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Chapter 5

Sam was consumed with finding them another job. He had combed all the local papers and his laptop searching for anything that fell in their line of work. He had to keep busy and at the moment, nothing was jumping out at him as supernatural. He ignored Dean when he sat down with a pair of beers.

“That cute little co-ed on the east coast, the one you ‘talked’ to for hours, how long ago was that?”

Sam grunted. He didn’t want to listen to Dean commenting on the last time he got laid.

“How long?” There was steel in Dean’s voice that said he was not going to stop until Sam answered.

“I don’t know.” Sam glared at his brother, who was glaring right back. “Nine months, maybe?”

“How careful were you in bed?”

Sam shook his head in shock. “You and I don’t talk about sex, remember? Ever since you tried to give me the ‘birds and the nest’ talk that went horribly wrong.”

“I told you to keep it covered. That, I know I did and she didn’t seem to be the type to sleep around.”

Sam suddenly put together all the questions Dean had asked. He whirled in his seat and glanced over the crowd. The young, pregnant girl was easy to see. Joan was a waitress. She looked tired and huge. Her feet were swollen and her belly was straining the material of her top, and the apron she was wearing didn’t quite cover her completely, and in addition to this she had the remnants of some pretty spectacular bruising on her forehead and a neat row of stitches along her hairline, over her right eye. Her misery was resulting in a lot of pity tips.

She seemed just as alone as the night they had met.

Sam looked at his brother and Dean’s opinion was loud in his eyes: Winchesters do their duty. This was Sam’s FUBAR, Sam had to make it right.

Sam didn’t pause. He walked over to her and reached for her tray just after she had emptied it for her patrons. “Joan?”

Brown eyes flew up to his. Her hands protectively covered her belly, to protect it from him.

The baby.

Dean was right, the baby was his. A very cynical, cruel voice asked Sam why Joan was the one still walking around while the beloved Jessica had died on the ceiling. “When do you get off work?”

“Not soon enough,” she muttered.

Sam waited.

She finally glanced at a clock and sighed. “One hour and seventeen minutes.”

Sam winced. “Should you be…,” she glared and Sam stopped that sentence. “We’ll talk afterward.” He stared at her until she finally agreed.

She started to step away, realized that Sam still had her tray and snatched it back. The show of spirit encouraged him, though he was careful not to let her notice. He walked back to their table and realized that Dean had moved all their shit. His brother had taken up post in a different corner, one where they would be able to keep an eye on Joan as she made her trips to and from the kitchen and even the bathroom. He hadn’t brought the beers with him, determined to be sober and aware of any developing problems.

Sam was tempted to go get the drinks for himself. Surely that would make this situation easier to accept. In the end, he decided that he wanted to be the one talking to Joan and not let it be alcohol. Alcohol, if he remembered correctly, was at least partially responsible for the situation he found himself in. Sam plunked down beside his brother.

Dean promptly stood. “I’m going to get a piece. You have a preference?”

Sam waved a hand to signify that he’d accept whatever gun Dean brought into the establishment. Neither paused to consider that guns were strictly forbidden in any place that served alcohol. Dean returned quickly and casually put the gun in Sam’s hand under the table. He had one hidden at his back and two knives hidden on his body.

They both watched Joan bustle around the tables. Finally, Dean asked. “So what’s her name?”

“Joan.”

Dean nodded. “She probably won’t like me calling her Joanie, will she?”

“No.”

They waited, tense. Nothing happened. Joan was exhausting herself; she seemed to droop more with every passing minute. She got nervous with Sam’s eyes on her and she started making mistakes and getting clumsy.

“I’m going to be the cool Uncle Dean,” his brother announced suddenly.

Sam buried his head in his hands. “Just don’t tell Joan that yet, please.”

“Hey, I have some class.”

Finally, Joan’s shift was over, or rather, her boss had noticed that she was spilling more things than not and sent her home. Sam automatically followed her and let Dean stay behind to gather the computer.

Sam caught up with her twenty steps outside of the bar. “Joan!”

She paused in her step. She had just managed to connect most of the buttons on her winter coat despite the cold wind that had been whipping the flaps every which way. She had been walking past all of the cars and toward the road. “Joan, please!”

She finally whirled. “What?”

Sam fumbled for words. “Can we give you a ride?”

“You don’t know where I’m going,” she challenged.

“Where are you going?” Sam obliged her by asking.

She reddened slightly. Her eyes dropped. “I’m staying at the motel.”

“Now isn’t that convenient?” Dean joined the conversation. He had the computer bag in one hand and the other behind his back, with his gun hidden from Joan’s sight. “So are we.”

“We can give you a ride,” Sam repeated.

The brothers watched her consider it. They saw when her pride and her fear got the best of her. She was about to refuse even as she wrapped her arms around her belly as faint protection from the weather.

“Joanie,” Dean ordered. “Get in the damn car.”

Defiant, Joan crossed her arms over her chest. “No.”

“Joan,” Sam pleaded.

“Joan,” a new voice echoed Sam’s.

Joan warily glared at the new man. He was a punk Goth that neither one of the boys had noticed in the bar. “Get in the car,” he said.

Dean had his gun pointed at the Goth. “Dude, go away.”

The young man ignored Dean and his gun, Sam standing between him and Joan, and even the weather that he was ill-dressed for. “Joan. Trust me.”

Joan wavered and then deflated. “I’m still not used to you saying that.” She turned and dragged herself to the Impala. Sam followed closely. Dean kept an eye on the Goth.

“Protect her,” the stranger told Dean as he watched Sam and Joan walk away. “It’s time that it ends.”

“What?” Uneasiness caused Dean to glance at Sam. When he turned back to the Goth, he was walking away, waving a hand over his shoulder. What the hell did that mean?

It was eerie. It was supernatural. It pinged on Dean’s radar like nothing they had ever hunted. Dean jogged to his brother’s side. “Let’s get the hell out of here before he gets back.”

Sam didn’t seem to think anything was out of the ordinary. “It’s nothing, Dean. He’s probably benign, just a little strange. Calm down, please.”

“He’s not a tame lion,” Joan muttered cryptically. “But he is good.”

Joan was a little crazy. Why quote a movie now? Dean opened the backseat door for her and let Sam close it. Dean rushed to the driver’s seat and peeled out of the parking lot. He kept an eye on the rearview mirror the whole way. No one followed them, or so it seemed.

Sam made one attempt at conversation, craning around in his seat to address Joan. “So, umm, you remember my brother Dean.”

“Yeah.”

She didn’t say anything else, and Sam apparently couldn’t come up with any other conversational gambits. After a minute or so of silence, Dean started fighting against the urge to hum Metallica. “Awkward,” he muttered, earning him a glare from Sam.

Once at the motel, Dean pulled in directly across from the room the Winchester boys were staying. He was about to ask Joan how she felt, but noticed her looking longingly to the other end of the motel. Damn, he put the key into the ignition and started the Impala back up. “Which room is yours?”

“One-eighty.”

At least it was on the ground floor, but it couldn’t be any further from the management’s office and the swimming pool. “Hey, have you been swimming?”

Joan had been in the midst of nodding when she glanced at Sam. She looked down at her belly and said, “No.” Dean didn’t need to understand women to know that she was embarrassed by how much her body had changed.

“Don’t worry about Butthead,” Dean said, hurrying to smooth out the edges. “He’s going to be doing research. I’ll be the one in the pool area to make sure you don’t drown.” He was also the one who would have the shotgun with rock salt there for protection.

“I don’t need a lifeguard,” she snapped.

“It’s just smart…” Dean looked to Sam to comfort the pregnant, tired, hurting, hormonal female but his brother just acted shell-shocked. “You’re asleep on your feet. I don’t want you to nap in the pool.”

Joan seemed to be softening, so Dean grinned and pushed. “Anyway, I need to go to the grocery store and get some stuff. You need anything; I could bring it to the pool?”

“Dill pickles,” she said immediately. Joan dug into her pocket for her tip money. “Bananas, and bread.”

Dean debated telling her to keep her money, but he didn’t want another fight when he had just avoided the last one. In the end, he pocketed it. “No milk or anything?”

“I’m good.”

“What about vitamins?” Sam finally asked.

“I’ve been good about that since I found out.” Joan was both defensive and subdued in her remarks.

Dean smiled as brightly as he dared. “Good. I’ll come walk you to the pool after shopping. Go put up your feet or something.”

Joan awkwardly slid out of the backseat and waddled to her door. She glanced back once and then disappeared behind it. Dean waited one more moment before cuffing his brother upside the head.

“Ow! Shit, Dean.”

“Get your shit together, Sam. One of us should have cased her room before she walked in there. She can’t be alone for extended periods, especially not after dusk, which it is now. She trusts you more than she trusts me.”

“You don’t know that,” Sam argued.

“A girl like that doesn’t have sex with a guy she doesn’t trust on some level.”

Sam couldn’t argue. He saw a table under an umbrella a hundred yards away. It would have a direct line of sight to Joan’s door. “I’ll be able to hear her scream from there.” It also had the added bonus that Joan probably wouldn’t be able to see him from her window. Sam grabbed his laptop and a gun.

Dean drove out of the parking lot and to the Super Mart to buy some swimming trunks and groceries. For themselves, he grabbed Lucky Charms®, milk, granola, trail mix, a couple candy bars, some apples and several big bags of salt. He had just found the bananas and was debating how many a girl would want when he got distracted by the baby clothes. He saw a tiny shirt, the kind with snaps by the butt that had writing on it that he couldn’t resist. He bought it along with the items Joan had asked for.

The total was higher than he had expected but he couldn’t use a credit card. If they were staying in town until the baby was born, they didn’t want to get a rep for phony cards. He would have to hustle some pool or play some poker to get more cash for the duration. Maybe it was a good thing that there was no supernatural –‘cept for that punk Goth- in the area. What was up with that guy anyway? He hadn’t exhibited any of the signs of demon possession and he had told Joan to get into the Impala where she was safest. She knew him; Dean wondered if it was a supernatural guardian of some kind. He hoped it was, though that was being totally optimistic. Dean knew the baby would need as much protection as possible with their enemies.

Dean mulled over security concerns. Life would be easiest if Sam and Joan fell into each others’ arms again, but neither one showed any indication that that would happen. Nights were going to be an issue. He wondered how long Joan planned to continue working. He wondered if there was any chance in hell of getting her to quit. If she quit, he and Sam could keep her up all night talking or swimming or something and let her sleep during the day.

He would have to scout out the hospital. He would need to find a way to get a gun past security fast. Joan looked like she was about to pop at any moment. He would need his guns in tiptop shape to stand guard. He’d be happiest if he’d be able to put her and the doctors behind a line of salt, but then that would raise red flags. Hell, that’d have the hospital calling the asylum people to put him in a padded room.

How were they going to convince Joan to put salt inside her door and by her window without her thinking they were crazy? Even if they managed that, how would they know that she did it right?

Dean pulled into the motel parking lot. The first thing he noticed was that Sam wasn’t where he had left him. It was bitter cold outside, but nothing should have made his brother abandon his post. Dean immediately pulled out his cell phone and texted his brother: ‘where r u?’ It wouldn’t do to be running around with his head cut off; Sam would have called him if there was an emergency. While he waited for a reply, Dean put the milk into the mini fridge in their room.

Sam finally texted back: ‘managers office looking in 2 pool.’ Dean made a face at the message. Joan hadn’t waited for him; she was an independent little thing. He didn’t know whether to admire her or curse her. He settled for grumbling under his breath. But if Joan was in the pool, Dean had some time for snooping. He grabbed his lock picking kit and the bag of salt and hurried to Joan’s room.

It took him no time at all. He slipped in and promptly took off his shoes. He didn’t want to track mud into the room that she’d notice. All in all, it was probably the cleanest motel room he had ever seen. The bed was made, which kinda made sense since she was a girl. There was a meager selection of food on top of the microwave, consisting of a box of cereal, a jar of peanut butter, and three neatly stacked cans of tuna. He checked the dresser and saw Joan’s one bag and few clothes neatly put away. There was also a knitted blanket, a tiny hat and booties waiting for the baby and just two other baby shirts with butt buttons. She didn’t have much. It was reminiscent of how the Winchesters lived.

Speaking of which, he opened the salt carefully and poured a thick line right next to the window. Then he pulled up the carpet by the door and poured salt under that. He put the carpet back and stomped on it a few times. He stepped back and frowned at it. It did make a little lump, but it wasn’t too noticeable and the door would still open and shut without much resistance. If all went well, Joan would be too distracted by Sam to notice such changes in her space.

He slipped into his shoes and hurried back to his motel room; Sam would be waiting on him. Dean quickly changed into his swimsuit and wrapped a gun in the motel’s standard white towels. He needed his coat as protection from the cold. He grabbed Joan’s three items and stuffed the baby t-shirt in with them. It was time to relieve Sam of guard duty.

Joan was floating on her back, staring up at the ceiling when Dean entered. She noticed him immediately and started treading water to hide her belly beneath the surface. Dean approved of her situational awareness but thought that her self-consciousness was just silly. He glanced through the glass door to the manager’s office and visitor’s lobby. His and Sam’s eyes met and they nodded. Sam would concentrate on serious research where he was and Dean would take care of Joan.

Dean lifted the bag of groceries for Joan. She smiled slightly in thanks, then glanced at the pool rules with a sigh. She returned to swimming the thirty feet that was the width of the deep end of the pool, being careful to keep her face and the stitches there out of the water. Dean couldn’t figure out what was the problem until he read the rules. (He had never bothered to read them before.) Oh, there was supposed to be no food or drink in the pool. That was stupid, if she was only going to eat a snack.

He grabbed a banana and waited until she returned to his side of the pool before waving it in her face. “You know you wanna,” he tempted.

She shook her head, no. “I’ll be getting out soon enough.”

“Why?” Dean asked rudely. “You looked relaxed in there. You’ve done a bit a swimming.”

Joan nodded. “I took lessons and was on the dive team for a little while.”

It was the first personal information she had offered Dean, so he was quick to continue the line of conversation. “What happened?”

“The team captain made fun of my little brother.”

Dean frowned, “so you quit?” He could admire reacting to someone harassing a brother, but quitting seemed sissy.

“Nope, got kicked off.”

Dean grinned slowly. “You made the captain pay?”

Joan shrugged, but nodded more than anything else.

“Good girl.”

Joan rolled her eyes and returned to her almost-graceful laps. She was at home in the water. He and Sam would have to start planning ahead and finding motels with swimming pools, no matter how small, if/ now that Joan and the baby would be traveling with them. It would be good post-birth exercise, wouldn’t it?

Dean wondered about the baby. “Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?” he blurted out.

“A boy,” she said softly.

Dean was cool with that. “Have you picked a name?”

Joan nodded slowly, but didn’t offer it. She tensed up until she realized that Dean wasn’t going to ask the next obvious question.

“Why did you pick your name?” he asked instead. He really wanted to know the name, but he had a feeling asking for it would close down the conversation.

Joan completed two laps before answering. Dean waited, and wondered when he had gained enough patience to deal with this scrap of a girl.

“My dad,” she finally said.

Perversely, Dean perked. “He’s dead?” Did they have something in common?

“No. But he’s my dad.”

Dean understood more than he thought he should.

Sam rushed in from the lobby area, looking worried. “Who’s your OB/GYN?” he asked.

“God,” Joan snapped.

“Good,” Sam responded. “You’re not attached to any one doctor. We’ll move to the next town. That hospital has a much better child survival rate.”

Joan went white with fear at that news, but she was already shaking her head. “No. I’m staying here. I’ve got my job here.”

“You could quit,” Dean suggested.

Joan sent him a withering glare. “I am not quitting work until my baby is born. And my baby is going to be born at the local hospital.”

“Joan,” Sam groaned. “Why? You care about the baby, why would you risk it at all?”

“I’m not risking him,” said Joan. “If there’s a problem with the hospital, then you better figure out why and fix it, ‘cause that’s where we’re going.”

Dean was noticing the stress lines reappearing on Joan’s face and once again he was playing mediator between Sam and his family. “It’s not something that needs to be decided right this instant. When are you due?”

“Sunday,” Sam and Joan chorused.

Joan looked at her baby’s father in askance.

Sam raised his hands slightly. “I can do that kind of math.”

Joan accepted the explanation and went back to her laps. Dean relaxed now that the storm had mostly blown over.

“So now that we all agree, what day of the week is it today, anyway?”

“Thursday,” Joan answered. The Winchester boys didn’t like how close they were cutting it.

“Dean,” Sam changed the subject, speaking quietly enough that it wouldn’t reach Joan’s ears. “Go see if you can find the source of the problem at the hospital. There’re a lot of deaths at night.”

Normally, Dean would have thrown a fit at being given an order by Sam, but he had planned on visiting it anyway. He did, in turn, order Joan out of the pool. “You’re turning into a prune.” Joan looked just as rebellious as Dean felt, but he knew how to deal with that. “You’re hungry anyways and I’ve got bananas out here.”

Joan procrastinated but, she too, soon relented. She climbed out and stumbled a bit knowing that both the boys were studying her body as it was revealed in the wet t-shirt and maternity shorts. She hurried to wrap herself in a towel. Then she reached for the grocery bag and pulled out a banana and the jar of pickles, studiously ignoring the Winchester brothers as she opened the jar and peeled the banana. She had taken a bite of each before noticing the fabric in the bag. She pulled it out and looked at Dean incredulously.

Sam rolled his eyes at the print on the shirt: ‘I got my good looks from my uncle.’

Joan burst into tears. Dean was more than happy to escape and leave his brother to finally take care of his mess. He took two steps outside of the pool house and shivered in his dry shorts. He was ever so glad that he hadn’t jumped into the pool. He did return to the pool house and shucked out of his leather jacket.

Sam was surprised to see him. He wasn’t succeeding in calming Joan down yet.

Dean motioned to the jacket. “It’s cold out here. She shouldn’t be out here in wet clothes with no coat. And Sam, my towel’s over there.”

Sam caught the hidden meaning.

Joan cried even harder. Dean beat a hasty retreat; the hospital was a much better assignment anyway. He hurried to get dressed into something warmer. Before he climbed into the Impala, he did check on Sam and Joan. He was relieved that they were sitting next to each other and talking. Joan had quit crying- definitely an improvement.

But they weren’t touching and that worried Dean. Damn it, Dean wanted a chance to feel the boy moving in Joan’s belly and that wouldn’t happen until after Sam got his act together. Dean brooded a bit on the way to the hospital. It was getting pretty dark. If the problem was within their normal area of expertise, he would have a better chance of seeing it now. He had no idea what he was going to say to the personnel working there. If Joan was serious about having the baby there, he couldn’t lie too much.

***

Joan caught one quick glimpse of Dean’s horrified face before he hurried out of the pool area, this time without his jacket. She knew the feeling. She had tried so hard not to cry in front of Sam, but that onesie stuffed in with her groceries had been the last straw of a very difficult day. Sam patted her shoulder awkwardly in what she figured was an attempt to comfort her, bringing out a watery laugh with her tears.

After a minute or so, she had forced some semblance of control on her emotions. “Sorry about that,” she said, edging away from Sam a little.

He took the hint and dropped his hands. “I’m pretty sure you’re entitled,” he said wryly.

Joan shook her head and looked down at the small piece of cloth clutched in her hand. “This is the only gift anyone’s gotten for the baby,” she explained, looking up at him. “The other things I have were meant for other babies first. But this was picked out just for him.” She was pretty sure this wasn’t something his brother would typically do just to get on her good side. Dean was honestly interested in the baby, already laying claim as his uncle, and Joan couldn’t explain how much that meant without opening up some painful wounds. She looked at the onesie in her hands again and sighed. “It’s the wrong size,” she said, and for some reason this almost started another spate of tears. She decided to laugh instead. “I guess he’ll have to grow into it.” The young woman stood up, took a moment to find her balance, and put her things back in the grocery bag.

Sam stood up as well, looming over her, and took the bag away. “Joan,” he began, and she looked up at him.

“No,” she said. “I know we need to talk, but I just . . .can’t right now. I’m going to my room. I’m going to take a shower and I’m going to put on some dry clothes, and probably eat something other than a banana. Then we can talk.”

“Fair enough,” said Sam. He reached for his brother’s jacket and held it out for her. Joan reluctantly unwrapped the towel, knowing that the wet T-shirt was clinging to her body, and hurried into the coat, flipping her wet hair out of the neck and avoiding looking at Sam. She picked up her room key and slipped on her shoes (even the little bit of swimming had reduced the swelling in her feet and ankles, thank God) before reaching for her groceries.

Sam held onto the bag, along with his brother’s carefully wrapped towel bundle. Joan was willing to bet that there was a weapon tucked in there, and that made her a little uneasy. It wasn’t that she thought he meant her harm, exactly, but what her father did for a living made her very aware of all the things that could happen when weapons were involved. “I can carry my stuff,” she said, reaching for her bag.

“I’ve got it,” Sam insisted. He hurried in front of her and opened the door, then followed her to her room on the other side of the motel. At first she was worried he would follow her inside, but he stopped at the door and handed her the bag.

She closed the door with a sigh of relief. She needed some time to deal with this development, and she couldn’t do it when she was being hounded by Winchesters. After she locked the door and put away her groceries, she carefully set Dean’s leather jacket on the room’s chair and went to take her shower, grabbing the roll of medical tape and protecting the line of stitches first. Getting these out in a few days would be almost as much relief as giving birth.

Her mind was working furiously as she went through the motions of getting clean. There was so much to process that it took a while for her to pick a coherent pattern. God, it seemed, had once again thrown her a curve ball.

The dreams she had been having were real. The cast on Sam’s right arm confirmed that; she had seen him break it weeks ago, shortly after she left the Carpenters. She had quit believing in coincidence while she was still in high school. That meant that the Winchesters were ghost hunters, good ones who routinely saved peoples’ lives from things most wouldn’t believe in. And God had put her right in their path.

She was a little angry about that, but there was no point in railing at God after the fact. Obviously he had put her in this place so the Winchesters would find her, just like he moved her from Chicago when Molly was hurt. Sometimes she hated the big picture. Being around Sam was just one big emotional rollercoaster waiting to happen, and she wasn’t sure she could go through it again. It would be much easier to just keep going the way she had been. Joan squelched the voice reminding her that easier wasn’t always better and rinsed the conditioner out of her hair.

She toweled off quickly and got dressed. If half of what she’d seen in her dreams was true, neither one of them was especially gifted with patience.

***

Dean walked in to the hospital feeling rather lost and he must have looked it, because one of the nurses immediately walked up to him as he was figuring out ways to bring in a shotgun readied with rock salt.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah… Uhm, my sister-in-law is this big with my first nephew.” Dean pantomimed Joan’s big belly. “We were trying to get home in time for the birth, but she’s getting queasy just looking at my car, so it’s looks like we’re stuck here… Not that getting stuck here is a bad thing or anything, but…” Dean raised his hands in surrender. “We all tried to talk her out of a road trip this close to her due date, but when Joan gets an idea into her head…”

The nurse smiled. She was kind in the matronly way. “It’s not the strangest thing I’ve heard of a pregnant woman doing.”

“Oh good, I was beginning to worry about my nephew’s sanity.”

The nurse went straight for the main desk and started picking up papers and then packets of papers. “You probably have already filled this out…” she looked at Dean’s horrified face and chuckled. “Rather, your brother or your sister-in-law has. This is a Birth Plan and other needed information such as insurance information, blood type, risk factors, etcetera. It helps everyone if we know this beforehand.”

Dean looked at all the papers. “Shit,” he muttered. He looked around. “Can I see where… it… all will happen?”

“Of course. We often do tours and if your sister-in-law calls, we’d be happy to put her at ease and introduce her to our maternity wing personnel. It will help if our people aren’t total strangers at the time for delivery.”

The nurse started leading the way. Dean surreptitiously brought out his EMF meter to check for supernatural activity. It buzzed a bit in the maternity wing, but then topped out in the nursery and pediatric unit. “Damn it.”

“What’s wrong?” the nurse asked.

“I…uh… I’m getting a… bad vibe.”

The nurse swiveled her head nervously. Her hands shook. “Not again,” she muttered. Then she attempted to retain her professional demeanor. “Maybe you should try to talk your sister-in-law into going to the next town over, if you’re that uncomfortable. It’s only an hour away.”

“She’s stubborn, ma’am.” Dean hesitated and then tried to get some information. This nurse had seen some unexplained things recently; it showed on her face. Would she admit to it though? “What happens at dark around here?”

The nurse shook her head. Her eyes weighed Dean’s interest and sanity. Apparently, he passed the test. “We don’t know,” she finally said. “We’ve doubled the attending personnel and still… children die.”

“Did anything traumatic ever happen in this hospital?”

The nurse snorted. “This is a hospital.”

“I know, I mean like a shoot out or a really disturbed personality?”

She shook her head. “It all started five years ago next month, he…”

“Richard?” A new voice interrupted. The nurse turned her head, looking guilty. This woman was obviously a supervisor. She looked Dean up and down dismissively. “Who is this?”

Dean held out his hand with a smile. “John Winchester.”

“His sister-in-law will probably be a patient within the next couple of days,” Nurse Richard explained.

“Than she should make an appointment for a tour,” the supervisor advised.

“I’ll definitely be suggesting it to her, ma’am.”

“Richard, it’s time for the evening meds.”

Richard nodded and then smiled good-bye to Dean. “Maybe I’ll see you again, Mr. Winchester.”

Dean smiled in reply. “You probably will, ma’am. Getting Joan to do anything other than what she wants is not worth the effort, especially since she never changes her mind anyway.”

Dean walked out with the papers and a clue as to what was causing the problem. Someone’s bones were going to be salted and burned very, very, very soon. He had a time frame to work from and a possible gender to narrow down suspects.

He called Sam and ordered him to start hacking in to the hospital records or checking out the local papers around the time frame given by the nurse. Dean, meanwhile, was driving to a couple other towns to fleece its less savory residents out of a lot of cash. He had pool to hustle and poker to win. He glanced down at the papers beside him and realized that he was going to have to stop at the motel first. It was going to take Joan days to fill out all the paperwork. He wondered if it was enough to keep her from her crappy job.

Dean could hope. He knocked at the door and kept an eye on both the window and the peephole to make sure Joan was taking every safety precaution. She did. She even kept the chain hooked to the door as she looked out. She looked tired, but she was dry now. She even looked warm as she passed his leather jacket out to him.

“Is this what you need?” she asked.

Dean accepted the jacket and handed her the stack of papers. “This is to make it easier to get into the hospital when my nephew makes his appearance. You’ll need days to fill it out. You better call up your boss and tell him that you can’t make it in tomorrow.”

Joan smirked at him. “You are not subtle.”

He had thought that he had been. Next time, he’d have to try harder. Or maybe not. “Waste of time.”

She flipped through the paperwork. “I’ve done this once. I’ll just copy it over.”

“You have?”

Joan nodded. “Well, except for the medical information from the father’s side.”

“Sam’s in our room. You can get the information from…” Dean glanced that way and then stopped and stared. Sam was walking toward him and Joan carrying both dufflebags. “What the…”

Joan took the chain off the door to lean out and see what had caught his attention. She realized the implications first. “You don’t have do this,” she was quick to tell Sam as he approached.

Sam tried to placate her. “We’re three doors down now. I don’t want you calling an ambulance or trying to get to our room across the parking lot when you’re in labor.”

“Good idea.” Dean said to present a united front. He saw that she also had her cell phone in hand and he had an even better idea. He stole the phone from her.

“Hey!”

“I’m just putting our cell numbers in here on speed dial so that you can get a hold of us at any time.”

“An ambulance will work just fine.”

“I drive faster,” Dean promised.

“And I’d like to be there,” Sam said quietly.

Joan stared at him in surprise.

“Please?”

“I… I…”

“You’ve done all the work thus far,” Sam fumbled to say. “I want to help, if I could- can. I don’t want you to go through this alone, if I can help it. I want to be a part of it. It is half my fault.”

Dean knew that his presence wasn’t helping this advancement to his cause, so he turned on his heel and walked back to the Impala to finish putting numbers into her phone while his brother pleaded his case. He also took advantage of the time and found Joan’s number to add to the brothers’ own contact lists. He was hopeful when he realized that Sam’s number was already on Joan’s speed dial. Dean had to respect the girl for not calling before, even when he was angry that she hadn’t. She made the decision on her own and she had been determined to follow through on her own.

He looked up and had to grin. Joan was letting Sam touch her belly. Sam looked as awestruck as Dean felt.

They looked like a family for a moment there. Dean caught a wisp of a memory of Dad and Mom in the same pose. Oddly enough the memory didn’t use their old house as a backdrop but somewhere else. Mom and Dad looked so young and unburdened, even if Dad looked more like a Marine than any of Dean’s other memories.

There was a chance, just a chance, of this working out.

That was good enough for Dean.

They just had to keep Joan and the baby alive. They had to kill that demon once and for all. Dean remained in the car until Sam was ushering Joan inside, out of the cold. Then he returned Joan’s phone and went looking for a way to get easy money.

***

She hadn’t known quite what to expect, but this had caught her flat-footed. First Dean had shown up with the paperwork for the local hospital (which she really should have gotten, but had procrastinated on. She was strangely unwilling to stray from the city limits), casually laying claim to the baby as his nephew again. Then Sam followed up with his earnest request, which left her floored. Dean had retreated, leaving his brother to watch her with something close to a plea in his eyes, and she didn’t know what to do. While she’d had help along the way, no one had stepped up and asked to be involved like Sam just had. Didn’t he realize what he was asking her?

The baby chose that moment to make his presence known, pressing little limbs outward and pulling her attention away from his father. “We woke him up,” she said, dropping one of her hands from the paperwork Dean had brought over and resting it where she could feel the movement. He repeated his actions, evidently pleased that his mother was paying attention to him. Joan looked up at Sam, and the longing on his face made her want to cry. She remembered how he’d said that his brother and father were the only family he had, and it suddenly clicked that if the dreams were real, his father had died a few months ago. He and Dean were alone in what they did. Compassion made her take the next step. “Do you want to feel him moving? He doesn’t exactly perform on command.”

Sam nodded hesitantly and placed his hand next to hers so gently that she could barely feel it. When William moved again, she grabbed Sam’s hand and moved it into place. They stayed that way until the movements subsided, his long warm fingers following the motion and fascination written on his face. Then a cold wind gusted up and made her shiver, and Sam ushered her back into her room.

Sam waited until Joan had a blanket over her shoulders and a cup of instant hot chocolate in her hands before he asked the question that had apparently been plaguing him. “Why didn’t you let me know?”

She glanced at the cell phone sitting on the table. Dean had brought it back shortly after she’d gone back inside. Sam’s phone number had been on the contacts list since she’d bought the prepaid cell that had replaced the phone her parents paid for. Joan couldn’t count how many times her finger had hovered over the send button, but the same thing always stopped her. “When I told my parents that I was pregnant, my dad told me to take care of it. ‘Fix this mistake,’ like I’d put a dent in the car or something. After I said I wouldn’t do it, he told me he wouldn’t help me and he walked away.” She clutched the Styrofoam cup and looked away, determined not to cry in front of Sam again today. “I couldn’t take another rejection, Sam. It was easier to not open myself up for one.”

There was silence for several long moments. Joan didn’t dare to look up at the man in front of her, instead keeping her attention fixed on the beverage slowly cooling in her hands. She was surprised when he reached over and touched her arm. “That’s not going to happen,” he said. He smiled at her, reminding Joan of why she’d been attracted to him in the first place, and changed the subject.

“What do you need to know to fill out this paperwork?”

***

When Dean returned to the motel room with six hundred dollars cash at five in the morning, Sam was asleep at the table. Dean wanted to join him in dreamland. For some strange reason he had relaxed once he had passed the Cooper city limits sign. He was less worried, enough that he could sleep. Instead, he checked the computer to see if his brother had found the bones of the hospital ghost. He was distracted by the picture leaning against the monitor. The picture was about three inches square and it featured an orange cloud-blob thing.

Dean picked it up and twisted it this way and that. “What the hell?” He hoped it wasn’t some sort of art thing.

“It’s your nephew,” Sam grumbled without opening his eyes.

“My nephew’s an orange blob?” Dean snorted. “Dude, what is wrong with your sperm?”

Sam’s head came up and he glared at his brother. He snatched the picture back and pointed to various places. “It’s a 3D/4D picture. It’s orange because of the frequency of the waves used to find him. Here’re his eyes, nose, fist.”

Dean blinked as the features became apparent. “Dude,” he breathed. “He’s going to look just like you.”

“You think so?” There weren’t a lot of pictures from that time in the Winchester’s life.

“Hell, yeah.” Dean stared at the picture for a couple of moments. “I’d know that pout anywhere. It got me into tons of trouble.”

Sam ignored the implied insult. “Joan let me borrow it. I told her that it didn’t seem real to me and so she showed me this. It was taken ten weeks ago.”

“Da-amn.”

“Kinda crazy, huh?”

Dean stared at the picture for a little while longer. Sam was pleased with the fascination; this was a normal uncle reaction.

“Dude,” Dean said again. “How the hell are we going to keep them safe?”

And the supernatural world came crashing in. Though, how normal was it to run into a one-night stand three days before your baby’s due? If he hadn’t checked Joan for demon possession last time, he would have been definitely checking it now. Dean seemed more inclined than Sam to accept this at face value.

But then again, he wasn’t face to face with the idea of a child to care for and protect in this very cruel world. Joan had never contacted Sam after, even though he had left a phone number. She had planned on doing this without him, they had just happened to cross paths. (Sam hated coincidences these days.) And she couldn’t protect their child against a demon that she knew nothing about. He and Dean needed to do this, there just was no other option.

It was irrational, Sam knew, but he hated Joan just a little bit for changing his reason for wanting the demon dead. Before, it was to get revenge for Jess… and some for his mother. Now, Sam was frantic to get rid of the demon to protect Joan and the baby. It wasn’t right that a one-night stand replaced the months with Jess.

Sam’s anger withered whenever he looked at Joan. She was in misery, but she tried not to complain. Sam knew that she was without her tight knit family. She had dropped out of school and left her part-time job. Sam had practically done the same not long ago. She was surrounded by strangers and being bossed around by Dean all because she believed in her choice. Joan had sacrificed a lot for those beliefs.

Sam just hoped that it wouldn’t get her killed.

“I don’t know,” he finally said. “But at least we’ve got a chance now. Can you imagine if we’d decided to go one more town over?”

His brother nodded, the idea having apparently occurred to him as well. “Why didn’t she let you know?”

Sam hesitated. What Joan had told him felt private, and it had been hard to get her to trust him after everything she’d been through. But Dean deserved to know. Hell, this might even come under the heading of needing to know in order to keep them both safe. “Her father told her to get an abortion. Kicked her out when she refused. Joan . . .Joan said she couldn’t take another rejection. Guess she was afraid I’d do the same.”

“Shit.” Dean looked furious, and Sam couldn’t blame him. To Dean, family was everything, the only thing that was really important.

“Yeah.” There wasn’t much to be said to that. What was truly amazing was that she was planning on naming the baby after her father anyway. Yet more proof that the Winchesters weren’t the only family that was a little screwed up.

“So,” Dean bluntly changed the subject. “Have you found the bastard I need to salt and burn yet for the hospital?”

“I have three options.”

“Three?”

“Dean, the only hint you gave me was five years ago next month, meaning December.”

“And male,” Dean argued.

“Even a small hospital like this one has a couple hundred male patients a month, and December is busy for all hospitals.”

“Why?”

“Family get-togethers.”

“See, little brother? Other families are more screwed up than us.”

“Few of them go hunting ghosts together. We’ve spent our fair share of Christmases in the hospital for one of us, or just getting out. Both of us have nearly died on Christmas. This many near-death experiences… Dean, we are screwed up.”

“But not that bad. We have each other.”

Sam couldn’t argue too much. “You don’t regret our childhood one iota, do you?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“I see all those people in the bars and you know what ninety percent have in common?” Dean didn’t even wait for Sam to formulate an answer. “They have nothing, no purpose. Houses, nine-to-five job? That’s nothing. They don’t know why they’re here. I’ve never had that problem. I know why I am here and that’s to dispose of as many crazy, dangerous supernatural beings as possible before I die.”

Sam breathed slowly. He never had felt that same burning purpose growing up. He hadn’t gained it until Jess died and even then, it was a sense of revenge, not purpose. Purpose was healthy, revenge was not: just look at his father.

“What about Joan?” Sam finally asked.

“What about Joan?”

“This isn’t her purpose.”

“Her purpose is keeping that baby alive.”

“In cruddy motel rooms and apartments?”

“If that’s what it takes. Joan is focused. And she’s been living in that cruddy motel room for the last two weeks.”

“How do you know that?”

“I asked the manager. She paid in cash, two weeks in advance. She’s been moving around, you can tell by looking at her stuff. I checked out her belongings when I put down salt at the window and door. She’s been living out of one bag. Sam, I think Joan knows something is following her. She won’t have a problem continuing after the baby’s born.”

“Does she think it’s someone, or something?”

“I don’t know, ask her. She’s your girl.”

“Dean,” Sam got this deer-in-the-headlights look. “Don’t start.”

“Start what?” he asked innocently.

“Matchmaking.”

“Dude, I don’t matchmake,” Dean protested.

“Remember Sarah? Yeah, you do. Joan and I… weren’t like that.”

“Well, I know you liked her quite a bit.” Dean waggled his eyebrows.

“That was nine months ago.”

“So? She hasn’t changed much, except for the fact that she’s carrying your baby around her middle.”

“Dean, I was drunk.”

“You were just a little tipsy, unless you became a total lightweight while at college. You were attracted to her. And why not? She’s exactly your type now a days: dark hair, dark eyes, smart, stubborn as hell.”

Sam shook his head.

Dean huffed. “Well then, you tell me what attracted you?”

“Dean!”

Dean folded his arms and got that bulldog look on his face. There was no way Dean was going to let this go. “Why were you attracted to Joan nine months ago?”

“She was lonely,” Sam finally answered. Outside of the moment, it was difficult to explain exactly how it had all happened. He shrugged. “She said that she was going through some stuff that no one else seemed to be going through and it was just after I accepted my visions and found out that I could move things with my mind. I had watched Max Miller kill himself. That was hopelessness. Joan… she had the exact opposite. She had this hope. She knew that whatever she was going through would be okay. It didn’t matter that no one understood.”

“Purpose,” Dean summarized. He was such a pain in the ass when he thought that he was right. “Were you hoping that it’d rub off on you?”

“Dean!”

“You were, weren’t you?”

“Dean, whatever.” He chuckled in remembrance. “That and she laughed when I ‘accidentally’ spritzed her with holy water.”

“You spritzed a one-night stand with holy water?”

“You don’t?”

Dean shifted uncomfortably. Answering this question would incriminate himself.

“Dean,” Sam teased. “How irresponsible.”

Dean really wanted to change the subject. “Do you think that she has visions too?”

The younger shrugged. “I know that her family never had a fire in her house.”

“So she could have just been whining over bad grades and a sour home life?”

Sam snorted. “She was getting good grades, at pre-law, and she loved her family dearly. It was… something else. She didn’t tell me because she didn’t think I’d believe her… I think.”

“You two talked a lot for a one night stand.”

Sam shook his head, but couldn’t argue. The sex had been enjoyable, confirming the fact that Sam had needed the stress release. One thing had led to another and Sam had taken advantage, a way to get even closer to each other after hours of spilling their guts. She had offered the physical comfort that he had craved. There had been this connection and all his childhood, Sam had tried to create (and sometimes force) connections separate from his family. The connection formed with Joan has been effortless and he hadn’t wanted it to end. He forced himself to stay in the present. To concentrate on Joan and the baby. And the demon after both of them. He looked out the window and cursed.

Dean was at his side in a moment. “Ahh, hell.”

“It’s a mite cold for that.”

Dean punched his arm and the two men stared out at the lazy, fat snowflakes drifting to the ground. “Do you think that we can get Joan to skip work?”

Sam snorted. “She’s nine months pregnant and still walking a mile and half to and from that bar in the cold. I don’t think the snow is going to be a factor.”

“Why are you over here and not with her?”

“She kicked me out at two. I called her up and talked with her on the phone for another hour.”

“More talking?” Dean grinned.

“This time, it was mostly all the places that she had been in the last eight months. We just barely missed her in Colorado last month.”

“Really?”

“Ash called too.”

Dean sobered immediately. “And?”

“He’s pretty sure that the demon has been on the move the last two months. It hasn’t caused any fires; Ash was just following the meteorological signs.”

Dean glanced warily toward Joan’s room. “Has it…?”

“I think so. The demon vanished off his radar two weeks ago after taking an entire family out.”

“Why aren’t you out there?”

“The manager started asking questions and threatened to call the cops.” A smirk. “I saw him sneaking in and out of his mistress’s room. So I put a line of salt on the outside of her doors and stayed near.” Sam shook his head. “I guess that’s just extra since you did it on the inside. I noticed the window but didn’t realize that you had pulled up the carpet by the door. I talked Joan into calling me if she wakes up and is uneasy for any reason. I made her promise.”

Dean huffed, grimaced and crossed his arms. “She should still be sleeping?”

“I hope so, she’s going to get quite a workout very soon.”

“I’ll pick the lock of her room and watch over her.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“You’re right. You should go watch over her and let me catch some zzz’s.”

“Dean!”

“Tell her that you’re worried about the snow and that you want to know about contractions as soon as they start. If the roads are going to be hellish, we’ll need as much time as possible.”

“She’s going to think I’m hovering. And there is always a chance that the baby will be late.”

“Dude, our hovering now is nothing compared to what we’re going to be doing for the next six months.”

Sam couldn’t argue with that. They would not be letting Joan out of their sight for quite a while. He had no idea how he was going to explain that one to Joan either. Or the supernatural hunting. That was going to be a fun conversation; every girl they’ve previously told about it has thought that they were insane until they had experienced it.

Sam grabbed his coat and his laptop. Dean was more right than wrong: he needed to be near Joan and he had to narrow down the grave that Dean needed to dig up. The three doors to Joan’s room took no time at all. He couldn’t talk himself into picking the lock, so he knocked on the door. Joan answered the door in her flannel nightgown before he had to knock a third time, checking through the window before she opened it a crack.

“Sam?”

“It’s snowing,” he blurted out. “I… I wanted to be close in case the contractions start. We’ll need plenty of time to drive to the hospital.”

Joan blinked slightly, but let him in without further complaint. She was in stocking feet and he hurried to shut the door behind him.

“Please, just go back to sleep. I’ll be quiet.”

Joan warily climbed back into bed and lay on her side, facing away from Sam. He could tell by her breathing that she wasn’t sleeping twenty minutes later. She shifted yet again.

“Can I help?” he asked softly. “I’ve read that your lower back is probably aching. Rubbing it sometimes helps.”

Joan didn’t answer for a while. “Do you mind?”

Sam smiled. “I wouldn’t have offered if I did.”

“Please.”

Sam closed down his computer and took off his boots. He sat on top of the covers, leaning against the headboard and rubbed through the many layers of fabric to ease the ache in Joan’s back. It took thirty minutes for her to relax at his touch and another twenty for her to fall back to sleep. He was sure that his hand would fall off before that happened, but continued to rub until she was deep into dreamland. He sat beside her and contemplated just how weird and wrong his life was. He looked over at the face of the woman about to bear his child and realized that she had quietly cried herself to sleep.

Her life was weird, and wrong too, and about to get worse.

He could only hope she would be able to handle it.

He reached over to the table and grabbed his laptop (small motel rooms and long arms meant that nothing was truly out of reach). He opened it up again and continued searching for clues.

Two hours later, Dean quietly tapped on the window in a syncopated rhythm that Sam knew as well as his own heartbeat. Sam hurried to the door and slipped out before Joan could awake again.

“How’s it going?”

“She’s sleeping.”

“Good. And the hunt?”

“I think you have to talk to the chatty nurse again. Get some better clues. We really don’t know why some people become ghosts and others don’t and we can’t tell by looking back at their psych reports. Once she gives you a name or a description, I do know where each one is buried.”

Dean grimaced. “I don’t like being that far away.”

“We can always call an ambulance if you’re not close enough.”

Dean’s glare indicated his opinion of that.

“We need the spirit taken care of before she goes into labor and that can happen at any time.”

“I know, I know. Hey, I’ve got an idea; she can come with me and tour the maternity wing like Richard suggested.”

Sam shook his head no. “She’s insisting on working tonight and she needs as much sleep between now and then as possible. Be back by four so that she’ll ride and not walk there.”

Dean grumbled but nodded his agreement. “Before that happens, you need to get some sleep. I’ll stay with her.”

Sam frowned. “I’m not sure if that’s a good idea. She doesn’t know you.”

“She’s got to get used to me sometime. You’re no good to either of them if you drop from exhaustion. Get some sleep, Sammy.”

Sam looked from Joan’s hotel door to his brother. Dean was correct: he desperately needed sleep. Things were about to get hectic and all of them had to be acting at their highest capacity. Dean was also the last person Sam wanted anywhere near a pregnant woman. He was rude, crude, and had no respect for personal boundaries (I love the smurfs). Sam could always count on Dean to protect someone, but he felt that carefully handling someone was coddling and Dean didn’t believe that anyone should be coddled.

“Dean…”

“I’ll be good,” his brother promised with a grin. “Or you could always sleep next to Joan, right here?”

Case in point. Sam glared at his brother and muttered ‘jerk’ even as he let Dean into Joan’s room and retrieved his jacket. Dean was manipulating him and they both knew it. Sam left the one hotel room quickly, entered another and collapsed on his bed without taking his shoes off. He opened his eyes long enough to know that the protective salt was correctly placed. As his mind started shutting down, Sam wondered where the ultrasound picture was.

Dean would have placed it somewhere safe….

***

Azazel’s current meatsuit wasn’t really suited to screaming with the intensity that he truly wanted, so he left it behind and took to the atmosphere as black smoke. He kicked off a disastrous flash flood in the desert, three freak lightening storms that took away power from an entire county, and made a herd of cattle drop head before he was calm enough to think rationally.

Sam Winchester had disappeared, less than a week after the demon had lost the little slut that was pregnant with his child.

They had to be found. Samuel was the frontrunner in his plans, far and away the best-trained and strongest of the marked children. For him to go missing now, when everything was heating up, did not bode well for his plans. Especially since Azazel had no idea how the brat could disappear.

***

Chapter 6

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