The kitchen was filled with sights and smells of breakfast, giving Dean a little more energy knowing hot coffee and pancakes were almost his for the consuming. Making her way into the kitchen with a towel draped across her shoulders and wet tendrils of hair hanging limply, Lisa hummed graciously as she took a deep breath and b-lined it for the coffee pot.
Chuckling, Dean said nothing, maneuvering the spatula to flip over golden pancakes with practiced ease while Lisa leaned against the counter, steaming cup of joe held close to her face, just savoring it.
“I hear that works faster when ingested,” he teased, giving her a lazy grin. Cutting her eyes at him, a smile on her face, she took a sip before fixing a cup for him as well. Lisa pressed a kiss to his cheek as she handed it off. “Thanks. Where’s Ben?”
Taking a seat at the bar, she slowly sipped her coffee. “Last I saw, lumbering toward the bathroom like a bear just after hibernation.”
Nodding, He grabbed a plate and tossed two pancakes on it, covered them in syrup, and held them out to his girlfriend. “Well, what’s the agenda for today? Soccer? Yoga class? There’s not a parent-teacher conference is there? Tell me there’s not a parent-teacher conference.”
She laughed easily and he tried hard to make his smile look as effortless. “No. Surprisingly, we all have the day off.”
He raised a brow. “You’re sure? That can’t be right.”
Again, she laughed. “End of the world, right?” She caught her mistake immediately, a look of horror passing over her face as all the muscles in Dean’s body tensed, his jaw clenching. “I-I mean-“
“Never happens.” He nodded knowingly, focusing his attention on keeping his hands busy. “No, I know what you mean.” He forced another smile, turning with a second plate in hand. “Ben! Breakfast!”
In the three months since he’d shown up at her doorstep -though truth be told it felt like a lifetime- Lisa had made every effort to be mindful of her wording. It was obvious when she hit a sensitive area; Dean usually flinched, though dammit he tried not to.
He didn’t know if what he and Sam had done carried any weight with Heaven, since he hadn’t heard or seen hide nor hair out of any of them, but whoever was in charge of declaring people Saints needed to be told to add Lisa’s name to the list.
Anyone who took a relative stranger into their home with their son, put up with all their drinking, night terrors that woke the entire block, suicidal grief, PTSD, and trigger happy reflexes deserved some kind of award, Sainthood, or something- a damn parade in their honor, at least. Dean was freaking broken when Lisa took him in, and since then had slowly coaxed him back into some semblance of a functioning human being. There was no way he could pay back the debt he owed her and her son; when he had been drowning and too exhausted to fight anymore and without the hope that it was even worth fighting anymore, she and her son had managed to help him keep his head above the waves, to find his way through the water until his feet touched solid ground again.
He no longer ached to put a gun to his head like a junkie desperate for a hit. That was progress. Getting beyond the point of being a hollowed out shell was a much more difficult task they were still working on. He recognized his own reflection now, it looked more like him, rather than an empty vessel.
Vessel. The word left a sick feeling deep in the pit of his stomach, making him fight back bile in his throat.
He was alive today because of the sacrifices of other people, not through any merit of his own. So much for being the Righteous Man. Lot of help he was during the big fight. His brother was still in the cage with Michael and Lucifer. Or maybe God took pity –he damn well better have- and Sam was in Heaven with their parents and Jess. Kid deserved it, the big damn hero.
Meanwhile, Dean was trying to learn to function like a normal person. Conning and lying were so much apart of the hunter lifestyle, he thought it would have been easier to slip into the persona until it came more naturally to him. It wasn’t though. It was awkward and jerky, Lisa having to cover for him when he got lost in memories of the past or overreacted to the backfiring of a car or a child’s scream of delight at the park.
He’d gotten what he wanted. He was out of the hunter life and in the apple-pie one, picket fence included. In the three months since it had happened, he hadn’t heard from anyone he use to know. Not a phone call from Bobby, or even a drop in from Castiel. Bobby’s lack of contact wasn’t a surprise, he want Dean out and free as much as the Winchesters had wanted it, and he would only act as a reminder of the way things had been before. The absence of Castiel had been harder, much to his surprise. Lisa was the one who pointed it out. He kept looking for the angel. Especially if they were at the park and he heard the flutter of a bird’s wings, he automatically looked directly behind him. His girlfriend guessed that maybe that was Heaven’s reward to him as well, to leave him alone and let him have a normal life for once without Heaven or Hell’s influence.
So, yeah, he had his apple pie life… and such a feeling of homesickness it damn near crippled him some times. On those days, Lisa helped him through those struggles as well, though God help him, he never dared tell her what he was feeling, not when she’d given him so much, when she’d been so good to him. He wouldn’t throw her sacrifices back in her face like that.
Instead, he did his best to fit into the role he’d been given: Dean Winchester, family man. It didn’t fit right just yet, still felt awkward, full of jerky. It was some foreign thing he had no idea what to do with. He had doubts about whether or not he was cut out for it, but again Lisa was there for him, talking him off the ledge, coaxing him from his own damnation.
When he didn’t think he could do it, that coming back into their lives –regardless if it was because he promised Sammy- was a mistake, that he didn’t need to be there, she shushed and soothed him. The world he’d always known had ended, he’d lost everyone he cared about, his brother had died… he was grieving, of course he wasn’t going to just be able switch gears and live as a civilian. Soldiers went through the same thing and at least they went to support groups and therapy. It wasn’t easy, didn’t feel like him, didn’t feel right… it would get easier, he would learn to live like a normal person, would one day enjoy it. He just needed time to heal.
Time was something he had. More than he knew what to do with, so he kept busy hoping the healing would kick in like sedatives in an I.V.
Till then he played his role hoping each day if would fit him a little better. The act would come a little easier until it was no longer an act.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Ben loped into the kitchen, plopping down in the seat next to his mother with a cheerful greeting to both adults before he began devouring his breakfast.
Dean nursed his coffee, leaning against the counter after flicking off the burners on the stove.
“My book club is about to start a new read,” Lisa began with a snap of her fingers. “We should go by the book store. We can all find something. Then afterward, we can go to the park!”
He pointed a warning at her. “I am not reading anything your book club recommends, nor am I coming to a meeting.” He folded his arms again, ignoring her grin. “There’s a lot of things a man will do for the sake of family, but that ain’t one of ‘em.”
Ben grinned at him, looking so much like his mother that it tugged an affectionate smile out of Dean, affection for both of them. He did care about them, even would dare use the term ‘love’, he loved them… even if it wasn’t quite the way he figured he was suppose to. He’d get there. In time, this really would feel like his life and family.
At the book store, Ben immediately bolted for the kid’s section on the far side of the store. Dean glanced over his shoulder back at their vehicle, wondering if perhaps he ought to move it more into the shade so as to better keep the picnic they’d packed for the visit to the park after book shopping.
“Hey,” Lisa called softly, capturing his attention. Her hand slid into his. “Come on,” she coaxed, pulling him further into the store.
He let her lead him as she went in search for the new book she would be starting. He didn’t see the appeal of any of the books they’d read so far. She’d told him about each other them, gotten his feedback on the story line and characters as she read, often laughing as he found their whirlwind problems trivial and easily dealt with.
“Not every conflict can be solved by shooting someone, Dean,” she chuckled, squeezing his hand.
He shrugged, gaze sliding over the shelves of books but not really seeing them. “Haven’t run into one yet that couldn’t.”
“I’ll remember that for my next yoga class when we are discussing ways to avoid stress. Shoot the cause.”
“Or use salt rounds.” He shrugged again. “I suggest the salt rounds first. Works better that way.”
“Why kill someone when you can expel the evil in the first place?”
Shaking her head with a laugh, she grabbed a book, flipping it over to read the synopsis. “If anyone overheard us, they’d think we were nuts.”
He rolled his eyes. “Can’t have them thinking that. Girl scouts might stop selling us cookies.” He sidled up next to her, arm snaking around her waist as he pressed a kiss to her temple. “You know how much I like those Thin Mints.”
With a laugh, she smacked his chest. “Go. Go find something for yourself. Stop mocking the general populace.”
Smiling despite himself, he did as told, wandering first to the magazines. He never understood the entertainment magazines, and learned rather quickly none of them did enough coverage on Dr. Sexy M.D. which was the one guilty pleasure that remained a constant. He didn’t bother with skin mags anymore either, though Busty Asian Beauties remained tucked away in the trunk of the impala. Sam would have thought he was sick if he knew that- Dean’s beloved porno discarded in the trunk of the impala for months.
Frankly, Sam would laugh his ass off at half the changes Dean had made in the last few months. God, the music Lisa liked to listen to in the car. He repressed an involuntary shudder, knowing full well the music wasn’t that bad- it just wasn’t his.
Sometimes little things like music acted like a trigger, though, certain songs would come on that made Dean miss his little brother so terribly he couldn’t reach out and change the station fast enough, keeping his eyes focused anywhere but at the other people in the car. These moments were never brought up or pointed out, of course, but what was one more indication at the elephant in the room they were all tip-toeing around?
And did he ever miss Sammy. Which was what landed him in the self-help section of the bookstore; he made his way there out of habit again. To counter act his nightmares and night terrors, Lisa had tried to get him to start reading before bed, something that might distract his mind or allow him to unwind and have a peaceful night of sleep. They’d actually gone through several genres trying to find something he could read. Her book club books typically involved a romance, which only made him think of Becky of all people. Westerns were still too much like the hunter lifestyle to offer any comfort at all, and Urban Fantasy was an insult to injury. He’d even tried Fantasy and Sci-fi but they were too thick and too long-winded, they worked better as doorstoppers in his opinion.
Go figure he’d ended up reading cookbooks and self-help books in bed like some kind of housewife. One glare at Lisa had silenced any attempt at teasing she would have even considered making. Cooking was something he’d always had a bit of a knack for, what with practically raising Sam, someone had had to cook, right? Having a manual made it easier, not to mention Dean liked to stay busy with his hands no matter what he was doing: working on cars, construction, or cooking. It didn’t matter, he just liked working with his hands.
The self-help books were an effort to rush the process of making this life that didn’t feel like his eventually feel so, that he wouldn’t feel out of place and homesick for a life that no one in their right mind would miss in the least. He was some kind of crazy for missing a nightmare he’d wanted to get out of for so long, some form of Stockholm Syndrome or something.
Now that he had several books on coping with grief (the entire lot of them a complete joke in Dean’s opinion) Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People looked a lot more appealing. It was a civvie’s guide to interacting with other’s so it would probably turn out to be his new bible. Not that the other Bible ever did him much good, but he needed all the help he could get.
With his purchase picked out, Dean meandered aimlessly around the store, knowing from previous experience neither Ben nor Lisa would be anywhere near done. Ben would be camped out on a bean chair somewhere in his section, while Lisa was probably sitting in the café with a frozen coffee. One of these days, he was going to remember to start bringing that music player Lisa made him get (and then had helped him pack full of all his favorite music). Killing time was easier with rock music blasting in your ears.
Out of the corner of his eye, one of display tables caught his attention, making him do a double-take, his step faltering.
‘Scary Just Got Sexy!
Supernatural re-printed to celebrate the release of new publications. Don’t let your collection remain incomplete!’
For a long moment he just stared, not processing what he was seeing. Then the newly designed covers, the titles, they all slowly began to sink in, a dark corner of his mind reminding him that Chuck had continued writing even after the series was originally cancelled. Dean wouldn’t lie, he’d actually kept up with the fandom, making certain none of the fans actually ever realized that the books were based on fact. They didn’t, of course, and WOW did they squabble over really stupid shit, but how had he not known about this at least? He wasn’t very active in the fandom, more lurking than anything, but surely they would have freaked out over this, after all, Becky’s fanclub was the one he kept up with since she stayed in touch with Chuck more than Dean or Sam had.
There were a lot more books now than there had been when Sam and Dean first stumbled upon the ‘Winchester Gospels’ and the Prophet of the Lord Chuck. The few spine worn books they’d been able to buy –which was everything the store owner had been able to put his hands on- were only a very few of the ones that were available now, their numerical order in roman numerals on the spines.
He was grabbing the books and piling them in his arms before he realized it, stopping only long enough to run to the front of the store and grab a basket. He passed Lisa in the café as he did, she smiled and gave him a quizzical look, but he couldn’t meet her gaze, his heart pounding too loudly in his ears, hands shaking. Back at the stand, he began carefully putting each of the books into the basket, occasionally stopping to read the synopsis on the back, causing a bitter laugh to escape him. God, it had to make him some kind of masochist, but dammit, this was his life, sadly the only connection he had left to it, and he was damn well going to own every volume.
Granted, he knew he wouldn’t be able to read them in bed like he’d done with books so far, but that would be okay. Another thing Sam would laugh at him for, because cue the chick-flick moment, reading these? There were going to be tears. And copious amounts of alcohol.
He carried the basket to the front, passing Lisa and Ben but determinedly keeping his gaze locked forward as though he hadn’t seen the looks of shock, didn’t know there would be questions he wasn’t going to want to answer, that he was setting himself up for a barrage of questions he wasn’t going to want to answer. One of the first things they’d have to confront would be that neither Lisa or Ben would ever so much as touch the books, much less read them.
The clerk blinked in surprise when Dean thrust the basket across the counter, but said nothing. They’d probably seen weirder purchases. Waiting for him by the door with an arched brow and a raised smile, Lisa said nothing when his check out had been finished, even offered to carry one of the bags. He gave a quick shake of his head, grip tightening on the bags. He’d carried the weight of these stories his whole life, he could carry them out of the store on his own as well.
He’d blown a whole paycheck on getting the entire series to-date, but it was his money and it was just collecting. Lisa made sure that he kept his own money, allowing him to contribute a certain amount financially every month, but the rest of his money was just that and frankly he had no idea what to do with it until now. Without it constantly going to putting gas in the Impala, medical supplies, and ammunition, Dean found he had a lot of money going unspent.
“Geez, Dean, what all did you get?” asked Ben, curiously trying to peering into the bags. “Did you leave them anything to sell?”
Turning to look down at the kid, Dean caught his attention with a sharp “Hey.” Ben looked up with inquiring eyes. “I’m just gonna tell you this once, okay? And I want you to do it for me, alright?” He waited until he received an earnest nod. “These books? Completely off limits like touching them will end your life, understand? I mean it, Ben. Don’t even look at them.”
“Or you’ve been to your last soccer game,” added Lisa, backing him up. Ben’s face morphed to one of complete indignation. She continued to watch him sternly. “I mean it, Ben. They’re off limits.”
His arm flailed vaguely in the direction of the bookstore. “But they sell them in stores!”
“You forget you ever saw them!” ordered the taller male, with a glare. “If you ever see them again, you pretend you didn’t, both of you, understand?”
Head angled in confusion, in a way so reminiscent of Castiel Dean had to swallow the sudden lump in his throat, Lisa gave a slow nod. Apparently, she though even if Ben were forbidden from the books, it was something Dean would share with her.
Maybe one day, but not any time in the near future.
Time at the park wasn’t nearly as relaxing as normal. Dean couldn’t concentrate on playing catch with Ben or walking the track with Lisa. He could practically feel the books calling to him like some kind of siren. He was distracted, constantly glancing back toward the car, plagued with ridiculous worries like what if someone broke into the car and stole the books? What if he missed a volume and needed to go back to the store? Where should he start reading? At the beginning, so he could learn things that he and Sam never found out about, like with Bela giving the Colt to Crowley? Could he read the events that had taken place with the angels and Armageddon? Living through it once had almost destroyed him, he didn’t know if he could read it on paper.
Sensing his mounting agitation, Lisa announced she was ready to get home for a bubble bath to read her new book. Dean wanted to kiss her, while at the same time feeling traitorous for being anything but happy with the two of them, doing what normal families did.
Figuring it was a good place to start, Dean began reading the books that chronologed his resurrection from Hell, gaining new appreciation for the fact that it actually took Castiel and the other angels years to get to him. He didn’t know why he never thought of it differently, that they just plopped down, Cas grabbed him, and then hauled him out. They had waged war on the forces of Hell to get to him, the stoic angel forever at the forefront of the battle, and then sheltering Dean from harm in the journey back out of Hell.
Cas may not have been human, but he was the best damn friend Dean ever actually had, the first friend, he realized while reading, he had that was neither a hunter or family. In fact, it was rather embarrassing to read about their friendship, getting real insight into Cas’s mind for the first time. It somehow felt like he was cheating, but it meant so much to actually see how much Castiel cared for both of the Winchesters, and even Bobby, when the angel would have never actually said something like that aloud. Having been raised as a warrior and lived only a soldier’s existence, not only did Castiel not think to voice things he felt, until he met Dean he’d never had to deal with emotions and thoughts of his own. He didn’t know how to voice them.
Making him very much like a Winchester.
Then Dean got to the books that took place after Sam jumped into the pit and saved the world.
‘Horrific’ would have been as close a word as Dean could come up with for what the books told of his future. After staying up all night to read the first book, Dean called in to work and took the rest of the week off.
His actions scared Lisa and she worried if he was sick, hovering and trying to take care of him. He shooed her off with assurances he was fine and that yes, it was a good idea that he read the books. He didn't know any real way to explain he was reading his –their- future, and God, why couldn’t any of them get a break? Why was everything going so wrong?
Sam was alive somewhere, hunting with their grandfather –also alive, oddly enough- but Dean would leave Lisa and Ben to return back to the hunter’s life. He didn’t know what upset him more, the fact that he would or the fact that he felt relief at that knowledge, as if that it was foretold somehow made the action any less of a betrayal to Lisa, to everything she had done for him.
He read the rest of the books: Sam without a soul, the civil war in Heaven, the wall that apparently grew between him and Castiel, Meg and Cas’s makeout scene –Was that REALLY Cas’s first kiss?! Oh hell no was he going to allow that- Death getting Sam his soul back, Balthazar making his appearances in what apparently would be a hate-at-first-sight relationship with Dean, the two Winchester’s winding up in a parallel universe where their lives had been upgraded from books to an entire show, Balthazar changing history and Castiel undoing it so that Dean and Sam would be safe from the wrath of Fate, Crowley and Cas teaming up to open the door to purgatory, yet all the while Castiel simply trying to keep the Winchester’s out of the fight, protect them his own way while misunderstandings abound, Castiel’s ascension and then death…
It felt like a huge weight crushing Dean’s chest, and it took several minutes of forcefully pacing his breathing before he was able to fight off hyperventilating. There was no way things could get that bad, no way God would allow that after everything all of them had given, everything they had all done! No fucking way! He didn’t even get to read the books that came after Castiel died, what was the point when things clearly weren’t getting any better?
Why hadn’t Cas come to him sooner? If things were that bad? Hell, if Cas was going to war, all he had to do was point out the dotted line and Sam and Dean were signed up as well. You didn’t let your friends fight against the forces of Heaven and Hell alone! Hadn’t he learned that? Did Castiel think Dean wouldn’t take up another battle if he needed him? That maybe it would be asking too much? Did he think Dean couldn’t help?
And, oh GOD! Sam!
He waited until Ben was at school and Lisa was at work for the day before he prayed. He locked the doors, shut the blinds and the curtains, and glanced once over his shoulder to make sure he was alone. Prayer was never something he got use to, even more so aloud. Prayers a man sent up in his head were one thing, but aloud, standing in the living room of your house? That was another.
“Uh, dear Castiel. If you get a minute, I would like for you to come down here if, uh, if you wouldn't mind.” He frowned, remembering the huge wall between the two of them in the books. “Please.”
The tell-tale rustle of feathers was enough to make Dean’s eyes prick behind his eye lids, his throat clenching together as so many different things rushed through him, mostly relief. Perhaps the events in the books could be averted with this one step here. They’d tried proving the books wrong before, but Dean would be damned if someone out there ever thought he’d stop trying to fight fate.