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Hey Hey What Can I Do

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“Man, what the heck are we doing here?” Dean griped, glaring out the windshield at the entirely too innocent and sweetly decorated café they were about to enter. Muted pastels, thin and feminine cursive that decorated the shop windows. Tiny little tables with mint green and white striped umbrellas, and- Dear, God. Some little old lady had her fluffed up poodle tied to one, a friggin bow that would put Minnie Mouse to shame on top its head.  “I’m not going in there.” He declared, mouth frowning as he thought about what the inside might look like.

Sam huffed and rolled his eyes, ducked out of the car with laptop under arm.

Growling in defeat, Dean grumbled as he shoved his door open. “My manhood is in immediate danger.”

The bell above tinkled too cheerfully for Dean’s taste, and he sniffed moodily, glancing around the shop. Quaint circular tables with polka dotted cloths were lined along the walls, and metal, cushioned chairs with intricate swirls of thin iron that made the backs were tucked under them. Warm, cherry wood paneling went halfway up the walls before it morphed into a soft yellow wallpaper, sparsely decorated with tan spirals here and there. Pictures of rolling hills, calm beachfronts, and rugged mountains were hung on the walls above tables, and globed ceiling lights offered warm and peaceful illumination overhead.

The menu was a simple chalkboard that stretched behind the front counter, light green, blue and pink chalk listed the items in a rounded, feminine way. The glass bar was overflowing with donuts and cookies, brownies, cakes and-

“Pie.” Dean said, mind going blank as he waltzed up to the counter, leaning over to browse the selection. Sam sighed behind him, smiling in amusement. He looked so out of place, this six-foot-tall, rugged, ill-mannered wanderer whose appearance screamed “Have you ever been shot, because I have. And it’s not that bad.”, was bent over, drooling at pie in a glass case like a child.

“So, out of curiosity, do you happen to remember why we’re here?” Sam asked, fighting the tug of his lips to remain serious.

Eyes sweeping over his choices, Dean nodded, half-listening. “Some hot-shot hunter’s got a lead on our case…ah, I love pie.” He licked his lips, slid to a crouch so he was eye-level with the pie shelf.

Snickering, Sam deemed his brother no use, and made his way to a table in corner facing the door. Flipping his laptop open, he opened the folders he had on their current case and went through the details again.

“This is so difficult,” Dean sighed, pained. Trying to decide between apple, peach, key-lime and pecan. He was just short of banging his head on the glass when a pair of legs came into view behind the pie, and he looked up, pulse jumping.

“You think it’s difficult? Try working here.” Sparkling grey eyes blinked down at him, shapely lips curved into a smile.

Caught off guard, Dean swallowed and tried not to let his thought of ‘holy Hell, those legs belong to this woman’ peek through the charming grin he tugged his lips into. He stood, leaned a forearm on the metal edge of the display, and brushed a basket of coffee stirrers out of his direct line of sight.

‘Damn, I wouldn’t mind working here if I could follow those legs around all day…nice eyes too’ He cleared his throat, poked his tongue out around his teeth to lick his lips to draw her attention, inwardly smirked when he found her eyes were politely locked on his own, and asked conversationally, “Well, then, can I get some advice?”

She grinned cheekily, brushed some silky black hair behind an ear, and tipped her chin up. “Sure: stay focused when you’re on a hunt.”

Dean’s face fell in surprise, then his eyebrows furrowed in confusion and he was left looking at her like someone at the butt end of a joke.

“Oh, you meant about the pie,” she winked, shit stirring. “I’d suggest the pecan. Perfect for a mid-day dessert or end piece to a dinner. Everybody loves it, young children, teenagers with a sweet-tooth, side-tracked hunters…” she trailed off, smirking.

“Ok.” He grumped, rolling his eyes. He peered over his shoulder, found his nerd brother side-burns deep in his laptop, and called out his name. “Sam!”

He looked up, eyebrows high and watched Dean motion him over with a moody pout and flourish of his hand. He found a woman behind the counter, gazing up at Dean like he was greatest punch-line ever told, and chuckled. Apparently, this hunter could laugh in the face of Dean Winchester’s swagger.

He already liked her.

“But honestly,” she reached across the counter behind the display and dragged a plate into view. On it was a piece of the pie that subsequently killed his arrogance, paired with a green plastic fork. “The pecan pie is my first choice.” Her smirk dwindled down to a gentle smile, and she offered the plate to him.

By the time Sam reached the counter, she was already walking toward the kitchen, tugging her blue-striped apron over her head with a ‘this way’ thrown over her shoulder.

Shrugging, Dean followed docilely, plate balanced in his hand with a good amount of his focus, because dropped pie was something that would never happen on his watch.

“Dude.” Sam snickered, pushing the metal swinging door open, not bothering to hold it for his brother.

They barely got a glance of her before she was shouldering a dark wooden door open in the back of the kitchen. There was one guy working, a tall dark-haired guy that looked to be in his early twenties. He was lightly tanned, well built, and looked to be of Italian heritage. He took one look at them, gathered what they were, and nodded respectfully.

When they entered this other room, they found her lounging on a dark blue couch against the farthest wall, legs crossed. A simple metal desk was placed along the wall to their right, a comfy chair on a swivel in front of it. Sam glanced over it, found a lot of the same files and information they had on this case littered across it. He also found things they didn’t have. Dean was already busy with his pie, slowly edging his fork through the layer of pecans on top.

Unceremoniously, he sank into the couch she had opposite her own, this one a muted red. Rolling his eyes at his brother’s lackluster manners, Sam took a seat beside him, smiling politely at her across the glass coffee table between them.

“My name’s Joelle, don’t feel the need to introduce yourselves, I already know who you are,” she informed them, Dean nodded gratefully around a mouthful of pie.

Sam stalled a moment, shifted gears because she was suddenly professional, cordial and almost cold compared to how carefree she seemed out in the shop. “Uh, right- so, what do you have, on this case?”

Her lips twitched. “I’m sure you already know what you’re hunting,” Dean grunted around more pie, Sam nodded for the both of them with an unamused huff.

“Thing is, you’re hunting more than one.”

Sam cocked his head, blinked. Dean swallowed a mouthful of pie, and gruffly replied. “I’m guessing you’ve evidence to back that up, cuz even for us, this sounds iffy.”

She swiveled her head to look at him. “And I’m guessing you usually got picked last for group projects,” Dean glared, Sam smirked and she continued. “The behavior of your mark has fluctuated, altered in ways that it shouldn’t under the pretense that it is the same shapeshifter.”

“Behavior?” Dean said, fork in hand stopped halfway to his mouth.

She smiled patiently. “The first murder was 2 months ago. A family of four, stabbed to death and laid side-by-side in their backyard for someone to find them. A few days later, a woman is stabbed to death in her house but laid outside in the alley where someone can stumble upon her.” Her eyes flickered between both of them, watching gears turn. “Then, a month later another family of four is stabbed to death, laid in their backyard, and just as before a few days break before someone else is stabbed and dumped in an alley.”

She stood, began walking slowly around the room as she continued. “Already, there’s a notable discrepancy in our shapeshifter’s behavior. Families to single adults. Not only that, but a difference in the location, a shifting difficulty to pull off a murder in a geographical aspect. The families live in suburbia, daddy goes to work, mommy waters the garden and talks to Susan about the weather and book-club. Everyone sees everyone coming and going through all hours of the day,” She began gesturing mildly as her explanation ran on.

“Pulling off a murder, and ‘playing house’ would be beyond difficult. Almost next to impossible to do without throwing any red flags up. The other murders, the follow-ups we’ll call them, not nearly as difficult to pull off. A single adult in a shoddy part of town, where no one lingers on the street longer than it takes to lock their car door, not too difficult to slip in and change skin. There’s hardly any risk of being caught.”

Dean and Sam were looking at her with a mixture of respect and awe. When she turned to walk back towards her couch (though she had no intention of sitting down), Dean turned to Sam and mouthed ‘Damn!’, eyes twinkling. Sam shook his head, but silently agreed.

“The time-span between the murders was a tip off as well. The family instances take nearly a month to crop up after our ‘single and ready to mingle’s have been found. That shapeshifter takes the time to integrate into the family, become a part of the Brady Bunch before he goes American Psycho on them. The other shapeshifter hardly sticks around long enough to cash in Van Wilder’s check before he tosses them out with the trash-“ she stopped suddenly, spun to face them and found them staring at her slightly slack-jawed.

“Do I need to continue,” her gaze snapped to Dean and she somewhat haughtily asked, “Or have I convinced you?”

They say first impressions are everything. And she made quite the impression, ‘an impression I wouldn’t mind getting’ tattoed somewhere on me, huh, Sammy?’

They were headed out of the shop, her following behind as they shared discreet looks and gestures as a way to communicate with each other non-verbally. They reached the end of the counter when Dean suddenly whirled, and completely ignored his brother’s look of exasperation.

“So, I don’t suppose you have a -uh, clue as to how we can pin these kooks down?” His ineffective charming smiling was back in place, along with that cocky attitude.

She held her gaze steady as she responded, “Oh, I already know where they are. Which is why I’ll be coming with you.”

Dean blinked, looked around briefly as if he could ask someone with authority ‘did you just hear that?’, but there was no such person around. Sighing good-naturedly, he responded with, “Ah, you’ve already done more than enough- hey, why don’t you just give us the location and we can go take care of it? The least we can do.” He smiled, cheeks high and eyes crinkled as he leaned on the counter, ducked his head sideways to peer at her through his lashes.

Openly snickering, she ran her tongue across her teeth and looked past him at Sam. “You guys are staying at The Hedgerow Motel, right? I’ll close up shop and meet you there in 10.” Sam smiled his answer, cheeks dimpling as he watched his brother silently fume/deflate in confusion.

 They ducked into the car a few moments later, and Dean idled the engine as he stared past his brother into the shop, tongue slipping to wet his lips, eyes drawn to the only person in the café. She really didn’t give him the time of day, or take any of his crap. It was sort of refreshing, actually: meeting a woman who could stare across the table with an empty hand, and make him fold.

“Dude!” Sam chuckled, eyebrows high, already grinning knowingly.

“What?” Dean replied, breaking his gaze away as she disappeared into the kitchen. He found Sam giving him ‘the look’. “No. Come on, I’m a professional.” He retorted, puffed his chest up and shifted gears.

“Yeah,” Sam scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I’ve heard you say that before.”

 

Ten minutes was enough time for that itch of desire to die down in Dean’s belly and enough for that cocky, know-it-all attitude to come back. He was nursing a beer when Sam came out of the bathroom, and Sam didn’t miss the arrogant smirk on Dean’s face as he took a sip.

“What are you smiling about?” he asked, taking a seat in one of the chairs at the rickety metal table beside the door.

“She didn’t get our room number.” He said, all smug. Like he had pointed out that she had walked around all day with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe and hadn’t noticed.

Sam gave him a deadpan look. “You really think she’s going to have trouble getting our room number when she was the one that blew the case open? She’s not an idiot, as she’s already proven at your expense.” Sam grinned, humored.

Dean’s scowl was immediate, and the pull of his beer was long. He was on his way to retorting something smart when there was a knock at the door. Sam smirked over at him, jerked his head as if say ‘Go, on. Prove me wrong.’

‘Stupid little brother’ Dean thought, as he stomped towards the door. Glancing through the peep-hole, he was dually pleased and irritated to find her out there standing on the walkway with her hands tucked into her jacket pockets, expectantly waiting.

“Damn.” Dean growled lowly and Sam snorted at him in response. “Shut up.” He hissed, and swung the door open, not bothering to lower the intensity in his eyes.

She swept into the room with a thank you, nodded at Sam cordially and took a seat on the other side of him.

Immediately, she began talking. “The last murder was of a family of four and that was yesterday, which would give us tonight and perhaps tomorrow to come up with a plan. But I have a feeling you two are more of the ASAP type.”

“More or less.” Sam agreed, shrugging his shoulders. With how worked up she was getting Dean, they’d probably head out tonight.

Without any prompt, she started talking again. “Their ‘home base’ is the middle ground between Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and 8 Mile: A small warehouse district.”

Dean cracked a smile at her references, found himself doing so and was immediately irritated. “So, what are we waiting for?” he rumbled with his arms crossed over his chest, flannel straining around his biceps.

She stood, shaking her head with a wry a smile. “Apparently, not a plan.” She shared a quick look with Sam.

‘Is he always like this?’

‘Basically.’

Dean looked between both of them, caught their silent communication and sighed. “Great, you two have the same ‘nerd wavelength’.” He gestured a hand between their heads to elaborate.

Laughing, she sauntered toward the door, unabashedly patted his chest and winked. “Ooh, the jealous type. My favorite, quite like pecan pie during the middle of a h-“

“Oh, screw off!” Dean grouched and marched past her, though he did smile a bit at her throaty laugh. She was already under his skin, and not at all in an unpleasant way.

Before he dove into the car, he heard her laugh again, saw Sam lean away from her and jab his thumb toward the impala. “What?” he snapped, not sounding as venomous as he intended.

She tilted her head sideways, smiled placidly. “You’re parked closest to this door.” And turned on her heel, flounced towards a steel gray Trans Am Dean hadn’t noticed til just now. Looked to be an early 70s model.

‘Of course she’d have a car I’d respect too. Damn, it’s becoming impossible not to like her.’

As he turned the key in the ignition a moment later, he deciphered her words and sighed, defeated.

“She’s really smart.” He admitted somewhat sadly, glancing at Sam. Sam agreed with a hum, tried not to laugh. “Let’s hope she can kick ass better than she can make me look like one.”

 

“So,” Dean leaned back on the trunk of the impala, hands on the cool metal. “Do we have to search every one of these warehouses or do you have a general idea of where to start?”

She chortled, adjusted her gun in the waistband of her pants and replied. “I already told you: I know exactly where they are.”

“Are we here just to play follow the leader with you or something?” he snipped, agitated at all her withheld information. Sam sighed beside him, getting irritated as well, but for a different reason. A reason that shared his last name.

“Don’t you go all ‘Alpha’ male on me,” she pointed at him with sharp eyes. He clammed up, mouth twitching in surprise at her sudden sternness. “The warehouse we want is right there.” She turned, nodded towards a dilapidated and rusty metal building. There was a sizeable hole in the domed tin roof. It sat a couple hundred feet away, wedged between two other warehouses, considerably larger and in better shape.

“There are two entrances, a front and back. But the giant shutter doors can only be opened from the inside, so our only real entrance is the back. There are 3 floors, but I can’t attest to the upper levels stability or safety, so if possible I’d recommend taking care of this on ground level.”

Sam nodded seriously, eyes hard. “The idea of one entrance and one exit doesn’t sit well with me-“

“That’s why I’m going in first. I’ll open the shutter door, one of you can be waiting on the other side, and-“

“Now wait a minute,” that was Dean, all highbrow and testosterone. “I don’t think you should go in there alone.”

“Oh, good Lord- I said ‘first’ not ‘alone’.” She looked up at him, expecting more complaining and chest puffing, but he just looked right back, borderline pissy.

Apparently, he hated being wrong, and being told what to do.

Sam caught on to the quickly mounting tension between the two of them and piped up, breaking their childish staring contest. “I’ll…wait outside.” Dean pursed his lips, narrowed his eyes at his brother over her head.

“Fine by me.” Without a backward glance, she started toward the warehouse, gave it a wide berth. When they were close enough, she slipped around the side of one of the neighboring warehouses, about turned the corner when Dean grabbed her arm.

Whirling, she was ready to snip at him, but found his eyes dark and angry. She mentally stuttered, taken aback at his intensity.

“I’m going first.” He said in a way that brooked no argument, his voice low and rough and just a little mean. So far, she had called all the shots, made all the plans and basically spoke all the words. Dean had had enough. This was their hunt, not hers. Who cares if she…did a lot…of the work. Honestly, he didn’t have a lot of trust for anyone that wasn’t him or his shaggy haired brother, and even though he found her attractive and appealing, he wasn’t sure she should be taking the lead. For all he knew the only knife she had ever handled was a butter knife to spread icing on her cakes.

No, he was going to take the lead like he should.

She seemed on the verge of fighting him about it, mouth parted slightly and eyebrows anchored, but at the last second her features softened and she nodded. “Sure, whatever you think is best.”

Dean paused at her earnestness, curious at her sudden change in behavior, but brushed it off with a forceful sigh. Letting her go, he brushed past her, edged around the corner and felt her eyes on his back. She was so quiet he otherwise wouldn’t have known she was following.

When they reached the plain red metal door, Dean took a knee and pulled out his lockpicks. Just as his picks touched the lock, she murmured quietly at his shoulder.

“What’s your problem?” it wasn’t said heatedly or even put off. Just curious in a friendly manner.

“My problem?” Dean asked, quirking an eyebrow even though she couldn’t see his face.

“With me.” She said, glanced around as if there was regular traffic behind warehouses. “I know I’m not entirely pleasant to be around, but you seem to hate me more than a reasonable amount. More than I’m used to.”

Dean was silent, mulling her words over and trying not to feel slightly guilty for his behavior. Far off in the distance a dog barked gruffly, and they both stiffened somewhat at the sound.

It wasn’t that he hated her. Just the opposite actually. And he knew they would be leaving after this case, and didn’t want to leave anything behind when he put this town in the rear-view. If he let himself act like he wanted to around her, that’s exactly what he’d be doing come tomorrow: leaving something behind. He’d done enough of that to last two lifetimes.

The lock clicked and Dean put his lockpicks away. When he stood, he found she already had her gun drawn, but she was looking at him expectantly, waiting on an answer. “Weren’t you the one that told me to stay focused on a hunt?” he asked a little starchily, drew his own gun.

She smiled flatly and shrugged. “I can ignore my own advice.”

Scoffing, he slowly turned the doorknob, eased the door open to be sure it wasn’t going to squeak. He slipped in when it was wide enough for him, heard the rustle of her clothes as she did the same.

It was a mess. There were puddles of water, oil, what looked to be beer, and possibly blood all over the floor. There were large wooden crates of who knows what laid about on top of pallets all over the place. Some were draped with canvas and others were naked, moldy and rotting from prolonged exposure to the elements.

Thick steel beams dotted the floor in 10 foot intervals to offer support for the second floor, they were slightly rusted in places, missing chunks of metal in others. Overhead lights had long since burned out or broken, pieces of white glass scattered here and there because of it.

On the far side of the building, opposite them, was a rickety metal staircase that had seen better days. It was shiny with condensation and likely rusted just as the beams were. A faint smell of rain, iron and wood rot hung in the air, and they both wrinkled their noses at it.

“Door’s that way,” she whispered, nodding her head to the left of them. They could hang along the wall and use the crates for cover just in case their skin shedding friends were on the first floor.

He shot her an annoyed look that said ‘I know, I’m not dumb’, and began to lead the way, footsteps quiet and gun pointed at the ground. He peeked around each crate before they passed it, grew increasingly frustrated when he found nothing each time.

She shared his frustration but subtler. She didn’t like that this fight was going to have to take place on a higher floor. If the wooden crates all the way down here were rotted and falling apart, the boards upstairs couldn’t be in better condition.

Beside the door was a chain on a pulley, or had been at one time. They had broken the chain.

“Great.” Dean muttered, sidled along a crate, poked his head out to get a glance at the middle of the warehouse. Just an empty cement floor, a couple articles of clothing thrown about.

“Ok. They aren’t down here,” he needlessly pointed out. “After I pick that lock, I’m gonna need your help-“

“Lifting the fucking door.” She sighed like a child, and pressed her lips into a thin line to avoid complaining about anything else.

“Yeah,” he agreed, sounding just as enthused though a weak smile did tilt his lips. For a moment he almost considered apologizing, but his stubborn streak caught up before he could and he crouched low to make his way to the lock they had strapped to the door.

While he did so, she angled herself around the side of the canvas draped crate, gun low at her side, barrel pointed down as she scanned the stairway and the balcony overlooking the center of the warehouse floor.

So far so good. Whatever they were doing, they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get it done.

A low whistle caught her attention and she slid her eyes over to find Dean dangling the lock at her on two fingers. He jerked his head in a ‘come hither’ motion that she found bossy and dorky at the same time.

“Be easy,” he whispered when she was close enough. She ‘hmph’ -ed at him but kneeled all the same. Using the divot in the floor and the poked out piece of metal that the lock was latched on, Dean got almost all of his fingers under the door and began pulling.

As soon as she had space, she slipped her own hands underneath the door and started lifting too. “Shit, this is heavy,” she breathed, bit her lip.

“I know.” Dean grunted, straining his muscles at the weight. “Lift!” he groaned quietly.

She growled at him. “I am.” The door was a good foot and a half in the air, and she wondered why she hadn’t heard or seen Sam yet. Her arms were already burning and she doubted Dean was any better off.

At the end of his rope, Dean hissed, “Sam? Sam?!”

“What?” they heard his soft timber behind them, and it took every ounce of willpower not to scream, jump, or drop the door.

Twisting their heads, they found him standing a few feet behind them, an eyebrow raised.

“You-! You…” she huffed ineffectually at Sam, and Dean silently glared. Either they were both equally spent, or they had the same idea: cautiously, they lowered the door to the ground, heaved giant sighs of relief when they let go.

“What the Hell are you doing?” Well, Dean reloaded quick.

“You were taking too long, I thought something happened.” He shrugged. Just shrugged.

But of course he could. He didn’t just lift a 200-pound door.

“You bastard!” she whispered, cheeks flushed from exertion.

“You friggin suck.” Dean backed her up, shaking his arms out with a hard frown.

“Sorry,” he said, not sounding or looking it at all. “So the first floor’s clear.” He piped up conversationally.

A quick glance between her and Dean, and she nodded discreetly. Before Sam could ask what was going on, Dean reached out to punch him in the shoulder. Gritting his teeth, Sam glared.

“Second floor?” she asked, smiling cordially at Dean.

“Second floor.” He agreed with a small smile of his own.

Guns in hand, they both slunk away leaving Sam to rub his sore shoulder and pout.

“Stupid hippie,” she griped quietly beside Dean, tossed a look over her shoulder and missed the grin on his face.

The stairs surprisingly held their weight, though neither was in a hurry to get back on them when they emerged on the second floor.

She visibly cringed when she looked around, and Dean stiffened beside her.

“Oh, this is so creepy.” She murmured, unconsciously edging toward Dean.

He noticed but didn’t say anything because he was just as uncomfortable. This was going to be fun.

Absolutely littering the second floor was an obscene number of mannequins. They were grouped together in clusters like socialites at a high-to-do gathering, angled inwards toward each other as if discussing something. Others were lone, standing on the edge of abandon by the socialites. Much of the paint on the mannequins had worn off, resulting in unappealing smears of red from lipstick and black from eyes and eyebrows. Many were missing limbs, posing without an arm, hand, leg and in some cases, a head.

These unattached appendages lay on the ground around them amidst trash and puddles, seemingly waiting for someone to repair them. At random intervals there sat wire containers about 10 long and 5 wide, the sides were about as tall as Dean. Inside them lay a myriad of mannequin parts: arms, legs, heads, torsos, there were even some whole mannequins.

The creepy factor was quite high, and it didn’t help that all of dead and running eyes on them seem to follow Joelle and Dean everywhere.

They were edging further in, tip-toeing and eyes sweeping through the sea of white plastic statues for anything that resembled a human. They were almost shoulder to shoulder with how close they were walking together, and it was a slight comfort to feel the warmth of another person on their arms.

As they passed more and more mannequins, faded blue and brown eyes locked on them in dead gazes, Joelle was getting more unnerved. But in the company of a Winchester, she had no choice to battle it down, readjusted the grip on her gun and her nerves.

Suddenly, Dean went rigid beside her, his footsteps halting abruptly. She was about to ask what was wrong with him when her ears caught wind of something. A scuffle, a scraping sound. Dean lifted two fingers to his eyes and pointed off to the right of her, mouth a hard line.

Fighting the urge to swallow in fear, she nodded once, turned and headed in that general direction. She adamantly wanted to look straight ahead, ignore all the flat stares of inanimate people, but she knew she had to stay sharp. So, reluctantly, she cast her gaze around, tried to find something living in the recesses of her quiet friends and could see nothing in the gloomy shadows.

As she neared the wall, the only thing stunting her way a giant mannequin cage, she took a steady breath and turned with her gun at the ready. She had to bite her lip from screaming when she came nose to nose with a lifeless stare, plain eyes looking right passed her.

Easing her puffing chest, she dropped her shoulders as she tried to calm her jumping pulse. A quiet spattering sound reached her ears, metallic tings and a soft hiss and she slowly realized it had started raining. A breezed ruffled her dark hair, sent a shiver down her spine with its chill.

Steeling herself, she side-stepped her sneaky friend and continued on, her bearings a little loose but still in place. She wondered if Dean was just as creeped out, just as uneasy as she was and decided after a moments pondering that he was probably winking at and giving mannequins sarcastic smiles. The guy seemed to be made of stone, fear didn’t seem to be something he did. 

Speaking of, he should be around somewhere. She had reached the wall, a long space of clear floor reached from one end of this floor to the other, just where the balcony began. He was nowhere to be found, though one thing was for certain.

She crouched, nose wrinkling at a glob of gooey skin, ratty hair and…ah, jeez that was a ‘friggin ear. Frowning, she stood and dragged her eyes along the floor, finding quite a few more globs of nasty.

They were here. Somewhere. She’d have to be careful where she stepped, the last thing she wanted to do today was scrape some unknown person’s nose or back skin from the bottom of her shoe.

And it was then, as she stood in the still silence of the warehouse (aside from the rain), that she noticed. The sound that corralled her back here was gone.

She flitted her gaze around, desperate to see the 6-foot hulking frame of Dean meandering his way through mannequins and found herself alone.

‘How does a guy that big disappear?’ she thought, head swiveling this way and that hoping he’d just appear because she was looking for him. She heard a rustle of clothing behind her and stiffened.

She whirled just in time for a fist to connect with her jaw. Her head snapped sideways with the force and she stumbled back a step, mind reeling but her limbs went on auto-pilot.

Her forearm blocked another right hook, and she spun back, left leg up and sturdy as it connected with her attacker’s side. There was a satisfying crunch that she had but a moment to appreciate before he -as she caught of him- slid right inside while she was recovering. He grabbed her wrist, cracked the side of his elbow into her jaw when she tried to retaliate, and shoved his shoulder into her chest.

Her back hit a steel beam and she was caught breatheless as he pushed himself into her, forearm on her windpipe and other hand mercilessly wrenching her wrist to get her to drop her gun.

Just as he was having success, two loud gunshots rang out in the warehouse on the other side of the room and his dark brown eyes snapped up in the general direction, narrowing.

‘I hope that means Dean killed one.’ She thought bitterly.

Using his momentary distraction, she wedged her hand and then her arm up through the bend of his elbow and threw her arm out to the side. By the time he gathered that she was even touching him, she was already on her way to a headbutt. He looked at her just in time for her forehead to connect with the entirety of his nose.

Growling he stumbled back, grip still tight on her wrist. She heaved a knee into his stomach, felt his hold lessen as the air whooshed out of him, grabbed his forearm and yanked it across the space between them, and drove her other knee right into his elbow.

He howled in pain, dug his fingers into her wrist as his right arm hung uselessly at his side.

It was all but finished for him.

She swung her left arm up, caught the side his neck, pinky under jaw, thumb resting on his collar bone, slipped her left foot behind his right and tugged as she shoved with her hand.

Eyes wide, he snarled as he was flung sideways onto his back, hardly registering that he had lost his grip on her wrist. Before he even had the chance to blink up at her, her boot was on his chest and her gun was pointed at him.

She pulled the trigger, eyes narrowed and breath heavy. Once, twice. Just to be sure.

While she gathered her breath, she peeled her boot from him and threw her head back to sigh dramatically.

“I take back everything I thought about you.”

She spun, gun aimed and ready and found Dean in her sights, hands raised in peace. Huffing in a way that told him she wasn’t happy about being snuck upon, she responded. “Oh, and what exactly did you think about me?”

He smiled sheepishly. Honestly, really smiled. Where she could see him and she found it slightly contagious. He seemed less volatile when he smiled, likeable even.

“The list is pretty long,” he admitted, chewing his lip guiltily. “And not all of it is flattering.”

She threw her head back and laughed, taking it in stride. Speaking of strides, someone’s 6-foot-ginormous ones led them to their little shindig a second later.

“Is everyone ok?” the concerned giant asked, eyes flitting between Dean, Joelle and the dead guy behind her. He had the lame duty of guarding the stairs and had been a giant bundle of nerves and trigger-happy. The mannequins didn’t help.

“Just peachy,” she replied with a thumbs up, lips quirked in a small smile. Dean grunted his answer while he slipped his gun back into the waistband of his jeans.

A second passed in silence as they thought of what to do next, the rain pattering quietly on the ruined roof and worn down floor.

“Um,” Dean started, lips frowning a smile at her. At first she thought he was going to try flirting or making some dumb joke, but he instead he pointed at her feet and chuckled, “You got something on your shoe.”

Paling, she dropped her gaze to her boot and found a disgusting amount of ‘shed human’ clinging to the bottom and side of her leather-clad foot.

“Ah, that’s disgusting!” she cried, shaking her hands. Sam and Dean snorted laughs that only got worse when she proceeded to wipe her boot on the dead shapeshifter’s stomach. “You bastard, you did this.” She growled, knowing she’d have to hand clean this off.

Shaking his head, Sam stepped forward intending to say something smart given his smirk when they all heard a sound that had them freezing. The wood underneath their feet was creaking. It was almost comedic the way they all looked at each other with wide eyes and parted mouths.

Sam backpedaled quickly, not giving a hoot that he fell into a group of mannequins to do so. Joelle and Dean weren’t so quick.

They had both only taken a step when the floor completely gave beneath them. Ever the white knight, Dean grabbed her just before they fell. Dean wasn’t looking forward to hitting a cement floor with a human on top of him, but hey, he had survived worse.

Mentally bracing himself, Dean was ready to hit unforgiving concrete but not canvas covered wood. Grunting at the impact he was more than ready to believe that was the end of it all, and so was Joelle.

“Are you- “

The creaking of more wood cut her off, and Dean groaned in a way that said ‘Yeah, that figures.’

They broke through the wood, fell two more feet and hit whatever was inside the crate with a loud clatter. The canvas fell in around them and covered them, its musky scent filling their nostrils. It also made it clear how close they were.

Dean could feel her hot breath on his neck, the warmth of her hands on his chest that made his skin tingle through the fabric of his t-shirt. And she could feel the distinct shape and strength of his arms around her middle, large and calloused hands pressed into her sides.

Then she lifted her head, probably to talk and Dean felt the heat and air of her breath on his lips she was so close. Her own breathing stuttered when she realized it as well, and Dean caught himself before he could be pleased about it.

“Are- are you ok?” she asked a little breathless and Dean chalked it up to the fall. He blamed the throatiness of her voice on the stifling environment, and the stutter he blamed on the surprise of the fall.

“Yeah, yeah I thi-“ He stopped suddenly, wrinkled his brow as he deciphered the shape pressing into his lower back.

“You think...?” she prompted, her voice holding a note of concern as she missed out on the confusion in his words.

He groaned, cutting her off when he realized what they were laying on. She hummed her question.

“More fucking mannequins.”

It was a moment for the information to sink in, but when it did, she was laughing uncontrollably, head dropped to his chest.

He tried to sound grouchy but a waver in his voice gave him away. “C’mon, I’m getting felt up by Sally-Stiff-Fingers over here. Gimme a break.” He chuckled softly, tucking the way her it felt when her jumping muscles brushed over his own in her laughter into the back of his mind. Yeah, she had gotten to him.

They heard Sam calling for them and the moment fell apart around them, both of them seeking the other’s face in the near pitch-black crate.

“We should-“

“Yeah, yeah.” Dean interrupted, voice strained. Without further ado, he awkwardly swatted the canvas sheet back, both of them wincing at the chilly air and she reached an arm up to grab the side of the broken crate.

Inching out from under her, Dean left a hand on her lower back to steady her as she tried to get footing on shifty plastic. When she peeked over the edge, she found Sam standing a couple feet away, fidgeting and worried.

He was quick to offer her his hand, which she took as she swung a leg over. “I gotcha.” He promised when she stalled, one foot in. Beside her, Dean was pulling himself to the edge, frowning when his foot got caught in the elbow of a mannequin.

Smirking at the older Winchester’s expression, she planted her other foot on the crate and half fell, half jumped out. She collided with his chest, an ‘oomph!’ bursting out of her upon impact. Sam lowered her to the ground with an arm around her waist. For whatever reason, he was smiling in an amused way. She gazed up into his honey-flecked eyes, smiled a warm thank you and detached her clammy hands from his biceps.

“Oh, shi-“ Dean thumped to the ground with a groan, subsequently breaking the small trance they were stuck in.

Sam offered him a hand as well, snorting at his dusty and dis-shelved brother. All in all, it was a good hunt. Nobody was severely injured, or at each other’s throats, which was what he was expecting with the way Dean had acted toward Joelle. She was a capable hunter, reliable, smarter than the two of them together. He’d have to make a point to force Dean to visit next time they breezed through town. A point he felt like he wouldn’t have to force all that much.

She had grown on the both of them in the short time they had known her.

“I see Sally couldn’t let you go.” She remarked behind them with a laugh.

Looking down, not bothering to explain who Sally was to Sam, Dean saw a white arm, bent at the elbow on the floor near his feet. Grunting, he kicked it away with a roll of his eyes.

“Can we please leave?” he asked, not at all sounding like he’d accept an answer other than yes. Wordlessly, they all began to trudge out of the warehouse, an easy companionable silence settling over them.

Aside from a few bangs and bruises, and a disgusting shoe, the hunt went well and Joelle was quite pleased. She had a feeling it had something to do with the two weary-eyed brothers walking beside her. It had been some time since she had hunted with someone else and walked away relatively unscathed. They were capable, trustworthy, compassionate, and easy-going once you chipped past their rough exterior. She’d miss them. Somehow, in the span of a few hours, they had made an imprint on her, one she was happy to have.

She almost sighed when she thought of the shop. It wasn’t that she didn’t like it, it was just that she liked hunting more than icing cakes. But, she had made the choice to stand on the sidelines a few years ago and offer input or assistance on cases that other hunters had difficulty cracking. She hardly ever took part in the hunt passed researching. But this time, when she saw the both of them waltz into her café with authority and purpose and danger- when they came into her shop practically screaming ‘lived fully lived’ with just their appearance alone, she knew she had to go with them.

For the first time in four years she felt the thrill of life in her bones and that old fire in her blood when the prospect of an honest to goodness hunt was dropped at her feet. Sadly, she’d kiss it all goodbye when they left town and go back to making lattes and cupcakes, decorating cakes for some kid’s sweet sixteen.

This time she did sigh, and they both glanced sidelong at her. Rolling her shoulders, she dug her hand into her pocket for her keys, sadly focusing her eyes on her Trans Am. Briefly, she wondered what it would be like to sit in the car- the car- with the most legendary monster hunters known to man, and be treated like an equal. Stopping herself from snorting at the thought, she halted next to Dean when they both reached the impala.

Dean was leaned back on his door, hands in his jacket pockets and shoulders high as he chewed his words. Sam was resting his forearms on top of the roof, his door open. Both the brothers’ gazes bounced from Joelle to the surrounding area, hesitation and anxiousness heavy in their similar eyes.

“Well…” she said, glancing between the two of them reluctantly. They both suddenly seemed so lost which was strange considering their occupation. Hunters were fantastic at saying goodbye, they did almost every day. She on the other hand, was a little out of practice.

When it was clear neither of them was going to say anything, she found the strength to smile softly, thinking their uncharacteristic shyness was refreshing and humbling. “You take care of yourselves, boys,” they nodded with unconvincing smiles that spoke volumes about the kind of water they often landed themselves in. “If you’re ever in my neck of the woods…”

Dean grinned then, an earnest one full of promise and relief. His eyes brightened with it and she suddenly understood the faith he had in his own swagger because her legs went a little weak with the way his eyes crinkled around the edges.

“Trust me, I’ll be coming back.” He extended his hand, shook hers gently but firm. “Best damn pie I’ve ever had.” He winked, canines on display with his toothy grin.

Good-naturedly, she huffed. “You’ll come back just to visit me, right?” she asked Sam with a curved eyebrow. He laughed, dimples flashing and nodded.

It was still steadily raining, and the tops of her shoulders were chilly from the drops. She took it as her queue to leave. So, with a short wave she started toward her car, toying with her keys. She resisted the urge to look behind her because if she did, she knew she’d take that goodbye right back.

She heard their car doors thump shut and opened her own, made a point to wash it tomorrow because there was mud caked to the bottom of her door and car, a few splatters reached toward the window.

Flopping down into the familiar leather, she kicked the engine over, turned the radio on and smiled dopily at the classic rock. Oldies but goodies. As she shifted gears to leave, she made the mistake of looking in her rear-view, where the impala was parked in the perfect line of sight.

She found the both of them watching her car, waiting, mulling something over. She however got stuck looking at Dean. Full lips pouting, eyes sorrowful, eyebrows high in silent expectation, strong hand gripping the steering wheel for dear life. Her heart jumped to her throat.

And she pulled away.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing?” Sam asked, eyes flicking between her Trans Am and Dean who was still stuck pouting. Dean didn’t answer, just glanced over at him and felt a smidge of relief when he caught confusion and desperation swirling in his brother’s eyes. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one that had grown a soft spot for her.

Dean cleared his throat, shifted in his seat and forced himself to relax the grip he had on the steering wheel. “Isn’t it obvious?” he asked, jabbing the radio on with a finger.

“What?” Sam asked, a little snappy, a little unsure of the answer. Like he was worried Dean was going to turn the impala in the other direction if he didn’t continue staring at Joelle’s tire tracks.

Dean turned his head, Cheshire grin on his lips. “I’m giving her a head-start.” He wasn’t sure how he felt about her, all he knew was that she had sidled right into their duo and flawlessly made it a trio. Now, it felt a little empty despite it being how it always was: Just him and Sam. “Give her time to miss me.” He declared arrogantly.

Sam scoffed, bit back his smile and relaxed in his seat. Then, he went a little rigid and made a sound of cut off surprise. “Who’s gonna ask her to come with us?”

One pointless game of rock, paper, scissors later and Dean was shooting a flat lined stare through the windshield. Sam was smugly leaned back in his seat, content to listen to McJagger tell the world that wild horses couldn’t drag him away from his love.

A few minutes later, they were pulling into their motel, Dean insisted on showering and changing since he was the one who was going to be making an appearance.

At Sam’s aggravated huff, Dean shot a: “Can it, Princess. You didn’t even do anything.” at him. Technically, yeah that was the plan, but Dean was not going to be cheated out of a hot shower. He deserved it dammit.

Sam sighed dramatically, took a seat in his previous chair and stared out the window at the quickly waning sun. The horizon going foggy with salmon pink, muted orange, lavender purple, the barest trace of azure blue clinging above the evening colors. Streetlights had already buzzed to life, and cast a shimmering glow over wet asphalt, the smell of which was still lingering in Sam’s nostrils. There was a peaceful calm that came with sunset, a cool kind of resolve and sweet prompting to let the day go that was brought about by chilly air and impatient stars.

Before he had time to count the first sheep jumping behind his eyelids, Sam was lulled to sleep by scenery alone. Never mind that it was a parking lot facing an empty plot of land on the other side of the road. Maybe he was lulled by the atmosphere, the ambience of the slowly approaching night.

Dean emerged from the bathroom, swiping a towel over his head, fully dressed. He wore his usual ensemble of a button up over a t-shirt, plain jeans and his boots. But as Sam forced himself awake, he noticed something even from all the way across the room.

“Are you wearing cologne?” he asked, incredulous and suddenly very awake. Dean shrugged, forced naturalism in the gesture. “And- did you shave?” Sam blinked owlishly, looked him up and down as if he wasn’t sure it was his brother he was looking at.

Dean swallowed, avoided Sam’s eyes as he dug through his discarded pants for his keys. He suddenly felt like a high schooler asking his crush to go to homecoming with him. He felt…silly. But it was too late to go back now, he had shaved for pete’s sake! …and put on cologne.

He had made a bad first impression and he was determined to make a good second one. He was trying to eliminate any way that he might screw it up, and now that his appearance was taken care of he only had his mouth to worry about. That was going to be a challenge. He didn’t really have a filter on what came out of his mouth anymore. He hoped he wouldn’t end up stupidly offending her somehow…he was good at that.

Taking a breath, he looked up while he hooked his keys on a couple fingers and found Sam still staring at him, bewildered and shocked, and just a few more seconds away from shit-stirring.

“Don’t.” Dean warned him, pointing a finger in his direction. Sam grinned complacently, held his hands up in a gesture of innocence. Exhaling deep, Dean stomped to the door, yanked it open and winced at the cool November wind.

Just as he turned to shut the door behind him he heard Sam call, “You forgot the corsage!”

“Oh, shaddup!” he barked, slammed the door like a rebellious teenager. “Stupid little brother.” He muttered to himself like a bitter old man. “Are you wearing cologne…did you shave?”

He slammed his car door with a manly grunt of frustration, huffed out a pissy breath and urged the engine to purr. According to the hunter that led them to her, she lived above the café, and could be found there if she wasn’t working. So, begrudgingly Dean directed his way there.

He calmed himself in the gold glow of light that swept across the dashboard every time he drove underneath a streetlight. Cast his eyes along the horizon, falling and rising with the dark silhouettes of buildings and skyscrapers outlined in the distance of the pale horizon. Watched in his peripherals as dark windows in shops and buildings zipped past him in a blur, people meandering around still open businesses, harsh fluorescence outlining their bodies and casting stark contrast on things just out of its reach. Trees swaying in the breeze, some red and gold leaves fluttering about as they were whipped off their branches.

The road disappearing under the hood of his baby as he coaxed her on, the purple horizon inching to dark blue that would be the perfect backdrop to the pinpoints of brightness that were the stars. Cars sped past him, headlights blinding, paintjobs a colorful but distorted mess in the fading light. Far off, he could see spots of color flare to life on the dark skyline, the lights of the city flickering and blinking like they do when they are far off in the distance. For the sake of feeling alive and silly and wholesomely optimistic, he rolled his window down. The almost uncomfortably cold wind hit him in the face, and he shifted behind the wheel, taking a deep breath that made his lungs ache with fullness.

These were the moments he loved about being on the road, the strange feeling of being of somehow one with the world around him despite never even setting foot in the town. The way he could silently appreciate the way it all went on, how tomorrow was always waiting. The seemingly endless way all the cities were the same from a distance, but were endearingly unique when you got to its heart. How he mattered to none of it, just a stranger, a temporary guest to appreciate a temporary piece of eternity.

For just a second he could forget about his entire life and just pretend that this was the only piece that meant anything. The wind roared through his window, an incessant whipping sound in his ear that was familiar but somehow unique and original at the same time. A sound he had heard a million times but could never pin down any definable qualities in.

He’d never let others know, but he was a very sentimental man. And these moments were very sentimental to him. He barely processed he was sitting in front of the café until the engine cut out underneath him, thoughtlessly having done so already.

Rolling his shoulders loose, he pushed his door open, slid out and numbly ran his eyes over the outside patio. Grateful he wasn’t having to stare at some lady’s pampered pooch tied to a girly table. He noticed all the umbrellas were taken down, tied into submission around their poles.

Shutting his door quietly, he waltzed toward the side of the building, having caught a glimpse of a precise and neat set of wooden stairs hugging the tan brick. He thumped up them, hands shoved into his jacket pockets and shoulders hunched against the cold wind. It wasn’t so bad in the car, he grumpily thought.

Her door was plain enough, a calm black metal, gold circular knocker. She had a cute little metal mailbox screwed into the brick, a red telephone box common in England.

Smiling at the way she managed to personalize her own doorstep, Dean knocked calmly but loudly enough to be heard.

“Just a sec,” he heard her muffled from inside, her voice sounding dull and tired.

Like the cocky and irresistibly smooth idiot he was, he leaned back on the railing with his forearms, hands dangling. He draped one foot over the other, cocked his head to the side and smirked, kept his eyes low in the weak light of her porch lamp. He heard her fumble with her locks, and made a note to lick his lips, give them a light shine.

When she tugged her door open, her eyes bugged out of her head, and she had to slap a hand onto the jamb to hold herself steady. Like movies often did with the camera, she ran her eyes from boots to face, took in everything an inch at a time, swallowed her heart when his eyelids fluttered, his lashes twitched and he looked up at her.

After a moment of staring heavily, she found her voice and her wit. “If you’re here for that pie, I’m afraid shop’s closed.”

He chuckled, throaty and warm, closed his eyes with it, straightened to his full height and opened those piercing greens to look down at her. “Actually, sweetheart, I’m here for you.”

She breathed, mouth dropping open in shock at his words. “You’re- you…?” she sputtered, hardly believing her luck. She was honestly 5 minutes away from throwing her duffel in her car, hauling ass to the motel and begging them to take her with them.

He grinned cheekily at her speechlessness. “Sammy and I are due to head out of this town, and we both want you to come with us.” It was said as a statement, but it came out sounding like a question. But he just drove 20 minutes back into town with their clock ticking away and she really doubted he did it just to ask her a question.

“I mean, I know you’re all tied up in your coffee and pie, but…” he took a step forward, a few inches away from bursting her personable bubble and reached up to rest his forearm on the doorjamb, the same one she was squeezing with all her might.

“I figure…we make one hell of a team…” he let that trail off, ducked his head and whetted his lips as he worried about whether or not he was making a good case.

He was beginning to think her silence was a firm no and decided to back off with a quiet murmur. “Spot’s open for ‘ya, Joelle.” He lingered a second, swept his eyes over her face, found her expression unreadable and with a soft exhale, slid away.

His boots thumped down the steps, sad but also frustrated. He just reached the bottom when he heard her voice.

“Dean, wait!” Peering over his shoulder, she held a hand up, pointer finger extended, and darted inside with the door wide open. Tilting his head sideways, he shuffled awkwardly at the bottom of her steps, glancing around like a nervous teenager waiting for his prom date’s big reveal. Ok, he never went to prom, but that’s not the point.

A second later, she reappeared, thick coat on, and duffel bag in hand. Taking the few short seconds to lock her door, she missed the boyish expression of excitement on his face. When she turned to flounce down the stairs, he had that dumb smirk back in place.

She reached him at the bottom, smiled faintly up at him and waited for him to say something. She had already learned that when he had something to say, he left his lips parted, glanced around minutely.

“Are you sure I can’t get some pie to-go?”

Shaking her head fondly, she swung her duffle bag into her hands, offered it to him. The beginnings of an excited smile tugged his lips as he quickly grabbed the zipper.

He just about yanked the dang thing off.

“Take it easy!” she laughed, though he paid her no mind. Peeling back the opening, he did a little happy bounce at the sight of a plain tan box sitting on top of all her clothes. He eased it out like it was a newborn baby, enamored eyes and gently cradling hands.

Then he peeled back the lid, lips parted expectantly and he caught a whiff of the pie before he saw it. He sighed a fluttery breath and pushed the lid completely back. He (did not squeal) happily, and looked at her with an expression so purely thankful she found herself wondering how much pie really meant to the man.

“This is- this-“ he broke off, he had to actually swallow back some drool. “Oh my God, I could eat this with my hands-“

She stabbed a plastic fork into the center of the pie, slung her duffle back over her shoulder and breezed past him, rolling her eyes at the deep groan that followed her.

“Oh my-!” he swallowed, punching out an ‘mm!’. “Soon as I find a shop, I’m buyin’ a ring and you and me are gettin’ hitched, babe.” She giggled, zipped her bag and glanced behind to catch Dean throw his head back with another bite of pie.

‘Jeez. This guy.’

As she rounded the corner, caught the shine of the sleek black Chevy from the streetlight at the end of the block, she felt an itch, a buzz in her blood. She couldn’t wait to get out of this town and watch miles of asphalt and dirt road disappear under the hood of the Impala.

As she wrenched the passenger door open, Dean cast a glance around the parking lot and noticed something.

“Hey-“ she had ducked in, accidently cutting him off and he didn’t mind, he had pie. Sidling in, he finished his question, setting the pie between them on the bench seat. “Where’s your car?”

She shrugged, brushing off the sadness at the thought. “I’m having someone take care of it for me.” She flashed him a smile that said ‘Please don’t ask about my car because if you do, I may break down into a blubbering mess and I’d rather not’.

He nodded, understanding. He turned the key, went to roll up the windows when she piped up. “Is it cool if you leave the windows down? Kinda enjoy the cold.”

Dean smiled, did a shrug of his own and started backing out onto the road. When Dean finally put her café into his rear-view, she asked another question. “So, you caught the tail-end of the sunset when you drove into town?”

He smiled warmly, remembered the peaceful drive in and nodded. She hummed next to him, nodded fondly as well. “Lucky. That’s the part I enjoy most.” Dean glanced sidelong at her, head tilted toward the window as her eyes wandered across the night sky, and found that appreciation in her as well. That sentiment for the small moments.

He felt companionship with her in that moment, the ease of finding a kindred soul. But it dropped a moment later when she reached for the pie.

“What are you ‘doin?” he half growled, like a dog with a bone. “My pie.” He said, snatching it up to place it in his lap.

I made it!” she huffed, not at all deterred by his gruff demeanor or the new location of the pie. Determined, she slid across the bench seat and Dean narrowed his eyes at her, right arm up to fend her off.

“Woman…”

“Man-child?”

“Don’t. I said-“

“I made the friggin thing!”

“Don’t care, it’s mine!”

“Gimme the fork!”

“No!”

He had both of her wrists in one hand. Really, he wasn’t sure how he managed that because he was 200% sure she could kick his ass, but he had a feeling that his endangered pie had a part to play in it.

She was glaring at him, eyes dark. “See if I ever make you a pie again.” She threatened and he glanced at her, trying to determine if she was serious.

Deciding to call her bluff, he squeezed her wrists, let her go and smiled cockily. “I guarantee you will.” He rumbled, resting his hand low on the steering just in case she decided to try again.

“Oh, and how do you know that?” she asked haughtily, eyebrow quirked.

He gave her a quick up-down, licked his lips, looked at her and purred, “People pleaser.”

She blinked, faltered to glare at him and huffed in defeat. He chuckled next to her, shrugged his shoulders in a carefree manner. ‘Not my fault’ the gesture said.

“People pleaser, huh?” she asked, Dean hummed with an enthused nod of his head. If he had looked over at her, he would’ve noticed the gears turning in her head, the mischievous glint in her steely eyes.

“So, I’m thinking for the next pie-“ he started, stalling abruptly at the feeling of her breath on his ear. Then he jolted at the feeling of her hand on his chest, the other toying with his collar.

“I can’t help but to notice,” she murmured, lips at his ear. “You changed into different clothes. These are relatively new, no wrinkles. Hardly worn. And-“ she dipped her head, nosed his neck and inhaled. Her lips felt the jump of his throat as he swallowed hard, from her angle it was audible.

“You’re wearing cologne…very pleasing.” She teased, trailed her hand up, lifted her head to purr into his ear again. “I noticed something else too.”

The hand toying with his collar slipped around to the back of his neck, played with the short hairs there. Her right hand reached up to slide across his jaw, and she realized with relish that his jaw was clenched quite tight, it trembled slightly under her soft fingertips and caressing thumb.

“You shaved, Dean.” She laughed quietly into his ear, peeked up to get a look at his profile. His eyes were tight, focused on the road intensely, eyebrows knit in concentration. But she had felt his pulse on her lips. The man was in danger of a heart attack if it beat any faster.

“So?” it was clipped, strained even on one syllable and Dean glanced over at her, unsure about what to do or what was really going on.

Biting her lip between her teeth, she smiled. “You’re guilty of being a people pleaser too. Exceptionally guilty.” She purred the last word, trailed her fingers across his jaw until they reached his chin. She chucked him under the chin.

The hand on the back of his neck ran up, combed against the grain of his hair to give him goosebumps and then skimmed back down. Her right hand fell on his right bicep, squeezed with teasing pressure…

“So,” she continued at a low register, running her nose under his jaw lightly. “When I tell you that I’d absolutely love a bite of pie, I don’t really think you’re going to deny me that.” He swallowed jumpily, cleared his throat huskily.

“Well…if it pleases ‘ya, sweetheart…” he croaked, suppressed a shudder as he felt her breath brush along his neck.

“It does. Very much.” She responded, pulling away to find his eyelids fluttering, and even from this angle it was easy to catch his blown pupils. It was clear he was struggling to keep his eyes on the road, let alone open.

Chuckling, she reached down across his lap for the fork. She tried not to laugh at the fact that a third of the pie was already gone, just from a few forkfuls of an eager Dean Winchester.

She stabbed a generous amount of pie onto the fork, lifted it with a steady hand and leaned over to pop it in her mouth, Dean had to tip his chin up so she could do so.

She hummed contentedly around the fork, pulled it from her mouth reluctantly. Dean grunted his agreement, eyes flickered down to watch her own slip closed as she savored the best damn pie in the world.

When she swallowed, she grinned at him eyes shining. Once more, she speared the pie, and he was on the verge of protesting again ‘That is my pie!’ on the tip of tongue when she lifted the fork to his mouth.

Blinking in a way that betrayed his thoughts, she cupped his chin with a knowing grin. Before his brain had the chance to conjure up some dumb remark, he opened his mouth and let her feed him a bite of pie.

While he was busy savoring, she cupped the left side of his face and pressed a sweet kiss to his cheek and murmured, “Thank you.”

‘Just a bite of pie’ he thought, humored. But when he looked over at her, the weight in her eyes as she slowly began to peel away, he realized she wasn’t talking about the pie. She was just talking about this.

“No problem, sweetheart. Glad to have ‘ya.” He rumbled, tongue rolling around the backs of his teeth to catch the fading flavor.

A few minutes passed in easy silence until Dean snorted, eyebrows wrinkling in a disbelieving way.

“What?” she asked, genuinely curious.

“I can’t believe you seduced me for a bite of pie!” he chortled, chest jumping with mirth.

She shrugged, grinned impishly at him. “Can you honestly blame me?”

Not looking at her, he was dead serious when he responded even though he was smiling like a goof. “No I can’t.”

A couple seconds passed before a thought occurred to her that her scowling over at Dean. “I better not have to do that every time I want a piece of pie.”

“Why not? It pleased me.” He smirked over at her suggestively, winked when he caught the reddening of her cheeks.

“Jerk.”

 

Chapter Text

When Dean pushed the motel room door open, Sam sat bolt upright, having been slouched in his seat. Alright, he had been out cold. The boredom of waiting had finally gotten to him about twenty minutes ago and he didn’t see anything wrong with grabbing a few winks.

“So? What happened? Is she- …is that pie?” Sam blinked slowly, confused about whether or not what he was seeing was actually there. A second later he rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me you got the pie but forgot the girl.”

Dean swaggered into the room, box balanced in one hand and glanced behind him. “Alright then, I won’t.”

Sam threw his hands up, scoffing. “Maybe I should start losing rock-paper-scissors.”

“Seriously, that’s how you decided who was going to ask?” a voice spoke from the open doorway, and Sam snapped his head in that direction. She was leaning on the frame, smiling, eyebrows raised.

Sam hopped out of his seat, a smile of his own breaking across his face. “Not really. Dean always chooses scissors.” He shrugged when she laughed, his dimples flashing.

“Man, don’t tell her that!” Dean whined, tossing his duffel over his shoulder. He took a quick glance around the room, made sure he wasn’t leaving anything behind. When he heard them both laugh, rolling their eyes and gesturing to him with their heads, he realized he had everything he needed. “Shut up, I could’ve at least won the first game with her. Stupid moose.” He pointed at Sam, frowning. Though he was far from irritated.

As they all started to leave, Sam shot Dean a flat look. “Don’t call me moose.”

“Alright, Rapunzel. No need to get your hair in a knot.” He was promptly punched in the arm. He snickered the pain away, took a second to glance in the backseat and found her there, smiling in contentment as she looked around the inside and ran her hands over the leather. Dean felt pride rise up in him, and when he opened the trunk to toss his duffle in, he secretly whispered, “I think she likes you, Baby.”

By the time he situated himself behind the wheel, her and Sam were already having a nerd conversation. Something about the unrealistic character transition of a strong female lead in a novel, and Dean happily cut it short by turning on the radio.

Sam glared, not at all impressed with his rudeness. He had thought that Dean might tone it down a smidge now that they had someone else with them, but no. Just as immature as ever.

“No nerd talk in my car.” He frowned distastefully, ran his hand over the dashboard comfortingly, as if the Impala was somehow offended and needed to be soothed.

Sam scoffed, sent an apologetic look over his shoulder at Joelle who was beaming like nothing happened, and he kind of felt disappointed. Because it was obvious she wasn’t going to do anything to try and straighten Dean out.

A few minutes into the drive and two Foreigner songs later, Dean realized something.

“Where’s my pie?” it was said the way a parent would ask where their child was after having lost them in the mall. So much worry and heartbreak in the simple question.

“Uh-“ She hadn’t meant to make any sound at all, but she was honestly surprised he had noticed.

Green eyes narrowed, he whipped his head back to look at her, and found her holding the box, fork in hand with a big portion of said pie on it.

“My pie!” he cried like a child who had his favorite toy stolen. “Give it back!” he ordered, blindly reached over the seat to swipe at her because unfortunately, someone had to watch the road.

“No, I’m not done yet!” she protested, sliding to right side of the seat, behind Sam. She could practically hear his eyes roll in his head.

Dean glanced back, glared at the fact that she was on the other side of the car, out of his reach. His jaw clenched when she scooped another generous bite into her mouth. He growled, turned around to grip the steering wheel with both hands, and calmed himself with the knowledge that they were still in town.

“Next red light, your ass is mine,” he promised, sweet smile on his lips, but his eyelid twitched questionably. He heard her chuckle in disbelief, not the least bit concerned.

Sam groaned quietly. “This is ridiculous. It’s pie.” He explained, still not understanding, even after all these years, the full extent of his brother’s love for pie.

“I know,” Dean snapped, looked back and felt his irritation level rise again. But it was okay, they were coming up to a traffic light. His time was upon him.

He practically slammed the brakes, and both Sam and Joelle grunted in surprise. Without another warning, Dean twisted in his seat and launched over it, using one arm to pull him.

She gasped, halfway to another gobble of pie when his hand grabbed her thigh and began to drag her across the seat.

“Give it back!”

“No!” she pushed it over, right up against the door and Dean huffed, groaned. She yelped when he completely pulled himself over the benchseat, basically right on top of her. He had his feet planted on the floor, though he was bent and crouched ridiculously in the small space. His knees were bent, pressed into the seat and he had a hand on the back of the backseat beside her head to steady himself.

There was a moment of calm where she gaped at him in pure disbelief and he glared down at her with authority and no nonsense that basically screamed: Don’t mess with my pie!

But then she was sliding across the seat, a challenge in her eyes that Dean accepted when she knocked his right elbow, effectively tearing his grip from the backrest and shoved him sideways with both hands. With a startled growl he went sprawling into the left-hand side of the backseat, trying to grab her as he went down.

Huffing at him distastefully, she launched herself toward the pie, scooped the pie into her arms and practically rolled out of the vehicle. Recovering quickly, Dean stretched across, reaching for her, only to have the door slammed in his face.

“Dean-“ Sam started, completely mesmerized, bewildered, and embarrassed. He was travelling with a bunch of children, and Sam realized quite suddenly that Joelle would do nothing to help beat out the immaturity in Dean. No, she seemed to have enough to rival Dean. He had his work cut out for him. Just like now,

“Shut up, Sammy.” Dean snapped, and reached for the door, he was watching her try and shovel as much pie as she could into her face and with every bite she took, Dean grew more determined. He pulled the handle, pushed and knocked his head into the window. She had locked it.

She actually had the gall to laugh at him around a mouthful of pie. But she quickly stopped when she caught the look of murder he shot her. With a fearful gulp of pecan heaven, she skirted around to the front of the Impala just as he shoved the door open. Sam was deflated in the front seat, his arm propped up on the door as he combed hair back from his face in a disappointed and tired gesture.

When their eyes met, he shook his head, but couldn’t find the energy to fight off the smile he knew was on his lips. She grinned back, eyes twinkling, and then she stumbled back, catching Dean rounding Sam’s side of the Impala. With a yelp, she took off around the other side of the car, putting the entire thing between her and Dean.

“I’m almost done.” She said as if it was some sort of defense.

“Right you are.” Dean agreed, and took a giant step towards the rear-end. Just like he had hoped, she took off towards the front, and Dean pivoted without a moment’s notice. She had just realized her folly when Dean came sliding across the hood like James Bond, all serious and lithe and ready to introduce her to the business end of his handgun.

She yelled, a knee jerk reaction had her raising the pie as if to throw it, and the expression of horror mixed fury on Dean’s face luckily stalled her. But then she was swung up in a strong arm, spun and held back to chest as he struggled to get a hold of the box.

“Would you just give up!”

“I told you I was almost done!”

“No, you are done.”

“You don’t deserve this pie; I’m taking it back!”

“Don’t think so darling, that pie’s mine. Now-…Give it- back!”

Soon, he had an arm wrapped around her front, her biceps trapped under the wiry muscle of a thick arm. Her arms were essentially glued to her sides, the box of pie resting in a palm at a 90 degree angle to her body, as if she were offering it to someone. But they were at an impasse, if Dean let go with either of his arms, she was sure to take off with his pie.

With a frustrated growl, she struggled against him, dug her heels in pushed back with all her might. He grunted, widened his stance to get more stability. She was surprisingly strong for someone so small.

“You ready to-“

In a last ditch effort, she slipped her foot behind Dean’s, shoved her shoulder back into the side of his body she had managed to compromise. A little too late, Dean recognized the move. It was the same one that had resulted in that shapeshifter taking two to the chest little more than 2 hours ago.

With a strangled cry, he went tumbling back, twisting as he did so and he was worried for the pie. He had a heart-breaking vision of it splattered and slopped all over the asphalt, and he swore he died a little inside.

But equal parts relieved and pissed off at her, he watched extend her arm, send it gliding across the road, safely. When they both hit, Dean had sense of mind to grab her and roll, pinning her beneath him with his whole weight. Briefly, Dean wondered what the heck Sam was even doing.

He was messing with the radio and the heat, pointedly ignoring the children’s fight just outside Dean’s seat on the asphalt. He knew better than take sides on something he had no affinity for.

They were both huffing, glaring at each other. But underneath it, there were smiles waiting to be broken and laughs to be let loose. Dean relished a good fight, and in a different situation, he was sure she could give him all kinds of strife and difficulty. As it was though, pie was on the line and he was taking no prisoners.

“You done yet?” he asked, and got his answer a second later. Without realizing it, a hand of hers had snuck under his loose t-shirt, and he only came to that realization when his shirt was tugged too far up for it to have been caused by the wind. Just as he glanced down to ask what the hell she was doing, she sprung.

That hand shot straight up, clear through to his neck-hole and emerged on the other side. He yelped as the cold November wind hit his stomach and she took the moment of distraction to sneak a leg up to her chest while also reaching her hand up to his jaw and stretch her fingers to the pressure point behind his ear. Forcefully, she pushed and he yelled, snapping his head away.

Which is what she wanted. When he broke his line of sight, she took that moment to plant her foot on his stomach- oh my god, the man was impeccable! She almost felt bad for this- and push him off her. Apparently she took him by surprise because the breath rushed out of him, and fell back on his ass after failing to stabilize himself on his knees.

Giggling, she rolled and when that tan box of nirvana was within her sights, she began crawling for it like a man in the desert in search of water. The road was unforgiving and a little slippery but she was determined to get what she was after. Hindsight, yeah it was a bit much for some pie. But she loved a challenge more than anything, and Dean provided just that. Besides, it had been a long while since anyone had voluntarily spent time with her, just for the sake of being with her. She had forgotten what camaraderie felt like, and she wanted to relish in it anyway she could.

This was playful, enjoyable, it would make for a good story. A good memory she could look back on when she was all alone again.

“No you don’t, sister!” The man certainly had vigor, she’d give him that.

Without further ado, his hand grabbed her calf, and laughing, she kicked back at him with her other foot, coming down on his wrist with the toe of her boot. He hissed in pain, let her go and she twisted onto her back. He was on hands and knees, looking breathless but just as carefree and recklessly determined.

Using her elbows and feet she scuttled backwards with a good amount of speed. She tried not to mind the asphalt grinding against her ass. Dean launched, missing her completely as she rolled to the side, grabbed the undercarriage of the Impala and used it to haul her the necessary three feet to the box.

Just as she got a grip on it, Dean slapped a hand on her thigh and dragged her back, pie too.

He had a hand planted beside her hip, the other just above her left shoulder, and he made sure to stay away from her legs. Those things were lethal. He was hovering awkwardly over her, facing her at an angle.

Taking a rather large breath, he expelled it with a giddy smile. “How much farther you willing to take this?” he asked, cataloguing her cheeky grin and the large clouds of condensation that burst from between her slightly chapped lips. Her grey eyes were alight with mirth and Dean was sure his looked the same. He wasn’t sure he could keep up this façade, he was honestly having more fun wrestling her than he was concerned about getting his pie back.

Emitting a throaty laugh, she shook her head and replied. “This far.” Without a second given for him to wonder, she slapped her right hand across his mouth, giggling at the splatter of pie that burst out from between her fingers.

He balked, tried to move away, but her other hand had come up to hold the back of his neck. Groaning in displeasure, he felt her smear the pie across his jaw and cheek. It was smooth but somehow sticky as all Hell and when her hand disappeared from his face, no doubt to get more pie, he reached above her and slapped that hand down to the road.

She squealed, already knowing where this was going. Before she knew it, both hands were pinned above her head in one of his and was holding a pie covered hand out to the side, waiting.

“Any last words?” he chuckled darkly. Only Dean Winchester could manage to sound intimidating with pie smeared across his face, and a large glob sitting in his hand. Any other man would just seem like a loon.

She mocked glared, eyed his hand and tried to keep the laughter out of her voice when she threatened, “You better not get that in my hair, Winchester.”

With laughter on his part and squealing on hers, he smeared his handful of pie over her mouth, down her chin, back up to her jaw. The guy had big hands.

She was twisting, bucking, tipping her chin and belly-laughing for all the world to hear. And Sam. Sam was still in the car, craning his neck with a curious eyebrow and an amused but puzzled smile. Hearing laughter like that had become a rarity, a strange occurrence that didn’t belong in their world. Hearing it now, it sounded foreign, too good to be true and Sam was pessimistically convinced that it nothing to with them. They weren’t ones to inspire laughter. Mostly fear. But when he heard Dean join in with her, he stopped caring and let the moment be.

“Well…” Dean breathed, beaming down at her as small giggles escaped her. He wasn’t sure he was going to say anything. What did you say after something like this?

“I’ll make you a deal,” she half laughed, not caring about potentially stepping all over a sentence of his. “As soon as you thank me for the pie, you can have it back.” She giggled a little more at his suddenly bland expression.

He glanced up at the pie box. There was hardly any left. “Pssh. There’s more on our faces than there is in the box…” he pointed out, sweeping his eyes over her face to visually reinforce his statement.  “Ah-“ he burst with a furtive smirk, eyes glinting mischievously.

“What?” she ventured, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.

She didn’t receive a response. Instead, his lips landed on hers fully and she squeaked. She felt him smile, cup the side of her face with the hand that had smeared pie all over her, there were still vestiges of pie clinging to his palm.

He hummed, tongue snaking out to tease across her lips and she gasped quietly. Dean saw his opportunity and took it. His tongue dove in, encountered an overpowering flavor of pecan and he rolled with it. She responded back, albeit a little dazed.

She was compliant putty under him, chasing his tongue, following his lead, trying to gain some ground. He pulled away just enough to murmur, “How’s this for a thank you?” She hummed, let out a choked noise or something of the sort and he covered her mouth again. 

It was a few seconds later when they heard Sam’s voice through the driver side window that Dean broke away with a start.

“You know we’ve missed 5 green lights? …What the heck are you guys doing out there?”

He was stuck staring into her wide, pupil-blown greys with shock. Not that he kissed her. No, he meant to do that. What he didn’t mean for was the jump in his chest, the light-headedness, or the way his breath seemed to halt in his lungs, suspended. It was impossible. He just met her five hours ago! But here he was, gazing down at her, torn between her eyes and her lips.

He couldn’t let this happen. Not now. Never again.

Clearing his throat, he maneuvered himself off of her and stood. She did the same, and sensing his sudden discomfort she stooped to grab the box of pie and duck into the backseat without a backwards glance. Sighing shakenly, Dean grabbed the hem of his collared shirt and wiped his face.

He could work around this. It wouldn’t be the first time he denied himself something he wanted. He could live with it.

Taking a moment to steady himself, he got in the car and ignored Sam’s look of question. He glanced in the rear-view, saw her ineffectively wiping at her face with her hands and without really thinking about it, he tugged his collared shirt off, tossed it in the back.

Alright, Dean. Showtime. “Bet you don’t steal my pie again.” He quipped, tipping his chin smugly.

She caught on quick, taking his desire to sweep what happened under the rug with surprising grace. “You’re not getting this back.”

Dean chuckled, shrugged his shoulders and fiddled with the volume on the radio. He was more than content to let Freddy Mercury drag his thoughts away from the alluring female in his backseat when she piped up, leaning between his and Sam’s shoulders.

She was still wiping at her face. “Oh my god, I love this song. Turn it up!”

Well damn. Now he’d think of her every time he heard this song.

Forcing a grin on his face, he obliged her. “Finally, someone who appreciates classics.” He shot at Sam, beginning to drum his fingertips on the steering wheel.

Sam rolled his eyes, saw her mopping and swiping at her face with a wrinkled brow. He smiled. “You got a little something…” he pointed at his own face to give her a location on a spot of cream she couldn’t seem to nail down.

After a few more failed attempts at the expense of Sam’s laughter, she offered the sleeve of Dean’s shirt to Sam. With a dwindling chuckle, he took it, gripped her chin with his thumb and forefinger and turned her head. As he rubbed it away, he glanced over at Dean and blinked at the tight grip he had on the wheel.

Brushing off his brother’s strange behavior, he turned his attention back to Joelle. She had a bit more cream under her jaw that she had missed. “I thought pie was like- sacred to you? How did you bring yourself to even do this?” he asked, his question directed at Dean.

“Hey, she wanted the pie,” he grinned, all cocky and full of himself. “So I gave it to her.”

“And I’m eating the rest of it.” She declared, tone succinct. Dean smiled flatly, but didn’t say anything, and Sam let Joelle go, her face free of dessert.

“So, where are we headed, gentlemen?” she asked, propping both forearms on the top of the bench seat’s backrest.

“Possible werewolf case in Montana,” Dean piped up, surprisingly. “You up for it, Buffy?”

“Hey, if I can kick your ass, I can take anything.” She shot back with a taunting raise of her eyebrows.

Sam laughed, and Dean shook his head at her with a smile. “I let you win.” He said, frowning a smile.

Chapter Text

“This is dumb,” Dean groaned, only frowning deeper when Joelle shot him a flat look. “Well it is.” He declared, grouchy that he had to stay in the motel room, nursing a broken arm while Sam went out to get his flavor of the night.

“No, what you did was dumb,” she started, and Dean sighed, sensing the re-emergence of their previous argument.

When he didn’t retaliate, just took a long pull from his beer and pretended to be immersed in this murder documentary, she huffed.

“There was no reason for your stupid kamikaze stunt. I had it handled.” She practically growled the last part and Dean’s spine tingled. ‘I’ll handle you’ What? Fucking what?

“Not from where I was standing,” he gruffly replied, tried to shift away the unwelcome itch in his bones that her anger ignited. He just chalked it up to the fact that he hadn’t had a good lay in a couple weeks, and now with his broken arm, he probably wouldn’t be scratching that itch for a while longer.

She stood, hoping that being over him as he slouched on his bed would draw his attention to her, but his eyes didn’t budge. “I didn’t need you to save my ass,” she declared, hands on her hips and even from his peripherals Dean couldn’t help but see how easily his big hands could grab them and-

“What, I was just supposed to let you become puppy chow?” he bit out, angrier with his mind than he was her. Though, he was slightly angry at her too.

“You know what-?” she tapered off, eyes narrowed and after a beat of silence she growled. She grabbed her coat and made for the door.

Not that she didn’t already, but she had Dean’s attention. She always had his attention. “Where are you going?” he sat up on the bed, and was thankful that he had been too lazy to take his boots off because it looked like he might have to chase her down.

She didn’t answer him, only snorted derisively and yanked the door open, welcoming the sharp bite of the cold winter air. Dean barely made it to the edge of the bed before she slammed it behind her, and he swore. He didn’t bother with his jacket; it’d take too much time to slip on around his arm anyway.

She’d been with them a grand total of a month and they had worked four cases together, and Dean found in that time that she was the most infuriating, smart-mouthed, compassionate, ruthless, drop-dead-gorgeous hunter he’d ever met. He’d never been tested the way she was pushing him. The last three hunts had gone smoothly, nary a hitch or bump so of course Dean was crazy out of his mind waiting for something to happen. Waiting for that shoe to drop.

And it did this time around. The werewolf had been closing in on Sam and Dean was too far away to do anything, his gun having slipped from his hand earlier when he had been thrown across the room. She was in a better position, a little ways down from him, slumped against the wall and gun ready. But she had hit her head and her vision was off.

She had missed the first few rounds, and only managed to graze him a couple times before her gun clicked empty. Of course she was carrying more ammunition, but with her head injury she was clumsy and slow and the werewolf zeroed in on that.

Dean dragged himself to his feet and on unsteady feet did something dumb. He grabbed an overturned chair and sent it crashing down on the werewolf’s back. Yeah. His hindsight’s 20/20 just so you know.

Well, it went about as well as you’d expect. He had a broken arm, Sam was surprisingly only dotted with bumps and bruises and Joelle probably had a mild concussion.

“God. Dammit.” He hissed in the face of the bitter wind, also at her. Where the hell did she think she was going with a possible concussion? She was barely halfway across the parking lot and Dean called out to her.

“Joelle, get your ass back here!” Yep, he was making a good case so far.

She kept stomping, and Dean could swear he saw steam coming off of her. But his temper ran just as hot, just as high, and he marched after her, suddenly not feeling the cold of the night.

“Would you-“ he caught her arm, yanked her to a stop and might have used too much strength because when she spun around with the momentum of it, she was right in his space. Chest to chest, both of them breathing like they finished a marathon. “Stop.” He said, not bothering to take a step back, and she didn’t either.

They both stood there, huffing and scowling and winding up in preparation for the other to say something. Jesus, if she got this pissed about it, he’d think twice about saving her ass next time.

She glowered at him, mouth inching down in and frown and-

Shit, did he say that out loud?

“I was fine,” she snapped, spine straightening and- oh Dean could feel every curve and dip of her pressed to his front, and he felt unnaturally warm in the frigid air. “You’re the one who decided to start a bar-brawl with a werewolf!”

Yeah, guess he said that out loud. Oops. “Why can’t you just say thank you and pretend to be interested in why Molly Spears stabbed her husband 38 times in the chest?” he asked, jerking his head over his shoulder toward the motel.

She barked a laugh, pressed both of her palms to his stomach and pushed him. “Because you could have been that werewolf’s Last Supper!” she exclaimed, throwing her arms out to the side in exasperation.

Suddenly, Dean understood why she was so angry. For the same reason Dean always got angry when Sam risked himself. The same reason he was pissed at her for shooting at that werewolf when her vision must have been funhouse-mirror-clear.

“It could have been you too, sweetheart,” he pointed out, forcing his voice quiet and calm. There was a light tick in her jaw, a twitch in her eyes and he knows she knows that. “I won’t apologize because I’d do the same damn thing again if I had the chance.”

She shivered, or maybe it was a shudder, and looked away and Dean realized a little late that he was reaching for her. But it didn’t seem to matter because she stepped right back into him and thumped her forehead on his chest.

Gingerly, she lifted a hand to rest on his on his broken arm, wrapped and laying in a sling. “This is on me,” she muttered softly, and Dean couldn’t miss the disappointment and anger in her voice. Of course, she was blaming herself for him getting hurt, as if she could stop him from putting his life on the line. Ha.

His chest rumbled with a low hum, and he cupped the back of her head, reveling the softness of her dark locks. “Nah, crap happens. And this life is crap.” She huffed a humorless laugh into his sternum and Dean hoped she didn’t notice the way his muscles jumped and twitched in response.

It took him some time, but he eventually noticed the shivers jittering her form and the cold seeping into him as well,

“Come on. Let’s get back inside.”   

“Only if you promise to never try and out muscle a werewolf again,” it was said half-jokingly, but when he looked down at her, her mouth was set in a hard line and he sighed.

“While you’re watching?” he asked cheekily, gently ushering her under his good arm on the small walk to the room. She was shivering, even with her coat on, and Dean was sure he’d be shivering just as hard if he didn’t have her there. That itch had turned into a roaring fire and he wondered just how low the wick of his willpower had gotten over the years.

“I’m serious, Dean.” She huffed, absentmindedly wrapping an arm around his lower back as they walked. His skin practically melted where he felt the pressure of her touching him, and he knew he’d have to do something soon; he was losing his mind.

The warm air of the motel room was such a welcome and relieving feeling, even if the aesthetics fell miserably short of delivering the same. Dean practically slumped back onto his bed, trying to convince himself and her that he was interested in the outcome of a jealous wife’s rage. Poor bastard though. Really.

“Dean.” She said, her voice firm but somehow soft and he looked over at her. She was hanging by the door, hands in her pockets and even though her mouth was a thin line, her eyes were screaming pleas at him.

Dean swallowed, tried to ignore the fact that she looked like she was two seconds from leaving. “I know.” He replied, but he didn’t promise her. He wouldn’t, because he knew he’d break it given half a chance.

Her throat bobbed, and she skirted her gaze away suddenly unable to look him in the eye and Dean winced, mostly in his chest. It felt like there were suddenly miles between them despite the airlock tight friendship they had already forged, and unbidden that memory popped up. The feel of her soft lips on his, the quiet little gasp she emitted into his mouth, the shaky breaths through noses, that mind-numbing taste of pecan and something that was uniquely her. The very memory that usually left him breathless and flustered, discombobulated and unsure about anything that didn’t have to do with her. Every fiber of his being begged to go back there, to press a little more, take some more time…find out what her made her heart stutter and mind go blank.

God, he just wanted to get up and march over there. Take her face in his hands- well, hand- and kiss her goddamn senseless because-

He sighed, and she quirked a hesitant eyebrow at him, the simple motion jolted his eyes away from her, a sentence dying in his throat. It was along the lines of ‘I was dumb- am dumb, and I’d fight a werewolf with a wooden spoon to keep you safe if I had to, but I swear if you keep standing there looking like you’re gonna run, I won’t let you go’ Yeah, he could imagine backing her up to the door, cupping the back of her neck and tilting her up, his body pressed right into hers and he could imagine the way she’d stretch for him, to-

Goddamn. His mind honestly had no filter. He couldn’t wait until this stupid sling was gone and he could find his place at a barstool, effortlessly charm a night’s distraction into his bed.

She cleared her throat and his gaze immediately jumped back to her, to find that she was darting her eyes around the room, uncertain until she finally nodded, deciding something. She looked at him then, and his throat clenched when he saw wetness pooling in her cloud-greys.

“I’m gonna tell you something,” she declared, marched over.

“What? You don’t actually like Queen?” he tried joking as she sank down on the mattress beside his legs. He shifted them to give her a little more room.

She completely brushed off his attempt at humor, and tucked a leg underneath her as she turned to face him, but her eyes never got higher than his broken arm. She toyed with the zipper of her coat, took a deep breath,

“It’s been years since I’ve truly hunted,” Dean blinked at her in surprise.

Years. She fought like she’d never been out of the game, like maybe she left to get a drink but her mind was still in the fight, all her muscles still taut and strong and memorized. She flawlessly kicked ass, could put him and Sam to shame. He honestly believed she single-handedly could have saved the word better than they had because she was absolutely seamless and precise, everything carried out perfectly when it was her hands doing the work. And she was sharp as a tack. Research was cut down to barely anything now that she was around. She was like this vast sea of knowledge, endless and deep and obscure, like they didn’t know how far her knowledge went but then they’d ask her a question and she’d just be there with the answer like it was nothin’.

“I’m not dumb enough to hunt on my own; I’ve never had any semblance of luck,” she continued and while Dean didn’t know where she was going, he could understand that. Especially the part about luck. Way back when, the times he hunted on his own, he never felt right about it. Sure, he knew his number would be up someday, but he always felt so vulnerable on his own. True that he didn’t have to worry about someone else’s safety, but that also meant he had no one to watch his back. If he died on the job, he’d be dying alone. He had thought he made his peace about it back then, but looking back on it now he knew that he had just been kidding himself. Hunting alone had destroyed him. Not the hunting, but the doing it alone.

“I’ve never really clicked with any hunters,” she said, and Dean understood that too. Sometimes it was better working alone than with someone you didn’t like. Not much better, but still. He had tried tagging up with a couple people before Sam jumped in and Dean never could work with any of them, something was always off, imbalanced and while he didn’t particularly fancy hunting alone, he found it preferable compared to working with other hunters.

“This is the longest I’ve stuck with someone, usually it only lasts long enough to learn their first name and then we’re waving each other off…” her eyes glanced off at one of the walls, hazy and light with far away memories and Dean wondered just how many times she’d been let down and left to find her own way, unwillingly.

“So?” he quietly prompted after a minute of silence on her end. He didn’t know why they had to have a sit down and talk, especially when he had no clue as to why they were talking.

“So,” she started with a heavy sigh. “I’ve never had to worry- legitimately worry about people before, and I’ve never been on the receiving end of it either,” she fidgeted some more, until Dean (stupidly) placed a warm hand on her thigh. She looked down at it, probably surprised and he couldn’t blame her, he was too.

He didn’t know what it was about her that had him on the edge of his seat, his heart pushing against his ribcage like it was making a jailbreak. Jesus, he barely knew her and he was hooked on her like heroin. Everything she did, every word she spoke, he was there, enraptured and locked. More than once he’d had to snap himself out of tawdry daydreams of her, and had started taking exceptionally longer showers since she joined them, fell asleep apprehensively because he wasn’t sure what rating his dreams would be that night. He had woken a few times a sticky mess and slumped off to the bathroom in the middle of the night, flustered and frustrated. But it wasn’t just that carnal, raw longing for her, it was everything.

Her cheerful ‘good mornings’, her ready laughs for his jokes, always having beer around for them both, the way she’d wordlessly offer smiles- her eyes would crinkle, lips would pull taut and dimple her cheeks- that Dean liked to think were just for him. She’d be the one to patch them up, have painkillers and whiskey ready, go get them the sub-par dinners they were used to after all these years. She was just there in every way they needed, every way they didn’t know they needed. And the few times they went to bars, she helped wingman them, put a little fire in their one-night-stand by stirring jealously. Pointed a few their way, because she had picked up exactly what the both of them liked in women.

Goddamn. She was just…everything. Everything about her had Dean tripping and scrambling to get his shit together. She was sweet, almost to the point of turning him into a puddle of pathetic. She was fun, constantly humming a song or doing these tiny little dances when she thought him and Sam were neck deep in research, but he was always watching her. She was resourceful, always had a way to get what they needed for a case, no matter how outlandish or difficult to acquire. She was quirky, she had a superhero screen saver, Pac-man themed socks, and a multitude of Harry Potter, Back to The Future, and Doctor Who t-shirts. Not to mention all her Queen t-shirts, that was a list right there.

But she was deadly as all Hell. She killed like it was breathing for her. No effort or thought about it, she just did it. She was ruthless and took no prisoners, and it made his bones hum when he could catch the smooth, twisting, graceful arcs of her body in his peripherals when they were fighting. He was sure she was just as deadly in bed, and a deep part of him ached beyond anything he had ever felt when he told himself that he’d never know. He wanted, more than he had ever wanted anything in his life, to hold her, caress his fingertips over soft, bed-temperature creamy skin. Raise goosebumps on her flesh with quiet, whispered words, make her pulse dance under devoted hands. Watch her open her eyes and sleepily smile at him like he was best thing she’d ever woken up to. But he wouldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t watch himself destroy her because he knows that’s what would happen if he gave it a chance.

This was all he could afford. To be her hunting partner and friend. That was safe. He could keep her at arm’s length and still keep her.

“I don’t want to be a handicap for you guys,” she was talking again, and Dean refocused, only to inwardly cringe because he was rubbing his thumb in soothing circles on the easy give of lax muscle on her thigh.

Handicap. She thought she was a handicap. Dean frowned a little.

“I don’t want to be the reason you get hurt, or come back from a hunt looking like a wet Picasso painting…”

He smiled a little. ‘A wet Picasso painting’. “Sweetheart, we’re gonna get hurt anyway.” He stated gently, unconsciously squeezing his hand.

Her lips went a little flat, and she eased a breath through her nose. He plowed on. “I know where you’re coming from though. When Sammy started hunting with me again all those years ago, it became more my mission to keep him safe than it was to really take care of a case,” she looked at him, patient, open.

“But I realized that’s impossible in this life, best I can do is make sure he’s alive. Long as we walk away from a hunt with a heartbeat that’s a win in my book.” He patted her thigh, raised his eyebrows to say You hearing me? After she gave him a hesitant nod, he continued. “We’re all gonna get banged up. Me, Sammy, probably even you, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t care. Just that we shouldn’t drown ourselves in guilt.” He finished, forced himself to continue making eye contact because those dark greys were piercing.

“And you’ve got this mastered?” she asked knowingly, a dark eyebrow raised saucily. Dean’s stomach jumped, luckily just on the inside and he responded,

“Nope. Not even close,” she snorted at him, rolled her eyes and Dean grinned. “But I know I’m right.”

She shook her head at him, bit back a smile that he could easily see in her cheeks and eyes and  snarked back, “You wouldn’t know ‘right’ if it slapped you in the face.”

‘Honey, I’m lookin’ at everything right in the world, and I know I’d know if you slapped me across the face. I’d feel it in my heart.’ Hohshit. Fucking…

“Yeah, well…shut up.”

She laughed, and Dean’s eyes crinkled happily at the sound, his blood thrumming and rolling with it. He could get through spending a night in a motel room with her, he just wouldn’t sleep. He glanced around the room, toward the sparse kitchenette, the rickety ‘dining’ table, worn dresser, the simple bedside table. He didn’t miss how everything was singular. They only had one other room open after Sam decided he needed a night out, and it was a single bed. Single everything.

Dean didn’t know whether he was rarely blessed on this occasion or if he was suffering from his perpetual bad luck. Spending the night in a motel room with her he could do. Sharing a bed? Ha. Ha ha.

“I’m gonna change for bed,” she stated suddenly, standing. Dean swallowed, reached for his beer as she walked to her bag. She rummaged for a few seconds, had tank top in hand, her night shorts and…she rummaged some more, pawed through aggressively and then sighed.

When she turned around to face Dean, he quickly shot his eyes toward the tv, not wanting her to know he had been watching for no reason.

“Hey,” she said and he looked at her, gentle curiosity in his expression. “You mind if I take one of your shirts?”

‘Fuck no. Take the one I’m wearing. You want my boxers too?’ Words got stuck in his throat, thankfully the ones he was thinking, and he just shook his head at her, hoping his expression was friendly and calm. She smiled in relief and Dean made the wise choice of not watching her dig through his bag, because he’d make the mistake of thinking she had the right, that ‘what’s mine is hers’.

When she closed the bathroom door, Dean released a breath he didn’t know he was holding, and eased his grip on the beer in his hand. After a minute, he decided he’d just get ready for bed too because if he had sit here awake while she fell asleep next to him in one of his shirts, just a foot away…He wouldn’t be able to douse the fire tearing through his willpower.

It was harder than he initially thought it would be with a broken arm. He couldn’t even get his good arm out of his shirt, and every time he tried he ended jostling his injured arm and he’d hiss. He was red-faced and frantic by the time she swung the door open, and he slouched in defeat.

She gathered the situation quicker than he would’ve been able to explain it.

Wordlessly, she stepped in front of him. “Sorry, probably should’ve figured you’d need help.” And reached up to loosen the sling so he could slip out of it. She looked like she was basically swimming in his shirt, and Dean wanted to take the time to find her through all those loose inches of cotton. After it was tossed onto the bedside table and he hesitantly dropped his left arm, she was gently pushing down on his shoulders, and somewhat dazed he sank back on the bed.

He tried to steady his mind and pulse when she gripped the hem of his shirt and began lifting it. Goddamn, how he wished she was doing this for a different reason than an injured arm. He slipped his right arm out, leaned his head forward and down as she dragged it off of him. Unconsciously, he had spread his legs when he sat down and she had stepped between them. If he stretched his neck, he’d probably be able to feel the poke of her nipples through his shirt, press closer to get the fullness of her breast-

Jesus. And he was going to fall asleep next to her? Right. Right.

Rather belatedly he realized he was just sitting like a bump on a log as she was gingerly trying to slip his shirt down over his broken arm without hurting him. He turned his arm out, bent the elbow a little to help the transition better. And then he was shirtless, almost waiting expectantly, like she was supposed to put her hands on him, sink down onto his lap-

‘Okay, why is she on her knees?! Oh, just taking my boots off. Course…Ugh, but now I’ve got the image of her on her knees, between my legs, wearing my shirt- Oh, God.’

“Dean.”

He swallowed hard, blinked and looked down at her, “Hmmwhat?”

“You planning on wearing your jeans to bed?” she said like she had just asked him if he thought apples were blue.

“I-…no?” he stared down at her, mouth dry while her hands rested on his shins, her small hands barely able to feel the curve of muscle behind that bone.

“Then stand up,” she ordered, patting his shins lightly. “I’d like to go to sleep sometime this century.”

Dean hummed in response, not trusting his words to stay ‘friendship-polite’. He stood, watched her do the same and expected her to walk to the other side of the bed, but his pulse stopped and his vision swam when her fingers began working at his belt buckle. Suddenly, his voice found its way back.

“Uh, I think I can handle this part, sweetheart,” he hoped he didn’t sound as frantic or flustered as he was. He tried to step back, but between the bedside table to his left and the mattress right behind his knees, he had nowhere to go. So, he mostly just leaned away, a few inches was all he could spare, but she didn’t stop working the pin through the hole and just muttered,

“No, it’s my fault your arm’s broken,” She could sense his eyes on her, feel the weight of them, so she tilted her head back and looked him in the face. “It is my fault,” they had a short staring contest, where he tried to wordlessly tell her that it was okay, and she was telling him to shut up. Her next words, although they didn’t accompany eye contact had Dean struggling to carry a normal pattern of breathing.

“Just- let me take care of you.”

‘Oh, you can do more than take care of me, babe. You can let me return the favor. All night.’

She had the belt unclasped and Dean began panicking internally.

‘Ok. Shit. Unsexy thoughts. Uh- flat tire on the Impala. Pop music. Dropped pie. Salads.’

Then the button was popped, the zipper following a moment later. Dean was barely hanging on, he wasn’t even sure what his face was doing, he was just dead-set on making sure a certain part of his body did nothing that everything else could be spared. Instead of trying to tug them down, she slipped her fingers in the waistband of his jeans at his sides and slid them down. Her fingers skimmed over the fabric of his boxer-briefs, coaxed his jeans into loosening so she could drag them down.

‘Broken headlight. Libraries. Fruity margaritas. The impala: painted hot pink. Heavy traffic. Gas prices. The Titanic: that door was big enough for both of them-‘

“You ok, Dean?”

He opened his eyes, not having realized he had closed them, and found her kneeling on the floor, his jeans pooled at his feet. Somewhat jerkily, he nodded his head, and stepped out of the crumpled denim. Her face pinched at his weird behavior, but she grabbed up his jeans and folded them to place them on top of his duffel. When she turned around, he was sitting stiffly on the edge of his side of the bed.

She had picked up his boots and put them on floor at the foot of the bed, and Dean couldn’t help but be warmed by the way she cleaned up after him, took care of his things because she wanted to. He really hoped he didn’t screw any of this up; she was the best thing to happen to them in a while. To Dean, she was the best thing ever.

He’d keep her safe. He would. No matter what.

“You gonna put your sling back on?” she asked, and Dean swiveled his head to look at her, missing the moment that she had moved across the room and slid into bed.

He blinked, thought about the fact that it was the sling’s damn fault he had to go through all of that torture. “No.” he grumped, grabbing the remote to shut the tv off. He had forgotten it was on. “No I’m not.”

Quickly, he shut the lamp off and bathed the room in near-darkness. The curtains were parted slightly and silvery light trickled in and offered the barest amount visibility. He slid under the blanket like it was made of fire, and laid on his back, half hoping he’d move around in his sleep, jolt his arm and wake before he could start groaning her name in his dreams. No. Fuck that. He’d just stay awake.

Poor Sam was going to get the brunt end of his brother’s tired, grumpy attitude tomorrow. But. It was his fault that Dean had to go through this, so he deserved it.

Just as he was sure she had fallen asleep, he heard her shift, turn her body towards him and murmur, “Goodnight, Dean.” Quiet, soothing, warm.

It dipped into him, fluttered his heart, and made his throat jump. But after a second, he found balance again, and responded with an equally quiet, “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

 

Chapter Text

“What the Hell are you playing rock-paper-scissors for now?” came the amused question with crossed arms and cocked hip.

Both Winchesters stalled, looked up with surprised eyes. The brothers had been on a pointless streak of settling all problems with the game, though it was hardly fair considering everyone knew Dean’s method. It had been going on for the past 300 miles, and while it was slightly funny to watch Dean pout and slump around like a child, it was starting to get a little annoying. They had been doing it for everything; who was going to get the gas, who was bringing the bags in, who got first shower (aside from Joelle because ‘ladies first’), who was going to get breakfast, who had control of the tv, the list was endless.

“Winner gets to pick where we eat,” Sam explained, a smirk slowly pulling his lips.

Joelle blinked, shook her head. It seemed strange that Dean would agree to it, he was basically destined to lose every game.

The older Winchester didn’t seem to notice his predicament, and was focused on his and Sam’s waiting hands. 1,2,3, shoot-

“What are you doing?”

“Figured I’d jump in.”

As per usual, Dean drew scissors, Sam threw rock to beat him, and Joelle…

“That’s paper,” Dean said, staring at her hand, and Sam was beginning to scowl.

“Paper beats rock,” he continued, grinning at Sam who was now slouching back in his seat, pouting.

“And scissors beats paper.” She finished for him, dropping her hands. She watched him blink, stunned as he realized he won a game of three-way rock, paper, scissors. And then he was jumping up, punching the air with a happy ‘ha!’.

“So hot-shot, what are we eating?” she asked with a humored grin as she patted Sam on the shoulder in condolence.

Dean clapped his hands together, rubbed them while he ‘thought’. Joelle and Sam rolled their eyes, not buying his indecisiveness for a second. “Oh! How about that pizzeria across the street?”

Dean had eyed the place like a man starved when they rolled in and it didn’t go unnoticed by either of them. Which is why Sam proposed the game of rock-paper-scissors, he hadn’t wanted to eat there at all.

“Sure, I’m game,” Joelle replied, snatching her coat up from the back of a chair.

Dean looked at Sam, not missing the way his brother was quiet and pouting. “Well, you coming, or you gonna filter-feed on the air in here?” he asked when his shaggy haired brother made no move to get up.

“Actually-“ he began, only to be cut off by Dean.

“There’s this other place in town that sells awful, crappy, healthy food and I’d rather eat there cuz I hate myself,” Dean quirked a disgusted eyebrow, “That sound about right?” he asked, knowing he was right when Sam shot him a flat scowl.

“Well, here. Go get your soulless food, Jillian Michaels.” The keys were tossed across the room to the now moodiest Winchester who caught them with a frown. Without further ado, they all left the motel room, splitting off at the car with quick, ‘see ya’s.

Joelle and Dean pattered across the parking lot silently, stopped at the side of the road to wait for a break in the uncharacteristically busy traffic. They watched Sam drive by them both when they had a perfect shot to get to the other side of the road. He honked as he passed, flipped them both off with a huge grin on his face.

“Psh. And he calls me immature,” Dean scoffed, watching his car disappear down the asphalt.

“You are.” Joelle said, shifting her weight to get ready for a slight jog because another chance was coming up.

“I thought you were on my side. Fickle woman.” He shot back easily, grabbed her hand as he started to cross the street. He was trying to convince himself it was just instinct that caused him to grab her hand, that he was doing it to protect her, because it was what he did. He protected people. It wasn’t because he wanted to grab her hand, not because he wanted to slip his fingers between hers, feel the pads of her fingers on the back of his hand like they were meant to be there.

He lied to himself all the way up to the door of the pizzeria where he begrudgingly let go and reached to hold the door open for her. If she considered his behavior odd, she didn’t say so, didn’t even seem to notice. She smiled a thank you at him and scanned the room for an empty table. It was surprisingly busy, with most tables full, and the counter seats too.

She bit her lip, seeming to resign herself to the fact that they’d have to get their food to go. She wasn’t too fond of their motel room, it smelled stale and a lingering scent of cigar smoke seemed to ooze from the walls and carpet. She had opened the two windows when they checked in and left them open most of the day in the hopes of clearing out that awful smell.

She was nudged in the back with gentle knuckles and looked over her shoulder at Dean. He nodded in the direction of the back of the restaurant, and when she looked, she found a small table, big enough for just the two of them and smiled in relief. Once again, his hand found hers and she was lead across the white and green checkered floor to the table. She hoped he couldn’t feel just how fast her pulse raced when he touched her. It felt like she was having a heart-attack.

She wasn’t expecting him to pull out her seat for her and he didn’t. She had no idea how much Dean had to force himself to be aware and simply leave her to situate herself while he did the same. He had hoped that as time passed, he could condition himself to get used to her, build up some sort of defense against her innate charms and unintentional attractiveness. But it only got worse, he only felt himself slipping more and more each day, wanting her more than necessities required him to live. He was convinced he could live on her and her alone, because he pretty much already was.

He was in the palm of her hand and she had no idea. She could crush him so easily, and he’d be happy for it. He was a doomed man…but he’d never been so peaceful about the oncoming flat-line. Someone should’ve called code a long time ago because he’d been laying on the floor for so long, it wasn’t far off now.

“What’re you getting?” she asked, twisting in her seat to see what kind of specials they had.

‘Whatever you’ll give me’ “Don’t know. Something delicious and unhealthy, I can tell you that much.” He grinned when she did, got caught up in her twinkling greys, the soft pink in curved lips. Maybe he should’ve plowed on with conversation, but he couldn’t find anything to say.

“So, do I get anything for helping you win?” she asked suddenly, and Dean chuckled. She grinned, not meaning a word, she just wanted to break the tension hanging onto Dean somehow.

“Next case we pick up: you get to drive us there.”

He watched her straighten in her chair, lick her lips in shocked silence. She peered at him for a moment, wondering if he was being serious, and when she found he was, her face broke out in a thousand-watt smile.

“Are you sure?” she asked him, not bothering to hide her excitement.

Like Hell I’m gonna take it back when she’s looking at me like that. Wouldn’t take it back anyway. “Positive.” He responded, leaning back in his seat with crossed arms, relaxed.

Her cheeks were starting to hurt from smiling so wide, and when Dean quirked an amused eyebrow at her, she looked down at her lap shyly. Just then, their waiter appeared, seemingly out of thin air to save her some embarrassment.

He handed them both menus, asked for their drink orders and waltzed off toward the kitchen. Joelle had been too busy trying to calm herself and draw back her smile to notice the way he looked at her, or the way Dean glared him off, fingers pressed into his biceps. She hid behind her menu, and Dean took a second to press down his anger. He didn’t have a reason to be angry at the kid for noticing how gorgeous she was. It was impossible not to.

He flipped his menu opened, leaned on his forearms over it, tried to read his options without looking up at the menu across from him every few seconds. “Having a hard time deciding?”

She jumped, inched her menu down to peer over the top at him. “Something like that,” she paused a second, placed it on the table. “Huh, they have a low-calorie section…”

Dean saw her train of thought and was already nodding with a smirk. “Sammy’d been all over that like white on rice.”

She snorted, “Please, we both know Sam wouldn’t be caught dead eating white rice. He’d insist on brown.”

“Friggin’ health nut.” Dean enjoyed bagging on Sam with Joelle, it was so easy. Their train of thought pretty much ran the same track. In fact, they were similar in a lot of ways, ways that made it easy to live with her. The important things that made or broke relationships-

“So, what can I get for you?” the waiter was back and Dean didn’t miss how the question was pretty much only aimed at Joelle. His muscles bristled in restrained annoyance.

“The chicken parmesan.” She said with a polite smile, handed her menu over. Picked up her glass of coke to sip on as the waiter turned to regard Dean rather distastefully.

“12-inch meatball sub, extra cheese.” And he practically shoved his menu in the kid’s hands, not bothering to make eye-contact with the bean-pole.

When he rushed off to the kitchen again, Joelle raised her eyebrows in silent question. Dean only shrugged in response, forced a soft smile on his face.

A couple minutes passed where they sat and drank their sodas, listened to the snythpop rolling out of the overhead speakers. She seemed to enjoy it, she’d tilt her head a little, tap her foot, lips would twitch. Usually Dean wasn’t much for a genre of music that didn’t have guitars, thrumming bass or drums, but he could give this a try, if only for tonight.

Suddenly, she shifted in her seat, blinked a couple times and pursed her lips.

“What is it?” Dean asked, cocking his head to the side while leaning forward, shifting his arms in so they were parallel to the edge of the table at his stomach.

She shook her head. “I just- feel like someone is staring daggers into my back.” She rolled her shoulders, a vain attempt to brush it off.

Dean eyes were up and about immediately, senses on high-alert, hunter mode activated. But he quickly calmed himself when he found most eyes diverted at his cold sweep of the restaurant, mostly feminine, hungry, jealous eyes. He let his shoulders relax.

“More like half the restaurant, babe.” He chuckled, shaking his head when she gave him a puzzled look. “Nothing to worry about. I’ll keep an eye out for ya.” He winked. Why? He didn’t know. He. Didn’t. Know.

She smirked. “You gonna hafta open up a can of whoop-ass?”

“On half the restaurant?” he swept the place, noticing most people were here on dates. …12. He’d have to kick twelve guys asses. Hypothetically, of course. “Good thing I like a challenge.” He shot back with a lopsided grin.

“You’re unbelievable.” She shook her head, not bothering to hide the smile on her face.

“Thank you very much,” he said with a cocky grin. “You’re not so bad yourself.” Oh shit. Was he flirting with her? Shitshitshit!

She didn’t seem to notice his comment, only smiled wider, and-

Oh. There were those crinkles at the edge of her eyes. Those dimples.

“Here we are, I’ve got one chicken parmesan-“

Jesus Christ, he really hated this kid. Then again, he did just potentially save his ass. Maybe he wouldn’t glare at the kid to death- and he was…did he just try and look down her shirt? ‘Oh, motherfucker better hope you never meet me in a dark alley.’

Dean barely heard him rattle off his order, he was too busy imaging 40 different ways he could end the dumb fucker. Preferably slow, and extremely painful.

“You alright?”

Her voice brought him back, just like it always did. He blinked, nodded with a small smile and looked down at his food. Ah, God. He just might cry-

“What the hell is that?” the words tumbled out of his mouth, edged despite effort to keep it neutral.

“Uh-“ her face pinched in confusion, not sure what had gotten into him.

“That,” he said, pointing at the bowl next to his foil wrapped sub. “What the hell is that?” he sounded downright offended at this point.

Realizing his problem, she sucked her lips into her mouth, though it didn’t help the smile become less obvious. He looked up at her, expression falling flat when he saw her own. Then, a snort of laughter rolled around inside her mouth, still pressed tight, and Dean scowled.

He picked his bowl up, pinched between his thumb and index finger and set it down next to her own. She only laughed at him while he unrolled the foil around his sub, shuddering.

“One day, Dean,” she said as she picked up her fork, “I’m gonna get you to eat a salad.”

He scoffed, disgusted. “They say to dream big, not impossible.”

“I don’t know. I can be pretty persuasive.” She shrugged nonchalantly, cut a piece of her chicken.

“You’re good. But you aint that good, honey,” he retorted, took a giant bite of his dinner and almost couldn’t hold back the groan of appreciation in his chest. Goddamn, must be run by genuine Italians. No way it could taste so good otherwise. He had barely swallowed his first bite before he was rushing in for his second.

She was practicing better manners than he was. She was still chewing her first bite, knife coaxing its way through her next swallow of poultry. Dean had never been a pretty eater, and that wasn’t soon to change. There was something to be said for his zeal when it came to eating though.

It took her back to when she made that pecan pie for him just little over two months ago. The way he dug into it was flattering. It made it easy to believe him when he said it was the best damn pie he’d ever had. She didn’t think she’d feel it, but she actually wanted to make a pie. Or a cake. Hell, even cookies. As much as she’d missed hunting, she ran a bakery business for four years and she’d be lying if she said she hated it. She genuinely enjoyed it, she was good at it, good enough that she made a living doing it.

Maybe she just liked watching people’s faces light up. Nothing brought people together like food could. And it seemed to be Dean’s love language.

“You alright there, Joelle?”

His voice startled her out of her thoughts and she smiled, lifting her eyes. “Yeah, I was just-“ she cut off, catching a load of his face. “Dean.” She shook her head.

“What?” he asked, suddenly indignant.

She grabbed her napkin, reached across the table and forced her hand not to shake as she wiped at his chin. “I swear, you’re like, four years old,” she laughed, swiping at some sauce on his cheek. She didn’t know it, but Dean’s mind just about shut down the moment she stretched across the distance between them.

‘Oh, Hell. This is too perfect. It’s like a date- Jesus, I wish this was a date. It so could be a date. I could grab her hand and it wouldn’t be weird. Fuck, I could even just tell her how gorgeous she is without being brushed off because we’d be on a date. But no, I gotta sit here, looking like an ass with tomato sauce dripping down my face, and I don’t even get to smile at her like I want to. Ugh, God. When do I get to die? It’s gotta be soon, I don’t think I can suffer much more.

Ah, damn. Look at her all happy and relaxed, and goddamn perfect. Only two feet away and I don’t get to do anything but watch her. Those friggin manners though. Who’s she tryin to impress? Not me, I’m always impressed. Oh, I’m eating more of my sub. Thank God for the auto-pilot feature. One thing he did right. Eat the sandwich this time, not wear it, you dunce. I hope I’m not looking at her with goo-goo eyes…Probably a good idea to man the controls.’

“How’s yours?” Damn, was he already half done with his sub? Didn’t even get to enjoy it.

“Probably the best chicken parmesan I’ve ever had,” she answered honestly, dabbing at her mouth with the clean edge of the napkin she’d used on Dean.

He didn’t find it hard to believe, but he still asked. “Really?” He had this feeling she was like a closet world-class chef, because if she made pie as good as she did, she had to make everything else that good too, so she had to know good food when she tasted it.

“Yeah,” she said, stabbing another piece. “Here, try it.” She held the fork out to him, and yeah, he totally could’ve dropped his sub and grabbed it himself, but he didn’t. He leaned forward over the table, not knowing if it would be awkward to maintain eye contact or completely avoid it. Truthfully, he’d never been one for fancy food, but simply because she said it was the best, he thought so too. His mouth closed around the fork, and she pulled it back. He chewed all of two seconds before his jaw seized and tingled with the flavor. He smiled around his mouthful. They seemed to be doing a lot of smiling tonight. Something Dean didn’t mind, their lives were perpetually heavy, and he felt they deserved this…just a little. She did at least.

“You’re right, that is pretty good,” he licked his lips, almost 100 percent sure there was something on them. “But I bet you could do better.” That wasn’t considered flirting, just honesty. Right? Right. Goddamn right.

She hummed, thought for a moment, and then nodded, a smirk pulling her lips.

“You cheeky little shit.” He laughed, tossed his now balled-up napkin at her. She glared mockingly.

“Watch it Winchester, or I might have to open up a can of whoop-ass on you,” she threw it back at him, grinning in unrestrained contentment.

He held up his hands, nodded placatingly, but smiled like he knew an inside joke. They both settled back to eat their food, slightly cold now, but no less appetizing. The rest of their meal passed in relative quiet, and not just on their end but the restaurant itself. Most everyone else had left already and it was basically just them. Dean gazed out the storefront and saw the Impala in the motel parking lot. He wondered when exactly Sam got back.

“I can’t believe I have to eat two salads because of you.”

He looked back over at her, stabbing at her lettuce angrily. He smiled softly. “You don’t have to. Just leave it.”

“No. I’m not going to waste their food, I’m not rude like you.” She retorted, eyebrows tilted saucily.

“Really? Because I distinctly remember you stealing a box of pie- my pie- that you made for me.” He shot back, crossed his arms.

She tipped her chin, observed her salad with interest. “I recall no such thing.”

“Right.” He leaned back in his chair, relaxed against the wall as he waited for her to eat salad and for that stupid cunt to give them the check. He tilted his head. The same song from earlier was on, and he was surprised to find himself thoroughly enjoying it.

“I’m illegally downloading this song when we get back to the motel,” she declared around a mouthful of lettuce.

“Criminal,” he teased, sloshing his drink around his glass. It was mostly ice by now. “Someone should lock you up.”

She looked in that general direction, sighed when she spotted the impala. Dean cocked his head, noisily slurped what was left of his soda. She looked between his glass and his face, expression slipping between unsurprised and amused, and said, “Six-foot-huge has probably already claimed a bed.”

Dean hadn’t thought of that. She was right. That prick was probably sawing logs. He sighed as well, bobbed his head in resignation. He heard her munch on more salad and looked at her. “Rock-paper-scissors?” he asked, grinning toothily.

Five minutes later, they had the bill paid, and were stepping out into the frigid January wind. She shivered next to him and he grunted his agreement, but it didn’t stop him from reaching over and pulling her to his side. She gratefully edged in, slipped an arm up under the back of his jacket to wind around his waist. Luckily, traffic was pretty much dead so they didn’t have to haul ass across the street.

Dean quite liked the way his arm lay across her shoulders, the way she would flex and press her fingers. It would be so easy to turn her, get a handful of her hair and kiss the ever-loving fuck out of her. He was almost positive she’d have no complaints. But for now, he’d settle for this short walk, the way their hips would bump with every other step, the tightened correction of her slipping arm. The same arm that had wielded a machete four hours earlier and dropped three vamps like she was cutting through butter. That same deadly arm was around him, for warmth, for comfort. Gently, carefully. There were so many layers to her and he wanted to peel away every one of them.

Getting the key in the door was easy. Ignoring the way she was basically melded to his side? Not so much. But he somehow did it and swung the door open.

“Ahh…I never thought I’d be so happy to be in this crappy room again.” She sighed, shaking her hands out.

Soft snoring echoed from her left and she rolled her eyes, not stunned in the slightest. Dean locked the door, wasted no time in shrugging out of his jacket. She was tugging hers off too. His boots were next and he didn’t even bother putting them near the bed. He was too tired. He slumped toward the bed, working his jeans off as he went, politely avoiding looking at the place she was changing in.

Just as he sat down on the bed, pants a rumpled mess on the floor, he reached for the hem of his t-shirt, his button-up having joined his jacket at the door. He paused, glanced over his shoulder because he heard her approaching. “You want this?” he asked, pulling at his shirt emphatically.

“Sure.” She responded with a sleepy smile, one he returned. He quickly pulled it over his head, thought he heard her sigh behind him, but that would be ridiculous. He twisted, offered it to her and she snatched it. He couldn’t help the stupid smile on his face at how eager she was to wear one of his shirts. He watched her disappear into it, her arms punch out then her head, and she shot him a pleased smile.

“S’warm.” She hummed, and Dean felt his chest tighten at the way she slurred her words, finding it too damn adorable.

“Glad one of us is,” he snarked lightly, slipping under the heavy blanket, slightly cool. She huffed a breathy laugh and followed him under.

One thing Dean couldn’t control was what he did in his sleep. He was a cuddler, and he could fight it so long as his eyes were open, but as soon as he slipped off to dream land he’d latch himself onto the nearest body and snuggle that person for all he was worth.

“I’ll keep you warm.” He heard her mumble and not a moment later she was smooshed into his side, head falling onto his chest with a yawn as she dropped her free hand onto his sternum. The other she had tucked into her chest. Dean shifted, tried to seem nonchalant as he snaked his arm around her back, tugged her closer, close enough that she nuzzled in under his chin.

“Warm?” she asked him, breath ghosting over his collar bone in a way that had his muscles twisting and jumping.

He hummed low, and knew the smile was going to be evident in his voice. “Always.”

 

Chapter Text

It was almost like breathing; pretending that he wasn’t in love with her. It was something he just did now. From the moment he opened his eyes in the morning, to the second he closed them for bed. But he had a feeling all of his pretending would end up being useless. It felt like something was hanging over them, and the forefront of that would be this crap with Abaddon, but he didn’t mean all of them. Just him and Joelle. It felt like something was about drop.

Finding the bunker was probably the most refreshing thing to happen to them in a while, but it was also this giant flashing sign: something’s coming. Batten down the hatches and put on your seatbelts. Another shit storm, and this time she would be in it.

He had tried to convince her to leave, put distance between her and them because things always got ugly, and the people around them paid the price when it did. But she wouldn’t hear it, actually punched him in the jaw and cussed him out. He silently let it go, but she was now giving him the cold shoulder, because he still wasn’t happy about her being with them.

He couldn’t watch something happen to her. He could get between her and whatever came at them, but it might not be enough. He knew he couldn’t keep her safe, he told her as much months ago. But if something did happen to her it would destroy him because he lo-

No. No, no, no. No.

Not just him, but Sam too. He could see it when Sam would glance at her out of the corner of his eye, toss her a pack of Nutter Butters out of the blue. Those two were good friends, but Sam was in love with her, just like he was-

Not. He was not.

He wasn’t jealous or angry at his brother, in fact he was happy. Sam would be good for her and she would be good for Sam. His two favorite people on the planet…together. He didn’t mind the idea at all. Sam would treat her right, like she deserved. Sam would be better for her.

She deserved better than him, and he didn’t deserve her at all-

But Joelle didn’t seem to notice the gooey looks Sam would shoot her, or his new ‘teddy bear’ attitude. Poor kid.

Anyway, bottom line was, she wasn’t going anywhere, she was here to stay with them. Better or worse.

He half hoped, though, that her and Sam would start something. Might make it a little easier for him to let go of her. Maybe it would put a stop to his daydreams…like right now.

She was leaned over the sink, suds up to her elbows, plates and cutlery thunking together in the metal tub. Her hair was tied back loosely, and strands were escaped near her face, tickling her. She’d periodically huff and toss her head. They had just finished eating breakfast- a real breakfast- and she offered to do the dishes, even though she had supplied food. He was right about his guess a few months back: she was an amazing cook.

Dean could so easily imagine sidling up behind her, push his chest into her back. Wrap his arm around her stomach, drop his head next to hers and brush that hair away, tuck it behind her ear. Nuzzle into her neck, draw a laugh out of her, but then he’d dip his hips, press them forward and make her gasp. She’d whimper his name, a low register, only meant for his ears and she’d drop her head back, give him room to nip and nibble at her throat. He’d slide his hands underneath her sleep shirt- one of his- ghost his hand up smooth and strong stomach until he’d reach the soft, warm curve of her-

“We’re not hobbits, there is no second breakfast,” she said out of nowhere and Dean blinked, startled out of his thoughts and he found her leaning back against the counter, drying her hands on a dish towel. “So, I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she was smiling softly, patiently, a little curious.

Dean was shocked silent for a second. This was the first time she had said something to him that wasn’t life-saving important in a week. “Oh, so you’re talking to me now?” he had meant to sound angry, or even nonchalant, but it came out surprised, on the edge of hurt.

She pursed her lips, dropped her eyebrows, probably not pleased thinking he was trying to make himself into the victim.

He waved his hand, literally tried to wave away this conversation and stood, pushing his chair in when he stepped away. “Thanks for breakfast, it was good.” And he left the kitchen, feeling her eyes on his back as he did.

He knew he should probably head to the map room, help Sam work out the possible case they had, or even try and find something on Abaddon or this first blade, but he was buying time. He wasn’t ready for shit to hit the fan yet, he just wanted to pretend for a second that everything could be fine.

He closed his bedroom door behind him, stopping a moment to look around and appreciate the fact that he had a room. He had put it together quite well, added his own style and flare to it. It also felt a little strange. Last time he had room, he had been four and was sleeping in actual pajamas. Maybe it was also the fact that now he slept alone. Four the past 5 months he had been sharing a motel bed with Joelle, basking in the warmth of another body in bed with him. Feeling soft curves, hard bones, firm shapes of muscles sliding to fit between his own.

Now it just felt cold. Lonely. Empty.

Jesus. He couldn’t even handle sleeping on his own and he thought he was going to send her out of their lives? Yeah, ok.

That was another thing. It wasn’t just him, but Sam too. They were both in the same boat when it came to her safety now. But…because Sam hadn’t let it known that he was in love with her, he wouldn’t force her to leave. Under the pretense of friendship, he couldn’t make a strong enough case to send her away. Now, if his shaggy haired brother was in an actual relationship with her? She’d probably be halfway to Canada by now at the behest of him.

But no, they were all friends, so while their concern for her safety was founded and rational, it was also unpersuasive. Love was a fantastic method of manipulation…Wow. He was really fucked up.

He had no idea what to do…

There was a knock at his door, and he spun. “Dean?”

It was her. She always sought him out, ironically at his weakest moments. He was so close to breaking, to calling it all off, because he was absolutely sure it was killing him. She was driving him nuts, she was terrifying him to no end. Ever since she disclosed that she had a photographic memory, he had started trying so much harder to make every moment with her count, to make sure that when shit got heavy it didn’t stay that way for long. He tried to her make her laugh, tried to genuinely seem happy, forced smiles so she could look back and see…

He wasn’t completely lying, because about the moment she’d start laughing, he would too. Or she’d smile at him and he’d beam back, just as bright. It was on his own that he lied. But with her, it was real. She entered the picture and he didn’t have to pretend anymore.

He just was. He was happy. He was goofy. He was care-free. He was reckless. He was messy. He was real. He was just alive.

“Dean, I know you’re in there. I can hear you frowning.”

He cleared his throat. “Actually, my expression’s neutral.”

There was a pause, and he knew she was smiling. He could feel it through the door. “You don’t do neutral.”

As usual, she was right. He wasn’t neutral on this, he was anything but. He didn’t want her in the line of fire, but he wanted her in his line of sight. Which made no sense because he was always in the line of fire…

“Come on, open the door,” it was soft, bordering on the edge of uncertain, timid.

He regretted making her feel that way about him. Realistically, he wanted her to feel about him the way he felt about her, but that was asking for entirely too much. He just wanted her to trust him, to be comfortable around him, to appreciate his company even though he was a mean bastard.

He reached for the handle, closed his fist around it, and stood. “Joelle,” he dropped the doorknob, reached up to lean his forearm on the wood.

“What?” she asked, voice louder but just as soft. She had gotten closer to the door, and Dean imagined that he could feel her body heat through the door, the way shadows would dip over her face at being so close to the wood.

“I’m sorry,” Holy shit. He was throwing in the towel first? Was he really that weak, had she beaten down his resolve that much?

It was quiet. Quiet enough that he could hear his own heart beat, his lungs expand, bones shift with his breath.

“Sam thinks a djinn has shacked up in northern Oregon. Pack warm.” And he listened to her footsteps retreat, too wounded to even draw breath. He deserved it, he guessed. After everything he said to her, and how he acted. A simple apology wasn’t nearly enough. But, he couldn’t deny that he wanted her forgiveness. And he was so sure she would give it because he was used to her selfless attitude, used to her always being on his side even when he was clearly wrong. Because she had such faith in him, because she trusted him that much.

Note: all that was past tense. She didn’t trust him like that anymore, and he had no one to blame but himself.

Sighing, he started for his dresser, hardly even thinking about clothes, hardly thinking at all. He didn’t want to be stuck in a car with her for 8 hours, he wanted to be alone. He wanted…he stopped, clutched the edge of the drawer so tight he practically felt the wood pressing into his bones.

He wanted to run. But where could he run? The past few months, she was his refuge, and now she was a fortress he had to work his way back into. The thought crossed his mind that perhaps he was safer on the outside, where he couldn’t get to her. Maybe she was safer that way too.

 

 

Fate loved spitting at him in the face. Another motel. Two beds. Because of space saving reasons, they were stuck in the same bed while gigantor got his own.

Dean hardly listened to Sam debrief him on the case earlier that day. His mind was in a cruel loop of replaying his persuasion tactic, the look on her face, the way she stiffened but hardened to grit out her own words. And hers weren’t hurtful like his, and while her voice was strong, he could catch the way her lower eyelids reddened, threatened to hold tears.

And then his shitty apology that meant shit.

She had disclosed to him near the beginning her fear of dragging them down. Getting them hurt because she deemed herself incompetent. And he threw it back at her with all the venom and condemnation he could muster, telling himself he had to hurt her to get her to leave. He pushed all the right buttons. Her fears, her insecurities, her doubts; things she had willingly trusted him with, and wielded them against her like a knife, and he cut and cut and cut…

And still she stayed. Didn’t even retaliate with weaponry he had given her, because he had let his walls down around her and let her in, and she knew things about him. Things that would make him bleed, hurt him like he hurt her, and she didn’t. It would have been simple for her to slice him open with a few words, but she bit her tongue, stood her ground. And then she went off to lick her wounds.

He had betrayed her. He had voluntarily hurt her, exploited her weaknesses that he was supposed to keep safe.

Of course she wouldn’t forgive him. He wouldn’t forgive him. He didn’t. He didn’t forgive himself.

He regretted it. More than anything, because she wouldn’t forget a single word of what he said, or how he said it. He made sure to mean every word, and it hit like the truth. It stuck.

“Dean, you alright, man?”

Sam’s voice pulled him out of his depressing train of thought and he found his travelling partners staring at him, both of them stalled in their unpacking. He was still standing at the door, duffel hanging from his hand.

“Yeah- yup. I’m all good.” That sounded convincing. He moved in, tossing his bag onto the bench at the foot of their bed. Joelle avoided looking at him, rushed off to the bathroom when he rounded the bed to grab the remote off the dresser. It stung. But he deserved it.

When the bathroom door clicked shut, Sam plopped down on his own bed and pointedly stared at Dean. After a few moments, Dean cracked.

“What?” it was short, clipped.

“Don’t ‘what’ me. You know what.” Sam shot back, a bitchface already in full effect.

Dean rolled his eyes, ignored his little brother. He didn’t need this right now. He didn’t need anything right now. Except maybe a drink.

“You need to talk to her,”

Dean narrowed his eyes, started flipping through tv stations faster than it was possible to decipher what was happening.

“She doesn’t want to leave, Dean. You can’t make her.”

His jaw clenched. ‘Yeah, I already know that. Can’t make her do anything, the firecracker.’

“…Dean, we’re it for her,”

Dean blinked, stopped fucking around with the remote to look at his brother. “What? What the Hell does that mean?”

“We’re all she has-“

“That’s sad,”

Cue bitchface. “She sold that bakery, cut ties with everyone in that town…and you already know how other hunters see her,”

The mention of other hunters, the way they treated her, made Dean’s trigger-finger itch. So help them if he ever ran into any of them.

“Aside from us she has nothing.”

“Nothing would be better than us, Sammy.” He said, shaking his head. “We don’t have a long list of living friends. The dead outweigh the living-“

“So then, let’s leave.”

Dean stopped, stopped talking, stopped regularly blinking, stopped breathing.

“Come on, I haven’t unpacked my bag. We can go now.” Sam stood, grabbed his jacket and Dean swung his legs over the edge of the bed, alarmed.

“I mean, can’t get her to leave, and you don’t want her around…” he shoved his arms through the sleeves, adjusted the collar while Dean stared up at him with confused, narrowed eyes.

Dean knew what Sam was doing, and it was fucking working. That piece of shit.

“Dean, come on. That hot water isn’t going to last forever,” he picked up his bag, began looking around for the keys.

Dean was convinced he wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t give in to this juvenile psychological game, but when Sam grabbed the keys up and started toward the door with earnest purpose, he caved.

“Alright that’s enough, you douche-canoe.” He hadn’t realized it, but he had braced his hands on the edge of the bed, he couldn’t feel the tips of his fingers anymore.

“What are you talking about?”

Fucking-

Before he could register it, he was standing, pointing at his asshat brother. “You’re a dick,” was all he managed.

Sam’s expression fell flat. “No. You are,” he deadpanned, dropped his bag and watched relief trickle into Dean’s stature. “And you’re full of shit.”

And that was it. Dean sighed, raked his hands through his hair. “I can’t add her to the list, Sammy. I can’t let her name be another crossed out contact in my phone. I can’t.”

“She won’t-“

“But you don’t know that. Sam, people get close to us and they die! She’s something that can be used against us,” He rubbed a hand down his face, attempting to gain control of his volume. “When is it ever us that pays the price when shit hits the fan?”

“Dean-“

“We try like Hell, but we can’t protect people. Especially the ones closest to us- I can’t lose anyone else,”

“Dean-“

“It’s like tempting fate: having her with us. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this Sam, but we don’t get happy endings,”

“Would-“

He raked his hands through his hair again. “Crowley knows about her, and you know he’d snag a chance if he got it. But if she stays with us, she as good as dead anyway…” he was finally finished, feeling exhausted, defeated, anxious, upset, you name it: he was feeling it.

“Dean.” Sam tried one last time.

Dean sunk down on the mattress again, clasped his hands together between his spread knees, forearms on his thighs. “What?” he sounded as tired as he felt. Finally.

Sam’s eyes slid from Dean’s to behind him, lingering with a mixture of apology, sympathy, and shyness. That was when Dean noticed: the shower had stopped running. He went rigid but he didn’t dare to move, only dropped his eyes to the carpet, focused on what looked like a cigarette burn.

Moments of silence passed, where the only noise was Sam shifting from foot to foot and traffic outside. And then, his moose of a brother said, “I’m gonna go outside.”

He didn’t respond, and neither did she. Nothing happened until Sam was gone and the door shut behind him. He heard her shuffle her feet, cross her arms, uncross them, and release a shaky breath, weak and wobbly with emotion. Dean winced at the sound of it, and the small motion drove her across the carpet to their shared bed.

He felt the mattress dip behind him, springs squeak quietly, the slip of skin over fresh blankets, and then she was there. Her legs bent at the knees were on either side of him, pressed against his hips and thighs, and her hands were on his stiff shoulders for a second before they slipped forward and her arms followed.

Her chin rested in the thin space between her arm and the junction of his neck and shoulder, she tilted her head to catch some of his profile. He had closed his eyes at some point, and his eyebrows were knit in pain.

“I’m not some damsel in distress,” it was quiet, murmured into his ear, whether because she was so close or because her voice was strained he didn’t know.

Like usual, his body didn’t listen to a damn word he thought when she was around and his hand came up to hold her arms which were pressed against his collar bone. Her arms felt so small in his big hand that the comparison brewed his protectiveness, and attraction. “No. I know, sweetheart,” and he did. She didn’t need anyone to save her, she could take care of herself, probably kick his and Sam’s asses with her hands tied behind her back.

“I’m not gonna leave, Dean,” she said, some strength back in her voice and Dean opened his eyes.

“I know.” He replied, sounding resigned, and already regretting something that hadn’t happened yet.

She shook her head, he could feel it, and then her arms tightened around him, pulling him back into her. “I’m not going to leave you, Dean,” Her breath was brushing the sharp edge of his cheekbone, and she was close enough to count each individual eyelash. His eyes slipped closed again with her words, and he drew in a breath. “I’m not going anywhere.” She reiterated, leaning her temple on his, waited for him to say something.

“You better mean that,” he rasped, hand sliding across to grab hers, holding it tight enough to test the joints. “Every damn word,” he swallowed audibly, trying to chase away the ball in his throat.

She nodded, chest jumping with sad puffs of breathless laughter. He felt them jolt him, and swallowed again. She squeezed his hand, turned her head to push her lips to his temple. “Every word.” She promised, dropping a little to rest her forehead on his temple.

He pretended he didn’t cover up a sob with a cough, and she pretended that she didn’t wipe a tear off of his freckled cheek. And they both pretended to ignore the moment he brought her hand up and pressed his trembling lips to her knuckles and the backs of her fingers.

But Dean was so tired of pretending.

Chapter Text

“Dean Winchester, where the Hell do you think you are going?”

            He grinned, jangling his keys in his hand as Joelle pointed a finger at him, scowling. “To the bar,” she opened her mouth to say something like ‘Hell you are’ or, ‘Over my dead body’, but he cut her off. “That hot waitress at the diner in town? She works the night-shift at the bar.”

            Her tongue got stuck in her throat for a second as she looked at him in disbelief. “You…” she recovered quickly, glaring. “You are injured.”

            He turned the door handle, winking at her. “Nothing a little TLC can’t fix,” he glanced at Sam, raising his eyebrows in question: You comin’ along?

            Sam shook his head, half disappointed in his brother and half unsurprised. Dean shrugged, throwing a ‘Don’t wait up!’ over his shoulder as he slammed the door behind him.

            Joelle seemed thrown into a shocked silence that she only snapped out of when she heard the Impala roar to life. She padded to the window, arms crossed and looked out.

            Sam could only guess that Dean spotted her from the parking lot because she quickly frowned and shook her head in disdain. “I hope he tears the stitches and comes back, so when he asks me to patch him up again, I can point him to a street corner and tell him to go get some TLC from ‘Candy’ on the block.”

            Sam chuckled, “Well, he does have a sweet tooth.”

            She grimaced at him, unamused. “What about you? Considering that you declined a night of debauchery, you can’t be too banged up.”

            Sam shrugged. “Just a few cuts and bruises.”

            “A few cuts and bruises…” she repeated, knowing that was Winchester code for: I’m potentially fatally wounded, but I’m a stubborn ass with a lot of useless pride so I’m going to sit here and shrug in the face of pain. Literally.

            Sam raised an eyebrow when her stare went flat. He shifted, knowing he was caught.

            A smirk twitched her lips and she sighed. “Come on macho man, shirt off.”

            He tried to lessen the tension and grinned at her, “And you said I declined a night of debauchery?”

            “Pffft.” She had the first-aid kit at the ready and plopped down on the bed next to him. “Obviously, you’re still here with me.”

            She was busy taking things out of the med-kit, arranging them on the bed, and hadn’t looked at him yet.

            Sam knew he’d get shit from her for hiding his injuries, so he was trying to put her in a good mood. “Are you saying you’re a prude? Got ‘Catholic-Grandma’ morals?”

            “I had a Catholic grandmother actually, and she-“she chose that moment to look at him, and felt a 5-star bitchface creep up on her.

            Sam shrunk back slightly, a guilty smile stretching his mouth. Yeah, he probably should have said something, but it really wasn’t the worst he’d ever been through. He figured a pissed off Joelle was the worst thing he’d ever tolerate.

            “A few cuts and bruises,” she mocked, eyebrows furrowing. “A few cuts and bruised ribs, is more like it.”

            Sam opened his mouth to console her, calm her or something, but she shut him up with a sharp look.

            “Damn Winchesters, think they’re invincible…” she muttered under her breath, grabbing cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. Sam smiled a little, amused at how angry she was.

            “You boys,” she continued with more volume. “are the most stubborn sons of bitches I’ve ever met.” She jammed her thumb over her shoulder, referencing Dean as she swiped the cotton swab over a shallow cut. “Case and point.”

            Sam remained vocally silent as she worked, but he couldn’t wipe the smile off of his face. He found it oddly charming with how concerned she was about their health and well-being. It was somewhat of a load off of their shoulders, someone else was around to worry, and look out for Dean (or Sam).  Her lips pursed as she concentrated on cleaning his wounds, padding some and securing them with medical tape.

            Sam watched her, finding a strange sense of comfort and belonging as she took care of him. He listened to her gripe and grumble, scolding him occasionally when she found some cuts needed more than a quick dab of alcohol. She was attentive, thorough, mindful and considerate. She wasn’t rough, or messily quick as her temper suggested she would be.

            She was zeroed in on him, on the task at hand, and Sam thanked the Gods that he was the ‘task at hand’, or rather ‘task at her hands’. Her small hands were skilled, and only lingered for medical purposes, no ambiguity in her fingers or palms. Nevertheless, Sam was convinced that she was taking more care with him, more time than she did with Dean.

            He chalked up his caring about that to the fact that she was attractive, and was more inclined to dote on him than his brother who was usually every woman’s first choice. Smugness filled his chest, or at least that what he told himself it was when she began to wrap his ribs, the icy-hot she had put on him was strong in his nose and had him blowing an obnoxious amount of air through his nostrils.

            When she was satisfied with her work, she nodded, patted him on the shoulder and began packing up. He thanked her with a sheepish smile and she shook her head, shrugging.

            As she stood to walk to her duffel bag, Sam found himself looking at her. Watched the subtle roll of her shoulders when she walked, casting shadows over muscle in her skin tight t-shirt. Her dark brown, almost black hair swayed across her back, tendrils laying haphazardly on her shoulders and arms.

            The width of her waist was small, but in no way under-pleasing or childlike. It fit her, and her hips rolled and swayed almost hypnotically when she walked, and it wasn’t intentional: usually women who sway their hips strut. And Joelle did not strut. It was natural, and Sam found that all the more attractive. And her legs, toned and strong, with just the right amount of softness that you could catch their alluring shape underneath almost anything she wore. Maybe he shouldn’t have been ogling her, but he figured she might end up leaving them soon so what was the harm?

            He told himself he’d miss her because she was pleasing to look at, and he didn’t have to carry the load of bugging the hell out of Dean all on his own. He fought off the voice in his head that was telling him he was a shit liar. He told it to go fuck off.

            “…sleep.”

            Her voice drug him out of his head, and with an apologetic duck of his head he said, “Sorry, I wasn’t listening. What did you say?”

            She huffed good naturedly. “I said,” she tossed her duffle bag to the floor. “It’s getting late and with your injuries you should get some sleep.”

            Sam found himself nodding before he gave his head leave to do so. “What about you?”

            She smiled ruefully, and whipped her phone out. “I’m a walking encyclopedia when it comes to lore, and hunters have been bugging me all day.”

            She seemed blasé about the whole thing, but Sam could tell she felt a little guilty about putting those people on hold.

            Sam wasn’t quite ready to call it a night yet though. “I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I’ve got a pretty good grasp on lore, and other hunters aren’t blowing up my phone. So…”

            Her smile went a little tight, and she shrugged her shoulders again. “What makes me so special?” she finished his sentence, and hesitating somewhat, he nodded.

            She flopped down on the couch, eyes locked on her phone before she even sat down. “I’ve got an eidetic memory-“Sam choked on air, clearly surprised. She ignored him, “And I don’t want to say I’ve read every lore book, but I’m pretty sure I’ve come close.”

            “So, you’re like a genius?”

            “NO.” she half barked, shoulders tensing. “I just have an unnatural ability to memorize. That’s as far as my genius goes.”

            It was clear he had stepped on her toes, and rather than feel guilty or indignant, he felt curious.

            “If this is a sore subject, why bother telling me?” She ignored him again, scrolling through her text messages. “You could have just said you were an expert on monster lore, or just that some hunters wanted a second opinion. Why bring up something unsavory that you could easily avoid?”

            She turned to look at him, face open and emotions clear. It seemed she was going to divulge something else to Sam, but another text message from a hunter had her eyes hardening and shoulders straightening. She murmured an even, “Go to sleep, Sam. It’s late.” And then she was completely ignoring him, immersed in her text messages and emails.

            He eyed her from behind for an entire minute, trying to figure if an apology would help or make things worse. But he figured if she wasn’t going to tell him, it was better to just avoid it all together. Apologizing for it would only bring it to the surface and it was clear she wanted it to stay buried.

            So with a quiet, mournful sigh, he lay back and shut his eyes.

            It was some time later, perhaps the middle of the night when she spoke, and Sam gathered that she only started speaking because she thought he was asleep. He wasn’t.

            “I told you because I could, because I wanted to.” She paused a moment and Sam heard her huff a laugh through her nose. “Can’t really get to know a person when that person doesn’t tell you anything.”

            Sam rolled her words around in his head, and found himself admiring her. For whatever reason, the fact that she had an eidetic memory was a thorn in her side and she shared that with him. Sam guessed the reason she snapped at him was because she was scared to tell someone about this part of her.

            He blinked, eyes wandering around the ceiling, and after five minutes of silence aside from the cars on the road outside, he said, “Why keep that part of yourself hidden?”

            He heard her choke on air and flounder in her seat, her phone thudding to the floor. “Sam!”

            He chuckled and sat up, and even through the darkness he could tell she was glaring at him. “Sorry. But why were you hiding that in the closet? Why did you hold off so long on telling me?”

            She turned around on the couch, forearm resting on the back of it. “It’s just…” she paused for words, visibly flinched when her phone vibrated on the floor. “Whenever people- other hunters find out I have an eidetic memory; they look at me like I’m a walking library: a source of information.” She sighed, shook her head slightly and continued. “A tool to be used. I’m no longer ‘Joelle Addington’, I’m the ‘Monster encyclopedia’, a living, breathing, ‘Google with breasts’.” Sam chuckled a little at the last one, a smile twitched her lips but it fell miserably short of a smile.

            “People only call when they need something. No one even thanks me anymore, it’s like some sort of obligation, like they think I was put on Earth to answer all of their questions, so they don’t even bother showing me any gratitude- “she cut off, sighing heavily. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m being selfish.”

            When she finished, they both sat in silence for a time, letting her words settle into the large space between them. Sam was taking a moment to gather his raging thoughts into calm words, and when he did, he shoved off the bed and came to kneel next to the arm of the couch.

            “I can tell you this: You are not selfish. It’s almost, what, 2 o’clock in the morning and you’re still up helping these other hunters? And you continue to do it knowing that no one is going to thank you?” She blinked at him, eyes curious but still guarded, and Sam caught tail-ends of self-depreciation swimming in them.

            “And you need to understand this: it is not your job to hand-hold all these other hunters. They are more than capable of gathering information on their own.” Sam reached out to place a hand on her knee. “It’s running you ragged, doing this.”

            She made to argue and Sam gave her look as if to say ‘And you call us stubborn?’. “It’s mostly them, but the more you do this, the more you feed into the idea that you’re a ‘walking library’.”

            Her teeth were digging into her bottom lip, and her eyes were big and pleading for him to continue, like she knew she needed to hear what he was going to say but just couldn’t bring herself to open her mouth.

            “Dean and I would- won’t ever do that. So, before I take your phone and tell all those selfish bastards to fuck off, I’ve got something I want to say to you.” His long arm swooped down to snatch her phone, and she wasn’t even close to asking for it back.

            “Joelle Addington, when I look at you, do you know what I see?” she shook her head, swallowing hard. “First and foremost, I see a beautiful, strong woman, who cares so much for others that I can’t help but see everyone we’ve ever saved when I look at you.” She gawked. He basically was giving her credit for everyone they had saved.

            Her mouth opened, and Sam began again intent on getting everything out before she tried to shoot it all down in flames. “When I think of you, of course your intelligence jumps to mind, but I also think about how you could boast with it, or you could brush it all off as if what you know means nothing. And you don’t do either, because you care about what you’re saying, but you also know despite your perfect memory you still have room to be wrong.”

            She fidgeted in her seat, eyes falling to the hand on her knee which was squeezing gently. “You’re humble when you’re right, level-headed when you’re wrong, you bolster everyone else’s needs and wants ahead of your own and you never complain about it. You’re serious and focused when you need to be, but you can have Dean and I laughing our asses off for hours on end with a joke. But above all else, when I think of you one word jumps to mind: Selfless.”

            Silence heavy enough to wear like a blanket followed his rant, and rested on their shoulders for a good while. Only when the sounds of some drunken idiot trying to shove his key into his motel room door worked its way down through the walls did either of them move.

            Sam stood, her phone in his large hand and he walked back towards his bed, dialing a number that had texted her.

            For the next 30 minutes, Joelle listened and watched Sam tell off every single hunter that bothered her for information. She still felt a little guilty about having them cut off. What if they needed information only she had-?

            “Quit that.”

           

She jolted guiltily, eyes darting over to Sam who was frowning at her knowingly.

            “None of their mistakes, past, present or future, are on you. You hear me?”

            “…Yeah. I hear you.”

            He nodded curtly, “Go to sleep, Joelle. It’s late.”

            She rolled her eyes when she recognized her own words thrown back at her. But nevertheless, she shrugged off her jacket and flopped down on Dean’s bed. He wouldn’t be back tonight anyway, and she was half relieved, half saddened that she had it all to herself.

            Sam laid down with her phone in his hand, ready to snap to attention and tear into any hunters that tried to give her a piece of their minds. A smile flitted over his lips. If they did call, they’d be getting more than they bargained for.

            When he heard her begin to lightly snore, Sam found himself grinning in triumph. And as he turned on his side to look at her, he felt his chest jump. A quick, little jolt that had his eyes widening. He was suddenly entranced with her shadow cloaked and moon-bathed figure. Hung onto every breath that left her lips, and found himself scooting towards the end of his bed, closer to her.

            Like the stubborn son-of-a-bitch he was, he stomped down whatever the hell was brewing in his chest, and closed his eyes determinedly. Sleep dragged him under in shreds, half-heartedly tugging at parts of him that were no longer there, desperately clawing at any willing parts of him that lingered.  

            The last thing Sam heard before he fell to sleep was Joelle mumble, “Fuck off. Library’s closed for business.” He didn’t know it, but he was smiling a good portion through the night after that.

            Sam woke fluidly, one smooth pull, eyes blinking up at the ceiling. He turned his head only to come face-to-face with an empty bed. The rich smell of coffee had him sitting up eagerly. He just about swung his legs over the edge of the bed when he caught her, eyes locking on her sharply and determinedly, like it was the last time he was ever going to see her.

            She was curled up in a chair next to the window, legs crossed and small slender fingers were curled around the hot porcelain of her coffee mug. Steam rose off the surface of her coffee, and it was stalled near her parted lips, breathe skimming over the rim. Her still slightly damp hair was piled on top of her head in a pleasing mess of a bun, and her soft cotton t-shirt hung off her shoulders, and hugged her curves lovingly. Long eyelashes fanned down over striking greys, smooth skin in her throat stretched and flexed as she turned to look out the window. Her profile revealed a perfectly straight nose, a small but strong jawline, sharp cheekbones, and dark eyebrows that rested with a slight curve above her eyes.

            Would it be strange for him to tell her she was beautiful? Like it caused him physical pain, he slowly tore his eyes away from her and glanced at the clock. 5:12 a.m.

            He almost frowned. She had barely gotten three hours of sleep and she was up drinking a pot of coffee on her own? But she shifted slightly, her legs tucked beside her, the cup to her lips, and she swallowed, muscles moving and dropping in her throat, and Sam felt himself fall.

            Suddenly, unexpectedly, as pale sunlight broke over the horizon slowly and washed over her porcelain skin. Unexpectedly, as she licked her lips and sighed, breathily and short, and leaned toward the window, fogging up the glass. He wasn’t at all prepared to have the breath sucked out of him by her, wasn’t prepared to find himself drowning in the sight of her. He wasn’t prepared to find that the most beautiful sound in the world would be her saying his name, even if she was just asking him to pass the salt. He wasn’t ready to find the sweetness and addiction of her name as it crossed his lips.

            No. He wasn’t in any way prepared for this. But he had never been so impatient for something in his life, so desperate to have it.

            But it dawned on him, hit him square in the chest as he watched her look out the window, eyes flitting along the road. Up before the sun with a pot of coffee, waiting. Waiting for the Impala to pull into the parking lot. Waiting for Dean. 

            As someone who had just taken the fall, it was with an otherworldly ability that he was able to see it in her. Recognize the longing, the aching, the carefully crafted worry, that steady flickering of light in the eyes.

            He wondered why it took him falling in love with her for him to notice she was in love with Dean.

            Bitter, sharp, with an edge only he could feel. Dust in his lungs, glass in his hands, poison in his blood. That was to be his love for her. A long-suffering battle of one-sided desires that he’d welcome like an old friend gone too long. Maybe it would kill him, and he couldn’t bring himself to care. Because he had never been so ready to die.

            “Joelle.”

            Coffin nail.

Chapter Text

Dean woke to soft fingertips running through his hair, and a hand in his, thumb stroking the back. He heaved a relaxed sigh through his nose, turned his head to offer more room for those fingers in his hair.

A quiet laugh, a laugh he recognized. His lips twitched with a smile, but he steadfastly kept his eyes closed.

She hummed, trailed her hand down to stroke the side of his face. “Hope you don’t plan on sleeping all day; we’ve got work to do,”

He groaned quietly, reached up to grab her hand, blindly pressed a kiss to the palm. “You always say the worst things to me in the morning,” Reluctantly, he peeled his eyes open. And he regretted not opening them sooner.

She was leaning over him, her wavy dark hair a mess, finger-combed to a small degree of control. She was still sleepy-eyed, her grey eyes slightly hazy. She was smiling at him warmly, probably had been the whole time. Lips curved happily, gently but the force behind it floored him just like it always did. Hell, just looking at her always landed him on his ass. No matter what she was wearing, or what mood she was in, his heart fluttered, his stomach flopped and his brain short-circuited.

But this smile was special. This smile was for him, just him. No one else in the world.

He sighed, a grin spreading his lips as well. “Are you sure it can’t wait another day? I mean-“

“We’re repainting the kitchen,” she said, tone firm regardless of the placid smile on her face. She placed her hands on his chest, slid her palms up over his collar bone as she lowered herself. “We aren’t going to have the time or peace to do it later,”

Dean smiled, green eyes ghosting over her face, lingering on her lips. “Tell me again why repainting the kitchen is so important,” his hands landed on her lower back, fingers stroking and rubbing through the fabric of one of his old band t-shirts.

“Because,” her own hands slipped up to cup his jaw, slide along the sharp bone to hold the sides of his head. “That paintjob is as old as the house itself and you’ve been promising to help me repaint it for 3 years,”

“Mmm. Guess my time is up, huh?” he chuckled, hands travelling up her back, arms winding.

“Your time’s been up, mister,” she shot back, inching closer, feeling his breath hit her lips.

He leaned forward, slid his mouth along hers, coveted the soft fullness of her lips, the way she sighed against him and pushed back. The languid, slow, slip and catch of an early morning kiss tinged with sunlight and contentment.

She broke the kiss with another sigh. “C’mon, I’ve got coffee on,” she pecked him again, immediately regretted it because he tightened his arms and insisted another one. “Dean.”

He grinned lop-sidedly, bumped his nose into hers. “Joelle?”

“You’re incorrigible,” but she was smiling, not at all complaining. It had been awhile since they could enjoy laying in bed in the early hours of the morning, completely at peace. To be honest, she wasn’t thrilled about painting the kitchen, but it was something that needed to be done, and dammit, today was the day it was going to happen.

“You love it,” he said, walking a hand back and up to cup the base of her skull.

She rolled her eyes, but relented. She hedged forward, brushed her lips along his, watched his pupils gobble up the pretty greens of his eyes, and kissed him. He responded with fervor, mouth moving on hers like he was trying to wordlessly recite some love poem he had never read. He tilted her head, nipped her lips apart, swallowed her small gasp, and any other sounds she made.

She could clearly see where this was headed, and if it went there, they’d spend all day in bed like they did yesterday. So, with willpower she didn’t know she had, she broke away and detoured kisses along his cheek to his jaw. He sighed, reluctantly letting her slap him with a stop sign.

“Wear an old shirt to paint in,” she mumbled into his neck, nipped at scruffy skin and detached herself from him. He groaned like a grumpy teenager.

He watched her walk towards the door, his shirt covering her to mid-thigh. “You always say the worst things to me in the morning.” He repeated, and she laughed shaking her head as she went. She paused in the doorway, cocked her head and smiled mischievously as she eyed him grudgingly pulling himself up.

“Do I?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest while she leaned on the doorjamb.

“Would you like examples in alphabetical, or chronological order?” he snarked, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

She laughed again, softly, and he looked over at her. “The worst things…” she repeated, that smile getting wider and Dean cocked an eyebrow at her.

She waited until he slipped on his pair of sweatpants that he wore to bed last night, but never got as far as wearing them in bed, and stepped back out into the hallway. He watched her, wondering just what she was up to.

“Dean,”

For whatever reason, he found himself starting to smile despite his suspicion. He stood, raised his eyebrows expectantly. “What?”

She tipped her chin. “I’m not wearing anything underneath this.” She watched his eyes widen, sweep her up and down, and then she was turning down the hallway.

She didn’t know what she was expecting, but she wasn’t expecting to actually reach the kitchen by herself. Of course, by the time she poured herself a cup of coffee and turned around, she wasn’t alone anymore.

“That was mean,” he said, stalking towards her, eyes dark.

She smiled around the rim of her cup, shook her head somewhat. “No, telling you that you can’t touch while I paint next to you in this,” his nostrils flared, eyes up-downing her again. “That would be mean.” She finished, insisting her coffee mug into his hands, they looked like they needed something to hold.

He looked down at the mug, couldn’t even see his reflection in the dark drink because his hands were shaking so bad. This woman- his woman- was dangerous. And he didn’t give a damn about his safety.

“Good thing you’re not mean, right, baby?” he didn’t know if he sounded too hopeful, like he was unconvinced, but he didn’t care, because he could have her all day. Tomorrow too. The day after that. The metal band sitting on his left ring finger confirmed that.

“Right, honey.” She smiled, her eyes crinkling, cheeks dimpling and Dean just about dropped his mug. But then she was sidling passed him, toward the buckets of paint she had on the floor and Dean sighed. This was going to be the fastest paintjob he’d ever do.

 

“So, are you satisfied now? The kitchen’s repainted in…” he squinted at the paint tub, “Cedar.”

“Yes, for now. I’m sure I’ll think of something else for you to avoid doing for three years,” she replied, gathering up brushes, and tape.

He chuckled, starting to roll up the plastic they had laid down on the hardwood. “Like re-tiling the bathroom?”

She stopped, turned to look at him. “I honestly forgot about that. How long have I been waiting on that?”

He folded the plastic under his arm, smiled at her. “Only about six months. I’ve still got another 2 and a half years,”

 She rolled her eyes, dimpled a cheek in flat distaste. “And to think: I was going to make pie today.”

Dean laughed, picked up the empty cans of paint as well as the trays. “You’re not going to have time to make pie today,” he drawled, winking at her on his way to the garage. The door was caddy-corner to the fridge, across the room.

She shook her head, turned the hot water on and ran the brushes under them, they’d wash the rollers with the hose outside.

By the time Dean came back in, she had the brushes laying on a paper towel and was standing next to the island counter, looking at the walls with a pleased tilt to her lips. Dean looked over her for a minute, getting a new angle to appreciate her from. A slight side-view that displayed her slim neck, the delicate curve of her jaw, the straightness of her nose…Her slender shoulders, slightly muscled arms from doing years of housework, the peek of her collar bone around the opening of his shirt. The way it draped over her, caught on the roundness of her breasts and flowed down, curving over her waist and backside. The frayed hem just stopping at her mid-thigh, muscle poking through the smoothness when she shifted her weight.

But his eyes travelled back up, and he grinned. It was still early, but in a few months, her stomach would stretch and round out, growing with the life of their second child. They’d only been married three years but they’d been together 6, had a four-year-old son, and in close to a year they’d be adding another member to their little family.

It had been hard at first, they weren’t even married but they had a baby on the way, neither of them experienced in that area, and scared out of their damn minds. They had always talked about getting married and having kids, but it never went beyond that: just talking. Until one day, under suspicion, she took a pregnancy test and found it positive.

Dean was scared, uncertain of her stance on it, but he was happy too. Except it threw into perspective how little they planned their lives. They weren’t married, they still lived a little too recklessly to claim to be ready for a child, and there was that overall question of what if? What if, we have this baby and it’s nothing like we thought it would be? What it it’s too much?

Needless to say, tensions mounted, worries worsened, insecurities were born from nothing and in a strange attempt to gain control of the situation, to make some sense out of what their lives had become, he had tried proposing to her and she flat out refused with the remark, Dean Winchester, don’t you dare ask me to marry you just because I’m pregnant. Don’t do that to us.

And that sparked a fight, which escalated to the point of her leaving. He had slammed doors in his life, heard other people slam them, but not like her. It sounded and felt like a death sentence. He barely lasted two days before he was barging into her hotel room, angry, desperate, anxious, fucking terrified about her leaving him.

He had lost a lot of things in his life, let a lot people walk on him, but her…he couldn’t do it. She was everything. She was the rest of his life, every moment of it and he wasn’t going to throw it all away because he was scared.

He didn’t know how he did it, but he convinced her to come back, stay with him. And over the days as he watched the life of his first-born child play out in her stomach, he didn’t feel so afraid. Instead, he became fascinated, enthralled with this mixture of him and her growing inside her. Listened to her complain about sore feet, watched her eat pickles with peanut butter, cry over commercials, fall asleep literally on any surface she laid her head down on for longer than 5 seconds.

He watched those stretch marks appear, kissed the frowns off her mouth when she noticed them too. Laughed with her when she’d be caught wearing two different shoes, watch her struggle to reach the simplest of things because her belly was starting to get in the way of everything only to be glared away when he tried to help. He watched her go through this process, watched her approach every challenge with zeal and determination. Watched her rub her swollen belly lovingly, talk and croon to their unborn baby with words like honey.

He watched himself fall in love with her all over again.

“Honey?” her voice eased him back to the present and he refocused. She was still standing with her profile visible to him, though now she had her eyebrows knit.

He recognized that look. “No,” he declared, waltzing towards her. He looped his arms around her waist, pulled her back into his chest and buried his nose in her hair. “You love this color, you spent an hour picking it out this weekend. You love it.” He tried convincing her, felt her hands land on top of his which were now laying over her stomach.

“It’s just-“ she attempted, only to be interrupted by his mouth on her neck. He nibbled, nipped and tasted flesh littered with marks of his love for her.

“Nothing,” he murmured, sucking a new mark into her skin, one she wouldn’t be able to hide under the collar of a sweater. Just under her jaw. “It’s goddamn perfect.” He rumbled, pulling his hands away to hold her hips.

“Dean-“ it sounded like a warning, or maybe a plea, but he didn’t care to listen.

He rolled his hips forward, held hers steady, dropped his head when hers lolled back. Her hands reached up and back to grip the back of his neck, because she needed something to ground her. He hummed, snaked a hand down to skim her thigh, let his thumb sneak up under the hem of her shirt.

She whined lowly, turned her head to try and catch his lips but he chuckled and raised his head. “Dean,” she said, cheeks already starting to flush.

But he didn’t say anything, only slid his hand in, navigated effortlessly through her curls and folds and slipped his fingers along her wet heat, groaning a little as he did so. She tried to buck into his hand, but was held still by the one on her hip, and swallowed hard. Bastard.

He coasted up, underneath the folds and buzzing flesh to peel the hood of her clit back, expose its roots and sensitive nerves. She was huffing and puffing, breaking her shallow breathing only to swallow back moans. And then he rolled his fingers over her hot button, pressed and ground his fingertips and growled at the way she whimpered. The way she was trying so hard to be quiet.

“Nobody’s home, baby. Just you and me,” he rumbled, stalling his fingers to say, “Let me hear you, sweetheart.” Then he was taking no prisoners, fingers sliding, circling, pressing without mercy, humming at her gasps and loud gulps of air between moans.

“Dean-“ was all she got out before his digits abandoned her swollen nub and dipped into her warm channel, just to tease the ache there before leaving to stroke outside her walls, spreading wetness.

“Come on, babydoll. I know just how loud you can be,” she keened at his voice, loosened her hands because they were tight around the back of his neck. They shook against his skin, which unbeknownst to her were marked red from her fingers. “Remind the neighbors why they never invite us over.”

She groaned, let her hands drop from his shoulders so she could reach back to grab at his hips, which didn’t go unnoticed by him. “Give me a reason to, then.”

He chuckled, let her dig her nails in to drag his hips forward, “Love to.”

 

 

 

They were a tangle of lazy limbs, warm and complacent and snugly fit into each other’s bodies with memorized ease.

Dean was running his fingers through her hair, using the other to trail his fingers over her back in nonsense patterns, the thin sheet doing little to cover her. The morning had passed in a blur, a sweaty, exhausting, perfect blur. Dean knew they only had a few hours to get themselves together, clean up the kitchen because they had left it a mess, but somehow, he put it off, unconcerned about his brother’s arrival.

Probably had something to do with the woman sleeping on top of him, her wild, sexy hair still drying from their earlier shower. An honest-to-goodness shower. Maybe if he hadn’t helped himself to her in the kitchen he would have had energy for the shower, but as it was he had to admit he wasn’t as young as he used to be. Not that this wasn’t nice, no, this was amazing. They hardly ever got the chance to lay around in bed, take a nap in it, something Dean had woken up from 5 minutes ago.

But, he couldn’t ignore the fact that he kind of missed building space-ships out of legos with his son, or tickling him breathless, or piggy-backing him through the house, running just to hear him laugh.

“Dean, Ethan’s only four. We have another decade and a half with him,”

He smiled. “How long you been awake?”

“Long enough to feel a disturbance in the Force,” she mumbled into his chest, dropping a kiss onto his warm skin.

He chuckled, swept her hair over one shoulder. “Yeah, okay sweetheart. Don’t act like you don’t miss him,” he retorted, trailing the backs of his fingers down her cheek, watched her eyes flutter open.

“No, I do,” she smiled. That smile. “I just happen to miss you a hell of a lot more,”

His heart thumped wildly, blood rushing like midnight traffic on the L.A. strip. “I’ve noticed,” he smirked, remembering the way she pounced on him the minute Sam’s car was out of view. Not that he hadn’t been just as eager.

She caught on to his cockiness, the tease in his voice and retaliated. “But now I’ve got my fill.”

He grinned, teeth flashing. “Is that right?” He cupped the side of her face, thumb stroking her cheekbone.

“Mm-hmm.” Was her simple response, not bothering to keep the softness out of her eyes, or off her lips.

Dean matched her look, expression relaxed and endearing. 6 years with her. He could hardly believe it, it didn’t seem possible. She was too perfect, like an answer to all these prayers he didn’t remember praying. She fit into his life like it was fate, effortlessly, clearly. And if she wasn’t enough, then the fact that she carried his children and delivered one of them into this world was far more than he could’ve ever dared to even think about hoping for. He was looking forward to the rest of it. The pee-wee soccer games, the busy mornings, the midnight feedings, even the oncoming fights because of her pregnancy…their new baby’s arrival, Ethan’s response. Watching the two of them grow up together…he could catch little snap-shots if he thought hard enough; tossing a football around with Ethan, staying up late to watch old horror movie flicks, teaching him to ride a bike, teaching him about cars. This new baby…it was going to be a girl, he could feel it.

He could easily imagine singing her to sleep, dressing her in old band t-shirts and plaid just to annoy her mother, teaching her that boys were jerks and she was never allowed to date one, raise her on a healthy dose of super-hero movies, Old Westerns and adrenaline-fueled action flicks…

When he finally came back, she was smiling at him knowingly, eyes over-flowing with love and adoration. He gave the expression back, bordering on worship and said, “I love you, baby.”

She gave a happy little sigh, trailed her dark grey eyes over his face, adoringly mapping every feature. “I love you too, honey.”

He felt full, contented in everything and at peace with the world just hearing those five words fall from her lips. He opened his mouth, intent on praising her to the point of embarrassment when he paused, brow furrowing slightly.

Something was off.

She gazed at him, face pinching at his sudden discomfort. “Dean, what’s wrong?”

He swallowed. A rush of cold air fell over him and goosebumps raised along his skin, though the chill broke past his skin and burrowed down into his bones. He couldn’t fight the strength of the shiver that ran through him.

“Dean?”

Oddly, her voice sounded muted, far away and muddled, and that was when Dean realized he couldn’t feel any warmth coming from her at all, and that he suddenly, randomly felt very tired. The pull of sleep was not welcome, not natural. It was brutal, he didn’t slip into it, it was almost like getting knocked out. Because in one moment, there was their shared bedroom, her beautiful face drawn in worry and then there was nothing. Just blackness.

But then there were hands on him. Strong, and gentle. Voices. Too garbled to recognize…and pain. There was pain.

But there always was, wasn’t there?

 

Chapter Text

“Fuck, his deadweight’s ridiculous. Sam,” she grunted, supporting an unconscious Dean as best she could, he was slumped forward into her and she was clumsily hugging him, her legs straining against his weight bearing down on her.

“In a sec,” he responded, throwing a concerned glance at them before moving on to cut down other victims.

A full day. 24 hours since Dean disappeared out from underneath them, no way to contact him or track him down. Just gone without a trace. The helplessness they felt was only matched by their determination to solve this case, despite the little they had to go on.

Neither of them had slept since Dean had vanished, they were hell-bent on finding him and closing this case. They didn’t say a word to each other unless it was progress made on the case, and only ate when their rumbling stomachs became too big of a distraction to ignore, the only liquids they consumed were high on caffeine and low on everything else.

Now that the adrenaline was wearing off, she was beginning to feel just how tired she was. Her legs were aching, and she knew otherwise she would have been able to at least drag him to the door, but she was running on empty. “Sam?” she tried again, hearing groaning and grunting coming from somewhere beyond the scope of her eyesight which consisted of scruffy neck, sagging shoulders, the high collar of his army jacket.

“Yeah-“ his voice held a note of irritation, and she wisely brushed it off when she could have given it back ten-fold. “Almost done.”

Yeah, me too, buster. Instead of focusing on her quivering legs, or the less than jolly giant a few feet from her, she instead shifted her attention to the unconscious man leaning on her. “Hey, I don’t know if you can hear me right now, but Sam and I found you. You’re safe,” he stirred slightly, muscles tensing, breathing stuttering before it returned to normal. She continued talking, just to try and coax more movement out of him. “Everyone is, victims are miraculously still breathing, and Sam and I kicked ass like we were being paid for it,” she smiled a little at the way they both had burst in, all manner of shoot-first-ask-questions-never because this Djinn had fucked up and kidnapped a hunter and not just any hunter, but Dean Winchester.

“Monster fucked with the wrong family,” she growled lowly, flexed her fingers on his shoulder blades as the image of Dean hanging limp from the ceiling, arms tied above him entered her mind again.

Dean stirred again, a hard swallow, muscles flexing, head lolling a little. She twisted her neck, tried to get a glance at Sam, who she heard talking quietly. Probably calling 911.

“I stabbed the asshole for you…after I got done stabbing him for us.” She chalked her frenzied kill up to the fact that she was high on adrenaline, low on sleep and proper nourishment, not to mention that Sam had put her in a shit mood a few hours prior. But really, she knew it was because she was scared, scared that she’d lost Dean, and that protective streak had morphed into murderous retribution when she thought she was facing that reality as they forced their way in to the church basement.

It scared her. The way she just lost it when she thought they’d been too late to save Dean. She snapped, and all she saw was red. She wanted- needed- someone to pay for what she thought had been taken from her. And she thought an eye for an eye sounded perfect.

He was dead the first time she stabbed him. The first time. She would’ve lost count had Sam not been there to drag her away, strong arms and comforting words thinly veiled over the concern of her outburst. It wasn’t lost on her that her right hand was covered in drying blood, a good portion of her sleeve too.

“Should’ve made you promise that you wouldn’t go anywhere…” She dipped her chin, nuzzled into the junction of his neck and shoulder, ignored how cold his skin was and just drunk in the fact that he was still here, breathing, and heart pumping, however weak it was.

Little did she know, Sam had been listening to her, and while Dean seemed comatose he heard every word as well. Both of them were reminded of how lucky they were that they took a case in her hometown out of the other 7 they could’ve chosen. And just how unworthy they were to have her with them. They were both just realizing how in deep they were, because they were deep enough that almost nothing would convince them to walk away from her. It sounded like a death sentence to them.

“Alright, let’s get out of here,” Sam said, approaching. She sighed in relief, peering over Dean’s shoulder with a silent plea for him to hurry up in her eyes. It was like Christmas for her when Sam dragged Dean’s arm over his shoulder and took his weight off of her.

Still though, as they all shuffled out of the church’s basement, she snuck in under Dean’s other arm, grabbed his hand while it dangled loosely down over her chest, pursing her lips at the chill of his fingers. Dean was starting to groan, facial features twitching with the effort of trying to fully wake, and Sam and Joelle shared relieved looks.

“I’ll sit in the back with him,” she offered when the slick black body of the impala came into view around the corner of the building. It had started to rain, lightly, but the air was already cool, and she didn’t miss the way Dean was shivering which alarmed her. The man was never cold. Never.

Sam nodded, let her shuffle her way into the backseat and then lowered Dean the best he could, let her drag him in and situate him. Before he shut the door, he ducked down having caught her imploring look when he had been shoving his unconscious brother into the car. “First-aid kit.” She said simply and he nodded, marching to the trunk.

Hind-sight it was kind of dumb to leave the first-aid kit in the trunk but whatever. He rushed back over, stretched his arm in and handed to her, she murmured a thanks, and then he was shutting the driver’s side door, mindful of his brother’s feet. When he ducked in, she was already at work.

She had his head on her lap, turned toward the front seats so she could attend to the wound on his neck. It was bruised, a few needle marks here and there because apparently this Djinn didn’t know exactly where the jugular was- fucking idiot. It only took a couple minutes before she was packing the contents into the box and reaching down for the thick wool blanket she had taken from the bunker; she was always cold, and though she loved the impala, it had crap-tastic heating.

She threw it over Dean, tucked his arms under it, and took to running her fingers through his hair, having a feeling he was the kind of guy that would probably melt with it. And she was right because even in his sleep he tilted his head, allowing more room for her gentle fingers. Sam glanced back occasionally, smiled at the picture he was treated to, not at all jealous like he thought he would be. He didn’t intend on going back to the motel, but with how tired they all were, sleep sounded good, and it sounded good right now. So, with classic rock humming quietly through the cab of the car, and the thump of the windshield wipers beating rain away, Sam steered them toward town instead of away from it.

There were about a minute away when Dean finally came to, though he was quickly bordering the line of dream-land again. His eyes cracked open blearily, fingers twitching under the blanket, and while she was completely ecstatic, Joelle settled for smiling softly down at him, hand stalled on top of his head, his hair threaded through her fingers. “So, you kicked ass without me, huh?” his voice was wrecked, and his throat felt like it had been sand-papered down, but she continued smiling.

“You sound surprised,” she mocked teased, raising an eyebrow at him, and he smiled up at her, smiled in a way she had never seen before; it sent butterflies flapping wildly in her stomach, and had her mind on stand-by momentarily.

“Nah,” he responded, that smile moving to his eyes the longer he looked at her. “You at least chew bubblegum while you did it?” Was she blushing at him, or was he just seeing things he wanted to see? He was pretty tired.

“No,” she laughed quietly, looking up toward the driver’s seat to catch Sam’s eye. He smiled back at her, the first real smile on his face in the last 24 hours, and darted his eyes back to the road. She looked down at Dean, a humored grin splitting her lips. “Unfortunately, I was all out of bubblegum.”

He chuckled, forgetting for a second that he felt like crap, but remembering that the last 6 years of his memory were full of shit. That it didn’t happen. “Unfortunately.” He said, not sure if he was talking about his realization or their conversation. Didn’t seem to matter.

The cut of the engine alerted them both that they had stopped. Sam was idling in the front seat, hanging around in case he needed to fork-lift his brother back to the motel room, so to speak.

“Can you walk?” she asked him, absentmindedly dragging her fingers through his hair again. She was beginning to question her sanity, because it was becoming more obvious that she was attracted- ‘enamored with’ was a better term- to Dean, and didn’t seem to be able to hide it anymore.

“I’m tired, not crippled,” he grumbled with his usual grumpiness, a little bit of a pout like he hated being coddled.

She frowned a smile and Sam rolled his eyes before creaking the door open, intent on getting back in their warm motel room. Still though, Dean groaned when he sat up, didn’t protest the gentle hands on his shoulder blades helping him do it. She followed him out, one hand on him while she gathered up the blanket that had fallen off of him.

He sat in the door of the car for a minute, vision swimming while he braced his hands on the leather seat trying to find his center of balance.

“You sure you don’t-“ he heard her gentle voice at his shoulder, concerned and warmed with compassion, and stubbornly, he shoved himself to his feet. He grabbed the frame of the door when he felt the world tilt and he heard her sigh behind him, completely unsurprised.

By the time the world righted itself, she was out and beside him, hand on his elbow. “I’m fine,” he protested, frowning, only frowned deeper when he looked at her and saw her in the light of day. She looked as strung out as he felt, only beneath the fatigue there was a certain edge, serrated and raw, like she went through more in the last 24 hours than he had in the last 24 years. Dark bags, paled skin, dimmed eyes, slightly chapped lips…if he didn’t know any better he would’ve thought she had been strung up too.

“Don’t you fight me, mister,” she warned, tone sharp enough to accompany the words somehow. Dean blinked down at her, something in him twisting at the way it sounded so familiar, like when she’d warn Ethan not to test her patience. It was ‘mom voice’, he realized, even though it so wasn’t, but he straightened anyway, like he’d been slapped on the hand with a wooden spoon. His heart clenched, feeling a loss that didn’t actually happen, and while he knew it didn’t happen, even convincing himself that it didn’t happen hurt.

“I still don’t have any bubblegum.” She continued, voice lighter having noticed his strange behavior, the faraway look in his eyes, the anguish there for whatever reason. He shook his head, loosened his grip on the door when he felt the metal edging into his palm, bordering on pain.

“Okay, no need to get violent.” He relented, forcing himself to let her duck under his arm, wrap hers around his waist. He slammed door shut when they began walking the ten steps to the door. As much pride as he had, he at least had a fraction of common sense to battle it, and let himself lean on her because he needed to. If she noticed, she didn’t say anything.

When she swung the door open, he saw a few things different about their motel room from the last time he had seen it. New sheets, not even touched, the take-out from before they left to take out the Djinn- the night he got jumped by the monster mentioned- was in the trash and there wasn’t any new food to accompany it. Papers sat on the table by the door, both laptops sat open though the screens were dark. Much like the room, the curtains were drawn and the only light that illuminated the small room was from the bedside table between the two beds. Their duffels were still in the same places, barely touched, and Dean noticed all of a sudden; she had changed her jacket but she was still wearing the clothes from when he had last seen her, Sam too, though maybe he had changed jeans…

“How long was I gone?” he asked, letting her slip out from underneath him when he assured her he could stand on his own.

“About a day,” she responded, marching toward the bathroom door, light streaming under the crack of space between the wood and the floor. She tapped her knuckles gently on the door, and Dean heard Sam grumble through the door, catching the irritability from clear across the room. The words were muffled beyond recognition, but their tone was not and he bristled at the way they were directed at Joelle, muscles ramping up in a way that he remembered but hadn’t actually felt. It was the ‘say another word and you’re going to find out if there’s a God because no one talks to my wife like that’ tensing of his limbs, only she wasn’t his wife, and he had no reason to ‘defend her honour’ because…

He sighed. Luckily, the sound was covered up by Sam opening the bathroom door, moody and tired. Dean tried to shake off the urge to punch his brother in the face, it wouldn’t make any sense when he got right down to it. He wouldn’t be able to explain why. Well, what do you expect Sammy? I was married/ not married to her for six years that didn’t really happen and had two kids which also aren’t real, so of course I’m going punch you for talking to my wife-not-wife like that. Yeah, that’d go over well.

Apparently, he didn’t do a good enough job of straightening his mind out because Sam stopped halfway across the room and stared at him, eyebrows tilted in curiosity and surprise. “You alright, Dean?”

“Yup. I’m good.” Too clipped, too angry. They were both looking at him now, wary and a little worried, and he realized he had his fists balled to deliver a punch that wouldn’t serve a purpose. He forced himself to relax, cleared his throat awkwardly.

“Okay-“ that was Joelle, voice cautious, but calm and gentle. He felt his shoulders sag, irritation levels drop to nil. “Well, it’s a been a long couple of days,” Sam scoffed beside her, Understatement of the month. “Sam’s gonna get food, and that will probably be the day right there.”

Dean nodded, sounded good to him. He was starved and tired. As Sam moved toward the door, Dean shuffled into the room, “You better not-“

“I know.” Sam grunted, lips twitching a little despite his grumpiness. “No rabbit food.” He yanked the door open and stepped out.

And then Dean was left alone with her, confused about whether or not he should make eye contact with her. Would she see something if he looked at her?

Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind his evasive behavior. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He was shaking his head before she even got the third word out, and she frowned at him but respected his answer. She yanked open his duffel bag, tugged out a t-shirt and new boxer-briefs, and turned on her heel to march to the bathroom. “In case you didn’t notice, I kicked Sam out so you could have first dibs on the shower,” she called from inside the small room, laying his clothes on the counter.

When she came back in, he was sitting down on Sam’s bed, slumped with elbows on knees and heels of his palms pressing into his eyes, pulling in forcefully calm breathes through his nose. “Thanks,” he said, monotone.

She was across the room in an instant, beside him on the bed, worried. He tensed up when he felt the bed dip and she tried not be insulted by it. He didn’t move, only continued breathing like it was the one thing he was put on earth to do. The way he stiffened at her presence told her that to some extent, she played a part in his Djinn dream, or something of the sort. She wouldn’t push him for information, or try to profile it out of him. She’d let it be against the selfish desire to know everything that happened in his dream.

Like she had earlier, because she knew it relaxed him, and because she wanted nothing more than to be a comfort, she reached up and began combing his short hair back. This time she couldn’t fight the sting that came with him tensing at her touch, the way he winced away from her slightly.

His own hand came up to grab her wrist, pulling down to place it in her lap. “Don’t-“ he said, eyes closed because he couldn’t bear to see the hurt in her eyes, the hurt he knew was there. But he also couldn’t bear to see the compassion, the genuine concern. The love that he wouldn’t find, but had seen in her eyes with real purpose despite none of it being real. “Just…don’t.” it came out quiet, broken, strained. He didn’t know if he was talking to her, or his mind.

“Dean…” there it was. That warmth, that sweetness he had literally dreamed up, and he was terrified to find that it was real. But he knew once he opened his eyes it wouldn’t be.

“Gonna take that shower,” he said, forcing himself to stand, letting go of her wrist. He kept his eyes trained on the bathroom, not allowing himself to even acknowledge her in his peripherals. He just about sighed in relief when he shut the door behind him, sagged against it.

He heard her shift around in the other room, probably tidying up. She always cleaned when she was stressed, especially after they’d have a fight-

“Fuck…stop.” He whispered, raking his hands through his hair, fingertips pressing almost painfully against his scalp. Just to get rid of the lingering feeling of her own gentle, dainty fingers carding through it. Shaking himself, he hastily stripped, stepped into the shower and didn’t even wait for the water to warm up before turning it on full blast. The cold was a shock but he didn’t even feel it. He didn’t really feel anything at the moment.

The first five minutes he spent standing under the spray, not moving, not thinking. The next five he spent staring at the tiled wall…

 “I’m sure I’ll think of something else for you to avoid doing for three years,” she replied, gathering up brushes, and tape.

He chuckled, starting to roll up the plastic they had laid down on the hardwood. “Like re-tiling the bathroom?”

She stopped, turned to look at him. “I honestly forgot about that. How long have I been waiting on that?”

He folded the plastic under his arm, smiled at her. “Only about six months. I’ve still got another 2 and a half years,”

 She rolled her eyes, dimpled a cheek in flat distaste. “And to think: I was going to make pie today.”

Dean laughed, picked up the empty cans of paint as well as the trays. “You’re not going to have time to make pie today,” he drawled, winking at her on his way to the garage.

“Goddammit.” It was a weak plea, a tired groan, a prayer for mercy. Numbly, he started earnestly showering, trying to occupy his mind in the now, the real. When he was done with that, he stood again, the water beating down on him, warm.

Grudgingly, he shut it off, and got out, knowing that Sam would bitch about him stealing all the hot water. He toweled off, a little more aggressively than usual, grabbed his clothes and dressed. Everything was auto-pilot for him. At least until he opened the door and had to face her.

But he didn’t have to worry about that, because when he opened the door, she wasn’t there. He blinked, worried for a second that he had literally dreamed her up: completely. But he saw her duffle on the floor next to their shared bed, and her laptop on the table and relaxed minutely. Only for a second though, because she was gone.

He hadn’t even heard her leave; she didn’t even let him know. But he couldn’t blame her for that, he had sent out signals of ‘leave me alone’ strong enough to be caught on every wave-length. Still though, he was worried like he had the right, a domestic right to be worried. Her phone was still here and that had him drawing in a shuddery breath, concern mounting. He didn’t know what the hell was wrong with him but he was tugging on a pair of pants, tripping into the bathroom to shove his feet into his boots.

He could hear rain beating down on the roof of the motel, it sounded like it was pouring outside and as he stumbled back into the main room, he found her coat laying on the bed. He didn’t bother tugging his own on, just stomped toward the door, intent on scouring every inch of the city until he found her. Sam had the car, so she’d be out walking in this crap; she’d catch a freaking cold.

That was his reason for going he told himself. Though, that still meant he cared about her. He didn’t have to search for her long, he opened the door and she was there. Standing just on the edge of the walkway, barely under the awning out of the rain. It was so loud out here, the rain roaring as it hit the pavement, tops of cars, the tin of the awning, the hiss of tires on wet pavement. She hadn’t heard him open the door, didn’t see him in her peripherals, just on the edge of them.

She had her arms wrapped around her middle, shivering in the cold though she made no move to come back inside. She was staring out into the rain, swallowing hard, blinking in a way that Dean recognized but shouldn’t. He really shouldn’t. How the Hell could he honestly?

She was on the verge of crying. He had memories of fights- fights that never happened- and saw all the evidence he needed to know that he was right: fingers curled in the fabric of her shirt at her sides, teeth dug into her bottom lip, the way her eyes jumped between looking up and down, eyebrows jolting.

He hated that he knew, hated that he was going to make her cry, hated that he couldn’t apologize because he’d have to explain. Hated that he couldn’t do anything but watch as a silent tear slid down her cheek and dripped off her chin. He hated how badly he wanted to march over there and let the words loose, wrap her up in him…but he couldn’t.

The idiot that he was, he didn’t even think about why she was crying. If he had, he might have marched over there and let the words loose. But no, classic Dean Winchester: he knew what he needed so nothing else existed.

He slipped back inside, closing the door behind him silently. He wondered how to approach their relationship, before, he did it without thinking, just let himself say what he wanted, act how he wanted despite all the warnings he gave himself against it. Now though, he’d have to be conscious, watch himself. Make sure he only gave vibes that said ‘we’re good friends’.

He'd have to back off, put some distance between them. Give himself room to breathe and think. Maybe if he took a few steps back, Sam would take a couple forward…

He heard the doorknob start to turn and rather than back off in surprise which was a knee-jerk response, he reached for the knob too, though he had no intention of grabbing it.

It opened and he put on his best poker-face, though she was completely caught off-guard. “Oh- I was just coming out to see where you disappeared to,” he lied flawlessly, not letting anything on. He dropped his hand and stepped back, letting her in.

She didn’t say anything, just smiled thinly, a ghost of what she normally gave him, and he shot down the twinge of regret in his chest. No, this is what needed to happen. He shouldn’t have gotten close to her to begin with.

“Nice shower?” she asked listlessly, stepping around him toward the bed.

He closed his eyes, took a breath. “Yeah, did wonders to clear my head.” Lie. Liar-liar.

No response from her, an absent nod while she dug through her duffel. Her usual ensemble, though slightly different for the colder weather. Sweatpants, tank-top…

Dean waited for the moment when she’d dig through his own duffle for one of his shirts, but she bypassed his bag completely and entered the bathroom, not a glance in his direction. He rocked back on his heels, continued staring after her even when she closed the door.

Gotta do this. Have to. For her.

 

 

Chapter Text

They all sat in different parts of the motel room, toying around with their food because the obvious unease and tension between Joelle and himself was cutting down everyone’s appetites. But he still ate, tried to ignore the pointed staring from his brother. Conversation was an impossibility…

Joelle was the first to tap out, closing her Styrofoam box to place it on the bench at the foot of the bed, even from his chair in the corner, behind her, he could tell she was breaking down. The tight line of her shoulders that was barely noticeable from her usual set and hold, but he noticed because-

She’d have hard days with Ethan, he’d be a little rowdier than typical, a little less loveable and polite than she was accustomed to. He’d get home and she’d be in the kitchen, scrubbing something down that didn’t need to be scrubbed, her shoulders tight and stiff. She would hear him approach, but wouldn’t acknowledge him, not until he was behind her, breath ghosting the back of her neck and his hands on her hips, thumbs massaging skin. Then she would stop, take a ragged breath and swallow hard-

His eyes refocused when she did it. Swallowed hard. Sam’s eyes darted between the both of them, looking, trying to find something, and Dean wisely shoved another forkful of his Chinese into his mouth.

Can we talk? Sam’s eyebrows said.

No. the smallest narrowing of Dean’s eyes responded.

Dean.

No.

Sam rolled his eyes, giving up for the moment. Sam ignored his brother, and instead turned his attention to Joelle, though he wasn’t going to grill her for answers. Nope.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked, watching her clack away at her laptop. “Looking for another case already?”

She shook her head, ran a hand through her hair. “No, no, I’m trying to track down the guy I left my car with…” her voice teetered off near the end, low, suspicious.

“What, did he disappear?”

She sighed, a loud burst of air from her nostrils. Dean knew that sound. ‘I have about had it up to here with you and you’d better knock it off’

His lips jerked numbly with memories…

“No, more like he’s avoiding me…”

Sam furrowed a brow, flattened a smile, because it sounded like a hunch and Joelle didn’t do hunches. “And how would you know that?”

A pause. “Because…I hacked into his e-mail.”

Dean decided to join the conversation. “If this douche stole your car, we’re totally setting time aside to kick his ass,” Sam looked up, disapproval heavy in his expression, but Joelle smiled a little and he continued. “Maybe kill him too.”

“Dean-“ that was Sam, trying to be the voice of reason and practicality.

“No, Sammy, shut your cake-hole. You don’t understand the relationship between a person and their car,”

Sam sighed. “And you know all about that.”

“I wrote the book on it.” He said, bringing another forkful of food to his mouth. And that was the end of the conversation. But Sam didn’t miss the way that Joelle and Dean didn’t really talk to one another, or even glance in the other’s direction, and he wondered just what the Hell happened while he was out getting food.

They called it an extremely early night, the sun hadn’t even set yet but they were all heading to bed. Well, two of them were. Dean had laid down first and Sam was second to slump into bed, asleep in minutes. But Dean was awake, body tight and rigid with exhaustion. She was in the shower, probably buying time in the hopes that they would both be sawing logs when she came out. Or maybe she’s in there having herself a good cry, you dick.

He sighed, wanting to convince himself that this was the right thing to do. He couldn’t remember a time that he hadn’t tried to make it up to her after making her cry-

Because it never happened, goddammit. None of it.

But it felt so real, he could bring up memories so easily it was almost effortless. Her folding a basket of laundry at the kitchen table while pancakes simmered slowly on the stove. Rocking Ethan to sleep in the nursery at 2 o’clock in the morning, tired eyes but over-flowing with love. Watching her smother Ethan in kisses, fingers tickling him until he squealed in laughter. He could remember her glance at him from across a room and how it felt like she was there, holding him. He remembered the feeling of her skin against him, slick with sweat and hot with want. The way she would flutter around him, soft and warm, pulling him over as his name fell off her lips in broken gasps and quiet moans…he could remember it all.

Despite the fact that none of it had ever fucking happened. He felt sorry for Djinn victims now, lord only knows what other people conjured up from the depths of their souls. He even felt a little guilty at the way they just left them wherever they lay, but he knew he could only help them so far. It wasn’t his job to piece their minds back together. But he felt sympathy for them now, even more so than he had all those years ago, having to go through this and finding that it was a mental marathon. Before, it was easy to let it go, he was young and reckless and maybe even hopeful. He was older and knew better now, at least he thought he did…

The door creaked open, and Dean forced his body to go lax. He hadn’t even heard the shower shut off, too caught up in memories- thoughts- to catch it. She hesitated in the doorway, for no other reason besides honest to goodness uncertainty; she had already turned the bathroom light off, it was cut before she even opened the door. So considerate, even when he was being a right bastard.

On quiet feet she approached, mindful and slow, practically reluctant to the point of stopping. He didn’t appreciate the fact that his mind could produce an exact image of her behind his eyelids, how she’d move, fabric hugging or bunching around joints and creases in skin. The bed dipped under her weight, and he felt her stop for the shortest of moments, the air going stale with whatever emotion she was keeping a tight lid on, and then she slid in.

Normally, this would be the part where he’d roll over and throw an arm around her, pull her close to feel all the curves and softness of her body against him. But, it was no longer normal now and he had to be vigilant-

“Dean?” her voice was barely above the threshold of being heard and he didn’t know why she was being so quiet; Sam could sleep through a nuclear strike. But he didn’t miss the certainty in her voice, how the question mark was only customary.

“Yeah?” he ventured cautiously, wondering what her play was going to be.

Typically, she’d give him the silent treatment, and not just her voice, but body language too. That idea that men bask in the silent treatment? Dead-fucking-wrong when you love a woman like you need air to breathe.

Fuck, there he goes again, confusing dreams with reality.

“Are you going to tell me?”

“…No.” a nail in the coffin.

Her breath hitched, just a small catch and he rolled his lips into his mouth, biting them. Just let it go, he thought, silently begging her to go to sleep.

 “Why not?” a slight edge, mostly from hurt and Dean braced himself to say words that would deepen the wound he made.

  “Because it’s none of your business,” he was curt, gruff when he wanted to be gentle.

  “But-“ she tried, tone dropping to one of worry, care, protesting from a place of confusion.

“You’d just make it worse,” he heard her swallow, suck in a quick breath at his words, the harshness in his voice. “I don’t need you butting into every nook and cranny of my life,” he continued, waiting a second to make sure Sam was still sleeping because he was zeroed into this quiet conversation. His brother was continuing his training to be a lumberjack.

“If I wanted you to know, you’d know.” He said, hoping that would be the end of it because he didn’t know if he could keep up this mask much longer.

“You trying to get me to leave?”

She was opening up that can of worms again? “No,” he grunted. “I’m trying to get you to drop it.”

She sighed, tired. “I’m just worried about you, Dean-“

“Well then, look the other way. I don’t need you fussing over me like I’m a toddler,” he inwardly winced, the image of a small boy with grey eyes and his hair flashing in his mind for a moment. It helped to reinforce the next statement, or at least the need to make it true. “I can handle my own shit. I don’t need to share it with someone over a 3 am heart-to-heart.” Kind of a low blow, seeing as how he was alluding to her to chat with him those few months ago, and the one she had with Sam not too long ago, both situations where she opened up to them and laid out her insecurities.

He listened to her breathe shakily for a few moments, swallow audibly, hard enough that he winced. “Okay,” the wetness in her voice shook him, cracked him in a way he hadn’t felt before. “Okay.” She repeated with a small sniffle and then she was sliding out of bed, Dean wanting nothing more than to wrap his arms around her waist and pull her back, but he didn’t. He just laid there on his back and listened to her move around the bed in the dark.

And then…

“Sam?”

Dean told himself that he wasn’t jealous or angry, that he didn’t even have the right to feel hurt because he hurt her first, and she was only going to someone who wouldn’t be a heartless jerk to her.

Sam grumbled, raising his head from his pillow sleepily, though it was impossible to see anything in the dark. “What- What’s going on?” he asked drowsily.

“Dean’s hogging all the blankets and I can’t get warm,” she lied flawlessly like he had earlier, and even though there was a slight waver in her voice, her excuse made sense for it.

“Mmmokay,” a little yawn interrupted him that he cut off with a quick snap of his jaw. “Hop in.”

“Thanks.” She murmured, and Dean listened to them situate themselves within Sam’s bed, sheets slipping and skin sliding along fabric until it was quiet for a moment.

“Jesus,” Sam gasped suddenly and there was more rustling. Dean’s brow wrinkled in confusion until Sam spoke again in a softer register. “Your hands are freezing!” he chuckled a little.

“Sorry,”

“No, no, it’s okay,” Dean heard the blankets rustle, Sam inhale again, and Joelle sighed in relief.

“You’re like a human heater.”

He heard Sam chuckle again. “Goodnight, Joelle.”

“Night, Sam.”

Well alright then, guess I’ll tuck myself in.

Chapter Text

“Are we done stalling?”

Dean straightened, narrowed his eyes at Sam’s tone. Of  course he was antsy, ready to hop back in the game. He had no idea.

No idea he had an angel possessing him, the only thing keeping him alive. And Joelle, he could see the guilt of keeping the secret was eating her alive too. But they both knew it was necessary, absolutely necessary.

He had to catch her up on a few things – a lot of things – when they landed at the bunker, a safe place to lay low. Tell her how much she had missed in the world of the supernatural while she was baking pies and decorating cakes. But only after she settled in, only after she made it her home. So, he stalled, sue him.

So much stalling on his part.

He told her about the Trials, the tablets, Crowley (just because he knew about her didn’t mean she knew about him)…the angel inhabiting Sam…he didn’t tell her everything, everything about himself; there wasn’t enough time in the day for that. But he told her enough, especially when he couldn’t spin lies that she would believe. Sam trusted him easy enough, it was second nature. But she…she could see through his lies, his promises that everything was fine.

There were too many instances on hunts when nothing surrounding Sam made sense, and his lies made even less. She was too suspicious, too smart and inquisitive; it was impossible to put her curiosity to rest. He had to tell her, if he didn’t, there was no telling what the outcome would be: he had to keep Sam clueless. If that meant burdening her with the truth…so be it.

When she learned of everything going on, she about flipped and not at for the reason he thought she would.

“What- and you decided to take a permanent vacation? The world was falling to shit, you were only one who knew and you just drove off?”

He had tried to explain, but she had shaken her head and gave him a look he was sure would’ve had Crowley sewing his mouth shut and continued, “And you’re trying to convince me to leave when you’ve been running this whole time?” she had snorted at him, turned away, only after she had decked him one though.

The next day, they had Kevin settled into the bunker at her insistence. ‘Should’ve had him here a lot sooner’. Dean knew that his mom was still out there and that the kid would sacrifice his life to try and find her. Under normal circumstances, Dean would’ve been all gung-ho and understanding, but these weren’t normal circumstances, and he had to stop himself from trying to tie the kid down to a table leg or something.

The initial idea of the bunker was safety and peace, but with all the secrets, the hurt feelings, the anxiety…it was like a prison more than anything. The demon they had locked up in the basement didn’t help any with that… and while Kevin was searching for a way to reverse Metatron’s spell, and close the gates of Hell, Dean had been walking on eggshells with everything concerning Sam. The trials had all but drained him dry, and despite it, Sam wanted to head back out into the war-zone.

Convincing Sam that they needed to take it easy and gather their wits was like world war three, but he had done it somehow. Mostly by being an asshole. So for the next couple months they were doing simple cases, trying do some good while they were taking time away from saving the world. But between worrying about Sam, worrying about Kevin, and Cas being turned into a human, and the fact that they had Crowley in their basement, Dean didn’t get much peace. Didn’t get any time to think.

And then- boom. They walked into that town, stepped into that bakery and…Dean fooled himself into thinking they could walk away. Like. Fucking. Hell.

“Dean.”

Apparently, Sam’s patience had run out. Maybe it had something to do with the strain in his and Joelle’s relationship. Speaking of, she was biting her lip, staring out her window distractedly, probably listening to this conversation.

But Dean wasn’t, his mind was spiraling.

She was all in. For every minute. Had her war paint on, guns locked and loaded. She had made her stance clear. And it pissed Dean off.

Another person caught up in the Winchester’s fuck-ups, another innocent on the wall. A tally-mark he shouldn’t be making.

He wasn’t ready to go back in, not even close, but it was beginning to look like he didn’t have a choice. Maybe they could fix this mess with heaven and then things would be okay- oh right. Abaddon.

Never just one problem. It was always one on top of the other, like a problem sandwich and he and Sam were the pieces of bread…that was a shit analogy. He was kind of hungry though.

If the world would just stop spinning for two goddamn seconds, he might be able to get his head straight, because he was still worrying that he wouldn’t be able to keep the angel in Sam a secret, that Kevin would run off and get himself caught, that Cas might be dead (he hadn’t heard from him in a while), that he wouldn’t be able to keep Joelle safe, and that he wouldn’t be able to wrestle that Djinn dream from his head.

He had been watching her intently, looking for little things that she didn’t do in his dream, look for things that could persuade him he made it all up, like if he could find something here that didn’t match up with his dream, he could convince himself his feelings were made up too. It wasn’t working. He was scared to find that everything thing she did that made his heart flutter was in that dream, only now it was so much stronger because this was real and she was here and he could really touch her if he wanted to. …Only he couldn’t touch her if he wanted to…

It was becoming impossible to keep everything boarded up behind lies.

Sam’s fine. Kevin’s okay. Cas is still out there somewhere. I can keep her safe. I’m not in love with her.

Because the longer this went on, the flimsier they all sounded.

Sam’s fine. Kevin’s okay. Cas is still alive. I can keep her safe. I’m not in love with her.

He wasn’t ready for any of this. He was barely hanging on. He was tired.

Sam’s fine. Kevin’s fine. Cas is fine. I’ll keep her safe. I don’t love her.

He wasn’t even pissed like he was when all of this began. He didn’t have anger fueling him anymore. He didn’t have anything fueling him.

Sam’s fine. Kevin’s fine. Cas is fine. Joelle’s fine.

He didn’t even know why they were doing any of this. Well, he knew why, but not why.

They’re all fine.

How could they want to do this; how did they even wake up every morning not hating everything? How did they just walk out the door like they didn’t have a care? Why was he still doing this? He didn’t even care about it anymore, he was just going through the motions…

The biggest lie of all?

I’m fine.

“Dean!”

Rather than respond, he slammed the brakes. Sam’s hands shot out to grip the dashboard, and Joelle’s landed on the back of Sam’s seat, both of them grunting in surprise. The impala’s tires screeched against old asphalt, they were miles deep in the middle of nowhere on a long stretch of road, nothing but trees in the distance and open field beside them.

They had barely rolled to a stop before Dean was out, slamming the door behind him. He didn’t bother shifting gears or cutting the engine, he just needed out.  He raked both hands through his hair, stomping across the road with energy he didn’t have. They were watching him: he could feel their eyes on his back, and he was listening desperately for the sound of a door creaking open.

He was mad at himself for stopping the car, because now they were really watching him. For a different reason than usual. See, he was the leader, he called the shots and what he said was concrete, couldn’t be argued with. Now though, now they were looking at him from a stand-point that threw his decisions into question.

He needed some air, a second to think. Never had any time to think. He was aware he was on the border of having a panic attack; it was getting harder to draw in breath, and his thoughts just wouldn’t stop coming, the guilt, worry and helplessness kept rising…but he pushed it down because-

“I’m fine,” he rasped, stopping at the edge of the asphalt, arms hanging limp. He was trying to seem angry, but he knew he wasn’t selling it, he just looked defeated. And he didn’t fight it because he so was. He dropped his gaze from the peaceful horizon in front of him and toed at pieces of road breaking away.

Then he heard it. A car door.

He burst a breath, tried to laugh, but it was mostly shaky air. He wondered which one of them it was: he only heard one door. He had his speech ready, he just had to get the strength to deliver it. He couldn’t believe he did this; he was supposed to the one that had it all together, never broke, never stopped. Keep going. That was what he did, no question.

He didn’t want to keep going…

“I’m fine.” He said, not caring which one it was because he’d say the same to either of them.

A sigh, quiet, soft, worried beyond measure with just a breath of air. Joelle.

Always finds me at my weakest, he thought bitterly.

“Dean-“

“Just needed some air,” wow. Shit excuse. He didn’t even have the energy to lie like he meant it.

She didn’t say anything, didn’t even sigh, or sniffle or anything. He was shocked to find himself relieved at the thought that maybe she didn’t care about him. That would be a gift, a load off his shoulders.

“What are you doing?” she asked, no concern or compassion that could’ve melted his bones out of his body. Was she finally done?

“Getting some air.” He said, raising his eyes to the sky-line, hoping he could find answers written in the azure blue between the clouds.

“No,” she said, and that was when she stepped around in front of him, drawing his attention to her. He had to look further down than what he was used to because after the road ended it dipped down into a ditch that lead out onto the field. “What are you doing?” she repeated, staring up at him, patient but also slightly fed-up.

“I-“ he blinked down at her, understanding exactly what she was asking, but he didn’t have an answer for her. Not one she’d like anyway.

He knew he couldn’t walk away from it all, but he wanted nothing more than to do just that. He wasn’t sure he could face this mess.

“I don’t know.” He admitted, watching her closely. She didn’t seem surprised at his answer; she probably knew he was worthless. It was pretty obvious; it was basically tattooed on his forehead.

She nodded, mouth jolting towards a frown. Ok, maybe she thought he knew what he was doing. Maybe he could lie through this. 

“Well, Sam I and do,” she said, those soft eyes hardening. “And we won’t walk away from it because you’ve got cold feet.”

Yeah, he’d been getting those vibes.

“But Dean-“ he swallowed, resisted the urge to tuck his hands in his pockets at being told off. “Don’t walk into this because you think you can protect us. If that’s going to be your goal then you should stay out of it.”

Was she trying to say he’d be a burden? Damn, he didn’t know where her spunk came from, but she could put it back wherever she found it. Well, they say the truth hurts.

“You trying to get rid of me?” he asked, feeling a hollow smile pull on his lips. He was always tossing her words back at her, trying them on for size, wondering how they felt coming out of her mouth and if he did them any justice.

“Dean.” Oh, there was mom voice. He was wondering if he’d hear it again…was he really pissing her off?

“What do you want?” he shot at her. “you want me to buck up and run into this guns blazing, pretending I give a shit? Because I don’t- I really don’t.” Hm, guess he could get pissed too.

“And apparently, I’m not allowed to have two seconds to get my own shit together. So, I don’t have a choice in the matter, because the two of you are not waltzing into this fuck-cluster of danger without me.” He had his hands on his hips, chest puffed like this was a pissing contest.

She stared up at him, eyes flicking all over his face in shock, lips parted in her surprise.

“I’m not happy about this, okay? I’m not going to be cheer-leading us along like this is a pep-rally before the big show. My priorities consist of keeping you and Sam alive; period. And the most likely outcome of this show-down with heaven is one- or all three of us- kicking the bucket. So, forgive me for not leading the parade with a bounce in my step and- what? Why are you looking at me  like that?”

“I guess it must be three am somewhere,” she smirked, eyes twinkling like she said an inside joke.

What the fuck was she on about? Here he was, spilling his guts and she was throwing out random sass?

“While you’re at it, why don’t you tell me about that Djinn dream?” she crossed her arms, tilted her head, but that smirk stayed.

Oh, honey. You don’t want me to tell you about it- and don’t we bounce back fast.

“Hah, tough chance, this aint a heart to…heart.” He finished lamely, realization dawning by the end of his sentence. He glanced off toward the horizon, expression falling flat. He couldn’t believe how easily she had tricked him into talking. He glared down at her when she began laughing, leaning back with it.

“You…you really suck.”

She waved her hand in dismissal of his comment, “You’re too easy.”

He frowned, brows tilting. “Nah, you’re too damn sharp,” she was, and not for the first time he wondered how she had never noticed his affection for her.

“Well, you ready to chew bubblegum and kick ass?” she asked, her eyebrows cocked, smiling expectantly.

“We’re all out of bubblegum.”

“Damn right.”

 

 

Things had spiraled in a way with no hope of garnering control. Betrayals and lies, too many to wrap his head around, most at the center of his own, and now they were suffering the consequences. It was his fault. He knew that.

His dependence, the unfaltering love he had for his brother, the willingness to do absolutely anything for him…that was what got Kevin killed. He’d sacrifice anything – anyone- for Sam. Hands down, no questions asked.

But he’d have to live with it afterwards.

Just when they were rearing up to go…this happened.

They were all thrown for a loop, reeling from Kevin’s death, Sam especially. It was something so left-field, and maybe Dean should have seen it coming because things were headed in the right direction for them all and the kid had a target painted on his back. Maybe he could’ve done something.

But as it was…

Situations like these made him more apt to give into daydreams, or in his case, memories. Forbidden memories. A taboo vault that he constantly opened up in disregard of the fact that he swore he wouldn’t. 

It was so easy, so simple. He’d close his eyes, take a couple deep breathes and…

 

“Do you remember this?” she asked him, looking up from a photo album, her finger laying on a picture.

He leaned over her shoulder, hands slipping down from her hair to her sides. It was the both of them, smiling into the camera, holding up beers, laughter in their eyes. She was on his lap, an arm thrown around his shoulder, head tilted towards his. He was just starting to look at the camera, most of his body and attention still turned towards her, drowned in her presence. He had his arm looped around her waist, hand on her thigh, laying softly, maybe he had been stroking her, he couldn’t quite remember.

“Yeah,” he grinned back at her, reminiscing their early bar-hopping days, their strings of dates that just turned into living together. He couldn’t even remember what bar they had been in or who had been with them, but it didn’t matter. He felt as happy looking at the picture as he was when it was taken. “More specifically, I remember the ladies restroom ten minutes after this,” he elaborated, tapping the picture.

She blushed faintly, lightly slapped his knee. She was on the floor, photos and empty albums spread out around her, and he was sat behind her on the couch, legs on either side of her as she went through them. Occasionally, she’d ask his opinion about whether or not a certain picture should be put in here, or somewhere else. “You’re awful,” she teased, brushing off his deep laughter to sift through another stack of photos.

He sat forward, brought his legs back so he could glance over the mess she had made on their living room floor. “Did we really take this many pictures?” he asked, idly dragging his fingertips up and down her spine.

“I’m not surprised you don’t remember, you’re drunk in most of these pictures anyway,” she said, teasing again.

“O-kay…” he pouted, not at all offended. He watched from over her shoulder, as she sorted pictures, flipped through them so quick he missed most of them. But one caught his attention, and he reached forward. “Hey.”

Seeming to know what was going on, she started lowering the stack of photos to the floor, the picture she just had at the back of the stack now. “What?” the suspicion, and guarded tone told Dean all he needed to know, and he was bending forward, hand walking her arm from behind.

“Lemme see that stack,” he said, a smirk starting to pull his lips, and she scooched forward, lips pursing.

“No, I’m still going through it,” she shot back at him, twisting herself away from him, her grip on the photos reinforced when she put her other hand around them.

“That’s fine,” he scooted, on the edge of the couch. “I just want to look at one of them.” The Cheshire grin he wore put her on edge, and he saw her fidget.

“Why?” she had turned to face him, watching his hands dangle between his legs, those wiry forearms resting on his thighs.

“Well, most of this is about reminiscing, right baby?” he licked his lips, bit a smile. “I just wanna relive something.”

She swallowed, blinked. He blinked. And she rolled away, not a second too soon, because she felt the wind of his hand as he reached for her. Photo stack in hand, she jumped over the coffee table, turned to watch him. He was grinning like a kid on Christmas, eyes twinkling. She found herself smiling as well.

Dean loved moments like these. Moments that reminded him of that honey-moon phase, where they didn’t give a damn about looking like idiots, and they could act like careless children. It had been years, and they were approaching that mile-stone of ‘mid-life-crisis’ but sometimes he felt as young as he did in his teenage years, and he could chase her around the house without a care, a worry. He didn’t have to worry about someone asking him ‘how old are you’ because it was just him and her and she was looking at him the same way. Her eyes were shining, glinting, saying ‘Chase me’.

And he would.

He took a step forward, smirking enough that it was starting to hurt, but he quickly dropped it when she said,

“Dean, the pictures!” and he back-pedaled into the couch, almost falling onto it in his haste to correct his step.

“Shit, sorry!” he apologized, glancing down at the floor to see how much damage he had caused, only to hear her laugh, and sprint away. He shook his head, realized he stepped on nothing at all, and laughed. “Laugh it up, babe. Cause when I catch you, that sweet ass of yours is mine.” He called after her, hearing her footsteps echo down the hallway.

He tore after her, bellowed a laugh at her squeal of surprise and excitement. He was hot on her tail in a matter of seconds, his large six-foot strides carrying him towards her with no effort. She was smaller, but he was still quick, just as quick as her.

He was within arm’s reach of her, her loud laughter and occasional squeaks drawing chuckles out of him. His arm shot out for her when she was at the end of the hallway, and instead of hurrying up the stairs like he expected her to, she continued running, that stack of photos clutched to her chest.

He stopped himself on the railing of the stairs, hands slapping down on the banister as she continued on her way, a surprised sound bursting from her lips. He grunted, not amused, and after a quick breath, he chased after her. She giggled, spinning around the corner to emerge back out into the living room, air puffing out of her. She wondered where to run next when iron arms wrapped around her from behind and picked her up.

“Gotcha,” he breathed into her ear, and she squealed with laughter, twisting and kicking her legs to no avail. He chuckled, dipped his chin over her shoulder and hummed deep, green eyes landing on the photos clutched to her chest. “You’re bending ‘em, babe,” he told her, turning his head to nose kisses under her jaw.

“Shoot,” she complained, easing her grip, absentmindedly tilting her neck away so he could nibble his way around her throat. “Your fault.” She said, not missing the way his hands were travelling up towards her own.

“Most everything is,” he chortled, nipping her hard enough that she gasped and her hands jerked, offering him the perfect opportunity to reach up and snag the pictures out of her desperate grasp. “Like-“ he stretched his arms above his head when she turned and reached for his hands, protests and angry huffs of air passing her lips.

He looked up, not at all concerned about her grabbing hands, and pulled that picture out. He grinned wickedly. “This picture right here,” he said, handing her the rest of the stack, still staring at the one in his hand, and she was looking too, embarrassed and somewhat angry.

“Where was this, Montana?” he asked, not expecting an answer. He smiled warmly, intently studying the photograph.

“Yeah. The year your romantic streak died.” She jabbed, pouting.

He chuckled, taking her insult in good stride. “Must have been kind of cold…perky.” It was night in the photo, the moon offering most of the light, and there was a lamp attached to the post on the dock, but it was weak.

“You’re cold. Give that back, God only knows what will happen if you hold onto it,” she complained, stretching on tippy-toes.

“I’ll tell you what’ll happen: I’ll keep this in my wallet for when I’m feeling sad,” he grinned down at her, canines flashing at the way she blushed, frowned softly.

“Yeah, sad because I don’t look that anymore. Let it go, you big meanie,” she jumped this time, brow creasing when he locked his elbow straight. 

“What are you talking about? You’re still just as sexy,” he protested, starting to frown too.

“It’s been years since that photo was taken; I’ve since gotten older and had a baby.” She said like it was the most obvious thing in the world, and to her, it was.

“Yeah,” he said, stopping her attempts at grabbing the picture with just his eyes alone. She was staring up at him, something vulnerable in her greys, and her hands were lightly fisted in his white t-shirt. “And I’d still marry you if I hadn’t already,” her expression fell flat. ‘Is that all, really?’ her pursed lips seemed to say.

“I’ve gotten older too, babe. I don’t know if you noticed, but that six-pack I used to have aint here anymore.”

She shook her head at him, chewed her lip in thought. He glanced up at the picture, down at her, not really seeing any differences.

Maybe she filled out more, her curves actually turning into curves, a strong, maturity hung about her now. He assumed that came with motherhood.

“What did this night mean to you?” he asked her suddenly, changing his tactic. He lowered his arm, though he kept his grip on the picture tight, just in case.

“I don’t- I don’t know. I mean I figured the whole trip was a little vacation, so I guess it was a night I could have you all to myself like the selfish, needy woman I am,” she said, lips quirking near the end to let him know she was joking.

He burst a quick laugh through his nose, a little puff of air, and he smiled. “This was the night I realized I wanted to marry you,” he told her, his free hand coming up to cup her cheek. She stared up at him, wide-eyed, grey orbs softening.

“What?” she said, gaze daring back and forth between his emerald eyes.

He nodded. “Yup. You spent that whole day begging me to go swimming with you in the lake-“

“But you wanted to go through all of the old vinyls and screw around with the guns in the cabin-“

“Yes. But eventually you convinced me, and I made my way out to the dock; you were already there waiting for me,”

“It was cold that night, you bastard,” she said, starting to remember. But she had since started to lean into him, not even bothered by that photo, just getting caught up in the memory.

“Mm…I remember following a trail of clothes down to the lake; by the time I saw your tank-top I was practically sprinting,” they both laughed a little at that, and he took a moment to memorize the way her eyes lit up, and her cheeks rose, making those eye crinkles he loved so much.

“When I finally got there, all I could think was ‘I’m the luckiest son of a bitch to walk the planet’. You didn’t even care about the cold, just turned and walked to the edge of the dock like you were on a fucking run-way, and baby-“ he grinned wolfishly. “You could still walk down a run-way and make VS models look like something from a trailer park,”

She rolled her eyes at him, but didn’t stop smiling, leaned into the warm hand on her face, his thumb stroking her cheek-bone, tracing the shape of it.

“You know what I think now?” he cocked his head, smirked, but not with cockiness, more like in disbelief at his good fortune. Like he had somehow tricked fate. She shook her head at him, rested her hands on his ribcage, feeling the curve of the bones every time he would breathe. “I’m still the luckiest son of a bitch to walk the planet,”

He about melted at the smile she gave him, the smile meant just for him, and he dropped his hand to place it on her waist.

“You can keep the picture, but it’s not going in an album.” She said, stretching on her toes to reach his face.

He hummed, leaned down to slot his lips against hers, moving slack-jawed and languid. “It’s going to find a happy home in my wallet, don’t worry.” He murmured onto her lips, quiet and warm.

She smiled against his mouth, slid her empty hand up to hold his jaw, thumb grazing the slight stubble of a five o’clock shadow. He rumbled, pressed more urgently, tilted her head to hold her firm as he nipped and licked her lips apart. She sighed into his mouth, let him lead and merely followed lazily, content. He tasted the pie she had made earlier (strawberry), the wine that followed, and something that was distinctly her, and he groaned, sucking her bottom lip into his mouth.

He let it go with soft nip, and opened his eyes, not realizing he had even closed them. She looked on the edge of swooning, a dreamy smile on her lips and loose movements. He chuckled, and her eyes fluttered open, long lashes beating down with a couple blinks.

“My baby.” He said, dropping to knock his forehead onto hers.

She laughed breathily, both arms slipping up to twine around his neck. “My honey.” She returned the affection, heart fluttering.

 

 

He jolted, enough that his chair legs scraped the floor, and for a second he wondered what the hell happened, but then a hand landed on his shoulder and he calmed down.

“Jeez, you alright?” she asked him, squeezing comfortingly.

“Yeah, just got really lost in thought,” he shrugged sheepishly, patted her hand, and then silently reprimanded himself for it.

If she noticed, she didn’t acknowledge it, in fact she moved on smoothly, grabbing his empty plate. “Hope you didn’t hurt yourself, you know, treading unknown waters…” she quipped, smirking.

“Oh, you are just so funny,” he shot back, throwing his gaze around, wondering when Sam had left the room. He could’ve sworn his hippie-haired brother was just in here. “Should have been a comedian instead of a baker.”

She shifted her shoulders up-down a couple of times in a little dance like she was proud of herself. He smiled, catching a glimpse of that silly side of her. “Speaking of baking though, I’m going to the store tomorrow. What kind of pie?” she asked, and Dean smacked his lips at the thought.

“Mm…always gotta ask me the tough questions, don’t’cha?”

She smiled, shrugged. She turned, ready to dump his plate into the hot water when she misjudged her distance from the counter, and her elbow hit the edge of it. Her arm went momentarily numb but she didn’t have a second to care about that because his plate tumbled out of her grasp and crashed to the floor.

Pieces scattered, and clanked, and broke into tinier pieces. “Shit!” she cursed, already dropping to a knee to start picking up the large chunks.

Dean was up out of his chair and next to her in a second. “You alright?” he asked, miraculously able to stop himself from touching her. Her head was bowed, long hair obscuring his view of her face.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

He began helping pick up the porcelain, coaxed her handful into his own when they had them all. They’d get the broom and dust-pan for the little pieces he decided as he went to drop them in the waste bin. When he turned around, she was leaning over the sink, hands braced on the edge of the counter with a white-knuckled grip.

“Joelle?” he asked, head tilted in uncertainty. She didn’t say anything, only angled her head towards her shoulder, her hair still interrupting his view of her face. That was strange, typically she’d be flying around trying to clean up a mess, she was a neat freak, almost to the point of being O.C.D. about it. “You alright?”

A small bob of her head, shoulders tight, and he rubbed the back of his neck in response, not sure what to say. Clearly, she wasn’t alright, but she didn’t seem to want to talk about it, and he wasn’t keen on pressing the point. But he felt he should. This wasn’t about the plate, that much was obvious. And knowing her, whatever had her this distraught she had probably been carrying around for a while.

“Ok, I’m gonna sweep up the smaller bits-“ he started, but she interrupted him.

“No, I’ll do it. My fault.” She answered, and Dean clocked in on the strain in her voice, the way it caught and wavered. A second later, she sniffled, and stiffened. She was most likely trying to be quiet, and anticipated it being softer than it was, but with Dean already intently listening, and the refrigerator having stopped humming, it was easy to hear.

Not knowing how to handle the situation, because he didn’t know the reason for it, he slowly approached her, hands clenching and unclenching into fists. He didn’t mind the crunch of glass under his boots, though she flinched at the sound of it. Only when he was inches behind did she react, because he made the first move.

He gently peeled her hands away from counter, rubbed his thumbs into her palms to massage away the divot from the counter’s edge. She ducked her head, teeth digging into her lower lip to stem the sobs just at the back of her throat. A plate. That’s what broke down her wall, a fucking plate.

“What is it?” he asked after a minute, voice low and soft. Uncharacteristic for him even on his good days. She shook her head at him, drew in a shaky breath. For a few seconds, they stood in the quiet, while she tried to steady her breathing, and he tried to convince himself to let go of her hands.

“Come on, just talk to me.” He said, dropping her hands to trail them up her back. He rested them on her shoulders, thumbs kneading tight muscle between her shoulder blades.

“I’m fine, really.”

“Wow. It must piss you guys off when I say that, because those are the most bullshit words I’ve ever heard,” Oh, he was just a cuddly teddy bear, you wanted to squeeze him half to death.

A shaky laugh was her response, though she fell silent a second later, and Dean had had enough. He turned her, let her lean back against the sink, and brushed some wild locks of hair behind her ear. He frowned when she leaned away from his touch, looking pained, and he let his hands fall limp at his sides.

“Look, I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s up, so spill the beans.” Ah, resorting to being an asshole, that was his number one play.

She laughed dryly at that, voice cracking and raked a hand through her hair. Tears had yet to fall, so she wasn’t completely disappointed in herself. “You’ve already got enough crap to deal with, I’m not going to add to it.”

He frowned, wondering if maybe she still felt she was a burden to them. Probably, they were both getting hurt a lot more on hunts, just to protect her, even though she could handle herself. Even though she wouldn’t be in any immediate danger, him and Sam would take the front of the battle line, garner attention and out match themselves so she wouldn’t have to fight unless absolutely necessary. She definitely noticed all of their new battle wounds given the fact that she was the one who constantly bandaged them up.

Dean snapped out of his thoughts when she started to slide passed him, and he grabbed her shoulders to insist her back against the kitchen sink. “Two-way street, Joelle-“ he creased his brow at the way her face pinched and continued, “Cause I remember shouldering some of that crap onto you,” she shook her head at him again, as if he was making up the moment he had shown his vulnerability. “Kind of a crap deal for you, but you’re family now, so-“

“Don’t say those kinds of things to me. I’ll cry.” She interjected, only half-joking, and Dean flashed her a flat look. “Which I don’t want to do, because I still have a grocery list to make, and wet ink doesn’t read that well,”

He narrowed his eyes. If there was one thing he didn’t like, it was being brushed off, and she was furiously swiping at him with a broom. That, and people hurting. She was in pain, had been for awhile and he hadn’t seen it.

“Then type it into your phone, cause you’re not getting out of here without telling me something,” he said, crowding her enough that if she wanted to look at him, she’d have to crane her neck. But she was stubbornly fixated on his chest, not daring to move her gaze.

“Dean…” she quietly pleaded, her hands back to holding the counter, hardly feeling the edge dig back into her palms.

“I’ll stand here all night if I have to,” he said lowly, but strong. He watched her struggle for words, or breathe, or some remotely human response, but she just stood there leaned against the counter. After what seemed like minutes but could have been seconds, she nodded and Dean smiled softly, not caring that she wasn’t even looking at him.

“I guess it’s just everything, you know? The lying to Sam, Kevin, Cas still being Gone with The Wind,” she tried to seem nonchalant about all of it, like she was telling him ‘well, the drapes are so last season, and there’s a lot of water damage on the coffee table’, but it all came out strained and weak, because drapes and water stains were things you cried over. Dean nodded, understanding, because he was under that strain too. He knew exactly how she felt about all of this. It was a lot to handle, so much that it couldn’t really be handled.

He wasn’t sure how he was still making morning conversation, or grumpily slamming his alarm clock off like he was a teenager late for the bus when all he wanted to do was toss chairs around the library, shoot some bullet holes into the bare walls.

“And then there’s you,” she said, voice cracking. She raked a hand through her hair, winced when it caught on a knot. She stiffened when he did, and realizing her words, she closed her eyes in resignation.

He frowned, hands twitching at his sides. A testament to the kind of man he was, a doer, a situation needed fixed, he fixed it. And his hands were his tools for that, but he hadn’t an idea of how to use them in this scenario. “Me?” he asked, squinting. “What about me?” he sounded resolutely offended, but that was only to cover his fear. He felt that he had somehow wronged her, or crossed too many lines, and rather than admit to it and acknowledge the fact that she now looked at him like he was a criminal, he acted angry. Because…fuck you, that’s why.

She just shook her head at him again. When the hell did that become a proper method of communication? He put his hands on his hips, and she opened her eyes at the rustle of fabric. “I get the lying to Sam part. Believe me I do- I know he’s twenty different colors of pissed off, and some of that’s getting thrown at you. And that’s only because I told you about it- so that’s on me,” she still wasn’t looking at him, but now her arms were around her middle, loosely hugging herself like she was afraid if she squeezed too tight, she’d shatter.

“I don’t even have to talk about Kevin-“ he stopped, took a breath, because the guilt and anger was too strong, too fresh, and he continued on. “And yeah, I get it about Cas being weak on his angel mojo and out there on his own, especially with heaven being the mess it is, I’m worried about him too,” he said, maintaining a quiet register, which was amazing because usually when he was scared or under stress like he was now, he tended to yell. “But what I don’t get,” he crossed his arms over his chest at this point, because he was feeling vulnerable despite the fact that she was curled up against a counter and facing someone twice her size. “Is your problem with me.” He finished, clenching his jaw, because he was angry at himself. Angry that he pushed her buttons, and pushed her away, but not hard enough to send her packing. Angry that he still had to lie…

She looked up then, eyes surprised, and mouth slightly agape. She flickered her gaze all over his face, determining if this was some kind of mean joke. When she found him to be dead serious, she bristled. “I don’t- Are you serious?” her brows dropped, but not in anger, just confusion. Dean’s face cracked a little, wondering if he had missed the mark. “You’re the one that has a problem with me!” she told him, getting her hands between them to shove him, which didn’t do much because the man was a stone wall.

He blinked down at her, teeth chewing the inside of his lip even as his eyes narrowed. “Where are you pulling this from?” he asked her, voice tight. Why he was trying to start a fight with her, he didn’t know. Maybe he was just trying to relieve some tension.

She swallowed quickly, wondering if she wanted to go anywhere with this. She was already so tired from everything, and Sam was mad at her, as much as she was hurting she didn’t want to make Dean mad at her too. That would leave her alone in the bunker, and only add more tension to their living situation. If there was one thing she made clear it was that she didn’t want to be a burden.

But when she saw him straighten and tense like a proud lion, she decided she didn’t care. She had to get these words out, see if she was going crazy or if he was guilty of something.

“Ever since that Djinn case-“ his face hardened, barely a fraction but she saw it and knew she was already headed in the right direction. “You’ve started treating me like a random co-worker at the water cooler. I mean, trying to start a conversation with you is like pulling teeth without Novocain,” she sounded angry, but really she was just confused and sad.

He pulled in a deep breath through his nostrils like she had just slapped him and the world was rushing back suddenly. But he let her talk, let her give him some info to work with.

“We used to be close, closer than ‘so, how about this weather’ kind of chit-chat. But out of nowhere you decided I wasn’t worth your breath, and ever since you won’t even come near me with a ten-foot pole. I’m surprised you’re still standing here to be honest.” She wrapped her arms back around her middle, curled her fingers into the fabric of her tartan, and blinked.

Dean saw it, his insides churning at the small mannerism. She didn’t notice. “For the first time in my life, it actually felt like someone gave a damn and wanted me around. Like I actually mattered for two seconds,” she looked up, down, settled her gaze on the center of his chest. She missed the way his face fell, the avalanche of shame and regret that dropped into his eyes. “For a little while, it felt like I fit in somewhere, like I had found a family-“ she was killing him, slowly, painfully. Everything else, he could handle. Hearing about the way he had hurt her? No way in seven Hells. Her next line just about knocked him off his feet, and all the oxygen in body scrambling to get passed his blocked airway.

“You started to feel like home,” she sniffled then, blinked furiously to fight back tears because she wouldn’t cry in front of him. “So, damn you for taking that away from me, you huge jerk.” And she shouldered him roughly. Desperation, and his shocked state served in her favor because he actually stumbled out of her way.

She marched out of the kitchen, kept it together all the way down the hall. But when she reached the library doors, she finally let it loose. Tears spilled over, and teeth found her bottom lip harshly. She hoped/prayed that Sam wasn’t in here, that he was somewhere else, silently moping and cold-shouldering them, because she really needed a good cry and she couldn’t handle another distant and uncaring Winchester at the moment.

But as fate and luck would have it, when she shoved those heavy doors open, he was sitting at the center table, head tucked into a book like he had a report on it due in the next five minutes. He didn’t look up at her, and she was glad for that. If she could just keep her mouth shut, he wouldn’t know.

Like a trooper, she peered along a bookshelf for something to read, even though she couldn’t see anything through her tears. Her photographic memory was good for something though, and she made it to the table, sat down in a chair and flipped the book open without any suspicious stalls or slip-ups.

She cried silently for a good five minutes, with Sam sitting just four feet away being none the wiser. The fact that she used her hair like a curtain between them probably helped. She most likely could’ve cried herself out at that table and he wouldn’t have ever known if he didn’t start doing his little habit of tapping his fingers on the table. Something he always did when he was angry. And it was aimed at her.

She supposed if she hadn’t dropped that bombshell in the kitchen, his tapping would have just been annoying. But she was already open and flowing, and his tapping was what drove her over the edge. Sam was always so nice and friendly, he was like sunshine, warm and bright. He made her feel welcome, and she knew she’d have a place to run to if she needed it. He was a refuge for her, he was the closest thing she had ever had to a best friend.

But now, to bear the brunt of his anger, the cold disposition that she only seen him emanate around monsters…it had her throwing in the towel.

She sniffled quietly, curled her lips into her mouth when she tasted copper, and wondered how loud she was being. Because in her head, everything was soft and muddled around the throb of her pulse and the rush of blood through her system. But when he stopped tapping, she knew he heard, and it only had her tears coming faster. He’d probably get up and leave, not in the mood to be bothered with her obnoxious crying.

“Joelle?” suspicion was thick, thick enough to cut with a plastic spoon. She couldn’t say anything to him, he’d know for a fact that she was crying then. But if she remained silent, well- that’d still be suspicious. She’d end up getting found out either way. She noticed that his tone was neutral, like he was reluctant to completely let go of his grudge.

“Joelle?” he tried again, voice cautious and uncertain, which was strange because Sam always seemed to know what to do. When she gently shook her head at him, he leaned in his chair towards her, ignoring the fact that there were two other chairs between them. His chair creaked, and her shoulders hunched, another sniffle sneaking out of her. Jeez, her nose was getting her into all kinds of trouble tonight.

That was when he stood, intent on finding out what was going on when she blurted out a shaky, tear-filled, “I’m sorry.” He was on the move then, all but throwing the first chair out of his way so he could get to her. Apparently, she couldn’t handle looking at him because she put her arms on the table and laid her head on top of them as she sobbed. 

He reached over to pet the back of her head. “What happened?” he asked her, his voice soft and warm like she was used to and she hiccupped on a breath, relieved that he was done hating her.

“Nothing- I’m just sorry.” She managed to blubber around her choppy breathing. She felt him scoot closer on the seat of his chair, and start gathering her hair to swoop it over her opposite shoulder.

His big hand landed on her thigh, squeezed comfortingly, in a way that felt like home and she began to calm down. Slowly, her breathing evened out, and her tears trickled to a lower rate. “I-uh. I’m not mad at you anymore. I haven’t been for a while- I was just being a jerk…I’m sorry.” He said sheepishly, convinced he was the source of her tears and she chuckled dryly, finding his awkwardness refreshing.

“S’okay, Sam.” Was her quiet reply, muffled by the table. He frowned, rubbed her back soothingly, looked around and noticed the lack of his brother for the first time. He put two-and-two together pretty quick.

“What did he do?” he bit out heatedly. Angrier than when he found out an angel was illegally renting his body.

She took a deep breath, let it all out in a quick gust and said, “Nothing.” It sounded lack-luster, uncommitted.

“What did he say?” he jumped to the next option, blood temperature rising at the prospect that Dean had pushed her to tears.

Then she did chuckle, a little stronger and Sam relaxed marginally. “Nothing; I did most of the talking,” with a deep sigh she sat up, wiped her face and looked at him. “Honestly, it’s just everything, Sam. All of this.” She waved her hand flippantly, then frowned at herself. “Shouldn’t have kept it from you, that was a shit move.”

He smiled gently, shook his head. “If it were the other way around, literally nothing would have been different.”

“I just-“

“Nope, don’t want to hear it.” Sam cut her off, “I shouldn’t have been mad at you anyway, it wasn’t your call. You didn’t have any control over it.”

She nodded numbly, blinked and glanced around, maybe looking for Dean like he had just a few seconds ago. “Your brother’s dumb.” She said out of nowhere and he smiled. Really smiled.

“I know.”

 

After she had calmed down, and shrugged off her tears, she decided to get back to her house-hold duties for the day, only after assuring Sam that she was fine. That in itself took a good five minutes. She figured the best place to start would be the kitchen. Those shards of plate needed to be swept up and the dishes needed to be washed along with the pan and skillet she used to make dinner tonight. She wasn’t happy about walking into the room she had her outburst in, but she pulled her up her big-girl panties and trudged in.

She stopped short halfway to the sink, brows furrowing as her eyes darted along the floor to search for white chips and shards of porcelain only to find none. The floor was spotless, swept completely clean. And then she looked up at the sink, and promptly gasped. The dishes were done, all of them. They were neatly placed in the drainer to dry overnight, and the counters had been wiped spotless. The chairs at the dinner table had been pushed in, and the table itself had been cleaned too, stains and crumbs of food long-gone.

Shaking her head and chewing her lip, she backed out of the kitchen, catching a glimpse of the trashcan on her way out. It had been changed too!

Dumbfounded, she ambled on down the hallway, mind on the laundry. She had to change the bedsheets and the pillow cases. Throw a couple loads of the boys laundry in. Hers could wait. She swung Sam’s door open, took two steps in and stopped.

His bedsheets were new. They had just been changed, no wrinkles or wear and tear, and his hamper had apparently been dragged out of his room. Wondering if she had lost her mind, she shuffled out of his room and made her way to Dean’s. He was notorious for being a creature of habit, so she could count on him having a large pile of laundry by his door, and to have his bedsheets looking like they had seen him through a war.

However, when she pushed his door open, she found a rare sight. His room was spotless. It looked like a team of maids had come in en force and cleaned his room from top to bottom. No laundry whatsoever, no clutter or random books on his desk and bed. Nothing.

Rubbing her eyes, she eased out of his room, confused beyond reason. Trying to shrug it off, she walked the few steps to her own door, between Sam and Dean, and entered her own room. She was left speechless as she once again took in the sight of clean bedsheets, and her own hamper missing. What in the world?

She just about marched out, intent on interrogating Sam because he was obviously playing some kind of trick on her when her eyes caught something sitting on the middle of her bed. Curious, she approached warily.

It was a piece of paper. She picked it up, unfolded it and immediately recognized Dean’s bold, straight scrawl. Her lips twitched as she read his short note, chest filling with warmth.

Give me a couple days and I’ll be home again. This time I won’t walk away. 

                                                                                                                        -D

P.S. Pecan. When I come back, I want a piece of the best damn pie in the world.

Some words were scribbled out after that beyond legible proof, but she still smiled, only slightly worried about his sudden and random disappearance.

She walked towards the door, halting by her desk to read the words over even as she yelled out into the hallway, “Hey, Sam! How does pecan pie for dessert in a couple of days sound?!”

“Sure, sounds good- why are we yelling? Come talk to me!”

She grinned, hard enough to make her cheeks hurt and she folded that piece of paper into a little square. She tucked it into a credit card sleeve of her wallet on her desk, and headed out to talk to Sam about dessert.

Chapter Text

It had been about three days since Dean up and left, and while Joelle told Sam that it had something to do with Dean’s apology to her, it still left his stomach in a knot. Bad things always happened when they were away from each other long- well, bad things happened even when they weren’t but that wasn’t the point.

Joelle didn’t seem that worried, or maybe she was mad at him instead of offended and hurt. He hadn’t contacted either of them in the time he had been away, no email, phone call or quick text to let them know that, yeah, he was still alive.  

And then, out of the blue while he was reading a book at the table, his phone rang. He didn’t bother looking at the caller ID, he knew exactly who was calling him like it was his sixth sense. He answered on the second ring. “Dean, tell me you’re not being held hostage and this is the negotiation phone call.”

He heard Dean chuckle on the other end, and he relaxed. “No, little brother, I’m just dandy.”

Sam sighed in relief, weight falling off his shoulders, but only for a moment because Dean’s next words had him straightening in his chair.

“I do need your help, though,” Dean actually sounded…excited? And was that the rumble of impala he was hearing. Sam pulled the phone away from his ear and strained his hearing. It was faint, but he could just make out the sound.

“Are you- are you outside the bunker?” Sam asked, standing from his seat and tossing a look towards the doors, expecting Joelle to come bursting in at any moment.

“Sure am. I need you out here too.”

Sam began walking to the doors, keeping an ear for Joelle. “What, why?”

“Well- it’s just. I can’t drive two cars at once.”

“What the heck does that mean? You know what, that doesn’t even matter. Way to pull a freaking Houdini on us!”

Dean sighed on his end of the line. “Shut up, don’t let Joelle hear you. Look, when you get out here, I’ll explain everything to you.”

Sam frowned, not liking the way Dean easily avoided taking responsibility for his actions, but he let it go. As long as his idiot brother was alive, he guessed he couldn’t complain that much. “Why can’t Joelle know?”

“Because. That’s why. Now shut your cake-hole and get out here, running out my gas.”

And with that, he was left listening to static, Dean having hung up. Bastard always had to have the last word. Groaning, he pushed library doors open, looked up and down the hallway, and seeing that the coast was clear, made a hasty start for the exit. He had no idea what was up, but somehow it didn’t feel like it was life-threatening, so he told himself not to worry on his way out.

 

 

A few minutes later, Joelle waltzed into the library, a book in hand and capped pen between her teeth. “Hey, Sam, I’ve been thinking-“ she looked up, abruptly stopped talking. He had just been in here. Where did he run off to?

Leaving the book and pen on the table, she pattered towards his room, heel-toeing her way. She knocked on his door and waited patiently, expecting to hear his voice. But it was quiet.

“Sam?” Cautiously, she coaxed his door open slowly, giving him time to protest or stop her if he needed to. But he didn’t. Because he wasn’t there either. Huffing, she crossed her arms and pouted. These boys with their disappearing acts…

She whipped her phone out of her back pocket and speed dialed Sam while walking to her room to slip a sweater on; it was slightly chilly in the bunker today.

 

Sam was grinning from ear to ear in the passenger seat of the Impala, eating up his brother’s suddenly grumpy attitude. In truth, Dean was just embarrassed, but he had never gotten the hang of expressing his emotions correctly, so he was angry.

Dean had told him exactly what was happening, and once he did, Sam grinned that ‘annoying little brother’ smile, and Dean almost regretted going on this escapade. Almost.

“Would you stop? I can still hear you smiling.” He grouched, fists tightening on the steering wheel.

Sam laughed, rubbed a hand over his mouth. “Okay, I’m sorry. It’s just-“ he trailed off, biting on another smile and Dean frowned.

“What?” he snapped. “It’s just what?” he was taking bait and he didn’t even care because they were only a few minutes away and he was looking forward to hopping into that other car and taking her home where she belonged.

“You’re like a pillow, Dean.” Sam said, and his green-eyed brother only frowned harder, clearly not understanding what the heck that meant. “You’re completely soft.” Sam declared, smiling teasingly.

Dean’s jaw clenched, but he didn’t say anything because for once his brother was right. He was a fucking softie…and he didn’t even care. The lot was just ahead, that sleek grey beauty waiting for them.

Suddenly, Sam’s phone rang, cutting through the silence and the silly atmosphere. Sam glanced down at the screen and grunted in surprise.

“It’s her.” He said, voice slightly anxious, and he looked at Dean, who glanced at him with a guarded expression.

“Is it going to be more suspicious if you answer or if you let it ring?” Dean asked, like it was helping a decision be made. He turned into the parking lot. “Either way doesn’t matter to me, I’m off the hook; she aint expecting to hear from me.” He snickered at his brother’s lost look and swung his door open. “See you back at home.”

He left his brother in the car, and made his way to the back of the lot where the owner of this car dealership was going to be waiting for him. He tried not to wince and gag at some of the cars on the way, but he couldn’t help frowning at some of them in disgust. A couple though, caught his eye.

“Ah, there you are!”

A short, middle-aged, red-haired man made his way over to Dean. He shook the man’s hand when they were close enough.

“Hey, thanks for letting me use your lot until I could come get her, I appreciate it.” Dean told him, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets, as they began walking through a line of cars.

“No problem, it’s not any trouble. From what I hear, getting her back was quite the journey,” he said, rubbing a hand over his bearded chin absentmindedly.

Dean snorted, nodded. “That’s the understatement of the century.” Just thinking about the last couple of days had his blood bubbling. But, he thought of what her face was going to look like when he finally arrived home and he melted. “Completely worth it, though.” He said, mostly to himself.

The ginger raised an eyebrow at him but didn’t comment. Instead, he dug the keys out of his pocket and handed them over. “Well, there she is.” He said, nodding straight ahead.

Dean followed his line of sight and sighed in relief, finding it in just as good a condition as he had two days ago. “Thanks again.” He told the man when he heard his footsteps retreating.

He stared for a moment, taking it in. And though he had already been behind the wheel, he still tenderly ran a hand over the hood, respected it because of who it belonged to. And then, when he opened the door, heard it quietly squeak, he smiled.

He sank down into the driver’s seat, turned the engine over and whistled at the smooth roar of the vehicle. “Let’s get you home.” He pulled out of the lot with care and precision, rolled out onto the road, and once the coast was clear, he pressed the gas, felt the engine rumble beneath him and he grinned wider.

 

Sam had fed her some bullcrap excuse about wanting stuff for protein shakes, and that he would be back soon. She had asked him to pick up dish soap while he was out, so he had stop by a convenience store on the way home to do just that. Now, he was sitting outside the bunker, leaning on the hood of the impala with his hands in his pockets waiting for Dean.

He didn’t have to wait long. The sound of a smooth engine, like a sated purr reached his ears and he turned his head to see that grey car approach. He quirked his head, hearing muffled music coming from inside the cab of the car, and smiled softly when he recognized the band. Queen.

Dean cut the engine, and ducked out of the car, not bothering to hide his wide smile. He stomped his way over to Sam, patted the hood of Baby idly and then looked at his brother. “Give our girl a call.” He said, eyes bright with excitement from his drive over and because he couldn’t wait to see her expression.

Sam found himself mirroring his brother’s smile and nodded. He dialed Joelle and waited, tapping his foot impatiently. She picked up on the first ring. “Why are you calling me? Don’t tell me you forgot your wallet.” She sounded put off on the second sentence.

He laughed. “No, I didn’t forget anything. But you should come out here, there’s something you’re going to want to see,”

There was a pause. “Please tell me you didn’t pick up a stray dog.” She didn’t sound serious though, and Sam chuckled.

“Nope, didn’t do that either. Put on something warm, though. It is pretty cold out here,”

“Way ahead of you, pal. I’m already freezing in here. I’ve been standing next to the oven while it pre-heats, but I’ll be out.”

“Okay, see you.”

Dean watched one side of the conversation with furrowed eyebrows, listening but not knowing the other half. He could only guess at her mood, and judging by Sam’s laughter she seemed to be in a good one.

Sam slipped his phone back into his pocket and breathed deep while Dean was practically vibrating next to him with excitement. The cold wasn’t registering in Dean’s mind, all he could think was: what’s she going to do when she comes out here? Is this going to be a good enough apology? Is this enough to get our friendship back on track? I just can’t wait to see her face. Feels like I’ve been gone for years.

“Dude, chill.” Sam mocked him, smirking.

Dean huffed, rolled his shoulders. “I am…so chilled. Shut up.” He shot back when Sam starting laughing at his lapse in swagger. But then they heard the door squeak open and Dean went rigid with sudden nervousness.

It was like all those months ago when he first asked her to join them, when he was outside her door waiting for her to answer. He was scared, he was excited, he was happy.

“Holy fudging crap, it’s freezing out here!” he heard her scream, and he beamed at her voice.

“Sam Winchester, you are full of lies. ‘It’s a little cold out here’ my ass-“ she complained, stomping towards them, voice cutting off immediately when she reached the top of the hill that dipped down to the garage.

Her eyes widened to the size of saucers when she saw Dean leaned on the side of the Impala’s hood, looking expectant, scared, excited and worried. He chewed his lip a little at her silence, not sure what to make of it. So in true Dean Winchester fashion, he made a little joke. “Looking is free, but touching’s going to cost you.”

She ignored his humor. “Dean? What are you doing here?”

He just smiled passed his nerves, and shook his head. “Come a little closer, you haven’t even seen the real surprise yet.”

Her eyes narrowed with a healthy dose of suspicion but she crept forward, sparing both of them curious glances because they were looking at her like parents who got their kid what they promised they wouldn’t for Christmas. Only when she rounded the corner did she finally understand why Dean was gone for three days, and why Sam out of nowhere needed to get protein shake mix.

She clasped her hands over her mouth, felt her eyes well up, and before she even knew it she was tottering a few steps closer to the car parked a little way behind Dean’s baby. “Is that- Is that-?” was all she could gasp out around her cold fingers, and the brothers chuckled beside her, finding her sudden emotional state adorable.

“Yeah, it sure is. You wouldn’t believe the trouble I had to cause to get her back,” Dean piped up, understanding all too well the pain of being separated from your car. Especially one that you had years invested in. “That Ivan guy? Total friggin’ dick. He’s lucky I only broke his nose.” Dean grumped, nostrils flaring at memories barely 48 hours ago.

She looked over at him, her slate-grey eyes filled to the brim with happy and grateful tears. “You got my car back?” she bubbled at him, fighting desperately to smile through her emotions.

He softened at her look, her shaky voice, the she was looking at him like he put the sun in the sky. “Uh- well. Yeah.” He muttered, suddenly shy. He could practically feel the annoying energy of his brother smiling next to him.

She laughed then, and catching them both off guard, threw herself at him. Her arms went around his neck and squeezed him for all she was worth. After getting over the initial shock, his wiry arms found their way around her shoulders and back, pulling her up into him like he remembered never doing. He settled his head into the crook of her shoulder, and let her quietly judder out little sobs and stuttered laughs.

When she began quietly thanking him, he hummed back at her. He breathed in a deep inhale of solace, feeling peace he hadn’t known since he was four, and instead of his mother’s hand ruffling his hair, this time it was the scent of her shampoo. Apples and lemongrass. He found new peace, new safety. And it was just as sweet.

The clearing of a throat forced them apart a bit sheepishly. They both avoided looking at Sam who they knew would begin teasing at the first second of eye contact. Luckily though, he spared them.

“What, I don’t get any thanks?” Sam asked, mocking at being offended.

“For what, lying? Mr. I-need-protein-shake-mix. Did you even get the dish soap?” she teased him, but came forward to hug him nonetheless.

Sam snorted, but wrapped her up tight. “Yes, I got the dish soap, Joelle.” She squeezed him, tilted her head back to look at him,

“Thanks, Sam.”

Her expression told him that she was referring to her car, so he kept his sarcastic remark to himself, and smiled down at her, dimples a-flare.

“Alright,” Dean clapped his hands together, startling them both apart. “I got one last surprise for you, so come here.” With that, he walked towards her car, purpose in his strides.

She smiled after him, wondering just what else he could have possibly done for her. Then, remembering something important, she gasped. “Oh, crap! The pie,” she mumbled, and Sam furrowed his brow at her. Fortune was on their side because Dean was too far away to hear.

“What about it?” he asked.

“I just forgot to put it in…” she glanced between her car and the garage door, openly torn and Sam chuckled.

“I’ll take care of it,” he told her, patting her shoulder.

She beamed up at him, ecstatic. “You’re too nice to me sometimes.” She said, and he smiled at her like ‘yeah, right’.

He waved her off with a warm smile and trudged his way back down to the garage, shoulders hiked up against the wind.

She hurried over to her car, excited to be in it after almost half a year, and also because it was damn cold out here. Just as she sunk into the driver’s seat, Dean slammed the glove compartment closed and jammed his hand into jacket.

“Oh, that wasn’t suspicious at all,” she quipped, eyebrows high with good-humor. Dean pouted at her but didn’t say anything, he kind of just let his gaze drift off out the windshield. She realized after a moment that it was his small way of her giving her a little privacy.

Taking the small window he had given her, she settled back into her seat, ran her fingertips over the leather on either side of her thighs, trailed her hand along the door panel, feeling tiny nicks and scrapes of years of sleeping in the front seat. When she got to the steering wheel, she breathed out a long one.

She ran her palms around the leather cased steering wheel, reminiscing all the years she spent in this very spot. The many death-grips she had subjected it to after harrowing hunts, the loose easy-going grip she had when the windows were down and she didn’t have a case. The one-handed grip that she employed when Bohemian Rhapsody came on and she needed to tap along with it. The low and tired one for long nights when she couldn’t get any rest, and the only thing she was sure of was the open road.

Shaking her head, she tapped both palms on the wheel and turned to face him. “So, what else you got for me?” she asked, brazenly cheeky.

He chortled. “Well, that douche didn’t appreciate the classics like he should and tossed all your Queen tapes,” her face fell a little at that, but she didn’t let it stay long. She smiled patiently. “So, after I rescued your baby, I took a whole day to make you this,”

Bashfully, he slipped his hand out from inside his jacket to reveal a CD organizer. Simple, black, with a stiff edge to hold while you unzipped the rest and rifled through. She reached for it with a smile, one full of sweetness and appreciation.

She could already take a guess at what was inside, but regardless, she unzipped it and laughed, nodding in approval. “Lemme guess, you bought every one of their CDs known to man?”

He grinned at her, teeth flashing. “Damn straight.” He watched her eyes brighten with laughter, her lips stretch with a disarming smile, and then…

It was that smile. The smile. And this time he didn’t agonize over it, because it was definitely just for him, without a doubt, and it warmed him inside and out, turned his bones to mush and made his blood sing.

Gingerly, she slid a CD out of a sleeve and after turning the key, popped it in.

Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?

“I can’t believe you got my car back…I can’t believe you did all of this.” She breathed, leaning back in her seat, and turned her head to look at him.

Something dropped into his gaze at that moment, and he straightened as he shifted towards her. “Course I did. She belongs here, at home.” But the way he said made it clear he wasn’t talking about the car.

Joelle’s breath caught somewhere in her chest, suspended near her heart, and she blinked, wondering if she was imagining the heat in his eyes, or the openness there. But he kept looking at her, and it didn’t change.

“Yeah. She does.” She replied, hoping she wasn’t going to start crying again.

Dean winked, glad that she caught on, and tapped the dashboard. “Well, come on, sweetheart, take us somewhere,” he declared suddenly, and they both smiled at how easily the endearment rolled off his tongue, how it filled the air around them with the sense of home and belonging. They smiled at how it just felt right.

She shifted gears effortlessly with muscle memory, and one-hand gripped the steering wheel, already tapping along with the song. Dean grinned like it was his new job, grinned like he didn’t have a care in the world. Grinned like he was free and young, reckless.

They both began singing along with the CD, neither of them with any hope of meeting Freddy Mercury’s vocals but it didn’t matter, because they laughed and giggled through their singing, loudly tapped and stomped their feet like a couple of over-excited toddlers.

Only when the song ended and their duet dwindled to nothing did they settle into companionable silence. But it came to an abrupt stop at a red-light when she felt his big hand scoop hers up. His fingers slid between her own, and squeezed gently. Her head snapped sideways, wide eyes locking on their entwined hands before shooting up to look at him.

He smiled at her gently, but there was a tendril of fear in his forest-green eyes, a hesitant question. He looked vulnerable, like she held his life in her hands and it was this moment that determined if he lived or died.

How silly. She’d never hurt him. Never.

She smiled back at him, not at all restrained or lacking in emotion. She didn’t leave him wondering exactly how she felt, and if the shine in her smoky greys wasn't enough, then the eye crinkles, the dimples, the way she squeezed his hand back…were.

Chapter Text

She sat across the table from him, hands clasped to stop their shaking, and he toyed with his fork, scooting around some crumbs on his plate with the flat edge.

“Dean,” she started, but stopped to swallow. The look he gave her dried her words up, and she shook her head at him and his stubbornness.

“I know, you think it’s dumb for me to go alone.” He said, stalling his fork to smile at her.

She shook her head. “I don’t think it’s dumb for you to go alone; I trust you. I don’t trust Crowley.” She elaborated, brow furrowing in discontent at the situation, at the bomb he dropped on her from out of nowhere. Especially after their nice little drive with all the smiles and laughter, and all the butterflies he put in her stomach.

His face softened at that. That she trusted him, after everything he did and said to her; she still trusted him. “I can handle Crowley-“

“Who’s going to watch your back if something goes south, huh?” she shot out, mouth hardening in determination. He needed someone there with him, solely because Crowley was in the equation. He was bound to screw Dean over, double-cross him.

Dean sighed, not excited for this part of the conversation. He knew she’d go here, and he didn’t know to how convince her that he didn’t need someone to watch his back. He met her eyes, held her worried, stubborn stare, and said, “Nothing’s going to go south,” she huffed at him, and he resisted the urge to smile. “Look, what I really need is you here, safe.”

She frowned at him, looked a little offended and he rolled on, seeing where her train of thought was going. “I know you’re not a helpless civi, sweetheart. I know that,” he leaned forward, and she did too, slightly. “But I worry when we go on hunts, all I think about is keeping you out of harm’s way, I can’t focus- and that’s not your fault,” he added quickly, seeing the way her shoulders sagged. “It’s just what I do.” He admitted like it was a shortcoming, a bad habit. Which in his eyes, it was.

She breathed a moment, chewed her lip and then closed her eyes with a sigh. Dean would have been convinced he won her over were it not for her stiff shoulders. He smiled at her stubbornness, the way she protected him like he protected her. He got up, hooked his hand under the chair’s back and situated himself beside her.

“Dean, I worry about you 24/7, whether we’re on hunts or not. Letting you do this alone…it’s like you’re begging me to have a heart attack.” She explained flatly, and he chuckled, but he warmed inside with the confession of her compassion and affection towards him. Still, he strengthened his voice and his conviction to keep her here.

“You’re gonna be like a bag of cats while I’m gone, I know. But, he won’t say it, Sammy needs you here too.” It was convenient and it was also true. The way she frowned told him she noticed, and he continued on, softly. “He needs you more than I do at the moment, and aside from Cas, you’re the only person on this planet I trust to look after my brother-“

“You are really desperate to keep me here, aren’t you?” she asked, interrupting him. She tried to smile lightly, but it was strained. He smiled guiltily, tried to shrug it off.

Her shaking hands unclenched themselves, and she grabbed one of Dean’s, grip tight. He squeezed her smaller hand comfortingly, rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand and forced himself to tame the mega-watt smile he had underneath his skin. The smallest touches from her had electricity flooring his senses, and had his head soaring into the clouds.

“What’s to stop me from chasing after you when you leave now that I have my car back?” she questioned, her tone barely bordering ‘I’m just joking’. He licked his lips, searched her eyes wondering if she would do that. After a moment, he found that she would. Well, that had his protectiveness ramping exponentially.

“Nothing, I suppose. But I could beg you not to if it would help.” He said, completely serious. Anything to keep her safe, keep her here. Keep her home where she belonged.

She sighed, bone-deep, hanging somewhere between resigned and calling a forward march when he lifted her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles.

“Please stay here, for me. Be my something to come home to.” He murmured, eyes slipping closed because he knew how much he was putting on the table with those few words. He was slowly opening that vault, one he had spent months locking up with chains-galore.

Her sharp inhale had him nervous to see her face, so he just pressed another kiss to her hand, waited to hear her agree. It was a moment before he felt her hand slide out of his own and trail over to cup the side of his face. He opened his eyes when her thumb brushed his cheekbone.

She was smiling wetly, happy, but also uncertain. Maybe a little disappointed, but he was relieved to see it wasn’t directed at him. She licked her lips a couple times, swallowed the lump out of her throat as Dean waited with bated breath.

“You’ll come back? If I wait for you?” she asked, tone desperate and reluctant. She blinked against the wetness in her eyes, and watched Dean relax in relief, watched the years it took off of his face.

He smiled gently, nodded, sure beyond the shadow of a doubt. “Always.” He answered her, voice firm and hand soft as it reached up to wipe an errant tear off her cheek.

She bubbled a laugh weakly as she nodded in defeat, Dean gave her a reassuring smile that she tried to mimic. He chuckled, ghosted his hand to the back of her neck to coax her into him. It didn’t take much. She settled into the crook of his neck, arm snaked up around to rest her hand on the base of his skull, fingers toying in his short hair, and he hummed. He had an arm around her middle, rubbing small circles, his own fingers drawing nonsense patterns on her plaid button-up.

“You call or text me every hour, you hear me, mister?” she muttered into his neck and he rumbled a laugh.

“Yes ma’am.” After a deep breath from her, she began pulling away and he let her go, landing his hand on her thigh when she leaned away to wipe at her wet eyes. “I won’t keep you waiting long.” He promised her, squeezing her thigh briefly as he stood. He dropped a kiss on top her head and then marched toward the exit with purpose and speed, fighting the urge to go back and-

Just fought the urge to go back.

 

 

Ten minutes later when she trudged through the bunker looking for Sam, she was satisfied that her tears had finally stopped. Though her eyes felt heavy and hot, and she was sure her cheeks were red and puffy.

As she entered the bunker, Sam was just hanging up his phone and turned to welcome her entrance, only for his tired eyes to darken and harden at her tear-marked face.

“What did he do now?” he asked, striding to her. He was 100% done with his brother’s bullshit, especially where Joelle was concerned.

She laughed at his war-ready state and shook her head, even as she was enveloped in the steel arms of an angry moose. “He totally benched me.” She pouted into his chest, and then frowned at the sudden laugh that vibrated her cheek. She tilted her head to glare at him, and he laughed harder. “S’not funny, you jerk.”

He relented, tightened his arms briefly, and then let her go. “No, I just didn’t think it was possible to tell you what to do,” he said, waving his hand flippantly, but the amusement in his eyes hadn’t died. “How did he convince you?” he asked, eyebrows high.

She sighed, watching him sink into a chair and raked a hand through her hair, a nervous tick she’d had since adolescence. He regarded her patiently, but curious.

“You wouldn’t believe me,” she finally decided, and she thought over the kitchen negotiation, knowing she was right. He shrugged as if to say ‘try me’, and she smiled. “Chick-flick moment,” Sam’s eyes widened, though his eyebrows tried to drop in confusion, he looked constipated and she burst out a laugh.

“Anyway, Sam. What are you up to?” she asked, plopping down in chair beside him, watching him blink a couple times to get his bearings back.

“Well, I called Cas a couple minutes ago, he’s gonna try and extract the rest of Gadreel’s essence from me…” he watched her shift in her chair guiltily, saw regret hook itself in her grey eyes, and he patted her on the knee. He tilted his eyebrows, softened his expression. “It’s alright, don’t feel bad about-“

She waved him off, gave him a tight smile. “So, there anything I can do besides fluff your pillows for you?” He smiled at her, shrugged. He didn’t really know what to expect out of this, so he wasn’t sure how to prepare.

“Maybe you could seem like I’m not going to keel over in the next two seconds?” he suggested, and she frowned a smile at him, but nodded a little. Sam’s phone vibrated in his pocket, and he pulled it out to look at the screen. “Ok, Cas is here, so I’ll go invite him in.” He said, standing.

She nodded absently, chewing her lip. “Okay, I’ll be here.” She replied, hearing him leave. She stared at his empty chair, a ball of worry in her stomach that had her chest hurting. He had only left fifteen minutes ago, but she was already convinced he was lying in a ditch somewhere bleeding to death.

Damn him for convincing me to stay here, she thought, tapping her foot. Two pairs of footsteps knocked her out of her thoughts and she stood from her chair to welcome the angel. His expression was its usual cut of stone, though his eyes softened at the sight of her.

“Hey, Cas,” she greeted, warmly, tossing aside his social ineptness as she hugged him. His arms cautiously wound around her, hands patting in an unsure kind of way. Sort of like a toddler with a dog.

“Hello, Joelle. It’s good to see you again,” he rumbled, that gravel tone of his voice vibrating her and she smiled in response.

“You too,” she replied, pulling away. “What’s the plan here, exactly?” she asked, flickering her gaze between the stoic angel and the weary Winchester next to him, who looked like he was two seconds from keeling over despite his protests.

Castiel straightened, and regarded her thoughtfully. At least that’s how she thought he was looking at her. But really he was cautious, unsure. He wouldn’t outright admit it, but Joelle scared him, put righteous fear in him. He was reluctant to step on her toes or offend her…heck, he wiped his feet before he came down the stairs which earned him an odd look from Sam, but he didn’t care.

Joelle Addington was a force to be reckoned with. He sometimes wondered if his Father had a grand purpose for her, such as putting an end to Lucifer. He was 100% certain she could make Lucifer repent with just a look. And if that wasn’t enough…wait until she crossed her arms.

As far as humans went, she was one of the most fearsome, but gentle. Merciless but kind. Steadfast in her protection of others, selfless when it came to their needs. She sacrificed readily and without complaint. Her worry and compassion were only outmatched by her stubbornness. She was so complex, with so many levels and different faces. Castiel was fascinated by her, and he tried to stay on her good side because of it.

Which was why he so hesitant to relay the process. It was dangerous, Sam was already weak, and even though Cas could heal him, it still might end up killing him. He just hoped that Gadreel had healed Sam enough for his (Castiel’s) grace to cover any damage that wasn’t repaired by him. Sam had made it clear that he wanted that angel’s essence out of him, no matter the cost.

How to tell her that? He had no idea. He knew she wouldn’t like it, not one bit. Castiel had noticed, not too long ago, that when Dean stepped out of the room, she filled in his shoes when it came to Sam. Sam’s health and well-being came before everything else, and if it were an option her life would be put on the line before his would. 

“Well…” he began, with no idea how to follow up.

 

 

Ok, so apparently she didn’t need to be present for him to be distracted by her because he was not focused. At all. The only thing he could think about was walking through those bunker doors with good news, bring a smile to that pretty face. See Sam back to his old self. He just wanted to get back, snuggle into her, breathe in her shampoo and feel home.

But no. He still had shit to do. People to threaten, demons to kill, words to yell. He still had work to get done. And until it was over, he wasn’t going home. Which was his reason for speeding well over the limit.

He had a few minutes until his first hour was up, but he whipped out his phone to send her a quick text anyway.

‘Hey, sweetheart. Still on the road, everything’s fine. Be home soon.’

It felt good to send that last sentence, it felt right. Like it belonged on a message chain between the two of them. Like the words ‘home’ and ‘Joelle’ were interchangeable, and he felt the barest bit of joy at the thought that she carried the word ‘home’ and his name around the same way.

Though his Djinn dream and real life differed, they both had one thing in common: they both contained the moment. In the Djinn dream, it was on that dock in the fading light of dusk with the quiet chirping of birds and buzz of mosquitos in the background. But here, here it was the first morning in the bunker.

He was still asleep, clinging to it and he stubbornly burrowed into his pillow when his door creaked open. For a moment, it was quiet, quiet enough that he thought he had imagined it. But then he heard soft footsteps, almost silent, and he knew the day was upon him.

The scent of coffee teased his nostrils and almost coaxed him into opening his eyes. Almost. He heard it get placed on his bedside table, and he knew it was her, because if it was Sammy he would have just banged on his door, and he most definitely wouldn’t have brought him coffee.

She sank down next to his bed with a light sigh, and his eyes flickered behind his lids at the sound. He could smell her body wash (lavender and vanilla) and shampoo, and relaxed further into the pillow.

“Dean,” she hummed quietly, voice like honey as she sing-songed his name. Instead of shaking his shoulder, he felt her fingers trail along his jaw, feather-light. She didn’t seem to mind the couple day’s scruff he had going on, only took more care to lighten her upward strokes against the grain of the coarse hair.

“I made you coffee,” she told him, fingers walking up to briefly trace the sharp line of his cheekbone, pass over a faint scar there to slip up into his wild hair. He swallowed then, heart jumping at her gentle touches, her warm voice that dripped into ears like a pleasant song. “Dean…” she murmured, fingers carding through his hair placidly, nails just barely scraping his scalp in a way that had goosebumps raising on the back of his neck.

He sighed a breath out of his nose in contentment, and fluttered his eyes open. She was already smiling at him, eyes soft but bright. “Good morning, sleeping beauty.” She chuckled, eyes twinkling.

He grumbled, grumpy from being woken up, no matter how wonderful the wake-up call was. Sleeping was awesome. Waking up wasn’t.

“Morning,” he grunted, blinking at her slowly. What time was it, anyway? It didn’t feel early. Usually he was dead tired when he woke up. Today he only felt a little sluggish.

“Sam and I already ate breakfast, but if you can drag yourself out of bed I can whip you up something.” She told him, trailing her fingers behind his ear to slip her hand down to rest on his neck.

That had him smiling. Her and Sam were ridiculously early risers, and he usually woke up when they did because otherwise he’d get crap about sleeping in so late. “You let me sleep in and I still get breakfast? Have I done something good lately?”

She laughed, shook her head at him, brushed her thumb along prickly hair on his throat. “Nah, but I’m hoping you will after this,” she joked, her eyes softening even further, the grey deepening in color.

He was grinning lop-sidedly, giddy from her special treatment and her sweet affection. “You name it, I’ll do it.” He said, winking his most visible eye at her.

She laughed again but looked at him wryly, in a way that said she thought he was funny but a little ornery. She rose to her feet. “I’ll be in the kitchen waiting.” She told him and he rumbled a hum that got stuck in his chest when she bent down and pressed her lips to his temple. His mind went completely blank, and his sense of touch left all his other nerves to focus on his right temple and the way her soft lips felt on his suddenly feverish skin.

And then she was gone, out of his room by the time his mind came back to him and his heart realized that it needed to pump blood. He was left feeling weightless and free, giddy and nervous. He lifted his hand to trace the area she had kissed, almost disbelievingly, like he had imagined it. But he swore he could feel electric from that patch of skin.

His heart was yammering in his chest, and he could feel all of his blood as it rushed through his body, could hear his red blood cells bump into one another. Then, suddenly he felt calm, peaceful. Content and sated. He felt like nothing could touch him, like he was indestructible. He felt like, he could die right now without any regrets, he could go willingly.

A strange phenomenon for him. All he did was carry regrets, it was one of the things that defined him, and for him to be free of them for a few seconds…

He rolled onto his back and heaved out a deep breath, marveling at how much he didn’t deserve her in his life. How out of his league he was, and even though he didn’t have her, he was happy she was here.

But he realized, laying there with a dopey smile on his face from a simple temple kiss, how much he wanted her. How long.

And how it didn’t scare him for a second when he thought ‘What if one day I asked her that question and she said yes?’. But then it had him sitting bolt up-right, eyes wide in terror. Terror at how much he wanted it, how bad. If she had him and he had her, he was certain he would do anything to hear her say it. Anything.

It still scared him. To realize that his little crush wasn’t little, and that it wasn’t a crush. But, now that she knew, at least a little of what he held for her, he wasn’t as scared. He let himself think for a moment how it might actually be possible one day. He’d do anything to make this work, even if she said no, he wouldn’t give up on it.

He thought Sam would always be the most important thing. The one thing that mattered above all else. But now…as he felt his phone vibrate in lap, getting a text from her, and his heart jumped in excitement, he knew Sam had been bumped down to second place. He didn’t think it was possible, but here he was, scrambling to read her text and hear her voice in his head as he read her reply.

‘Happy to hear it. Drive careful, be safe. Come home in one piece. L-‘

He smiled at her text, glanced at his speedometer and humored her, easing his foot on the gas. He squinted at the end of her text. That random letter throwing him for a loop for a second, there were too many possibilities of what it could be so he just let it go. Could have been a simple slip of the keys too. Instead, he just let her whole message warm him, calm him, because he was coming up on his destination and he wondered what was going to happen.

 

 

For a second, she panicked at her dumb slip of the keys. She meant to get rid of the rest of it, but she had missed the first letter when she deleted that last sentence. But then she realized it was only one letter and he’d have no way of knowing.

She had helped Sam slink off to bed a few minutes ago, too weak to walk there without some support. It had worked, Cas had removed all of Gadreel’s essence from Sam. But he hadn’t been able to heal the younger Winchester for some reason, and Sam was back at square one, looking like the Walking Dead.

She was frustrated at her helplessness. Her inability to do anything for anyone. Dean was off God knew where, doing God knew what. Who knew if he was even alive- No, he had just texted her seconds ago. He was fine. But now Sam was shuffling around like a frail old woman. If you blink too hard at the guy he’ll fall over, she thought bitterly.

Sam seemed for all the world: indestructible. He was built like a tank, able to withstand anything the hunting life could throw at him. Well, him and Dean both. They just kept going, and going and going…

It was rare to see them sunk in on themselves, sitting on the bench out of real necessity. They never gave up. Taking a break was like a death sentence to those two, and even though it pissed her off, she couldn’t help but admire them for it.

She wished she was as strong as the brothers. They told her often that she was tougher than nails, more dangerous than C4, but she couldn’t help but brush their comments off. Unlike them, she had thrown in the towel once. This life had beaten her down into submission years ago, and she readily rolled over. Gave up the fight. Just like that.

Of course, back then she didn’t have anything or anyone to lean on. She had been alone in the world, nothing to call her own but her car. She wanted to make excuses for herself, validate her own weakness, but she couldn’t. She should’ve kept fighting.

Four years. Four years she hid and ran from her past, ignoring the call of her conscience that told her to get back out there and pick up her salt and holy water. She was convinced she was out and couldn’t be pulled back in. She wouldn’t pick up a gun ever again, wouldn’t be heading out to any bars for an after-hunt celebration.

She convinced herself for four long years, and though she was safe and her life was easy, she was miserable. But she remained, stubbornly. Maybe it was out fear, or simply habit. Maybe it was selfishness.

Whatever the reason, she watched life pass her by, and forced herself to say she was happy. Forced herself compliant with her lack-luster life.

At least, until the Winchesters walked in.

She laid her eyes on the both of them and thought, Oh Hell, who’s gonna watch the shop while I’m away?

Suddenly, she hated her life, hated the colors, hated the sounds and scents and sights. She hated the dumb apron she wore, she hated all the icing she squeezed out of tubes…she hated all of it. She heard the two of them talk, and they sounded like possibility. Not the men themselves, but what they embodied, what they symbolized.

She wanted out there, she wanted to be doing what they were doing. She wanted to be happy, she wanted to do what she wanted. She wanted to be as free as they were, and for a second, she lied to herself and thought that she could fly off, no worries or cares.

Initially, she was just going to give them the information and let them go, but when she watched Dean bend down to drool all over the display case, she selfishly decided she was going to join them. Anything to cling to the illusion that she had a chance to do what she wanted, that she could do something that mattered, for a few seconds she could be on equal ground with people that spat in the face of evil, and traded danger for oxygen.

Of course, his rugged looks and devil-may-care attitude didn’t hurt any. She had no misconceptions about the man, he was a player. Probably bedded more women than she had made cakes in the last four years. And despite the fact she basically turned into a puddle of goo every time he looked at her, she kept up her strong front, brushed his swagger off her shoulder like a pesky bug.

That quickly changed though. Once he realized he wasn’t getting in her pants, he stopped flirting. Instead, he became polite, nice, maybe even sweet towards her. She didn’t know, she didn’t have any other data to base it off of. So, she just assumed he always acted that way toward women who wouldn’t roll in the hay with him.

Not that it sounded unappealing to her. It was just that when you’d gone as long as she had without anything, it could easily be put off. Moved to the back burner because you couldn’t really be starved for something you had never had. Can’t crave something you’ve never tasted. And, she was old enough and set enough in her ideals that one-night stands sounded worse than scraping gum off the bottom of tables.

And Dean was the king of one-night stands. She wasn’t out to get her heart broken, she knew better. He’d treat it like a ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ and be on his merry way. To him, sex was something to pass the time, a recreational hobby. To her…it actually meant something. Or it would as soon as she had it. But she was in no hurry, and she wasn’t foolish enough to think she was saving herself for Dean.

Dean would never see her in the light that she saw him…that’s what she thought at the beginning of all this. Now, she was starting to think that she had been wrong. Maybe he was changing, maybe she could hope.

There was something between them now. Something that was distinctly not platonic, and her cheeks warmed with the way he had talked to her, soft words, careful and considerate with an emotion that tunneled her vision. And the way he looked at her, like she was a priceless art piece, his eyes roving her face in fascination, in open wonder that spoke of his gradual affection which was uncharacteristic for him.

For most of her life, she had felt that she was stuck waiting. Waiting on something to come along and give her that push. That push to cast off her insecurities and be who she was, not what the world needed her to be. To be sure of herself and stand up for what she believed, to stand up for herself.

That push that told her it was alright to love herself.

And as sure as the sun shines, he came along and did just that.

She wanted to do the same for him, because she could see, as much as he tried to hide it, that Dean hated himself. She wanted him to see himself the way she saw him. If he did, he wouldn’t have any trouble loving himself.

And he deserved that. To love himself. God, did he deserve it.

She sighed, throwing her head back with it. She had a feeling Dean would be gone for a few hours, and Sam would most likely sleep until dinner, so she was on her own for the afternoon. She decided to head down to the firing range for a couple hours. She hadn’t been on a hunt for a little while and wanted to make sure she wasn’t losing her edge, just in case the boys needed her with them sometime in the future.

 

 

‘This was a bad idea. Bad idea. She was right, she’s always right.’ He thought, hands tight on the steering wheel as he hauled it home. He didn’t know how many hourly ‘check-ins’ he missed with her but he tried not to stress over it despite knowing that he’d probably catch Holy Hell for it. Especially after what had just happened, it was hard to wrap his head around.

That, and his goddamn arm burned like crazy. The Mark…it wasn’t right. It made him feel different. Wrong. He already didn’t feel like himself. He was angry for no reason, his muscles were tight, his blood fucking itched inside his veins, and he was burning up. He was wired for a fight for whatever reason and there wasn’t one in sight.

But he told himself if he could just get home- get to her -everything would be alright. He’d be okay if he had her. He hissed against the sudden flare of pain in his arm, the new rush of anger it brought on.

It scared him enough to push Baby harder, speed limits and her warning be damned. He needed to be home. Right fucking now.

‘Send her a text so-‘ he grit his teeth at another wave of heat, strong enough that his head ached from the force of his jaw. ‘Just send her a text’.

He fumbled with his phone, shaking so bad he almost dropped it to the floor a couple times. ‘Hey, on my way home. Be there in a few.’ He heaved out a labored breath after pressing send, and shook his head as he refocused his eyes on the road.

Things were looking familiar finally, and he realized that he’d probably been speeding far longer than he thought he had. Just meant he’d be home faster than he anticipated.

That was good news, he thought, desperate to take his mind off the itch on his arm. The classic rock was doing nothing to soothe his nerves, and he doubted it would. Only one thing would, and he had broken at least 9 traffic laws to get to it.

Pulling into the bunker’s garage was like Christmas, and seeing her Trans Am parked in the space next to his was like seeing a New Year’s Resolution come to fruition. He hopped out of the impala so fast, it was like she was on fire.

He barely heard anything on his way to find her, not his footsteps on the concrete, slamming the door, that strange hum the bunker emanated, nothing. Didn’t hear any of it.

“Joelle?” he called, once in the main hallway, and he wasn’t expecting her to come running down the hallway with tears in her eyes and throw herself at him. No, he wasn’t that hopelessly wrapped up in her. But he had at least thought she’d poke her head around a corner and welcome him home.

He scratched at his arm absentmindedly, aware that he was starting to get angry at nothing. He took a deep breath, eased it out slowly, and repeated the process until he could see straight, and wasn’t looking at the world through Fight-Me goggles.

And that was when he noticed it. The smell. Spaghetti? Definitely some kind of tomato sauce, with spice. He followed his nose to the kitchen, his mouth watering along the way with the smell of a home-cooked meal.

He relaxed as his mind conjured up the image of her cooking at the stove, bustling around the kitchen, humming happily. He practically sagged to the floor in relief when he pushed the door open and found her there, dancing at the stove while she stirred a pot of sauce as her phone quietly played music from the counter beside her.

He felt a smile play his lips at her predictable behavior, the quirkiness and laid back attitude she donned when she thought no one was around. He cleared his throat, slightly louder than her music and her head snapped sideways, peering over her shoulder at him in surprise.

“Dean?!” she said, shocked at his sudden appearance, but relieved beyond words. She dropped the wooden spatula and spun to face him.

He grinned, stepped into the kitchen. “Last time I checked, yeah,” he replied, felt a laugh start in his chest at her flat look. But a second later, she was starting across the kitchen toward him, eyes vivid. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to run or stay, her expression was unreadable. At the very least, she wouldn’t be killing him with that wooden spatula.

She crashed into him, arms winding to hug him tight, and he faltered a moment in surprise. But only a moment. He enveloped her with his own arms, slouched to get closer, to help slide into corners and curves.

“I gave you one job,” she muffled into his chest. Her displeasure wasn’t masked by her lack of volume and Dean smiled in response, that ornery streak rising up. “Text me every hour,” she continued, and pulled back to look at him in the face. “One job.” She reiterated, mouth dropping to frown when she saw him smiling like a child.

“I was worried out of my damn mind, you jerk.” She told him, eyebrows anchoring down in a scolding manner, but a slight waver in her voice gave away her true emotions. Dean’s smile fell away when he heard the strain, that subtle note of vulnerability.

“I’m sorry,” he told her, earnestly. She rolled her eyes, ‘you can apologize for spilling milk, but that doesn’t clean it up’. He smiled softly, catching himself in the cross-hairs of her spit-fire attitude. She didn’t take shit from anyone, least of all him. He cupped the side of her face, brushed some hair behind her ear because he had been wanting to do that far longer than he’d ever admit. “Hey, I promised you I’d come back, didn’t I?” he asked her, stroking her smooth cheek with his thumb.

“You can’t convince me not to worry about you, so don’t try.” She dead-panned, let him deflate a little, and then quirked her lips in a forgiving smile. “But yes, you did. And you didn’t disappoint.” She murmured, eyes softening as she watched a relieved smile stretch his lips.

And then his eyes dropped to her lips, jumped back up to meet her own, looking almost guilty. But what for, she didn’t know. All she knew was that she wanted him to breach the few inches of space between them, wanted him to enough that she wasn’t even nervous. Her own inexperience didn’t matter to her like it normally did.

She wasn’t afraid of looking like an idiot, because she knew he wouldn’t judge her.

He swallowed quickly, parted his lips but no words came out. Instead, his eyes voiced a question that he’d never have the courage to say. She smiled wider at him, eyes bright and happy, and she nodded.

He dropped his head, tilted hers up and pressed his mouth to hers softly, marveling at the warmth and fullness of her lips. He kissed her slowly, with care and devotion and every ounce of genuine fondness he felt for her. She sighed against him, and his stomach flipped at the sweet sound. He drunk it down greedily, got both his hands on her face so he could press and move against her like he had imagined, like he remembered doing…not doing. Whatever.  

She didn’t disappoint, she rolled and melted and followed him with languid heat, and he pressed forward. He ran his tongue along her lip, and was ready for her to open up to him like he had it in his head. But she didn’t. Instead, she squeaked in surprise and jumped a little, breaking the kiss.

He pulled back, confused. Her face was beet red, and though he was walking on air, he wondered what he did wrong. “What-“ was all he got out before she started rambling.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to freak out, I wasn’t expecting you to do that. I figured I’d mess something up, I have no idea what I’m doing, sorry. I’m gonna make dinner now,” she shot out in hasty nervousness, and Dean was so lost that he let her slip away to the stove, blinking like a fish out of water.

She stirred the sauce, flipped the breaded chicken, and adjusted the temp on it, while Dean ran her words through his head.

When he finally filled in the missing pieces, he rocked back on his heels he straightened so fast, and stared at her back in disbelief. She was still flustered, if her shaking hands and tapping foot were any indication.

“Joelle,” he started towards her, watched her get even more nervous the closer he got. She cleared her throat anxiously, tapped her free hand on the stove-top edge. “You’ve never been kissed before.” He said it with the potential to be a question, but he already knew the answer. Her panicky outburst confirmed that. The knowledge had him confused, but excited. All those memories he had of her, he was happy to know they were empty of truth. He didn’t have to base his relationship with her on that, they could pave their own. He could walk into this blind.

“N-no. I haven’t.” she admitted, and Dean frowned at the stutter in her voice, the fear she had about this revelation, about him knowing. His heart clenched painfully when he noticed just how bad she was shaking. She was hardly even stirring the sauce anymore.

He placed his hands on her vibrating shoulders, felt them jump under his hands and squeezed a couple times before sliding them down. He slipped his arms around her middle, and curled himself into her. “Why are you shaking, sweetheart?” he breathed quietly into her ear, tone soothing.

From this close he could hear her swallow. “You…don’t care?” she countered his question with one of her own, and he didn’t mind. He wasn’t expecting a real answer, he just wanted to get this conversation to a point where he could sate her fears and insecurities.

He rumbled a hum into her back and bent his head into the crook of her neck, shaking his head as he did it. “Why would I?” he asked her, breathing in her scent like a man starved for fresh air. They were playing the question game with each other, but Dean wanted to know what had her shying away from him. He wasn’t too proud of himself for her answer.

“It’s just- all those women you’d leave bars with,” he tightened his arms around her, burrowed his head further, like he could hide from his shame in her. She continued, voice unsteady with lingering nerves, and former insecurities validated by her words. “They were all drop-dead gorgeous, walking wet dreams with legs for days…” Dean almost smiled at her descriptions of those bar floozies, those pointless one-night stands, the faceless names and nameless faces. Almost, were it not for the sad and broken tone of her voice. Almost like a child having to tell their parent they had come in last place for something.

“And confident as all Hell, they knew what they were doing. You’d say as much the next day…” she swallowed again, and Dean wished he could disappear, hearing how much he had inadvertently added to her worries and fears, cut down her self-confidence with his selfish late night escapades. “I figured compared to them I’d be this bombshell disappointment.” Her mouth was so dry, and she could feel her heart beating in her kneecaps she was so nervous for crying out loud.

He heaved a sigh, long and painful and lifted his head. She was steadfastly ignoring him, focused on the chicken like it held all of life’s answers. “First, don’t compare yourself to those bimbos. You’re insulting yourself by doing it,” he told her, and her face twitched, a little surprised, still wholly unconvinced. “Second, you could never be a disappointment, not even if you tried. You are the perfect woman. You have no idea how many heads you turn when we go places, how bad I want to shoot every man that so much as glances at you,” her eyebrows rose, sat high in shock and pleasant surprise. She didn’t have any idea.

“And thirdly- look at me. Food’s not going anywhere, look at me, sugar.” He coaxed her to turn around in his arms, ran his hands up her sides, slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her into him. She tilted her head back to look at him, her cheeks tinged with pink as she chewed her lips out of a mix of embarrassment and anxiousness. He rested his other hand on the side of her neck, his thumbing brushing along the curve of her jaw in light strokes. “Thirdly, I don’t care that you don’t have any experience. Not one bit. In fact, I’m gonna be a cocky son of a bitch now that I know I stole your first kiss,” a smile twitched on her lips, but her eyes were still brittle with uncertainty.  He held that memory of a childish fight over pie in the middle of a street with a stronger fondness now, now that he knew.

“I don’t want you to be nervous around me, and I don’t want to you to think this is going to be a roadblock for us, cause it’s not. I don’t want sex from you, that’s not what I want out of this. I just want you,” he said, voice lowering to a quiet murmur as he let his words sink in. “I won’t push or pressure you for anything. You feel uncomfortable, or feel like we’re moving too fast, you tell me. Okay? We can take this as slow as you want. I’m not in any hurry.” His voice was gentle but his eyes were firm as he said his words, and he watched their meaning trickle into her. After a moment of searching his eyes, she nodded easily, shoulders relaxing.

He smiled warmly, relieved to have finally gotten through to her. He bent down to drop a kiss to her forehead. In the background, there was a tiny voice nagging at him that he shouldn’t even be doing this. That he was putting her in danger, painting a target onto her by doing this. But every now and then, he allowed himself to be selfish.

He’d just have to keep her safe from everything. No matter what.

“Dean.” She said, tone amused and he cleared his throat before looking down at her.

“What?” he asked, sheepish.

“Did you hear me?” she said, a smile spreading her lips. She knew full well that he hadn’t heard a word.

“I-“ he stalled, looking around before huffing in defeat. “No. I didn’t.” he grumped at her laugh, faking offense. Her next words had him throwing off his childish nature, however.

“I said, ‘you can kiss me again’.”

He beamed down at her, all too happy to oblige.

He had meant it. He didn’t want sex from her. Well, he did, but it wasn’t even on his mind when he thought of her. When he thought of her all he could think about was her warm smile, the way she’d run her hand through his hair in passing, the way she’d have the table set and ready for breakfast and remembered to put extra bacon on his plate.

When he thought of her, the one thing that jumped to mind was: I’m home.

He was okay with never getting intimate. As long as he could hold her, just touch her. See her smile at him…

As long as he had her, nothing else mattered.

“Jesus, took long enough.” A voice said from the doorway, and they broke apart, Joelle yelping in alarm.

“Timing, Sammy. You have shit timing.” He told his brother, who only shrugged. He shot a look at Joelle who was turned around to hide her beet red face from Sam. Dean smiled briefly at her innocence, and then looked over at Sam, cautious. Dean knew Sam was in just as deep as he was, and wanted to gauge his brother’s reaction.

A mutual understanding, an approving nod of the head, no malice or jealously. Just a restrained joy, a peace in his brother’s hazel eyes, that Dean understood. 

‘She’ll be good for you.’

Dean would have been thinking the same thing had the situation been reversed. They always sacrificed for one another, and happily. But in this case, Dean couldn’t help feeling a little guilty at how good he got it, how lucky.

At least until Sam’s eyes slid down to his right forearm and landed on the Mark.

Right. He had forgotten about that. Maybe he shouldn’t be counting his blessings just yet, not while he still had curses to consider.