A/N: This story is complete in three parts. I'll post a chapter a day (and turn my attention back to "Stole Soul Picnic"—to those of you who are waiting on the next chapter there, thanks for your patience!).
Sora's story is inspired by a true story, though it's been so long since I read it that I remember few of the details and can't recall what the outcome was for the little boy (I think it was) in the original. The timeline does not match up with Echo 2/1's RL actions during 2005, but this is an AU of an AU. Some of the events of Chapter 3 are also inspired by a true story, though with requisite differences in the health and disposition of the character they happen to.
The sequence of events relating to the VA hospital that I describe in this story may not square with RL veterans' experiences. It certainly is not the ideal case, judging from what I've read on the various VA websites I've checked for info. However, this story is fictional, and as BranchSuper noted about "Fides, Spes, Caritas," Dean wasn't this bad off by the end of "Semper Fi," so he wouldn't seem to need the kind of acute, immediate care that would be necessary with a more severe case of TBI. So what happened? Read on, MacDuff...
Fides Quaerens Intellectus
By San Antonio Rose
Sam really didn't think anything of it when Dean declared he was going for a drive to clear his head. He'd been acting kind of vague for a couple of days, but he was clear to drive, and given the way they'd grown up, a road trip of whatever length wasn't an unusual way for them to ditch the cobwebs or the bad feelings or whatever. Neither did Sam worry when it looked like Dean was probably going to be gone for a few days. Dean always texted when he got to where he was stopping for the night, so he was okay, right?
The situation changed slightly the morning after Dean decided to stop in Chillicothe, Missouri. Sam got a text that said with lisa braeden and nothing else.
Who's Lisa Braeden? Sam texted back
He didn't get a reply. So Sam searched for the name and came up with a yoga instructor in Cicero, Indiana. He was a little confused as to whether Dean was in Chillicothe still or if he had somehow gone on to Cicero, and he really wasn't sure why Dean would have sent him that name as if she was someone he expected Sam to know.
Texts stating still with lisa arrived at irregular intervals over the next few days. Are you in Cicero? finally got a reply of no, motel, but that didn't help. Sam was about to start wondering whether Lisa herself were sending the messages when he got still here, got a hunt, werewolf. lisa helping. dont come
Don't come? Sam shot back. Why the hell not?
not sure where we are. prob 2 far
That gave Sam pause. What do you mean, you don't know where you are?
same place but cant remember name
Yeah, that was Dean.
gtg foods here call tomorrow
Sam sighed and showed the conversation to Jess.
"Lisa must be someone he trusts," Jess observed. "He's stayed with her for several days now, and he's getting her help with the hunt."
"But he doesn't remember where they are. Sounds like his only anchor point is her identity."
"He clearly doesn't have amnesia."
"No, obviously, but..."
"Sam, let's let him get through the hunt first. He's lucid enough for the moment. If the memory problems come back, we'll go get him and make sure he gets treatment."
Sam sighed again. "Guess the least I can do is see if there really is a werewolf in Chillicothe."
"Good idea. That way, if he needs research help when he calls, you'll have something for him." Jess kissed him and left him to it.
Sure enough, the story that apparently caught Dean's attention was all over the Chillicothe news. Dean was right; that was a 13-hour drive if one went straight through, so there wasn't time for Sam to get up there to provide backup. And calling in outsiders would go over even worse than his trying to help, even if the outsider were Bobby or Pastor Jim. So Sam sat back and thought through what sources Dean could potentially access on his own or through Lisa, assuming she posed as a reporter and not as a Fed, then hacked the coroner's database and located as many records that looked like werewolf attacks as possible.
While he was there, he ran a background check on Lisa. Her record was clean—nothing worse than a traffic ticket—and it appeared she had a son, born in the summer of 2000. Something about the date made him curious, so he did the math and realized that the approximate date of Benjamin Isaac Braeden's conception coincided pretty neatly with another of Dean's road trips, one where he claimed he'd visited ten states in ten days but hadn't shared much information about what he'd been up to while he was away.
As evidence, it was circumstantial at best. But suddenly running into an old flame like that might explain why Dean's focus was more on her than on where he was. That still left a lot of questions unanswered.
"Dude, I'm fine," Dean snapped when he called the next day and Sam tried to press him about his memory and about Lisa.
Sam huffed. "If you're fine, tell me where all you've stopped on this trip."
"Dammit, Sam, it doesn't matter. I'm here now—"
"Where's 'here,' Dean?"
"Same place I've been since my last text from the road."
"Here." Dean was really starting to get steamed. "And there's a werewolf here that's going to kill again tonight if I can't stop it, so are you gonna help me with this or not?"
"All right, fine. But you know you're supposed to seek immediate help if your memory worsens."
"Not goin' to the hospital, Sam. Gotta gank this thing fast before someone else dies."
Sam sighed. Winchester-standard no-hospitals reflex notwithstanding, Dean did have a point, and he sounded lucid enough to handle the hunt. "You sure you don't want me to call Bobby?"
Dean blistered his ear in Arabic.
"All right, all right, fine. It's your hunt. You want the coroner's reports?"
"No, I want a Rita Hayward pinup."
"What?!" exclaimed an amused female voice in the background. That had to be Lisa.
The interruption succeeded in diffusing the tension and making both brothers laugh. After that, they were able to discuss the case like sane adults.
But Sam was still worried. "You'll call when it's over, right?" he prompted toward the end of the conversation.
"Yeah, sure," Dean replied, and Sam could almost see his of course, idiot face. "Call, text, something. You'll hear from me."
Yet the night came and went without another word from Dean. Sam was on the point of calling the office to request a couple of days off to go up to Chillicothe when his phone finally rang.
"Is this Sam?" asked the woman's voice he'd heard the day before, only this time there was road noise in the background.
"It is," Sam replied. "Are you Lisa?"
"I am. Listen, I'm sorry Dean didn't contact you last night like he promised. We've been... ah... establishing our alibi, shall we say?"
Sam didn't want to know. "Really."
"B-but that's not the only reason, and it's not why I'm the one calling. Sam, he's... he's gotten worse. And I think he's running a fever."
Sam swore quietly.
"I'm taking him back to my place. I live in Cicero, Indiana; it's about a seven-hour drive." She gave him her address and phone number, and he wrote them down. He'd seen them before, of course, but he hadn't wanted hard evidence of his snooping that Dean could find when he got home. "Dean's asleep right now," she continued, "and I'm hoping that once his body fights off whatever bug he's got, his mind will be clearer. But just in case I have to take him to a hospital, could you fill in some blanks for me?"
Her questions were specific enough that Sam could tell Dean had told her quite a lot about what had happened in Iraq. But there were details like specific condition names and medications that Sam was able to give her, and she gave him her email address so he could send precise spellings and dosages and names of doctors and so on.
Once he'd answered all of her questions, he said, "Now, I wonder if you'd fill in a few blanks for me."
She sighed. "I thought you'd ask. I met Dean at a bar in '99. We spent a weekend together. Hadn't expected to see him again. But I had just taken my son to spend a few weeks with my mom, out in Boise City, Oklahoma. Got to Kansas City and heard there was a bad wreck on I-70, so I figured I'd take the scenic route and take 35 up to 36—that's a pretty straight shot to Cicero. You can imagine how surprised I was to get to Chillicothe, drive past a bar, and see Dean's car in the parking lot."
Sam huffed. "What are the odds?"
"I know, right? I wasn't sure, but I was curious, so I stopped. Needed to find a place for the night anyway, so I thought I'd find out where he was staying if it was him. Walked in and there he was, eating a bacon cheeseburger in a booth near the door. And when he saw me, his... his face lit up like he hadn't seen a friendly face in days." She sighed again. "He... he wasn't drinking. I'll swear to that. But the more we talked, the more I could tell something was wrong. He couldn't remember if he had a room anywhere, the name of the bar, even the name of the town. But he remembered me. So when he checked his pockets and didn't find keys to anything but the car, I... I just..."
"Took charge of him?"
"Yeah. Kind of. And things... progressed from there. He's had his good moments and his bad moments, tends to repeat himself when we talk for too long. But I really thought he was getting better, even if I didn't believe him about the werewolf until I actually saw it."
"Then why'd you help him?"
"Honestly, Sam? I don't know. I guess... maybe I thought if he saw that the man he was after was just a man, he wouldn't shoot. Maybe I thought I'd have time to get the gun away from him. I just knew he was serious about needing my help."
Sam had a sudden sneaking suspicion, though not about Lisa's motives. She sounded sincere. "So, um, once Dean's back on his feet, what are your plans?"
He could almost hear her shrug. "Send him back to San Antonio. He lives with you, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, I just..."
"I mean, unless he wants to stay. Then I guess I'd help him get hooked up with the VA hospital in Indy. But all his doctors are down there."
Then she swore under her breath. "I've got stairs. That won't be a problem, will it?"
He blew out a breath. "Hard to say. We've got an accessible one-story apartment, so..."
"Great. Well, that settles it. He can't stay with me... un-... unless I move..." She trailed off as if she was considering it.
This was as good a time as any for Sam to raise his other question. "How would that affect your son?"
Several seconds passed before Lisa replied, "Listen, Sam. Whatever happens between Dean and me is about Dean and me, okay? He doesn't have to stay unless he wants to. And I'm not even going to ask him anything until he's lucid."
Yahtzee. "Okay. Just asking." He paused. "You know, the same goes for you."
"Wh—how do you mean?"
"Lots of jobs in San Antonio. Good schools, too."
"Oh." The hard edge went out of her voice. "I... I'll keep that in mind."
She took a deep breath. "Well. I'll call you when we get in tonight, let you know how he is."
"Listen, if you need us, my wife's a nursing student..."
"Thanks, but I really don't think there's much you could do for him right now that I can't. But I'll keep you posted."
"All right. Thanks, Lisa."
"Take care, Sam." And she hung up.
Sam took a deep breath, blew it out again... and summoned Cas.
"Hello, Sam," Cas said when he appeared.
"Cas." Sam held up his phone. "Just got off the phone with Lisa Braeden."
Cas only stared at him.
"Dean wanders off in some kind of brain fog and just happens to run into the mother of his son? Who just happens to have enough of an open mind to help him on a hunt when he won't accept help from anyone else?"
Cas didn't say anything—rather pointedly, Sam thought.
"Dammit, Cas, why don't you just heal him?"
"What part of 'remaining incognito' did you not understand?"
"So you set up this?"
Cas sighed. "Sam, to be perfectly honest, I don't know if I can repair the damage that is manifesting itself now. There are certain ways in which my healing power is limited. Dean will respond to medical treatment, but he will need Lisa and Ben in his life as well. That does not mean that he will cease to need you. You will always be the most important person in his life. But you have Jess and a future. Dean isn't jealous, but he craves something of the kind for himself. In your father's absence and without the hunt, he finds himself adrift, unsure of his own worth. Any woman he meets for the first time will see him only as he is now. Lisa sees the father of her child, as well as a man who needs her help."
Sam looked at the floor for a moment, trying to let all of that sink in, before he looked up at Cas again. "Will Dean be okay?"
"I don't know everything. But I believe he will be, though a great deal depends on how you all act as a family. I won't interfere further; from here on, it's up to you."
Sam nodded slowly. "Okay. Thanks, Cas."
Cas nodded back and disappeared.
Lisa called twice a day without fail for the next five days. The morning conversations were usually just quick updates, since Dean's fever leveled out at 103° and there weren't many changes overnight. If Dean was awake and asking for Sam, Lisa would put him on long enough to say a few groggy words; he sounded like he felt like hell. In the evenings, though, especially if Dean was already asleep, Lisa seemed more inclined to just chat, sometimes with Sam, sometimes with Jess or with both of them on speaker.
Sam didn't know how he felt about knowing that Cas had set Dean up with Lisa. He really wasn't sure how Dean would feel and resolved not to tell him. But Lisa sounded like the kind of woman he would want for Dean to be involved with—smart, strong, and caring. He understood why Dean liked her, and he hoped she'd be good for him.
The sixth morning, however, Sam answered the phone to hear a tired but happy "Hey, Sammy."
Sam blinked. "Dean! Are you feeling better?"
"Yeah. Fever broke a little while ago. Pretty beat, but... doin' better, yeah. Guess you know I'm in Cicero, at Lisa's house."
"Yeah, we've talked. How much do you remember?"
Dean sighed. "Well, to be honest, not a whole lot. There was a hunt, right, before I got sick?"
"Right, in Chillicothe."
"Yeah, so I remember that. Lisa helped me with that. Kinda remember bein' with Lisa before that; she found me on her way back from... droppin' her kid in Oklahoma with his grandmother?"
"Beyond that, I got nothin'. So Sammy, how long I been gone?"
"Couple of weeks."
"You doin' okay, you and Jess?"
"Yeah, we're fine. Listen, if you need us to come get you..."
"Nah, I'm all right. Think I'll stay here a couple days, get my feet back under me, make sure I'm good to drive. I don't... need to be back for a while yet, right? It's a couple months 'til I check in with the VA hospital?"
"Right. No, you're fine."
"Okay, awesome." Dean paused. "Wish you could meet Lisa, dude. She's been... hell, I don't deserve her."
Sam couldn't help smiling a little at that. "Sure you do. Sounds like a good woman."
"She is. She sure is." After another pause, Dean said, "Well, Sam, I'll let you go. Tell Jess hello for me."
"I'll do that. You get some rest, you hear? And I'll talk to you later."
He could almost see Dean's smile. "Roger wilco." And Dean hung up.
Beating the fever seemed to resolve Dean's memory problems. He'd call every day to check in, and Sam would quiz him a little on his health and what he was doing. And the answer was generally the same:
"Really, we're just... hangin' out. Not really doin' much. Watchin' TV, goin' for walks, card games, that kind of thing. I sit in on her yoga class once in a while. I try not to go up and down the stairs too much, hurts my leg, but... yeah. That's about it."
"So how long do you think you'll stay?" Sam asked after the third day of this.
Dean sighed heavily. "I dunno. I mean, there's not much to do, and the house hates me, but... bein' with Lisa... I... I dunno."
"You really like her."
"Well, how soon does she have to go get her son?"
"Ah, another week, I think. Something like that. So I guess maybe I'll stay that long and then... see."
"Okay. Well, let us know, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll keep in touch, let you know if... yeah."
That was Wednesday. Friday morning early, Sam got a call from Lisa. "I've been thinking," she said slowly. "About... your offer. And about hospitals and housing and... everything."
Sam frowned, confused. "And?"
"Dean can't stay in this house. That's a given. I mean, the stairs give him trouble, and the bathroom's not great. And he'll get better care for everything in San Antonio. I mean, the Polytrauma Rehab Center at Audie Murphy sounds excellent, and the VA hospital in Indianapolis doesn't have the same facilities."
"And San Antonio's a lot closer to Boise City than Cicero is." She paused. "And while I'm not quite clear on all the HIPAA hoo-hah, I've got a feeling I'd have an easier time providing support when it's needed as Dean's wife than as his girlfriend."
Sam didn't say anything for a moment.
"I mean, it'll be up to Dean, but..."
"Lisa, are you sure about this?"
She took a deep breath. "All I know is, if I let him go now, I will regret it forever."
"Kind of a whirlwind romance."
"Sam, there's nothing romantic about it. I just... I know what he was like when he was 20, or... the side I saw that weekend, anyway. Kind of wild, lot of fun. I think that's still there. But I know what I've seen these last weeks, too—he can be gentle, sweet, but he's strong. Smart. Brave. And yeah, he's injured, but the minute he knew someone else was in danger, he pulled himself together and took care of it. That's the kind of man I want my son to be. And they're rare." She paused. "He trusts me. And I care about him."
"He thinks he doesn't deserve you."
She huffed in amusement. "My mom will probably think he's not good enough for me. But so far the only guy who was is so boring, he wouldn't even take Ben fishing. Totally not my style."
He chuckled, then sobered. "Truly, Lisa—I mean, we all think you're awesome, but..."
"It's Dean's decision, Sam. If he says no, fine. If he wants to wait, fine. I just know I have to ask."
"Okay. Let us know how it goes, okay?"
"Sure. We'll probably just go to the JP, not make a big deal of it."
"Hey, that's what we did. 'Course, we'd been together for a year and a half, so..."
"Ah, what can I say? I'm a risk-taker."
He chuckled. "Call if you need anything, seriously."
"We will, Sam. Thanks."
Sam didn't realize he was still staring at his phone in shock after hanging up until Jess brought him his coffee. "Something wrong?" she asked.
He shook himself. "No, no. It's just... Lisa. Called to tell me she's planning to propose."
She blinked. "That's a little sudden, isn't it?"
"She said she's sure."
"Wow. Do you think Dean will go for it?"
"Hell, I dunno. Not that I question his judgment, 'cause he's been fine the last few days, but... I can't tell if he'd run from getting that serious or say yes 'cause she's the first one to ask."
"Guess he knows her better than we do."
"Yeah, I guess." Really, Sam's main concern was that both Dean and Lisa knew what they were getting into. He knew what Cas had said, and he wanted to take Cas at his word about his not interfering further, but... they hadn't been together a whole month, and now she wanted to get married?
But worrying wasn't going to do any good. Dean and Lisa were adults; they could make their own choices. So Sam went to work, took Jess out for dinner and a movie, and tried not to wonder too much over whether to try to get Dad to drop by Lisa's place just to... to check on things.
Dean finally called late Saturday morning. "Hey, Sammy, guess what? Me and Lisa got married yesterday."
Even knowing this was a possibility, Sam was still shocked. "Seriously?"
"Yup. Guess we'll be headed back your way in a couple of weeks."
"Dean... you've only been with her... what, three weeks?"
"You never met Cassie, did you?"
Sam blinked, unsure where this was going. "No. Who's Cassie?"
"Your freshman year at Stanford, Cassie and I... had a thing. Lasted about two weeks. I thought it was good, thought—y'know, this is the one. So I told her about what we do. And she kicked me out."
Sam just blinked.
"Hunting's not something I can just turn off, Sam. It's part of who I am. I can't spend my life with someone who doesn't understand that, even if I can't ever hunt again. Lisa has been with me for three weeks, give or take; she has seen me at my worst; she actually helped me on a hunt; and now she's crazy enough to want me to stay for the rest of her life. How do I walk away from that?"
"Well, when you put it that way..."
"I mean, seriously. Shrapnel? Doesn't bother her. She doesn't even care; she just gets rid of it, like you or Jess. Carmen?" Dean scoffed. "Carmen thought it was a turn-on."
"So now you've got a wife. And a stepson."
"Yeah." Dean's grin was audible. "Can't wait to meet him."
"What if he doesn't like you?"
"Dude, what are you talking about? Kids love me."
"Name three kids you even know."
"Hey, I'll have you know, I was great with the kids in Iraq. Whole crowds of 'em. There was even this one girl in Karabilah that I swear I nearly adopted. Little orphan girl, Sora. Loved that kid."
"Maybe you still can."
"Yeah, maybe so, if Lisa's up for it. I oughta find out how she's doing, anyway, check up on her."
Sam grinned. "So you guys are gonna pick up Ben and then come down?"
"Yeah, probably, makes the most sense. We're still trying to figure out what to do about houses and stuff, but we'll at least be down there long enough for me to get set up with the VA hospital and all."
"Sounds great. We've missed you."
"Aw, c'mon, Sammy, don't turn this into a chick flick moment."
So did Dean. "Catch you later, dude."
"Later." Sam hung up, still chuckling.
He and Jess spent lunchtime tossing around ideas for a low-key wedding reception to throw with their friends in the building while Dean and Lisa were there. And when the phone rang again, Sam didn't think anything of putting it on speaker right away. "Hey," he answered with a smile.
"What the hell did you say to him?!" Lisa exploded.
Sam looked at Jess, stunned. "Wh-what do you mean?"
"When I left to get lunch, Dean was just about to call you. He was fine. When I came back, he was standing out on the back porch crying, and all he would say is, 'I should have been there.' Sam, he's gone again!"
"What?! He left?!"
"N—I mean, he's here physically, but he can't think straight."
"Lisa, I swear, he was fine when I hung up with him. I think maybe he was gonna check up on a little girl he'd been friends with in Iraq."
Lisa burst into tears. "I—I'm sorry, Sam, I just—he was doing so well, and now—I was gone for half an hour! And now he's gone again! What if..." She broke off in a sob.
Jess looked concerned. "Lisa... are you pregnant?"
Lisa hiccupped, sniffled, and confessed quietly, "I might be."
Sam and Jess looked at each other, wide-eyed.
"I-I don't... I haven't tried to find out. That's... that's not what this is about, I swear. But we... weren't always careful."
"Have you told him?" Sam asked, hoping he didn't sound accusatory.
"No." Lisa sniffled again. "Like I said, I haven't tried to find out for sure. I might just be late. And... I've been... Dean's..." She started crying again. "We've been so busy, just... just being together, I..."
"Lis?" Dean's voice interrupted in the background. He sounded out of it but worried. "What's wrong?"
Lisa moved the phone away from her mouth. "It's—it's nothing. I'm okay."
"Did I say something?"
"You're not leaving."
"No. Oh, baby, no, never."
"Not gonna leave you, either, sweetheart." Then, judging from the smunching sound that came across the speaker, Dean gathered Lisa into a warm hug and let her cry into his shoulder for a moment.
Sam frowned, trying to figure out what might have prompted Dean to think wife crying into phone = imminent marital breakup when they'd only been married a day. So far his brain fog had only made him lost. Where the hell was this coming from?
"'M sorry," Dean said as he apparently released Lisa. "You're on the phone, sorry."
"No, honey, it's okay." Lisa moved the phone back toward her mouth. "Sam, can I call you later?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, sure."
"'S'at Sammy?" Dean asked.
"Yeah," Lisa replied and moved the phone away again. "Here, wanna talk to him?"
"Sammy?" Dean's voice was clearer with Lisa holding the phone up to his ear, but he still sounded concussed.
"Hey, Dean," Sam said. "What's wrong?"
"I... Iunno. Can't think right."
"Did you fall?"
"Did you call someone?"
"Sora... s-sh-shoulda been there... shoulda saved her..." Dean's voice started trailing off even worse.
Sam had to think fast. "Dean. Dean. Hey."
"Look after Lisa. Can you do that for me?"
He could almost hear Dean trying to pull himself together. "Yeah. Yeah."
"Good. Okay. We're gonna get you in to see someone at the VA hospital as soon as we can. Just hold tight, you hear me?"
"Hear you, Sammy."
"Okay. We'll see you soon."
As the call ended, Jess slumped forward with her head in her hands, and Sam ran a hand over his mouth and shook his head. How the hell had Dean gone from being so clear-minded and happy to sad and brain-fogged so fast?
Moments later Sam's phone rang again, but this time the caller was Dean's former commander. "Listen, is your brother all right? I just talked to him a little while ago, and he's got me pretty worried."
Sam sighed. "Well, he's not suicidal, if that's what you mean. What had he called about?"
"He'd befriended a little Iraqi girl in Karabilah. He was calling to check up on her. I had to be the one to tell him she's dead."
"Yeah. She was killed by a landmine, about six weeks after he was injured."
Sam cursed quietly. "Well, like I said, he's not suicidal, but he's sure as hell beating himself up over it. And on top of the cognitive problems he's having..."
"Cognitive? From the TBI?"
"We don't know. I need to see if I can get his appointments at the VA hospital moved up."
"Sam, if you or Dean need anything, and I mean anything at all, you call me, you hear? Especially if you need windows rattled, 'cause I'm good at that."
"Yes, sir. I'll let you know. Um, one thing—could you tell me the full story of what happened to Sora?"
"I can email it to you."
"Thanks, I'd appreciate that."