Scrapbook (a family album)
Page 4 - Lay Down Your Burden
by Maygra

Supernatural, all audiences, future-fic.
Characters: Dean, Sam/Sarah (plus the Winchester girls: Allie, Mary & Leigh)

Set in eighth-horizon's Salvation universe, by permission (possibly by coercion).

Recipe to follow.

And drop the burden of thyself upon the threshold.
 The Saint's Tragedy -- Charles Kingsley

June, 2020

For some reason the fact that the grass was cut, both surprised and saddened Sam. When some part of your world was kind of going to shit, a neat lawn felt like an affront, like something else in the world should be out of kilter, off balance. Fucked up.

He sat in the driveway for a minute and contemplated driving his car over the stretch of green, just a few times. Not enough to really damage the careful manicure, just enough to make it look less…pristine.

He got out of the car and tried not to think about what (or on who) that little bit of anger transference was aimed at.

The house was modest; even for Sacramento standards. Three bedroom, two bath, split level ranch like a dozen others in the small modest neighborhood. There were a couple of fruit trees, some careful landscaping. Modest. Suburban. The neighborhood so utterly normal it still struck Sam as kind of incongruous that Dean lived here. Had lived here. His brother should either have lived in some post-modernist fantasy of glass and steel or in some bare minimum cabin surrounded by forest with a wood stove and a three mile long driveway.

Of course the house had more to do with Danielle than with Dean. The neighborhood was a good one. The house despite it's modest appearance hadn't come cheap. The neighbors -- young urban professionals sliding into middle age with their tennis and swim club lifestyle, and country club mindset -- were all nice enough, the ones Sam had met, worried about careers and college for their kids. Mostly white collar, with just a hint of blue in their backgrounds.

No surprise that Dean had managed to fit himself right into that -- slid in as easily as changing his coat. Wouldn't talk bad about them -- not even to Sam. There was nothing wrong with the neighborhood or the people. It was a community where there were bar-b-cues on the weekend, the kids all knew each other, the clubhouse at the tennis courts was given over to kids' birthday parties with clowns and magicians more often than not. Danielle loved it here.

It made sense that she should be the one to stay.

Her car wasn't here. Dean's truck was; tailgate down, half loaded already even though he'd told Sam not to come over until nine. The front door was open and Sam's fingers lingered over the inside jam, feeling the faint far tingle under his fingertips. He hoped Danielle was sensible enough to leave all the sigils and charms and wards in place.

She would be. Danielle was nothing if not sensible, reasonable. She'd been that way all through the divorce proceedings. She wasn't making unreasonable demands of Dean; child support well within what Dean could afford even if he was the one moving out. She could have asked for more -- alimony, additional child support. Dean would have given it to her without quibble, without a fight. He'd live in his truck rather than deprive Danielle -- or more specifically Charlie -- of anything his not unimpressive salary could provide.

Sam thought again about backing his car over the lawn a few times, maybe backing into one of those fruit trees, lay in a little damage.

Or maybe he could just beat the hell out of Dean. It would probably make him feel better. The thing that held him back was that it would probably make Dean feel better too.

Sam had never seen his brother fail to fight when so much was at stake, when he had so much to lose. Only it made sense totally when you took into account that only one who had more to lose was Charlie.

Sam had looked over the divorce decree himself. He couldn't represent Dean, even if Dean had wanted to be represented. Danielle had set the terms and Sam supposed it said a lot about Danielle, about the way her and Dean's marriage had fallen out, that she wasn't unreasonable.

Reasonable. Like modest. Sam had to keep repeating those words. Had to because the desire to blame Danielle for this was incredibly strong. And also incredibly unfair. Dean would be the first to say it. Had been the first to say it.

Still, like anything and everything else that threatened Dean, Sam wanted to lash out, take it on, fight back.

But the fight was over long before the final divorce settlement came down.

They had split custody right down the middle. There would be no six months with one parent or the other. Dean wasn't moving that far away -- close enough to pick Charlie up from daycare, take her to the pediatrician if she needed it.

But it wasn't the same, couldn't be the same as seeing her every day, seeing Danielle every day. Coming home to his family every day.

Most days anyway. It had been one of the reasons cited -- that Dean's work kept him on the road. At least one week out of the month, sometimes more, sometimes less. Danielle hadn't needed to cite reasons really, since Dean wasn't contesting the divorce. To Sam it looked more like Danielle making a list for herself of why her marriage had failed.

Nowhere in any of the paperwork, any of the mandatory counseling, had it even been suggested that Dean wasn't a good father, a devoted one.

The things that hadn't made the list were the real reason for it, though, and Dean's devotion to his daughter was a part of that. In less charitable moments (and there had been a lot of those lately) Sam thought the real reason was that Danielle was jealous -- a little bit.

And maybe she had reason to be, although even being generous Sam couldn't and wouldn't put all that on Dean. Dean didn't and hadn't stinted on his affection -- his love for Danielle -- but there was no doubt that his brother was a helluva lot more physical and demonstrative about it with his daughter -- and with Sam's daughters -- than he was with anyone else. His own girls adored their uncle in a way Sam fully understood, even shared.

But it was a lot more complicated than even a faint hint of jealousy over how Dean was with Charlie. Sam couldn't quite describe it, but he'd certainly noticed it when the fights between Dean and Danielle became a lot more sharp and loaded than had been the kind of smart-ass one-upmanship of their relationship from the beginning. Because the sparks had always flown, and Sam would bet his own not unimpressive salary that Danielle had liked that part of their relationship as much as Dean. They both tended to make their points and their affections obvious by wit and clever teasing, trying to outdo each other the same way they might challenge each other to downing shots at a bar. So much so that Sam and Sarah had started their own game of score keeping, occasionally even holding up index cards of hastily scribbled points, when Dean and Danielle really got going.

But it had been fun and funny, because Danielle was every bit as quick and sharp witted as Dean, well able to hold her own.

It hadn't been that obvious in the year after Charlie was born, because Danielle was just as smitten with her daughter. And still was -- whatever issues Dean and Dani had, they'd both worked hard not to let it spill over to Charlie.

But that first year, Sam had never seen Dean happier -- although happy was kind of an understatement. It was like Charlie gave Dean permission to start all over, look at his life in a whole different way. Or maybe more importantly, his future, because there was a whole new reason to plan for the future. Not even a decade earlier Dean would have been counting his future in hours and days, not years. Hunt until he died, his whole life focused on two things: destroying the evil that lurked in the shadows and Sam. Protect the good, destroy the bad. Dean Winchester's personal creed. Sam had given up years ago trying to argue that he himself was a poor encapsulation of what was "good".

He'd never been able to entirely convince Dean that there was -- could be -- more to his life than just those two things. And maybe meeting Danielle, falling in love -- having her not freak out or walk away (or worse, push Dean away) when he screwed up his courage enough to tell her about his life, about what had driven much of his life, had wedged a gap in a door Sam had been flinging himself against for as long as he could remember. And maybe it had helped that Sarah had been there to back up their story, that Sam was a respectable lawyer, with a respectable wife and respectable life that loaned the kind of plausibility that Danielle needed.

Or maybe it had been the ghost in the lab where Danielle worked.

Whatever it was, Danielle had bought into it, had agreed to learn as Sarah had, why the Winchester men bought salt in bulk, why herb gardens were for more than spicing up meals, why the Winchester households were arranged less along the lines of feng shui and more along the lines of vaguely religious Fort Knox's, with east facing orientations and salt under the thresholds of doors and mirrors arranged to endlessly repeat images the better to trap lesser demons.

Funny in a not amusing way how easily Danielle had taken on all that but hadn't been prepared for how easily and totally Dean had fallen in love with their daughter. Danielle was everything that Dean needed to keep him present and in the now. A reason to come home, to not take risks he might have, to remember there was more waiting for him than the dead and the death that had made up the bulk of his life to that point. Forensic Anthropologists saw a lot of the worst humanity could offer to itself, both deliberately and accidentally. Danielle helped keep Dean from falling into the trap that too much compassion and too much helplessness often set for him.

Charlie was everything that kept him pushing forward.

That little bit of red-headed energy had left her imprint on the house as much as she had on Dean. And maybe that was part of the problem because there was no trip Dean took that he didn't bring something back for Charlie. Danielle thought he spoiled her and she wasn't wrong, but she missed sometimes, the looks Dean would give Sam when he did it.

There hadn't been a lot of material spoiling in their lives and Dean took that as a failure on his part sometimes, so much so that instead of feeling some kind of empathy for Dean, Sam often wanted to kick him in the teeth. It hadn't been Dean's job to make Sam's childhood a happy one, but he'd sure as hell tried. Was still trying in weird way.

Sam wanted to resent Danielle for this the same way he resented his father in-law's less than whole-hearted approval of who his daughter had chosen to marry, or the way he still resented his own father for being so set in his ways by the time Sam and Dean had finally settled in, things were still somewhat strained. He knew his father liked Sarah and loved his granddaughters -- all four of them -- but too long peering into the darkness had left John Winchester still wary and distant and kept him further away than Sam liked or Dean wanted.

He did resent Danielle (and Dean, too, a little) for putting his own girls into a frenzy of anxiety. He'd spent an hour the night before explaining again to Allie and Mary that yes, Dean would still be their uncle and Charlie would still be their cousin and then stretched it a bit to assure them that Aunt Dani would still be their aunt because she was Charlie's Mommy even if she wasn't still Uncle Dean's wife.

He was kind of glad Charlie was too young to get to the whole question of whether Dean would still be her Daddy. At three, she was little too young to fully understand although she was smart enough even now to know something had upset her small world. She'd been clingier than Sam had ever seen her -- Charlie who had been quick to squirm out of guarding hands even before she'd been able to walk.

She'd clung to Dean's neck and later to Danielle's the night they'd come over to tell Sam and Sarah about the divorce. Had refused to be put in the playpen with Leigh and actively pushed her cousins away when they'd crept into the room for their own share of comfort and reassurance.

She'd settled a little, the last time Sam had seen her, only three days ago, Dean bringing her over for dinner, plans for moving the last of his stuff out of the house into the apartment he'd rented. Charlie had been happy enough to play with her cousins, getting fussy again only when it was time to leave. This time it had been Sam she clung to, like if Sam would continue to hold her, they wouldn't have to go, they could stay where nothing was changing. And if he rocked Leigh to sleep like he hadn't done in a year or so, Sarah was smart enough to figure out why, to start the conversation Sam wanted to have but was to afraid to initiate.

But he and Sarah were fine -- mostly because Sarah wasn't Danielle. Sarah was her own blunt self, far more comfortable with talking about problems before they became insurmountable than Sam was and just as stubborn about making sure they did talk them out. Some of the partners in the law firm were of the opinion that Sam was pussy-whipped and meeting Sarah at the inevitable and mandatory social occasions hadn't really dissuaded them of that. She had all the grace and style that came with being the daughter of parents who moved in influential social circles and could summon up the civil coldness that false prestige sometimes demanded -- if nothing else, she was her father's daughter in that, when she needed to, she made her points with polite but pointed remarks that didn't actually sting until the recipient had time to think about them.

Danielle had the same kind of reserve Dean had, which worked for them in some ways, but not others. She'd used that to good advantage in her work, detached professionalism putting her one the fast track to promotion after promotion, taking particular pride in that Dr. & Mr. Dean Winchester that showed up on invitations to professional soiree's and conferences. She was ambitious professionally as well as socially.

And Dean had gone along as far as he was able. He actually owned a tux, but while he might have a couple of degrees under his belt and some serious cachet among the experts in his field, he was and always would be more comfortable with a blue collar mentality. Getting the job done was what drove him, not how many awards he got, or how often news outlets or more academic minded professionals tapped him for his expertise. Dean didn't publish papers, didn't do the lecture circuit at professional seminars, didn't care that his lack of notation or advanced degrees kept him from getting the positions and prestige his experience and dedication should get him.

"I spend enough time behind a desk as it is," Dean had complained privately only a year ago, when Danielle was pushing him to go back to school, or to shape the journal after journal of case notes he'd compiled for his own reference into a publishable reference. Dean had remained in the field, the notes remained a jumble of useful but uncategorized information. He'd lost a directorship because of it, but he'd only applied after some hard lobbying by Danielle, thinking that a little give would be enough.

Of all the non-Charlie issues that had contributed to breakup, that was the other one that remained the elephant in the middle of the room. Dean and Danielle's professions were highly complementary, but their ambitions were not. Danielle had dreams of directorships and chairmanships, of concurrent publishing and the academic circuit and finally settling into a position as dean or department chair in her area of study at one of the top five universities. She did not want to process lab samples, or ferret out molecular disambiguations, for the rest of her life.

Dean was still and always would be about getting his hands dirty, about uncovering enough information from disasters or grisly murders to either prevent them from happening again, or making sure the guilty were punished. "Now, see, Sam, if you'd gone into criminal law, I could catch 'em and you could put them behind bars."

"Maybe you should have married a prosecuting attorney," Sam said and almost instantly regretted it, but Dean had only nodded and looked away.

"Yeah, maybe I should have," he'd said. "Except you know, probably would look as bad for an up and coming DA to have a husband with a spotty past as it does for the next dean of forensics at Davis."

Sam honestly hadn't thought of that and quietly, he'd tried, without saying anything to Dean, to see what could be done about the string of petty misdemeanors Dean had left behind him. Some were as simple as paying a fine here or there, others merely needed to be scrubbed from the record for statute exceedence so that it would take more than a casual background check to find them. He'd done the same thing for his father…but the situation in St. Louis was a little trickier and he was still working it. In that case, the lack of general belief in shape-changing half human monsters could be played to their advantage. Fingerprint evidence or not, the fact that the real Dean Winchester was still alive, had never had a twin, made for some potentially scandalous problems for the St. Louis PD. Getting the name on the public records changed from Dean's to "John Doe" would take some delicate maneuvering and patience -- Sam was capable of both.

But that was all future worries. Right now…right now Dean was on shaky ground and this time it was Sam's turn to help shore it up.

The door to the basement was open like the front door and Sam could hear music, set low, more to keep Dean company than to motivate him to work faster or harder. With Danielle and Charlie gone, the house was too quiet -- far too quiet for Dean.

The basement was finished. Sam had helped Dean put up the drywall and install the gun-safe and as he hit the bottom of the stairs he could see it open already, caught a glimpse of Dean's shoulder as he stood at the work bench, cleaning the guns and other weapons before packing them in their cases. The bulk of the guns would be going to Sam's, to be stored in his own basement until they could find a way to secure them in Dean's apartment. Already Dean had looked at free standing trunks and cabinets, but he hadn't chosen anything.

"You could pull your van around here," Dean said without looking up.

Sam pushed into the room, eyeing the organized chaos. Dean's home office was set up here too, but so far his computer and his reference books hadn't received the same attention the gun case did. It made sense to Sam.

Guns Dean understood. He wasn't quite so sure on the whole people thing -- relationships, expectations.

"You want me to start on the office?" Sam asked him, and laid a hand on Dean's shoulder, for just a moment, feeling the knotted muscle there. He thought Dean might have leaned into the touch for just a moment or maybe he leaned into Dean. It didn't matter.

"Yeah. Boxes, there," Dean said and pointed to a twine bound stack of unassembled cardboard. Dean's eyes had that tired, bruise look to them. Not sleeping then, but Sam let it slide, squeezed his shoulder and started putting the boxes together. "Where're the girls?"

"Shopping," Sam said. "Sarah said she'd bring dinner over to your place." He didn't ask where Danielle and Charlie were and Dean didn't volunteer the information.

Dean nodded and turned back to laying two carefully retrofitted shotguns into wooden cases packed with foam.

They didn't talk much beyond Sam occasionally asking for direction on how best to consolidate the bulk of Dean's professional career into a half dozen crates. The office boxes went into the back of Dean's truck, the gun cases into the back of Sam's car. Mid afternoon before the room was empty, the gun case bare, the built in desk and shelving containing nothing but a few scraps of paper and some dust. Dean snagged a couple of beers and they sat on the steps staring at the empty room.

"Anything we need to get from upstairs?" Sam asked delicately.

Dean shook his head and wiped at his sweaty face. "No. I got my stuff. I figured I'd let Charlie bring things over a little at a time. I need to get...uh…sheets and stuff for her bed. Maybe some…toys or…" he stopped mid-sentence and finished his beer. He left the bottle on the steps. "Let's go," he said suddenly and headed back up.

Sam lingered for a moment before picking up both their bottles and then checking to make sure the basement door was locked.

Dean wasn't in the driveway or in the main part of the house. Sam deposited the bottles into the recycling. He didn't need his shining to know where he'd find his brother.

Dean had his hands pressed to the door jamb of Charlie's room, staring at it like he'd never seen it before. Pinks and purples and greens and bright yellows accented the bed linens and the colorful cartoon characters on the walls. Bears and ponies and rabbits and butterflies danced along a border over floral wallpaper. The still-railed bed hadn't been remade and there was a stack of laundry on the dresser waiting to be put away.

There were two rocking chairs in the room; one big and one, just purchased recently, smaller with Charlie's name stenciled on the back.

Sam felt a twinge and blinked, flash image of Dean sitting there holding his new-born daughter, nothing but the shock of her downy red hair and a tiny fist visible in a swaddling blanket of satin edged green; only a few days after her birth, rocking her while Danielle caught up on some much needed sleep. He and Sarah had brought dinner over almost every night that first week. Not staying long, but for once Dean's normal aplomb had been completely lost. He walked around with a stunned look and a silly smile on his face. Punch drunk from lack of sleep and pure joy.

Again with the image, when they'd bought that rocker, in the store and Dean sitting in it, pulling Danielle down with him, all dark hair and laughter and rounded belly. It held them both, and Sam could see it, Danielle's long nailed hand coming up to stroke Dean's face. She'd given up wearing the bright nail polish she favored for the baby; had, in the last months of her pregnancy, taken to wearing clothes more for comfort than her usual chic style. Low, flat heels put her a few inches below Dean, when usually she was more closely his height; an impressive, formidable woman with an exotic look and a mystery hint of Hispanic or middle-eastern in her mocha skin, twilight to Dean's dawn.

Charlie was even now caught between them, neither as dusky as her mother nor as fair-skinned as her father, some mix of honey gold and pink-cheeked baby still, but with the hint of her father's green eyes and freckles and the up-tilt of her mother's eyes. Where the red hair had come from was anybody's guess, and once Danielle had laughingly warned of mailmen and delivery boys.  It was never true, but it was no longer funny.

He saw that too, in a flicker and glimpse before he squeezed his eyes shut; a young woman with an infant, comfortably rocking, red hair braided and twisted, breasts heavy with milk and a glimpse of shock-faced joy that was too familiar. He turned away, gripping Dean's shoulder again wordlessly. He couldn't say it, couldn't tell Dean yet that it would be okay.

It wasn't often that Sam caught glimpses of better futures, hope instead of hopelessness. Rare enough that he didn't trust them entirely. For Charlie maybe yes, but the glimmer hadn't shown him Dean and Sam was more struck by the absence of him than the presence of his niece some twenty years from now.

There was an ache behind his eyes either from the vision or the palpable sense of loss that radiated off Dean, or both. The latter he didn't need any special gift to feel or to know. Dean followed him down the steps and out, never glancing at the living room or the foyer. Nothing there was going with him for all that it was half his. None of it meant anything to him. What did wasn't in the house any longer.

Halfway to the apartment Sam called Sarah. "On our way," he said. "I'm not sure…"

"Shut up," Sarah said, chiding and affectionate all at once. "If he wants to kick us out, he can," she said, knowing full well Dean wouldn't. "Stop messing up our plan," Sarah warned and Sam grinned at the phone and some of the tension behind his eyes eased. Beyond Sarah's welcome voice he could hear his own arrays of joy; Leigh's burbling giggle -- close enough  that Sarah had to be holding her and beyond that Allie and Mary arguing amicably about something.

"We'll be there shortly," he said, and hung up before he gave into the urge to keep Sarah on the phone until they got there. He was glad they were waiting as much for himself as Dean.

Sam spotted Sarah's car at the far end of the lot, tucked around the corner of the building and grinned to himself. He honestly didn't know what Dean would think: he'd been too quiet all day and there was the half worry that it would be too much, too sharp a reminder of what Dean had lost and Sam still had.

Or maybe it would work the way they hoped -- reminding Dean of what he still had. Charlie was still there and Danielle too. The loss was hard but not total; Dean might never adjust but he would cope. His family was broken but not scattered.

They loaded up on boxes and Sam eyed the stairs up with dislike, but didn't complain.

It took Dean some fumbling to get the door open and he immediately realized there was something different -- the warm aroma of Sarah's (and Dean's) favorite Yankee pot roast, with a spice of something fresh baked, bready and sweet. Dean hesitated  and glanced back at Sam, eyeing him suspiciously. Sam offered his best innocent face and Dean gave him a grimace that broke at the stifled sound of a giggle in high-pitched tinkling tones.

"Sam, I think someone broke into my apartment. Maybe we should call the cops," Dean said in exaggerated tones.

"Maybe it's just a wild animal," Sam suggested and put his boxes down, unable to stop his grin as Dean settled his boxes; quietly creeping into the open door; silently edging against the wall.

"I don't know. Might be dangerous. Maybe we should wait outside and call the police. Just to be safe," Dean said and reached back to grip the door, swinging it slightly so it creaked on its hinges.

"No, Uncle Dean! No! It's us!" Allie shrieked, bolting into view, wide eyed and worried, only to stop when she caught Dean leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, grinning at her. Allie stared at him then over at Sam, eyes narrowing before she put her hands on her hips. "You knew! Daddy, did you tell him?"

Sam raised his hands, fending off accusation and ire. "Nope. He figured it out on his own."

Mary's head peeked around the corner. "It was supposed to be a surprise," she said, not as miffed as her sister. She grinned, gap toothed and winsome.

"Oooooh," Dean said, pushing off the wall. "You want to try it again?" he asked, backing toward the door.

"No. That's silly," Allie said and strode forward. "But it's not the only surprise." She grabbed his hand and pulled him further into the apartment, Sam following.

"Hi, you," Dean said on seeing Sarah, but his eyes only lingered on her for a moment, fingers curling around Mary's head when she pressed up to his side.

Sam slid in behind him and kissed his wife, eyes tracking after Dean's. He'd helped Dean move the furniture in here a few days ago, but it had been left bare bones, sofa and TV, bookcases and table, functional and spare. The transformation was pretty impressive -- Sarah working a minor miracle with all three girls underfoot for all that Mary and Allie both would have wanted to help rather than watch their younger sister.  Not for the first time Sam wondered if the wrinkling Sarah sometimes did with her nose didn't actually indicate some other gift than amusement.

Bare walls weren't bare any longer, but not heavily laden. Stark architectural photography, not unlike pictures Sam had pulled off the walls of Dean's office, were arrayed over the sofa and that had its unrelieved brown leather softened with overstuffed pillows in earth tones. There was an area rug and a new lamp, and an arrangement of photos, duplicates of the ones Sarah and Sam owned, of them and their girls, of Dean and Charlie, of John -- all family and familiar. It wasn't cluttered or overdone, but it looked like someone lived here.

Dean turned around slowly, a girl on each arm, taking in the small but subtle changes; the hint of a window treatment, a table already set for six, eyes catching on an array of children's books set on the lowest shelf.

"Do you like it?" Allie asked, tugging at his hand. "I picked out the rug!"

At seven, she was almost too big to hold but Dean managed, staring down at the geometric pattern, blacks and reds, hints of Navajo workmanship.

"It looks great," he said, voice thick. He hugged Allie, but his eyes were on Sarah. She gave him a broad grin and a wink. Then Mary was tugging on his hand before he could say anything else.

"There's more!" Mary said and tugged, back along the hall to the bedrooms.

Sarah blew out breath and Sam leaned in pressed his lips to her hair. "It does look great. It's amazing."

"I hope…I hope. The girls got a little excited about Charlie's room," she said and set a squirming Leigh down who immediately clung to Sam's leg with full-toothed grin. Down the hall he could hear Allie and Mary talking excitedly and he gave Sarah another squeeze before guiding his youngest down the hall.

It wasn't a mirror of Charlie's other room but the hints were there in the colors. Dean sat on her bed, looking a little stunned and pole-axed (and a little moist around the eyes which Sam ignored) as the girls pointed out all of the latest and greatest features of the new room. Not filled or overwhelmed, but room for toys and books and a sturdy activity table which Leigh made a beeline for, taste testing the blocks for her absent cousin, and then offering them to Dean with a delighted grin and a laugh. "Build a castle!" she demanded and Dean swung her up, much to Leigh's glee, and turned her on her back to blow a raspberry on her stomach.

Leigh shrieked with laughter, and then just as quickly, Dean kissed her fat cheeks and plunked her down on the bed, getting up and moving out, pushing past Sam and pausing only to hug Sarah and press a kiss to her temple. "Excuse me. Bathroom," he muttered, heading along the hall to his own room. There was no slamming door, just an easing of it shut.

Leigh's laughter was the only thing that broke the silence until Sarah drew a shaky breath. "Come on, girls. Let's get dinner on the table," she said and Allie tugged Leigh into her arms and then down to the floor, Mary catching her hands, following Sarah out.

"Is Uncle Dean okay?" Allie asked quietly, stopping to look up at Sam.

"Yeah. He just went to the bathroom."

"He looked like he was gonna cry. Is he mad?"

He crouched low, eye to eye. "No, sweetie. He's not mad. He's…this is really hard for him. To live by himself. Even if Charlie's going to be here sometimes."

Allie chewed on her lip. "He could come live with us. And Charlie too. Couldn't he? I don't mind sharing with Mary."

Sam smiled at her, tucked the dark strands of her hair behind her ears. "I'll ask him, okay? But it's going to be all right. It's just hard today."

Allie wasn't completely convinced and she kneaded Sam's forearm, eyes on the closed door. "Will you ask him now?"

Sam pulled her in and picked her up. "Let's give him a few minutes. I need to finish unloading Uncle Dean's truck and you need to help Mommy make sure dinner is ready. I'm going to be hungry. Uncle Dean, too."

It took less time to unload, Sam only able to deal with the boxes and the electronics; he'd need Dean to help him move the two short lateral files, but Sarah had the girls already working to put Dean's books on the shelves of the smaller third bedroom that would be Dean's office.

Sam felt sweaty and tired by the time they were nearly done, grateful for the beer Sarah pressed into his hand while she and the girls put up the pictures Sam had taken down only hours before.

Dean showed up when the hammering started, ghosting into the doorway and Leigh saw him first, a delighted, "OhDeee!" which Sam was sure somehow translated into Uncle Dean, up on her feet and arms outstretched to be picked up.

Dean looked pale but calm and he obliged his youngest niece. Leigh poked him in the chest. "Fixed your office, OhDee," she said, impressed as if she'd done it all herself.

"I can see that. It looks great. It all looks great," Dean said, eyes taking in the other three. "It looks beautiful. All of it. Thank you."

"You're welcome," Sarah said, eyeing him. "We had fun."

"Do you think Charlie will like her room?" Mary asked.

Dean pushed into the room on sheer will, also crouching, pulling Mary in, and like she was attached by string, Allie moved in as well. "Charlie is going to love her room. She'll be here next weekend -- so you can show her everything yourself. I really, really love everything you girls did," he said and almost went down on his ass when two sets of thin arms reached out, to fit inside a one armed hug.

"We need to get the file cabinets moved," Sam said getting up and pulling Leigh straight up and out before tossing her over his shoulder and then letting her slip-slide into Sarah's arms. "Then we get to eat." He gave Sarah a wink before heading out, not surprised when it took Dean a few minutes to follow him back outside.

Dean was still calm but his eyes were reddening again when he helped Sam slide the file cabinets to the edge of the tailgate. Empty, they weren't heavy but they were awkward, and Dean's fingers tapped out a drum rhythm on the hollow metal. "It really does look good," he said. "They worked really hard."

"Yeah, they did. They wanted to," Sam said, eyeing him over the top of the file. "Allie would like you to come live with us."

Dean blew out a breath. "Unfair."

Sam had already asked, offered, half-hoped and been torn about it anyway. "I could have had her ask you."

"Man, that would just be cruel."

Sam let a chuckle escape him. "Yeah, well, I figured you have enough grief in your life right now. But it's still there, anytime, even if it's not all the time."

"Crazy uncle in the basement," Dean said with a snort.

Sam laughed. "Live in baby-sitter," he said, and tapped the side of the file. "Dean…maybe at first--"

Dean nodded, looked away, sniffed loudly and rubbed at his nose. "Yeah, I know. I know," he added, and gripped the edge of the file cabinet. "Let's get this done. You promised me food and I want some of those potatoes before your monsters eat them all. I want leftovers. You got your end?" Dean asked hefting the file.

Sam grabbed the edges, swung and lifted. "Yeah. I got you covered, bro'."



Sarah's Yankee Pot Roast

1 3-5 lb roast (chuck)
2 stalks celery, rough chop
1 med yellow onion rough chop
1 cup baby or chopped carrots
12 sm red potatoes, halved
1 pkg onion soup mix
4 cloves garlic (optional)

Have children wash potatoes. Pepper roast lightly, place in crock pot. Sprinkle with soup mix, add vegetables, cover. Set to medium. Go shopping. Pick up bread and a good bottle of wine.