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Fic: Paternal Evolution 2/2

“I got an errand you need to run.” Bobby stood in the doorway of Dean’s little shop. “Probably should have been done before now, but I was waiting until the kid got better.”

“What do you need, Bobby?”

“There’s a bar out in Nebraska that caters to hunters, run by this cast-iron bitch named Ellen Harvelle. I figure if you’re going to be trolling for work with other hunters, that’s a good place to start. You can drop off this book when you go.”

Dean was quiet for a second, eyes going from Ben, who was playing with his toy cars on the floor of the workshop, and Bobby. “I’ve never heard of anyplace in Nebraska where hunters hung out.”

“John got chased out of the place with a shotgun years ago. I’m guessing he never mentioned it.”

“You’ll watch Ben?” He didn’t want to be away from his son for as long as this would take, but hunters were generally assholes and Dean would prefer to meet anyone like that before he introduced them to Ben.

“Sure, we’ll have a blast. I’ll give him some whiskey and he’ll sleep like a baby.” Bobby chuckled at Dean’s glare. “I’m kidding, you idjit. I watched over you and Sam back in the day and you two turned out fine. Go, get this taken care of.”

“You’ll watch out that he doesn’t start coughing again and that he gets to bed?” Dean glanced down at his son’s dark head and replayed the words he’d just said. “God, that sounds weird coming out of my mouth.”

Bobby chuckled. “Suits you. We’ll be fine, Dean. Ellen needs that book and it’s not exactly something I can send FedEx.”

The ride to Nebraska was surprisingly lonely. Dean missed the happy chatter that Ben usually provided on any car trip, including trips to the grocery store. Playing his music louder than normal didn’t truly drown out the silence that he used to be accustomed to. He pulled into the parking lot at dusk, mostly by design, and parked next to a slightly rusted truck that would have been at home practically anywhere Dean had visited in his life. Unlike his baby, which stood out in a crowd, this was a vehicle that was chosen to blend in. A careful second look showed that the deterioration was completely cosmetic.

The roadhouse was the kind of place he’d been intimately familiar with only four months ago, and stepping in felt like shrugging on a comfortable shirt. He headed for the bar and the woman behind it, leaning against it with his best earnest face. “I’m looking for Ellen?”

“And who might you be?” The woman tilted her head at him, her expression stern.

“Dean Winchester. Bobby Singer sent me.”

“John’s boy?” There was a gleam in her eye when she said it, and Dean wasn’t sure if it was something that should worry him.

“Yeah,” he admitted. It was a bad idea to lie outright to hunters, who tended to be suspicious bastards at the best of times.

“How’s he doing?”

“Haven’t seen him in a while.” His smile dropped a little. “Listen, I’ve got this book I need to drop off. Are you Ellen or not?”

“Yeah, I’m Ellen Harvelle. I own this place. Come with me.” She headed into the back room and Dean followed. “Drink this,” she said, handing him a glass. Dean looked at it, sniffed it cautiously, and then downed it. It was only water, and he gave her a look as he sat the shot glass down.

“Can I have a shot of Jack now?”

“I don’t know, are you old enough?” She grinned at him. He must have passed the test. “Way I heard it you and John were hunting together.”

“I had some things come up.” He didn’t want to go into the issue of Ben and his father’s current attitude toward Dean’s son. It might just be paranoia, but the fewer people that knew about the kid the better. “So, Bobby sent this book out for you,” he said, setting it down on the table.

“All right, if you don’t want to talk about your family that’s your business,” she said. “I got something for Bobby in the safe downstairs. Go up front and tend bar for me while I get it.”

Dean raised his eyebrows but complied. He’d learned over the years to not fight too much against strong-willed women. Bobby’s description of Ellen was spot-on and Dean wasn’t about to rock the boat too much.

It wasn’t terribly busy. There were a handful of gruff, barely civilized men, the kind that fit the mold of Hunter that his father and Bobby had hewn out in his mind, but they didn’t seem to care that he was behind the bar. After a couple of minutes a scrawny guy with a mullet wandered over, introduced himself as Ash, and asked for a PBR. “Dean Winchester?”

“That’s me,” he answered, a little wary. Being John Winchester’s son was a mixed blessing at best among this kind of crowd. His dad could and would piss off just about anybody he encountered.

“Heard you built a working EMF meter out of a Walkman. Interesting.” There was a lazy smile, the kind Dean had learned to associate with the burnout in shop class who was up to something that was probably going to be fun to watch. “When you’re done filling in for Ellen, I got something you might be interested in.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t swing that way,” Dean said quietly.

“Dude, me either. I’m talking about my computer. I got this awesome system upstairs. Built it myself one day when I was bored.”

Dean considered this for a second. “Sounds good. When I’m done here?”

Ash smiled. “I live here. Rent out a room upstairs. Just come looking for Dr. Badass.”

Dean nodded. He could do that. It wasn’t that hard to put up with this guy’s idiosyncrasies, even if the hair was a little frightening.

Ellen gave back after ten minutes or so with a small leather pouch. “You tell Bobby we’re even, you hear?”

“Sure.”

Ash’s inventions managed to keep and hold his attention for the rest of the night, and he crashed on the floor in the room upstairs around three in the morning. It was probably more comfortable than sleeping in the car, and definitely more enjoyable than fielding questions about his dad and why they weren’t hunting together. All Ash was interested in was Dean’s abilities when it came to tinkering, which suited Dean fine.

Ellen allowed him to use the kitchen the next morning and Dean pulled together enough scrambled eggs for him, Ellen, and Ash, more out of habit than anything else. “Bobby tells me you’ve got a little boy at home,” she said when he set the pan down on top of he bar.

Dean choked a little on the incredibly strong coffee that Ellen had made. “Bobby’s been talking, huh?” he managed once he’d cleared his windpipe.

“Just to me, and I think we can keep it between the two of us. That’s why I waited until the morning to talk to you.” Ellen raised her eyebrows and took a deep swallow of her own very hot coffee. “I’m guessing John was less than thrilled.”

“You could say that,” Dean hedged. He was very much not interested in dredging up the Winchester dirty laundry for a stranger, no matter how nice she was being at the moment. She seemed to figure that out because she nodded and let the matter drop.

“So, tell me about your kid.” Ellen gave him a wry smile. “I bet he keeps you and Bobby on your toes.”

Talking about his son to someone so deep in the Hunting community was another dicey prospect, but Dean had a feeling that Ellen could keep her mouth shut when it mattered. “He’s three years old. Just got over an ear infection.”

She gave a low whistle. “And you left him alone with Bobby? Hope the old man’s still functional when you get back.”

“He’ll be fine,” Dean insisted. “I think Ben keeps him sharp.”

“I bet. I remember when my Jo was three and was into everything. I used to lock myself in the bathroom for some peace and quiet.”

“Ben would take something apart if either one of us tried that.” Dean smiled. He’d been putting Ben up on a box to watch while he fixed cars and it had given the little boy ideas on how to operate simple hand tools. The kid was a natural with a screwdriver. “He’s an awesome kid.”

Ellen smiled. “Of course he is. Look at his dad.” She stood up and swatted him on the shoulder as she walked past. “Have a safe trip, kid. Don’t be a stranger.”

The drive back to Bobby’s didn’t seem to take as long. Dean relaxed more behind the wheel this time around and enjoyed this time alone with his first love. Not too long ago this had been the only life he’d known, his car and his music and the road, and while it was lacking in bright chatter it had it’s own charm.

His good mood lasted until he pulled into Bobby’s and saw his father’s truck pulled up to the side of the house, at which point it abruptly vanished in the fire of his anger.

Dean managed to hold onto his temper with the simple expedient of thinking about how much he’d missed his dad. After Sam had left their little family unit of three had dissolved and the two of them had started taking solo hunts, dividing their resources. They hadn’t spent more than a week or two together in the last year and a half. As long as the man had behaved around Ben, this might go all right.

John was sitting on the couch when Dean walked through the door. He looked stiff and uncomfortable, but thankfully neither drunk nor angry. Dean could handle that. “Dad,” he said, standing outside of easy reaching distance. No sense in being stupid.

His father looked up and Dean felt a familiar pang. The man looked wrecked, like he’d just been dragged through hell with a tow chain, and it was painfully reminiscent of his childhood. “Dean.”

He could have let the awkward silence drag out, but that had never been Dean’s style. “You want a beer?”

There was a snort of laughter. “Wouldn’t say no to one right now.”

“All right.” Dean headed into the kitchen, dropping Bobby’s thing from Ellen onto the table. He diluted one with a little holy water, just to be on the safe side. He hadn’t been expecting to see his father for a while yet. John’s temper tended to burn long.

His dad swallowed down his beer thirstily and with no ill effects and Dean relaxed fractionally. “What brings you out here, dad?”

“Got some news.” John looked at the bottle in his hands. “Bobby got anything stronger around here?”

“Yeah.” Dean didn’t move to get it. He wasn’t about to make things too easy on his dad, not after what the man had said when it came to Ben. “You been here long?” Hopefully his dad’s answer would tell Dean his son’s location.

“A couple of hours. Bobby snatched up that boy of yours and headed out when I told him what this was about.”

Dean looked at him, a little skeptical. “A couple of hours and you’re just now looking for some alcohol?”

“Wanted to wait for you. Figured I should at least start out sober for this conversation.”

Dean sat down and took a long drink from his own beer. “All right, lay it on me.”

“I’m sorry, Dean.”

“Christo.”

John snorted out another laugh and thankfully didn’t flinch. “I forgot what it’s like. Somewhere along the way I stopped being your dad the way I should have been, and I forgot how it feels when you find out you’re a father for the first time.”

“Awesome and terrifying at the same time, huh?” Dean smiled and let himself relax a little more.

“Exactly.” John drained the remainder of his beer and set the bottle down on the coffee table, not making eye contact. “You’ve got another brother. His name is Adam. I just found out about him. Heading out to meet him in the morning.”

Dean took a deep breath and let it out carefully. “How old is he?”

“Thirteen.” John grimaced and Dean couldn’t blame him. Sam had been horrible to be around at that age, argumentative and short-tempered.

“Here’s hoping it goes better this time around,” Dean said. His tone was more bitter than he was aiming for. It wasn’t hard to see this as a do-over for his dad, and as much as he loved the man Dean was well aware that John had made some massive mistakes as a father.

“I don’t . . .it isn’t like that, Dean.” His father finally looked up and met his eyes. “You know, when you were a kid you were always taking care of Sammy, but I don’t think you know how much you took care of me, too.” John twisted the wedding ring on his hand, a familiar gesture that had always meant his father was thinking about his mom. “You’re so much like your mom, sometimes. She was always protecting the family.” He glanced over at the cabinet where they both knew Bobby kept the whiskey, his gaze longing. “I ever tell you she was a Hunter?”

Dean felt his eyes go wide. “You mean, demons and ghosts and werewolves? That kind of Hunter?”

John nodded. “I didn’t figure it out until years later, after she died. She used to lay down salt lines, especially when she was pregnant with you and Sammy. Before the fire, she had a charm bracelet that was filled with protection symbols.” He continued to twist the ring, lost in thought and memories. “She loved you boys so much. Mary loved to watch you sleep, you and Sam both. She wanted to keep you protected. God, she’d be so pissed at me for the way I raised you and Sam.” His mouth twisted up in a smile with a bitter edge, the only kind of smile Sam had ever really known from his father. “It was one of the first things I realized once I cooled down. Mary’s a grandmother now.”

Dean continued to breathe slowly, careful not to make any sudden noises or movements that would break the spell. He didn’t think he’d ever heard his father talk this much about his mother while sober. The part of him that was still starving for his mother wanted to flood his father with questions, but he’d learned a long time ago that to press his father would shut the reminiscing off completely.

“She would be so excited about your son,” John said. “And she would be so pissed at me for dragging you and Sam into this life. She never wanted it for you boys.”

“You going to come back and get to know Ben?” Dean wasn’t touching the can of worms of another Winchester brother. It was one thing to academically know that your father wasn’t exactly a monk; he’d seen enough evidence of that over the years, mostly by accident. He wasn’t about to contemplate the temptation of a little brother who might actually answer his phone calls. He had Ben and he had Bobby, and it looked like he might have a chance at having his dad in his life again. Dean wasn’t going to let himself hope for more.

His dad nodded, his eyes back on his wedding ring. “I’d like to,” he said. “Wasn’t sure if you were going to let me, after everything that happened.”

Dean shrugged and stood up, offering his father a hand. “Ben deserves the chance to get to know you. Just so long as you know that if you hurt him, you’re gone.” He slapped his dad on the shoulder, a little harder than was really necessary. “Want to see what I’ve been working on? Bobby let me set up a workshop. I’ve got a few things you might be able to use.”

John was gone before Bobby came back with Ben, the timing of it suspicious. Dean had a feeling that Bobby had been waiting somewhere out of sight until John left and he was surprisingly touched by the gesture.

Ben was asleep when the older man carried him inside and he didn’t stir when transferred to Dean’s arms, which caused the now-familiar mixed reaction. Dean had missed his son while they’d been apart and he wanted to see him, but it was clear that the kid needed sleep as well.

He carried the little boy upstairs and tucked him into bed before tramping back downstairs. Bobby had pulled out the bottle of whiskey, now kept in the highest cabinet in the kitchen, and Dean joined him on the couch and gratefully took the glass offered him. “What did John want?”

Dean snorted out a laugh. “Guess who just got a call saying he had a kid?”

It got a surprised laugh out of Bobby. “Well, if that isn’t karma smacking him in the face I don’t know what else it is.”

“He wants to try with the new one. Adam something. And then I guess he wants to give being a grandfather a try too.”

Bobby raised his eyebrows at that last one, and Dean belatedly wondered if the man would be hurt by the statement. “You going to let him?”

Dean shrugged, the movement made a little loose by the alcohol he’d consumed. He hadn’t really touched the hard stuff since Ben came into his life, remembering all too clearly what it had been like when his father had come home drunk when he was a kid. “He’s my dad, Bobby. Even when he’s being an ass, he’s still my dad.” He peered up at the older man. “You going to be OK with that?”

“John can be an unbelievable bastard most of the time, especially when it comes to you kids.” Bobby glared down at the bottle on the battered coffee table. “Just so long as he knows that I’ve got a shotgun I’ve got no problem with using, we should be fine.”

“If he messes with Ben, I’ve got a shotgun of my own,” Dean said matter-of-factly. Bobby gave him an odd look that Dean was too tired to decipher. “I’m heading for bed. Wake me up if it looks like the world’s going to end.”

xxx

Dean soon figured out that Ash was an invaluable contact when it came to his experiments. The roadhouse gave the burnout plenty of opportunities to pass the word along about whatever Dean had created and before he knew it Dean had become the go-to guy for odd hunting equipment. The basic, proven technologies were the first to develop a demand and Dean quickly found that his homemade EMF meters could easily find a home at cost plus ten percent, not bad when you considered that he could make one in about two hours with all the equipment at hand. He got quite a few gruff compliments on how reliable they were when return customers came back for anything else he might have that could help.

He field-tested his next idea at a haunting a few hours away and came away satisfied and ready to pass the idea along. The salt rounds for shotguns caught on fairly well and between that and the EMF meters word began to spread a little further beyond the influence of the Roadhouse. Dean started getting more specific requests for things like flamethrowers and homemade explosives. He was more careful about filling those orders, reluctant to end up on some sort of government watch list for potential terrorists. They would take Ben away for sure if someone traced anything like that back to him, or force him out onto the road. Dean was sure that he could hit the road and disappear if something like that happened, but it wasn’t the kind of life that Ben deserved.

His father was the source of his next major project and Dean spent a month or so researching it before he even attempted to build it. Ash was the one who managed to get his hands on the software, never Dean’s specialty, and after three failed prototypes Dean had a device that could be used to detect recent demon activity in a specific location. Technically, it could be used for more than that, since it simply absorbed trace amounts of whatever chemicals were in the room. The software that Ash provided allowed a computer to break down all the components, but all John wanted was evidence of trace amounts of sulfur. Apparently all demons left behind traces, but unless they were doing something major it was undetectable to the human senses.

Once Dean managed to get the finicky wiring under control, his father took the demon detector with him and didn’t return for a month. When he came back, limping from a strained knee and with evidence that something had broken his nose once again, he simply announced that it worked before crashing onto Bobby’s couch for almost a day.

Ben wasn’t quite sure what to make of his newfound grandfather. John had pretty much lost the ability to tone down his gruffness and make nice, if he’d ever had it to begin with, and Ben tended to gravitate toward the more familiar Bobby. Dean left the two of them alone to work it out. Ben might be only three going on four, but the kid was as stubborn as Sammy and would make up his own mind in his own time. The only thing you would get if you tried to push either one was a headache and a kid that dug in his heels in resistance.

For his part, John did his best to make nice with all three of them. It was fairly clear that he had no idea how to interact with a child as young as Ben, and even less of an idea how to talk with Dean or Bobby outside of hunting. The fact that Dean’s current hunting experience stayed limited to day trips to test his latest invention seemed to rub his father the wrong way, but Dean had no intention of getting back on the road anytime soon. It was too dangerous, too likely to leave his son an orphan. Maybe when Ben was a little older he would get back into the life, but for now he was enjoying what he did. Life was stable and good and he was helping people, even if he wasn’t on the road actively hunting anymore.

The first winter with Ben passed by pretty quickly with all these distractions. Ben was content to stay in his workshop most of the time, playing with the old stash of Legos that had been left at Bobby’s once upon a time. It was surprising how many of their possessions he and Sam had managed to tuck away here at Bobby’s house to prevent them from being tossed into the garbage when they threatened to take up too much room. His son had managed to find almost every toy that they had left, from the bags of green plastic army men and ragged stuffed animals to this set of mismatched Legos, picked up from a half-dozen garage sales and thrift stores and kept in an oversized plastic container. Dean was still avoiding the stack of dog-eared paperbacks that once belonged to Sam, but the other toys were all fair game.

At the beginning of May, Dean and Ben trekked back to Indiana for a second custody hearing. Grace didn’t show up for that one either, and the court awarded full custody to Dean after reading the reports from the social worker in South Dakota.

Before he knew it Ben’s fourth birthday was nearly there. Dean had no idea how Lisa had celebrated it with their son and what Ben would remember about it, whether he would miss his mother. He couldn’t begin to compete with the kind of parties that he’d glimpsed when he’d been a kid, so Dean did what he had always done best: he improvised. Money was tight as always, but he managed to get in a few under-the-table car improvements for different hunters, adding in wards etched into the frame and various hidden compartments and making them more likely to withstand the kind of things that a person might encounter while using their car as a weapon. One particular truck underwent a complete engine overhaul to make it much faster than it’s rusted body would indicate, a job that left him exhausted and aching and also flush with cash for the first time in a long time. Enough word had spread about his capabilities that Dean now had a steady stream of work, most of it even paying gigs even if the pay wasn’t that great. It was enough for him to close up for a week or so and take Ben on a car trip.

They drove west, partly because it was the closer coast and partly because that had always been Dean’s natural compulsion. He loved the ocean and especially the beach, always had, and it was time to share that love with his son. There was so much crap that would come about because Ben was a Winchester. Dean was ready to embrace some of the good things about it: the freedom and the ties with his family, two things that Dean had always loved the most about his life before Ben.

He avoided California for two reasons: first, it was far too crowded for Dean’s taste, and second, the entire state seemed to belong to Sam. Going to any part of California would feel like intruding on his brother’s life somehow. The Oregon Coast was far more his speed, small towns dotting the entire coastline and somehow less frenetic than California. Someday he wanted to take Ben to the Winchester Mystery House, but that would have to wait until the boy was older. For now, it would just be the two of them and several days spent on a public beach.

They stayed at an older motel that used to be haunted and that Dean and his dad had cleared out back when he was a teenager. It was a place that Dean knew they would be safe, which helped keep him from worrying. The owners were still pretending that the place had a resident ghost, since that apparently helped bring in the tourists, but they were grateful enough to Dean for helping to remove the very real threat that they gave him and Ben a room for free.

It was the first vacation that Dean could clearly remember taking in his life, and making sure Ben had fun made it worthwhile. He and Ben went down to the beach the first morning after a liberal coating of sunscreen. Dean let Ben play in the sand and the waves for more than hour. He called his son under the shade to reapply the sunscreen and then Dean coaxed his son into the water to learn to swim. This was something he remembered his mother teaching him how to do, though those lessons had taken place at the local pool rather than the ocean. “You ready to swim, kiddo?”

Ben nodded eagerly and Dean positioned them in a spot that would mostly have the four-year-old at chest height. He got down on his knees, making the water reach just above his belly button, and gripped his son gently just beneath the armpits. “Lean forward, Ben.”

The boy hesitated for a second, primary survival instinct fighting against the trust that Dean knew Ben had for his father. “It’s all right, I’ve got you. Just trust me and the water to hold you up. You don’t have to put your face down if you don’t want to.”

Ben looked at him, a skeptical expression on his innocent face, and then he slowly tilted forward, legs coming up and arms wrapping around his father’s much larger forearms. “Good job, kiddo. Just relax. I’m here. I’ve got you.” Dean waited until he could feel the tension ease out of his son’s body and Ben was a little more comfortable in the water. “All right, Ben. Now I want you to kick your legs. Don’t worry about doing anything else, just kick your legs.” Dean could hear the ghost of his mother’s voice in his ears as he instructed his son to keep his legs straight while he kicked. They practiced until Dean could feel Ben getting tired. “Want to learn how to float, Ben?”

“ ‘M tired,” Ben said, his voice bordering on a whine.

“That’s ok, we can come back to it later. How about lunch. Are you hungry? ‘Cause I’m starving.” Food and maybe a nap, Dean figured. A nap would probably do them both some good. Ben put his feet down and grabbed Dean’s hand as they walked back up onto the beach.

After they ate hastily assembled sandwiches in their motel room, Dean managed to find a showing of Back to the Future on the motel room’s slightly snowy television. He laid down with Ben to watch the movie, and like clockwork his son had nodded off before Marty McFly’s mother started to hit on him. Dean turned off the television and closed his own eyes, grateful for the down time. He had a working hypothesis that small children were the answer to renewable energy.

Ben was ready to head back down to the beach when he woke up around three in the afternoon, so Dean slathered him up with another dose of sunscreen and they headed out. “Why don’t we practice swimming again tomorrow? Right now I’m going to teach you how to float.”

“What’s that mean?”

“You know how Bobby sometimes puts ice in a glass of lemonade for you, or people put ice in their Coke?” He was straying from his mother’s lessons now, but she had never taken the time to explain the mechanics of it. It had been enough just to lay face up in the cool water with his mother’s arm under his back. She’d slowly eased her hands away until only the water supported him, and that had been enough. Dean wasn’t sure that Ben had quite that level of trust for him, so he was starting out with how it all worked. “The ice floats to the top, right?” Ben nodded, his attention on his father, and Dean continued as he brought Ben into water that was a little deeper than they’d been in this morning. “That’s because the ice is lighter than the lemonade. And we can do something almost exactly like that.”

Dean got down on his knees again, feeling the water ebb and flow from mid-chest to his waist. It was probably not the ideal place to learn how to float, but he had a feeling that if Ben learned in the ocean he’d be able to swim everywhere. He put one hand on his son’s lower back and the other just under the small shoulder blades. “Just relax, Ben. Remember kicking earlier? You have to trust in the water and me. Just stretch out like you’re lying down on your bed back home. Take deep breaths in and out and stay relaxed.” Dean looked down at Ben’s small face and wondered if his mother had felt anything like this when she’d taught him how to swim. Ben was focusing so hard on staying relaxed that it was very nearly counter-productive. “Just listen to the sound of the water,” he told his son, feeling ridiculously new-agey and more than a little silly. “Breathe like that, Ben. In and out, nice and steady.” He eased the pressure from his hands as he felt his son grow more accustomed to what the boy was doing, finally removing the one from under his shoulders entirely. “You’re doing great, Ben.” Dean kept his voice soft and gentle, remembering Mary Winchester’s voice in his ears as she let him go, floating on the top of the water at the indoor YMCA pool in Lawrence. Sammy had been a baby, sitting asleep in his car seat out of splash range. “Just like that, kiddo,” he echoed past the lump in his throat as his left hand slipped away and Ben was floating on his own. Ben’s eyes were closed against the sun, his dark hair wet and spiky and the plain, cheap swimming trunks that they’d picked up at Wal-Mart moving with the lapping of the water.

Dean watched his son for a few more minutes, making sure Ben didn’t float out to deeper water. “All right, Ben. Stand up now, dude.” He gave Ben a little help, one hand back to supporting him on his back, and Ben dropped back down. His head fell under the water for a second and he popped back up, spluttering but with a beaming smile.

“Dad, did you see? That was awesome,” Ben laughed, his intonation a perfect copy of Dean’s. Dean returned the smile, the now-familiar warmth in his chest.

“You did a great job, kiddo. Think you can do it again, on your own?” That was the real test, he knew. He remembered two or three spluttering attempts before he made it, his mother coaching him from nearby but not offering any sort of physical assistance. Looking back on it now, it was just as much a test of his mother’s willpower as anything else, because he had a feeling that it would be hard to not reach out and help if Ben floundered at all.

He didn’t have to worry. After one short-lived attempt his son figured it out and was dropping in and out of a float like he’d been born in the water. They took a quick break for yet another sunscreen application, Dean still vividly remembering the bright sunburns of his childhood and how badly they’d hurt. By the time he was ten he’d learned the lesson about sunscreen very well. Dad and Sammy had never really burnt, but Dean took after his mother and his fair skin took forever to slowly cultivate into a tan. “Want to practice kicking again?” he asked, and Ben nodded enthusiastically, charged by his success with floating, and dragged Dean back out to the water.

They stayed out until the sun began to dip close to the horizon line and the air got a little cool before heading back to the motel to clean up. Ben nodded off in his plate of diner spaghetti and meatballs and Dean eyed the curvy brunette waitress regretfully before asking for the check. It had been a fairly long dry spell in the sex department, with only two hookups since he’d learned he was a father. He’d gotten more phone numbers in that time frame than ever before, but rarely acted on them, and definitely never in a place where Bobby or his father weren’t around to act as babysitter.

That first day set the pattern for the rest of the week. The two of them headed out to the beach every morning and every afternoon, with a break in between for lunch and a two or three hour nap. Ben’s swimming lessons went better than Dean had hoped for and every day his son became more comfortable in the water. Dean packed up the car Friday morning, unwilling to take up a room for free during a weekend in peak tourist season, and they headed back to South Dakota and their normal lives.

It was a good start to the summer, one that marked the best summer in Dean’s adult memory. Ben was fun and funny most of the time, as long as he got enough sleep, and the things he said sometimes had Dean, Bobby and even the stoic John Winchester howling with laughter. John continued his practice of regular drop-ins as the summer wore on and Ben gradually warmed up to him.

It was on one of these visits at the end of July that John mentioned Adam again. Ben was in bed for the night and Dean, Bobby and John were all sitting around the living room, drinking beer and discussing different aspects of supernatural lore. It was as domestic as scene as Dean had seen his father in years, and his father ended the relative calm in his typical manner. “I think you should meet Adam.”

Dean had a feeling that he should be glad his father had even brought it up first instead of just appearing one day with a preteen. “Did you mean just me, or were you using the royal you there, Dad?”

“You and Ben.” His dad glanced over at Bobby. Apparently they’d been talking behind his back. Dean couldn’t bring himself to feel more than mild annoyance at that little fact. “I told Adam about you two. I’d like it if you could come with me next time.”

Dean wanted to get to know Adam. The kid was his brother, after all, and Ben deserved a chance to have at least one uncle, even if said uncle was closer to his own age than his father’s. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah, I think it’s time.” His dad drained the bottle and left it in a stack with the empties. “I’m pretty sure that Kate isn’t going to completely cut me out of his life. It should be stable enough to keep from confusing Ben.”

Dean leaned back into the cushions of Bobby’s surprisingly comfortable couch. “All right, pick a date. I’ll put a little more hustle into finishing up some projects so I’ll have some cash and some free time.”

His father gave him an odd look, one Dean had categorized as ‘I can’t believe this shit.’ Every time the man visited it seemed like he was surprised that Dean wasn’t back out on the road, working the family business like he always had. “I was thinking that we could head out there in a couple of weeks, visit before school starts.”

“Go there, not have Adam come here?” He could pack Ben up in ten minutes easily, a matter of lifelong habit, but it would still be easier to move a preteen than a four-year-old.

“I haven’t told Adam about hunting,” his father said, voice low. “Kate threatened to kick my ass if I did. There’s way too much to explain here.”

Dean raised his eyebrows at that piece of news. “She’s not going to pitch a fit or something when I put down salt lines, is she?” There was no way he would let his son sleep somewhere that wasn’t protected. He wasn’t so picky when it came to his own safety, but he was responsible for Ben.

“I don’t think so. You lay the salt down every time?”

“Whenever we’re not at Bobby’s house. He’s got this place so warded that it would just be a waste of salt,” Dean said absently, already mentally planning out how much he’d need to pack in Ben’s bag. “How long do you think we’ll be there?”

“Weekend, maybe? I’ll need to talk to Kate first. Like I said, it’ll be a week or two. You can finish up some of your projects.”

His dad somehow managed to keep out the slight edge of disdain and disapproval that was usually in his voice when it came to Dean’s work, for which Dean was thankful. The things he did were useful, both the under-the-table hunting gear and the more legitimate car repairs that were starting to come in through word of mouth. Once people in the area realized that he was faster and usually cheaper than the two local garages, he had started seeing more business on that front than he could really handle. It was a nice ego boost for a guy who had dropped out of high school.

It took three weeks before they made the trip to meet Adam, and for Dean at least they were a very busy three weeks, tying up enough loose ends that if this supposed weekend ended up dragging out longer he wouldn’t have a problem. He made sure his dad took the truck, not in the mood to be a passenger in the Impala or to get stuck babysitting his newfound baby brother should his father take off without warning.

The house was academically nicer than Bobby’s house, but it didn’t make him feel especially safe. Singer Salvage was home now and walking through the front door felt good. This was the kind of place he normally only stumbled into when he was working a case, a completely normal home without even the slightest bit of protection against the supernatural. Dean had no idea how his father could stand it.

Ben had his seatbelt off and was tugging at the door handle when Dean guided the car into the gravel driveway, but thankfully he was too small to open the heavy door. “Cool it, kiddo. Wait for me, I’ll get the door.”

“Daddy, I have to go potty,” Ben said urgently. He continued trying to open the car door with obvious desperation and Dean hurried out of the car and practically sprinted around to release Ben. His son scrambled out of the car and the two of them hurried to the front porch while John pulled up in his truck.

“What’s the rush?”

“Bathroom,” Dean called back over his shoulder as he rang the doorbell. Ben was doing a fairly impressive rendition of the potty dance next to him as they waited for someone to answer the door. When the blond woman answered the door Dean scooped Ben up and flashed her a smile. “Hi, Dean Winchester. Bathroom?”

She glanced past him at his father and stood back from the door. “Second door on the left,” she said.

“Thank you!” Dean stepped inside and set Ben down, following with long strides as his son made a beeline for the door in question.

“I can do it myself,” Ben informed him seriously before stepping into the bathroom and closing the door.

Adam’s mother came up beside him. “I’m Kate Milligan. Long trip?”

“Not that bad. I’m Dean, that’s my son Ben.”

“Nice to meet you.” She smiled, looking just enough like his mother to make him uncomfortable. “I’m going to get Adam down here.” She headed up the stairs.

His dad came into the house while she was upstairs, staying a few feet away from Dean. “So, you’ve met Kate Milligan.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen her, Dad.”

His father ducked his head down a little, which surprised Dean. It wasn’t like John Winchester to admit any kind of shame, even nonverbally. “No excuses from me, Dean. I was lonely and drunk and she’s a good woman.”

“Who just happens to look like she could be Mom’s sister,” Dean stated flatly.

John shrugged and didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much that he could say, really. “Guess we should have stopped for a bathroom break.” He gestured toward the door of the bathroom.

“It’s only an hour and a half, Dad. He didn’t go before we left.” Dean hadn’t spent much time on that kind of thing; they didn’t go on road trips much longer than the trek into Sioux Falls and so a bathroom was never far away. “Guess I’ll have to start enforcing that if we’re going to be making trips again.”

John grunted. “You were pretty much the one who potty-trained Sammy. I guess you can handle it.”

The sound of sneaker-clad feet coming down the stairs like a herd of adolescent elephants stopped that train of reminiscing, something that made Dean very thankful. The way it was going, his dad was probably getting ready to bust out Dean’s potty-training stories next.

The teenager that had to be Adam stopped several feet away from where Dean was leaning against the wall next to the bathroom door. Dean nodded in greeting and waited for the kid to make the first move.

The sound of the toilet flushing ended their awkward standoff. “Remember to wash your hands, kiddo,” he reminded Ben through the door.

“I can’t reach,” his son replied, and Dean rolled his eyes and opened the door, picking up his son and holding him close enough to the sink for the boy to play with the soap and water until his hands were probably clean enough for government work.

After a hurried drying on the towel hanging across from the toilet, Dean hustled Ben out into the hallway. “All right, Adam, this is my son Ben. I’m Dean. Ben, kiddo, this is Adam.” He refrained from sticking any family labels on the relationship, unsure if Adam was ready to be an uncle to a precocious four-year-old.

For his part, Adam seemed floored by the appearance of Ben, which probably meant that John hadn’t said anything about Adam being an uncle. He snorted and was oddly at ease with the gesture. Dad had always done protective in his own way.

The awkwardness of the situation wore off as the day progressed. Adam reminded him painfully of Sammy, with his brains and curiosity and even his looks to some extent, and Dean had always known how to act around Sammy. He hadn’t hit the surly, rebellious stage of being a teenager, which was a good sign, and once the surprise had worn off he’d cautiously began showing his possessions off to Ben and Dean. Once he was a little more comfortable around Dean, it turned out that Adam couldn’t be quieted at all. He began to chatter about school and his friends and the things he and his mother did and baseball practice and track and how he was planning on signing up for cross-country next year.

It was all a little exhausting, being the focus of that much attention.

Ben nodded off for his customary naptime around three in the afternoon and Kate Milligan disappeared for work and the late shift at the hospital sometime afterwards, leaving Dean sitting between Adam and John.

It was hard to recognize this man sitting next to him. Dean had to remember back to before the fire to realize that he was looking at his dad, if not entirely at peace at least relaxed and happy.

If nothing else came from this relationship, at least Adam had given them this man back. Dean settled back and listened to the teenager talk about how he wanted to be a doctor.

xxx

When the end of October rolled around his dad disappeared again. Dean was ashamed to admit that he was a little relieved. This year marked the twentieth anniversary of his mother’s death and there was no way he wanted his son around when his father was grieving. The first week of November was going to be bad enough for both of them without his father.

Dean wasn’t sure if Ben would make the connection between the time of year and his mother’s death at such a young age, but Dean would always remember the second day of November and he’d only been a year older than Ben when his mother had died. It was better to be prepared.

He still felt guilt over Lisa’s death, if only for the fact that his life had become truly happy after she died and he got custody of Ben. Part of him couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if she’d called him when she found out she was pregnant. He’d only been twenty when Ben was born, nineteen when he’d known Lisa. Would he have gone to her, offered to help her raise Ben? He’d still been nominally in charge of Sammy back then, and leaving his brother would have been hard. His dad wouldn’t have wanted him to leave and he wasn’t sure he would have had the strength to defy him. It would have probably ended up exactly like the night Sam left for Stanford, with Dad demanding he choose, and Dean had no way of knowing which way he would have gone.

November second rolled around with its usual faded pain and Dean put aside his projects when his lack of concentration gave him a mild electric shock on an in-process EMF meter. Bobby kicked him out with a grimace and the threat of a blast of rock salt and sent Ben out after him, tossing Dean’s jacket at him with the instruction to not come back for at least twelve hours.

He took his son to the local diner for cheeseburgers and pie and then to the elementary school playground, but either Ben picked up on his mood or he was feeling the weight of Lisa’s death despite his youth. After about half an hour of half-hearted play Dean bundled Ben back into the front seat of the car and started driving. The Led Zeppelin mix tape was already in the player and he let the familiar combination of the Impala’s rumbling engine and the music sooth him while he drove.

He headed east, toward Minnesota, and was across the state line in ten minutes, but faltered when he tried to decide where to go from there. Pastor Jim was only two hours away and was overdue for a visit, but Dean wasn’t sure he wanted to be around anyone who knew his history today. After about an hour of driving he eventually found a small convenience store and bought bread, lunchmeat, and a six-pack of Coke before turning down a dirt road and finding a creek.

It was too cold to go wading or spend any time in the water, but the sound of it was almost as soothing as his baby’s engine and his music. Ben was quiet, much more so than usual, and he sat down on the blanket, bundled up in his coat, and slowly ate his sandwich. Even the can of Coke, a rare treat for the kid, was only sipped carefully.

“You okay there, kiddo?”

Ben nodded. “I’m okay. What’s wrong?”

Dean sighed. “When I was your age, I saw something bad happen to my mom. It happened about this time of year, so I can’t help thinking about it, and about what happened to your mom.”

“I miss her,” Ben said, still quiet. He inched closer to Dean.

“Yeah, I know,” Dean answered. “I still miss my mom too.”

They stayed there together, leaning back against the front bumper of the Impala until Dean felt his son start to shiver. “Come on, “ he said, standing up and reaching for Ben’s hand. “Let’s go home.”

He loaded up the Impala, took one last deep breath, and pointed the car toward South Dakota. Ben fell asleep after about fifteen minutes and Dean turned down the music to a whisper.

He was already home.


Epilogue:

It was probably some sort of testament to how much he’d changed that he was only vaguely uncomfortable standing outside the school building. Dean usually let Ben take the bus back to Singer Salvage. It was an hour-long ride, but Ben finished up his little bits of homework on the way and got home ready to get into trouble and never seemed to mind the time spent on the bus.

After the phone call from his father, however, Dean wasn’t willing to wait for the bus to make its way out to the far reaches of Sioux Falls. He’d put down his latest, hopefully improved, EMF meter and packed up the car for both him and Ben before driving straight to the local elementary school. If Bobby had been in town he would have simply driven back home and dropped his son off before tearing away to California, but Bobby was in Florida with his buddy Rufus and Dean had to be content with a phone call to both him and Pastor Jim warning them both about what was up. Ben would have to come with him.

It was time for his son to meet Sam, no matter how much of a brat Sam had been since he’d left for college. He was just going to have to suck it up. They were all in danger now.

Comments

( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
scarletscarlet
Sep. 16th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this. Sam's absence was pretty distracting, though; I found it hard to suspend the thought that for something like this, Dean would make more of an effort to get Sam to respond. I found myself reading as though I were waiting for the other shoe to drop, so I wasn't quite as absorbed as I could've been.

Dean with Ben was just all kinds of awesome. I particularly liked that not for one moment did he consider continuing to hunt, and the contrast there with John. Poor John might've felt a little judged, but I think it's a different situation opting to leave something you know vs having a world of scary things blown wide open in front of you in a horrifying way - possible for Dean to leave, not possible for John to ignore it all.
faithburke
Sep. 17th, 2011 01:10 pm (UTC)
Sorry about that. I wanted Sam to be there, but Canon!Sam wouldn't go along with it. He'll be in the sequel, though.

It was two entirely different situations between John and Dean. I'm sure John thought that he would find out what killed Mary in a couple of years and then they would go back to a somewhat normal life. John's not the type of guy who can leave something like that unfinished, so he just kept looking and hunting along the way. I truly believe that Dean was never in it for the vengeance, so stepping away for a time until his son is older is not a problem. He's still helping other people to hunt, still helping to save lives, and hunting will still be there should he decide to go back to it.

Also, Dean has the memories from a child's perspective of what it was like to be left alone while your father is hunting, and I'm sure some of those memories are absolutely terrifying.
moviegeek03
Sep. 16th, 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
I really loved this! Dean has always been such a great dad on the show (both to Sam and Ben), so I adore how you captured it in the fic. I think you handled everything so well and made it into a very nice story :). Thanks for sharing!
faithburke
Sep. 17th, 2011 01:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading! Daddy!Dean is pretty much one of my favorite Deans.
anifsemaj
Sep. 16th, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Wonderful job! Very in character for Dean, and I loved his interactions with John about parenting & hunting. I wish he could have had some contact with Sam, but given Sam wasn't answering I can understand why it didn't happen.
faithburke
Sep. 17th, 2011 12:33 pm (UTC)
There will be contact with Sam in the sequel, which I have already begun writing. Thanks for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed it!
hammersxstrings
Sep. 17th, 2011 12:08 am (UTC)
Loved it. This is a wonderful story. I have to echo everyone else and say I kind of wish there was some stuff with Sam...can we maybe hope for a sequel? :)
faithburke
Sep. 17th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
There will be a sequel, and it will have lots of Sam. Eventually.
jujuberry136
Sep. 17th, 2011 01:30 am (UTC)
This was too cute! Loved seeing Daddy!Dean, especially how obviously he fell in love with Ben at first glance and learned to be a father. Dean and Bobby's relationship was also lovely and it was great to see him interacting with Ellen and Ash. Adam was a nice surprise!

I was struck by the absence of Sam as well until I thought things through - it really makes sense in context. Dean only told Sam he needed to talk to him - probably something he'd done multiple times in the year Sam wasn't returning phone calls. Sam, like a normal person, probably assumed if it was truly something important Dean would call back. Dean has the example of his father - Dean told his Dad something important was going on and his father continued to call until he found the answer.

Really keeping my fingers crossed we get a little scene where Sam meets Ben - I'm guessing Dean's intro to Jess will likely go a bit differently as well (I don't think Social Services looks kindly on parents getting arrested for trespassing)

Thanks for sharing, this was adorable!
faithburke
Sep. 17th, 2011 12:07 pm (UTC)
Well, he's still Dean, with all of that. There will definitely be Sam in the sequel. I originally had a snippet of a scene that redid the opening sequences of the pilot written and that was what I based my big bang on (a lot of those stories start out that way, you have no idea how many in-process bunnies are on my computer) but as I wrote this story it became clear that those two pages of writing were part of the next story and not this one.

In the pilot, Dean said that he basically hadn't contacted Sam in two years, apparently at Sam's request. That was what I based my initial decision on, and I think it happened pretty much the way you said.
jebbypal
Sep. 17th, 2011 12:40 pm (UTC)
\0/ Oh you made me so happy by saying there will be a sequel. :) Loved every bit of it. Personally, I think how you presented it would be exactly how Dean would react. The entire events so threw him, and he was adjusting that especially after John's reaction, I'm sure Dean couldn't possibly face the possibility that Sam would still reject him and not contact him if he'd explained everything on the phone. At least this way, Dean could comfort himself with status quo and that Sam had rejected hunting and Dean/John were just a part of that rejection and maintain some sort of hope that it wasn't personal.

Loved Bobby with Ben and Dean - sort of sad we didn't get to see at least Pastor Jim stop by more to be involved, but one can't have everything. Great great job!!!
faithburke
Sep. 17th, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
Wow, glad you liked it!

I would like to write Pastor Jim, but given that he had less than five minutes of screen time and hasn't really been mentioned since I'm not entirely sure how good of a job I could do.
saphirablue
Sep. 17th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this fic. Daddy!Dean = ♥ and I like that you let meet Adam and Dean so early. :)

Thank you!
rifle53
Sep. 19th, 2011 02:51 am (UTC)
AHHHHHhhhhhhh!!! Sequel sequel sequel must needs sequel! I absolutely adored this! I love how you included Adam, and I didn't miss Sam not being there because he wouldn't have been happy with it he was to busy being Joe College. I loved Bobby in it too, how he was sort of gruff and loving, and more of a grandpa then John.

Also Daddy!Dean *melts into puddle*. I loved how good of a daddy Dean is for Ben. Him teaching Ben to swim and remembering his Momma doing the same for him nearly broke my heart!

Great job!
etrix
Sep. 19th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
I can see Dean doing this, stopping the hunt to take care of his kid. And I can see John telling him to keep on the road and 'he'd done alright with them two, hadn't he?' (Actually, no. Not really.)

Nice daddy!Dean story without the sugar that would have made it Disney and not Supernatural. I know I'll be looking forward to reading the Sam/Ben introduction. =]
darkestnight12
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
Daddy!Dean! Ben! Bobby! *o* WINNERZ. I want to know how Sam reacts to Ben, because Sam does have a way of condescending to Dean with is as annoying as f***. ^^;; I love how Dean grew a backbone against John for Ben, and how Bobby just takes them in and supports them. *cuddles Dean's family* Is Sam going to meet Adam? Is Adam also in danger? Please continue this!
faithburke
Dec. 10th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
The sequel is coming in Jan, don't worry!
kaddywhak
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:34 am (UTC)
I see on other comments that you're planning a sequel, and I am stoked. This fic was really well done, and once again, you are crazy good at writing realistic/likeable children. I also love Dean's new 'job' making hunting equipment.
faithburke
Dec. 10th, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
Yes, sequel posting in Jan. I'm glad you liked the way I write kids; they're mostly based on children I know.
nagi_schwarz
Jul. 5th, 2012 04:44 pm (UTC)
Loved this so much. Daddy!Dean was amazing.
spedreder
Nov. 17th, 2012 03:53 am (UTC)
HI, just wanted to let you know that I LOVED this! Was the sequel posted as well?
faithburke
Nov. 17th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, there is. Sibling Metamorphosis.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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