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Part IV
blue moon


What Sam had assumed would be a long afternoon actually progressed fairly quickly. The syllabus for his psych class had been predetermined by his predecessor, but as he studied the course objectives he realized that it would be easy to tailor it to his own style of teaching. 

It wouldn’t be his first teaching gig, but he was excited about it nonetheless. The introductory class was well beneath his abilities and qualifications, but it offered him a chance to prove himself to the powers that be and would require a minimum of prep time in terms of lesson plans. That, in itself, was a plus – as it shouldn’t interfere at all with his plans to slowly work his way into Dean and Isabella’s lives. 

Despite the vague uncertainty of both his teaching status at the university and his relationship with Dean, Sam couldn’t help but be pleased at how things were progressing. For two days a week he would be doing something that he loved to do and for three mornings per week he would be spending time with Dean - the person he loved most in the world. Small steps, but steps in the right direction nonetheless.

Having showered and dressed in his best that morning, Sam filled his last few minutes of waiting by washing his face, brushing his teeth and applying the smallest dab of cologne to the base of his throat. The scent reminded him fondly, but fleetingly of Jess. She had given it to him as a gift on the one and only Christmas they had shared as a couple. She loved to stand on her tip toes and bury her face in the crook of his neck whenever he wore it. The bottle was small and ridiculously expensive so Sam tended to save it for special occasions. His first dinner with Dean in over five years certainly qualified as far as he was concerned. 

At ten minutes past five, Sam was still patiently waiting. Dean was late. Surprise, surprise.  Apparently some things never changed. Dean was many things - but punctual had never been one of them. It used to annoy the hell out of Sam. Not so much now, he thought as he quirked a small smile. Funny how losing someone could suddenly transform their most irritating habits into wonderfully endearing quirks. It was another five minutes before he heard the familiar rumble of the Impala and Dean finally pulled into the motel parking lot. 

"Hey,” he and Dean spoke in unison as he slipped into the front seat. Sam noticed that his brother had opted for comfort and changed into a faded pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. He turned to address Isabella, who had also donned more casual attire. 

"Hi, Sweetie," he said and watched as she tipped her head, eyes narrowing the tiniest bit, no doubt deciding if the familiarity was going to be allowed. It was so indicative of Dean that Sam was once again filled with wonder at her mere existence. "How you doin', Spooky?" Sam acknowledged the small kitten in her grasp.  

This earned him a bright smile as Isabella held the cat up for inspection. Spooky was now sporting a red harness, which wasn't totally surprising given his wandering ways, but the matching red ribbon barrettes at each ear had Sam at a loss for words. 

"Isn't he pretty?" Isabella asked expectantly. 

"Ah..." Sam looked to Dean as he groped for the right thing to say, and found no help there.

"Don't ask,” Dean said with a small head shake, though his affection and amusement were obvious. "Just be glad I didn’t have any red fingernail polish on hand or you’d have been waiting another fifteen minutes.” 

"Yeah,” Sam brought his focus back to Isabella, "Sure." Then when it appeared she was studying him to gauge his sincerity he added, "Red is definitely Spooky's color."

That, it appeared, was the perfect thing to say. Extremely proud and pleased at the proclamation, Isabella gave an authorative little nod that could only indicate she had known this all along. Man, she was cute. Up to this point, Sam’s affection for Isabella was based solely on the fact that she was Dean's child. That was slowly beginning to change. The more time he spent in Isabella's company, the more he grew to enjoy her for herself. 

Olivia lived on the outskirts of town, just a few miles beyond Walkers. Thankfully, the relatively brief ride didn't allow for much in the way of awkward silences. Sam really didn't think he could take that. Just the fact that he was sitting here in the Impala making what amounted to small talk with his brother was surreal enough in itself. 

As they parked Sam cocked an eyebrow at Dean. Where are we? He wasn't supposed to know where they were going of course and since they had already met in front of Dean's home, he knew this wasn't it. Dean smiled and gave a nod towards the house. Trust me. That part was easy. Sam waited as Dean helped Isabella out of her seat and trailed behind them to the door. Dean entered without knocking and despite the fact that someone very obviously was home, he called out, "Anyone home? We've got company."  

Isabella took off at a trot towards what Sam assumed was the kitchen. A warm wonderful smell enveloped him and Sam actually felt his stomach rumble in anticipation. He followed Dean in the same direction Isabella had disappeared and heard Olivia's exclamation of delight at Spooky's makeover. 

Olivia was kneeling before Isabella when they entered. Her eyes met Dean's and widened as they skipped to Sam. Olivia looked surprised, but extremely pleased as she got to her feet. She made her way to Dean, placing a hand on his shoulder as he automatically bowed his head, allowing her to kiss him on the cheek. 

"And who is this?" She asked focusing her attention on Sam, who was still amazed that Dean allowed such open and public displays of affection. 

Dean turned to him saying,”I’d like you to meet my mother-in-law, Olivia Walker." He then turned to Olivia. "This is Sam...." Dean seemed to suddenly realize he didn't know Sam's last name.

"Winchester,” Sam supplied.

"Welcome, Sam." Olivia stepped forward and took his hand, smiling sincerely as she looked up at him. Sam had the feeling that she was very pleased by his presence but was deliberately toning it down for Dean's sake. She looked at him for a minute before recognition set in. "You go to our church, don't you?" 

Sam nodded, warmed by her friendly demeanor. "Pleasure to meet you ma’am." She had let go of his hand at this point and glanced over at a smirking but silent Dean.

"Ma’am?" She repeated, clearly not happy with that. "Oh, no. I'm afraid that won’t do at all. No one calls me ma’am.” Then she amended with a playful smile, “Except those little heathens at the market who bag my groceries.”  

She waved her hand dismissively. "Call me Liv,” she said, adding with emphasis, “please.” 

"You got it,” Sam agreed with a smile, "Liv." 

The stovetop was bubbling and boiling with a variety of dishes, one of which was about to simmer over. 

"Dean, honey, can you turn the heat on that back burner down?" Liv asked, still gazing at Sam. 

As Dean turned to comply, Sam caught the twinkle in his eye. "Sure thing, ma’am."

Olivia rolled her eyes, but was obviously amused by his behavior. "Now look what you've started." Sam had a feeling he'd gotten points for being the source of Dean's mischief. 

"Sure thing ma’am,” Isabella repeated Dean's words, picking up on the playful commentary.   Stepping around Spooky to open the ‘fridge, Dean laughed out loud. It was music to Sam’s ears.

"Oh, not you too, Bella." Liv looked down at her granddaughter in mock disappointment, which only caused Isabella to giggle all the more.

Dean grabbed a bottle of beer and tipped it in Sam's direction. At Sam’s affirming nod, Dean retrieved one for himself as well. 

"Okay, boys, unless you want to be put to work, time to clear out." As Liv moved by Sam in search of a serving dish she looked up at him. She was 5'3" to his 6'4" frame. 

"Good Lord,” she exclaimed. "What does your mother feed you?" 

Sam chuckled good naturedly and tried to move out of her way but something in his eyes must have caught her attention. Liv's gaze sharpened. She was observant, that one. He was going to have to be careful around her. 

"Game's on in the other room,” Liv said, rooting around in the cupboard for her platter. "Last I heard, the Sox were down by one." It was a dismissal if he ever heard one. "It'll be another twenty minutes before dinner's ready." 

Dean didn't have to be told twice. After handing Sam his beer they both retreated to the living room where they spent the next fifteen minutes or so discussing the unpredictability that was the Boston Red Sox. Dean watched the game. Sam watched Dean. 

Isabella drifted back and forth between Dean and Liv until she decided that Spooky was in need of a trip outside in lieu of an available litter box. With Dean's consent she slipped out the sliding glass doors to the patio. The large backyard was completely enclosed by a six foot fence and was just as meticulously kept as the front of the home. Two large trees bisected the area – one was a weeping willow towards the far end with thin drooping branches swaying gently in the mild breeze. The other was closer to the center of the yard and shaded a picnic table. From his seat, Sam could see a portion of a swing set and various toys for riding or tossing that sprinkled the lawn. 

Sam noticed that Dean's gaze flickered out to Isabella every few minutes. It appeared to be out of habit more than anything, as from what Sam could see, the yard was completely secure. It reminded him of the way Dean always watched out for him – and how much he had taken for granted and been oblivious to. 

At the bottom of the seventh inning, the Red Sox managed a run that tied up the game. With the bases loaded, it offered a distraction too compelling to ignore. When Liv popped in a few minutes later in search of Isabella to help set the table, Dean was so engrossed in the game that she had to ask him twice where she had wandered off to. She shared a quick glance with Sam, not bothering to hide her affection.

Liv paused at the patio doors, surveying the yard. "Are you sure Bella went outside? I don't see her." 

Sam marveled at the response in Dean at those words, as if a switch had been flipped. He was up and at Liv's side within seconds, eyes scanning the back yard. Sam followed them both outside in search of Isabella. Liv's startled gasp had them joining her at the picnic table. 

"Isabella Louise Matthews,” Liv’s voice was slightly panicked, “what in heaven's name are you doing in that tree?"

The answer soon became obvious with Spooky's pitiful mewl. Isabella was about fifteen feet above Sam's head and Spooky was another five above that. Dean had already hopped up on to the picnic table and was surprisingly calm. 

"Isabella,” his voice commanded her attention in a way Liv's had not. She stopped climbing and looked down at him. Sam may have been mistaken but it almost seemed as if the child was actually a little irritated at the interruption.

"Spooky's stuck,” she said as if that explained everything. 

"Spooky's fine,” Dean assured her. "I need you to come back down, darlin'."

"But..." she started. Dean wasn't in the mood for a debate.

"Now Isabella." 

Sam had heard that tone before. Unconsciously, he straightened his spine. Isabella responded immediately, recognizing in Dean's voice the futility in pleading her case further. She looked around and then down, face growing suddenly uncertain. So focused on her attempt to reach Spooky, Isabella hadn't even considered how she would get back down.

"You're fine,” Dean saw the change in her expression, his voice confident and soothing. "You're going to climb back down the same way you went up." 

Isabella looked doubtful, “I can't." 

"Yes, you can." Dean's calmness was reflected in his voice. "Just listen to Daddy's voice. I want you to find a place to put your right foot." 

Isabella hesitated but did as she was told.

"Your other right, darlin’,” Dean interjected before she could over extend her left foot. 

She made a little noise that brought Liv's hand to the base of her throat.

It was a tense few minutes as Isabella slowly made her way down. Sam realized as she climbed that she was a natural; testing each limb and toe-hold to make sure it was secure before letting it take her full weight. She did exactly what Dean told her to do, when he told her to do it. If by some chance she did manage to fall, she never would have hit the ground: Dean was ready to catch her at any point. 

The drama with Isabella distracted Spooky from his own predicament. He watched her descent silently. When Isabella was within arms reach of Dean she launched herself at him. 

"I did it!" She shouted proudly as he caught her. Dean returned her hug and congratulated her. "See, I told you, you could do it." 

"But,” he added, turning serious as she pulled away, “you are never to do that again without asking Daddy. Do you understand?"

"But, I had to get Spooky,” Isabella countered.

"Do. You. Understand?" Dean drew her gaze when she would have looked up at the cat, unwilling to allow any deflection. 

She had a hard time keeping his gaze, and she chose to nod rather than answer. 

Dean softened his voice a little at that, but remained serious. "Spooky may have nine lives, but Izzy B’s only get one. You need to be careful." 

She nodded again and Dean put her down on the picnic table. Isabella's feet had barely touched the surface when Liv lifted her into her arms. Liv looked into her granddaughter’s little face and just shook her head in exasperation. Hugging her again she met Dean's eyes over Isabella's shoulder, content to let his word be the last on the subject. 

Spooky chose that moment to remind everyone of his precarious position. Unlike Isabella, the kitten seemed to be absolutely terrified of heights and was visibly trembling, clinging to his limb for dear life.

"Oh,” Isabella’s distress mirrored Liv's from only moments before. 

Dean tried his best to coax the frightened cat down, but Spooky refused to budge. The look Dean gave Sam indicated he would be perfectly fine leaving the little troublemaker where he was. If it weren't for the fact that Isabella would likely be beside herself if he did, Sam was pretty sure Dean would have left him there, at least until after dinner. 

It was easy to see where Isabella had started her climb. There were some very good foot holds within reach once the child climbed atop the table. Dean bypassed those and launched himself off the table to catch an overhead branch. He caught another with his feet and used his momentum to push upward. Sam decidedly ignored the golden expanse of belly revealed as Dean’s shirt rode up during his climb. It was completely insane how erotic he found both the movement and the glimpse of skin it exposed. The warm spot it lit within him refused to be dimmed, despite the inappropriate timing.   

Liv wasn’t as animated in her concern with Dean doing the climbing, but nearly so. Isabella wasn’t faring much better, but all her concern seemed to be for Spooky. The cat refused to budge and Dean was forced to pry his little claws from the branch. Spooky responded by finding the next available surface to sink them into. Dean hissed as the cat scurried up his arm and onto an adjacent limb. Sam knew his brother was getting irritated when he saw the tilt and tightening of Dean’s jaw. 

Removing his outer shirt, Sam hopped up onto the picnic table and got Dean’s attention. “Here, try this.” Rolling the shirt into a tight ball he tossed it to Dean. 

"Perfect,” Dean said as he caught it. 

Spooky wasn’t all that keen on the idea at all and continued to struggle as Dean tucked him into the shirt and wrapped it loosely around him. Dean waited until the kitten stilled before cradling him in one arm and beginning his descent.   

Liv placed Isabella on the ground and was kneeling next to her as Dean joined them and went to his knees in front of her. Spooky was none the worse for wear - despite his wild-eyed look as Dean unwrapped him and carefully placed him in Isabella's arms. She met his gaze and the look in her eyes said it all.

My hero.

Dean smiled at her, loving and gentle. It nearly took Sam's breath away. It was a brief, beautiful moment that inadvertently excluded everyone. Sam felt something within him tremble at the realization. He had shared that with Dean once. He knew this was different, that it would naturally be so between parent and child, but at the same time he couldn't help but mourn the loss. Sam wanted that connection with his brother back so badly that it was a near physical ache. 

Dean rose to his feet, completely oblivious to Sam's inner emo moment, and declared, "I'm starving." Then with a hand to Sam's shoulder said, "Let's eat." 

Since most of the dishes had to be reheated, dinner turned out to be a coordinated group effort. While Liv warmed the side dishes in the microwave Sam set the table in the dining room. Dean poured everyone a drink and then made sure Isabella had a final trip to the bathroom before being seated. Sam transferred the last of the food to the table as Liv made up a plate for Isabella – cutting all of her food into tiny bite-sized portions. 

There was a pause as they took their seats. Sam sat across from Isabella with Dean and Liv on either side of him. “Okay,” Liv said holding her hands out to both Sam and Isabella. Sam took her hand in his right and Dean’s in his left. “Sam?” She questioned softly. “Would you like to say grace?”

He wasn’t totally surprised at the request, being a guest and all. Just as he was about to respond, Isabella piped in with, “It’s my turn.” 

“Izzy B.”


Dean and Liv spoke at the same time. Sam could tell that a lesson in proper guest etiquette was likely to follow. 

“It’s okay,” he said, “Really.” In deference to him, and in all probability, assuming that he was uncomfortable with the request both subsided. “Go ahead, sweetie,” he said to Isabella.

“Dear, God…”

The corner of Sam’s mouth quirked slowly upward as Isabella went on to thank God for pretty much anything that crossed her mind, everything except for the food before her, that is. Eyes closed and head bowed, Sam listened but let his attention drift to Dean’s hand. Settled lightly within his, wrist resting against the table, Sam fought the urge to run his thumb over the top of Dean’s fingers or give the solid warmth a squeeze. 

He chanced a glance out of the corner of his eye as he felt his brother fidget. Dean was regarding Isabella with amusement, but clearly searching for an appropriate time to interject. His opportunity came as she took a breath. He coughed politely and caught her attention, reminding her to actually bless the food. Sam had another moment of pure affection for her when she actually managed to look sheepish. 

His smile garnered her attention and inspired a final acknowledgment once the food was blessed. “And thank you God for Daddy’s new friend, Sam. Amen.”

“Amen.” Dean and Liv chimed in. 

Dinner consisted of baked chicken and potatoes, an assortment of colorful steamed vegetables and homemade, whole wheat dinner rolls. Sam was reminded of the obituary he'd read for Liv's husband Ramsey and suspected that this heart-healthy style of cooking was a direct result of having lost a loved one to the clogged arteries of a heart attack.

Sam fought the urge to shake his head as Dean drowned everything on his plate in butter – obliterating as much nutritive content as possible. Some things never changed. Liv didn't bother to hide her exasperation, mild as it was. "Dean, honey, the butter is not a side dish." 

"Hmmm?" Dean paused around a mouthful of the roll he had buttered to perfection. She smiled at him and shook her head, letting it go and, sharing a, what can you do? shrug with Sam.

The meal was delicious and Sam said so, more than once. Liv beamed under the praise, much like Dean had when Sam complimented the Impala. The more everyone ate, the more pleased she seemed to be. In between the bartering with Isabella to eat more of her vegetables if she wanted more chicken, much of the conversation, at first, revolved around Sam. 

Liv, more so than Dean, was curious about his family and where he grew up. Having lived her whole life in the area she was convinced she should at least know who his family was, if not know them personally. In preparation for the inevitable questions, Sam had taken the time to establish a convincing back story. It wouldn't withstand intense scrutiny - but he was banking on the fact that Liv was polite enough not to delve too deeply.

Most of her questions were general in nature and he responded in kind. He suspected as they got to know each other better that would change - but for now it suited his purposes fine. Despite his cover story, Sam did his best to stick to the truth as much as possible. It would lessen the chance of tripping up later. 

"Where is your family now?" Liv asked.

"There's just me, my dad and my brother." Sam saw Liv's eyes narrow in interest at the omission of his mother but he'd already decided now was not the time to discuss that. "My dad's on the road a lot with his work. Never in one place very long."

"And you and your brother? Are you close?" Sam resisted the urge to glance at Dean who had grown noticeably quiet as the discussion progressed. Instead, he looked down.

"We were once." Sam heard the regret in his voice, knew Liv did too when he met her gaze. "We sort of lost touch when I left for Stanford." 

"Stanford?" Liv said, impressed. 

"Can I have some more milk?" Isabella interrupted. 

Liv checked her plate over. Apparently pleased with the amount of food she'd eaten she tapped Isabella on the nose and said, "Yes, you may. Would anyone else like...?"

Sam looked up from his food when she paused, head snapping to his brother. "Dean, honey, are you okay?"

Dean didn't answer at first. Elbows on the table, food half eaten, he was massaging his temples with the tips of his fingers. 

"Dean?" Liv tried again. He opened his eyes, corners still pulled back in pain. "Yeah,” Dean sounded surprised to be the sudden focus of attention.  "Just a headache. I didn't sleep all that well last night…" He tried to smile. "Guess it finally caught up with me." 

Liv eyed him critically before getting up to get Isabella's milk. Dean made an attempt to go back to his meal but ended up just pushing the food around on his plate. 

"Hey,” Concerned when Dean brought the heel of his hands to his eyes, Sam reached for him, hand settling lightly on his bicep. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Fine,” Dean finally answered. "I'm fine. I just get..." He paused to take some deep, measured breaths. "... headaches sometimes." Dean’s voice grew softer with each word. 

Liv returned with a cup of milk that she placed in front of Isabella and a bottle of Tylenol.

"Here,” She popped the cap off the bottle and stood next to Dean, "How many do you need, Hon?" 

Dean took the bottle and dumped its contents into his hand. Sam frowned and Liv looked more than a little alarmed when Dean tossed them all into his mouth, chewing them up like candy. Sam figured there had to have been anywhere between six and eight tablets. Dean barely grimaced at the taste. Liv did it for him, shuddering in empathy as she reached for his water. 

"Drink this." She held a glass to his lips. Eyes closed, Dean took several small sips. Once he was finished he carefully cradled his head in his hands, shoulders relaxing minimally. Offering the only comfort she could, Liv ran a hand over Dean’s hair and down to the nape of his neck. “You’re okay,” Liv assured and Sam was reminded of Dean’s soothing words to Isabella in the tree. “Give it time to work. You’ll be just fine.” Sam got the impression that Liv had done this before. He felt his own worry increase.  

As the tension in Dean’s body began to slowly ease, Liv returned to her seat.  She did her best to return dinner to some semblance of normalcy. Sam played along, allowing Dean the recovery time he needed.

"So, Stanford?" Liv prompted Sam quietly. He reluctantly brought his focus back to her.

Sam shared how he'd started out pre-law until he'd stumbled across his love for teaching completely by accident. While his academics at Stanford were paid for, little else was. He learned quickly that he would have to work in order to survive. He’d done everything from washing dishes at an on-campus cafe to a very brief stint at a reputable escort service. It was during his sophomore year that his friend Dave turned him on to the three night training course that would certify him as a substitute teacher. He wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it at first. Any work he got would be call-in, very last minute, and would have to come second to his own classes. Sam wanted something more predictable. Eventually, though, he’d let Dave talk him into it. It was a decision that changed the course of his life. 

Both Sam and Liv kept their voices low but neither could avoid the frequent and concerned glances in Dean's direction. Isabella had finished her meal, and with Liv's prompting was quietly playing with Spooky on the dining room floor. Liv urged Sam to continue. 

The first two times Sam had been called in to sub, he'd had to decline due to a scheduling conflict. He thought for sure that he’d be blacklisted after that and never get another call. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.   It was a complete stroke of luck that the local high schools and the university did not share the same vacations during the academic year. Sam ended up doing a full week of subbing during his winter break. And at $75.00 per day was grateful to do it. It was during that time Sam discovered not only that he loved what he was doing, but that he was truly gifted when it came to connecting with his students. He managed to capture their attention and engage their minds, surprising himself in the process of doing so. His natural talent did not go unnoticed. After that, he was placed at the top of the call in list and got first dibs on any extended gigs, such as vacations and medical leaves. That same year he was offered his first regular teaching position for the extended summer school session. 

"I changed my major the next semester,” he didn't bother to add that it was against the advice of his advisor. 

"Thank God,” Dean’s voice was sand paper rough as he finally joined the conversation, eyes still closed. "Like the world needs more lawyers." 

The comment surprised a laugh out of Sam and he saw Dean wince at the sound. He'd assumed his brother was in too much pain to be following the conversation. Dean took a few deep breaths and held himself carefully but eventually took note of the plate of food sitting in front of him. When he picked up his fork and showed some remote interest in finishing his meal, Liv was up and moving.

"Let me heat that up for you, hon."

She was out of the dining room with his plate before Dean could say anything one way or another. Sam noticed Dean's response time was still a little slow but he seemed to be coming back to himself.

"You okay?" Sam asked. To his surprise Dean looked embarrassed rather than defensive. 

"Yeah,” Dean met his gaze briefly, but let it slide back down to the table. "Sorry about that. Dinner's not usually so dramatic 'round here."   He smiled, but it was a pale imitation of his usual charm. 

Sam fought the urge to lift that chin, to make Dean meet his gaze.  He wanted so badly to offer some form of comfort. Unable to he instead asked, "You get headaches like that often?"

Dean did look up then, gauging whether or not he wanted this to be any of Sam's business. 

"Not like that,” Dean said, and Sam felt himself exhale, grateful for the trust. "Not in a very long time." 

"Here we go." Liv breezed back in and set a steaming plate of food in front of Dean. "Can I get you something else, Sam?"

"Ah,” Her sudden attention caught him off guard. "No, thank you. I'm good." Then in his most sincere voice he added, “Dinner was delicious but I'm absolutely stuffed. Couldn't eat another bite." He gave a pat to his stomach.

The pleased look on her face told him he couldn't have given her a better compliment. Liv surprised him again when she ran a hand over his shoulder in passing on the way back to her seat. 

Dean dug into his meal with surprising enthusiasm, his appetite no worse for the wear apparently. Not the least bit self conscious to be the only one eating; he was also totally oblivious to the separate but similar looks of affection he was receiving from both Liv and Sam. 

"So, Sam,” Dean said around a mouthful of baked potato, still focused on the food in front of him. "You ready to get your hands dirty tomorrow?"

"Oh, that's right,” Liv sounded surprised she had forgotten, “you'll be joining us at the garage tomorrow." 

"Looking forward to it,” Sam said truthfully. 

"You know cars?" Liv asked carefully. Sam was very aware that he didn't look the part of your average mechanic. 

"Some," he replied, then admitted much as he had to Dean. "Not much. It's been awhile."  

"Don't worry. It'll all come back to you. Rand will walk you through the first few oil changes, show you the basics and start you off slow with something simple." Dean thought about it. "I've got a couple of front end alignments that should be fairly straight forward. You up for that?" 

Sam was stuck on one word. "Rand?"

"Rand Bellanger,” Liv explained. "He handles all the maintenance and low-end repairs. Dean here does the body work, engine rebuilds and all the custom orders." 

"Oh,” Sam said to Dean, unable to hide his disappointment. "I guess I just assumed that I would be working with you." 

Dean wasn't completely unaffected by the little brother tone. He stopped chewing, eyes searching Sam's face. "You will be,” he assured, then pointed out, "we're a small operation. We all work together." 

Sam relaxed as Liv nodded, though he missed her curious back and forth glance between the two of them. Despite his attempt to do so, Dean was unable to clean his plate. When he pushed it away, Liv rose to take care of it. The ease and efficiency with which she cleared the table would put all but the finest waitresses to shame.  

"Coffee anyone?" She called from the kitchen, peeking into the dining room long enough to catch their nods. Within minutes she returned carrying a small tray of spoons, sugar and creamer. Dean stood and offered her his seat. 

Surprised, she looked at him. "Dean, honey, you have company. I can..." 

"You know the drill, ma’am,” he said, all charm and twinkle once again. "You cook, we clean." 

Liv really looked as if she'd argue the point, but Dean didn't give her a chance.

"Isn't that right, Izzy B?" Dean had stopped next to Isabella and held a hand out to her.

"Sure thing, ma’am,” she repeated from earlier as she took Dean's hand, oblivious to his smirk in Liv's direction.   

"Oh, all right,” Liv waved her hands in dismissal, but father and daughter were already on their way to the kitchen. She sat down next to Sam with an amused huff of air. "Those two..." 

She didn't elaborate, but really had no need to. Her affection for both of them couldn't have been more obvious.  From the dining room, they had a good view of the right side of the kitchen where the sink was. Sam watched the two of them load the dishwasher together then Isabella disappeared from sight. She returned seconds later with a folding step-stool that Dean set up for her in front of the sink to wash the pots and pans and anything else that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher. Through it all there was a constant stream of chatter and banter that just wrapped itself around Sam's heart. 

"They really are peas in a pod, those two,” Liv said. Sam hadn't realized how quiet he'd become. Reluctantly, he returned his attention to his host. "Daddy's girl through and through, that one. Always has been." 

"Really?" Sam was genuinely surprised and undeniably curious. He didn't take Liv for the chatterbox she was turning into. She must have really needed to talk. He seemed to have that effect on people.

"From the moment Bella was born, she and Dean just had this connection. I remember the nurse placing her in Dean's arms and she was just squawking up a storm." She laughed at the memory. 

"When she heard his voice, she stopped crying and opened her eyes." Liv gave a soft sigh. "They just looked at each other for the longest time. Eyes filled with such sweet wonder..." 

Sam was watching her closely, hanging on every word.

"I'm sorry,” Liv blinked away the sudden nostalgia. "You don't want to hear..."

"It's fine, really." Sam interrupted before she could finish. He did want. He wanted to hear everything. "Go on." 

They heard giggles from the kitchen as Dean and Isabella splashed their way through the last of the serving bowls. Dean looked down just as Isabella looked up, the bond between them nearly tangible. It lasted mere seconds, but would forever be a frozen snapshot in Sam's head. 

"I used to watch Jenna when Dean and Bella were together." Sam realized that Liv just assumed that he was aware of the tragedy surrounding her daughter’s death. "They had a tendency to drift off into a realm all their own and block everyone else out. Even Jenna at times."

Liv gave a wry smile and switched gears a little. "It didn't seem to bother Jenna, though, she encouraged it, in fact. I wasn’t always able to do that."

Sam quirked a brow, confused.

"Jenna knew what it was like to grow up in her daddy's back pocket,” Liv explained. "She was his baby, his world. And the feeling was mutual. As far as Jenna was concerned, the sun rose and set with Ramsey Walker."

Liv paused and they shared a smile as Isabella's happy chatter floated in from the kitchen.

"It was hard sometimes, being the one on the outside. They never deliberately excluded me, of course. I don't even think they were aware of it."

She gave Sam an apologetic glance, realizing suddenly that she was going on and on to a virtual stranger. He met her gaze with sympathy. 

"I wasn't jealous so much as envious,” she admitted.

"I thought just because I'd brought that beautiful baby girl into the world that it would be her and I that shared the connection, you know?"

Sam nodded when she looked at him.

"I guess it just wasn't meant to be." 

"What do you mean?" Sam asked when it appeared Liv wasn't going to elaborate.

"From the time my Jenna could walk, she began to assert her independence. She was willful and stubborn - even at that age. I think she resented my authority from the beginning." Eyes sad, she met Sam's gaze. "My daughter and I had a very tumultuous relationship."

"That must have been rough." Sam empathized.

Liv nodded and then really looked at him, "Do you have any idea what it's like to love someone so much and not know how to talk to them? To try to understand where they're coming from and just never seem to get it right?"

Sam's thoughts turned to John. Yeah, I think I do.

Any response he could have made was preempted as Dean entered the dining room with a pot of coffee in one hand and three mugs in the other. He paused, a curious brow arching, sensing he may have interrupted, "Coffee?"

Topic effectively ended, Liv smiled and said, "I would love some coffee, hon." 

Isabella joined them as he filled each mug. When Dean would have returned to the kitchen, Liv bade him to sit down. "Bella and I have a surprise. Hope you saved room for dessert." 

Sam shrugged when Dean looked to him for a clue. Isabella returned, carefully balancing her surprise. Liv followed closely with dishes and silverware.

Dean's face lit up. "Tell me that's not what I think it is." 

"It's your favorite, Daddy." Isabella said proudly. "Apple pie." 

Dean looked at her as if he was suddenly reminded of just how much he loved her. 

"My best girl and my favorite dessert. What more could I ask for?"

The gaze they shared was split second, but it excluded everyone. Sam and Liv exchanged a knowing and accepting glance.  

"Oh. Mmmmm,” Sam could tell that Dean's making over the pie was not just for Isabella's sake. There was pure genuine pleasure on his face as he took that first bite. 

The pie was delicious, but Dean's enjoyment of it made it all the better, for everyone. Liv didn't bother to hide her fond amusement. Sam envied her that. Chin perched in her hand she watched him savor each and every bite, pausing now and then to take a sip of her coffee. Sam was less obvious about it, but just as taken. He'd never really appreciated Dean's ability to enjoy the simple things in life. Until now. He savored the moment, as Dean did his apple pie. 

It was nearly eight o'clock by the time they finished. The lateness of the hour was showing in Isabella as she slowly wound down and became less and less talkative. She curled up on the sofa with Spooky as Sam and Dean finished their coffee. After a short absence, Liv returned to the dining room with an array of leftovers in plastic containers. This was par for the course, apparently, as Dean didn't seem the least bit surprised. The remainder of the pie was also plastic wrapped and sat atop the stack of containers.  

Dean looked at the food in his hands and then over at Isabella. He came to the same conclusion Sam did. He was going to have to carry her. 

"I'll be right back," he said to Sam, running his leftovers out to the Impala. 

Liv reappeared with another set of containers that she handed to Sam. He looked down at her, surprised. She just smiled. Dean returned, scooping up both Isabella and Spooky. Both thanked her for dinner and paused for a kiss. 

"'Night, Gramma,” Isabella said over Dean's shoulder, not long for the world of the waking. 

"Goodnight, love. Sleep well." Liv said softly, sharing a smile with Dean as he departed. 

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Sam." She stood on the tip of her toes, hand on his arm, intent obvious. He had no choice but to lean forward so she could kiss his cheek. "I hope you'll be joining us again." 

"I hope so, too," he responded in all sincerity, touched by her warmth and welcoming nature. He could tell there was more she wanted to say when she didn't release his arm.

"You're the first person he's reached out to since Jenna died, Sam." Liv confided. "He likes you." 

Please don't betray that trust. He could see the plea in her eyes. 

Never. Sam found he couldn't respond. Touched by this woman's love for his brother, he responded by kissing her back in kind. It was the only promise he could give. Her hand went to her cheek in surprise. Whatever she saw in his eyes satisfied her. 

"I'll see you in the morning, Sam." 

Isabella was asleep in her car seat by the time they reached his motel. Dean was quiet during the ride, hand occasionally straying to his temple. Concerned, Sam watched him from the corner of his eye for the remainder of the short ride. It was fully dark by the time they pulled into the motel parking lot.

"Thanks for the invite, man. You were right. Best meal I've had in a long time,” Sam said.

Dean opened his mouth to respond, and then winced in pain, hand going back to his head. 

"Hey,” Sam lowered his voice. "You sure you're okay."

"Just...tired." Dean said, giving him an apologetic glance. "It's been a long day. Sorry for the drama show."

Sam dismissed the apology with a shake of his head, but allowed his concern to remain. "Get some sleep, okay."

"First thing on the agenda after getting Miss Izzy B to bed." Dean gave a nod to the backseat. 

As Sam opened the door and gathered his things, Dean offered a gentle reminder. "See you tomorrow?"

"Bright and early,” Sam confirmed.

"Need a ride?" Dean asked. They could carpool as the motel was on the way to Walker's. Still in the mindset of taking things slowly, Sam declined. "I'm good, thanks. I'll meet you there." 

Dean nodded. "G'night, Sam." 

"Night, Dean." 

The door closed with a creak and Sam watched as the Impala disappeared into the night. He stood there until he could no longer hear the rumbled purr, suddenly haunted by John’s words.

Be careful with him, Sam. There’s no telling how his subconscious will respond to you.

Sam closed his eyes. The last thing he wanted to do was cause Dean pain, but he couldn’t help but feel encouraged. The connection they had was still there. Tenuous, but there. On some level, Dean remembered him. 

Part V




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I'm wondering if the headaches mean the memories might start coming back soon...


This is a wonderful story. I am enjoying it so much.

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