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Fic: One Step at a Time 2/4



They had him up and on the weights by mid-morning on the second full day after his surgery. The speed of it was surprising to him. He’d just had both of his legs chopped off, after all. It would only be fair to get a break, but Tom was insistent on getting him started right away. Apparently the threat of losing the necessary muscle in his upper body was something to worry about and Tom was adamant that it would set Dean back months in his schedule if he allowed that to happen.

After an hour of rehab, Dean fell asleep in the wheelchair back to his room, which was just plain embarrassing. The orderly woke him up when it came time to transfer back to the bed, and then again an hour later when the doctor came in to examine and rebandage the incisions on what remained of his legs. After that came lunch, and then another session with Tom the sadist.

He nodded off after the second session of the day. Somehow he’d never expected something like this to be so exhausting, but by the time he got back to his room his hands were trembling and it took all of his willpower to make it into his bed. When his cell rang he reached out for it, still groggy, and spent about ten seconds staring at it blearily before he figured out how to answer it. “ ‘Lo?”

If he’d been a little more clear-headed, he would have checked the caller ID and not been quite surprised at the pleasant, vaguely familiar voice. “Dean? Dean Winchester?”

“Speaking,” he managed to get out, sitting up a little better on the bed in an effort to help him wake up. Dean didn’t give out his real number to many girls, though he’d had a cell phone since he’d dropped out of school. There were really only about four contenders, and he was pretty sure he could figure it out from there with a quick glance at the number: Indiana area code. “Is this Lisa Braeden?”

She laughed, the sound a little relieved. “Yes. Glad you remember me.”

Dean smiled at the thought of the girl he’d privately nicknamed ‘Gumby’ because of her flexibility. “I’m pretty sure I’d never forget you, Lisa. How’s everything going?”

“Can’t complain. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t really change anything to whine about my boss and her insane organizational habits. How about you?”

Dean froze for a second, torn between honesty and a good story. He hadn’t had to make this decision since his accident. Everyone that had spoken to him had been at the hospital, and with the exception of his father they were all hospital employees. Bobby and Jim were both planning visits, but neither one would manage to be here until next week and his father had already told them everything. His knee-jerk reaction was to brush her off with a ‘fine’ and a change of subject, but something kept him from doing just that. Lisa was one of the few good memories of Sam’s incredibly rough teenage years and he’d always hated lying to someone like her. “Not great,” he finally admitted, leaving the circumstances purposefully vague.

There was an indrawn breath. “Are you the one in the article? The one who got hurt helping those kids?”

Damn it. Why did someone like Lisa read the story and immediately think of him when his brother obviously hadn’t noticed it at all? Even though he didn’t want his brother to be distracted by this whole mess, part of him couldn’t help but wish his brother gave some sign that he’d noticed. “Yeah, that’s me.”

“Are you allowed to have visitors?”

Allowed visitors? Yes. He wasn’t sure if he wanted them, though. He didn’t know if he wanted people to see him like this, at least not anyone that mattered, and it was quickly becoming clear to him that Lisa Braeden did matter. “Yeah, but I’m in Missouri. Are you still in Indiana?”

“Back in Cicero,” she said absently. “What about weekends?”

“They’re going to be wide open for the foreseeable future,” he told her. “You still teaching yoga?” he asked, because he was absolutely shit at small talk and he had no idea what to say to her. They’d had some awesome sex and they’d watched superhero movies, but there hadn’t been much more to their relationship. He was kind of surprised she’d even bothered to call him when she’d seen the article.

“Sometimes. I’m an RN now, too. Needed something to fall back on.” She paused and Dean had a horrible realization of what she was going to bring up next. “How’s your brother?”

“He’s good,” Dean said simply, because that was the truth as far as he knew. “At school at Stanford, if you can believe it. Managed to get a full ride.”

“Wow,” she said, sounding impressed. “I guess smarts run in your family.”

Dean had no idea what to say to that. Sam was the smart one, the one who really enjoyed school. He’d simply tolerated it until he could move on. Luckily, Lisa filled in the gaps without him needing to say anything. “So, how bad is it?”

“They’re moving me to the rehab center if everything goes all right tomorrow. Sounds like I’ll be there for a few weeks.” He didn’t go into the details. Somehow it was harder to say the word ‘amputation’ over the phone when the evidence wasn’t right in front of the person’s eyes.

“And after that?”

“Learn to walk again,” he told her bluntly. “Find a new job, because I won’t be able to do the old one anymore.”

There was a quiet moment on the other end. “Are you interested in a visitor this weekend?”

Not really, but he was already going to have visitors forced on him when Bobby and Pastor Jim showed up. His dad had been there from the beginning, in and out while he tried to arrange something a little more permanent for lodging and possibly a job to keep them both fed once they cut him loose, the staff at the hospital didn’t know him before his accident and they were the only people who had seen him like this since the surgery. He didn’t want Lisa seeing him as weak. He meant to say something diplomatic about not being allowed visitors, but when Dean opened up his mouth the word ‘yes’ came out instead. “If you have time,” he added quickly to the end, not sure how he’d ended up agreeing to this.

“Great! We’ll head down on Friday.” She hung up before he could ask who she was including with that ‘we.’

He managed to get transferred to the rehab center the next day, once the doctor’s were sufficiently satisfied that his legs were healing according to schedule. It was more grueling work than the hospital, which was obvious from the hours of PT that his therapist planned out for every day of the next week. The first full day was something akin to torture, even though Dean had thought he was in top shape before all of this began. The only real bright spot was that he had a reduced load on the weekends and tomorrow was Friday. If he could handle John Winchester’s special brand of training while he was a teenager, he could handle this.

Friday he actually had a little more of a break as well. He met up with Tom and the prosthetics guy and got his first look at what he could reasonably expect, and the answers were far different than he was expecting.

Dean had thought that all this work was just to make it so he could hobble along through life. When Jim the prosthetics guy showed him the running legs and demonstrated how they worked, he felt the first bit of hope and light since the moment that he’d woken up on his hospital bed. “These things can make it so I can run?”

“You’ll be able to run on flat, even surfaces,” Jim said, demonstrating how the curved leg worked. “With both legs in prosthetics, you’ll still have trouble handling places where the footing is a little more uncertain, like the beach or the woods. Sidewalks or paved streets, though, should be just fine. Eventually you might even become good enough to handle even the more uneven terrain. There are amputees competing in running competitions now, serious runners who stand a chance of winning. Day-to-day, though, these will be impractical. So you’ll also probably need to learn about these.”

The next thing he handed to Dean lacked the simple, clean lines of the running prosthetic. It was much more bulky, for one, though the cup at the end was similar, and it had something that looked like a crude replica of a human foot. The space between was a bare metal rod and it somehow looked more wrong with that foot at the end than the curved metal of the running leg. “This is a little more appropriate for most other activities. With this you could easily walk on almost any terrain, though you might want a cane for a balance when things aren’t entirely steady. These are a little more stable than the running legs, which are really only designed for one purpose.”

“This is going to get really expensive,” Dean said, a tiny bit of doubt in his voice. They didn’t exactly have a lot of funds and no matter what the doctor said he kept waiting for that lack of money and insurance to get him kicked out onto the curb.

Jim looked at him with steady blue eyes. “My daughter Jennifer lives in the neighborhood where that rabid dog was spotted. She’s expecting her second child, a little boy, and her daughter Rachel is four years old and was playing outside that day. You saved all three of their lives when you went after that animal. Don’t ever worry about paying me.”

Dean swallowed hard. All his life he’d been told not to take charity; that Winchesters would always find a way, and it was almost physically painful to go against that now. Even when Dad had left him with Sam and not enough money for food, he’d always found some way to make it work without giving in to any kind of handout. Accepting something like this, something obviously expensive, was a lot harder than he’d imagined. Especially when you considered that these things were probably priced somewhere in the thousands when it came to a price range. “I’m not sure I can take that,” he told the man.

He waved the words away and returned to the prosthetics in his hands. “You can help out at the office to help cover the costs. I’m going to be taking some preliminary measurements of your residual limbs now, so I can get started. As your legs heal and the swelling goes down we’ll get a few more measurements and start to build something a little more permanent, but for now we’ll get you something temporary so you can learn how to walk.”

Once Jim was done Tom had Dean up and on the parallel bars, supporting his weight with just his arms. Again, Dean had thought he was in excellent shape before the accident, but after one trip he was already panting a little. A second trip back made sweat pour off of his body, but he was going to keep going. He’d seen a tiny spark, one that would make him useful sometime in the foreseeable future, and Dean was going to go for that. He might not be able to hunt again like he did before this happened, but he had a feeling he could still do something. Maybe sometime soon he could talk his dad into taking him to a shooting range or someplace where he could try to work with a sniper’s rifle. He’d always been an excellent shot and he wanted to see if that had changed.

The stack of musty books loomed from his small bedside table by the time he made it back to his room, one of those strange ‘get well soon’ gifts from Bobby and Pastor Jim. Right now he was in a private room, since there weren’t enough patients currently here to make it necessary for double occupancy. Given the subject matter of the books (a few of them might not even be in English, suggesting he’d need to use at least some of his free time to pick up the basics of something a little older), he was definitely glad for that privacy now. Sounding out ancient Greek would go a lot easier without an audience.

Tom came back after giving him an hour of rest and grinned at him, the expression one Dean was starting to dread. “Time for some weights. Don’t want the scrawny muscle you do have to waste away, after all.”

Dean snorted and closed his book, the dust that puffed out making him sneeze. “Yeah, right. You guys are secretly training super soldiers here, aren’t you? The million dollar man and the bionic woman are down the hall.”

“If we were I couldn’t tell you,” Tom said. “It would be a shame to kill you after all the work we’ve already put in. Come on, we’re late for your mid-morning brainwashing session.”

Tom ran a continuous line of patter while they worked, keeping Dean distracted from the work he was doing and the toll it was taking on his body. It gave him something to focus on besides the burning of his muscles as he kept working. It took a while for the physical therapist to run out of immediate topics from his own life before he started asking Dean questions. “Got any plans for the weekend?”

Dean almost lost his grip on the weight machine bar. “Yeah, I do,” he answered once he was secure again. He caught Tom’s quick expression of surprise out of the corner of his eye and almost instantly went defensive. “Old girlfriend,” he explained, deliberately not looking at the man. “She heard I was hurt and she called. Pretty much made the decision to come visit me before I could really get a word in edgewise.”

“Does she know about your legs?” Tom asked bluntly, making Dean wince a little.

“No.” He focused on the weights in front of him and his lifting goal. “Couldn’t figure out how to say it over the phone.”

“Maybe you should try.” Tom kept moving with the weights while he talked. “It’s not exactly something you can hide, and it’s bound to be a bit of a shock. It might be a little bit easier to be rejected over the phone rather than face to face, if it came to that.”

“I’ve never done things the easy way,” Dean grunted, lifting his latest load. But in the back of his mind he saw Amanda Heckering embarrassing him in front of an entire school, bringing up things she had no business mentioning. The only thing that saved him was his father showing up almost immediately after to move them yet again. Tom might have a point.

He called once his second set of PT was done for the day, but lost his nerve when he heard Lisa’s bright, happy voice on the voicemail message. “Hey, it’s Dean,” he said when the beep prompted him to speak. “Just calling to see if you were still coming down to visit. You, uh, you know you don’t have to come if you don’t want to, right?” He rolled his eyes at that message while he was leaving it. “Anyway, I’ll talk to you later.” He closed his cell phone before he could embarrass himself any further.

Lunch was simple and not entirely satisfying, but Dean was quickly becoming used to hospital food and he had more important things on his mind than what he was eating. Now that Tom had planted those doubts it was hard not to dwell on them and he was progressively becoming more and more tense as the time passed until Lisa’s arrival. He finished his food and wheeled back to his room. He’d have a little time for the meal to settle until he was back to the sanctioned torture of physical therapy. Hopefully the physical activity would help to calm his nerves. It always had in the past.

Tom didn’t bring the subject up again, which was nice of him. Dean didn’t want to think about that right now. Instead he concentrated on the stretch of his muscles and the weights that he was using right now. “Your incisions should be healed enough for the pool on Monday,” Tom told him. “Then we’ll be doing some switching up on the PT. And if the doctor’s clear it, about a week after that we might see about starting out on training with the prosthetics.”

“We can start out that soon?” Dean grunted. “I thought it would take at least a month.”

“You won’t be on them for long, but you really ought to be up as soon as possible. You wouldn’t think it, but your body can forget how to walk pretty easily when you’re not doing it every day. That’s part of the reason we’re doing these exercises in the first place. Swimming will help a lot to keep your body in tune with what you’ll need to start walking. It should help preserve the muscle memory.” Tom helped him change position on the bench and adjusted the machine. “The thing you’ll have to remember is that once you start walking, it’s going to be painful. The human body was designed with feet for a reason and you’ll be switching the place where the weight falls on the human body. The remaining muscles in your calves will need to adapt and you’ll develop blisters on the residual limb until the skin toughens up a little. Being a double amputee is going to make it much more difficult, because if one leg develops blisters you can’t rely on crutches. You’ll screw up the other stump putting all of your weight on it. You’ll be back in the wheelchair until they heal if that happens.”

“So basically, I should stop before I feel the start of blisters.”

“Exactly. It’s already going to take you at least six months to a year to be up and about. Don’t push yourself too hard and set that clock back even longer. The key to this going smoothly is to listen to what your body is telling you.”

Dean pushed up and exhaled roughly. “How long would it take to get me up and running if it was only one?”

Tom looked a little uncomfortable at the question. “It’s not a good idea to play around with ‘what if’s,’ Dean. Most of the time you’re happier not knowing.”

“Yeah, well, in my line of work not knowing gets you killed. Come on, how long?”

“Six weeks until you’re up and walking with a single amputation, usually. The setbacks don’t usually take as long.”

“So if they’d managed to save one of my legs I’d be up and running much faster,” Dean said. The idea was more than a little disheartening.

Tom sighed and eased the weights back into place. “No, you wouldn’t have been up and running. I saw the x-rays, Dean. You were never going to have much functionality from either one of those legs. The bone there was splintered into a hundred shards, the muscles were severely compromised, and you would have been in constant pain. Trust me, this is better.”

It was hard to think about it like that, especially when he was this exhausted and still feeling the occasional jolt of pain from what remained of his legs. “We done for the day?”

“Done for the moment,” the man said matter-of-factly. He helped Dean negotiate the transfer back to the wheelchair. “We’ve got one more session today, then you’ll get dinner and you’ll have the rest of the evening free to think about the company you’ve got coming.”

Dean groaned. He’d managed to put that to the back of his mind while he was working, but now it came rushing forward again. “She didn’t give me a time. I might not see her until tomorrow.”

“Just so you know, there’s no protocol that won’t keep the nurses from barging into your room. Unless she’s an exhibitionist, it’s not really a good place for a quickie.”

“Pretty sure I’m not up for that anyway,” Dean said, unhappy with the topic. He hadn’t had more than a half-hearted spark of arousal since the accident, which he chalked up to the combination of pain and drugs and exhaustion he’d been feeling since then.

“That’ll come back, trust me,” Tom said, eyebrows raising like they were just two guys talking about girls in the locker room instead of a therapist and a patient traveling down the hallway of a hospital. “And no offense to the nurses here, but you haven’t exactly been exposed to anyone that would get your attention yet. Once you get back out into the world you’ll be surprised how easily it all comes back.”

“Thanks,” Dean muttered, propelling his wheelchair down the hall and trying not to dwell on the likelihood of getting laid without fucking legs. Tom kept pace easily and helped him into the bed waiting for Dean in his room.

“I’ll be back in an hour or so to take you back down for your last round of therapy,” he said before vanishing from the room. Dean was fairly sure he had other clients in the building. It wouldn’t make sense for the man to be spending all of his time on just one patient.

Rather than spend the time dwelling on Lisa’s impending visit and how badly that was probably going to work, Dean pulled out one of the notebooks, one of the books that Bobby had left behind, and a dictionary that the man had managed to dig up for Ancient Greek, thankfully one that gave all of the supposed grammar rules for the language. It was one of those things destined to take a long time to sort through, and was therefore perfect for a recovery period. Dean knew that Bobby had a stack of such books at his house, things that were probably useful but that didn’t have any immediate need behind them. Books designed to kill time and keep the recuperating hunter from going entirely stir-crazy. Dean wasn’t sure exactly how useful they would turn out to be, but it was better than nothing.

He was deep in the book when Tom returned, looking back and forth between the translation guide, the book in question, and the notebook open on the small table. Sam had been much better at this kind of thing, but Dean had a system that worked for him and Bobby claimed it was just as functional as anything else, if a little more scrambled than most. Jim was going to be bringing a laptop that he’d picked up somewhere, probably something outdated that the church had gotten as a donation, and Dean would probably type up most of it once he had his hands on a computer. It was better than trying to make someone else decipher his chicken scratch.

Tom’s hand rapping lightly on the table startled Dean out of his effort and the young man looked up to see his physical therapist’s quizzical expression. “Whatever that is, it must be riveting.”

It was actually someone’s collection of monster legends from sailors that mostly traveled along the Mediterranean, at least some of which were probably overly-hysterical tales told under the influence of too much alcohol. He wasn’t sure how to take the stories of leviathans, reluctant to count them out entirely but similarly reluctant to consider them any sort of threat, since no one had heard of them in thousands of years. “Just a project I’m working on for a friend. One last round of torture for the day?”

“One last round, then I’ll bring you back here so you can shower and have dinner and get ready for your company.” Tom gave him a smile as he locked the wheelchair in place and Dean managed to complete the transfer without any outside assistance. “Getting better at that,” the man commented as they traveled down the hall, Dean propelling himself and Tom keeping pace.

“I pretty much have to get good at it. This place will make me crazy and I’ve got to learn how to do stuff without needing to call for a nurse.”

“Good. The sooner you get out of my hair, the better. All this work is really cutting into my time on the dance floor.” Tom performed a couple of hokey moves, the kind of thing you might see at a high school dance, and Dean couldn’t help but laugh.

“You move like my kid brother after someone shoved ice down his pants.” He regretted the words almost immediately, because he hadn’t mentioned Sam to anyone. It would inevitably lead to the kind of questions that Dean wanted to avoid for the rest of his life.

“You’ve got a kid brother?”

Dean snorted out a bitter laugh, because he’d called it. That would be the first question. The second was-

“When is he going to come visit you?”

“His name is Sam, he’s a student at Stanford, and I don’t want to distract him right now. He’s on a full ride there and he’s got to keep his grades up. We can visit once he’s on break or something.” Dean had absolutely no intention of contacting his brother anytime soon, but he wasn’t about to tell Tom that. He seemed like a nice guy, and he was one hell of a physical therapist, but he was still a stranger and Dean wasn’t about to bring him into Winchester business.

“Fair enough. How much younger?”

“Four years difference. Seriously, he’s majoring in pre-law,” something that his father had found out during their last visit, “and we’re going to need all the help we can get someday. The kid has to become a lawyer. He doesn’t need any distractions right now.” And also, apparently, the news story about his injury had gotten national coverage. Sam had always loved to read those kinds of news stories, so if he hadn’t bothered to call it was because he wasn’t interested in talking to his family. That wasn’t anything new, really. Sam hadn’t picked up the phone to call his family in a year and had only answered the phone twice when Dean had called him. He would be just fine without his little brother there to wait at his bedside.

Tom must have figured out that the little brother was a difficult topic, because he changed subjects abruptly. “So when’s your girlfriend going to show up?”

Dean blew out a frustrated breath and picked up his speed. Tom kept pace effortlessly. “She’s not my girlfriend, she’s just a chick I used to know, and I don’t know when she’ll be here. If I wanted that kind of therapy, I’d – no, wait, I’m never going to want to talk out my feelings. Just drop it.”

“Maybe if you’d ever answer the questions. You’re a man of mystery around here. Everyone wants to know about what makes you tick.”

He couldn’t help but smirk at the description, but cool logic overtook that emotion pretty quickly. They couldn’t afford for people to take a closer look at the Winchesters. Most of what they did skirted on the edges of being legal, some of it would just be considered immoral, and none of it was anything that recommended them to strangers. Winchesters did what they did and they shut up about it, because no-one wanted to be called crazy for believing in things that belonged in creepy ghost stories and urban legend books. Dean had never told anyone who wasn’t already a hunter about the way they lived, and most hunters thought that the Winchesters were a little too far on the extreme end of things. “I’m not mysterious,” he muttered. “I’m a pretty boring guy, really. I just don’t like seeing kids get hurt so I stopped to help them. End of story.”

“Why were you in the neighborhood that day?” Tom asked, and Dean felt his heart freeze in his chest. No one had asked him that question, and it was the one question that he didn’t really have a good way of answering. He’d been there specifically because he’d been tracking the black dog, which had been sighted a few blocks over snacking on someone’s pet lapdog.

“My dad and I were looking for work. We’re pretty much traveling handymen most of the time,” he said finally. “Not exactly steady work, but it’s pretty much kept us fed and clothed for the past few years and I’m good at it. Sam, that’s my brother, he always wanted something better, something normal. He hated moving around all the time, but I always liked it. Fresh start every single time, with people who don’t know you at all.”

It hadn’t been the answer the man had been expecting, and for a second he stopped in the hallway while Dean kept rolling on. “So you’re basically homeless,” Tom said, and Dean sighed. He hated the word. Home was Sam and Dad and the Impala and occasionally Bobby or Pastor Jim, and he’d always had those open to him.

“Haven’t lived in one place for longer than six months since I was four,” he said, instantly regretting the words since he knew what question would follow them. Damn it, he used to be so much better at keeping his mouth shut and not letting these things slip out. He was getting too comfortable with these people, especially Tom.

“Why not?”

Dean felt his shoulders stiffen, an automatic reaction to this particular topic. “My mom died. Dad never could settle down after that.” He wasn’t exactly a praying guy, but he couldn’t help a quick one that Tom would change the damn topic now.

It seemed like that was actually working for once because Tom nodded and started talking about what this last session would entail. “We’re pretty much doing occupational therapy this afternoon. There are a lot of tools that you can use to help with your reach, especially since you’ll spend a lot of time in the wheelchair for the first few months. This afternoon we’re just going to go over some of those things, have you practice with them. Your father mentioned you were pretty handy and that you liked to build things, so it’s possible as part of your therapy that we’ll let you dismantle and reassemble some of them so you can build your own.”

Dean felt a little bit better at that. He’d always loved tinkering. The idea of building devices to help him function appealed to him. “What kind of things are we talking about?”

Tom directed him to turn right instead of the left he’d become used to taking, leading him to a small room that, from the smell of things, wasn’t too far from the kitchen. It was set up like a fairly good replica of a living room, with a variety of different objects on the coffee table. “We’ve got a kitchen as well,” Tom told him, moving into the room and sitting down on the couch. “They’re basically here so you can learn how to function in a house or an apartment once they turn you loose for outpatient therapy instead of staying here. Every afternoon we’re going to spend some time in one of these rooms until I’m satisfied that you could handle independence in the real world.”

“Except this isn’t the real world,” Dean pointed out. “This is a house. What about shopping and driving and all that shit? What about finding a job? What about doing that job?”

“That’ll come later. First you learn how to handle things inside the house. Then we’ll go over getting in and out of a car, first as a passenger from a wheelchair and then into the driver’s seat. After that, we start taking field trips during occupational therapy. When your physical therapy progresses, we’ll start doing all of it with the prosthetics on.”

Dean took a moment to think about it all. At least part of this meant that he’d need to go out in a wheelchair, with the stumps of his legs hanging out for all to see. The thought made him uncomfortable, but he had a feeling if he said anything Tom would probably start in with that touchy-feely crap again. “What about driving?”

“You’ll need hand controls for that. We’ll work on that, too.” Tom smiled. “It’s a full-service operation, Dean. For today, let’s just work with the tools.”

Dean got a good, long look at several of the tools and was confident he’d be able to recreate them given some materials and a workshop. Once he was back in his room, getting ready for dinner, he sketched out a few plans in one of the notebooks. He had a feeling he could improve the trigger mechanism on the grabbing tool, for one thing, make it easier to handle with fewer fingers. It wasn’t really designed for heavier things either, so he’d need to make one that could handle more than two pounds.

Lisa called just as he was transferring over to the wheelchair to head towards dinner. “I’m on the road now,” she said. “I probably won’t be there until tomorrow morning.” There was music in the background, along with the low hum of a car engine. Dean couldn’t quite identify what was playing. “I managed to finagle a long weekend, so I’ll be there until Monday morning.”

“That sounds great,” Dean said, forcing enthusiasm into his voice. As long as she handled the fact that he no longer had any legs, he would welcome the company. His dad was busy looking for a long-term place that Dean could handle when he got out of the hospital and trying to find work to keep them both fed when that happened. It was honestly a little more than he expected. “I’m not sure how good of company I’ll be, just so you know. I’m so bored I’m about to start climbing the walls. I’ve been here for over a week and the only person I’ve seen who wasn’t hospital staff was my dad.”

“Good, I love a captive audience.” He could hear the smile in her voice and it made him relax a little. “I’m getting ready to merge onto the interstate, so I’m hanging up now. I’ll see you tomorrow, Dean.”

She hung up on her end and Dean closed his cell and tucked it into the pocket of his wheelchair. Part of the therapy was rolling down to dinner on your own, so he took the brakes off and headed down.

The food wasn’t bad, even though they never had pie and rarely had cheeseburgers. Now that they were dialing back on the painkillers he could eat again. He ate quickly and headed back to the room, not quite up to bonding with his fellow patients right now. Maybe after he was a little more settled into the idea of being a cripple. For now, there was a stack of musty books that needed translating and an ancient foreign language to learn. It wasn’t exactly his favorite way to keep occupied, but he couldn’t exactly take his frustrations out on a werewolf or get underneath the hood of a car right now. At least this way he was doing something useful while he figured things out.

He gave up on the books and turned off the light at an unbelievably early hour. Despite the fact that he was physically exhausted from several different sessions of PT, Dean couldn’t keep his eyes closed long enough to go to sleep. He had no idea why he was so nervous about this. Lisa had been great, easily in his top five of sexual encounters and possibly at the top of the list completely, but he hadn’t heard from her since then and he’d definitely left his number. Damn it, why was he overthinking this so much? Dean huffed out an exasperated breath, double-checked for the knife his dad’d smuggled in, closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.

xxx

Lisa had gotten into town somewhere between nine and ten Friday night and managed to drag a sleeping Ben into the small motel room before collapsing on the bed. She’d started having second thoughts about two hours into the drive, brought about by the surprises waiting at the end of this trip. Life had been good, nice and steady, and she couldn’t help but wonder why she was risking that for a man she hadn’t seen in years. Once she introduced Ben to him, Dean would figure it out almost immediately. She had no clue what she was going to do when that shitstorm landed, but there was a good chance it wouldn’t be pretty.

It was hard to figure out why she was doing this at all. Dean had been one of the best memories from those wild days before her son was born, and not just because he had a hand in making Ben. He’d been fun and funny and more generous than she would have expected of someone who’d clearly had a rough upbringing. He had also been firmly rooted down in the past, but for some reason when she saw his name in the paper like that Lisa knew she had to see him again. She still couldn’t say why, exactly, but the idea of turning around without seeing him caused almost physical pain in her heart. No matter what happened, she was in all the way now.

Ben’s even breathing eventually lulled her into a light sleep, though she woke up several times during the night when she heard some odd sounds. It was almost like when birds nest in an unused chimney or something, the sound like fluttering wings. Ben slept like a rock, like always. Earthquakes and tornadoes couldn’t wake up Ben when he was really tired, which was a very good thing sometimes.

She gave up when the sunrise started to lighten the drawn curtains, slipping out of bed and grabbing her bag to take a shower. Afterwards she got dressed in the semi-private conditions of the bathroom and then stood in front of the mirror fiddling with her hair for several minutes before she realized what she was doing and stopped abruptly. She had to wake up Ben, deciding not to force the issue of a bath right then. Tonight or tomorrow morning would be soon enough for that particular argument. His presence would be enough stress today.

She still absolutely refused to do fast food when it came to a breakfast for Ben, but there was a Bob Evans across the street from the hospital and it would probably serve oatmeal and fresh fruit. She might even let Ben have eggs and bacon. That would kill a little time, since visiting hours wouldn’t start until nine-thirty. Lisa had two hours to kill without dwelling on what was about to happen, and she filled the time with Ben. Her son had always been one of her favorite people. He was funny and he liked to help out and he had really, really strange tastes sometimes for a four-year-old. Someday she would like to figure out who turned the kid onto Zeppelin, for instance, but ever since he could toddle around on two chubby legs he would find that CD and hand it over to her.

The time passed quickly with that magnificent distraction and before Lisa knew it visiting hours were about to start. She briefed Ben on the broad strokes of what they were doing as they walked across the parking lot, leaving out the details of who exactly Dean was to him for now. If this went badly, or if the Dean of now didn’t match up to the Dean from her admittedly slightly fuzzy memory, Lisa wanted a way to pull the plug.

There wasn’t a sign-in sheet or any type of receptionist, so she walked past and wandered until she met up with someone in scrubs and with an ID hanging around his neck. The man smiled when she introduced herself, the expression oddly mischievous. “Yeah, I can take you to Dean Winchester. He’s this way.”

He led them back the way they’d come and took a left where she’d taken a right. There was a nurses station, which put her on a little more familiar ground, and then the man turned down a long hallway with patient rooms. “He’s in here.” He knocked on the door and waved. “I found you some visitors wandering the halls, Winchester.”

“Seriously? Or are you just screwing with me?”

“Maybe both,” the guy said. He stood aside and gestured toward the door. Lisa grabbed hold of Ben’s hand and stepped into the room.

Dean was on the bed, dressed in basketball shorts and a T-shirt, and he was still impossibly, unbelievably good-looking. Her eyes traveled down from his face (and now that he was in the same room as Ben, she could see that they had the same nose and cheekbones, and a similar jawline) and stopped on his legs.

Ben asked the question before she could say anything. “What happened to your legs?”

Ben’s presence startled Dean, who looked from him to Lisa with surprise that quickly edged into comprehension. He swallowed hard and looked down at the stumps of his legs, clearly not exactly sure how to explain it to a small child who might possibly be his son. Lisa took pity on him, buried her own shock, and took her son in hand.

“Ben, you need to wait before you can ask that question,” she scolded. She looked back up from her son to Dean, who was staring at her. “So, nice to see you again, Dean. This is my son Ben.”

“Hey, Ben.” There was a quiet, slightly awed (and slightly panicked) tone to his voice. “You sure you want to know?”

Ben nodded and moved in closer. “You don’t have to tell him,” Lisa said. She wasn’t sure if she wanted Dean to tell her son what happened, but hopefully he would have the sense to know what was appropriate for a small child to know.

Dean nodded, his attention still flicking back and forth between Lisa and Ben. “I was hit by a car,” he said, his voice calm, even warm. “My old feet weren’t going to work anymore, so they’re giving me new ones.”

Ben’s eyes turned round at this prospect. “They can do that?”

“It won’t be the same as the old ones, but yeah, they can.” Dean smiled, the expression familiar (and incredibly similar to the one she received from her son when he’d had a good day in preschool). “So, Ben, how old are you?”

“I’m four,” he said, displaying four fingers on his right hand. He then proceeded to tell his entire life story, such as it was, with Dean as the attentive audience. Lisa interjected a comment occasionally, most of which went straight over Ben’s head but made Dean chuckle. She still wanted to talk to him alone, but that would be a problem right now. When Ben made a friend like this, it took a long time to pry him away before he’d shared everything up to what he’d had for breakfast that morning. She was glad the two of them were getting along so well, though. It was a relief, knowing her son got along so well with his father before he even knew who he was talking to. The reasons she’d had for not telling Dean had started to evaporate.

Ben stopped talking only for a bathroom break (at which point he protested that he do it all by himself) and Lisa sidled in closer while he was gone. “So, I guess I shouldn’t have sprung this on you quite like this.”

“No, it’s . . .,” his voice trailed off. “He’s mine, isn’t he?”

She could have probably gotten away with lying, and if he’d shown anything beyond an odd sort of wonder she probably would have. “Yeah, he’s yours. Yours and mine.”

For a second Lisa was worried that he was going to ask the big question right then, when they didn’t really have time to talk, but instead he nodded and looked down, fidgeting like Ben did sometimes when he wanted something but didn’t really know how to ask. She reached for his hand, squeezing it for a moment, and then rested her hand on his cheek. “We’ll find a way to talk about it,” she told him. “Ben has to sleep sometime.”

Dean laughed. “You’d think that, but I still remember when Sammy was four and would fight to stay awake for as long as his possibly could.”

“Ben does that too. Must be genetic.” She smiled. “I never did any such thing, of course. Went right to sleep when my mom sent me to bed.”

“And look where all that lack of rebellion led you,” Dean pointed out, no doubt remembering the long weekend they’d spent together. Lisa laughed at the memory. There was a reason why he was THE Dean, after all.

The toilet flushed. She dropped her hand from his face, but Lisa stayed close to Dean. They really did have to talk, in person, for a fairly long time, and uninterrupted, but for now they had this. The two of them listened and watched Ben as he continued to talk at Dean, only occasionally pausing so that the man could interject some form of encouragement. Her son was usually friendly, but this was a little further than he normally took things. Dean was swiftly becoming Ben’s new best friend.

Around eleven the man who led them to Dean’s room showed up and told them they were welcome to stay for lunch if they wanted. Dean looked at her, his face pleading, and Lisa readily agreed. Hopefully Ben wouldn’t put up a fuss. He was going through an oddly picky stage when it came to food right about now and she wouldn’t want anyone to be insulted because of it.

It was surprisingly decent cafeteria-style food, and Lisa had experienced her share between school and working at a hospital. Dean managed to encourage Ben into eating everything on his tray, even the two servings of vegetables that had ended up on Ben’s tray, by making her son defend his food from Dean. It was a surprisingly simple but effective method of getting a kid to finish his dinner and Lisa couldn’t help but wonder where he’d picked it up.

Ben started to droop shortly after lunch, no doubt worn out from the traveling and the running around he’d done all morning. The recliner in Dean’s room unfolded into something resembling a cot so they put him in there and draped a blanket over him. “Guess we can talk now.”

Dean nodded. “I know why you didn’t call when you found out.” He rubbed at his knee and the top of his thigh and Lisa wondered if he was experience some phantom pain or was simply doing it as a habit. “I’ve never exactly been the kind of guy anyone would consider reliable or trustworthy or anything. Hell, I haven’t had an address for longer than a year since I was four years old.”

“That was a little bit of it,” Lisa agreed. “But it was more about me. I wanted to do everything on my own. It wasn’t exactly fair to you, though, and I’m starting to figure that out. My mom wanted me to go to a clinic, but I just couldn’t do that. When I didn’t do what she wanted she cut me out completely. My sister just graduated high school and found me, but she wasn’t allowed to see or talk to me until then. And I wanted to prove to her that she was wrong, that I could raise Ben by myself, so I didn’t call you or ask for help.”

“He’s a good kid,” Dean said, his voice quiet. “I don’t know that I’d have been all that useful back then, either. I was still a pretty dumb kid four years ago.”

“We both were. We’re not now.” She looked at him, at a body that was a little too thin from a prolonged hospital stay, hazel eyes that her son had inherited, a mouth that she knew made a beautiful smile. The legs would cause some adjusting, but Lisa was open for that. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask if they could try again, but she swallowed down the words instead. She would wait until she was leaving on Monday.

Dean seemed to pick up on what she wasn’t saying and changed the subject. “My dad is coming in tomorrow,” he said, his voice still low. “He had to go out of town to help out a friend. Can he meet Ben?”

She thought about that for a moment, one hand resting on the chair where Ben was sitting while the other was close to Dean’s. Lisa trusted Dean, completely entirely. She wasn’t even entirely sure why, but just being here with him was comforting. His father was a completely unknown quantity, and she didn’t have those same feelings of trust when it came to a man she’d never met. “They can meet,” she said cautiously. “But I don’t want him introducing himself as Ben’s grandfather. Not yet. That will have to come later.”

“I’ll make sure he knows,” Dean promised. “So, is there any kind of yoga you can teach me that I can do with my body like this?”

Lisa laughed and looked at him consideringly. It was a question that had never come up before, oddly enough, but she could see how yoga would help with his muscle cramps and to relax his body after all of the weird ways it would have to compensate for the changes. Cobra would be a good place to start. There were several stretches that focused more on the upper torso, and a few others that she might be able to adapt. “We’ve got some time. Ben’s going to be out for at least a half hour, maybe longer. Want to try a few things and see how they work?”

His answering grin had a slightly wicked edge to it and Lisa rolled her eyes but smiled back. “If you haven’t been doing those stretches like we talked about back when we first met, Winchester, you won’t enjoy this nearly as much as you think.”

xxx

Tom poked his head back into the room once Lisa and Ben were gone for the day. It was pretty late by the time they’d left and he was already starting to fall asleep with the lights on. “You have a nice visit, Dean?”

He couldn’t stop smiling, which was possibly answer enough. “Bite me, Tom.”

The man laughed and sat down in the chair next to Dean’s bed. “I’m pretty sure I’m not your type, given your reaction to her.”

“Super-hot, right? Did I tell you she moonlights as a yoga instructor?”

“Nope.” The smile on his physical therapists face dimmed a little and his expression became a little more serious. “What was with the kid?”

The light mood slipped away, but Dean was still fairly happy. “He’s mine,” he said. “She didn’t tell me about him at the time, but I think she’s changing her mind.”

The other man whistled. “Wow, that’s big. How’d she handle the legs?”

Dean glanced down. “Pretty good, actually. Better than me, I can tell you that.”

“Well, there you go. And hey, at least she showed up with the kid. That’s something, at least.” Tom patted him on the shoulder in a friendly fashion and headed out the door, turning out the lights as he went. “Get some sleep, Dean. This emotional family crap is worse than anything I’m going to put you through any day of the week.”
Dean couldn’t help but agree.

Part 3