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Family Dispute

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Dean is there when Jack takes his first breath. The doctor offers the baby to his mother but she turns her head away, not sparing a single glance in the child’s direction, and starts to cry. Those are not happy tears. Even with the bags under her eyes and the wrinkles on her forehead marked by constant preoccupation, she looks young, probably not older than 25 years old. Dean is only a couple of years older than her and yet he still has the feeling she’s too young to be giving birth all by herself, since no friends or family checked in with her.

After an awkward silence, when it becomes obvious that the woman has no interest on meeting the baby, the doctor cuts the umbilical cord and passes the boy on to Dean instead. He’s is a delicate, light weight that cries in two big hands that are just enough to hold him. It always makes Dean feel like a giant when he holds a human life with his bare hands like that.

“Hey, there, buddy. Welcome to the world,” Dean whispers to him gently. Those are the first words ever spoken to Jack.

He gives the mother one last look in case she might have changed her mind, but she looks far from excited, clutching the thin medical sheet laying over her like a scared child would, silently sobbing her eyes closed and her mouth pulled into a tight line. She won’t be asking for the kid anytime soon, so Dean goes about the normal procedures commonly done after birth; cleaning him up a bit, measuring the weight and length, giving him vitamin K, screening for certain diseases… When it's all over, he goes back to the mother to try once again to introduce her to her son, but she's just lost in her own bubble of despair, so the nurse takes the boy back to the nursery room and prepares a bottle for Jack. They sit together in perfect harmony in a corner in a comfortable chair while Dean feeds the baby for the first time while he hums lullabies for him. Jack's a good boy and doesn't make a big fuzz before he latches onto the nipple of the bottle, one of his tiny little hands wrapped around one of the nurse's fingers.

“Don't worry, kiddo, you're going to be just fine, you'll see. I’ll take good care of you until your family comes to getcha.”

And Dean lives up to the promise.

The baby’s mother, who had apparently given them a fake name, checks herself out of the hospital a couple of hours later and leaves her still unnamed baby behind. Dean tells the child the news with a sad, heavy feeling in his gut,but the boy sleeps soundly in his arms, unaware that he's been abandoned.

The police and Child Protective Services pay them a visit at the hospital. The first group wants to find the mother, maybe there are grandparents out there who would want their grandson home, or a father. The second group comes to deal with the orphan.

“What's gonna happen to him?” Dean asks the woman, who's busily scribbling away in her notes. It’s feeding time again for Jack and he's a comfortable, warm weight on Dean’s arms. He's so good, so peaceful, Dean can't understand how a mother could have simply abandoned him like that but he tries not to judge her, remembering how scared and lonely she'd looked in her hospital bed.

“We'll place him in foster care until the police find his parents or other living relatives.”

“And if they don't?”

“Eventually he'll be given up for adoption.”

Given up . Dean cringes. It sounds like Jack’s a thing you can just give away, a present or, worse, trash, instead of a human, a newborn that needs attention, care and affection. Dean knows better than anybody how important it is that babies receive this when they’re so small, to encourage their physical and mental development. A baby in the foster care system… they’re not going to be able to give him what he needs, he’s seen this happen plenty of times already.

“Can't he just stay with me until you find his family?” he blurts out in the heat of the moment. Still, he doesn't regret asking.

The case worker looks taken aback. She does a double look on him, as if she could assess whether he was right for the job or not just by looking at him. After so many years of working the system, she kind of can; she’s seen all kinds of disaster parents and she’s learned to make out the good foster parents for the children’s sake by just spending a couple of minutes with them. The last ones are just as concerned and gentle as Dean, who is rocking Jack to sleep now with natural ease, seems to be.

“You want to take him home?” she asks not without a bit of scepticism. A young man like Dean isn’t her usual foster parent.

Dean shrugs like it's no big deal. “Sure. I mean, I have the training, the space, the money.”

“And the time?” she raises an eyebrow. Nurse’s schedules are crazy, everybody knows that.

“I’ll make it work.” She gives him an incredulous look, so he insists. “Please, just- I’m all he knows. I've been caring for him since the moment he was born, it's only right that I continue to do so. Please? Can it be done?”

She considers it for a moment. He's a nurse, he's willing, he seems great with the baby, and it'd keep Jack out of a foster home… What could possibly go wrong?

“You would have to fill out a form and we'll make a quick visit to your home to check everything's in order and suitable for the boy.”

Dean beams with satisfaction. “Sure, no problem.” He looks down at the sleeping baby and brushes his lips against his forehead. “You heard that, buddy? You're coming home with me…”

When Dean gets out of work that day, he buys a crib, a stroller, baby supplies to last a week and some clothes. He can’t help the sappy aww s that come out of him while he shops for tiny versions of human clothing and he makes up for it by getting the child an AC/DC onesie to feel a little more manly. He takes some days off work; he hasn't in forever, he never bothers to take time for vacations, so they give it to him without a problem. He settles in with the boy, who still doesn't have a name but he secretly keeps calling Jack in his head, and starts a lazy routine that consists in sleeping a couple of hours at a time, feeding Jack when the baby demands it and walking around the park a lot. When Sam, his girlfriend Eileen and Charlie visit them, he gets an earful from all three of them; they warn him he should never take his work home, but neither can help succumbing to Jack’s cuteness and joining in on babysitting duty to allow Dean to sleep a couple of extra hours.

A week turns into a month. Dean buys more supplies, more clothes, and some toys. He officially starts calling Jack by his name out loud. Maybe his relatives will change it later, but for now the name seems to fit him, he looks like a cute little Jack.

He goes back to work. Sam and Eileen, Charlie, Garth, Jo and Benny all help Dean out with the baby and take turns babysitting, and when he gets the night shift, Jack has a sleepover with his not-uncle. Dean looks at the way Sam and Eileen look together with a baby between them and wonders when he’s going to be an uncle from those two. Dean also starts looking for a daycare, just in case Jack ends up staying longer, so he won't have to daily abuse his friends' kindness for much longer.

Jack grows just enough to get out of the weird looking phase newborns have, to be a beautiful thing with blue eyes brighter than the clearest summer day, sandy dirty blond hair and a cute little nose the nurse just can't stop kissing. He's growing fast and healthy under Dean’s careful watch. Happy too, if Dean might say so himself. And the man is busy as fuck, barely has a moment to spare for himself to even shower, and he starts to realise dating is going to be out of the table for a while, but he also feels content in the impromptu living arrangement with the kid. He feels like a void in his life has been filled, like he’s found a more meaningful reason other than Netflix to return home; someone's finally waiting for him there.

One month turns into two. No word from Jack’s mother. No one has reported any girl missing, nor the baby. The police still don’t know her real name. No grandparents have come looking for a child. No sign of the father either.

“I bet there's a really good explanation,” Dean tells Jack. The baby stares right back at him, clumsily waving his hand on the nurse’s direction. His motor skills are laughable.

Dean can't understand the situation, how no one has come looking for this kid. If only they knew him, how good he was, such a calm baby boy who takes all his naps and barely cries during the day, surely then his family would want him.

“I bet your mom just couldn't care for you, she knew she wasn’t the best option for you. That’s a kind of love, Jack, she wanted what was best for you. You are loved. I love you. Sam loves you. Charlie loves you…” and he goes on and on listing all his friends and family, all the clerks from the stores they frequent, everyone who has ever set eyes on him and has kindly given him a smile.

By the third month, Dean is both fearing and hoping to become Jack’s permanent legal guardian, a.k.a. his adoptive father . He doesn’t want to think about it too much because he doesn’t want to freak out about it and Dean’s an expert at that. He’s not sure he’s ready to become a parent, he’s barely scratching his thirties, still feels like a kid who’s just come out of school even though he finished ages ago, and has the emotional balance of a toddler learning to walk. Not to mention he’s single and everyone knows the single parent life is an eternal struggle… But despite all of that he can’t help fantasising about it sometimes, wondering how Jack will look when he’s older, if he’ll like playing catch with him, if he would enjoy going out on camping trips with Dean. He can’t imagine coming home to an empty, silent apartment again, he fears the void will return with Jack’s absence.

Love wins over fear though; Jack’s four and a half months by the time Dean legally adopts him. They have a little party at Dean’s with all his friends and he knows in his heart, while he watches all the people that love them coming to his house to celebrate them, that he’s done the right thing. The most wonderful things in life never come easy, he tells himself, so what if he’ll be sleep deprived for the next hundred years? Jack's worth it.

He holds Jack that night for a while longer after the baby’s eyes are closed for the day and looks down at him for a long, long time, smiling to himself.

“You’re my son now,” he whispers with a shy, goofy smile.

Dean properly prepares Jack’s room now that he’s officially staying with Dean for the rest of his life. He gets more clothes for the months that’ll follow, more toys, a high chair since the baby’s about to start experimenting with real food, and paints dinosaur silhouettes in the walls of Jack’s room. Dean used to had a dinosaur obsession phase when he was a kid and he hopes Jack will too.

By month 6, Dean has a great, carefully thought out routine and he lives by it religiously. He spends all his free time with Jack and he couldn’t be happier about it. Wherever Dean goes, Jack goes too. The entire neighbourhood clerks are familiar with them now and they all love Jack. Dean gets asked out a surprising amount of times in the supermarket, but he always declines the offers; at the moment, he doesn’t have either the time nor the interest to date. Dean knows exactly when the neighbour with that Golden Retriever walks his dog in the park and he takes Jack to see it because the babe thinks the fluffy, golden dog is hilarious. He’s obsessed with squirrels too. Strolls in the park also put Jack to sleep better than anything else, which Dean doesn’t get because the noise from traffic can still be heard, but apparently he enjoys the sound of the birds and the soft breeze more than he finds the cars disturbing. If that doesn’t do the trick, Dean knows playing a song in the guitar will for sure. Jack loves music and even more if it comes with his daddy’s voice.

They’re happy. Both of them are happy, living in harmony in their own little bubble. It’d been a while since Dean had enjoyed the simple things in life but now he finds joy at idiotic things like blowing bubbles over Jack’s head during bath time because it makes his son crack up like he’s a better comedian than John Mulaney. Even the things he used to do by himself before are improved, because there’s nothing more relaxing in the entire universe than watching Netflix with the comforting weight of his son sleeping on his chest. It gives him a peace like he’s never experienced before, it almost feels like he’s high on something.

He’s done the right decision, for Jack and for himself.

By the time everything goes to Hell, Jack is a little over 8 months old.

Dean’s having lunch at the hospital cafeteria with Sam, who works a couple of streets away from there. Sam is giving Dean a run down from his last rodeo at court when a guy comes up to their table.

“Dean Winchester?” he asks.

“Yeah?”

He stretches a hand with an envelope in his direction. “You’ve been subpoenaed.”

“I’ve been what now?”

“Give me that, I’m his lawyer,” Sam orders, not giving the messenger time to even reply before he rips the letter from his hand. He makes quick work to open it and his eyes fly over the letters with crazy speed. His face falls and something drops inside Dean’s stomach so fast, he gets a little dizzy.

“What? Sam, what is it?”

“Dean…” Sam looks up and swallows hard. For a moment Dean regrets asking. He wants to go back in time and stop the letter from ever arriving. He knows that face, he knows he’s about to hear something bad, really bad. “It’s about Jack.”

“What about him?” Dean asks through the thick lump in his throat.

“Someone's claiming him.”