Disclaimer: I do not own Dean or Sam or the Supernaturalverse. I own Sarah and Maia. No infringement intended.
When Dean's cell phone rang, it was the end of day five of what was supposed to have been a three day hunt. He was tired, dirty, sore, and severely pissed. Sam had driven hellbent for leather back home in order to make his court deposition on time and Dean had been forced to go after the skinwalker by himself. Well, not forced so much as driven by his own impatience. You'd think in almost 15 years there'd have been some improvements in the public works arena, but no - a sewer still smelled like, well, a sewer.
So, when he'd finally dragged his tired ass back to the motel to wash up and maybe ice his bum knee, which damn did the dark side take out ads or something ? “Jab old Dean Winchester in the left knee, he took a header down a flight of stairs back in '09. It'll pop out and throw him off balance long enough for you to get the hell outta Dodge.” The water running from the shower head had finally gotten hot when the damn phone chose to start its usual bells and whistles.
"Dammit..." Dean hobbled over to the phone on the dresser and snatched it up, "Sam, you better be on your way back here cause this thing damn near made you an only child today." When he was greeted by silence, he began to get concerned. "Sam?"
"Is this Dean Winchester?" asked a voice that was entirely too young, too female and too nervous to be his brother, no matter what Dean said to rile him up. This was not a good sign.
"Yeah, who's this?"
"My name's Maia, Maia De La Rosa, and I think you knew my mother."
It was a good thing that Dad's deal with The Demon had basically given Dean a brand new heart, cause if he'd had the same old bum ticker, it would've popped off right about then. Dean sat heavily on the bed. It couldn’t be the same Maia, could it?
"Mr. Winchester? Sir?"
Dean shook his head, the sweet voice drawing him back to the present. "Your mom was Sarah Carson, wasn't she?"
"God, please don't call me sir. It makes me feel older than I already am," Dean rubbed his aching knee, getting up to turn off the water. It would be awhile before he got that shower after all. "I knew your mom all right, though I didn’t get word she’d died until a year or so later. I wondered what happened to you, but..." He left the rest unsaid. He'd had a snowball's chance of finding out exactly whom had gotten custody of baby Maia. "I guess your dad.."
Maia made a huffing noise, one familiar to the parents of teenage girls worldwide. It reminded him of the noise Sarah used to make when she disagreed with something. "Yeah, right. Mama Esme came and got me at children’s services. Said there was no way in this world I'd go into the foster system as long as I had an abuelita who wanted me. She adopted me officially when I was four."
Dean swallowed. Of course. He’d really only seen Esme once in passing, but she seemed... strong. Determined. And even after Phillip, Sarah and Esme had made peace with each other. "I - I think your mom would have liked that."
"Really? So you really knew her?"
"As much as anyone did, I guess. I never saw her as being big on sharing. But, yeah, I knew her."
"Would you tell me about her? Please?"
In the end, it was the plaintiveness of Maia’s voice that was his undoing.
When they were kids, Sam had begged for stories about their own mother, so desperate back then to have something of her to cling to. The look in his little brother’s eyes had been so needy, Dean didn’t have the heart to admit that his own memories were starting to fade. The only thing that stood out anymore was “that night” and he’d be damned if he’d use that as a bedtime story. So he’d started making things up - things that he half-remembered, or kind of remembered, or remembered that his dad had told him had happened. It has given Sam something to cling to, and if that was wrong... well... to hell with being wrong.
Maia had lost her mom about the same age Sam lost theirs. Her memories every bit as empty as his brother's and if he could ease that ache just a little.... Dean was such a sucker for kids.
He promised Maia he'd meet her in Los Angeles as soon as he wrapped up his "business" in Shreveport. It was harder without Sam at his side to watch over his bad side, but eventually he caught the damn skinwalker with a chestful of silver and lead buckshot, limping over to tiredly put the fatal shot through its heart with the pistol he’d kept tucked in his waistband. By the time he got a hold of Sam, the skinwalker was nothing but ash and bone, and he was on the I-20 about 30 miles outside of El Paso and debating stopping or pushing on to Las Cruces before he found a place for the night.
Sam didn't try to talk him out of his plans for once, knowing that Dean would only hang up on him if he tried. Instead, he urged his brother to make sure that Mrs. De La Rosa knew he would be meeting with Maia. It had taken him years to slowly and carefully untangle his and Dean's various legal entanglements and all it would take to being the whole mess crashing down around their ears is one panicked mama who thought Dean was a dirty old man with an ulterior motive. Exasperated, Dean finally agreed to at least make sure she was aware he was meeting Maia, but he wouldn't promise anything else.
Right now, he was struggling enough coming up with things to say to Maia. Somehow, all the things he remembered, all the stories that came to mind, sounded far too mature for a little girl.
After two days of driving, on top of seven days hunting a skinwalker with a taste for little boys barely old enough for Little League, Dean wasn't so sure he was the right man for this job. He'd called the number Maia had given him a half-dozen times before finally getting Esme De Le Rosa on the phone while Maia was at school. He'd barely gotten his name out when Esme chuckled, a dry noise that was still full of mirth despite the rustling leaves quality of it.
"I know you, Dean Winchester. Sarah only mentioned you once, but I came to know you just the same. You have my blessing to speak to Maia. I doubt mi guerrerita would have it any other way. I know she will be in safe hands with you." Before the end of the call, Esme had offered Dean the address of Maia's school, and had offered to call and inform them that her "uncle" would be picking her up after her final class.
So, at three o'clock, just four days after the call that turned his life plans upside down, Dean found himself sitting in his car, waiting for Maia to appear. In the meantime, his hands flexed on the curve of the steering wheel until the knuckles turned white under the pressure.
"See, Mr. Peterson, I told you Mama Esme said Uncle Dean would be here to get me!" A face leaned down into the passenger window as the accompanying arm unlocked the door from the inside, before opening the door and sliding into the seat.
Dean would know that face anywhere and in a hundred moods, so familiar in so many ways and so *very* much like her mother's. It seemed all she'd inherited from that bastard who'd sired and abandoned her was the sunny glow of her skin, and those caramel-colored eyes. "Hi Maia, it's so good to see you. You hungry?" He looked up at the concerned man still standing outside the car.
"Oh, Uncle Dean, that's my principal, Mr. Peterson. When Mama Esme called and said you were picking me up, he wanted to be sure you were okay."
"Maia! Really... I'm so sorry, Mr. Winchester. But we can't be too careful these days."
Dean flashed a smile, "It's no problem, really. I appreciate your concern. I'm only in town for a short time and I'd really like to get Maia home, if..."
"Oh no, no! Please, I'm sorry to keep you.” The principal stepped back from the car with a wave. “Have a good day. Maia, I expect I'll see you tomorrow morning before Homeroom."
Dean had no idea how to deal with a teenage girl, at least not since he’d been a teenage boy. Get rid of ghouls, sure. Face down zombies, yeah. Hell, he could even go toe to toe with demons, but this was uncharted territory. Maia, apparently sensing his unease, offered directions to a local restaurant where they could get something to eat. Dean jumped on the opportunity.
The place was small, tucked away in the middle of a strip mall in a neighborhood where more than three-quarters of the signs in the shop windows weren't even in English. Maia had only asked him if he preferred steak or chicken, then ordered for them in Spanish when the tiny, dark-eyed waitress approached their table. She came back immediately with several plastic bowls of salsa that tottered slightly on their tripod legs, a paper-lined basket filled with tortilla chips so fresh they still glistened a little from the fryer, a soda and a beer, which she said in front of Maia and Dean before bustling back to the kitchen.
“You know, when I was eleven, I found my mom’s diary and her sketchbook. She never really mentioned you by name, but I remember the one time she did. She said she wished sometimes that you were my dad instead of Phillip.” Maia snagged a chip from the basket and dipped it into the salsa before putting it to her mouth. Her teeth crunched on the chip before she spoke. “I used to wish the same thing.”
And there began the oddest conversation of his life. Around mouthfuls of the best tacos he’d ever had - and traveling that much, he’d tried a lot of tacos - and swigs of beer to wash down the spice and heat, Dean told stories. They were cleaned up as much as he could, but leaving out the sex, the booze and the drugs, what was there to talk about?
Maia had just sighed and admitted she already knew her mother was an alcoholic and drug addict, among other things, and she was fourteen already, would he just be honest with her? No one ever had and she was tired of the white-washed and sanitized version she had always gotten. Pushing her rice around her plate with the tines of her fork, she said quietly, “All I know about my mom is the things people write about her art or how she died. I don’t... I deserve more, don’t I?”
Dean stopped abruptly, fork halfway to his mouth, and set it down. “What do you want to know?”
So, he told her everything. Or almost everything. He left some of the details out, but he told Maia about meeting Sarah, of looking at her sketches, of the deceptively carefree attitude Sarah had, and her almost desperate need to escape her life through art. He talked about urging Sarah to leave town, of running into her later across the country, of meeting an infant Maia for the first time. He tried glossing over his impressions of Maia’s father, Phillip, but Maia had only laughed and muttered “asshole” under her breath, which make Dean choke on his beer. This kid was definitely her mother’s daughter, and it made him smile.
He talked about how intense Sarah was when she sketched or painted, how the art shut out the rest of the world. He talked about how she’d forget to eat or clean up, and about finding her with charcoal on her cheek, paint streaked in her hair and on her arms and legs, a drink or a cigarette forgotten on the stool next to her easel. How passionate Sarah had been, about life and art, and everything.
Dean talked, in between bites of food and sips of the water he asked for when his beer ran out, until he thought his throat would swell shut from overuse. He never talked this much. But Maia was a devoted listener, her chin propped on her hands, her eyes never leaving his face.
He told Maia about drawings Sarah had done, the explanations her mother had given for them. The travels Sarah said she’d taken, and how she’d fallen out with her family, felt like an outcast in the small town she’d spend her childhood in.
But he especially told her about watching Sarah with her daughter, of the sheer joy that lit up her face as she dealt with the baby. About Sarah’s fears that she would somehow never be the “right” kind of mother for Maia, how she’d never be able to give her the right kind of life, but how she’d been so determined to give her a life anyway. He described how fiercely Sarah had loved her baby girl. That Maia and her art had been Sarah’s whole life - everything else had been a very distant second. Including him. Maybe, especially him.
It wasn’t until he reached across the table to brush away the tears that spilled over Maia’s cheeks that his vision blurred and he realized he was crying too.
It was nearly dark by the time he drove Maia home. Dean was talked out, his throat raspy and tight, Maia next to him listening with wide, red eyes. Esme watched them pull up from the living room window, the curtain not falling back into place until after Maia collected her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. Dean found he couldn’t look away as Maia stood and walked to the house, not until she entered the house and the front door closed behind her.
When Dean caught up to Sam in Tacoma, it was nearly two weeks and a poltergeist later. His brother was waiting in the motel room with an uncertain look in his eye. On the table next to him was a thin, wooden crate that reminded him of the ones he’d seen in Sarah’s room as she’d been packing paintings for her show.
“This was delivered to my office, but it’s addressed to you.” When Dean didn’t make any move toward the crate, he added. “It’s from an art gallery in Los Angeles.”
Dean sat down at the table’s lone chair. The words “Thompson Galleries” were stamped on the rough-hewn wood. With a sigh, he held out his hand, not looking up when Sam laid his open pocket knife handle-first in his palm. He pried open the crate carefully, stopping only when a note fluttered out and landed in his lap. He set the knife aside to read.
“Thanks for taking the time to speak to Maia. We’ve all shared what we remembered of Sarah, but it’s all just bits and pieces. I think other than Maia, you may very well be the one person she allowed close to her. I’ve held onto this piece since the day it was finished and I can’t help but think that it has finally found its way to the person to whom it truly belongs. ~ Gabriel Thompson”
He closed heavy eyes, folding the note in his hands and laying it on the table without looking. He couldn’t answer Sam’s concerned questions, and made no move to stop him, even as the nails squealed and gave way, releasing the lid of the crate, which Sam leaned against the table’s pillar. “That’s... Dean... this is.... Do you know what they sent you?”
Dean didn’t look up, didn’t open his eyes. He couldn’t, not just yet. Not that he needed to. He knew what was in that crate as soon as he saw it, the note had only confirmed it. He’d look later, when Sam was asleep maybe. He’d open a beer and allow himself one good look. Maybe after that he’d take it to get it framed and store it away somewhere. Give it back to Maia when she was older and ready. It shouldn’t belong to him, not really. It was too much, too important. He didn’t deserve this.
No, he didn’t have to open his eyes to see himself looking back from inside the crate, full of righteous fury. He could already see the white wings spreading out from his shoulders, barely missing the pillars of candles behind him as they fought to hold back the darkness. Knew every crease and curve of the gleaming golden breastplate. Remembered the glint and flash of the sword his painted duplicate thrust into the encroaching blackness.
No, he knew the painting only too well, having studied it through a makeshift magnifying glass until his eyes had been ready to beg for mercy. He knew that painting all too well - the one painting of Sarah’s the world was clamoring to see, and yet had never been graced to encounter.