When Lisa woke up around three in the morning, Dean wasn't in bed next to her.
She sighed and rolled over, staring at the shadowy ceiling. This wasn't exactly anything new. Dean had been with her and Ben for three weeks now, and while he was no longer waking up screaming in terror in the middle of the night, she knew he still wasn't sleeping. The dark circles under his eyes seemed permanent, and the one time she'd seen him try to shave, his hands had been shaking so badly that she'd taken the razor away from him, then pulled him into her arms while he shuddered. And he was careful with the drinking, sure – he never started before dinner, because he'd known without her having to tell him that with Ben in the house, that just wasn't okay. At first, she had worried a little about his having one too many and then getting behind the wheel of that car of his, but on his second day at her house, he'd asked to park the car in the garage, where he'd covered it in a tarp and left it there.
After a few moments of listening to the sound of her own quiet breathing, and straining to hear any sounds of Dean over it, Lisa shifted to sit up on the bed, reaching her feet down towards the floor but hesitating before she stood. Dean didn't do well with being interrupted when he was sleeping, or when he got that distant look in his eyes, the one that she knew meant he was remembering. When he had first arrived at her house, and asked for that beer, and wrapped his arms around her as she whispered nonsense in his ear, she'd had no idea how bad it had been. She'd known it had been awful, sure – even from the little he'd told her when he'd come to warn her of what was coming, she had known that his life was falling apart in a way that she'd never be able to comprehend. But still, she had held him close and tried to swallow down her fear as he had cried in her arms. He hadn't been sobbing; it was too quiet, too intense and yet too contained, to be called that. Ben, who had heard the doorbell, had come thundering down the stairs, and Lisa had closed her eyes and silently begged her son do display all the forethought she knew he had. Thank goodness, after a brief moment of hesitation, she'd heard Ben turn and shuffle back up the stairs. Slowly, Dean had regained the ability to breathe, and she'd gently led him over to the couch. When she'd moved to go get him that beer, he'd reached out and grabbed her wrist, and asked her to stay.
And so she had stayed, and cradled his hand in both of hers, as he stared at the wall and told her a story she could barely believe, about God and the devil and his brother the savior, and then he had cried again, like his heart was already broken. He had cried until there was nothing left, until he was exhausted, and she had carefully placed her hand on his back and asked him if he'd like to get some sleep. He had nodded, and followed her upstairs, and before she was even two seconds into her moment of panic as to where she was going to put him, he had turned and headed into the guest bedroom. She had shown him where the towels were, and offered to get his bag from his car. He had hesitated before handing her the keys and when she reentered the room a few minutes later, she could hear the sound of the shower running from behind the closed bathroom door.
He had slept the whole next day through, and at breakfast Ben hadn't said anything except to ask her if Dean was okay, and he'd only nodded when she had paused and said, "I think he will be, if we give him time." Ben had left and returned from school, and Lisa had left and returned from the health clinic where she worked as a physical therapist, and then it was six o'clock in the evening and Dean was still asleep. Lisa had been debating whether or not to wake him for dinner when a piercing cry had sounded from the guest room, and Lisa had dropped the dishtowel in her hand and raced up the stairs and burst into the guest room. Dean had been tangled up in the blankets, thrashing about on the mattress, sweat pouring off his brows. When she had gripped his shoulders to wake him, he'd jolted upright and grabbed her wrists so hard she'd half-expected them to bruise. They hadn't, though.
After that, there had been a talk, and another, and another. Dean was determined to be happy – or at least, to find peace. He hadn't said much about this commitment, except for one time: "It's the least I can do for Sam. He knew I pictured myself happy with you and with Ben, he knew me well enough for that. Just… give me time, Lis? Please?"
She had given him time, and space, and within the next week he had taken her up on her offer to introduce him to Sid, and he had charmed the contractor but with only a shade of the flashing smile she'd remembered, and had gotten a job on Sid's team. Once she thought he would feel safe doing so, because the night terrors had stopped for the most part, although the nightmares remained, she had invited him to move out of the guest room and in to her room. Also within that week, he'd taken Ben out for burgers, and while she didn't know what had been said, she did know that when they'd come back, Ben had been bouncing around with the kind of happiness that she knew he'd soon outgrow being able to show, and Dean had followed him into the house, not quite smiling, but something close.
It was the memory of that face that propelled Lisa to her feet. She knew, she knew in that way that women just know these things, that Dean cared for her. He cared for Ben. She knew that he wanted to make a life with them. But he had endured a year that she couldn't even imagine, he had lost things she'd never understand, and she had to allow for that. Accepting that this wasn't something she could help him heal from was hard for her. After all, healing people was what she did for a living – physical therapy was literally bringing people back from damage done to their bodies.
Lisa didn't use a bathrobe. Instead, she found one of Dean's hoodies tossed over the armchair in the corner of the room. He had lived in it his first few days in her house, and the charcoal-grey material still smelled like him as she tugged it over her head and slipped her arms into the sleeves. The sweatshirt was too big for her – it was even too big for Dean, if it was possible for a sweatshirt to be cut for someone even taller and broader than he was – but it was soft, and comfortable, and pulling it on felt like home. Her bare feet padded along the hardwood floor that still got cold at night, even in late May, as she left her bedroom and started down the hallway.
Halfway down the hall, she paused and smiled fondly. Ben's bedroom door was cracked open, and she knew he'd never have left it that way – he'd informed her a few months ago that ten years old was too old to need the light from the hallway in order to get to sleep. It had to have been Dean, then – checking up on her son, making sure he was all right, that none of the things that he knew went bump in the night had gotten to the kid. She couldn't help but glance into Ben's room, make sure that he was still sleeping peacefully, before she gently pulled the door shut behind her and made for the staircase.
Halfway down the stairs, she saw the glow coming from the lamp sitting on the end table beside the couch in the living room, and she paused to just look. Dean was sitting on the couch with his back to her, hunched over, flipping through the pages of a book on the coffee table. The lamplight caught the amber liquid in the glass beside the book, creating tiny bronze prisms on the surface of the table. His face was caught in the shadows from the lamp, and he looked so much older than he should have. For a moment, Lisa was caught by a wave of missing the twenty-year-old cocky guy who had rolled up to her college town in his big black car, wearing an easy smile and a leather jacket, promising a good time, and to care just enough but not too much.
That Dean wasn't hers, though. He never had been, and he never could be. But the man sitting on her couch right now — he wanted to build something with her. He was starting with rubble, starting with next to nothing, but he was trying so hard. He was trying to be happy, for his brother, and for Ben, and for Lisa herself. And she knew that she could help him, if he'd let her.
Dean startled a little when Lisa sank down onto the couch beside him. "Sorry," she said quickly. "Am I bothering you?"
"Nah," he sighed, his fingers running along the pages of the book in front of him. But it wasn't a book at all, she saw; it was a journal. "I was just…" the sentence trailed off, and he didn't finish it, just traced his fingers over a knot in the wood of the table.
Lisa folded her legs up under her and leaned into Dean's shoulder. "Your dad's?" she asked. She'd heard him mention his father's journal.
But Dean shook his head. "No, actually. This is… it's Sam's." After saying the name, he had to swallow hard before continuing. "He didn't write in it as much as Dad wrote in his, but there's still a lot… especially towards the end."
She opened her mouth to ask exactly when "the end" had started, but decided against it. He was already telling her more about Sam than he had since the night he'd arrived here, and if talking through it was going to help him, she wasn't going to interrupt. He reached over and took her hand in his, and squeezed her fingertips for a moment, before picking at the hem of the sweatshirt's sleeve and running the cotton between the pads of his thumb and index finger. He spoke again, his voice rough. "This is all my fault, Lis."
"It's not." Her denial was automatic, because despite not having heard the whole story, she had a hard time believing that Dean Winchester could ever have had a hand in his little brother's death.
Rather than arguing the point, Dean just shrugged. "He didn't think so either," he muttered, gesturing at the journal before picking up his glass and taking another sip. Bourbon, Lisa guessed from the smell of it. She leaned forward and slid her eyes along a few lines of scribbled text, frowning when a line jumped out at her.
"Wait, you met Paris Hilton?"
Dean huffed out a laugh, and for a moment it touched his eyes. "Yeah. No. Not really. It was…" he tipped his head back to rest it against the couch, eyes wandering as he searched for the story. "It was a pagan god impersonating her. She beat the shit out of me. Sam chopped her head off."
"Really?" Lisa giggled, hugging his arm. "I'd've paid good money to see that."
"You shush," Dean told her, but he was still smiling a little. "Yeah, Sam probably would have never let me forget it, but… shit started going down not too long afterwards."
Lisa wrapped one of her hands around his, and reached her other arm up to curl it around his shoulders. "You're tense," she murmured, digging the heel of her hand into his back and rubbing it back and forth, finding a knot in his muscles and beginning to work it. He stiffened at the contact, and she immediately removed her hand from his back. "Sorry," she stammered. "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."
"No it… it felt nice," he reassured her, but the words sounded like they surprised him to say. "I just wasn't expecting it."
His face was open, honest, and by now she knew enough to recognize when he was trying to hide pain or despair. Still, she hesitated before making the suggestion. "Would you… would you like me to rub down your back?"
He didn't move for a heartbeat, and she was starting to think that she'd overstepped before he nodded wordlessly and reached up to drag his t-shirt over his head. In the moment before he turned his back to her, she caught sight of the small tattoo on his collarbone. He hadn't had it ten years ago, and she wanted to ask about it, but the fact that he hadn't volunteered to tell her anything about it when she had run her fingers over it that first time made it pretty clear to her that it was a closed subject, like so much else. The muscles in his back were still so well-defined, even after three weeks off the road, and the expanse of skin was more scarred than the skin of any thirty-year-old had any right to be. She forced herself not to sigh – he'd hate the sound of her pity – and braced her hands on his shoulder blades, digging deep. Lisa was a fixer before all else. This was something she could fix.
As she and Dean sat in companionable silence, her working and him trusting her, she thought about the fact that he was a fixer too. It was what he was good at. And from what she could piece together of the story, it sounded like he and his brother had fixed the world, but Dean hadn't been able to save his brother, and that almost didn't make it worth it. But she would always be grateful to the promise that Sam had extracted for Dean before he had jumped, the promise to come to her and to live a life. Lisa had struggled in her life – finishing school with a baby on her hip, getting the career she's always wanted, saving up enough money to buy a house for herself and her son. She knew what a struggle it was to keep going after you thought your world had shattered around you.
And thank God, she'd never had to try as hard at being happy as Dean was trying now.
As Lisa moved south of Dean's shoulder blades, a noise of contentment sounded from somewhere within his throat. Lisa bit her lower lip to keep from smiling. This was progress. This was baby steps. This was the beginning of something being fixed. She knew that Dean wanted to get through this alone, that he had to try to be happy until he learned how to live, but she'd be damned if she let him stop her from holding his hand on the way through.
Maybe one day soon she'd get him over the mountain that was trying, and all that'd be left was being happy.
This relationship breaks my heart for several reasons.