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Second Chances

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The number of words exchanged between Sam and Dean on the seven-hour drive back from Iowa is barely over a hundred, because while Dean promised not to be a dick, he certainly didn’t sign up for any of the Dr. Phil crap Sam is constantly trying to force down his throat, treating Dean's every attempt at small talk as a segue into another lecture on how Dean's supposed to feel, and how he has to pour out his heart to Sam, right now.

And Dean is quickly running out of ways to say dude, back off, except for the drastic ones that would definitely qualify as dickish behavior. Which would only lead back to square one.

That doesn't exactly leave many topics for conversation.

Still, when they park the car in the bunker's garage, the big brother instinct commands Dean to ask, “You hungry? I could fix us something quick for dinner.”

Sam shakes his head, yawning without covering his mouth. “Nah, I’m beat.” He stretches his arms high above his head and groans. “Spending hours tied up in some basement and then being stuck in the car all day is killing my back. I think I’m just gonna take a long, hot shower and go to sleep.”

It’s really not that late, but Dean nods anyway. “Alright. Good night.”

“Night.”

Dean pats Baby’s hood goodnight too before following Sam out of the garage. Sam disappears in the bathroom and Dean heads straight into his room, where he takes off his jacket, washes his hands and face, kicks off his boots and sits on his bed, and stares at the wall.

He’s tired, but it’s not the kind of tired he'd welcome, the kind of tired that makes his thoughts stop. That’s not good. But luckily, Dean’s had plenty of practice avoiding certain thoughts when he needs to.

So he doesn’t think about the fact that Mom’s not here because she misses her fake, happy Stepford family in Heaven too much to be around her real sons.

He doesn’t think about the fact that she wouldn’t even have to struggle with this harsh, cruel world full of strangers if it wasn’t for Dean; that it’s all his fault that she’s back, and that she’s suffering.

He doesn’t think about the fact that the Hell Sam’s been put through at the hands of that British bitch, together with Mom leaving, messed Sam up bad, because he only ever nags Dean so hard about Dean’s way of dealing with crap when he’s having trouble dealing with it himself.

He doesn’t think about the fact that he almost killed an innocent woman last night, talking to her with an easy smile on his face and his finger on the trigger, ready and eager to shoot.

Instead, he thinks about Magda, the poor young psychic kid, traumatized after unwittingly killing two people and then losing her entire family. He pictures her sitting on the bus on the way to California, alone and scared. It’s a pretty depressing image, but it’s also a potential problem, considering Magda’s abilities and her lack of control over them.

She’s going to need much more than acres of wide open country and a welcoming aunt who she hasn’t seen for years if she’s to get any better.

Dean thinks about the psychics they’ve met, coming up with faces of dead friends. But there have to be more out there, people like Pamela or Missouri, who passed on with a stroke when Dean was in Purgatory; people who know how to control their powers and could teach Magda. He should call some of his hunter contacts tomorrow, ask around for some recommendations.

And tell Sam to make sure Magda got to her aunt’s safely. Though Sam's probably done that already, since he couldn't have possibly missed how much the kid has taken to him. Either way, Magda is now another person on the long list of people they need to check in on occasionally.

It’s this thought that brings back a memory of another girl - though really a woman - that Dean and Sam sent off on a bus so she could give life a second try. And watching Tina grab that opportunity with both hands and squeeze it for all it's worth has been a real joy. Maybe Dean is getting sentimental in his old age, but happy endings make him... well, happy.

Which might explain why the next thing Dean does is dial Tina's number.

She picks up after the third ring. “Dean?”

“Hey, Tina.”

“Hang on a sec.” There’s a bang, followed by the clatter of cookware and then a muttered curse. “Alright, I’m here.”

“Tina? Am I interrupting something?”

“I'm cooking. Or at least—“

“You’re trying,” Dean finishes, the guess based on past experience. Tina hums in affirmation. “Didn't you tell me you decided to stick to takeout and instant food after that last incident?"

"I'm expanding my horizons."

"Bold, and commendable. So, what is it this time?”

“Uh, it was supposed to be chicken noodle soup, but something went wrong." A sigh. “I’m afraid I’m gonna have to pour it down the toilet.”

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad."

"I'm sure I've mentioned my third ex-husband called me a culinary terrorist, right?"

"Well, you also mentioned he was a grade A douchebag, so he can suck it. Now, back to business. Because with the right condiments, there’s not a lot of food that isn’t salvageable.”

“Right. You’re the expert, Mr. Mac-and-cheese-in-a-hundred-variations.”

“That’s right. And don’t you forget it. Now tell me what you’ve got there, so I know what to work with.”

The sound of a cupboard being opened. “Hang on. I think it’s mostly things you bought for me when you were helping me move in. Yeah. Cayenne pepper, chili powder, cinnamon… not gonna use that one, even I know that… Rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, basil, garlic powder. Oh! And smoked paprika.”

“Alright. Now here’s what we’re gonna do.” Dean settles comfortably on the bed, one arm folded under his head, and talks Tina through seasoning the soup until she declares it edible and quite tasty. “See?” He grins, proud and not afraid to show it. “Bow down to the master.”

“Fuck you,” Tina says affably.

“Language, young lady.” He's always wanted to say that.

“Fuck that too,” she says in the same tone. “I’m going crazy playing the part of a nice, well-bred teenager when I’m in public, I need to vent somehow. And since someone talked me into giving up booze entirely now that my liver is all new and healthy again—“

“Alright, alright!”

“—I figure the least you can do is listen to me curse. It feels a lot better when I’ve got a live audience.”

Dean can relate; the years he spent alone on the road have taught him that. “Go ahead, then. I’m all ears. Make me proud.”

On the other end of the line, Tina draws a deep breath, and then starts spewing vulgarities with such gusto that Dean has to cover his mouth to hold back the giggles, unwilling to interrupt her because a) she’s having so much fun it’s contagious, and b) he's hearing some of these words for the first time and he’s always happy to learn, even though he usually tends to stick to the classics.

It takes her about three minutes before she’s done, and even then, Dean suspects it’s mostly because she’s run out of breath. “Wow. That was impressive.”

“Bow down to the master.”

“I would, but my stomach hurts too much from laughing. And thank you, by the way. I really needed that.”

“You're welcome.”

“I really, really needed that.”

“Hey, Dean?"

"Yeah?"

"So, are you alright? Everything good? You know, you sounded pretty ominous the last time we spoke.”

Right. That quick call he made before his suicide mission to soul-nuke Amara. “Sure, yeah. I’m fine now.” It's hard to believe it's only been a little over a week. So much has changed since then.

“Uh huh. That's why you really, really needed a laugh. Because you're perfectly fine.”

“I am!”

“Dean, don’t bullshit a bullshitter. Something’s bothering you, I can tell.”

Dean draws in a breath, holds it in, releases it slowly. “There’s been an unexpected reunion in the family, someone I didn’t think I’d get to see ever again. It’s not as awesome as it may sound.” And what a horrible son he is for saying that? He should be happy and only happy that Mom is back – except she’s gone again now, isn’t she? – and he definitely shouldn’t be feeling upset or disappointed or hurt. But he is.

And he's not a complete idiot - he gets that sometimes you need to give people some space, and that you have to be understanding and you have to give them time. But he doesn’t get why the ‘you’ always means ‘Dean’, why it’s always him who has to let them walk away and smile like it doesn’t paralyze him with pain so great that if he fully acknowledges it, he might never be able to move again.

“Dean?” Tina’s voice, worried and a little impatient, tells him that he must have spaced out on her; for how long, he has no idea. “Dean, you there?”

“Y-yeah.” It doesn’t sound right. He tries again. “Yeah. I’m just… There’s some crap I’ll just have to work through. Once I figure out how.”

Tina doesn’t respond, and Dean doesn’t say anything either. His room is silent. Behind the closed door, the rest of the bunker is silent as well.

“Listen, Dean,” Tina starts eventually, her teenage voice somehow betraying all the extra years that no longer show on her face. “If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.”

“I know.”

Tina is apparently waiting for Dean to elaborate. When it becomes clear that he’s not going to, she adds, “And hey... if you want to get wasted and forget about it for a while instead… have a drink on me. Something sweet and pink, with a little umbrella.”

Dean could kiss her for giving him an out. “Hey, that’s nasty. I’m not doing that.”

“Afraid you’re gonna develop a taste for it?”

“Never.” He’s not Crowley.

“So is that a challenge accepted?”

“Fine. But if it ends up mentally scarring me for life, I’m blaming you.”

“Deal.”

Dean switches the phone to his other hand. “So tell me, how’s it feel, being a high school senior again?” The fake papers Sam and Dean made for Tina state 1999 as her year of birth; that’s the oldest they dared make her without raising any suspicion.

“Not as much fun as the first time around, I can tell you that. Being a responsible, diligent student is exhausting. But at least the teachers like me way better than when I was a real teenager. Even Miss Kinney is happy with me now, would you believe that?”

“Really?” Dean remembers the chemistry teacher from last year, when he attended the parent-teacher conference posing as Tina’s legal guardian, smiling and charming his way through the entire teachers’ staff, drawing on years of experience from when he had to do the same for Sam. The only teacher who was completely un-charmable was Kinney. “What’d you do? Bribe her?” Though the forty-something woman seemed un-bribable too.

“Nope. Studied hard, aced all her tests. Turns out she starts to treat you like a human being once you manage that.”

“Wow. You sure it’s still really her?”

“Yeah, I checked, like you taught me to. No demon, no shapeshifter, just a pretentious teacher who likes to look down on people who don’t get straight A’s.” Tina snorts. “But now she’s taken me under her wings. She even offered to write a recommendation letter for my college application.”

“Huh.” It’s not envy that wells up inside him, just regret – Dean knows he wouldn't have gotten to try living a new, better life like Tina, even if he’d somehow managed to stay young and Mark-free. Second chances like that aren’t for everyone. “So you’re really gonna become a college girl. That’s awesome.”

“Yeah, I guess.” She gives a shaky, uncertain laugh. “Of course, I haven’t picked the school yet, and they might not accept me, and even if they do, there’s no guarantee I won’t drop out before the first semester’s over.”

“Tina. You’re gonna do just fine.” Dean’s sure of it; she’s a fighter, not a quitter.

She makes a noncommittal sound.

"I mean it. You can do this."

“And rationally, I know that. But... It’s weird, you know? Things have been going so well for me since I started over, and I’m not used to that. I kind of keep waiting for it all to go south again.”

“Oh, I know that feeling.” Intimately. He got burnt so many times that his first reaction to a good thing happening to him is Well, that’s not gonna last, and if he’s feeling particularly optimistic, that thought is followed by Please, let it last at least for a little while. The fact that his first reaction usually proves true doesn’t make things any easier. And yet, somehow, that stupid, tiny flicker of hope deep inside him just won’t go out. “And I know it's scary—"

"Try scary as hell."

"Scary as hell," he amends readily. "And the real bitch of it is that that's how it usually works with things that you really want."

“Yeah, I'm aware.” Tina clears her throat, and when she speaks again, she sounds more resolute. “Which is why I’m gonna fight tooth and nail for this. Right?”

“Now that’s more like it. And if you need any help with the college applications crap, or just regular life crap, me and Sam, we're here.”

“Thanks, Dean. And the same goes for you.” She huffs. “Though I’m not really sure how I could ever help you… aside from a few wardrobe tips, maybe.”

“What’s wrong with my wardrobe?”

“Nothing,” she says sweetly. “But have you thought about seeking professional help for your plaid addiction?”

“Shut up.” Then, when she’s finally done laughing at him, he says, “And just so you know, you do help. So, uh, thanks.”

"For what? It's not like I offered any enlightening, life-altering words of insight and wisdom or anything."

"Exactly."

Tina snorts. "Well, glad I could help." She pauses. "Look, I should probably go. I've got an essay for tomorrow that I need to finish."

"Alright. Take care of yourself, Tina."

"You too, Dean. Bye."

“Bye.”

Dean ends the call, puts the phone down, and sits up, looking around the room in search of something to keep him occupied because the gears in his head are still turning way too fast for his comfort. Giving his hands something to do has always done wonders to help him ease his mind, but every vehicle in the garage is in top shape, his guns are cleaned and there's nothing to tinker with in the bunker. So, now what?

As if in answer to Dean's unspoken question, his stomach rumbles, the sound loud in the quiet of the room.

“I hear you,” he tells it and gets up, leaves his room and walks through corridors that feel colder and emptier than ever before.

He turns on the light in the kitchen and opens the fridge, frowns at what he sees. He actually forgot. It's stacked full of things he bought before Mom left, thinking he’d make a nice big dinner, because nothing says family like a home-cooked meal shared at one table after a successful hunt.

Yeah. Right.

He stands there and stares at the contents of the fridge, mentally going over all the courses he was planning on preparing. There were quite a few. It was supposed to be a special occasion.

Shrugging, he starts taking the ingredients and laying them out on the countertop, one by one. Next, he finds the bookmarked recipes on his phone and reads them carefully. Some of them are pretty complicated. This will take hours. Good. It seems like Dean will be making that big, fancy dinner after all.

It doesn’t matter that he'll be eating alone; this can be a test run, a chance to iron out any potential kinks. At least this way, when Mom comes back, it will be perfect.