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The Company I Keep

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Like every Sunday, Dean is sitting in the coffee shop Pumpkin – run by the British whirlwind Paige; her baristas being her best friends Summer Rae, Emma and Bayley –, reading the book of the week while enjoying his time off. It's fuller than usual, mostly because it's raining cats and dogs outside.

The last free seat is at his table and he's having a hard time defending it. Though, to be fair, all he actually does is sit there, feet on the chair, trying to concentrate on his reading, not once bothering to look up whenever someone approaches.

They all go away as soon as their loud coughing and throat clearing doesn't have the desired effect, muttering how rude he's behaving and complaining about him to Paige.

'Dean's just like that,' is all she utters with her most charming smile, since she's already used to this and they've known each other for years, thanks to him coming here from ten to twelve on the last day of the week like clockwork. She'd rather keep her regulars than care about possible new clients. That woman is a saint, allowing him to be himself in her shop.

The Pumpkin is the only place people leave him alone and he direly needs these hours to recharge his batteries. He's never talked to Paige more than two sentences in a row but he likes her and she always beams at him, giving him free cookies to go with his drink.

A new pair of legs walks up to him again; he can make out the tightest skinny jeans he's ever seen on another human being out of the corner of his eye and muddy shoes that leave a trail of rainwater and dirt on the floor.

'Dean? That's a nice name,' a guy says, leaning against the chair his feet are resting on. It's eleven forty five; why is he not allowed to spend his last fifteen minutes in peace and quiet?

He doesn't answer – it's obvious he'd rather be without company –, just keeps on reading to finish his book. He wants to start with Cody McFadyen's series next week since he's been wanting to do that for months.

'I can see that you passive aggressively wish to be left alone in a coffee shop that's full to bursting point by occupying both seats with your fine body–' 'Damn right I do,' he can't help but mumble, half-angered, half-intrigued by the slight hint of sarcasm in the other's voice.

It's enough to make him look up and for the fraction of a second he's rendered speechless. Who the fuck dyes almost half of their hair blond?

'I get it, buddy,' he says, sinking deeper in his seat. 'There are no chairs left and you wanna sit down to drink your fancy coffee but I'm trying to read here all by myself, so let me clear this up for you since you don't appear like you give a damn. No, you can't have this chair, my feet are using it. Please get out of my face now.' And with that he resumes his task, making a show of chilling in the chair and sipping his beverage.

'I'm Seth,' the other just won't give up, refusing to leave Dean alone, even after he gave him the fluff. The kid's resilience is slowly starting to piss him off.

'And I really don't care,' he grunts back, looking at the words in front of him slightly irritated. He can't concentrate on the story anymore, the stranger pestering him too pushy and peculiar to ignore.

A weird silence engulfs the two of them while the coffee shop around them is full of life, a little girl starting to laugh happily – her voice bright and innocent – when her brick shithouse of a father buys her her favorite drink, tousling the chocolate brown hair before readjusting the purple raincoat.

'Anything for my girl,' the well-toned, dark-haired man smiles, leading his daughter out of the Pumpkin.

He can see that two-toned kid follow his gaze, so he quickly turns his attention back to the book in his hands, realizing angrily that he's already wasted four minutes. These two hours – three if he counts the way there and back – are the only free time he gets; thanks to Dolph, the overly cheery and not-as-funny-as-he-thinks boy living next door who stepped on his porch one day, asking to mow his lawn to earn some extra money.

He just stood there perplexed, the baby his one-night-stand Renee left him just three days ago after she died in a car crash sleeping soundly in his arms, not ready to be a father or let some punk kid mow his lawn. He was twenty-one, not seventy-seven for fuck's sake. Instead of letting someone trim his hedges he decided to hire Dolph as a babysitter.

Since he's working at home he could be there for Cara whenever she needed him, retreating into his office as soon as she took a nap; the sudden responsibility and abrupt change in his life draining him very quickly. Thanks to Dolph though he has three hours each Sunday solely to himself. Sunshine or snow, the neighbor's child has been doing this for the past six years, allowing Dean to watch two kids grow up and close.

He's translating German novels for a living, reading dozens, hundreds of rubbish or boring books in a year, but since they are his passion he – and his daughter – decided he should treat himself to bestsellers every Sunday after watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast with Cara for the first time. She saw the Beast's library and wanted Dean to have that too. One that has nothing to do with his work. He's never been able to deny her even the dumbest wish.

Two-toned stranger with fucking awesome looking, wet hair and unbelievably soft, brown eyes here is messing with his routine. To make things worse, the kid leans over to snatch his last chocolate chip cookie, grinning from ear to ear when he states, 'Ellen is the murderer but she commits suicide before they can catch her. She doesn't leave a note, so no one ever finds Rebecca.'

That asshole didn't just spoil the end of his book to get his damn seat.

'Now that you're finished, you don't mind me sitting down, do you?' the guy dares to speak on, pushing Dean's feet off the chair with one swift motion to do exactly as he said. So he not only ruined Dean's weekly reading time but he also forces himself on him without batting an eye.

How dare that kid be so cheeky? And more importantly, why is he starting to enjoy this?

'I could be a serial killer you just seriously ticked off,' he growls warningly, feeling the urge to put his feet on the other's lap to show he won't let him treat Dean like that.

He doesn't move, which surprises him the most. Never before did he have any problems with offending someone, making another enemy for life. But there's something about the kid that lets him hesitate.

The stranger smiles at him as if he's an infant and too stupid to understand how the world works yet. God, he hates people belittling him, which unfortunately happens constantly ever since Cara stepped into his life a bit more than half a decade ago. His neighbors seem to think he still has no clue what to do with a seven year old.

He sincerely doesn't, but she's healthy and smart and stunningly beautiful, so Dean supposes it's safe to assume he's doing his job as a single father somewhat decent.

'You certainly look like one, which means you aren't a real psychopath,' the other easily counters, taking a sip from the steaming mug in his hands, eyes never leaving Dean's.

For a while all he can do is stare at tiny droplets of water that gather at the blond and brown tips of the kid's hair, getting lost in the sight, waiting for them to fall down on the muscular shoulders and soak the already wet hoodie. It's so mesmerizing that Dean forgets to think until his mind registers the ticking of the clock above the coffee machines. He tears his gaze away from that handsome yet annoying person to check how much time he has left.

Seven fucking short minutes.

So he flips through the last pages of his book, cross-reading them to see if the guy told him the truth and sighing enervated when he indeed comes to that conclusion. That fucktard ruined his free Sunday.

'Now you have time for your other book,' the kid suggests with a kind but simultaneously superior grin and Dean is terribly confused for a moment what the other is referring to. Then it hits him. On the table there's a plastic bag with the How to Train Your Dragon series and Hiccup and Toothless can be perfectly seen through the thin fabric. Emma sold them to him for a fairly good prize after she heard him argue on the phone about the books with Cara and he explained to her that they're a bit short on money this month. Emma's heart is as big as the universe.

'They're for my daughter,' he rebuffs, putting the novel about a family tragedy away, ignoring the surprised look he gets. He's already used to people having a hard time believing he's a father, so it's nothing new to him, but it still stings somewhere deep inside. And right now he even feels the need to explain himself, to make that weirdo like him at all costs. How goddamn stupid. Dean never cared about other people's opinions, why start now?

'I cried during the second movie.' Okay. What's he supposed to do with that information? Then those kissable lips part again and more words tumble out of the kid's mouth. 'I also bawled like a baby during Big Hero 6. Twice. And when I played The Last of Us. And whatever you do, don't talk to me about Telltale's The Walking Dead.' Sure thing. Was never his intention to do so anyway.

'Very interesting,' he lies while rolling his eyes, grabbing his stuff to leave and get out of the other's vicinity before he embarrasses himself or makes a mistake he'd regret forever. He's a father, there's no time and place for him to fuck everything up anymore. And Dean still has to get to his car and drive back home. He can't be late since Dolph – by now a very busy seventeen-year-old – said he'd have a date tonight and he wants to get ready for it. Seems like Prince Pretty here won. 'Table's yours, buddy.'

'Seth,' the other reminds him but Dean only shrugs. The less he knows, the better. 'Whatever.'

* * *

'Jenna said, technically I'm still too young for those,' Cara remarks, her bottom lip quivering while she hugs her stuffed panda bear close and looks at him with her huge olive green eyes. The thick, blond curls fall softly on her shoulders and he smiles at her, turning his daughter around to braid her hip-long hair, so it won't bother her during the night.

He leans forward to whisper conspiratorially in her ear, 'Then let's keep it a secret that we read them nonetheless.' She giggles, overjoyed that he doesn't give a shit about other people – especially kids – trying to tell him how to raise his little girl. Jenna is one of Cara's best friends but she can't yet read as well as his baby and thus disapproves of almost every book that has more words than pictures.

Dean taught Cara how to read very early on since this is his life anyway and she loved to sit in his office under the desk to skim through the books he had already translated, asking every evening for him to show her how to read them. One day, if she's up to it, he'll teach her German but for now he's fine with her growing up learning English and Spanish.

They've spent countless weekends going through picture books until she started to recognize more and more letters and words. Before he knew what had happened she demanded no doodles and plain text. By now she can read her own books, albeit a bit slowly, yet she insists on her bedtime story every night.

Dean could've asked her to do it herself so he can finish his work, but the thought never even crossed his mind. During this half hour he and his daughter bond in a very special way and he savors every second of it. He feels less like a complete failure with his baby girl in his arms. Dean swore to himself that he'll only stop with this ritual when Cara is either too old or she decides she doesn't need it anymore. Mostly because he's dead sure he'll miss it more than her.

Cara's growing up way too fast for his liking anyway. Soon he'll have to chase off girls and boys alike, so no one can hurt his little princess.

'What do you think about someone having brown hair here,' he starts, gingerly putting his hand on the left side of her head, 'and blond hair over here?' The hell did that just come from? She waits until he has finished the simple braid and frowns, thinking about his peculiar question for a while.

Dean has no clue how that could slip past his lips or why he can't stop thinking about cool, bratty kid – Seth, as if he ever could forget that name again.

'Is it a birth mistake?' she asks and he shakes his head, correcting her because she demanded him to do so, not because he's in any way bothered by his daughter learning her mother tongue bit by bit by herself. 'Birth defect, C,' he grins to show her it's okay to not know everything, pulling the covers up to her chin.

She waits until she's comfortable – a brooding expression on her young, angelic face; no doubt she's trying to remember that it's birth defect not mistake – before she answers the question he'd like to erase from both their memories. 'I think it's interesting. Very, what's the fancy word for special? Un– don't help me. Unique?' He nods, impressed she knows an expression like that and how to use it. 'It sure looks awesome if you braid it. Daddy, can I have a brown patch too?'

'God, no,' he immediately shoots back, shuddering slightly. Dean really doesn't need to be reminded of that weirdo by his own daughter every day. Though she surely would look as beautiful as the handsome, annoying stranger.

'Why do you want to know?' Cara asks. Fuck. He doesn't reply, just grabs the book and glares at Toothless staring right back at him from the cover. He's not so sure himself, but it's impossible to hide anything from Cara. She's too smart to not catch up on everything.

'Daddy.' She's using her cute, I'm your little angel voice that always makes him cave in. His princess knows how to twist him around her finger. 'Have you met someone?'

When he still refuses to give her a straight answer, her smile turns wicked – in this moment she looks exactly like a female mini-version of himself and not for the first time he silently thanks whoever is responsible for it that he got graced with Cara.

'Tell me everything about him,' she demands in that polite but awfully persuasive way that she definitely got from her mother – who he sadly can't remember that we'll anymore.

Dean still knows she had a nice, alluring voice and that she had been terrifyingly beautiful, yet he still left her in her dorm room in the middle of the night, too drunk to walk properly but already sober enough to know he just made a huge fucking mistake. So he stumbled into the next bar to erase the memory of their sex, like it was a door in his mind he could just close and never open again. It's not that it was bad or anything, but that night he realized that he was kinda done with women.

He's never hid the truth, told Cara right away that her mother was a funny, attractive woman but that her father wasn't entirely interested in the other sex. That he'd been lying to himself all his life but that he's glad they spent that one night together because without it Cara wouldn't be here today. And without her he'd probably already be pushing up daisies, having died from an overdose or in an accident due to his excessive alcohol abuse.

Dean thought it mandatory for his daughter to be aware of all that, of the fact that Renee was the last woman he had sex with and that he was drunk to the point of passing out. Up to this day, he's still amazed he managed to knock her up. Cara knows he regrets that night because he hurt her mother while finding himself but that he wouldn't change the past even if he could.

On a rainy Friday night, when she had been snuggling up to him, flinching every time loud, rumbling thunder rolled across the sky, he confessed to her that her parents were never meant to be but that he genuinely loves Renee for giving him Cara.

Every year, on July 16th, they take some time to go to the cemetery together, visiting Renee's grave. Once there, he tends to wish he could tell his daughter countless hilarious and depressing stories about her mother but since he never spent time with her, all he can do is give his sunshine a hug and promise her that they'll never forget her mother. To honor Renee he even let Cara keep her last name even though she has started to declare that she wants to finally be an Ambrose.

Thing is, she already is. His genes are running through her, making her the person she is today and that's good enough for him. Besides, Cara Young doesn't sound too bad.

He wonders what Seth's last name might be. Mother fucking shit. Where did that thought come from and can it descend back into hell?

Nosy, little girls either get a cool dragon or a really lame story about a two-toned moron that screwed their father over,' he tells her. Predictably, she doesn't need a second to decide, yelling excitedly, 'The guy, the guy.' Sighing, he puts the book aside; they'll read it some other day. Of course she would choose that. She's just like him. So Dean tells her everything there is to know about Seth – which is not really much. Story of his life.

Once he's finished his short tale, Cara has tons of questions bubble out of her mouth. How old is he? What does he look like? What's he doing for a living? Why didn't he bleach one part of his beard too? Will you see him again? Did you have butterflies because of him? All good points but he has talked enough about this person and he sure as hell doesn't want to think about the effect Seth had on him and his body.

Shaking his head tiredly, he murmurs, 'Enough, princess. Oh, speaking of. I saw that tall guy at the Pumpkin today again. With his daughter this time. You're right, she's adorable.'

Cara pouts, batting her eyelashes at him. 'Cuter than me?' 'No one could pull that off, cariño,' he assures her, retelling his brief encounter with the Samoan family.

C and that young girl are in the same class; the other moved here only recently and according to his daughter she, Jojo if he remembers correctly, is horribly shy, barely able to answer the teachers' questions. But her father is a hunk – or so all the mothers call him when they pick up their kids –, plus he's supposedly funny, very protective and also really polite. Cara is hellbent on befriending the girl but she understood on her own that Jojo needs some more time to open up. Until then she'll continue to play with her in silence, being there for the new girl when others try to bully her for barely talking.

Dean has no fucking idea how Cara turned out to be such an angel, considering he was the one raising her.

Okay, this is it for today. Enough blabbering about Seth; a guy he most likely won't ever see again. He gets up and switches the lights off, leaving the door slightly ajar. That's their newest habit since Cara decided that she was too old for her nightlight. Dean didn't say anything when she crawled into his bed the first night they tried it out, just hugged her close and forgot to close the door from then on. Neither of them talked about it.

'Daddy,' she calls out and he hums, turning back with a soft smile tugging at his lips. He'll never get enough of Cara proudly calling him her father. 'You should see him again,' she yawns, rubbing her eyes, cuddling with her panda. Her voice is thin and very quiet when she finishes her thought, breaking his heart a little in the process. 'I like the way your face lights up when you talk about him.'

* * *

Dean doesn't meet Seth in the next few weeks and after two surprisingly good suspense novels he translated with great interest, he completely forgot about the other's existence. That is until he's sitting at his usual table in the Pumpkin, feet on a second chair, half a marzipan roll hanging out of his mouth and totally immersed in Cody McFadyen's second book when a hand drops on his shoulder, startling him against his will. He lifts his head and looks into a set of warm, brown eyes. Someone forgot his contacts today.

'Ro,' he exclaims, taking in the uniform of his friend. It's fitting that someone who loves helping and protecting people works as a firefighter. It's a very demanding job which is why Dean has so much respect for his friend. 'Scared me to death. Asshole.'

'Good to see you too, dickhead,' the other replies, the grin on his face matching Dean's.

Seems like his buddy has some time left since he sits down with his cup to engage in a conversation about Cara and Jojo. Seriously, sometimes he can't believe how boring his life has become. Everything only revolves around kids these days. Nothing happens to him anymore. Maybe that's why he needed weeks to let go of the memory of a certain, two-toned young man.

'Wanna go and grab a beer next week?' Roman asks. 'I'm free on Wednesday, let's go out and just be two guys in a bar for a little while.'

Sounds like heaven to him. He loves Cara to death but he misses interacting with grown-ups. Even if he only snaps and barks at them. Roman – being a single father himself – knows exactly what it's like to willingly give up most of your private life.

He takes his mug and smashes it against Roman's cup, the two of them silently agreeing on them doing a club tour like in the good old times. With someone so responsible as Ro by his side Dean feels safe enough to know he won't slip back into old habits. He'd never forgive himself if he'd let Cara see the awful person he has been when he beget her.

Dean's very thankful that his daughter is so damn stubborn – that rings a bell, don't it? –, not letting go of her plan to welcome Jojo in the circle of her close friends. He has lost count of all the times they had play dates and Cara came home from school with the quiet girl in tow, helping her with their homework until she warmed up to them and invited them over to meet her dad. Dean and Roman instantly felt connected; their friendship is still growing stronger with each day. He never thought it'd be that easy to find a kindred spirit.

Cara used to ask a lot of questions about Seth at first, dead set on finding her dad a boyfriend, but she stopped once she saw how at ease he felt with Ro at his side, while he only fidgeted around forlornly whenever she mentioned Seth. His angel keeps her mouth shut for his sake but he catches her looking at him sometimes, her green eyes full of a sadness she shouldn't even be conscious of yet.

'Ya got a babysitter?' Dean bites into his almond cookie, nodding though he's not sure Dolph will be so eager – let alone free in the middle of the week – to watch over two kids. Since he feels better if Roman asks around for one too, just in case, he voices his worries, all the while emptying his coffee because it's almost time for him to go.

Roman waves it off, muttering something about a huge, Samoan family and that one of them will help out without complaining, happy to see Jojo again when an oddly familiar voice rings out, a pleasant shiver running down his spine. What the fuck is wrong with him?

'I could help out, I love kids all ages. Ugh, that sounded weird. I meant, I'm an awesome sitter.'

Dean never realized how much he missed the guy and his awkward rambling – even after knowing him for only a couple of minutes – but now that Seth is standing in front of him, Dean finally feels grounded again. This is where he belongs. He shouldn't give his heart and soul alike to this goober but as it would seem that has already happened. He's a lost cause. But at least Dean can tell himself that only happened because he didn't bang anyone for years, let alone sustain a working relationship.

No need to show his obvious weakness to that dumbo though.

'Like I would trust you with my only child,' he mutters grumpily, watching in fascination how Seth pushes his feet off the chair once more to casually sit down and scatter his stuff. Dean can't make out any words in the mess that are the other's notes and tilting his head to try and do so would give him away. It sucks because he won't be able to tell Cara what the guy does for a living.

'Who's that?' Ro's bewildered query jerks him out of his thoughts and he catches his best friend staring at Seth as if the kid has sprouted a second head. Not even his buddy has ever dared to interrupt Dean's time off this rudely or to even sit down at his table without an invitation.

Seth, possessing the carelessness of the youth, grins up at his Samoan friend and holds out a hand. 'Seth. Pleased to meet you.' Roman doesn't take the offered hand; simply throws a questioning look at Dean but what can he do? Kid's got guts; something he definitely appreciates. So ultimately, he just sighs, uncertain how to react. And it's not like he could tell Ro anything about the kid or explain his presence.

'See ya tomorrow then,' his best friend mumbles as a he gets up and walks away, waving at a beaming Bayley on his way out.

Once they're more or less alone Dean bends forward, his nose catching a sweet mixture of perfume and rich coffee. He could wake up to that smell for the rest of his life. 'You have a death wish?' he hisses, congratulating himself for sounding pissed off instead of aroused or desperate.

Seth blinks dumbfounded before he smiles brightly, the goddamn colors in the coffee shop coming to life, almost blinding him with their intensity. He feels like he just walked into the movie A Single Man, taking Colin Firth's place. How awfully cliché. Yet he craves more. See? That's how boring his private life has become. To make things worse the nerd glasses on Seth's nose glide own a bit while he chuckles and Dean observes entranced how tanned fingers correct that.

'Why? Because I asked to babysit your daughter? What's her name by the way?'

It's not like he doesn't want to tell the other everything about Cara – he is so proud of her and loves his baby girl so much that he wants the whole world to know – but he still stays silent, something holding him back. Angrily he realizes it's fear.

Instead of giving the kid the answer he is entitled to, Dean rather chooses to take in the other's appearance. Contrary to last time he's neither dripping wet nor covered in mud. Still wearing glasses, though these are different ones. There are also yet again the impossibly tight, well-fitting skinny jeans, the Glamour Kills shirt and a baseball cap, hair tied into a small ponytail.

He also continues to look dapper as fuck though he could trim his beard a bit. It's not yet Duck Dynasty style but he's getting there. Next time they meet he'll fit perfectly in that odd family. Wait a sec. Did he just think about the next time? Okay, what is wrong with him and how can he stop this?

'Cause ya keep pissin' me off. Why always my table? There are at least five free ones today.'

The kid doesn't even look ashamed, just grins from ear to ear before shrugging nonchalantly. 'You'll leave in a minute anyway which means your seat is warm.' One of those guys, huh?

'Plus, I dig your choice of books. Have you read anything by Steve Mosby yet?' Yup, that guy is one of his favorite authors. But as much as he'd like to philosophize about him, Dean seriously has to go. It's already one past twelve and in all these years he's never been late on a Sunday.

'Sure have, I'm not living under a rock. Gotta go now, kiddo. Enjoy my seat,' he mutters, standing up and watching intrigued how Seth instantly slips into his chair, wiggling around with his glorious booty as if that would make the seat more comfortable.

Before he can step through the door Seth calls out, 'Hey, Dean? It's too warm. You farted as a parting gift?'

He stops dead in his tracks, every pair of eyes in the shop directed at him, and he wants to growl something or let that idiot be, but he can only smile at Seth's boldness, shaking his head in wonder and awe. Kid's got huge balls. Good to know.

'Nope, 'm not you,' he retorts, smirking back at the other while ignoring Bayley and Summer's curious looks. 'But I can punch you in the face until you can bathe in your own blood; let's see how warm that'll be.'

Seth simply winks at him, munching on the cookie Dean left for him as he starts working on his notes as if their interaction already is a part of his life. One that he doesn't ever want to miss. Dean lets his gaze wander to the counter and he waves at the girls apologetically when he sees Paige stare with an open mouth at him and Seth, not sure which one of them just lost it. No other living person has dared to torment Dean mercilessly and got away with it. Everyone expects him to declare them mortal enemies now. Surprisingly, he doesn't have the intention of harming the guy. But he would love to handcuff the other to his bed someday.

He grins, looking back at the guy through the window front of the Pumpkin. Cara will love to hear about their meeting today.

* * *

'Did you ask for his last name? Or number?' No. He was too astounded to even think straight. 'Do you know what he's doing or where he works?' Another shake of his head that discourages Cara. She really seems to root for a guy she's never even met.

'Is he single? Is he like you?' she keeps on prodding with her childlike curiosity; overjoyed that Seth is once again a hot topic, and Dean is at a complete loss what to say. He still knows next to nothing about Seth and it's a mystery to him why she can't get the stranger out of her head. Like father, like daughter.

'Dad,' she kinda chides him with a stern face, 'you have to know something. Does he wear a ring on his finger?'

What the hell? He can't believe his seven year old baby girl has better ideas than him. Dean stared at Seth's hands so often, yet he never bothered to look for signs of a marriage. Roman, for example, still wears his wedding ring, so all the single ladies don't hit on him more than they already do.

Dean suspects that it's mostly because his friend hasn't given up on his wife yet. If there's a child involved parents usually try their best to mend things. Ro's marriage seems to be over – from what he's heard so far – but his best friend isn't someone who gives up easily. He really loves his wife with all his heart and he won't stop fighting until the day he dies. Dean will be there for him all along the way; no matter where they end up.

'I'll check if I meet him again,' he promises Cara who furrows her brow and gives him a dirty look before she claims he could leave her alone; she's independent and old enough to use the swing in their garden all on her own. Peachy. She's mad he apparently doesn't even try to charm the pants off Seth. Seems like she meant it when she said she'd like a bratty kid to be a part of their lives.

Without uttering another word he sits down on a deckchair, watching his daughter swing back and forth, the pensive expression on her face turning into one of pure joy the longer she pushes herself off the ground. Grabbing his tablet to go over some of his notes for work, he listens to the cheerful laughter of his child, the thought of Seth getting pushed into the darkest corner of his mind.

They've baked brownies once he came back from the Pumpkin earlier – two minutes late – and the whole garden smells delicious. It's a mouth watering scent and he can't wait to finally eat them.

Funny how a child changes everything. Back when Cara entered his life he had been an awful cook, only able to prepare the most basic and uncomplicated dishes, but after he'd learned to make puree, he took some crash courses and lulled himself to sleep with every cooking show on television. He also spent a small fortune on recipe books and guides. Every day after work he stood in the kitchen, practicing until his kid stopped spitting out his meals.

He's nowhere near being Gordon Ramsay but he can bake like he was born to do it, so they declared Sunday their sweet tooth day, making something horribly fat and tasty to eat it fresh out of the oven until they can barely move anymore. That's when they retreat into his king-sized bed to watch a Disney movie or some kid show on TV.

In the evening Dean used to bath Cara but she has reached the age where she wants to do that all by herself – didn't he say it? She grows up way too fast. At least she still lets him comb her hair until it's almost dry, so he can braid it. He only knows the most basic ones but she's happy either way and in the end that's all that matters to him. Everything for his little girl.

Only eight years ago he was an alcoholic, took drugs, smoked cigarettes and slept with myriads of people but ever since Renee died and a one-year-old barged into his desolate and destructive life he changed his behavior drastically. Cara is the most important thing now and her happiness makes his chest swell with pride and love too.

A decade ago he'd have flipped someone off if they'd told him he'd one day be content with freshly baked brownies and a little girl holding out her thin arms to run towards him for a tight hug. Or that he'd worry about another human being so fucking much that he sometimes can't breathe anymore. Just the thought of losing her shatters his heart and practically kills him.

'Do you like him?' He opens his eyes again, squinting at the sunlight blinding him. When did he doze off? Cara is still on the swing, feet shuffling around in the grass, looking at her father inquisitive.

'Like who?' he yawns heartily while checking his mobile phone. In only three minutes he has to take the brownies out of the oven. Thank God she woke him up with her question or else the fire alarm would've gone off again. He really doesn't need Ro turning up here because of a fake alarm, laughing at him for managing to burn something again.

Cara jumps down the swing and runs over, spinning herself around his chair, giggling at her skirt flying due to her quick movements. 'Seth,' she yells cheerfully, swaying a bit when she skids to a halt. Of course. It's like her whole world only revolves around that mysterious stranger. He should stop sharing everything with his daughter.

Dean tousles her blond locks, breathing in the warm but fresh air. 'I don't even know him, princess.'

She crosses her arms over her chest, contemplating his words. He hasn't entertained the thought of having another partner for years and he's well aware that Cara will sooner or later need somebody else than just him. Thing is, he got very picky over the past few years. It's his life mission to find the perfect second parent for his baby girl.

'Do you have to know someone to like them?' she queries, biting on her bottom lip.

His first instinct is to chuckle and say yes but he stops himself in the last second. She's got a point. Children and fools tell the truth. 'No. Can never hurt though, Car,' he answers instead, pulling her in to kiss her on the forehead before he announces that their feast is ready.

The prospect of sweets is enough to dispel any thoughts of Seth from her mind – good, because he honestly can't tell how much more he could take before he'd admit that he wants the other walk around the house barefoot too. She lets out a delighted yelp and runs into the kitchen, bouncing up and down until he's caught up with her, turning off the oven. They both take a deep breath when he opens it, the rich, aromatic scent wafting through the air. He takes their brownies out and they both sit down, eyes fixed on the dark mixture as if their impatient stares alone will make them cool off faster. All they need is for them not to burn their mouths. Still warm, this stuff tastes like little, fluffy pieces of heaven.

'He offered to babysit you.' Seriously? The moment Cara stops talking about him, Dean brings him up, so he can somehow justify the other constantly filling his brain? He's not a teenager anymore; he should be better than that. Maybe he can tell himself it's the sugar in his system. Dean never wanted his daughter to know this detail, yet he can't stop his lips from moving when it comes to Seth. Even if he'd never admit it loud, he could speak about that two-toned dweeb all day long. That's how boring his life is.

Seth touched him somewhere deep down and so far Dean hasn't found a way to get rid of him again. Like the kid is clinging to his soul with all his might.

Cara's mouth drops open ungracefully and her green eyes turn a shade darker. 'Dad, please tell me you said yes.' Fuck no. Dolph is more than good enough for that job. Dean needed years to trust him with his princess, he sure as hell won't let some random dude take care of her just cause he can't control his dick or emotions.

He shakes his head, stuffing his mouth with another brownie to stall for time. Honestly, he has no idea why he's so vehemently against that idea. Maybe cause it would make everything so real. Cara used to be the perfect excuse to have some fun once in a while without the threat of it becoming serious. Now though he's interested in more than just a good fuck and Dean fears he's forgotten how to have a healthy relationship. Not that he ever had one. He also is hella scared to let the wrong person into their lives.

His silence drives Cara crazy; her face getting redder with each passing second. Being mad at him even made her forget that she's eating very awesome brownies – if he might say so himself. Time to act like a responsible father.

'Cariño, I'm not leaving you alone with a complete stranger. He could be a pervert and dangerous.' He's definitely smart enough to be at least the latter.

'I think I'm falling in love with Dolph. And in case you didn't know, he's totally into me,' she blindsides him and Dean chokes on his bite. He knows exactly why she's doing this – clever, manipulating girl; definitely his bad influence – but this is not funny. He doesn't want to hear those words until she's well over eighteen. Sixteen. Fourteen tops. Not seven. Never seven.

'Please, do your worst,' he's able to squeeze out of his too tight throat, feeling the shock leave his body. Good, he's back on well-known territory. 'I'm sure Ziggler is dying to get his hands on you. Why chase after same-aged if he can get multiple partners in jail for touching a minor? He'd never survive one week in there.' Mostly because Dean would let him get killed after each inmate got ten minutes to torture him.

She grimaces, knowing full well that she's way too young for all those things. As soon as he thought she was ready for her first, slightly censored grownup talk, they had it. Not the birds and the bees shit, Dean isn't someone to sugarcoat anything. No, he told her everything about the good stuff but also about all the bad things, especially the bad people. He doesn't want her to be one of those kids that climb into a nondescript van and all the police ever find is a broken, cold body.

He wanted Cara to know that there are horrible people out there; people who only wish to harm others. Dean thought it necessary for her to be aware of the dangers and temptations this world has to offer. He'd have appreciated that talk as a kid too. Sadly, he had to learn the hardest way possible.

'I want to meet him.' She's pouting now, sounding as if she's about to cry. God dammit. This is not how he wanted this Sunday to go. It's not Seth-day, for fuck's sake. But his biggest weakness are these teary, olive green eyes. Naturally, he caves in almost immediately. 'I've only seen him during daddy-time and I have no damn clue when he'll show up again.'

'Swear,' she scolds him with a huge smile, picking up a few stray crumbs. Dean sighs, fishing a dollar bill out of his jeans to put it in the swear jar. How come he's always the only one filling the stupid glass? A few more slurs and they can go to Disneyland.

Cara resumes inhaling her brownie, though he can sense that she's a tiny bit angry. What should he do now? Take her with him until Seth honors them with his presence? Even if that could potentially take months; but most importantly, he's not convinced he'd like for them to meet yet. He needs to check the kid out first, make sure he won't break Cara's heart. Or his.

'You want me to ask for his number?' It's supposed to be a joke to lighten the mood and cheer her up but he can't continue to tease her once he witnesses Cara's whole face light up at his suggestion. She's way too eager to get to know a stranger, so the overprotective father in him emerges, making him ask suspiciously, 'Dolph didn't do something to you that you suddenly don't want him to keep an eye on you anymore?' It wouldn't be the first time he trusted someone only to get stabbed in the back.

She rolls her eyes, getting payback by tormenting him with her silence. C is a tiny devil, if she wants to be. She figured out very early only how to get everything she desires. 'Nope,' she finally eases his mind, licking her fingers clean one by one. 'But Seth sounds really interesting. I want to see his hair.'

Figures. Dean laughs surprised, querying amused, 'That all? His hair fascinates you?' She targets the last brownie and Dean shoves it towards her with a tiny head tilt but she only asks for his permission to use the sharp knife and cut the piece in half. He has no clue how he of all people deserved to be blessed with such a wonderful child. Sure, she can be bratty and she does get on his nerves from time to time but then she does things like sharing the last brownie with him. Things that make him feel like he doesn't suck that badly, like not everything he touches withers away. She is all the good and innocent he had left in him after he got lost in the darkness.

'No,' Cara snickers, 'I already told you that I like the way you smile when you talk about him.' She did and he still doesn't even realize he's doing it. This Seth better be worth it.

* * *

'Did Cara deify that substitute teacher too? Jojo just won't shut up about him.' Dean nods and takes a large gulp of his beer, thinking with a bittersweet sadness that he stopped liking the taste of it long ago. He only keeps on drinking out of kindliness and habit.

It's a sunny day, yet not too hot. Dean hates summer, he's more of a fall guy, when all the leaves turn red and he and Cara can jump on them in their garden, enjoying the crunching sound. He loves sitting on his daughter's swing in the pouring rain or watching thunderstorms roll over their little home. Summer is generally the season he gets the most lethargic. Plus all kinds of people run around on the streets, searching for a way escape the scorching heat. Pools are always too full, there's a huge waiting line in every ice cream shop, zoos are so well-attended that Cara never sees the attractions, it's too bright and he has no excuse to stay in his own house anymore. Not with a kid that wants to see the world. Thank God his best friend invited them over for a spontaneous barbecue today.

Roman gets up to flip over the burgers and sausages while Dean checks on the girls having fun on the trampoline in the far corner of the garden. His friend has a surprisingly huge residence for a single father who has to pay aliments. Maybe Dean should start a career as firefighter too. Seems like it gets you tons of money. Then again, he'd see Cara a lot less and he's not yet ready to let her go like that.

Dean nods once more when Ro looks back at him, remembering the question. 'My ears are already bleeding. It's always Mr Zayn this, Mr Zayn that. I'm getting a little jealous,' he cracks a joke because he's not really mad Cara keeps on talking incessantly about the man, since it means she stopped bothering him with Seth. The only times she recalls the other's existence is when he comes home on Sundays with one of Paige's self-baked cookies.

'A real ladies' man, our Sami Zayn,' Roman chuckles. 'I heard the boys like him too,' Dean adds, grinning up at his friend while waving at their daughters who both start to giggle as if they badly try to hide that they're gossiping about him. It probably has something to do with either their teacher or Seth. Cara can't fool him. He's a living, breathing bullshit detector.

Roman offers him the first grilled hamburger and calls the girls to come eat. It's not really surprising that the conversation still only revolves around Miss Bliss' bearded substitute teacher. They've heard all the stories multiple times already – Dean feels like Car has never talked about anyone else in her entire life – but they let their exuberant kids ramble on. Sometimes Dean can't help but think that his princess stresses the looks of other men she meets to coerce him into being interested in at least one of them. He briefly wonders if Jojo ever does that too. He highly doubts it.

'You gonna be there for the parent-children picnic next weekend?' Roman asks, finally able to interrupt the girls when Cara takes a break to inhale.

'Yup,' he says after swallowing – usually, he wouldn't mind talking with a full mouth but he wants to show his daughter that, outside of home, manners are a thing. Not that she needs a reminder; he simply feels better telling himself he is somewhat responsible for her stellar behavior.

'What about you?' Ro doesn't answer, just looks at his daughter with a special kind of melancholy. Dean has seen that expression too many times in the mirror and on his friend's face. On more occasions than he can handle. He knows exactly what it means. Jojo smiles bravely but her eyes are as unhappy as her father's. 'Galina wants to be there; says it's her turn.' Dean doesn't add anything even though he'd love to tell his brother what he thinks of his wife. There are better moments to argue about that, no need to do it in front of the kids. Not even Dean is that inconsiderate.

So he simply offers with a carefree tone, swallowing another bite of the tasty burger, 'You could be our plus one if ya want cause you should be there.' Not only because there'll be lots of awful games and activities that help forging the parent-child bond but also cause a kid needs both, especially if they're still alive.

Cara nods excitedly, bouncing her head up and down so fervently that her silky hair starts to fall out the ponytail Dean made in a hurry. 'Please say yes, uncle Ro,' she yells, jumping out her seat to hug Roman around the waist. She's grown so fond of his friend in next to no time – even faster than Dean – that she saw him as a part of their family once she got to meet the man.

'We never had a plus one, you have to say you will.' Cara can be very convincing though Dean suspects that Roman wouldn't reject their offer, just so he can be close to Jojo, even if his wife is currently sick of him.

The quiet Samoan girl grins a bit shyly – he can emphasize with her; C is a handful and as demanding as her father – before she presses her lips together expectantly until Ro finally agrees. Dean watches his princess clap her hands together to embrace her friend in a fit of overwhelming happiness, missing completely the frown on Roman's face.

She's too young to understand that Galina will hog Jojo all to herself during the picnic and his best friend will be reduced to just watching from afar. But at least he'll be there on that day. Unlike Dean and Cara the two don't get to spend much time together due to Ro working in shifts and the whole living in divorce thing.

Whenever he can, Dean takes the girl home with him, supervising the two doing their homework, playing hide and seek with them while making sure to let them win a couple of times until Roman picks his daughter up late at night. And sometimes, when rousing Jojo from her dream would be too cruel, he lets his best friend crash on the couch so that the four of them can have breakfast together.

'Thanks,' Ro says warmly, patting Cara on the head. Dean waves it off, grinning lopsidedly. 'You can't leave me alone with Mr Zayn and his two biggest fangirls. I'm scared she'll try to play Cupid.' They all laugh even though Dean would think his daughter capable of doing that. One day he'll retaliate by scaring her first partner as good as he can. He won't accept anyone in his daughter's life who doesn't love her with all their heart. They have to convince him first.

'Mr Zayn is not a good match. And you still have Seth, daddy,' Cara needlessly reminds him with a stern face – damn, he hoped she'd have forgotten that dumbo already – and Roman's head whips around. 'Seth? The kid from Paige's place?' God dammit, here they go then. Well done, C.

His princess stares numbly at his brother, her mouth dropping open ungracefully, mind clearly stumbling over itself. Now she'll never stop bugging him with the two-toned dweeb. Taking what she wants, Cara sits on Roman's lap, ignoring her father's begging glances, muttering conspiratorially, 'You know him? Have you seen him too? What is he like?'

She's bombarding Ro with so many questions that Dean hides his face in his hands while considering to down the whole bottle of beer to ask for harder shit. Why is she so fixated on Seth? Sure, the guy is handsome, quick witted, funny and has a lot of nerves but as of now, Dean would only bang him once to get this fucking weird attraction out of his system and move on with his life because he and Seth have nothing in common. He's not the right guy for Cara. Besides, Dean isn't even looking for someone. It's Car who wants him to have a relationship again.

'Sorry, sweet pea, I've only seen him fleetingly,' Roman explains while tucking a stray lock back into her ponytail, 'but I can tell you that he's very brazen. Kinda cute too if that's your thing.' Cara squees delightedly and drags Joelle back to the trampoline to hop around on it in all her childish glory. Her joyful laugh is so contagious that even Jojo giggles, grabbing Cara's hands so they can jump up and down together. Their hushed, secretive whispering should worry him.

Yet he's way more concerned about his baby girl being so fixated on Seth. Hopefully it's just a really long phase that'll pass as fast as it came. Thankfully kids are skittish like that. All he needs to do is lay low for a while, avoid mentioning the other's name and stop going to the Pumpkin until they've both forgotten the kid even exists.

Roman clears his throat, emptying his bottle to get up and bring himself a new one, side-eyeing Dean, a gleeful smirk creeping over his face. 'Seth? Anything you wanna confess?' Dean just shakes his head, choosing not to open his mouth again. He never wanted the kid to become a motherfucking thing. As it would seem he completely failed.

* * *

It's Friday night and Dean is still busy making cupcakes for tomorrow's picnic. An hour ago – after the third batch – he suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to throw all of them on the ground and stomp around on the baked goods with the intention to flip that Sami Zayn off in front of all the innocent kids if he dares to inquire what happened to the promised mini cakes.

Next time he'll order them at the Pumpkin, no matter how adamant his own daughter is about making them themselves. Cara had passed out a few hours ago with her head on the kitchen island, so Dean carried her upstairs to finish everything alone.

Angrily he stirs the dough, wondering why he puts so much energy into this. He won't talk to anyone at the picnic anyway – the only exceptions being Ro, Car and Joelle; their teacher too if he really has to –, denying vehemently that he has anything to do with the dozens of cupcakes in case someone wants to know.

Dean has never been good with people and he'd have sawed his right foot off to not go to these events, but they mean so much to Cara that he can't do anything else but bite the bullet. She was generous enough to gift him with an almost entirely kid-free Sunday in return, spending Saturday night with her sandbox friend Megan to go the dolphinarium with the whole gang, Jojo included.

Since Roman has to work on Sunday, Dean will do absolutely nothing the whole day. So far he's even intending not to drive into the city to see Paige and her friends even though he hasn't missed out on a single week so far and Cara wouldn't talk to him for at least a month if he misses out on a possible opportunity to see Seth.

Who knows? Maybe this ominous Mr Zayn is someone for him, they'll get together and married, Car will have a second parent that she deserves, shut up about that two-toned kid and he could finally forget his existence. Like it's that easy.

One look at Sami Zayn in broad daylight and practically zero hours of sleep later, Dean takes everything back. Beard? Check. Overall nice, funny and hot? Check. Good with kids? Checked like a picnic tablecloth.

Thing is, no matter his various qualities, he's no Seth, which bothers him epically. He rolls his eyes at himself for pitting every man he meets against a guy he barely knows and maybe won't ever meet again. A guy who has no respect for Dean's privacy whatsoever and generally mostly gets on his nerves. God, he wants that idiot to be a part of his life really badly.

This is so frustrating.

Fine, he'll go to the Pumpkin tomorrow in the hopes of the other being there, so he can talk to him one last time to decide once and for all if this is either a one night thing, a possible friendship or just a fun way to pass some time. Dean doesn't dare think about the fourth option, not wanting to make a fool out of himself for falling for a loud-mouthed kid. If Seth doesn't show up, it's over. Surely Cara will understand. He has a daughter now, can't just do as he pleases anymore. Dean can't drag some nonentity into her life. What if Seth hurts her, breaks her little heart after sneaking himself into it and burying himself so deep that they'll never be able to get rid of him again? He needs to protect the two of them alike. They've suffered enough already.

'You must be Mr Young then,' Sami Zayn greets him with a friendly, honest smile on his face, yanking him out of his thoughts that continue to revolve around Seth. If only he could rip this goof out of his head and be done with it.

'Ambrose,' he instinctively corrects the teacher as he shakes his head. He's prepared to hear one of the most annoying questions people ever threw at him but surprisingly it never comes. Either Cara explained their situation very well or her teacher doesn't want to be impolite by digging deeper.

'Call me Dean,' he offers way too loud, not quite sure why he just did that. Roman quickly catches up on his odd behavior, so he introduces himself with his first name too. 'My daughter's Joelle, but I'm only here as guest of the Ambrose-Young family.'

Sami blinks a couple of times, clearly confused, but ultimately his cheerful nature gains the upper hand and he beams at them. Dean can see that the other's a tad nervous about this picnic and he's about to ask how long he's working as a teacher already; Sami is faster though.

'Sure, everyone is welcome. The more, the merrier. If you ever want to talk, I'm more than willing to listen. I'm not only good with kids,' he offers casually, asking them to call him by his first name whenever the children aren't listening.

There's nothing left to say for the time being, so Dean wants to search for a nice sitting spot that's protected by a large tree and pretend he's not even here in case there'll be dull games. He's soon found his perfect hiding place, legs already moving towards it when he hears Sami mumble desperately, 'Where is he?'

Roman and Dean follow the teacher's gaze but other than giggling kids munching on sandwiches and sweets and happy couples sweating in the sun they can't see anything special. There's no one looking like he doesn't belong here. Except for Dean.

'You waitin' for someone?' Ro politely picks the conversation up again though his gaze lingers on his little girl, his expression turning lost and defeated. His friend should be there with her on the red and white blanket, divorce or not. Galina is a grown ass woman, she should get over whatever problem she has with her husband for Joelle's sake. Dean would do anything for Cara. And by that he means anything.

Sami turns towards them, carefree smile back in place, competing with the sun. Normally, Dean would groan now because people who always beam can't be real – the world isn’t that awesome –, but for some odd reason he believes that this guy is just genuinely content. Delighted to be here, to host this event. Someone has had a lot of luck with the life he leads.

What a jerk. He probably has a functioning, overly awesome relationship too; a house he can easily pay for without working every waking hour, two point five perfect kids, a couple of adorable pets and an expensive, working car. Dean would love to hate Sami, yet he's just so charmingly friendly that it's kinda impossible.

'No. I mean yes. My fiancé should've been here by now since he has all the games in the car. He didn't tell me this morning he'd take mine,' the teacher explains – two fucking cars; he so has the wrong job – and Dean wonders if Cara has an astonishingly good gaydar or if Mr Zayn has told them he's engaged to a man.

'Games?' he grits out, dreading the premise of having to embarrass himself in front of everyone for the sake of his daughter again.

Roman tears his gaze away from Jojo and Galina to point to a guy walking up to them, carrying a huge box with horrible activities like twister. 'He the one? Mr Right?'

Dean manages to look the guy into the face after coming to terms with him having to play games he banned from his own home and all the blood in his body seems to turn to ice. He feels as if someone stabbed him in the heart with a huge poisoned dagger. His stomach drops and he covers his mouth, afraid to vomit on his own shoes.

He's been so goddamn stupid. How could he ever think that this could have been his chance to escape the lonely life he leads? Fate has fucked him over so often already, why did he hope it'd be different this time? The only good thing that ever happened to him is Cara and from the looks of it it'll stay that way.

His baby girl sees the man walking up to them the same time Sami does, her eyes going wide and she runs back to Dean, yelling like only an excited child can, 'Two different hair colors. Blond and brown. Just like Seth.' Of course. She had to mention that.

'Somebody call my name?' that asshole asks, the grin on his face matching Sami's. Ugh. If Dean has to witness their lovey-dovey bullshit the whole day, he's gonna steal a knife and cut everybody's throats open. Or he'll leave early to cover their house in rotten eggs like they're still in high school. Why does this bother him so much? It's not like he and Seth had something.

Roman frowns, only now realizing that he's seen the guy once already and shoots Dean a worried glance. Oh for fuck's sake, could he stop that please? Dean doesn't need pity, not even from his best and only friend. He needs his old dealer or a couple of bourbon bottles. Maybe his lawyer too, since the going on a rampage thing seems more likely with each passing second. Mostly because he loathes himself and his dumb weakness so much right now.

'You're Seth,' his daughter squeals completely blown away and Dean can see that she's about to hug that fucktard. She'll be devastated when she hears about the engagement. They should go before he has to listen to Cara's heart breaking along with his own.

Seth hands Sami the box before he kneels down to look his baby girl in the eyes. 'I am, little lady. And you are?' Damn, he's really good with kids, so at least that wasn't a lie.

'Cara,' she bursts out, grabbing Dean's hand to tug him towards the two-toned cheater. 'And this is my dad. But you already know that, don't you?'

His beautiful, angel-faced devil.

It's only now that this Justin Bieber wannabe takes in the people surrounding him and his motherfucking face lights up like a goddamn Christmas tree as soon as he recognizes Dean. God, he looks like the male, grownup version of his daughter; they have the same sincere, affectionate expression. Hopefully, Car won't spill the beans, now that she's seen the man herself. Though he couldn't blame her.

'Dean,' the kid dares to address him as if they're intimate with each other and Roman quickly introduces himself a second time when he refuses to speak.

They can all be glad Sami didn't hear his daughter earlier, too busy with sifting through the box to listen to them reveal that Dean would've let an engaged man into his pants if this little game of theirs had continued. He might be acting childish but he's so close to grabbing his princess and getting the hell out of here. Having an uncomplicated fling is one thing. Being interested in a soon-to-be married man is an entirely different kind of crap he does not need in his life.

He doesn't bolt for Cara's sake – she was looking forward to this event so much – but he can't do anything against the hatred bubbling up inside of him. This will be a day full of torture for him, now though because of different reasons. He wishes he could go back in time and erase all their meetings from history.

'Your daughter is gorgeous,' Seth says. 'Never thought she'd be so pretty and polite, considering you're her father.'

No, please, no. Not their usual banter. He'll want to reciprocate it, to enjoy what he considered his up until now and if he has to play along it'll only result in him having a relapse. Cara and Roman sell him out, snickering in amusement like nothing's wrong while he can only stand there, torn between wanting to flip his shit and laughing since he'd have made that joke too – if their roles were reversed. Cocky son of a bitch.

'Very funny,' he finally grits out, unimpressed, forcing his body to keep still; which is really unnatural and weird for him. He feels so out of place, more than usual.

Seth winks at him, flashing a grin at Cara who graciously offers him a sadly not deadly cupcake with the treasonous words, 'My daddy made them. But I helped. At least with some of them. I fell asleep. Dad's cakes are the best, you have to try them.'

She had to give that handsome jerk yet another reason to make fun of him. As if leading Dean on wasn't enough entertainment in the past.

Dean bites on his tongue to not moan, finally plopping down on his blanket in the shadows. So much for his plans with Seth and his intention to not tell anyone about his culinary skills. When will he learn that children always throw a wrench in their parents' plans?

They all follow him as if he invited them over to sit with him. Seth takes the offered goodie and bites into it, humming pleased before he gulps down the rest in one big bite, mumbling, 'Sheesh are more than good.' A few crumbs fly out of his mouth while he talks, some of them landing on Dean's jeans but he doesn't actually care. Hearing his daughter giggle uncontrollably makes it impossible for him to stay in serial killer mode.

Without asking for permission Seth leans over Dean's lap to slowly wipe the crumbs off him and grab himself another cupcake to stuff it into his big mouth. The other better not think Dean doesn't know what he's doing here. Right in front of his fiancé's eyes. The very man who still owes them an answer. Is Seth his Mr Right?

Not that Dean cares anymore but Cara is staring at Seth like she wants to marry him herself so he'll never walk out of her life again, making it hard for Dean to cut that goober out forever. Why do children complicate everything so much?

'So, Seth, you and Mr Zayn. When's the wedding and will there be free booze?'

* * *

'So, Seth, you and Mr Zayn. When's the wedding and will there be free booze?' Roman shatters all his daughter's dreams as he sits down on Dean's right side to always have Jojo in his line of vision.

Seth freezes, furrowing his brows, nodding at his fiancé – who gets up and starts a conversation with Lucy's parents – before his gaze meets Dean's. Confusion is reflected in the warm, brown eyes and for a second he is fooled by it. The other looks so lost and embarrassed that Dean wants to believe that this is all just a big misunderstanding. Knowing his luck it is exactly as it seems and he is the dupe once again.

Cara rests her tiny head on his shoulder, searching for body contact to reassure herself that everything will be okay because daddy always fixes their problems and that her surrogate uncle didn't just burst her bubble. Her thin voice shakes when she asks crestfallen, 'You're going to marry Mr Zayn?'

Seth doesn't answer – hopefully he choked on his tongue –, just stares at her wordlessly, sympathy and guilt crashing over Dean and his daughter alike. He never wanted to see his girl being heartbroken but this nitwit singlehandedly did it.

It's bothering him that he can't tell what's annoying him more. That Seth turned his head or that he stupidly gave Cara the false hope of a functional, happy family with two parents. With Seth. If he weren't trying to contain the seething rage inside he'd crack a joke about how butthurt he and his baby are because of this. This jam is exactly why he wanted to stay a single dad because he tends to get fucked over one way or another.

'Yes, that's the plan, sunshine,' Seth finally mutters haltingly, an apologetic smile dancing over his lips. What a peculiar choice of words.

Cara bites on her cheek and flashes him a pleading glance. She has heard enough. Before she opens her mouth he already knows what she'll say. 'Dad, I think I ate too many of our cupcakes. I feel sick. Can we go home?'

She's fine, apart from her broken spirit, and she just lied but Dean doesn't chide her. Quite frankly, he's more than glad that she had the guts to end this charade, so they both can get out of here. He feels so bad for her, since she truly wanted him to be happy and in a relationship again; more so than Dean himself.

Ignoring Seth entirely – deciding in that moment that no guy on earth is worth so much trouble –, he turns towards his best friend who is another victim of this screwed up situation. 'Ya stayin'?'

Roman looks yearningly at his girl but wordlessly gets up anyway before Seth can protest. He too knows when he's needed the most. So his best friend jogs over to Joelle to kiss her on the top of her hair after greeting his maybe soon ex-wife, jogging towards Dean's car since he and C already fled the scene.

'Will I see you in the Pumpkin?' Seth calls after them but Dean doesn't pay him any attention, just keeps on walking while raging inside because his baby girl got hurt by a random stranger he dragged into her head and heart alike. This is his fault and he won't ever make that mistake again.

A married man; what the fuck was he thinking? Dean has done a lot of stupid and despicable things in his past but he can't and won't be responsible for ruining a relationship. Sami Zayn seems like a seriously nice guy and Dean couldn't stand taking his happiness away from him because of selfish reasons. He is a scumbag; however, this is a line he won't cross. For nobody.

'Dean,' comes the last desperate try to talk him – to persuade him to change his mind – and he jumps into his car, almost driving away without Roman since it's taking his friend so long to get in. Cruising through the street with venom in his blood to drop off the friend he disappointed too today, Dean swears to himself that he'll pretend Seth doesn't even exist from now on. Out of sight, out of mind. Should he meet him at the Pumpkin, he'll do what he always does: pretend he's deaf and mute for two hours. Thank God he got blessed with the ability to completely zonk out mentally, forgetting the world around him entirely.

One day he'll stumble over the dork and his chest won't constrict, his mind will no longer tell him that he was more intrigued and taken with the other than he wants to admit.

'We forgot the cupcakes,' Cara's voice bounces off the insides of the vehicle and it sounds so fragile and lost that he steps hard on the brakes; the car coming to a halt in the middle of the road. Awesome move, with a kid in the back. He is lucky no one was driving behind him or else he could call an ambulance now.

'You stayed up all night to make them for me and we just left them.' Who cares about the stupid cupcakes? Perhaps Seth will choke on one. Would serve him right.

Dean turns towards his daughter, winking playfully to signal her that all things shall be fine. They won't be broken by a cheating liar. One day they'll look back on this and laugh until they cry and get hiccups. If they're lucky, they'll even stand over Seth's body, drowning that useless sack of meat in a pond.

'It's okay, C. I'm sure your mates and Mr Zayn enjoy them. Cupcakes aren't even our thing, sweetie, right?' He has no clue where he gets the strength to say all this but he's infinitely glad that he still only wants to murder Seth and not Mr Happy-Go-Lucky. The man doesn't deserve this or Dean's hate; having done nothing wrong. Except for loving a guy Dean wants all to himself. So much for this not becoming a fucking thing.

Ro doesn't comment on anything, sitting in the passenger seat and giving them some much needed family time while staring at a graffiti a few buildings ahead as if it's the most interesting thing he's ever seen. Never has Dean liked the Samoan more than in this very instant. Why couldn't he fall for his brother? He'd be the perfect addition to the two of them. And Dean loves Jojo like his own daughter.

But no, his life has to be overly complicated because easy would be boring. Fuck this shit. Cara needs him at his best now and he doesn't intent on letting her down ever again.

'Aren't you sad that Seth and Mr Zayn are together, getting– you know,' she whispers, her green eyes shimmering dangerously. She's close to crying, so he better get a move on. Before he can come up with a bullshit answer she opens her quivering lips once more. 'Uncle Ro and Galina didn't stay together. Maybe– maybe Mr Zayn will leave Seth too. No offense, uncle Ro.'

'None taken, sweet pea,' his friend replies in a friendly tone but Dean can see him press his mouth together, so nothing else will tumble out that could potentially hurt Car. He has the overwhelming urge to snap at his daughter why Seth is so fucking important to her, why she can't let this go and move on.

Shocked, he realizes that she's no better than him. That his reluctance to just end this, his wavering resolve and uncertainty rubbed off on his girl. He was the one sharing tidbits about Seth with her, bringing him up whenever they crossed paths. As long as he shows her that this bothers him – even if it's only by sensing his inner turmoil since she is perceptive like that – she'll continue to pick up on it and mirror her father's emotions.

So, for the peace of mind of them both, he looks her deep in the eyes, saying softly but sternly, 'Enough. We don't wish others to fail in their relationship. We don't destroy other couples. You and me, we're gonna be happy for them, okay? Because we're better than that. That's what people do; letting go. We'll find someone else. And until then, it's you and me. Sound good?'

She nods, tears welling up in her eyes. His brave little girl. Dean will protect her from pain like this, that is the one lesson he'll take from this. Never again will he be the cause of her misery.

'Me and you,' she repeats, snuffling, even able to crack a smile when he hands her a wrinkled tissue. 'Us against the world.' That's the spirit. He's fucked up a lot things but Dean is a hundred percent sure he made a good person out of Cara.

Okay, most of the time he's fairly certain all the credit belongs to him. Right now, he's just really proud of both of them. They're gonna make it through this rough patch too.

* * *

Life weirdly simply goes on after that and soon Cara is back to being her bouncy, carefree self. Dean tries to move on too, to forget he ever stumbled across Seth but it's surprisingly, frustratingly hard for him. Every time he's alone – in his bed or in between small breaks during work – the other randomly pops up in his mind again. Resistant like a fucking cockroach. Equally hard to kill too.

With a heavy heart Dean lets go of the last thing connecting him to the guy. He stops going to the Pumpkin roughly two months after that fateful Saturday. The fear – and exhilaration – of running into Seth never allowed him to relax there, taking away his only hiding place. And he hasn't been able to finish a single book since then, so he decided it was time for a new Sunday tradition.

He'll miss Paige and her free cookies though. And the other girls who were always so nice to him. Maybe Bayley not so much, since she always tried to hug him. Who is he trying to kid, he'll miss her in particular. No one walks up to him and goes yes, I wanna give you love, so just accept it. That coffee shop was his everything and Seth ruined even that. Maybe one day he'll come back, once he's in a relationship and over his fantasies about sweet revenge or intending on redefining the meaning of evil.

Cara is the really strong one of them, being confronted with Sami every day at school and still coming home with the most joyful smile on her pinkish lips. She deals with this whole matter way better than Dean ever could. How he wishes he could have the blissful ignorance of the youth once more too.

His new Dean-time consist of lounging in a deckchair in his backyard to read his books there; now blending out Dolph and Cara for three whole hours, thanks to him not having to go anywhere anymore. And their sitter asked to not cut his money, since he needs it for his dates. It's kinda weird and useless paying someone to watch over his baby girl when he's at home too but Dolph is part of their life already and as long as they still click so well, Dean will find a way to pay for everything with his salary.

Things are back to normal – finally – until he picks up their mail with a slice of toast stuck in the corner of his mouth and a cup of coffee in his left hand. He can't believe what he's seeing there, lying on the floor all innocently, mocking him. There's a fucking wedding invitation among his bills and dunning letters. For a while he just stares at it, not sure what to do, though his whole being itches to get his gun and shoot the idiot right between the eyes.

In the end he simply picks it up and burns it in the sink without opening the damn thing, so Cara won't accidentally find it. She's doing so good and he doesn't want her to fall back into the stage of feeling betrayed by Seth while missing what could have been at the same time. Dean just hopes that Mr Zayn doesn't tell his class that he apparently invited everyone. At least he hopes every parent got an invitation and not just him.

How dare that asshole send them one anyway? How many hints does he need to get that neither Dean nor Car want anything to do with him? He even gave up the Pumpkin and that's like the second biggest sacrifice he could ever make.

After the arrival of the silky white letter he dreads the return of his daughter each day anew, fearing he'll hear her accuse him of withholding that piece of information on purpose because Mr Zayn asked about their still missing answer after talking animatedly about parts of his wedding ceremony. But every time she walks through that door and puts her keys in the bowl next to the telephone she hugs him enthusiastically, not mentioning her teacher at all. He can tell that she's hiding things from him to protect him but Dean also knows that none of this has to do with the envelope he burnt. Sami hasn't said anything. Maybe he doesn't even know that Seth found out his address and sent it.

And then, one windy day, she comes home – her hair all disheveled and a few raindrops gliding down her new glasses – with the happy news that Miss Bliss is back. Dean can't even tell how relieved he is when he hears that. He's never liked Alexa more than in this moment because it means that Sami and Seth have finally vanished completely from both their lives.

He should be grateful, should rejoice but all day he walks around his own house restlessly, feeling weirdly numb and lonely.

'It's over,' he whispers into the mirror at night, after he tucked Cara into bed and read a Goosebumps book – a relic from his own childhood – with her. Dean stares in his own blue eyes and isn't in the least surprised when his voice doesn't sound very convincing. He must have hit his head or something; falling for a jackass like Seth in just a matter of minutes.

Sighing he turns off the lights and crawls in his bed, somehow knowing that the worst is yet to come.