Title: Fragments of Sorrow

Author: Heavenli24

Characters/Pairing: Dean, Lisa, Ben, OCs

Rating: TEEN

Word count: 13,500

Spoilers: Season 6

Summary: Snippets of the missing year between Season 5 and 6. Various POVs

Disclaimer: The characters of Supernatural do not belong to me and no infringement is intended.

Notes: Written for the 2012 Summergen fic exchange, for chiiyo86


May 2010

Dean

It hurts. It hurts more than anything he could have ever imagined.

He doesn't know how he's still alive, how he's still keeping going, because the biggest part of him is dead. It died along with Sam when he jumped into that hole.

It should have been him. It's all he can think about… all the time. He was supposed to save Sam, not let him sacrifice himself. It was his job, his responsibility.

'You have to save him, Dean. Nothing else matters. Save Sammy.'

His father's words ring in his ears. He bows his head against the tears that are threatening to fall yet again. He should have done something, anything, to stop his brother from jumping into the pit.

He's failed.

He's failed himself, he's failed his father, and worst of all, he's failed Sammy.

His whole life, he's had one job that really mattered.

One.

Keep Sammy safe.

That's it. Simple, huh?

Apparently not.

Everything he's done since that night has been about Sammy.

Carrying him from the fire, changing his diapers and feeding him when his father was, well, unable to do so; teaching him to read and write, to learn right from wrong; taking care of him when Dad was on a case; looking out for him on hunts; patching him up when he was hurt; giving him girl advice and the sex talk (yeah, that one went down well); keeping an eye on him at Stanford so he could make sure he was okay; tracking him down when Dad was missing because he didn't want to work alone; making deals with the devil to save his life; enduring 30 years of torture in hell just for keeping him alive.

The list is endless.

But now Sammy is gone and what the hell is he supposed to do now?

He has no idea, so he starts the Impala's engine and starts driving. Doesn't think about where he's going, just drives. It doesn't even occur to him that he's ended up in Cicero, Indiana until he's pulling up outside Lisa Braeden's door. He cuts the engine and just sits there, unsure what to do, unable to make his limbs move, unable to form a coherent thought other than 'Sammy's gone'.

Involuntary tears leak from his eyes when he squeezes them tight, trying to shut out the images of Sam disappearing into the pit just a couple of days ago that are playing across his vision. He's almost ready to turn the key, pull away from the curb and keep on driving, but then Sam's words ring in his ears…

'You go find Lisa. You pray to god she's dumb enough to take you in, and you - you have barbecues and go to football games. You go live some normal, apple-pie life, Dean. Promise me.'

… and he just can't do it. He made a promise. He can't break it. Sammy sacrificed himself to stop the apocalypse, to save the world, to save him.

So, he takes a deep breath, ignores the crushing weight of the pain in his heart, opens the Impala door and climbs out.

The walk up the pathway to the door seems endless and he doesn't know how his legs are still holding him up. He manages it though, forces his hand up to the door and knocks. It's all he can do to keep from breaking down when he sees her face, those big, dark eyes which once looked at him with promises of excitement and seduction, now filled with concern and warmth, as she pulls him into her arms and holds him tight.

He feels himself relax into her warm embrace, not realising how much he needs it, needs the physical contact, until he's burying his face in her shoulder, tears streaming down his face. She holds him for what seems like forever, whispering comforting, soothing words into his ear as he sobs against her.

It's not perfect; it doesn't make everything right, and it's not what he really wants—what he wants is to have Sam back, to have his father back and even more, to have his mother back, but it's all he's going to get and for now it has to be enough.

He doesn't know if he's ever going to feel normal again, if he's ever going to heal from this, ever going to stop missing Sam, stop thinking about him trapped in Lucifer's cage, but he's here and she's holding him, and it's what he needs, is all he can hope for right now.


May 2010

Sam

He can see Dean through the window from his position in the street, and he watches as Lisa approaches him holding a bowl of food, says something to him and sits down at the table with him. The man he knows to be his brother looks tired and drawn, and the smile on his face is so obviously forced that it should make his chest tighten with sadness… except it doesn't.

Because Sam can't feel anything.

Sure, he can remember his whole life, he knows who Dean is, knows exactly what his big brother has done for him, what he's sacrificed, how much he loves him, yet as his brain filters through the memories, he can't bring himself to care about any of it.

He knows he should be feeling something right now; he and Dean have stopped the apocalypse, he sacrificed himself to save the world, jumped into the pit and took Lucifer and Michael and Adam with him. Somehow he survived and is back on Earth again as if nothing happened, yet he feels nothing; he's indifferent to the whole situation. He knows that the old Sam would run straight to the house across the street, bang down the door and pull his brother into a tight hug, but the new Sam can't… won't do that. He doesn't know why not, he just knows that he has no inclination or desire whatsoever to announce his presence to his brother.

Dean has kept his promise to him, he's gone to Lisa and is going to live that 'Apple Pie life' for him. He's out now, and if he could feel anything, Sam would be glad of that, would be happy for him, would wish he could do the same. But this Sam, this new, improved, numb Sam, feels nothing.

He takes one last look at Dean, at the life he can build for himself now, and he turns to walk away.

His family doesn't matter anymore; it's irrelevant. Without the emotional ties that have been keeping him tethered his whole life, he's now free. He can do what he wants now, hunt what he wants, and he doesn't have to worry about a thing.


May 2010

Castiel

He stands in the street, unseen, invisible, eyes on Sam as he stares into the window, watching his brother with the Lisa woman and her son. He's waiting for Sam to take that first step, to walk up to the house and knock on the door; for Dean to welcome his brother with open arms, to hug him tightly and eyes filled with human emotions that have always eluded Castiel.

He waits for it, but it never comes.

Instead, Sam turns away from the house, towards him, and walks away. It should be the first thing that indicates that something is wrong, that his resurrection of Sam from Lucifer's Cage hasn't been as successful as he thinks.

There's a niggling thought in the back of his mind that maybe this is a warning, a sign that he's made a mistake, but he chooses to ignore it.

He glances back toward the house again, sees Dean reaching across the table and helping himself to food. He wonders if he should reveal himself, if he should knock on that door and tell Dean that his brother is alive. But how will he explain that Sam is not here anymore, that he's turned and walked away without a word.

Plus, he has a job to do now and having Dean back in the hunting fold would only jeopardise his plans. Dean is out of the way now, he's under the radar, and that's where he needs to stay, at least for now.


July 2010

Jack

It's a slow day at the garage and it gives Jack the opportunity to watch his newest employee hard at work as he calmly and methodically works his way around the engine of Mr. Jones' '65 Mustang.

Kid knows what he's doing, that much has been obvious from the moment he picked up a wrench and popped open a hood on his first day here, and Jack is glad for the competency. He's getting on a bit now, only a couple of years from retirement and so he's been on the lookout for possible candidates to take over the garage.

Unfortunately he's discovered that finding a mechanic who knows classic cars like the back of their hand is a rarity these days, especially one young enough to keep the business running for several more years. He had hoped to hand the garage down to his son, but Mark's living in California with his wife now, so that's not an option anymore. Jack figures if he can find a potential future manager now, he'll be all set by the time retirement comes around. Problem is, most younger guys who come looking for a job here don't have a clue what to do with vehicles built before 1990, let alone before 1970.

But this guy, Dean Winchester, he's a natural.

When he first showed up at the garage a few weeks ago, Jack asked him how he knew so much about classic cars, but Dean was evasive, uncomfortable, only revealing that his father had been a mechanic and had taught him everything he knew. Jack frowned in concern, it was obvious something was troubling the man, but he let it slide in favour of seeing what he could do, and after Dean impressed him with his assessment of the car that had just been brought in that morning, gave him the job.

Apart from his impressive skills as a mechanic, Jack has to admit that he doesn't know a whole lot about Dean Winchester. He's been working for him for going on six weeks now, yet all he knows about him is that he showed up in town back in early May and has been living with Lisa Braeden and her son, Ben, who live a few blocks away. Cicero is a small town and there has been plenty of gossip and speculation flying around about the rugged newcomer, but despite the curiosity and questions, it doesn't seem like anyone knows much about him.

Old Mr. Jenkins swears that he saw him driving a sleek, well-cared-for, black '67 Impala when he first arrived, which, if that really was the case, might explain why he knows so much about the classics, but the car was apparently only seen that one time and since then Jack has only seen him driving an old white pick-up truck.

Dean shifts under the hood of the car and then straightens up, wiping his hands on his overalls, as he looks down at the engine with a satisfied smile. He rounds the side of the car and leans in through the window to turn the key in the ignition. Jack nods with approval and heads over to the car as the engine comes to life, purring smoothly. Dean looks up as he approaches, a grin spreading across his face.

"Good work," Jack praises with an impressed nod.

"Yeah." Dean nods, reaching for a towel to wipe the remainder of the grease from his hands. "She just needed a little TLC."

"You're a great mechanic, Dean." He tells him. "Really know your way around an engine, don't you?"

Dean ducks his head for a moment, as if he's not used to being praised, and then shrugs. "Had a lot of practice."

"Yeah. I can tell." Jack nods, trying to hide a smile at Dean's reaction. The guy usually exudes such an air of confidence, that he wouldn't have pegged him as the shy type. He hesitates for a moment, before deciding to bite the bullet, curiosity getting the better of him. "I heard you had a '67 Impala. That's a sweet car. Great year."

"Yeah." Dean stiffens a little, as he looks away and busies himself with collecting up the tools he'd been using. "I did."

"Not anymore?" Jack frowns. He can't understand why anyone, especially not someone who so obviously loves classic cars, would willingly give up a ride like that in favour of driving a truck.

Dean just shrugs, giving a slight shake of his head, and turns back to the car again. Jack can tell there's a story there, but he's not gonna push. Same as when he didn't push the other day when one of their customers mentioned that his brother was coming up to visit from Kansas and Dean, who'd been having a perfectly pleasant conversation with them up to that point, suddenly shut down, his expression clouding over and a troubled frown appearing on his face.

It's obvious the guy has some past issues he needs to work through, but as long as they don't affect the quality of his work here, Jack's willing to leave it alone and let them slide. Besides, Dean definitely seems like the strong, silent type, not one to talk about his feelings, which is pretty much fine with Jack; he's not much for caring and sharing either, something his wife's been unsuccessfully trying to break him out of for the last thirty-odd years.

Still, it doesn't stop him from wondering what exactly his new employee's story is. Something's definitely happened to make him so guarded, but Jack can't quite figure out what. He definitely seems to be a mystery around town though, judging by the gossip he keeps overhearing from the customers.

Maybe one day he'll get the whole story, but he's not holding his breath.


September 2010

Lisa

"So," says Rita, nudging her elbow and nodding at the two figures across the room. "Dean. He seems great."

Lisa nods, absently running her finger around the rim of her coffee cup, her eyes fixed on her son, who is clumsily attempting to line up his pool cue with the balls on the table. Dean is chuckling affectionately at Ben's awkward stance and her lips curl up in a smile as he steps up beside him and shows him the correct position. Ben's contentment is evident on his face and Lisa feels a pang of emotion as she watches the two interact. Dean may not be her son's biological father, but he's certainly stepped up to the plate since he's been here, and the effect he's having on Ben's life can only be described as welcomed and positive.

"Yeah. He is," she murmurs eventually. "He's great with Ben."

"Yeah, he seems to be, doesn't he?" agrees Rita, following her gaze for a moment, before nudging her again and shooting her a conspiratorial wink. "And he's got a killer body. I bet he's great in bed too."

"Rita!" Lisa's eyes widen, her mouth dropping open in surprised amusement as she reaches over and gives her friend a small shove. If they were talking about anyone else, she might be embarrassed by the suggestion, but truth is, she is kind of interested in finding out if he's as good as she remembers.

"What?" Her friend retorts, expression falsely innocent. "He is, isn't he?"

Lisa's gaze goes back to Dean again and she shakes her head slightly.

"I don't know," she admits softly. "We haven't…"

Rita frowns, her face scrunching up in confusion. "Seriously? He's been living with you for almost three months and you haven't even done the dirty yet?"

She sighs softly, wishing it was as simple as just falling into bed with him again, but they aren't the same carefree kids who spent an amazing weekend together all those years ago; and Dean isn't the same fun-loving, quick-witted guy who'd swept her off her feet back then. He's dealing with so much right now that romance, however much she'd like it, just isn't on the cards. He needs his space, needs time to grieve, to get over Sam, and she's not going to jeopardise that just because she fancies a roll in the hay.

"He's been going through some stuff lately. Pretty big stuff." Her eyes return to her friend while she searches for the right words, "It's not… he's not… it's just not the right time."

"But you want to, right?" presses Rita, with a grin and another nudge. "Because he's, like, incredibly hot. Hell, if I weren't married, I wouldn't mind taking him for a test drive."

Lisa glances over to the pool tables again, where Dean is now leaning on his pool cue, one foot crossed over the other as he explains something to Ben. His features are animated as he gestures with one hand, more animated than she thinks she's seen him since he came back into her life a few months ago, and his green eyes are bright in the soft lighting. She bites her lip as she takes in the way the tight grey t-shirt hugs his chest beneath the flannel shirt he's wearing, and the way his jeans fit just right. It might have been ten years since those incredible few days they spent together, but although he's definitely matured and changed emotionally in that time, physically he still has the ability to make her knees go weak. She has to admit that she's dying to find out if he's still as amazing in bed as she remembers.

"Yeah…"

"Hey, you never know, he might even live up to that 'best night of your life' guy you told me about."

Lisa holds back a grin as she recalls the conversation she'd had with her new friend a few months ago. Rita was new to town and they'd gone out for coffee a few weeks after Lisa hired her as the new yoga instructor at her gym. Somehow the subject of their first loves and best and worst hook-ups had come up in conversation and she found herself telling Rita about this amazing guy she'd slept with back when she was nineteen. She hadn't told her his name though, or many of the details.

"Oh, I don't think that's going to be an issue," she replies airily.

"Really?" Rita's eyebrows draw together in confusion. "How do you figure?"

Lisa can't stop the grin this time and she leans in closer. "Because Dean is 'best night of my life' guy."

She tries not to laugh as Rita's eyes widen comically and her jaw drops with a gasp. "You… what? How…I mean…?"

Lisa smiles. "I met Dean back in the summer of '98. In a biker bar." She rolls her eyes as her friend gives her a surprised look. "Yeah, I was going through a bit of a wild stage back then." She shrugs. "He was there, we hooked up… spent a long weekend together. Best weekend of my life."

She can't help the grin that spreads across her face as she remembers it, her heart speeding up in response. She's sure her cheeks are flushed by now too.

"Wow… so, what happened?"

"He was just passing through town." she gives a sheepish shrug, eyes dropping to her coffee mug. "He left, I carried on with my life. Then a few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant."

"You're kidding! Dean is Ben's real father?"

She shakes her head. Yeah, she wishes.

"I thought he might be. But there was another guy too." Off Rita's look, she adds, "Hey, I told you I was going through a wild phase. Anyway, I found the other guy and did a blood test. The baby wasn't Dean's. So I had Ben and moved on with my life; didn't expect to ever see him again."

"Well, obviously that isn't the case."

"No."

Lisa glances over at Dean again. This time he's looking her way and she catches his eye, sending him a warm smile. He nods, his lips twitching slightly, as if he's trying to smile, but can't quite manage it. Her heart sinks slightly at the barely-masked haunted look in his eyes. He might be trying to convince her… and maybe even himself… that he's okay, that he's healing, but it's obvious he's still hurting.

"He showed up on my doorstep one day a couple years ago." She turns back to Rita. "Completely out of the blue. No explanation." She leans towards her again, lowering her voice. "He won't admit it, but I think he was hoping for a repeat of that weekend."

"Yeah? How was it?" Rita grins conspiratorially, before frowning. "Wait, was? I take it that didn't happen then?"

She shakes her head, recalling the confused surprise she'd felt when she opened the door to him that day.

"He doesn't have the best timing. It was Ben's birthday and we were having a party." She gives Rita a pointed look. "I wasn't exactly prepared to see him again right then, you know." She sighs. "Plus, he freaked out a bit when he realised how old Ben was and asked me straight out if he was his father."

"He wasn't thrilled with the idea of being a dad?"

"No, well, that's the thing." she admits, recalling the despondent look on his face when she'd told him. "I didn't think he would be, but he actually looked disappointed when I told him Ben wasn't his. Said it would have been nice to have something to leave behind after he was gone." She looks down, not needing to look at her friend to know she had questions. "I found out later that he thought he only had a few months left to live. God, his face when he realised he wasn't a dad… you don't know how much I wished Ben was really his right then."

"Wow." Rita turns to look at Dean and Ben again, an intrigued expression on her face. "He's obviously still alive and kicking though."

"Yeah. I don't know exactly what happened"—it was true, Dean hasn't told her much about his deal or his time in hell. He tends to skim over things he thinks she won't be able to handle—"But I guess it was a false alarm or something. Anyway, I didn't hear from him again until a few months ago when he showed up again; something had happened, and I don't think he had anywhere else to go. So he's living here with us now."

"What happened to him? Was it bad?"

"Sorry, Rita, I can't." Lisa shakes her head. "It's personal… and private."

Rita nods in understanding and there is an awkward pause as the conversation dies away.

"Hey, Mom!" Ben's excited voice brings a much-needed diversion as the eleven-year-old bounds toward their table. "I just beat Dean at pool. Twice."

"Hey, that's great, sweetie." Lisa smiles and ruffles her son's hair as he slides into the chair opposite her and reaches for a cookie.

"He's a fast learner," says Dean, coming up behind Ben and resting a hand on his shoulder for a moment, before moving around the table, pressing a soft kiss to her mouth as he takes a seat beside her.

Lisa resists the urge to lift a finger to her lips when he pulls away. Kisses from Dean are a rarity these days and she savours them when she can. The first month he was here, they barely touched, even though they were sharing a bed by the end of the month—he was plagued by nightmares over Sam and hadn't been in any state to think about even seeking comfort in her—but as time progressed and he started to come to terms with things, and became more comfortable around her, he began to open up a little more. He's still guarded though, and he still drinks too much and still has nightmares, but he's also started to emerge from his depressed funk and is more receptive to physical contact now.

She smiles in amusement when he too sneaks a cookie, giving Ben a wink as he takes a bite, and then reaches over and slides his other hand into hers, resting it on her knee and entwining their fingers together. She gently tightens her fingers around his in a reassuring gesture and his lips quirk in a tiny hint of a smile as he relaxes slightly in his seat.

She knows he isn't entirely happy here, knows that he is suffering, knows that still has a long way to go before he can feel normal again; but even so, she's grateful that he's here, glad that she's the one he came to after everything, happy that he's so good with Ben, that her son finally has a father figure in his life.

Maybe she's hoping for too much, but she can't help but wonder if maybe this is the start of something big for them.


Late October 2010

Castiel

He's here again, back in Cicero, Indiana, and he's still lurking, unseen just watching.

Castiel needs help, that's why he's here. He can't fight Raphael alone.

Dean is raking leaves, movements methodical and purposeful, as if it's the only thing he can control. He's about to reveal himself, to approach his friend, but then he stops. Dean is not a hunter anymore. He's sacrificed so much, sacrificed his own brother even, to save the world, to stop Castiel's own brothers from destroying the world and now he's free, he's finally at peace, living the life he always wanted. He can't ask him for more, not now.

Crowley appears at his side, says he's here to help, he proposes a business transaction. He talks about deals and souls and happy endings. He doesn't want to agree, doesn't want to take the demon up on the offer, but as he looks back at Dean, sees him doing ordinary, human things, he realises he doesn't have much of a choice. He's not a fool, he knows who Crowley is, what he does, but he also knows he can better him, he's smarter and stronger and can keep in control.

And it means he can leave Dean out of it, let him carry on with his life, oblivious to the continuing unrest in both heaven and hell.


November 2010 – Thanksgiving

Diane Braeden

She watches him with curiosity, this man her daughter has taken into her home, as he plays a video game with her grandson. Ben laughs victoriously as he takes the lead once again, but her attention isn't on the young boy, it's centred on the man beside him. Dean's brow is furrowed with intense concentration, gaze fixed on the screen, tongue poking out of the side of his mouth as he determinedly presses the keys on the control.

She doesn't know much about him, really, other than that his name is Dean Winchester and he came to live with Lisa and Ben back in the summer after something awful happened to him. Lisa wouldn't tell her what though, saying it wasn't her story to tell, which frustrated Diane to no end at first, since it wasn't like she'd even seen the man yet, let alone knew him well enough for him to tell her the story himself. But after she met him briefly at Ben's birthday party a couple of weeks after he'd moved in, she could understand why. The Dean she'd met back in May had been a closed-off shell of a man, pain and grief evident in his eyes, in his every movement, and she could tell right off that whatever he was going through was serious.

What surprised her the most, though, was how he'd hidden his own problems behind a brave face for her grandson that day. As soon as Ben had appeared in the kitchen where Dean had been making coffee, the haunted look in his eyes had been quickly masked by a smile, albeit one that didn't quite reach his eyes, and he'd wished the boy a Happy Birthday, ruffling his hair playfully, as he teased him about getting older.

As Ben left the kitchen though, his eyes met hers and she could see the pain in his gaze once more. She gave him a reassuring smile, although she didn't really know what she was reassuring him of and he smiled back, giving a small nod, before continuing with the coffee. That was all she really saw of him that day though, as he busied himself with setting up the barbecue and playing football with Ben and his friends for the rest of the day.

This is the first time she's seen him since then though and she has to admit that he seems to have healed at least a little in the last few months. She still doesn't know what exactly he's been through, although if she had to guess she would say perhaps he's served in Afghanistan or Iraq, which would also explain why he's only seen her daughter a couple of times over the years.

She knows he and Lisa have some kind of a past, but she's not sure what exactly that past involves. Lisa told her about meeting him here in town a few years ago, not long after she moved to Indiana, and then how he showed up unexpectedly at Ben's eighth birthday party… Diane hadn't been able to attend that year, as she and her husband had been on a cruise in the Caribbean, so she hadn't met him then.

Despite talking with him during dinner last night after she and her husband arrived in Cicero for Thanksgiving, she's still not really any closer to figuring him out. He seems like a nice enough man, but she wonders if his past is haunting him a little too much, wonders if what he's experienced in life is going to affect his relationship with her daughter and Ben. She hates the thought of Lisa getting hurt again, especially after what happened with Ben's father, who none of them have heard from in years, other than the monthly child support check appearing in the mail.

"Yes!"

Ben's shout of triumph pulls her from her musings and she blinks.

"I won!" He punches the air, before poking Dean's chest gloatingly. "Take that, sucker."

"Aww, man," says Dean, letting go of his remote and rubbing at his chest absently with one hand as he slings the other around Ben's neck, tugging him closer and ruffling his hair. "You're just too good, you know that?"

Diane Braeden smiles as she observes the playful banter between the two. While she's still a little apprehensive about Dean, she can't deny that he seems to have bonded well with her grandson.

"Hey, Dean?" Lisa enters the room from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. "Did you pick up the cranberry sauce yesterday? I can't seem to find it."

Dean's brow furrows in thought for a moment, before his eyes widen and he looks up at her daughter guiltily. Diane bites her lip to hide a smile, the expression making him look years younger than he is.

"Sh—crap," he amends quickly, flicking a glance in Diane's direction. She quirks an eyebrow. "Sorry, Lise, I forgot. I'll go get them right now." He stands up and turns to Ben, who has reached for the TV remote and is flicking through the channels. "Hey, squirt, you wanna come to the store with me?"

"Nah, I'm good."

"I'll go with you," Diane finds herself offering. Dean turns to her, a look of surprise on his face, so she adds, "If you don't mind, that is."

"No, no. That's fine." He nods, patting down his pockets, looking for something. "Lise, you seen my wallet?"

Diane smothers a grin as her daughter rolls her eyes at Dean and points him to the lamp table near the door where his wallet is sitting proudly in the middle.

"Thanks." Dean smiles gratefully, retrieving his wallet and shoving it into his pocket as he gives Lisa a quick peck on the lips. "Back soon, okay?"

Dean heads for the door and Diane stands up, smoothing her hands down her skirt as she make to follow him, but Lisa stops her with a hand on her arm.

"I know what you're doing, Mom." She gives her a pointed look. "No giving him the third degree, okay?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, honey," she says as innocently as she can. "I just need to pick up a couple things from the store too."

With a barely-concealed smile, she turns and follows Dean out to the truck.


The drive to the convenience store begins in relative silence and Dean fidgets constantly; looking around at the other traffic on the road, adjusting the rearview mirror, flicking through various radio stations but unable to settle on just one.

Was he nervous around her? The thought amuses her, because he doesn't seem like the nervous type, especially not around women her age.

"Everything okay?" she asks, trying not to smile.

"What?" He glances at her. "Yeah. Peachy."

But he continues to flick through the radio stations, and when he passes over the beginning strains of Ramble On for the third time, she finally has enough.

"Dean, hon?" She reaches out, resting her hand on his to stop him from pressing the button again. "You think we could stick with just one station? I'm kind of partial to that song."

He looks down at her hand over his briefly, before turning his head, eyebrows raised in surprise. "You like Zeppelin?"

"Of course," she retorts, as if it should be obvious. "Some of the best times of my life played out to a Zeppelin soundtrack." She sends him a grin. "I'm surprised you know this one though. A bit before your time I would have thought."

"Are you kidding?" His response is almost incredulous, features more expressive than she's seen them before and she smiles, glimpsing a hint of the man hiding beneath the troubled exterior. "Zeppelin rules! And Ramble On?" He shakes his head in reverence. "Favourite song. Hands down."

"But you just skipped over it three times."

His open expression quickly folds inwards, face hardening and lips pressing together tightly as he focuses on the road again, and she immediately wishes she could take the words back.

"Yeah, well." He clears his throat, eyes fixed straight ahead. "Haven't really been in the mood to hear it lately."

She wants to say more, a number of questions on the tip of her tongue, begging to be asked, but he's closed off now, his demeanour indicating that the subject is off-limits. They journey continues in silence, save for the strains of Led Zeppelin echoing through the car, until he pulls into the parking lot of the convenience store, cutting the engine and climbing out of the truck.

He opens the passenger door for her and, with a small smile, holds out a hand to her. She takes it, impressed, and lets him help her out of the vehicle. As they enter the store, she files it away as another piece of the puzzle that is Dean. He heads for the cranberry sauce, while she busies herself over in the toiletries aisle, grabbing the few things she'd forgotten to bring with her from home.

When she's done, she scans the aisles for Dean and finds him at the bakery counter near the back of the store. He's smiling at the young girl behind the counter as she cuts a large slice of apple pie and places it into a plastic carton.

"Here you go, Mr. Winchester," she says as she hands it to him. "Happy Thanksgiving."

"Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Callie."

He grins down at the pie in his hand as he turns away from the counter; it's the first real smile Diane thinks she's seen from him so far, and she can't help but smile too. Maybe Dean does have a weak spot, something that still makes him happy, after all.

He hasn't noticed her standing there yet, so she just observes him for a moment, notices how he licks his lips as he starts to open the carton, his expression more carefree than she's seen it so far.

"Isn't it a bit early for pie, Dean?" He jumps slightly, shutting the carton and his head shooting up, looking a little guilty as he realises she's watching him. "We do have a whole Thanksgiving dinner to get through first, you know, the one my daughter has been slaving over all morning?"

"Oh, um, I was just…" he looks lost for a moment, before giving up and admitting, "Okay, you got me. I love me some pie."

"That's okay, dear." She smiles kindly, reaching out to pat his arm, not missing the way he flinches slightly at the contact. "We all have our vices."

"Yeah, I guess."

He seems uncertain, as if he's just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and Diane shakes her head in amusement.

"Come on, let's get out of here, shall we?" She nods towards the checkout. "I'm sure my daughter is wondering where that all important cranberry sauce has got to."

"Right, sure."

He gestures for her to go first and she smiles as she passes him, touched by the gentlemanly manners he's displaying. It seems like there's definitely more to him beneath the grief and sadness she can see in his eyes. They pay for their goods and head out to the car, Dean opening the passenger door for her again before walking round to the driver's side.

Back in the summer when she told her husband about the new man in their daughter's life, he was less than pleased about it, automatically suspicious about his possible hidden intentions and influence over Lisa and their grandson, especially considering that he'd just appeared out of nowhere and was suddenly living with them without taking the time to get to know each other first. Diane had to admit that she had her reservations in the beginning too, and even after meeting Dean in the summer, she still hadn't been entirely sure she could trust him. But from what she's seen of him so far this week, how he interacts with Ben and Lisa, and even herself, she definitely thinks they underestimated him at first.

Obviously he's been through a lot, but at the same time, there are definite glimpses of a kind-hearted man underneath his many layers. It's on the tip of her tongue to ask what brought him here, to Lisa and Ben, and as Dean starts the truck and pulls out of the parking lot, Diane finds the words just spilling from her mouth.

"So, how do you like it here in Cicero?" she asks, before speculating, "Must be a big change from what you're used to."

His eyes snap to hers, expression unreadable.

"What did Lisa tell you?" His tone isn't accusatory, just curious.

"Nothing much, really," she shakes her head. "But you don't seem like the suburban type to me. Let me guess: you were in the forces?"

He looks back to the road, pausing for a moment, before saying, "Something like that."

"What happened?"

He shakes his head, and she's surprised to see his eyes tearing up. Her heart goes out to him; whatever he's been through, it can't have been good.

"I'm sorry, I can't…I can't really talk about it…" He fumbles for the words, before stopping.

"Hey, it's okay," she assures him. "Just forget I asked."

He nods, composing himself and concentrating on the road again. There are a few seconds of silence before he starts talking again.

"My brother… Sam. He—he died. Back in May, just before… just before I came here." He stops, swallowing audibly, before continuing, "He was all I had. I, uh, I had nowhere else to go and Lisa… she was kind enough to take me in, let me wallow on her couch."

Diane's heart breaks for him as he speaks and she reaches out, laying a hand on his arm. "Oh, Dean… honey. I'm so sorry."

He nods tightly and runs his other hand down over his face. "If it weren't for Lisa… and Ben, I don't know where I'd be." He turns to her again, his expression sincere. "I know you probably have your reservations about me, and I don't blame you, but just know that I care about them a hell of a lot and I wouldn't ever intentionally do anything to hurt them."

"I know you wouldn't, Dean." She smiles warmly, squeezing his arm lightly before letting go and settling back in her seat. "I've seen how happy Lisa is with you, and how much Ben looks up to you as well."

"Thanks." He shifts uneasily in his seat, ducking his head.

"So, uh, what's with the pie?" She decides to change the subject to something lighter, nodding to the carton on the seat between them. "I know you said you love it, but I'm pretty sure we have more than enough for dessert already without adding pie to the mix too."

"Are you kidding?" he responds with a grin, looking a little relieved. "There's always room for pie."


"So, uh, Dean…" Diane starts later, after dinner, as she helps Lisa clean up the kitchen while her husband, Dean and Ben watch the game in the living room.

Lisa looks up from washing the dishes with a wary expression. "Yes, Mom? What about him?"

Diane raises her hands up in surrender. "Don't look at me like that, honey. I'm not here to judge him." Lisa raises an eyebrow expectantly. "I just wanted to say that he seems like a nice man."

"He is, Mom," says Lisa, although she still looks a little guarded. "He's great."

"He's going through a difficult time though…"

"Yeah" Lisa nods. "He is. But he's working through it. He's getting better."

Her daughter turns back to the sink again, reaching for another plate.

"He told me about his brother."

Lisa stops, the plate slipping from her fingers and sliding into the soapy water as she turns to face her again.

"He did?" Lisa wonders, looking surprised. "Wow, he usually won't talk to anyone else about Sam."

"Sam? Was that his name?"

Lisa nods.

"What happened to him?" Diane knows she shouldn't pry, but she's dying to know the full story.

Lisa shakes her head, glancing around the room briefly before replying, "I don't know all the details, Mom. Dean's not really big on talking about this stuff. I just know there was some kind of accident and Dean couldn't save him."

Diane nods, watching her daughter carefully. She gets the feeling that Lisa knows more about what's happened to Dean than she's letting on, but it's obvious she's not going to talk about it. For both Lisa and Ben's sakes, she just hopes Dean and his brother weren't involved in anything shady. She would hate to think that the good impression she's got of him today was just an illusion.

"I like him, sweetheart," is what she says instead.

Lisa nods, glancing towards the living room, before smiling widely, "Me too, Mom."


January 24th 2011

Tammy

"Hey, Jan, sorry I'm late," Tammy apologises breathlessly as she steps behind the bar, quickly tying a small black apron around her waist. "Did I miss anything?"

"Nah," replies Janice, whose shift she's taking over. "We're pretty quiet this evening. He's here again though."

Tammy's eyes follow the direction of Janice's nod to see a familiar lone customer at the other end of the bar. Dean Winchester.

She nods; he's been in here a lot lately, always coming in around five in the evening, usually accompanied by Sid, his colleague over at the construction site. Sometimes he comes in alone, pulls a stool up to the corner of the bar counter and nurses glasses of whisky, or maybe a few beers, for a couple of hours, until he stands up, drags himself from the bar and leaves. He walks home; she noticed that a while ago, when she started keeping an eye on his stumbling, swaying form, as he leaves the bar and headed down the street.

"I'm gonna head out." Janice's words pull her from her thoughts and she turns her attention away from Dean. "Have a fun night."

"Bye."

Tammy watches her colleague leave, before turning to serve the group of customers who have just appeared at the bar. More than once while she's fixing their drinks though, she finds her attention drawn to Dean. He's holding his usual glass of Scotch, staring down into the dark liquid as he swirls it around for a few seconds before lifting it to his lips and taking a sip. As she fixes the last of the drinks orders, he lifts his head and his eyes meet hers. She gives him a nod and a small smile, before turning her attention back to her customer. When she's done and the small crowd at this end of the bar has dissipated, she makes her way over to him.

"Hey, Dean."

"Tammy." He nods.

"No Sid today?"

"Nah," he replies, shaking his head and taking another sip of Scotch. "Had to get home to the wife."

"And you don't have a wife to get home to?"

"Me, married?" he scoffs, downing the remainder of his drink. "Nah."

Tammy frowns at that. She's sure she's heard people saying that Dean lives with Lisa Braeden, but maybe they were wrong. Although, come to think of it, she has seen a number of women approach him in the last few weeks and she's never even seen a flicker of interest in his eyes, even when the women in question are undeniably attractive, so maybe he is taken after all… just not married, apparently.

"Can I get you another?" she asks, as he places the empty glass down on the counter.

"Sure."

She takes the empty and pours another, already knowing what he likes to drink, all the while taking sneaky glances at him. She's not really sure what to make of Dean. He's kind of fascinated her since showed up here in Cicero last summer, but she doesn't know a whole lot about him. When he comes in with Sid, they take one of the tables across the room and from what she can tell, they just talk sports or work. From what she's gathered, from the few times she's managed to catch glimpses of their conversations, he's only recently started working at the construction site. Before that, she's pretty sure he was working at Jack Thompson's garage, and doing a pretty good job of it, from what she's heard from her customers, so she's not really sure why he no longer works there.

Occasionally, like this evening, he's alone, and normally his defensive, closed off body language will indicate he doesn't want to be approached by anyone, but tonight he seems a little different, less introverted and more aware of his surroundings. He's looking over at her more than usual, looking around the bar, as if he's looking for someone, and so she doesn't feel like she needs to stay clear of him tonight.

"Here you go." She smiles and hands him the drink, before resting her hand on the counter. He reaches for the glass and downs it in one. She raises her eyebrows. "Bad day?"

He shrugs, "Yeah. Something like that."

"Wanna talk about it?" she asks, before she can stop herself. At his raised eyebrow, she quickly adds, "I've been told I'm a good listener."

That gets a smile from him. "I'm sure you are."

He lowers his head to his glass again and Tammy's not sure if that's an indication she should leave him alone or not, but she can't bring herself to turn away. Instead she takes a moment to study him, her gaze roaming over the long lashes framing his downturned eyes, the cute smattering of freckles across his nose and the full lips she deemed 'begging to be kissed' the first time she saw him.

Despite the good looks though, his face also shows a hardness, a weariness that she only usually sees in much older men, ones who've lived hard lives, maybe been to war and are still dealing with what they witnessed there. If she's asked to guess his age from his facial features, she'll say late twenties or early thirties, but his eyes and the way he holds himself speak of years of anguish and pain, and it makes him seem years older.

"Another?" She nods at the empty glass in front of him.

"How 'bout a beer instead?"

"Sure."

She opens a bottle and hands it to him, before turning to the three new customers who have just walked up to the bar. She leaves him alone after that, returning to the other end of the bar, but she keeps an eye on him as he asks for two more beers.

When he requests another whisky after downing the beers quickly, she can't help but ask in concern, "You sure you're okay, hon?"

"'M fine," he mumbles, speech a little more slurred than it was earlier. "Just… miss him."

"You miss who?" She slides the fresh drink along the counter to him.

"Sammy." His face starts to crumple as he says it and Tammy's stomach clenches at the sadness in his eyes.

"Sammy?"

"M'brother."

"What happened to him?" She can't help but ask, curiosity getting the better of her, as she takes the opportunity to find out more about him while his guard is down.

"Died." He says it so matter-of-factly that she frowns in concern. "Couldn't save him."

Tammy reaches out a hand, placing in on his forearm, in an attempt at comfort. "I'm sure it wasn't your fault."

"Was supposed to keep him safe," he adds then eyes lowered to the counter. "Couldn't do it."

He looks so despondent that she just wants to give him a hug, but since that wouldn't be appropriate, she settles for just gently squeezing his arm instead. He looks up at her and her heart almost breaks when she sees the tears there. She's just debating what to do next when the door to the bar opens and Lisa Braeden enters, a determined expression on her face as her gaze searches the room. Tammy lets go of Dean's arm and steps away, realising that the rumours about Dean and Lisa were most likely true.

"Dean!" she exclaims frantically, looking relieved when she spots him at the bar.

He runs a hand over his face, but then returns his eyes to the glass in front of him.

"Dean, thank God," says Lisa when she reaches his side, before frowning. "You didn't come home. We were worried."

She rests a hand on his arm and he finally lifts his head again as he looks up at Lisa, eyes still watery. Lisa's expression quickly changes from annoyed to one of realisation and her gaze softens in concern as she slides an arm around him in comfort. Tammy's eyebrows rise in surprise when all the tension leaves his body and he leans his head on Lisa's shoulder. He's always struck her as the type of guy who doesn't let his guard down easily, one who doesn't express his emotions easily either, except apparently when he's really drunk and missing his brother, but right now, he looks exposed and vulnerable and she feels like she's seeing an often hidden side to him.

"Oh, sweetie," murmurs Lisa, pressing a gentle kiss to his forehead. "I'm sorry. I didn't realise the date."

He snorts softly. "Great birthday, huh?"

It's his birthday?

Man, what a way to spend your birthday; drinking alone and mourning your dead brother.

"You miss him," acknowledges Lisa. "I know it's hard. And I would give anything to be able to bring him back to you, but drowning your sorrows in booze isn't going to help anything."

"Sure it will." Dean straightens up then and reaches for the glass of Scotch, downing the last of the liquid inside. "Dulls the pain. Makes it better. Helps me forget."

"Yeah, and it'll give you one hell of a hangover in the morning," retorts Lisa, placing her hand over his and bringing it down to the counter before he can lift it to request another drink. "I'm cutting you off."

"Aw, come on, Lise…" His tone is whiny and Tammy has to suppress a smile when he pouts, looking like a little kid. "It's m'birthday, 'member? Live a little."

Lisa raises an eyebrow, then catches Tammy's gaze and rolls her eyes. "I think you've lived enough for the both of us tonight." She places a hand under his armpit and helps him up off the bar stool. "Come on, let's get you home."

"Don't wanna," he grumbles, stumbling a little as Lisa gets him on his feet.

"I'll make it worth your while," she adds temptingly.

"Yeah?" The tone is hopeful as he looks up at Lisa with glassy eyes and Tammy can't help but smile; he suddenly seems like a young boy rather than a grown man.

She has to stifle a laugh as he then gives Lisa a suggestive, but sloppy grin. He doesn't look in any state to be having sex tonight, and from the twinkle in the other woman's eye and the discreet grin she gives Tammy as she guides him toward the door, Lisa knows it too.

She watches them until they leave the bar, sees how Lisa guides him every step of the way, one hand rubbing smooth, comforting circles on his back as the other supports him, holding him upright. Something inside her gives a pang of longing; she's normally happy being young, free and single… well, maybe not so much young, but free and single, nonetheless… but sometimes she wishes she did have someone in her life who would be there for her like Lisa is for Dean.

No matter what he's gone through and what he's lost, at least he has someone who cares for him.


March 2011

Ben

He steps up to the plate, adjusts the baseball bat in his hands as he readies his stance and lifts the bat into position. His brow furrows with concentration, fingers tightening around the smooth wood as he focuses on the pitcher in the middle of the field. This is the moment, this is his chance to shine. He's last up and if he aces this, he can win the game for his team. And he's ready for it. Been waiting for it.

He wants to look over at the stands, where he knows Dean is watching, can hear him cheering him on, but he can't risk it. Can't risk losing his concentration and messing up.

The pitcher takes a step back, prepares to throw, and Ben takes one final steadying breath as the ball comes hurtling towards him. He swings backwards, feeling the tension in his arms as he times it just right. The jolt that travels up his forearms as the bat connects with the spinning ball with a resounding thwack gives him a rush of adrenaline and he grins widely as the ball flies through the air… and just keeps going.

His eyes light up as he realises exactly how far he's hit the ball and, unable to contain his excitement, he takes off for first base as fast as he can. Vaguely, he hears a cry of 'Go, Ben. That's my boy!' from Dean and his grin widens even further, becoming more determined than ever to win this thing. He rounds first base and heads for second, his teammates cheering him on wildly. He knows he's safe, at least for now, because out of the corner of his eye he can see the kids from the other team still running for the ball.

Second base hit, now onto third.

He's over halfway now, almost round, almost done.

He's facing the crowd as he reaches third, and he sees a glimpse of Dean, standing on the bleachers, hands cupped around his mouth as he shouts a 'Come on, you can do it!' before lowering them and clapping encouragingly.

Only a few more yards and he'll have done it. His first home run in a real game. He gears up his body, focuses on fourth base and gracefully slides into position, just seconds before the player guarding the base catches the ball.

"Yes!" he exclaims loudly, punching the air as he stands up and jogs over to the makeshift dugout.

His teammates surround him, patting him on the back and giving him congratulatory high-fives as they celebrate both his home run and the win. He grins widely, laughing along with his friends as they chatter excitedly. It's their first win of the season and Ben's first ever personal win, and he feels amazing. Their coach gathers them all together to give them the customary post-game speech, but most of it falls on deaf ears, the team too wound up to sit still for long.

As soon as the coach finishes up with the pep talk, Ben jumps up and makes a run for the crowd of spectators near the bleachers. Dean is standing at the bottom, hands in his jeans pockets as he grins at him.

"Dean, did you see? I got a home run!" he shouts excitedly as he gets closer.

"Good work, buddy." Dean holds his hand up for a high-five, which Ben returns as he skids to a halt in front of him. "You were awesome out there."

Dean slings an arm over his shoulder, tugging him close and Ben smiles up at him happily; he's glad Dean is here, not just at his baseball game, but here in Cicero, living in their house, part of the family.

Ben's never had a dad; apart from a handful of visits from his biological father when he was much younger, which mostly consisted of awkward silences and Mom arguing with him over child support, he hasn't had any experience with having a father. But having Dean here has been amazing. Dean's the coolest guy Ben's ever met—the guy fights monsters for cripe's sake, he's a superhero!

"Come on, kiddo," Dean says, nodding towards the truck. "What do you say we go celebrate with ice cream?"

"Really?" Mom hardly ever lets him get ice cream just on a whim. When Dean nods, he grins. "Okay, just let me get my stuff though."

"Sure thing." Dean releases his hold on him. "I'll meet you by the truck, okay?"

Ben nods emphatically, taking off towards the dugout in a run. A handful of his teammates are still there, talking excitedly about going for pizza after the game.

"Hey, Ben, you coming to the mall with us?" asks Tommy, a lanky kid who's in his class, but not really one of his friends. "My mom's gonna spring for pizza."

He considers it for a moment, before glancing over at Dean, who's now leaning against his truck, looking thoughtful as he takes in his surroundings. His expression is guarded, but he gives Ben a grin and a thumbs up when he catches his eye, although Ben can see it's mostly for show. He may only be eleven, but he's not an idiot; he knows how hard the last few months have been for Dean, knows that it's taken a lot for him to be comfortable doing normal, everyday things, like come to his baseball games, and he's not going to blow off all that effort just for pizza. Plus, he's kinda thrilled by the idea of spending some time with Dean, some guy time without Mom, for once.

He turns back to Tommy, shaking his head. "Nah, man. I already got plans. My dad and I are going for ice cream."

He doesn't mean to say it, it just slips out, but he doesn't want to take it back. Dean's like the father he's always wanted and deep down he guesses he does kind of think of him as his dad.

Tommy frowns. "Uh, you know he's not actually your dad, right? I mean, just because he lives in your house and has sex with your mom, it doesn't make him your dad." Ben's eyes widen, fists clenching, as he feels anger bubbling up inside him, but before he can form a suitable response, Tommy continues, "I mean, it's not like he's anything special. My dad says he's nothing but a drunken layabout who sponges off your mom."

"You take that back!" demands Ben, shaking with anger as he steps forward, getting right in the boy's face. "Your dad doesn't know shit. Dean is not a layabout. He's a hero."

"Hero?" snorts Tommy. "Yeah, if you count being able to fix up a car and bang some nails into wood heroic. Oh, yeah, and let's not forget that he's a drunk too."

"Shut. The Hell. Up," says Ben slowly, deliberately, desperately trying to rein in his anger and be the bigger man instead of losing his cool, just like Dean had taught him last time he got into a fight with a kid in his class. He adds levelly, "You don't know anything about him. So just mind your own goddamn business."

He doesn't give Tommy the chance to answer, just grabs his bag and turns away, stalking back towards Dean as he tries to calm himself down.

"Hey, you ready to go?"

Dean smiles at him as he nears the truck, but the cheerful expression quickly morphs into concern when he sees him.

"Ben, what happened?" he asks, reaching out to lay a hand on his shoulder.

Ben just shakes his head, not trusting himself to say anything without blowing up, and instead climbs into the truck, staring straight ahead, ignoring Dean's confused gaze. A few moments later Dean climbs into the truck as well and starts the engine.

"You wanna talk about it?" Dean breaks the stony silence a couple of minutes later. "What happened?" Out of the corner of his eye Ben sees him hold up a finger. "And don't tell me 'nothing' because five minutes ago you were celebrating and now you're pi—uh, you're angry."

He crosses his arms over his chest and stares straight ahead. He doesn't want to talk about this. Doesn't want Dean to know what people are saying about him.

"Come on, buddy." Dean tries again. "You can talk to me, you know."

"It's nothing." Ben shakes his head adamantly. "Doesn't matter."

"Okay." Dean leaves it for now, although Ben can tell he's not happy about it.

They pull up in front of the ice cream parlour, and Ben's out of the truck and inside the store before Dean has even cut the engine. He knows he's acting like a brat but he can't help it; he's pissed off. Dean joins him with an airy jibe about not waiting for him, but then acts like everything's normal as they sit down in one of the booths with their cones.

Dean doesn't say anything at all and Ben can feel the tension mounting until he can't take it anymore.

"He was talking shit about you," he admits quietly, gaze fixed on the caramel swirls in his ice cream. "After the game."

"Who was?" Dean doesn't reprimand his use of language and Ben glances up in surprise. Dean is looking at him intently, his expression serious and full of concern.

Ben shrugs. "Tommy. He said… he said…"

"He said what?" Dean's tone is still light, although he's not smiling anymore. "Come on, you can tell me. I can pretty much guarantee it won't be the worst I've heard."

"He said you were a- a drunk and a layabout." He can barely get the words out. "That-that you were just sponging off Mom. And…"

"And what?" The prompt was soft, not betraying any specific emotion.

"And that living in our house and sleeping with Mom didn't make you my dad."

"Shit." There's a pause as Dean's relaxed posture becomes rigid, his jaw clenching with emotion. "He actually said that?"

He lowers his eyes to the table and nods, feeling ashamed.

"Ben. Look at me." He does, albeit reluctantly. "People are always going to talk shit, okay, but you can't let it get to you. You know the truth and I know the truth and that's all that matters."

"It doesn't make you angry, what he said?"

"Course it does, Ben, but what good would getting mad do?" Dean raises his eyebrows. "I've been dealing with shit like this my whole life, but it's not like it's important in the grand scheme of things."

Ben's not sure if he's buying it. How can Dean just shrug off this kind of thing as if it doesn't matter?

"Look, I know what people say about me in this town and I can't blame them. I just showed up out of nowhere and moved in." He shrugs. "And it's not like they're entirely wrong. I do drink too much and you know, the construction site doesn't pay all that well either."

"They are wrong," Ben insists. "Dean, you're like, the coolest guy I know."

"Yeah?" Dean looks surprised. "I'm not so sure about that."

"Dude, you, like saved the world!" he exclaims. "You're kinda the coolest guy in history."

Dean just looks at him searchingly for a moment before breaking out into a cocky smile. "Yeah, I kinda am, aren't I?"

Ben grins, feeling the anger and tension leave his body. "Just don't let it go to your head."

They eat the rest of their ice creams in comfortable silence, but when Ben gets up to toss their napkins in the trash, Dean stops him with a hand on his arm.

"Hey, what that kid said; you know it's not true, right… about me and your mom?"

Ben lets his lips quirk in a small smile as he sits back down again. "I know."

He does know. He gets that Dean isn't a freeloader, that he's not just using them for money and a roof over his head. He loves Dean, he knows his mom loves him too, although he doesn't think he's supposed to have overheard her telling Rita that a few weeks ago. And Dean… well, he knows Dean cares for them. He isn't naïve though, he knows it's been a struggle for him to even function over the last few months, after Sam and everything, so he doesn't begrudge him if he's not quite there yet.

"What Tommy said, about me not being your dad… I hope that wasn't, I mean, I'm not trying to—"

"Oh, I know," he interrupts, biting his lip as he considers what he's going to say next. "But, sometimes I do think… I mean, it would be cool if you were my dad."

Something in Dean's expression gives then and Ben is surprised to see his eyes glistening.

"Ben, I—" He stops, pausing to swallow, before saying, "That day I met you, your birthday party, remember?" Ben nods. "There was a moment when I—I thought maybe you were my son. And I was disappointed when your mom told me that you weren't."

"Really?" Ben feels a lurch in his chest at the thought that Dean could actually have been his real father.

Dean nods. "Honestly, sometimes I do feel like you're mine." He leans forward, resting his elbows on the table, his expression both serious and sincere. "Ben, I would be proud to be your dad."

"Yeah?" He feels a lump in his throat and fights to swallow it down. He's a guy; he's not supposed to get emotional about these things.

"Yeah." Dean nods, expression warm and Ben can only grin in response.

Tommy had it so wrong. Well, okay, on the face of it maybe not, since Dean wasn't technically his father. But maybe that didn't even matter.

After all, you didn't have to be related by blood to be family.


May 2011

Dean

He wakes before the alarm goes off, eyes flying open and a gasp escaping his lips, the nightmare still fresh in his mind. It's not a new nightmare, in fact, the images are so familiar to him now that he knows them like the back of his hand. Doesn't stop him from waking up in a cold sweat or his heart from pounding heavily in his chest each time though.

It's been almost a year, he should be over this by now. He should have healed, and though he guesses that to some extent he has, he knows he still has a long way to go. He's pretty sure that he's just about convinced Lisa that he's okay now, that he's somewhat happy here with her and Ben, with his normal, civilian life. Problem is, he doesn't buy it himself, not really. Maybe on the surface he does a good job of appearing that way, but deep down he knows this isn't his life, this isn't what he's meant for.

He's a hunter. Always has been, always will be.

And he's kidding himself if he thinks he can get out completely, if he can put it behind him, ignore what goes bump in the night and pretend it doesn't exist.

He cares for Lisa so much, loves Ben like his own son, but he'll never be completely happy here with them.

He'll never be complete again. He's lost too much of himself for that.

There's this big gaping hole in his heart now; a hole where Sam should be. He's supposed to be here right now, about to celebrate his birthday with his big brother.

Twenty-eight.

How much of a failure is he, if he couldn't even protect his baby brother long enough for him see his twenty-eighth birthday?

He squeezes his eyes shut as the familiar wave of pain rolls through him. His chest is tight and it hurts to breathe. All he wants is to save Sammy, to rescue him from the torture chamber he's been trapped in all this time; to see his smiling face again, to tease him, banter with him, hunt with him again.

He's tried everything he can to find a way to get into that cage and bring Sam back. He's exhausted every book, every website, every contact he can find, but he's still got nothing.

He even broke down one day and called for Cas.

Of course, it was just his luck that he got no answer.

Beside him, Lisa shifts in her sleep and with a heavy sigh he pries his eyes open, turns his head to look at her. As if she can sense his gaze on her, she buries her head in his shoulder, snuggling up to his side. He can feel the warmth from her body against him, seeping into his skin, and he knows he should find it comforting, should be glad she's here with him, but inside he's still cold.

There was once a time where he would have greatly appreciated the presence of a naked woman in his bed, but these days sharing a bed with Lisa has just been a reminder of what he will never truly have. It's a reminder that he's not cut out for this life, he doesn't belong here. He's made it this far, stayed here this long, because he doesn't know what he would do otherwise.

Probably spend his days on the road, drowning himself in alcohol, putting himself in danger by being reckless on hunts in his quest to rescue Sammy from Lucifer's clutches.

So, yeah, as out of place and uncomfortable he is here, he knows it's better for him than the alternative.

Not to mention that he's here because of Sam, because of the promise he made to him that night before the big showdown. He can't break it now, can't do that to his brother's trust in him.

So, he'll stay here, muddle through this thing they call civilian life, until he can't take it anymore. Or until Lisa gets fed up of him and kicks him out.

She stirs beside him and he feels her lips brush against the bare skin of his shoulder before she lifts her head, looking up at him with warm, sleep-filled eyes.

"Morning."

He can't seem to form a reply, so he just nods, forcing a smile. She kisses him chastely before settling her head on his chest.

"Are you okay?"

"Not really." He sucks in a breath, then exhales slowly, his next words coming out in a whisper, "It's Sam's birthday."

"Oh." She lifts her head again, but he has difficulty holding her gaze, the pity and sympathy in her eyes almost too much to take right now. "Dean… I'm sorry."

"Yeah." He breaks eye contact and turns his head so he's looking up the ceiling. He can feel the lump forming in his throat and he swallows heavily, willing the emotion away.

Lisa props herself up on her elbow, looking down at him thoughtfully. The gaze makes his skin prickle and he fidgets uncomfortably. "What?"

"You're not going to mope today, okay? I won't allow it."

"Lise…" He shakes his head in disagreement. It didn't work that way; she couldn't control how he felt. If he wanted to mope, he should be damn well allowed to.

"No, I mean it, Dean." She sounds determined now. "Don't you think Sam would want to you be happy on his birthday, to celebrate his life? I'm sure he wouldn't want you to spend the day brooding over a bottle of whisky."

"What does it matter what he would want? Not like he's here to see it."

"Look, I tell you what we're gonna do: I'm not working today because Ben's school has an in-service day, so you're gonna call in sick, and the three of us gonna go out and have some fun." He stares at her like she's crazy, but she just holds up a finger. "Nuh uh, no protesting. I've made up my mind."

Three hours later, Dean finds himself being dragged around the theme park that Ben's been raving about for weeks now. He really doesn't want to be here, to be truthful, he just wants to hole up in a dark, smoky bar with a bottle of bourbon or whisky and drink until he passes out. But, no, Lisa's not going to let him do that, despite knowing how much he wants to.

So, he's here, in the too-bright, too-loud theme park, trying to act like a normal, regular guy, out for the day with his family. Except he's not a regular guy, not like everyone else around him, and he's not sure how long he can take it.

"Come on, Dean!" calls Ben excitedly, waving to him from a few feet ahead. "You have to ride The Legend with me."

Dean looks up at the large coaster with trepidation, then over at Ben, who is looking at him with a hopeful expression. He really wants to say no; he's not good with fast rides, or heights, which probably goes some way to explaining why he hates flying, and he starts to shake his head. However, Ben sighs exasperatedly and strides back to him with determination, grabbing him by the elbow.

"Please, Dean?" He looks up at him pleadingly. "Mom won't come on it with me, so you're my only hope."

Dean glances back at the ride again, then at Lisa, who just shrugs and gives him an innocent smile, and finally down at Ben again. He's about to say no, but something in the boy's eyes causes the word to stick in his throat. His vision swims and suddenly it's an eleven-year-old Sam he's looking down at, and it's Sam's expectant, pleading expression, and his resolve dies away.

"Okay, Squirt. Sure. Lead the way." He glimpses Lisa smirking at him and resists the urge to roll his eyes at her, as he mutters a reluctant, "Awesome."

He allows himself to be dragged toward the ride entrance, deliberately keeping his eyes down, trying to block out the screams of the other riders. More than once on the way, he's tempted to stop, to turn back around, to tell Ben he's sorry, but he can't do this; but then he thinks of Sammy, of how they never got to do normal things like visit theme parks when they were kids and he forces himself to keep going.

They join the line and Ben leans into his side as they wait. Dean lets his hand rests on the boy's shoulder and he can't stop his lips from tugging up in a half-smile when Ben looks up at him, eyes shining with excitement and a joyful grin on his face.

"Thanks for riding with me, Dean."

"No problem, buddy." He forces a smile onto his face as he looks down at Ben, before swallowing heavily as his eyes lift to the ride once more. Maybe those two glasses of Scotch he downed first thing this morning weren't a good idea after all.

"This is great, isn't it? I'm so glad we came here today." Ben's voice brings him back to the present and he suppresses an involuntary grin at the sound of Ben's babbling. Geez, the kid really is reminding him of Sammy today. "I mean, I've been begging Mom to bring me for ages, but she kept saying 'another time'. I don't know what you did to make her change her mind, but this is awesome!"

As Ben keeps talking, Dean is suddenly struck with a strange feeling; it's not something he can pinpoint exactly, but it's almost familiar, like he's experienced it once before, a long time ago. It's only when Ben reaches out and slides a small arm around his waist in an achingly familiar gesture…. one Sammy used to do as a child, that it comes to him: it's the feeling of being a father.

He hasn't felt this in a long time, not since Sam was a kid, before he became a moody teen and started wanting more out of life than hunting, before he lost that hero-worship of his big brother and began questioning Dean's and their father's lifestyle and actions instead. Back when Dean's sole focus was keeping Sammy safe, making sure he ate right and had clothes on his back; that he learned about the world and knew right from wrong. He hadn't realised it at the time, but he had been a father to Sam back then; he'd stepped in when John couldn't and had inadvertently taken over his role. And he hasn't realised how much he's missed it until now.

Today, though, with Ben at his side, looking up at him with that same awed expression Sammy use to grace him with, he's right back there again, and he finds himself savouring the feeling as he allows it to push through the fog of depression and sadness he seems to carry around constantly these day. He's always convinced himself that he's not father material, that a wife and a family have no place in his dangerous life; he's always shrugged off suggestions that he's good with kids, that he would make a wonderful father, because he's never believed that he might have the opportunity to actually be one.

But now that he's out of the life, now that he's here with Lisa and Ben, doing regular, civilian things, living the normal life he was denied as a child, he can actually admit that maybe this is something he can have in life.

And he knows he's being contradictory, that just a few hours ago he was admitting to himself that he could never be anything but a hunter, but right in this moment, he's experiencing a glimpse of what might have been, what might still be a vague possibility, and he weighs it up in his mind.

Maybe it is time to move on now, to stop dwelling on the past and look to the future. Sam is gone forever, there's no way to get him back—he should know, he's tried everything possible to save him—and he knows Sammy wouldn't want him to go off the rails in an attempt to get him back.

Yes, he always will be a hunter at heart, but maybe he should try to give this life a real shot too. After all, what else is there for him right now?

He promised Sam that he would find Lisa and that he would live the 'Apple Pie' life for him. Sam wanted this for him, and maybe deep down he kinda wants it for himself too… or at least he might want to try.

He owes it to Sam to try.

End