Type of Submission: Fiction
Title: Watching the Dandelions Grow
Word Count: 2200
Warnings: Spoilers through S5
Summary: Ben remembers Dean Winchester as this awesome, huge, monster-hunting badass. The man who comes to stay with them in the summer of 2010 isn't quite that guy.
Author's Notes: Title from "Right Field" by Willy Welch, performed here by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Song isn't really all that related to the story, but I like it. Thanks to my beta, and to briarwood for being so lovely and working so hard.
Ben remembered Dean Winchester as someone huge. Just enormous. Filling the room, the town, the world, wherever he happened to be. With his leather jacket and his Han Solo grin, his lessons in punching bullies, his ass-kicking and monster-killing and kid-saving, his big black car and his enormous little brother who was almost as big as he was. In Ben's mind, that guy was just...huge. He was tall and broad and strong and amazing, and the sun was at his back, lighting him, surrounding him in gold, and he was the most awesome guy who ever lived.
The guy who came to visit Ben and his mom that summer, the guy who ended up sleeping on their couch that first night and then just kind of fell into living there... Well, that guy wasn't quite so huge. He was still tall, but he didn't act like it. His shoulders slumped and that cocky grin never came out anymore. He stood in the shadow instead of the sun. His brother wasn't there, and Ben was smart enough to figure out that that was why. Dean Winchester had been cut in half, and somehow there was less than half of him left. He was small and sad and different.
And he parked his big black car under a tree and got a '92 Honda Civic to drive to work. It just seemed wrong.
By the time school let out for the summer, Dean had been living with them for several weeks already. Only he wasn't Dean anymore. He had a new name, Jack Caulfield, and he worked in a factory. Mom told Ben not to use the name Dean anymore, because it might get "Jack" in trouble, but somehow in Ben's head that was the only name that would stick. His name was Dean and he killed monsters, and he had a brother named Sam and drove a cool old car. That was just the way it was.
Except, somehow it seemed that none of those things were true anymore.
"I dare you to touch it," Seth said, nudging Ben's arm. They were standing in the field, waiting for enough kids to show up so they could play some ball. Seth was older than Ben, but he wasn't a bully or anything, just kinda stupid sometimes. Ben would totally punch him in the stomach and knee him in the nuts if he tried to bully anyone, just like Dean-Jack-had taught him.
"I won't," Ben said. He didn't have to look to know what Seth was talking about. Seth had some kind of weird thing about Dean's car, still packed under that tree, summer dust and a few bright green leaves fallen on its shiny black finish. "It belongs to Jack."
"It's just a car! What, are you scared he'll whup you if you mess with his car?"
Ben gave him a glare. "No. But I'm still not going to mess with it."
"Chicken. Come on, just go over there and touch it. Just a little. Just one finger. I super double triple dog dare you."
Ben sighed. Seth was a moron. He shoved him with both hands, forcing him farther out into the field. "Come on, man! Let's play catch till Jeremy and Andrew get here."
Seth grumbled, but finally went. They got the game going once the other kids came, Jeremy, Andrew, CJ, Sara, Mike, and Courtney. Just four on a team but it was enough, and they went running in the short, stubbly grass where Jeremy's dad cut it short in the fallow field for his sons and the neighbor kids to play on. They had home base nearest the houses, so hits would go out into the field, and they ran and chased and made lots of runs every inning because it was pretty hard to get under the ball with the grass tripping them up all the time. There wasn't a fence or a road to mark homerun territory, but they called a lot of homers on account of needing everyone to look for the ball in the taller grass away from where Jeremy's dad mowed.
Then, disaster. Seth was up to bat, and when the pitch came he fouled it straight down into the grass. Then, instead of throwing it back like he was supposed to, he tossed it up for himself and hit it on the way back down. He wasn't paying attention, turning sideways toward the houses, or maybe he did it on purpose, because he hit that ball all right, but he didn't hit it into the field.
He smacked that thing right into Dean's beautiful black car.
The boys and girls stood there with their mouths open, watching that red and white ball rocket across the yard, striking the black side panel with a solid, metallic thunk. It hit hard enough to bounce back a few yards, rolling away under a bush, but Ben wasn't watching the ball anymore. He was looking at the car.
"Oh no oh no oh no."
He wasn't quite sure how it happened, but suddenly Ben was running toward the car. He reached his yard, felt the baseball glove drop from his hand, and kept going. "Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no!"
What time was it? Ben didn't wear a watch in the summer, didn't care about time when there weren't any classes and teachers and books and papers. Dean got off work at three thirty. Was he home already? Would he be home soon?
"Oh no, oh no." Ben fell to his knees in the hard dirt beside the car and looked frantically for a dent or mark, something to show where the ball had hit the side. He ran his fingers over the glossy paint, completely forgetting how hesitant he had been to touch the car not even an hour ago. Dandelions grew around the wheels, showing how long the car had been here, just waiting alone, and in all that time nothing bad had happened to it. Until now.
"I can't believe this," he growled through gritted teeth. He looked up, hoping for help, but the kids had scattered. Ben yelled, this time, "Seth, you son of a...!"
"Whoa, now." Dean rounded the corner of the house, holding up his hands. Ben whirled to face him and fell on his butt, smacking his head against the car's door. "Better not let Lisa hear you using that language. She'll think you got it from me."
"Well, I did!" Ben scowled, rubbing his head vigorously with both hands.
Dean paused, tilting his head in consideration. "Yeah, you got me." He came closer, watching Ben carefully. "You okay, little dude? What's going on?"
Ben sat up, a shiver running over his shoulders, unwilling to lean against the car. He could lie, he knew, but he didn't want to. Not to Dean. Not about his car, the only thing he had left of everything he'd left behind him. "We..." His lip quivered, and he bit down on it. "We were playing baseball, and..."
"With this ball?" Dean spotted it under the bush, went over to dig it out. He brought it over to Ben and crouched down, offering it. "Did you get hit? That why you're upset?"
"No, not me." Ben held his breath for a second, then plunged. "I'm sorry, Dean! Jack! I didn't... I'm sorry!" He flailed, knocking the ball from Dean's hand and letting it roll away again, unnoticed and unneeded. "Seth was messing and I kinda knew he was gonna do it because he hasn't shut up about your car since you came here but I didn't know he was gonna and it was too late and he hit the ball right into your car and he mighta ruined it and I don't know but he hit it and I'm sorry and it wasn't my fault but it kinda was but please don't be mad, I'm sorry!"
Dean leaned back slightly as the words poured from Ben's lips, blinking, but when it finally ended he reached forward and grabbed Ben's shoulders and held him firm. Ben tried not to tense up; he knew Dean wouldn't whup him, but this was Dean's car and he loved it and what was he gonna do? "Whoa, hey. Calm down, buddy. It's all right. Your friend hit the Impala with a baseball? Is that what happened?"
"Yeah." Ben's eyes welled up and he sniffed the tears back ruthlessly, cheeks warm. Dean would never cry. Ben had to live up to that. "I'm sorry, De...Jack. I know how much you like your car."
"Hey, it's okay. I'm not mad. It wasn't your fault. Where did the ball hit?"
Ben leaned over and smacked his hand somewhere near the spot. "Around here, I think."
Dean slowly, slowly turned his head to follow the movement, and it was only then that Ben realized that he hadn't even looked at the car this whole time they'd been talking. Not even once.
"Oh, there?" Dean let go of Ben with one hand to reach out toward the car. For a second it was like he couldn't quite get all the way, like his hand stuck in invisible taffy, barely moving, but then he pushed through. His hand found the side of the car, spread flat on the warm metal, pressing there like a magnet, and a small sigh ran out of his mouth.
They sat there, Ben watching Dean, Dean watching the car, his eyes moving slowly back and forth. Like he was reading it, a favorite story he'd read a hundred times but still liked reading again, like Ben and Stuart Little. Dean's face was set and serious, but he still didn't look mad, so Ben finally, finally started to relax.
"She looks just fine," Dean said at last, his gaze switching back to Ben. "I think your friend dodged a bullet this time. 'Cause you know I would hunt down anyone who hurt my car."
Something twinkled in his eye, then, just a hint of the humor and fun Ben remembered in this guy from last time, and a tiny, tiny smile pulled up the corner of Dean's mouth. Ben knew that it was really okay, and he finally relaxed all the way, leaning back against the car. "Yeah, I know. You really like this thing."
"I really like her," Dean corrected, rubbing his hand slowly over the car door the way a man would pet his horse. "The Impala is a classy lady, and you gotta treat her with respect. I don't want to hear you call her a 'thing' ever again, okay?"
"Okay." Ben nodded, meeting Dean's eyes. The humor was still there, but Ben understood that he was serious, too. "I won't call her that. What did you say her name was? Impa-something?"
"Impala. My baby's an Impala." Dean shifted around to sit beside Ben, leaning up against the car next to him. "She's a '67 Impala, the finest car the geniuses at Chevrolet ever built."
"Impala." Ben leaned his head back into the car, face turned to watch Dean. This was the most Dean had said to him in one time since he moved in.
Dean leaned, too, pressing his head into the sun-warm metal, tilting his face back to look up at her. "We've been together for a long time, me and my baby. Been through a lot. Been through the wars, Missouri would say." He rolled his head over to look at Ben. "You take care of your car, and she'll take care of you. I'll show you how sometime."
Ben perked up. "I was hoping you would teach me how to drive, actually. Maybe soon?"
Dean chuckled, warm and low. "I dunno, kid. Not sure how your mom would take that. Not sure I'd be that great a teacher, either."
"You taught me how to throw a punch, and that worked out great."
"Yeah, but..." Dean paused, chewing his lip. "You may have a point there. If you're old enough to hit someone in the face, you're old enough to operate a vehicle, right?"
Ben couldn't argue with that logic, not that he wanted to. He shrugged, hope lighting up inside him.
Dean eyed him speculatively. "How old are you, anyway?"
"I'm ten. That's plenty old enough, right?"
Dean grinned. "That's how old I was when I started learning to drive. Still, we might want to give it a little more time."
Ben huffed his disappointment and thumped his head gently against the metal, but didn't argue.
Dean smiled at his baby, sun in his eyes, all around him. "Still. Someday. I'll teach you."
Ben was content. From Dean Winchester or from Jack Caulfield, "someday" was a promise. He'd keep it, and Ben would wait until he did.
Dean rested one hand on Ben's shoulder, and with the other, he pulled up one of the dandelions growing under the Impala's wheel.