Title: If There Is A Flame, Don't Snuff It Out (Garden 'verse, Part 6)
Summary: Dean approaches Lisa with a problem.
Characters: Lisa Braeden, Dean Winchester
Neurotic Author's Note #1: So, uh, hi folks! I'm still here. I told you I had plans for this 'verse, didn't I? So, here I am, continuing those plans. I have other stories to tell, and they'll likely end up out of order, just like in Fusion. This is the story that wanted to be told today. It's set a few years after The Kids Are Still Alright.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: It's my birthday! The universe rewarded me with crippling vertigo, but since I was almost done with this story, I figured a birthday fic would be a nice way to mark the day. Once this is posted, I'm going to turn over in bed (yay laptops!) and have a nap. :P
Neurotic Author's Note #3: You'll have to forgive how rough this is. It honestly feels like I've forgotten how to write in the past year and a half. I'm hoping that if I practice more, I'll get my mojo back properly. This isn't beta'd, either, because I don't want to chicken out before posting it. ;)
Worry is an emotion that has come second-nature to Lisa ever since she became a mother. Even now that Ben is grown and off to college, she still finds ways to worry about him, about whether he's homesick, whether he's keeping safe, whether he's keeping his grades up. Nowadays she doesn't reserve her worrying for Ben alone. The perks of being a wife (common-law only, but it still counts in her mind) and mother to two kids, even if Dean isn't biologically hers, means that now she gets to worry about three people instead of just one.
She rarely worries about herself anymore. Nearly ten years of being a single mother and struggling to make ends meet for at least four of those years served to teach her that there's very little she can't survive. Still, it doesn't mean she's immune to worry, and Sam and Dean sometimes give her more reasons to worry than she can shake a stick at.
There's one cure for worry that has almost never failed her, and that's tea. Sam isn't due home for at least a few hours, and it's not like they're going to get any answers today anyway. While she waits for the kettle to boil she pulls out her box of assorted teas, rummaging through it idly, leaning with her back against the counter, undecided as to which kind might be called for today. It's still early enough that having a black tea won't keep her up all night, but she's been neglecting her green teas of late.
A soft scuffling sound from the doorway to the kitchen catches her attention. She looks up, the box still in her hand, to find Dean hesitating at the threshold, one hand gripping the door frame. He's shot up over the summer. The scrawny, goofy kid is gone, replaced by a lean teenager who's getting better looking with every passing day. She knows he's already turned some heads at school, thanks to the rumour mill, but he's never talked about any girls at school. Not yet, anyway. Sometimes when she looks at him she can see the eager twenty-year-old that she first met, all those years ago. Sometimes, though, his expression shifts slightly, and she sees the haunted man he later became, and it breaks her heart all over again. Right now, though, he's all limbs and feet, the same awkward teenager who's only beginning to figure out what to do with his body.
She smiles. "Hi, sweetie, I didn't hear you come in. I thought you had cross country practice today?"
Dean shakes his head, not moving from where he's standing. "They switched it to Thursdays. It conflicts with football, so they moved us. Where's Sam?"
"Still at the hospital. They're running some more tests, taking samples. The usual. He'll be back by dinner time."
"Right," he stares at the floor, scuffing at the door jamb with the toe of his sneaker.
There's obviously something bothering him, but she's gone through a decade of teenaged years with Ben already, and knows better than to try and force it out of him.
"Want a cup of tea? I just put the kettle on, and couldn't make up my mind about which kind I wanted. I could make Lapsang Souchong, we haven't had that in a while. Why don't you grab the biscuits out of the pantry?" she asks, all but taking the decision out of his hands.
His shoulders straighten a little now that he's been given a purpose in the kitchen. He pulls out not only the box of social tea biscuits from the pantry, but also her favourite green teapot and two mugs from the cupboard without being prompted. While she swirls hot water in the pot to warm it he sets out two spoons, the sugar dish and the jug of milk from the fridge, and drops into one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table, hooking his ankles around the legs.
She joins him a moment later, and pours the tea into both their mugs. She adds a splash of milk to hers, and watches with amusement and also a small pang of sadness as Dean scoops several spoonfuls of sugar into his. Having tea together has been a ritual of theirs since Dean was seven, and asked if he could taste her tea one afternoon. Back then he was a lot more uncertain not only about his place in the household, but also about his own identity, his mind still torn between the new life he was coming to accept, and the old life which kept resurging in confused memories. It had taken a lot of coaxing and multiple tries before he'd let himself put the amount of sugar he really wanted into his cup, because one of his latent memories told him that sugar was expensive and wasn't to be wasted. Sam is the same way, although nowadays he allows himself the one luxury of putting flavoured creamer in his coffee in the morning.
Dean stirs his tea with his spoon well past the point where the sugar would have dissolved. After a moment, he clears his throat, but keeps staring intently at his spoon.
"Mama Lisa, can I ask you about something?"
There it is, she thinks. "Of course, sweetie."
There's a long pause while he fiddles more with his spoon. Must be serious, then. Dean has never been the most open kid, although he's not the type to keep secrets for long, either. She sips at her tea, waiting for him to work up to whatever it is he has to say, and trying very hard not to come up with worst case scenarios.
Eventually he sighs and puts down his spoon. "How do you know if you're in love?"
She has to clamp down very hard on her instinctive reaction to clap her hands and hug him in quick succession, but she can't help but smile until she thinks her face will split right in two. "That's a good question. I think it's different for everyone. Somebody once told me that you'd know you were in love when all the songs about it started to make sense."
Judging by the disappointed look on his face, it's not the answer he was expecting, or wanted. She takes another sip of tea, trying to choose her words more carefully. Surprisingly, Ben never asked her about love, specifically. He asked her about girls, sure, and about what you should do if you liked a girl and wanted her to like you back, but actual love? That was a new one on her.
"In my experience, being in love at first is really wonderful. You find someone you both like and find attractive, and all you want to do is spend as much time with them as possible. Everything about them seems fantastic, and just the thought that they're around somewhere in the world makes everything that much better."
Dean nods, as if what she's saying makes perfect sense, and dunks a biscuit into his tea. She leans forward a bit.
"Has a girl caught your eye?"
He goes bright red, his eyes cutting away from her, and he wipes his hand over his mouth. She's seen that gesture a thousand times before, although he used it more as an adult than as a child. There's something missing from the picture, though she's not quite sure what it is.
"You don't have to tell me yet if you don't want to, but you know, if it's important to you, then it's important to me and Sam, too. We'd love to meet her, if you want to have her over sometime, or—"
"It's not a girl!" Dean blurts.
Lisa stops. Dean is hunched over in his chair, both hands wrapped around his mug, holding it between them like a warding talisman. She can't see the expression on his face, but judging by how red his ears are she's sure his face must still be badly flushed. He looks as though he's braced for a blow, or maybe for some sort of explosion from her, the kind of emotional outburst that his late father sometimes had.
"It's not?" she asks mildly.
He shakes his head, apparently tongue-tied now that he's made his admission.
"I'm guessing it must be a boy, then," she ventures, and he nods. "Does this boy like you back?" Another nod. "Well, okay. We'd still like to meet him, if you want to invite him over. He must be pretty special."
Dean raises his head cautiously, like he's not sure whether this might not be some sort of trap, and her heart breaks for him all over again. "Um, yeah."
"So, tell me about him. What's his name? Do we know him?"
"Um, it's Colin. Colin Murphy. He was in Senior League with me last year… you're not mad?" he seems honestly perplexed.
"Why would I be mad? I'm happy you've found someone who makes you happy." There's going to be a lot more to it than that, of course, but that can wait for another conversation, on another day.
"I just… I thought maybe… I mean, you and Sam…" he stumbles over his words. "I thought you might be mad. That I like boys too."
This probably isn't the time to tell him that she's known for a long time that he's bi. She doesn't remember the exact date when Sam told her about what little he knew of his brother's romantic proclivities, but it's been several years. As far as she knows, Dean never told anyone as long as he was alive. Sam had found out entirely by accident, and had preferred to respect his brother's desire for privacy rather than push him about it. And then, of course, he'd died, and come back, and everything else had gone—sometimes literally—to hell. Somehow, discussions of sexuality had seemed unimportant, then, in the grand scheme of things. Now, of course, it's a whole different kettle of fish.
She reaches across the table and squeezes his hand. "Never. We would never, ever be angry or disappointed because you're in love with someone. I'm sorry you had to worry about that, Dean. It means we never made it clear to you that there is nothing you can say or do that will make us stop loving you. Okay?"
It's like watching a balloon deflate. Dean lets out the breath he's been holding this whole time, nods and swallows hard, his eyes bright. He turns his head away so she won't see the unshed tears there, obviously embarrassed. Lisa and Sam always encouraged him not to keep things bottled up, but there are some habits that are hard to break, even after starting over. She pushes her chair away from the table and gets to her feet.
"Come here, sweetie," she says, holding open her arms.
That's all it takes for him to scramble to his feet and throw himself into her embrace, letting her wrap both arms around his shoulders and squeeze for all she's worth. She can feel his breath hitching a little, but she's pretty sure this is all just relief after holding his doubts and fears tightly inside. She plants a kiss on the top of his head.
"Take a deep breath in," she tells him, and waits until she feels his rib cage expand against her. "That's it, good. Hold it for a second, now let go."
They've been doing breathing exercises together ever since he was a little boy. At first it was simply to soothe him after nightmares and panic attacks, but with Sam working long hours at various construction sites over the years it became a habit for Dean to come hang out at the yoga studio with her after school. Ben was never particularly interested in yoga, but he has his own activities, whereas Dean immediately took a shine to it. When he was very little he was fascinated by the mats and all the funny positions, and as he'd grown older the fascination had matured into real interest. Yoga is her passion, but it's been nice to have something that she shares with Dean other than a complicated past.
After a minute or so he pulls back a little and scrubs at his eyes with his sleeve. "Sorry."
She smooths his hair away from his forehead . "You never have to apologise for needing a hug, baby."
That earns her a scowl. "Not a baby," he mutters mutinously, and she laughs and kisses his cheek.
"You'll always be my baby."
He takes another deep breath. "What about Sam?"
"What about him?"
"Do you think I should tell him? Maybe I should wait. I mean, he's got a lot going on..."
She nods. "I think you should, whenever you feel ready. There's nothing more important to him than you, you should know that. No matter what else is going on in his life, he's always going to want to know what's happening in yours."
"And you think he'll be okay with it?"
She pulls him back into another hug. "I know he will. Sometimes you don't give him enough credit."
Dean sits back down in his chair. The tea is cold now, but it doesn't seem to bother him. He picks up his mug and gives her the widest grin she's seen on him in weeks.
She smiles back, and sits down to face him. "Anytime."