Author notes: Not entirely sure about the spelling of various names, so you'll have to forgive me if I got them wrong. Also, unbeta'ed.

A Twinkle In Mine Eye

“Ben? C’mon honey, I made your favorite,” Lisa called up from the bottom of the staircase. The smell of mac ‘n’ cheese drifted from the kitchen, hot and steamy, the meal a small peace offering on her part, a way to say I’m sorry. But if Ben didn’t get to it soon, it’d turn into a congealed lumpy mass good for nothing but the trash can.

Kinda like her relationship with her son, these days.

Ben didn’t answer. Lisa ran a hand through her hair while she considered what to do next. It was her fault, really; she shouldn’t have yelled at him. But Ben had grated on nerves already chafed raw, with his endless raving about how awesome Dean was and how he’d helped Dean save the children and that he was no longer scared of Ryan Humphrey but that Ryan Humphrey was scared of him now, on and on, the flow of words always ending with the question of when would Dean be back?

Never, she’d finally shouted, losing her temper. Ben had stared at her for a long moment, eyes round and filled with hurt, before turning on his heels and racing up the stairs, shutting the door to his room with a bang that had reverberated through the entire house.

“Ben!”

Again, he didn’t come down, didn’t even acknowledge he heard her. Lisa heaved a deep sigh and started to climb the steps. The upstairs hallway was dark, the sun having gone down a while ago, and she flipped the light switch, flooding the corridor with yellow. She knocked on her son’s door. “Ben?”

Not a peep came to her. She ignored the Keep Out sign he had pasted onto the wood a few days ago and opened the door. Sticking her head in, she said, “Honey, I’m sor—” The words stuck in her throat as her eyes adjusted to the gloom. Ben’s room was as dark as the hallway had been, and very, very empty.

She pulled back and shut the door with a little more force than was necessary, anger warring with worry. Dammit! Hadn’t she told him time and again to tell her when he was going out, to let her know where he was going? Would it be too much to ask that he obey his mother?

Lisa rushed down the stairs, snatched up her keys and jacket, and trotted over to the small park a few blocks from the house, the place where the kids from the neighborhood went to play ball or enjoy a game of tag, or crawl around the jungle gym. But the playground was deserted, the children having been called home the minute the sun went down.

People kept their kids indoors after dark, these days.

Lisa suspected that over time, life would return to normal and everyone would grow less nervous, but now, with the memories of the changeling children still so fresh in everyone’s mind… She shivered.

“Ben!” Lisa hollered her son’s name because she couldn’t not try. But it went against common sense; she already knew Ben wasn’t here.

Where the hell was he?

She hurried back home, taking deep breaths to keep her fears in check, and grabbed for the phone. She punched in the numbers of her neighbors and those of Ben’s friends one by one. Except Ben wasn’t with any of them. Not over at Johnny Forrester’s, not with Katie Doolittle. She even tried the Humphreys, but nobody had seen her boy since school went out.

“We’re sorry,” the other parents said. “We hope you’ll find him soon. We’ll pray for you.” But underneath their words, Lisa could hear their thoughts: Please, not again. And, Thank God it’s not our baby this time.

By the time she finished the last call and hung up, her hands were shaking so badly she dropped the phone when she tried dialing 911. The phone clattered onto the tiled floor, where it began to ring instantly, shrill and insistent, and for a long moment, she just looked at it, heart thudding against her ribs. At last she snatched it up. “Ben?”

“Mrs. Braeden?”

The voice on the other end was male, calm, professional.

“It’s Miss,” Lisa corrected automatically. “I’m sorry, this—”

“Ma’am, this is Sergeant Mueller of the Cicero Police Department,” he interrupted her. “Don’t be alarmed, but we have your son Ben here.”

Her knees gave way and she fell onto the nearest arm chair. “Thank God,” Lisa moaned, her voice cracking. “Is he… is he all right?”

“Yes, ma’am. He’s fine. Can you come pick him up?”

Her eyes already searched for the car keys and her purse. “Yes… yes, of course. I’ll be right there.”

o0o

A few minutes later, Lisa dashed through the glass doors of the Cicero police station. Ben was sitting on a wood bench near the wall, with his little blue backpack at his feet and a uniformed police woman by his side. He held a can of Mountain Dew in his hands, sipping through a straw.

“Oh, thank God,” Lisa breathed. “Ben…” She knelt before the bench and hugged him close, not caring about the soda that spilled onto her sleeve. “Are you okay? What happened? Did someone… try to take you?”

“Ma’am, no need to worry. He’s perfectly all right,” the police woman said. Her name tag identified her as Officer L. Davenport “We found him hitchhiking on 234th Street, to Strawton. He said he was going to Ohio, to see his father.”

Lisa straightened. “Ohio? His father? Benjamin Isaac Braeden, what—”

Ben looked up at her. “I saw the plates, Mom. On Dean’s car.” Determination stiffened his narrow shoulders. “They said Ohio.”

“Oh sweetie…” Lisa didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, to feel angry or sad. She pulled Ben back into her arms, squeezing him so tight that he whined in protest.

“Dean’s not your father, honey.”

“Is too.”

Tears burned behind her eyes, and Lisa had to swallow down a lump in her throat. “No, Ben, he’s not.”

“But… but he could be?” The tremor in her son’s voice broke her heart and she didn’t know what to tell him. It had never occurred to her that perhaps Ben hankered for a father figure, that he longed to be more like other kids, who had a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters. She’d always thought the two of them would be enough.

She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. Big, fat tears welled in Ben’s eyes and trickled down his cheeks. Before she could stop herself, Lisa said, “But perhaps he’ll be your friend.”

Instantly, her son’s face brightened. “Can we call him and ask?”

Lisa scrunched her eyes shut for a moment, already regretting she’d given her son this much hope; she was convinced his dreams would get squashed, despite what Dean had told her about having been proud to be Ben’s father. Even if he wanted to, Dean’s job would keep him far too busy to bother with an eight-year old’s hero crush.

But what else could she do?

“Sure.”

Lisa told Ben to thank Officer Davenport for the soda, thanked the woman herself for finding her son, and took Ben home. Part of her prayed he’d forget about calling Dean, even though she knew that was a false hope. And sure enough, as soon as she’d locked the front door behind them, Ben turned around to face her, expression eager.

“Can we call Dean now?”

Lisa nodded, not quite daring to use her voice. Ben brought her the phone like an eager puppy, and although everything in her screamed she was making a mistake, that she should put an end to this right now before Ben got hurt any further, she dialed the number from the card Dean had given her. “Just in case,” he’d said. She gave the phone back to Ben as it rang, cursing herself for being a coward.

“Dean? It’s Ben!”

Lisa was close enough that she could hear Dean’s deep-voiced reply rumble over the line although she couldn’t make out the words. But Ben’s face lit up, and he said, “Yeah… Fine.” He crawled onto a chair, phone pressed to his ear. “Awesome!”

Lisa turned away, scrubbing at her eyes, drawing in a deep breath in the hope it would loosen the tightening in her chest.

Perhaps, she mused, listening to her son’s voice nattering happily, the mistake she’d made wasn’t the one she’d thought it was…

***

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One Review

  1. Pam
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    This was lovely. Ben’s relationship with Dean is a highlight of the series.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By tanaquilotr on October 15, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Oh, I love this – great tag scene! *claps*

  2. By inane-nana on November 4, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    Fantastic exploration of what i consider some of the best outside characters of the show. Loved the fact that Dean’s really not Ben’s father and Ben’s intense Dean-worship. Great narration, and the feelings described were so believable. Ben and Lisa really need to come back again 🙂

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