknowledgement and waved them out the door. Dean walked over to the oddly neat work bench against the wall and grabbed a cane that Sam hadn't noticed until now before walking out with the same oddly stiff gait, Sam trailing behind.

Of course his brother had been injured. He would never have given up hunting otherwise. Sam tried to see if he could tell what was causing the slightly stiff walking, how Dean was leaning on the cane and which leg was the bad one, but even with shorter legs and some sort of injury slowing him down he beat Sam to the Impala. Dean unlocked the passenger side door before walking around the front and sliding into his own seat, lifting and adjusting first one leg and then the other. He hooked the cane over the back of the bench seat and then turned to Sam. "So what is it you want, Sammy?"

Sam tore his eyes away from the hand control that had been put into place by the steering wheel. "What makes you think I want something?"

There was a raised eyebrow look, the kind that used to be incredibly familiar and also the one that indicated that he was being a dumbass. "I haven't heard from you in seven years, Sam. You took the time to track me down, which, believe me, couldn't have been very easy, and then came instead of calling 'cause you know I have a hard time saying no to your face. You want something."

"What happened to your leg?" Sam asked, changing the subject. He did want something from his brother, of course. He and Jess were getting married (and wow, did that both excite and terrify him) and he wanted Dean to be his best man. But if he admitted as much to his brother now, he'd never hear the end of it.

Dean chuckled. He reached down with his right hand and rapped lightly on his right leg, a few inches below the knee. He repeated the action with the other leg, then shrugged. "Was a little too slow one time, and that one time was more than enough."

"God, Dean." Sam was horrified, probably as much by his brother's matter-of-fact approach to the subject as anything else. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Dean shrugged and started the car. "What was there to tell, Sam? Sometimes the job goes sideways and then you pick yourself up and move on." He started the car and pushed in a Zeppelin tape. "We're heading over to my place. I've got to take care of a few things tonight, but you can stay and have dinner. In fact, you better just plan on staying the night. For right now though, you can keep me company while I work. I've got to get the thing done before five."

Sam watched as his brother manipulated the hand control with his left hand and steered with his right, his manner casual and practiced. "Didn't you just get off work?"

"The second job isn't the kind you get paid for," Dean said, grinning. "I've been working on a few projects for some hunters. I get paid in favors for those, mostly, but it's good to keep my hand in."

"You're hunting?" Sam stared at his brother, open-mouthed in astonishment. Was Dean trying to get himself killed?

"Not like I used to," Dean admitted. "I lend a hand when I'm needed, but my days of chasing through the woods in the dark are over. Too hard to adjust to uncertain terrain. Mostly I build things for other hunters to use." He signaled left, pushed down on the hand control, turned the wheel and eased the lever back up, all in a smooth series of motions. "Here we are, Sammy."

Sam had been halfway expecting a motel, their familiar standard of living, but Dean had pulled into the parking lot of a modest ranch-style house. He pulled into the right-hand bay of the two-car garage, got out one leg at a time, and reached for his cane. "You coming?"

Sam nodded and followed his brother. The garage was neat, power tools lined up on a set of metal shelves and a large conventional tool box next to it. There were several low work benches along the walls and more than a few containers with heavy locks on the outside. One set of shelves nearest the door had a neat arrangement of gardening tools, with a pushmower beside them and a wheedwhacker hanging on a convenient hook above it. There was a conspicuously empty space in the other garage bay, probably for Dad's truck.

The bench closest to the inside of the house had a variety of unrecognizable electronics sealed up in clear plastic storage bins and a wheeled office chair cozied up to it, and instead of heading inside the house Dean sat down there. "I've got to get this done tonight," he told Sam, opening up a drawer and pulling out a soldering kit and a battered meter. "I wasn't going to have time to work on it this evening anyway, so you can talk while I work. A friend of Bobby's is waiting for it." The older man switched on a fluorescent light and Sam watched as Dean began tinkering.

"What is it?"

"EMF meter. I can make it cheaper than most hunters can buy it, and it's usually a little more dialed in for ghost-hunting than the commercial things." There was a plastic casing in one of the bins and Dean was carefully fitting the circuit boards inside. "I've made maybe twenty of these things so far." His brother was focused on the soldering iron in his hand, which was always a good thing. "Other than that and a few other things like it, it's mostly making up weapons for special occasions. That way I keep my hand in and someone else who can run in the woods doesn't waste time doing it." Dean made a few more quick adjustments, closed up the case, and flipped the switch. It made a low humming sound and the lights flared up and then dropped down to the lowest place. "Awesome," Dean muttered, switching it back off and tucking it into a shoebox. "Come on, Sammy, let's go inside where it's actually freaking air-conditioned."

The inside of the house was just as neat as the garage and surprisingly nice. Homey, even, which wasn't something that Sam would have expected from Dean. There was nothing overtly illegal left lying out, though Sam knew his brother had such things. "Nice place."

"It'll do. There's an old lady down the street. I take care of her lawn on weekends and she makes me pie."

"You can do that?"

Dean shot him a look. "Yeah, Sam, I can do that. It's not like it's hard to push a lawn mower or work a set of hedge clippers. Even a high school dropout like me can figure it out."

"No, I mean . . ." he gestured towards Dean's legs. "Isn't it hard to walk?"

Dean shrugged, taking off his jacket and hanging it up on a hook near the door. It seemed so out of character for his brother that for a moment he wondered if there was some kind of possession involved. "You get used to it. As long as the ground isn't unfamiliar, poorly lit terrain I can handle it."

"But . . ."

"Sam!" Dean hobbled over to a comfortable-looking couch and sat down. "I've got a few minutes before I have to head back out. You want to talk, now's the chance."

Sam had a hundred different questions that he wanted to ask, but he had a feeling if he didn't get into the main reason of his quest he wouldn't get a chance. He glanced around the room and then stood up to look at a row of framed pictures hanging on the wall. There was one of their parents, small and worn and faded, and a picture of him and Dean from just before he went to Stanford, but mixed in with those were more than a few people that Sam didn't' recognize at all. The most common factor seemed to be an attractive brunette with olive skin and a wide, bright smile and a boy of seven or eight, often with Dean in the picture with one or both of them. Sam looked from the pictures to his brother, who was staring back at Sam a little impatiently. "Well, Sam?"

"Do you have a family?" he blurted out, somewhere between happiness for his brother and hurt that he hadn't been told.

There was a sigh and Dean used the cane to stand up from the couch. "That's Lisa. She's my girlfriend, if you need a label. The kid is our son Ben."

Sam turned to his brother, more than a little outraged. "You have a kid? What the hell, Dean?"

"You cut me out first, Sam," Dean said, a bit of heat behind the words. "What the hell did you expect? People get hurt on the hunt. That's the way it works."

"Yeah, and people always tend to call their family members when they have kids too," Sam shot back.

"I didn't want to call you," Dean said. "Lisa showed up with him when I was in the hospital. I didn't want you there then. Didn't really want them there, either, but telling Lisa no to anything isn't something that ever works out."

"Why wouldn't you want me there?"

Dean slammed his palm against the wall, making the frames shimmy in place, and hobbled back over to the couch. He pulled the legs of his jeans (worn more loosely than Sam remembered) up, rolling the denim up past his knees and exposing the prosthetics there. "This is why, Sam."

They were ungainly things, a plastic socket cupping the end of his brother's leg tapering into a bare metal rod, with a pair of his brother's heavy boots laced up on the feet, tied in close to the rod. Dean pushed a button at the bottom of the socket on his right leg and lifted the stump of his leg out of the socket, repeating the action on the other leg. Once he'd rolled off the socks and liner he handed the right leg to his brother. "Here. Take a look at it."

Sam didn't want to touch it. Taking that thing from his brother seemed like an admission that Dean Winchester, his childhood Batman, was now permanently disabled, and it was all his fault for leaving Dean without backup on a hunt. Dean scowled and glared and shoved it into his arms. "It's not contagious, Sam. Take the goddamned leg."

Sam did as he was instructed, hands clasping the cold metal. Dean nodded. "Put it down against the wall. This one too." He handed the second leg up to Sam, who reluctantly took it and did as his brother had asked. "I was twenty-three years old and I'd just been told that I was permanently crippled, idjit. I didn't want anyone to see me like that. It was bad enough that Dad was there. Then Lisa showed up with Ben. There's no way in the world I wanted the little bit of respect you still had for me to go right down the drain like that."

Sam swallowed and looked at the stumps of his brother's legs. They both ended about six inches below the knee, the skin there smooth and almost hairless. "What happened?"

His brother made a frustrated sound, hands balled into fists resting on his knees. "There was a black dog," he finally said. "It was running around some nice little neighborhood outside of St. Louis. I chased it out onto the highway, ganked it, and was standing by the guardrail trying to get Dad to come get me when someone came along in a minivan and clipped me. I was still trying to get my bearings when some jackass driving an SUV crushed my feet. It was either amputate or never really walk again, so I told 'em to cut the damned things off."

"Jesus," Sam said, feeling the blood drain out of his face at the mental image. "Where was Dad?"

"I was trying to herd the thing toward him and away from the people. He was waiting for it with something a little more high-powered than a handgun. The thing made for the highway instead, got hit by a semi, and I finished it off." Dean's hand rested on his knee for a second, his eyes on the stumps of his legs. Then he shook off the depression and looked up. "Bring those things back over here, Sammy. We've got to get going."

Sam did as he was asked, though he still wasn't comfortable handling the prosthetics. Dean strapped the things back on and stood up stiffly. "Where exactly are we going?"

"I've got to pick up Ben from baseball practice." There was a grin tossed at him over Dean's shoulder as he headed back through the house towards the garage. "Lisa," he said, the grin turning slightly wicked, "is teaching a yoga class this afternoon."

Judging from the shit-eating grin on Dean's face, Sam was supposed to be impressed, and he was. Just not about that. Dean settling down with a yoga instructor took a backseat to Dean settling down at all. His brother had always been glad to pull up stakes and move on to another town, another school, another cheap rental that wasn't terribly particular about what John did as long as he paid the rent. Sam wasn't sure how long Dean had been living here, but he clearly had a steady job, a girlfriend, and a kid.

"So how, exactly, did you end up with a kid?" he asked.

"Well, Sammy, when two people love each other very much-," Dean started, dropping into the driver's seat with an odd exhalation of effort.

"Not what I meant and you know it, jerk. When did you move here?"

"Not the question you want to ask, Sam. What you really need to know is, when did I meet Lisa Braeden?"

Sam tucked the last name away for future reference. "Well, when did you meet her?"

"Remember that road trip I took after I dropped out of high school? Five states in five days?"

"Yeah?"

"I made to Indiana and pretty much stopped at Lisa Braeden's loft." He was still smiling, though the expression was more fond and affectionate rather than lascivious. "I'm pretty sure you can guess what happened after that."

The Impala's growling rumble started up a second later and Sam scrambled into the passenger seat. "So you got her pregnant back in '99, she never called, and then she showed up at the hospital with your kid?"

It seemed a little cold to him, but Dean was clearly remembering it differently. "Yeah. Lisa didn't know about hunting, but she knew that we didn't exactly lead a nice, stable life. She raised her kid the way she thought he should be raised." He backed out of the garage and turned onto the street, the door behind them closing automatically as they pulled away.

"So why show up at all?"

Dean laughed, the sound a little rueful. "I never really understood why. She found out when I had the accident and decided to bring Ben down. Gave me a second chance with him."

There was a Metallica tape in the deck and it gave Sam an oddly nostalgic feeling. Once his dad had gotten the truck it had been just him and Dean in this car, driving toward the next town and the next hunt, and Dean had filled the silence of what Sam could now admit was sulking with the greatest hits of mullet rock. "So tell me about Lisa," he said. "I'm having a hard time believing any woman could talk you into settling down."

"No way, dude. You still have to get whatever sent you out here off your chest. I'll talk when you've talked."

"I'm getting married," he blurted out. "That's why I tracked you down. I want you to be my best man."

Dean was quiet for a second, but he continued driving and only glanced at Sam from the corner of his eye. "Is she hot?"

"Dean!"

"It's a fair question, Sammy." There was a smile creeping up his brother's face. "Can't let my little brother marry a chick who isn't hot."

Sam sighed and dug the wallet out of his back pocket. He pulled out the picture of Jess and held it so his brother could see it without taking his eyes from the road. "She's awesome," he said. "She's the most amazing person I've ever met."

"And she's a smoking babe! Way to go, Sammy!"

Sam rolled his eyes and took the picture back. "So, will you do it?"

"Of course, Sam." Dean smile was bright now, big and happy like Sam didn't remember seeing in years. "You realize this means I get to plan the bachelor party, right?"

Sam's eyes widened. "No bachelor party! It would be too weird."

"It's un-American to not have a bachelor's party, Sammy," Dean informed him, his tone matter-of-fact. "Don't worry, I won't embarrass you in front of your college friends." There was a different kind of smile on his brother's face now, and it made Sam a little nervous.

They pulled into a gravel parking lot before Sam could protest that no, really, he didn't need a bachelor party, coming in close to a stand of bleachers. A team of prepubescent boys were out on the field still, running laps around the diamond, and Dean got out of the car with the practiced motions that were starting to become familiar to Sam, even if the slower speed was jarring to his sensibilities. He used the cane for balance and made his way over to the first row of bleachers, sitting down with a grunt. Sam sat down next to him and tried to look inconspicuous amongst the handful of other parents waiting for practice to die down. Dean got a couple of nods of recognition that he returned, but otherwise didn't really interact with any of them.

The kids scattered when the coach dismissed them a few minutes later, some of them swarming the stands and others heading out in groups, probably to walk home. Sam stood up when the boy from the photographs came running up to Dean only to stop short when he caught sight of Sam. "Who are you?" he asked, his tone suspicious enough to be borrowed from Dean Winchester at his most overprotective.

"This is your Uncle Sammy," Dean said. He stood up, barely using the cane. "Good practice, kiddo?"

"Coach Spillman said I need to practice catching fly balls on my own," the kid said, dark eyes still focused on Sam with a tiny bit of hostility still there. "Can we do that tonight?"

"Tomorrow. Tonight we're having dinner with your Uncle Sammy." Dean headed back to the Impala, Ben close on his heels and Sam trailing behind. The hostility from the kid became a little less veiled when he was forced to sit in the back seat and Sam felt the glare aimed at the back of his head the entire time.

"Go get cleaned up," Dean told the boy once they'd pulled into the garage and headed into the house. "Your mom should be home in an hour and we're going to have chicken stir-fry for dinner." Ben nodded, shot one more glare at Sam once Dean had turned away, and disappeared up the stairs.

Dinner was less of a disaster than Sam had expected. He vaguely remembered Dean cooking sometimes when they were kids and could afford more than ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. Lisa was nice, possibly nicer than his brother deserved, and she took his sudden appearance with grace. Afterwards Ben went upstairs to play on some gaming system and Dean and Sam headed into the living room, leaving the dishes to Lisa since Dean had done the cooking. Sam watched as his brother sank down onto the couch with a sigh and removed the prosthetics, setting them to the side.

"You going to tell me what's eating you?" Dean asked once they were alone. "You've had something bugging you since you got here."

Sam took a deep breath and let it out, pacing around the living room. "It's not fair. None of this is fair. You shouldn't have to deal with that kind of thing." Sam's eyes darted to the prosthetics and quickly away. "You're a hero, Dean. This shouldn't have happened to you."

"All right, Sam, listen up. I don't want to have to tell you this again." He gestured for Sam to sit in the chair next to the couch, which he did gingerly, and moved closer to the edge.

And then he slapped Sam across the back of the head.

Sam ducked his head away. "What the hell, Dean?"

"That's for being an idiot, Sammy." The man looked unrepentant. "Now, first off, I am not the moron you seem to think. I know I can't do everything I used to be able to do. I can't run through the woods at night with a gun loaded with silver bullets, or dig a grave. But I can wait with a sniper rifle while someone else flushes out the werewolf, or stand guard with rock salt while the grave is being dug. Hell, I can even run if I want, so long as the surface is flat. So why don't you let me worry about what I should be doing. I'm a grown up, Sammy. I can take care of myself."

"I know," Sam said miserably. A part of him wanted to snap it out at his brother, meet tone with tone like he had when he argued with his father, but he was sitting there looking at the stumps where his brother's lower legs should be and he just didn't have the heart for that right now.

"Hey," Dean said, reaching over and poking his brother in the arm. "Cut it out, Sam. It's not the end of the world. I mean, I'm not exactly happy to be stuck living like a low-budget version of the bionic man, but I don't have a bad life here." Lisa came into the room just then, a cautious smile on her face, and sat down on the couch next to Dean. Dean leaned in to her and whispered something in her ear. The woman nodded, a faint blush on her cheeks. "Why don't you have a beer with me, Sammy. We'll talk about a few things." Dean replaced the prosthetics, reached for his cane and pushed up out of the chair with a little effort. Sam watched him go, noticing that Lisa was doing the same thing with a smile on her face.

She turned to face him and the smile dropped away. "Don't you dare hurt him," she said, her voice kept low but her tone fierce and almost angry. "He's your brother, and he loves you. If you cut him out after this is over because he's still hunting, I will drive to California and hit you with a car."

"I'm not going to do that," Sam said, fighting to keep his own voice steady. "I just want my brother back, I swear. I never saw or heard anything when he got hurt or I would have been there."

"That's probably exactly why he didn't call you," Lisa said, transitioning between almost-anger to slight frustration in an eye-blink. "He's the most stubborn man I've ever met." The expression on her face said she wouldn't have it any other way.

Sam looked at her with a little more respect now. In Winchester land, a death threat was simply a welcome to the family. "You know what they say," he said, a smile threatening the corners of his mouth. "Like attracts like."

She huffed. "I'm not stubborn, I'm persistent."

He couldn't help the laugh from that one. Dean hobbled into the room, three beers held awkwardly in the hand that didn't hold a cane. "You flirting with my girl, Sammy? I might have to kick your ass for that."

"We're telling stories about you," Lisa said, leaning into him once he'd lowered his body down onto the couch. "That way we both have more ammunition to use when you start acting like a jerk."

"Hey, now, I'm always a perfect gentleman around you," Dean protested, a grin spreading across his face despite an attempt to look wounded. "I remember to put the toilet seat down and everything."

Sam had the feeling that this was one of those couple's jokes, the kind he had with Jess, and it was simultaneously disturbing and satisfying. Lisa kissed his brother, the kind of kiss that was usually accompanied with the breathy phrase of 'come up to bed' and headed upstairs while Sam tried to keep looking away. "You're welcome to the couch tonight, Sam."

Dean watched her go, a smile on his face and turned back to Sam. "All right, you've got three minutes to get your questions out, Sammy-boy, or you're waiting until morning."

He wasn't sure he wanted to spoil the mood that they were having, but if he didn't ask now he'd just stay awake all night wondering what had happened. "Where's dad?"

"In Minnesota," Dean answered automatically. "He's about halfway between Jim Murphy and Bobby Singer."

"Dad gave up hunting?"

Dean shrugged, the beer bottle in his hand swirling. "We got the thing that got Mom, Sammy. I wanted you to be there, but Dad said no. You wanted out of the life, you wanted to be done with hunting, so we let you go. After that, Dad didn't really have fight left. He still takes on a hunt every once in a while, but for the most part he's out."

Sam stared at his brother in disbelief. John Winchester had been hunting for Sam's entire life. The idea of him stopping now stopped his momentum completely. "So what does he do?"

His brother took a drink from his beer. "Believe it or not, he's got an in with the sheriff's department there. Got a job, a girlfriend. Hell, one day he might even marry her." Dean drained the rest of his beer, used his cane to push up from the couch, and carried the empty bottle into the kitchen. "I'll see you in the morning, Sammy. Spare blankets are in the closet under the stairs." He took the steps slowly but with the kind of even motion that proclaimed a lot of practice. Sam watched him go until Dean hit the top of the stairs and turned out the lights over that part of the house. Then he burrowed down onto the couch and slept. It was the best sleep he'd had in a long time.