Title: Grow Into Your Paws
Summary: Dean and Sam arrive in Cleveland and meet Alec. How will Dean react to seeing his clone for the first time?
Pairings: None at this time
Disclaimer: I definitely don’t own any of these characters. Dark Angel characters belong to James Cameron. BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon. SPN characters belong to Eric Kripke.
Note: This is still set in February 2009, which means that the Pulse hasn’t happened as of yet and the Winchesters are still trying to keep the seals from being broken.
Thank you to my two lovely betas, MaraLiz & Rorylondra, for your invaluable assistance – and arguing with me over sentence structure when necessary…
Dean repeated the name over and over in his mind as he sped toward Cleveland, heedless of traffic laws. He didn’t know whether it was the Impala’s imposing presence, his own determination or Sam’s freaky brain-powers that cleared the way, but somehow they were making better than good time. Other cars moved out of their path quickly and the only police they had seen were too occupied with helping a family with two screaming children and two flat tires on their minivan on a two-lane highway they were forced onto when the interstate they had been on turned away from their destination.
Now on another interstate, Dean stepped a little harder on the gas and went around an 18-wheeler that had the misfortune to be in his way. In the passenger’s seat, Sam gripped the dashboard and glared at him as he swerved back in front of the truck, narrowly missing a lime green Volkswagen Beetle in the process.
“Dean!” Sam exclaimed. “Can you please get us there in one piece?”
“Sam!” Dean snapped, effectively ending the conversation as far as he was concerned.
“Okay, okay,” Sam relented as he pulled out his ringing cell phone. “But, once we have kids in the backseat of this car, you better start being sane again.”Kids in the backseat of this car,
Dean repeated Sam’s words to himself and felt a flush come over him once more. He couldn’t tell if it was anger or anxiety or just worry, but he did know that his life was about to change. Here he was in the middle of trying to avert an apocalypse and he was about to take on two extra charges, both of them his genetic clones. He wiped a hand over his face and something struck him as important. He barked out at Sam, who was in the middle of a conversation with someone that he knew he should be aware of, but all he could think of was getting to Cleveland, “Seatbelts.”
“Hold on, Ellen,” Sam spoke into the phone. He covered the phone with his hand and asked Dean, “What?”
“We need seatbelts back there,” Dean tried to explain even as he felt his lungs closing again. That had been happening every few minutes or so since he found out about the kids, so he pushed his chest to expand once more, relying on his own will to keep moving forward to actually keep them moving forward. He continued, “They have laws now…”
He broke off, but fortunately, the Winchester mind-reading thing seemed to be in tune today and Sam replied easily, “I already put in an order for them. They’ll be at The Academy by the time we get there.”
Sam went back to his conversation, and this time Dean realized it was with Ellen and he tried to concentrate on what his brother was saying. They had left Ellen a message since they knew that she and Jo were in Wyoming already and could start looking for his other clone. Ben. Dawn said his name was Ben,
Dean reminded himself. Alec he had spoken to; he knew the boy was somewhere safe. Ben could be anywhere by now and that scared him more than he wanted to admit. He wouldn’t know the ways of the world, but he was out there in it, and it would be so easy for someone—or something—to take advantage of him, spliced DNA or no.
He heard a voice calling his name and realized it was Sam. He really needed to stay focused in the moment, he told himself again before giving Sam his attention, “What?”
Sam was off of the phone and he rolled his eyes as he asked, “Did you even hear anything I just said?”
“No,” Dean admitted. He didn’t even have the energy to wisecrack, so he just said, “Tell me again.”
Sam sighed, “Okay, so Ellen and Jo are up in Wyoming. They’ve met up with a few other hunters up there and they are slowly getting around to explaining to the hunters that the kids that are missing need their help, not a bullet in the brain. She and Jo found a girl that calls herself Tinga and the girl is helping them to find the others. Actually kind of sounds like Jo and Tinga are driving Ellen crazy. Jo started teaching her to hunt and Tinga found a haunting about two minutes later. They were both pissed off at Ellen when she handed it off to Clive to handle instead of letting them do it themselves.”
“Clive’s good,” Dean commented absently.
“Anyway,” Sam continued. “They haven’t found Ben yet, but Ellen actually has a picture of us when we were kids, so she is using that to say that her nephew is missing when she questions locals.”
“Why does she have a picture of us?” Dean asked, confused.
“Dad left her one, just in case something happened to him,” Sam replied quietly.
Dean pushed that thought back; he only had so many things he could actively think about at a time and that one was just going to have to get back burnered.
“Ellen will call back if she finds him before we do,” Sam told him, bringing him back to the present once more. “She’s going to call Cleveland to let them know she found Tinga and get as much information as possible on the other kids. The truth is that I think she and the other hunters have a better chance at finding them than Slayers do. The Slayers are used to being sneaky, but hunters are used to looking
“And what are the odds that all of the hunters out there looking for these kids will see them as ‘friendlies’?” Dean asked, not really liking the odds he suspected Sam was going to give him.
“Better after both Ellen and Jo put bullets into the one that thought he was going to go after Tinga,” Sam deadpanned with a grim smile.I’ll kill anyone who hurts him,
Dean vowed silently and seriously as he took the exit for the interstate that would now take them directly into Cleveland. He looked at his watch and the mile marker sign, doing a quick calculation in his head. If they kept the pace they were going, he would meet Alec in just over two hours.
They had driven straight through and he knew he probably looked like he had been on a rough week-long hunt, considering he hadn’t been able to sleep when it was Sam’s turn to drive. While Dean had been driving, Sam busied himself with making lists and doing his geek thing to figure out how much more hustling and scamming they would have to do to support the four of them on the road. Dean had tried to pay attention when Sam was telling him this, but his mind was just not on the logistics. He knew it would be difficult. Hell, their childhood had been filled with narrowly dodging Child Protective Services, but one thing he knew was that their father loved them even if he didn’t know how to show it very well. Whatever he had to do to make sure Alec and Ben knew that feeling as well, he would just have to do.
Dean felt his energy starting to flag and he cracked the driver’s side window open to let the crisp February air boost his reserves. Apparently, Sam knew better than to complain and just adjusted the heat registers he could reach to throw the hot air toward the passenger side.
Finally, Sam broke the silence, “Dean, have you thought about what you’re going to say to him when we get there? We haven’t really talked about what we’re going to do. Have you thought about whether you’re going to be their brother or their father?”
Dean shrugged and didn’t answer.
“I guess, technically, if they are your clones, it means that Mom & Dad are their parents too, so that would make them our brothers,” Sam continued, trying to pry an answer loose from Dean’s pursed lips.
“I can’t think about that right now,” Dean finally replied.
“But, Dean,” Sam pushed. “We need a plan.”
“We have a plan: get there. That’s
the plan,” Dean told him, effectively ending the conversation as he pushed the speedometer another five miles per hour higher.
They reached Cleveland exactly when Dean thought. As promised, Sam called Dawn when they were half an hour away and she was waiting for them when they arrived. It was close to midnight and she had her winter coat on over her pajamas. Any other time, Dean would have teased her about the snoring lambs that dotted her pajama pants, but right now, he had more pressing matters on his mind.
“Is he okay?” he opened, without bothering with a greeting.
“He’s hanging in there. He was too nervous to sleep and I had a feeling you would have just woken him up when you got here, so I didn’t bother putting him to bed,” Dawn told him as they walked up the stairs and into the school. She tugged on his sleeve when they entered the large foyer and pulled him toward the staircase that led to the instructors’ wing. “He’s in the faculty lounge. We’ve kept him separated from everyone else for the most part and I’ve tried to give him a head start on learning about hunting, but you know how it goes: He won’t believe it until he actually sees his first spirit or what have you.”
By this time, they were at the entrance to the room. Dean stopped for barely half a second and started to walk into the room just as Alec stood up from where he was kneeling in front of the coffee table. The boy really did look exactly like he had as a child and something permanent settled into Dean’s heart.
He could vaguely hear Dawn talking as he moved forward, “He doesn’t really like to be…”
Dean travelled across the room with long, sure strides and without stopping, reached out and swung Alec up into his arms. The boy stiffened for a moment, and sniffed at his collar, before wrapping arms and legs around him to hold on as Dean swung back around.
“…touched,” Dawn finished as Dean started walking toward her again, one strong arm bracing Alec’s lower back while the other one ran the length of the boy’s spine, with his fingers just brushing against the edge of his hairline.
Dean barely registered Dawn’s stunned and Sam’s horrified face as he marched past them, calling over his shoulder, “Work out the details, Sammy. I need to talk to my son.”
“Well, that answers that question,” Sam mused aloud as soon as Dean disappeared with Alec.
“You actually thought otherwise?” Dawn asked, unzipping her coat and draping it over the back of a chair.
Sam shrugged, “Nah. Dean was always meant to be a father. He just never realized it.”
Dawn must have seen the weight of their new reality in his eyes because she gestured to the couch with a sigh. She told him, “You have to know that we wouldn’t have called you to come get him if we thought you couldn’t take care of him. And, once Ben is found, you’ll take good care of him, too.”
“It’s just…,” Sam began only to stop and run a tired hand over his face.
“It’s just that you guys barely scrape by without two extra, seemingly always hungry, mouths to feed, two more bodies to clothe and keep warm, not to mention put a roof over at night,” Dawn finished for him. Her understanding tone was nearly his undoing.
“I don’t want to think that we won’t be able to keep them safe and raise them right, but someone has to worry about that,” Sam told her.
“I know,” she replied and pulled out a small book, handing it to him.
It looked like a savings account passbook, but other than for a short time when he was at Stamford, he had never had one of those, so he wasn’t sure where Dawn was going with this. He opened the book and found almost a hundred thousand dollars in deposits listed. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like he could probably match up the deposits to correspond with whenever he and Dean had provided The Council with a supernatural ‘assist’ over the last few years. He flipped back to the cover of the book and saw that his and Dean’s names were neatly typed in.
As soon as he looked up at her, Dawn handed him two more books. He looked at the covers and saw the boys’ names typed in, one on each book. He opened them and saw that they also had a deposit made into each of them. He looked over at Dawn quizzically and she explained.
“When we dismantled Manticore, Willow ‘appropriated’ their funds so we could supplement our own in order to take care of the children. You guys aren’t the only ones suddenly with extra mouths to feed. Anyway, Alec and Ben deserve their share of the money as well. If they were staying here, the amount deposited would be what we’ve figured it would cost to care for them for a month. We’re investing the rest of the money and with Andrew’s head for finances, we figure we’ll only be dipping into the interest every month, so we’ll deposit more funds every month. The one in your names is money you both earned that we had planned to give to you if you guys ever decided to settle down somewhere and needed start-up cash for a house or a business or something. There’s a debit card in the back of each of the books for you.”
Sam looked at Dawn and felt some of his worry ease, only to be replaced by another one. He voiced his concern, “You know Dean will never accept these.”
She looked at him pointedly, “That’s why I’m giving them to you.
Look, Sam, I really like Dean. He’s a good guy, but being a parent sometimes means swallowing your pride and doing what is best for your kid. You heard him before; he left the details up to you. Well, consider this one of those details.”
Sam rolled his eyes but a small smile played on his face, “One that we don’t happen to mention to Dean?”
“Exactly,” Dawn confirmed with a satisfied grin. “Now, here’s a packet of information for you with everything from their health records, curriculum for home schooling, a schedule for them to take the required state-mandated school tests, some notes on how to keep Alec occupied because—believe me—that boy has more energy than I
know what to do with, and a dietary plan. That goes along with their health records; you’ll see what I mean when you read through it. The bag I’m giving you has a three months’ supply of their medications and vitamins. There is also a prescription for another three month supply and we can send you more if necessary, but for the first year or two, our doctors would really prefer to give them check-ups every three months or so to make sure that the pills are doing their job. Honestly, some of the crap that Manticore had them on was just not good in the long-term, so we have tried to find safer alternatives, but they should still be checked over by an actual physician every once in a while.”
Sam didn’t like the sound of pretty much anything that she had to say about Manticore and Alec and Ben’s upbringing so far and he knew what he would find in that folder would make him beg Ruby to help him get into Hell just to kill these guys again. With a sigh, he hoped Dean would appreciate not having to read through all of this as he flipped open the front cover and started the descent into Alec and Ben’s own personal version of Hell.
Dean was almost to the front door when he realized three things: First, that he was instinctively taking Alec to the safest place he knew—the Impala; second, that it was after midnight on a February night in Cleveland; and third, Alec hadn’t put up any protest about being taken out into the cold night air and away from the warmth and safety of the school. He paused for a moment to consider and came to the conclusion that the Impala was still the only place he could go to have this conversation, but he knew he couldn’t take Alec outside without a coat, so he set Alec down on the floor and quickly stripped off his jacket and wrapped it around the boy before picking him up again and carrying him outside. Alec didn’t move in his arms as he jogged to the car and placed him in the front passenger seat, but as he closed the door and made his way around to the driver’s side, he caught a glimpse of the boy as he lifted the jacket collar to his nose and sniffed at it before curling the edges tighter around himself. As soon as Dean slid into his seat, he turned the engine on and blasted the heat as high as he could get it to warm up the front seat quickly. He had certainly spent plenty of time in the last three decades being cold, but he wasn’t about to let Alec have that same experience if he could help it.
Alec jumped as Dean clapped his hands and rubbed them together, blowing on them to help warm them up. He hadn’t meant to startle the boy and when he noticed that Alec was watching him with silent, but wary eyes, he offered a tentative smile to the smaller version of himself.
The boy must have taken this as a sign of encouragement because he asked quietly, “Sir?”
“Yes, Alec?” Dean asked.
“Are we going somewhere, sir?” Alec asked.
Dean’s heart broke at the sight of the young boy trying not to tremble on the seat next to him. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was afraid of Dean or of the unknown or if he was trying not to say how disappointed that he wasn’t going to get to say goodbye to everyone before they left, but Dean knew he couldn’t leave him in agony. He reached a hand out to ruffle through Alec’s short military haircut.
“No, we’re not going anywhere yet,” Dean told him softly and he could see Alec visibly relax. “It’s just cold out here and I don’t want you to be cold while we talk.”
Alec nodded in response and Dean could see several more questions brewing under the surface, but the boy’s military upbringing was currently keeping them in check. Dean knew it would take some time for Alec to break out of that soldier mode and resolved to have as much patience as he could muster and the boy needed. He took a deep breath and expelled it slowly, trying to gather his thoughts. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say first and was surprised at what first came out of his mouth.
He ran a hand along the dashboard, a familiar gesture that he now tried to articulate, “We move around a lot. That’s the nature of what we do. The people who need protecting don’t come to us, so we have to go to them. There will be days when you’ll wake up and you won’t know what city or state you are in, but I promise you that there will be a few constants in your life. I’m one of them; Sam’s another. He’s going to be your uncle and mostly he’ll be the boring one who makes you eat your vegetables and do your schoolwork, but if you catch him in the right mood, he’ll also be the cool uncle who will kick a soccer ball around with you and make sure that you get to do fun kid stuff that I probably won’t remember about. I will make sure you always have enough food to eat, warm clothes to wear and that you know—without a doubt—that you are safe and loved. Part of that is my baby here. She’s as close to a home as any of us have, but she’s all we really need. You know, this car has been a part of our family before I even was and she’s never let me down yet. She won’t let you down either. If you are ever worried or scared or upset about something and you don’t feel like you can talk to me or Sam, you can always tell her your troubles and she’ll get you through another day.”
Silence descended upon the car for a handful of long moments. When the question came, it was very quiet, “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
“Granted,” Dean told him, waiting to hear what Alec’s first question would be.
Alec pursed his lips together and Dean could see him gather his courage before he turned to look Dean in the eye. It was disconcerting to see his exact eyes reflecting such naked emotion, but he squashed down the urge to scoop Alec back up into his arms and try to hold him until he understood exactly what Dean’s commitment to him was. As much as Dean was not a fan of talking, especially when it came to anything to do with emotions, he knew that Alec’s needs were more important than his own and Alec needed the words first and then to see Dean back those words up every day for the rest of his life.
“Dawn says they were evil, that they shouldn’t have been allowed to do what they did,” Alec said. “Is she right?”
“Alec, I have no doubt in my mind that Manticore was evil and I am glad they can’t hurt you anymore. If The Council hadn’t stopped them, we would have as soon as we found out about it. I know they did horrible things to you and I am so sorry that they were able to do that, but I can’t be sorry that they created you. I never thought I would be a father, but all it took was one look at you and I’ll never go back. I don’t care how you got here. You’re here and you are mine and when we find your brother, he’s mine, too, and I am already incredibly grateful for both of you.”
The car had long since heated up and Alec tugged the jacket open even though he was careful to keep the collar close to his face. Dean had a feeling that he just really liked the smell of the coat. He understood that; for years, every time Dean put that coat on, he could feel John’s presence with him.
“Did they tell you I’m not all human?” Alec asked. “I have cat DNA.”
“Yeah, they told me,” Dean said as he wondered where Alec was going with his line of thought.
“One of the doctors said they could do whatever they wanted with us because we weren’t really human. He wasn’t talking to me—he never talked to me unless he was issuing an order or reprimand. He was talking to one of the new scientists. I don’t know what they were trying to find, but it hurt. I didn’t cry, though. Soldiers don’t cry. The ones that cry get punished and then it hurts more.”
Dean looked at the small figure next to him and decided that he really, really hated Manticore for what they did to him. He ignored the boy’s flinch as he reached out and slid him across the bench seat until he could feel Alec’s body heat against him. He wrapped an arm around his son’s shoulders and held him close long after he felt the tension slip out of the small body.
Alec’s spiky hair tickled his chin as he rested it on top of his head. He didn’t know what the right words were to say, but he knew he had to say something so he took a deep breath and began, “Listen to me, Alec. I am very sorry that they were able to hurt you before and I promise it will never happen again. Your DNA was no excuse for what they did to you. They just told themselves that it was okay so they could look themselves in the mirror every morning and not see a sadistic fuck looking back at them, but that’s exactly what they were. They were very, very wrong. And, you aren’t a soldier anymore. You’re not a number. You’re a little boy now and if you need to cry, you can cry and I’ll kick anyone’s ass who tells you otherwise. They made you from me and that makes you as awesome as I am and that makes whatever we need to do awesome, too. That includes crying.”
As if fate was intervening on his son’s behalf, Dean felt a tear slip down his cheek and into the short sandy hair. Alec must have felt it because his hand reached up and touched Dean’s cheek before he snatched his hand back to look at the wetness that was now on his hand.
When Alec moved to look at him, Dean relaxed his hold to allow the boy to move and was rewarded with hopeful eyes.
“I watched a movie with a man who had a son. He said that being a father is forever and no matter what, he would always be his son. But, it’s hard to understand what’s real and what’s just in the movies,” Alec told him.
Dean heard the implied question and smiled gently at him as he replied, “You are stuck with me, kiddo. You were made from me and that means a lot to me. As long as my heart still beats, I’m always going to be your dad.”
Even while the child was clearly scared of what unknown hell he could be walking into, Dean had to admire his courage to stand up for himself and take the chance of demanding what he really did deserve. Even though Dean knew Dawn had already spoken with Alec about all of this, he knew that there was a good chance that Alec wouldn’t really believe her since he hadn’t heard it from Dean himself. He pressed a kiss on the top of Alec’s head and told him, “I need you to promise me something. If you ever feel like I’m not doing a good job of being your dad, you need to let me know, okay?”
“Yes, sir,” Alec replied and this time, the ‘sir’ felt different somehow. It seemed less obligatory, like it was said with actual respect instead of required respect. He knew a little something about the difference and he pressed another kiss to Alec’s head.
“Good boy,” he praised him.
Another moment went by in silence, but this time, the quiet was contemplative and not filled with so much tension. Finally, when Alec spoke again, he veered off into a different line of thought altogether and Dean knew it would take some time to learn how Alec thought and be able to anticipate Alec’s needs just as he could anticipate Sam’s.
“Do you think I’ll be as tall as you are when I’m done growing?” Alec asked.
“I’m pretty sure that’s how the cloning thing works,” Dean told him, not quite knowing exactly where that question was coming from.
“I hope so,” Alec told him. “I want to be big enough to protect people like you do.”
“Don’t worry, Alec,” Dean told him, catching his son’s hand and holding it up to his own palm. “You’ll grow into your paws.”#