Rating: PG (language)
Warnings: spoilers for Season Six
Author's Notes: Much love to my betas! You know who you are…
Summary: A dog adopts the Braedens after Dean leaves. But since when is anything as it seems when a Winchester has crossed your path? Since about…never.
“So, you want to go to the beach this year?” Lisa coiled her hair up into a sloppy chignon, securing it with a ballpoint pen. The kitchen was heating up fast, even though summer had barely begun its yearly stopover. The windows were open, smoke from Matt’s barbeque filling the kitchen with charbroiled goodness. God, she loved that smell and hated air-conditioning; she’d delay turning it on until the heat got so bad she was practically melting. A little sweat never hurt anyone. It made a person feel cleansed from the inside, out.
Ben looked up from shucking corn at the kitchen table and grinned. “Yeah, I wanna go to the beach! I love the beach.”
“Me too, kiddo.” She felt happiness effervesce in her belly at the sight of her son’s smile. Funny how something so slight, so nonchalant, could bring such contentment. The way Ben’s cheeks chubbed up with unshed puppy pudge and his eyes sparkled.
I’m such a girl, Lisa chuckled to herself, giving the baked beans bubbling on the stove a lazy stir. They all deserved to soak up some rays, get a little sun on their skin. The past year had been, well, calling it “rough” was an understatement. Rather like calling jury duty “winning the lottery.” Life had finally settled back into humdrum standard-issue ordinary, and Lisa couldn’t be more relieved.
It wasn’t that she didn’t miss Dean; make no mistake, she missed him hard. She missed his humor, his mettle, his vulnerability -- though she had to dig pretty deep for that last one.
She even missed how some god-awful early mornings, pre-dawn, he would rouse her from sleep with his dream-stained mumbles, limbs twitching as though he was being punched. She’d untangle the sheets and watch for a just few seconds, bitterly hating whatever fiend was causing his nightmares. Then she would smooth his ruffled hair, lean close to his ear, and whisper his name. Dean, Dean. DEAN. A dozen times, if that’s what it took. Until his eyes would flutter open and he truly saw her. She missed that impossible green, marbled with bronze and far too often, bloodshot from restless nights and worry. Sometimes he’d look so distant, staring at nothing but phantoms, scarred knuckles brushing a beer bottle, back and forth, back and forth. Other times, he’d undress her with those eyes, heavy-lidded and conflicted with need, or have her laughing until she couldn’t catch her breath, lost in his hell-raiser grin and that bottomless, impossible green. Damn it, why did Dean have to carry an airport terminal full of haunted baggage around with him everywhere he went?
They never made it to the beach, she and Dean and Ben. Talked about it lots, tentative plans and daydreams of Cabo or Key West or the black sand beaches of Maui. I mean, how cool is THAT? He’d say. Sand that looks like ash. A burnt beach. Lisa would’ve said “looks like pepper,” but Dean’s inclination was a tad more apocalyptic than that. Understandably.
He probably would have gone up like a roman candle anyway. Sunburning, and eventually that would peel away, leaving behind more freckles in its wake. Just like Ben. Like they coulda, shoulda, woulda been father and son in a different set of lifetimes.
“Hey, babe, can I have a plate for the burgers?” Matt’s face appeared in the window screen over the sink. Lisa dispatched memories of Dean to the corner of her heart that would always be reserved for classic rock, Old Spice, night terrors, and him. Matt was a good man; he owned the rest of it.
“Yeah, sure. Ben, bring me the corn and run this out to Matt.”
“You got it, Mom.”
Ben hadn’t done a fantastic job with the silks, but they’d boil off in the pot. Lisa swapped the corn for a big plastic plate, decorated with graphics of watermelons and bumblebees, and hustled him out the back door.
Yes, contentment was a Good Thing, to borrow from Martha Stewart.
“Lis, that dog’s back.” Matt’s face reappeared at the screen. He gestured with grill tongs towards the other side of the yard.
“Huh, no kidding? He can’t resist your cooking, I guess.” She leaned across the sink and watched Ben charge over to a sizeable, shaggy beast.
“I am the grill master, “ Matt preened, smoothing a hand over his scalp.
Lisa grinned. “You are, big guy. Grill master extraordinaire. With a cherry on top.”
Ben ruffled the dog’s half-perked ears and the dog sat heavily, leaning against Ben with enough authority to nearly topple him. The dog’s big pink tongue lolled sloppily and he eyed Ben with undisguised affection, slobbering and licking at his fingers and thwacking Ben with his flyswatter tail. They knew the dog was a ‘he’, as witnessed by the continual anointing of every azalea bush on the Braeden property. And sometimes he licked his junk, as dogs are wont to do.
Matt chuckled, elbow resting on the sill. “Can we keep ‘im, huh?”
Lisa batted the screen with a dishtowel. “What, you too? This is not a democracy; it’s a benevolent matriarchy.”
“Aw, come on, Lis. That—“ and Matt pointed again with the tongs “—is a cool pooch. He’s not one of those prissy vermin you want to punt across the yard for yapping at the neighbor’s cat. He’s got…presence.”
“Presence, and an enormous appetite. He’ll eat us out of house and home.”
“So will Ben before you know it and we’re not getting rid of him.”
“Oh, hush, you.”
The dog had hopped up and was galloping around the yard like a small horse, Ben in haphazard pursuit and grinning like a fool.
It wasn’t a totally unappealing notion, keeping the dog. Lisa was partial to vagabonds and ragamuffins. And the occasional gypsy, tramp, or thief. The dog qualified under most of those descriptors. He came and went every few days, showing up around dinner time, which would certainly figure if he had no permanent home. He probably hit up a nice bachelorette for breakfast and construction workers at a job site somewhere for lunch.
The dog knew how to work it, Lisa was quite certain. From day one, he had charmed Ben, shoving his long, wet nose into her son’s hand to be scritched under the chin, which indicated to Lisa the creature was well-socialized. Leggy and athletic with a darkish brindle coat longer around the ruff, if she had to guess there might’ve been retriever and greyhound in the gene pool with a good shot of something scrappy, like one of the larger terriers. She wasn’t exactly up on her dog breeds, but whatever the mix, the mutt was personable. And smooth. He could slip a hotdog off the grill with all the panache of the Artful Dodger; sometimes Matt didn’t even notice until he compared franks to buns.
“Okay, meat’s done. You ready to eat, babe?” Matt waggled his brows.
And Lisa cheerfully ignored the innuendo. “I’ll grab the corn. You get Ben. Tell him to wash his hands.”
With Ben, Matt and Lisa settled in around a picnic table on the flagstone patio, the dog pulled the archetypical canine stunt of turning his big, watery, “It’s a hard-knock life” eyes upon every gullible human until he scored a scrap from each plate. After which, he loped off around the house in a great circuit. This was his modus operandi. He’d circle the Braeden home several times, peeing on the landscaping, sniffing at the windows and periodically staring at the neighbors as if making mental notes. Hmm. Who can I hit up for hand-outs next? Like he owned the place. Owned the whole damned block.
“Mom, what should we name him?”
Lisa paused, mid-chew. “Ben, we don’t own him.”
“Why can’t we?”
Matt piped up for the Boys’ Team. “Yeah, why can’t we?” He even added a Ben-like mock pout.
“Guys, honestly, don’t you think he’s a little too clean to be without a home? A little too comfortable with people to be a stray?” She looked from one beggar to the other, wagging an ear of corn.
Ben and Matt exchanged defeated glances, and more pouting ensued.
“Stop it, both of you. Honestly! I feel like I’m stuck in a bad episode of Lassie.”
The table settled into slightly irritable silence, punctuated by the cicadas and Derek Van Pelt’s overly-loud car radio. He probably had his girlfriend visiting, with her embarrassingly short shorts and so much perfume you could smell her across the street.
After five minutes of sulking, which was five minutes too long on a beautiful summer evening like this, Lisa sighed and gave an inch. “Alright, you two. Here’s the deal. If the dog decides to stay, if he doesn’t run off again, he’s ours. Or rather, we can be his—”
“Awesome! Thanks, Mom!”
“Don’t get too excited, Ben…it’s up to the dog.”
“What? What’s chewy?”
Matt chimed in. “Chewbacca, hun. We’re going to name him Chewie. If he stays.”
“Seriously?” Lisa laughed and already pitied the poor dog. “You guys had this all planned out, didn’t you? Fine, Chewie it is.” She scanned the table for her drink, realizing she’d neglected to get herself one. “Anyone want a beer?”
Matt nodded, mouth full of hotdog. “I’ll take one.”
“Me too.” Ben slid that in there, real casual-like.
“Nice try, sport.” Lisa playfully mussed his hair, mostly because she knew he’d pull a face and dodge away, like any good ‘tween should.
Lisa padded back into the kitchen, flip-flops making that fleshy, slappity sound as she walked. It was a splendid sound, another portent of summer and the beach and steamy nights on the porch swing with the stars and Matt. She fished two beers and a Coke from the ‘fridge and was heading back to dinner when she heard something at the front door. Something that wasn’t the doorbell or a knock or Death Cab for Cutie from Derek’s stereo. Something that sounded like it was inside the house.
Her blood ran cold in a way it hadn’t since Dean left. Oh, god, when was the last time she checked the salt lines?! Where was the shotgun?! Shit shit shit. Lisa shot a glance over her shoulder to the guys, her guys, her whole life. Matt couldn’t know if it was something not natural, something she couldn’t explain without dragging him into the Winchester World of Weird. And Ben…well, that went without discussion.
She stepped out of her flip-flops and slipped a considerable knife from the butcher’s block. Nauseous with raw dread, Lisa prayed her belly didn’t up-end and betray what little stealth advantage she had. Flat to the wall, pressed tight, knife in a white-knuckled death-grip, Lisa rounded the corner. More scratching. Claws on the hard wood of the foyer. The front door was flung wide, and she could see by the fading light of dusk the stooped, bestial shape of—
“Chewie? What the hell?!”
The dog looked up at Lisa as though he recognized his new name. And disapproved. His teeth snapped together in a small, curious yip.
The entry rug had been shoved aside in a pile, all topsy-turvy, revealing a devil’s trap Lisa almost forgotten was there. Positioned by Dean. His handwriting had been chicken-scrawl, but when he set a devil’s trap, he was as meticulous as a surgeon. Lisa rushed over and shooed the dog out the open door with a swat and a scowl. She quickly flipped the rug straight, taking a moment to allow the adrenaline to bleed from her system before she could effectively use her knees again. Stupid creature. How on earth did he get the door open? Hello, no opposable thumbs! Damn, she’d have to be more careful, if only to avoid a premature heart attack. Relief rolled over her in a warm, tremulous wave.
By the time Lisa had gotten her legs back, returned the knife, retrieved her sandals and the drinks, Chewie was leaping wildly around the back yard, chasing the stream of a garden hose wielded by Ben. Both were soaked to the skin. When Matt saw Lisa, he feigned a stern expression and shouted. “Hey, I told you to water the azaleas, not the dog!”
“Uh-huh, sure you did.” Lisa ran a cold beer across the back of Matt’s neck, making him lurch and shiver. She twisted off her own cap and took a big, long swallow of liquid mellow. Lord knew she needed it.
Ben and the newly appointed Chewie fooled around like river otters for another half-hour. The sun had dipped low and orange in the sky, staining the world in warm nostalgic hues and heralding the arrival of mosquitoes. Matt fired up a few citronella candles, perfuming the air with the repellent’s familiar lemon-and-wax-and-vanilla scent. This was longer than the dog usually graced them with his presence. Maybe he would stay. Hang around a while, become part of the family. Or…maybe not.
As soon as Lisa entertained that thought, the dog stopped, almost mid-stride. He canted his head and let out a grumble. Listening. Whimpered once, twice. Ben dropped the hose and listened too, setting a hand on the dog’s haunches. Chewie threw a quick look to Ben and licked the boy’s fingers. Then the dog loped off at a purposeful gallop, not so much as one glance back.
He sat on the hood of the Impala and watched as fireflies began to pepper the space and time between here and now.
The air smelled like suburbia, full of barbeque and honeysuckle and the electric hum of cookie-cutter civilization. Parked up and down the block were black Beemers and green hybrids, all glittering with diamond drops from the automatic sprinklers. It might’ve been something he thought he wanted once upon a time, something he could grow into despite an almost complete unfamiliarity with what most people considered normal. But there would never be any sort of normal if your last name was Winchester. And there would never be safety for anyone you loved. It sucked harder than a universe full of riptides. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t easy but sometimes, it was just…funny.
Funny, like Sam stomping out of the luxuriant rows of ornamental Japanese maples, bare-ass naked and dripping wet. Dean kept blowing the tiny dog whistle, cheeks ballooning with the effort, until Sam snatched the thing from his mouth and rocketed it into the next county with one authoritative fling.
Dean lifted palms to the heavens, miming “What?!” Sam, in return, narrowed his eyes and got up in Dean’s grill, nostrils flaring in the patented Sam Winchester Display of Irritation. The ol’ Sammy bitchface.
“Ouch,” was all Sam said.
Dean’s mouth worked silently, a dozen snappy comebacks frozen on the tip of his tongue because in this moment, with Sam hulking only inches away and madder than a kicked nest of hornets, he chose to exercise rare discretion and choke back any retort. Sam was doing this for him, after all. They didn’t have to be here, canvassing Lisa’s neighborhood, subversively infiltrating her life right under the boyfriend’s nose. Play Misty For Me, anyone? Hell, if Lisa knew, she’d rip the nearest Winchester a new asshole with her bare hands.
They should’ve been utilizing Sam’s preternatural senses to track that kitsune in Minnesota, or fuck up the mob of ghouls terrorizing Bucyrus, Ohio. Sam was blatantly uneasy with the hypocrisy of his situation, now that he had his soul tucked neatly back in his belly, memories of his soulless self dammed behind some unreliable barricade that could crumble at any moment. Just desserts after that vampire stunt he pulled on Dean. It took heavy cajoling to get Sam to see the “good” fortune behind a skinwalker bite. And Dean had to promise not to get him neutered.
Meanwhile, Bobby was consulting one Prof. Lola White Crow (which Dean asserted was an awesome porn-star name) at Oglala Lakota College, and there were strong indications a remedy was right around the corner. Dean had to milk it while he could, though he was beginning to realize this was a bad idea, keeping tabs on Lisa and Ben.
Every time Sam returned with an update, the harsh knot of regret tightened in Dean’s gut until he nearly choked on it. Yeah, it was the one thing in Dean’s life he actively regretted and was helpless to put right. The situation was at least partially Sam’s fault for making Dean promise to go to Lisa, and then staying gone that entire year even though it…it might’ve been the best thing for Dean at the time. Sam owed him this, Dean rationalized bitterly, but it did make him more measured in his responses to Sam.
So when Sam breached his personal space, Dean simply put a palm to Sam’s chest and pushed, biting back a grin.
“Dude, you’re dripping on the threads. And you smell like-“
“Don’t say “wet dog” or I’ll piss on the Impala. I swear.”
Aghast, Dean rubbed the hood and tsked in offense. “Don’t listen to him, baby, he didn’t mean it.”
“The hell I didn’t…” Snorting, Sam stepped away, giving his head a suspiciously canine shake to fling the water from his hair. There was a duffel full of clothes on the trunk, waiting for him.
Dean gave him a few minutes to get his pants on—why Sam liked button-fly jeans, Dean could never fathom—before circling back around.
“So, they okay?”
Sam looked up, nodded, shrugged into a dry t-shirt. “Yeah, they’re still fine. Grilled out. Again. I think someone’s got a fetish.”
“That would be Lisa,” Dean chuckled, but it was a cheerless sound and the laugh didn’t reflect in his eyes. He scuffed his boots through the perfectly manicured grass and pined for a whiskey, super-sized. Every fucking time he smelled a cook-out, a campfire, a god-damned burnt marshmallow, he was reminded of Lisa. Used to be the house fire in Kansas but the years, and Lisa, changed that. “Ben still need a haircut? Did they fix that loose railing on the porch? Has Dr. Wonderful died yet?”
“Dean.” Sam paused, belt half-fished through the loops, fixing his brother with an expression full of furrowed brow. “They’re good. Look, Lisa’s tough. Still salting the perimeter. No sulfur, no hex bags. Ben’s doing great….”
Dean noted Sam didn’t mention Matt, despite the goad. Last time he did, Dean went apoplectic and almost put his fist through the Impala’s windshield. It was a knee-jerk reaction that felt as raw now as it did then as it ever would. As much as he ached with the desire, Dean couldn’t thread Lisa and Ben safely through this life, and then come and go from theirs like a short in the wiring. They tried that. It was a miserably failed experiment. She made it crystal clear Dean had to stay gone, for her, for Ben. It forced that bitter twist in his gut, even now. Probably always would.
“Yeah, well, I worry. I’ve gotta worry, you know? It’s my job; it’s what I do.”
“I know.” Sam finished buckling the belt and rubbed at his chin. Since going all skinwalker, his face was constantly rough with stubble. “But we can’t bodyguard them twenty-four/seven. At some point, you’ve just got to trust that Lisa and Ben are safe.”
“Trust. Trust? Like, what? Trust that Heaven isn’t warring and demons are make-believe and people don’t die in horrible, unnatural ways? Really, Sam?” Dean found the cock-eyed optimist routine stretched absurdly thin.
“Fine. What do you want to do, Dean? You want me to bite your ass so you can be their Benji? Think that’ll fly?”
Dean wilted and dragged a hand over his face. “No. Shit, no. One monster in the family is one too many.”
Sam’s mouth thinned into a tight line; he clearly chose to ignore the mean-spirited comment and Dean should’ve been glad for it. And he was. Mostly. “Look, I’m sorry it all tanked, Dean. Our stupid lives. Sucks to be us sometimes.”
“Most of the times. Alright, fine. Let’s blow these little pink houses. I need a drink. Or three. Or nine.” He hesitated, fingers on the door handle, wishing for just a moment he hadn’t spit all that venom at Sam. Because Sam was an easy target. And let Dean vent. And had the nerve to be taller. And was still a whiny brat. And would always be his baby brother, in spite of it all. “Oh, hey Sammy?”
Dean rocked back on his heels, pushing out a beleaguered sigh. “Thanks.”
Hopping into a sneaker, Sam still watched Dean with mild concern. “Sure, no prob-”
The other sneaker sailed across the roof of the Impala and had Dean not dodged the shoe it would’ve clocked him upside the head, but good. He grinned and this time, his crow’s feet creased in shit-eatin’, genuine amusement. Yep, sometimes if you squinted just so and didn’t think on it too long, life could be funny.