?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Chapter 6

Joan awoke tired, but at least her back and ankles and feet weren’t too sore. She flushed slightly at the memory of Sam rubbing her back, but the rewards greatly outweighed the humiliation.

“Oh good, you’re up.”

Joan’s head turned toward the semi-familiar voice. Sometime while she had been sleeping, Sam had left and Dean had replaced him. The brother was grinning at her (like one would smile at a wild animal) as he was putting the ultrasound picture of William into his wallet. Joan had thought that she was close to her family, but that was the tip of the iceberg in comparison to the Winchester brothers.

Sam trusted Dean, Joan knew this to her very bones. That didn’t mean that Joan could trust him. She really wasn’t interested in getting to know him in addition to all her other problems. That would be like going straight from a rollercoaster to a tilt-a-whirl.

“Are you okay?” Dean asked worriedly. It had taken too long for her to answer. “Can I get you water, or coffee or something?”

“I gotta get rid of water,” she grumbled, “and I’m off coffee until the baby makes his grand début.”

“The john’s empty.”

Joan flushed again that he had heard her complaint. She ignored him as she tried to leverage herself out of the bed.

“You wanna hand?” Dean asked, “Or should I call for a tow truck?”

Joan’s jaw dropped at his insensitivity. He might even be worse than Grace. Without thinking about it, Joan grabbed a pillow and threw it at him. Dean caught it with a grin and said, “Oh, good. You have a sense of humor. You’ve got one up on Sammy.”

Joan struggled a little more, getting her feet under her. “Why hasn’t your brother smashed a pie in your face yet?”

“Hmmmm, pie good.”

Joan snickered in spite of herself.

“Seriously, Sam can take care of himself. He superglued my hand to a beer bottle during our last prank war.”

“Good for him.” Joan finally stood and tried to ignore Dean’s sharp eyes watching her every move. With a sigh of relief, she retreated into the bathroom. A set of Braxton-Hicks came while she was washing her hands, and the young woman stayed in the tiny bathroom until it was over. She didn’t know how long she had dallied but not nearly long enough for Dean to start pounding on the door.

“You fall in in there, Joanie?” he called. “I even made sure that I left the toilet seat down.”

Embarrassing. Joan flushed the toilet and washed her hands, refusing to acknowledge the remark. After trying to regain her composure, she opened the door. Dean examined her head to toe.

“I can see why Sammy was attracted to you,” he said, almost to himself. “He’s got great taste in women.”

“You really are a dog.” Joan couldn’t believe she had let that slip out.

The insult didn’t bother Dean, at all. He grinned again and shrugged. “Yep, but I’m one of those adorable dogs that are really protective of their family.”

Joan couldn’t argue with that. She rolled her eyes and flicked the last water droplets from washing her hands at Dean’s face. He smiled more and didn’t flinch.

Dean stepped back to let Joan pass. She made a beeline for the food and rummaged in the mini-fridge for the orange juice, pouring herself a cup.

“I would have gone out to get you some food, but I didn’t know what you’d like.”

Joan nodded. It made sense. “You really don’t know anything about me.”

“Yeah. Like, are you bribable?”

Joan faced him at such an odd question. “Why?”

“I’ve got a pile of embarrassing Sammy stories and I’ll trade them if you’ll tell me the baby’s name, or let me feel him moving, or if you don’t go into work. Or best yet, you let me drive you to a different hospital.” Dean was mostly serious, though he was wearing a used car salesman smile. “What will it take?”

Joan had taken her pre-natal vitamins during Dean’s little speech. “I’m not really bribable,” she finally said. “You can find out the name with everyone else and you can’t talk me out of work or the hospital.”

“But why not?”

“It’s something that I have to do.”

“But why?”

Joan tilted her head. “Are you sure that you are the older brother and not the younger?”

“Hell, yeah. Been taking care of him since he was born.”

“You sound like a little brother, always asking why.”

Dean agreed. “I swear that is still Sammy’s favorite word.”

Joan smiled back. “Same with my younger brother, Luke.”

“Does he want to be a lawyer like you?”

Joan nearly snorted her juice. She glared at Dean as he was laughing at her.

“Well, tell me about your brother,” Dean prompted. “You know mine… in the Biblical sense.”

Joan rolled her eyes and ignored the comment. “Someday, he’ll be named among the great scientists like Edison, Einstein and Newton.”

Dean faked a solemn appearance. “Yes, this year’s Nobel Prize winning, joining the esteemed ranks of Einstein and Newton is Joan’s Little Brother, Luke. What the hell is your last name anyway?”

“Girardi.”

Dean nodded once. “How good is your fake ID?”

“Don’t have one. Why would I need one?”

“How are you getting by without it?”

Joan smiled. “Someone upstairs is definitely looking out for me. I haven’t needed anything and I keep getting paid under the table.”

“It’s good to have one… or a few anyways, for emergencies. Do you have any preferences as to your other names?”

“Are you serious?”

“Yep. How about Pat Benatar?”

“Where did you think up that name? Do I seriously look like a ‘Pat’?”

Dean scratched the back of his neck. “Well, now that you mention it…” he drawled. “I can think of a name that rhymes with Pat.”

Joan started looking for something to throw at him. “You are skating on thin ice,” she warned when she couldn’t find anything that wouldn’t be damaged by the trip.

He grinned. “You didn’t answer about the other one.”

She glanced at the clock before she turned her head back to him. She had slept much later than she had planned, but there were still two hours until she needed to start her walk to work. “What?”

“I’ll go get whatever you want to eat for breakfast,” he began, then looked at the clock and rolled his eyes, “make that lunch, if you let me feel the baby moving.”

Joan made a face. “I’m actually not that hungry.”

Dean stared. “You’re kidding.”

She shrugged, her hands coming down to rest on her belly. “There’s no room in there for anything but baby now.”

“Another myth shot to hell,” he said, grinning. “Sure you don’t want anything? ‘Cause I’m starving.”

Joan considered this for a moment. Asking for food would probably give her a little privacy while he got it. Being in a room alone with either Winchester was a little . . . intense. She could use some time to regroup. “Pancakes?”

“Consider it done.” He was already reaching for his jacket.

“And can you bring back some jellies? Strawberry or plum or apple butter would work too.”

“On it.” Dean had one hand on the door when he turned to look at her. She was caught by his intense gaze. “Joanie, don’t leave this room without one of us.”

“But…”

“Promise me, or I’ll wake up Sam and he can sit with you for the rest of the day.”

“I can handle myself.” She suddenly felt like a petulant three year old. “I’ve taken care of everything for the past nine months.”

“You did a good job but everyone should have somebody to help and your somebody is me. Promise me that you won’t leave, Joanie.”

Joan didn’t know whether she wanted to scream or cry. Dean’s eyes didn’t allow for either. “Fine. I promise.” Dean barely shrugged at the anger in her voice; he was just happy with the promise.

“I’ll be back with pancakes,” he said, slipping out the door.

Joan locked the door behind him and went to get dressed while she had a little privacy.

***

Sam and Dean took up their posts in the restaurant while Joan clocked in and tied on an apron. She had made a point of introducing them to the manager as soon as possible, and Sam was surprised at the man’s protective attitude. He asked them question after question, seemingly judging their intentions, before he was satisfied and retreated back to his office.

Joan began her rounds, taking orders and delivering them with a minimum of fuss, and the brothers settled into the task of watching over her. She brought over two cheeseburger platters and cokes without them asking about an hour into her shift, and was unloading them onto the table when she dropped the tray. Sam took in her expression and the white knuckles of the hand gripping the back of the empty chair. “Time to go,” he said.

“No,” Joan said, the word coming out harsh. “The first stage of labor can take hours.”

Sam glanced at his brother, and Dean nodded and headed around toward the back. He returned with the manager. “All right, kiddo, time to go,” Dean said. “This place isn’t rated for a floor show.”

The young woman managed a glare despite her obvious pain. “You aren’t as funny as you think you are. This part could take a really long time. I don’t want to spend it all at the hospital.”

Her boss knelt down and picked up the tray. “Don’t be silly, girl. The ride to the hospital, in this weather, could last hours too.” He disappeared into the back, reappearing with her coat and a to-go box. He slid the hamburgers into the box as he talked. “Just take care of yourself and the little one. We’ll see you when you come back.”

“I don’t think I’ll be coming back,” Joan said quietly. “I think I’ll be moving on soon.”

The man nodded. “Then be careful.” He looked at Sam pointedly. “And you better watch out for them, young man.”

Sam nodded and helped Joan into her coat before ushering out to the car. Dean had the engine idling as Sam guided her into the back seat. He slipped in beside her when she gripped his arm and refused to let go, the only sign Dean had seen that she was as frightened as he knew his brother was. Until now, she’d seemed mostly in control of herself, fits of tears aside, but when he looked in the rearview mirror to make sure they were situated, he caught a moment of terror before she looked down and away.

The snow turned the drive into a crawl, partly because of unplowed roads and partly due to bad drivers. Twice Dean had to guide the Impala into a controlled spin-out when someone drifted out in front of him and then slowed down. The first time it happened, Joan had been in the middle of a contraction and his passengers had been too distracted to really notice until it was over, but the second time he bumped over a curb before bouncing back down onto the road. There was a slight gasp from the woman in the back, and then Sam’s voice, panicked and a little higher-pitched than normal. “Holy shit!”

“What?” Dean didn’t want to take his eyes off the road when other people were such idiots.

“My water just broke,” Joan said, her voice strained.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean swore. “Are we going to make it?”

“Um, yeah?” She snorted despite the situation. “This isn’t TV. We’ve got hours.”

Dean rolled his eyes. It wasn’t like he’d needed to know something like that before now. “How bad is the mess?”

“Pretty bad,” Sam admitted.

Dean swore again and concentrated on driving. They made it to the hospital parking lot without further incident, and Dean parked the Impala in the emergency bay and hustled inside. He was back with a wheelchair and two nurses by the time Sam had helped Joan climb out of the back seat.

The small, oddly put-together family was escorted to the maternity wing with little fanfare. Once there, Dean grabbed Nurse Richard and swung her into an alcove.

“She’s in the best of hands,” Richard was quick to reassure him. “There really is no need to hurry right now, the baby won’t be born for a few hours.”

Dean didn’t bother to mess around. “I need the name of the guy who’s haunting the hospital.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she tried to convince herself.

“We both know that’s not true. Lady, you give me a name and I promise you I can make him stop killing children.”

She looked at him with hope in her eyes. “You can make it stop?”

“I plan on making it stop before my nephew is the next one dead.” Dean’s conviction echoed in his every movement.

She finally believed him. “Thomas Scott. He should be dead, he is dead, a shootout happened in this hospital when he tried and succeeded in killing his kids right in front of us, but I swear to you, I’ve seen him, walking around. He disappears just when I chase him around a corner. Then another child dies.”

“No more will die. Thank you.” He met Sam’s eyes long enough to convey where he was running off to. Poor Sam was arguing with the staff (and Joan) trying to make them make Joan’s pain stop now.

Dean ran out of the hospital and to his car. Sam had left three folders on the front bench seat, one for each of their ghost suspects. The boxed up food was sitting on top. Dean shoved it away; he’d eat later. He grabbed the folder labeled ‘Thomas Scott.’ The man had reportedly killed his own children at the hospital because ‘they had been in pain and death would be better for therm.’ He was buried at Peaceful Valley Cemetery twenty miles out of town.

Damnit.

Of course, it had to be the cemetery furthest from town. Dean floored it and was very happy for the snow tires and the sheer weight of the car that was giving him traction. He had somewhere to be to protect his family and no damned snowstorm was going to slow him down.

***

Joan paced back and forth in the birthing room. Sam walked at her side with an arm out to support her every time a contraction hit.

She’d done the research with Patricia and Charity, back when she was in Chicago, and done reading on her own after she’d left. She had made the decision to try this method over the others, and to refuse drugs. Despite all her research, Joan admitted to herself that she hadn’t been truly prepared for this. She was suddenly, fiercely glad that Sam was there. There was no way she could have done this by herself.

The doctor was obviously pissed with Joan’s preferences and finally snapped, “If you wanted to have a birth standing up, you should have gone to one of those hippy birthing centers.”

Sam snapped back, “Next time, we will!”

Joan lost her balance at Sam’s declaration and he righted her. “Can we concentrate on this one, please?”

“You could get on the bed and pretend that you know what you’re doing. Oh, that’s right, you don’t.”

“Quit it.” Sam was as worried as the doctor about Joan’s insistence on non-traditional birthing methods. The pacing made the hospital staff nervous, which in turn made Sam nervous. That and Joan was in pain. She was refusing the hardcore pain relievers. Why was she putting herself through this?

Joan had another contraction and Sam held her upright. He glanced at the bed. He was visibly two seconds away from sweeping her up in his arms and depositing her on the awaiting bed despite her wishes.

“Joan…”

“You’re not helping either,” she breathed through gritted teeth. “I’m using gravity.” She had explained what she had planned while they filled out the hospital paperwork the other night, but had the feeling he hadn’t really been prepared for this either.

Sam tried to loosen his grip on her arms. “What do you want me to do?”

“Help me keep going.”

Sam was shaking. She could feel the tremors in his hands where they held her arms, and felt a little bit put out. He was absolutely not allowed to flip out on her right now. She felt another contraction coming and reached up to grab onto his arms, struggling to breathe through it. “You promised,” she finally managed when the pain ebbed away a little. “If you aren’t going to help me, you can go wait with your brother.” Even as Joan said the words, she knew she didn’t mean them. The idea of going through this without him terrified her now, and if Sam tried to leave she would do anything she could to prevent it.

Thankfully, Sam was already shaking his head ‘no.’ “I’m staying,” he insisted.

Joan relaxed slightly despite the pain, and she managed a smile. “Good.” She wouldn’t have to do this alone. No matter what happened afterwards, Sam was here and he was staying through this. She could deal with anything that came afterwards.

***

Dean paced the halls of the hospital. He was alone in the waiting room except for the little blonde girl coloring, but she ignored him. Dean had made several circuits of the hospital; if demons would enter, it would be through here. None were coming at the moment and Dean was very grateful. It had been hours since Joan’s water had broken and Dean had rushed her and Sam to the hospital amid the snowstorm. In the meantime, Dean had managed to find, salt and burn the bones of the disturbed father who had been killing kids. (It was hell digging up frozen ground in the snow alone.) He had scrubbed the amniotic fluid out of the Impala and eaten the sandwiches. He had gone shopping for the baby. He had gotten everything from blankets and bottles and formula to a rattle and a car seat. Sam had given him explicit instructions on what kind of car seat he could buy, according to crash test ratings and the fact that the Impala didn’t have seat belts in the back. His brother had also done all the research on what he would need to do to the Impala to make the car seat stable. Knowing that he was proposing changing something on Dean’s baby, Sam had done extensive research to what would be reversible as soon as the rug rat didn’t need the safety seating. All this was in the grocery cart and the cashier had teased him, telling him that he had everything but the baby and diapers. To his great chagrin, Dean had forgotten the number one dirty fact of babies, the diapers. He had run to the correct section and grabbed the biggest bag of newborn diapers the store carried. (Who knew that there were so many choices?) He used a fake credit card this time, but wasn’t worried. They would leave town as soon as the doc said Joan was released.

Dean paced some more. How long did it take to have a baby anyway?

“It takes a long time,” the little girl suddenly spoke.

“Huh?”

“Babies. They take a long time.” She pushed her glasses higher on her nose and then offered Dean a crayon. “Would you like to color?”

“Ahh, no thanks.” Dean waved her off. He needed to keep both hands free and the little girl out of the line of fire. “Maybe you should go color elsewhere.”

“It’s going to be okay, Dean. It’s safe here now.”

Dean backed away from the little girl. How did she know his name? “Christo,” he said.

“Yes?” she answered sweetly.

That was not the expected reaction. Dean flicked his hipflask of holy water at her and the stream of water landed on her. The water slowed, it changed.

It sparkled where it landed on her and didn’t make her clothes wet. She giggled with delight and held out her hands to feel more of it raining down on her. “Do you want it back?” she offered. The sparkles dripped down her hair and face and collected in the palm of her left hand in ways that defied gravity. “It’ll be of more use to you now.”

“Oh, hell,” Dean whispered.

“Not quite yet,” a new dark voice whispered in Dean’s ear. Dean whirled around, pulling out his gun with rock salt. There stood before him was a beautiful woman and three of her beautiful sisters. Their eyes glittered demon-black. “It’s time for your family to die.”

“No,” said the little girl.

“Who do you think you are?” the red-head challenged her.

“I am.”

The far-right of the demon possessed fell down in pain and started scooting back, crab-like. The other three were stepping back…

In fear?

“You are not allowed here,” the little girl declared. “Be gone.”

Dean watched as the demons fled those they had possessed. The black evil dispersed. The four beautiful women dropped to the floor without the demons to hold them up. Two immediately turned old, one turned ugly. The last one didn’t change, but she snarled at Dean and his pint-sized protector, “We wanted them. We invited them in. Look what you’ve done!” All four women stumbled out of the hospital and away. The little girl was watching the whole proceeding sadly. She sighed with regret and picked up another crayon.

“Are you sure you don’t want to color with me?”

Dean shook his head. “I don’t believe in you.”

“Of course you do. You just hate me for not saving your mother… and your father.” The child was so matter-of-fact.

“Ya, so where were you then?”

Dean had heard of old eyes, of sad eyes. He had even thought that he had seen them several times in his life, but none of those compared to the ageless, mourning eyes now before him. “I was there.”

“Why didn’t you stop it?”

“There’s a reason for the way everything happens, Dean. You aren’t ready yet to know them. But something you do need to know is that you wouldn’t like who you would have become without it. And Sam still would have been a target, without knowing why or how to fight it.”

Or without him to protect his little brother. Dean winced. He looked at the girl and she looked at him. He broke the gaze first. Finally, his practical nature made him blurt out, “I’ll take that water back if you’re still offering.”

She held out her (small child’s) hand. Dean’s hands shook as he held out the bottle for her to return the liquid to. When he had most of it, she put her hands on Dean’s. And a cell phone in his hand. “Joan is very special to me. As is your family. Protect them.” She smiled slyly. “You know, it was very nearly you in that delivery room waiting for your baby. You certainly gave me plenty of opportunities to make it happen. You need to consider that.”

Dean nodded drunkenly. He stood and stared as he watched the little girl walk away. No one else even noticed that she was there.

And then she turned a corner and he couldn’t see her.

Dean couldn’t breathe. He didn’t believe this. He couldn’t believe this.

What on earth was he going to tell Sam?

Strong arms lifted Dean off his feet. He struggled and kicked out. He and his attacker lost their balance and crashed to the floor.

“Whoa,” Sam was laughing. “It’s just me.”

Dean calmed a bit, still shaken by what had happened.

“Everything okay?” they asked each other.

Dean raised his (shaking) hands in confusion and finally nodded. “Joanie? And the baby?”

“William John,” Sam declared proudly as he helped Dean to his feet. “Born at about seven o’clock, seven pounds, one ounce and twenty-one inches long. He’s skinny and he has a good set of lungs. Joan’s doing really good.” Now Sam looked chagrined. “She did better about the pain and the new baby than I did.”

“Did you pass out?” Dean asked.

“No,” Sam frowned. “Why would I have done that?”

“Dad did. At your birth. I remember Mom teasing him, I think.” Hadn’t he been too little to have remembered that? Why was he so sure it had happened now?

Sam laughed and then looked around at the pristine waiting room. “What happened that has you so jumpy? Did a demon come?”

Dude, you knocked up a servant of God. You are so going to Hell for this.”

“Dean…”

“Seriously, you did. God was waiting in this room with me. And He kicked out four demons with just a word. Like that,” Dean snapped his fingers. “You should have seen what He, She, I’m not sure, did with Holy Water. It sparkled. She said that Joan was special and to protect her.” He was babbling, and he wasn’t even sure he believed what he was saying entirely, but he couldn’t stop.

Sam didn’t look like he really believed his brother, but Dean was so obviously shaken that something must have happened.

“You are so going to Hell,” Dean repeated.

And it didn’t matter so much as Joan and William were alive and without pain right now. “Okay… anyway, they’re cleaning up Joan and William right now. I’ve gotta go and make sure the room’s safe, that you burned the right bones, then I’ll be back as soon as they say I can bring back family.”

Dean slapped Sam’s back. “Congrats, Daddy.”

Sam escaped before Dean’s weird mood could affect him. Dean sat down where the little girl had been sitting and coloring. He realized that she had drawn a picture of a baby boy and written, ‘Someone should tell Joan’s family,’ on the paper with her childish scrawl. Dean looked at Joan’s cell phone the girl had given him and checked the contacts. ‘Home’ was speed dial two.

Dean hit send and passed along the information he knew to the answering machine.

***

Helen set a sack of groceries on the counter and her purse on a chair before she took off her coat. “Will?” There was no answer, but his car was in the driveway so he had to be home. The light was blinking on the answering machine as she walked past to start a pot of coffee, so she hit the button.

An unfamiliar, but distinct male voice came through the speaker. “William John. Born about seven this morning, seven pounds one ounce, twenty-one inches long. He and Joan are doing fine.” The connection clicked off and the message ended. Helen hurried to play it again, listening with tears in her eyes as the scanty information played out into the otherwise silent room.

After listening to the message twice more and writing down every word from the unknown man, she saved it and headed upstairs. Her husband was sitting on Joan’s bed, exactly where she knew he would be. There was an empty glass sitting on the nightstand, and Helen was secretly glad it wasn’t an empty bottle. She sat down next to Will and slipped one hand between his two.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Helen knew that there was nothing she could really say to make this any easier. Will had regretted the words he’d spoken within an hour, but that had been an hour too late. Joan had disappeared so quickly and effectively that not even the combined efforts of Will, Kevin and Luke Girardi could find her. This was the most direct contact they’d had with their daughter since the day she left. Other than a few secondhand e-mails from a child in Missouri and a short appearance in an emergency room in Colorado, Joan could have been transported to another galaxy for all they knew.

“She named it after me,” he finally said. “Why would she do that?”

Helen took a long time in answering. “You’re still her father, Will. And Joan loves you. That’s enough.”

***

Joan woke up in a couple of hours, suffered through the trip to the bathroom and then waited. The nursing staff had promised that she and William would be released within twenty-four hours if they didn’t find any problems, and she was ready to be out of here. Sam was asleep right beside the window. Dean had closed the door to her private birthing room and was sleeping in a chair there. That door couldn’t be opened without it hitting him. He and the nursing staff had had a fight every hour as they checked on Joan and her son.

Sam had hissed them into silence the first two times. By the third time, Joan took over and just told the nurses to knock louder than they had been and then wait five seconds for Dean to move. She told Dean to move when they knocked. Both parties had been shamed into submission. She had caught Sam hiding a smile at how fast Dean tried to accommodate her. Considering how happy the brothers had been that she and William would spend their hospital visit in the same room the whole time, they were sure causing problems. Dean very nearly got himself kicked out of the maternity wing. Only two things prevented that from happening: Dean’s champion in Nurse Richard and Sam almost begging Joan to take their side in the argument.

Joan sighed and snuggled her sleeping son closer to her side. In spite of it all, Joan was very pleased with her choices; William was precious. It was amazing that this was the little person that had been in her belly for nine months.

But she still needed to distract herself from her own thoughts. She grabbed the remote and turned on the TV as quietly as possible.

“Congratulations Joan,” the familiar news anchor greeted. “You did a wonderful job.”

She should have expected this, but she was still flying high from the euphoria of William being born. “Thank you for him,” she said sincerely. “He’s perfect.”

“No. He’s not perfect, but he is very special.” God corrected her. “You are going to have a lot of changes now.”

“Caring for William,” she assumed.

“That as well. Joan, you have to stay with Sam and Dean. They’ll protect you as well as they can.”

“Will it be enough?”

“That depends on free will. You did notice the salt lines and their guns. They have a pretty good understanding of what’s out there.”

Joan winced. “So mostly follow their directions?”

“Yes, except in twelve days, follow them when they leave the hotel. Take a loaded shotgun and a bag of salt. You’ll figure out the rest. You can tell them everything then.”

“What!?”

Joan’s shriek woke all three of the males in her room. Anchor God droned on about some circus bear that had escaped and killed a person in the area. Sam was the first to react. He stood and (with his height easily) reached the mounted TV and turned it off.

“You shouldn’t let anything upset you,” he chided carefully.

Dean sidled up to Joan’s bed and peeked at his mewling nephew. “He cries like a kitten,” he complained.

“For that,” Joan said, “you get to settle him at three in the morning when he’s screaming.”

Dean considered it. Obviously it wasn’t much of a threat to him. “It can’t be worse than his father with colic.”

It was sometimes hard to comprehend that Dean had the most parenting experience of all three of them. And sometimes not. Right now he was shifting back and forth, his hands twitching. He glanced at Joan’s face and then back at the baby.

“Would you like to hold him?”

Dean was already reaching for William. “God, yes,” he breathed. He tucked the baby close and reverently touched the tiny hands. “You and me are going to be best buds and I am always going to be around to protect you,” Dean promised.

Joan couldn’t stop the tears that were welling in her eyes at the obvious tenderness and heartfelt honesty. Dean happened to glance at her and he looked absolutely horrified at her tears. “Are you hurting?” he immediately assumed. He was already heading toward the door. “I’ll get a nurse.”

“Dean,” Joan offered a watery chuckle. “It’s not pain.”

“Is it a girl thing?”

Joan shrugged.

“It could be a pregnancy thing,” Sam offered. “She does have a lot of extra hormones floating through her body.”

“It’s a Joan thing,” the woman in question said. “I cry, more than some, less than others.”

“Well, stop it,” Dean ordered.

“Dean!” Sam was scandalized. “You can’t tell a girl… a woman who just gave birth to stop crying.”

“If you’re hurt, you’re allowed to cry,” Dean was being more serious than not. “Otherwise, it’s a waste of water and salt. Two very important items for survival.”

Joan laughed through her tears. “Ordering that is not going to make an ounce of difference. I’m a girl, we cry. Even Grace cries… occasionally.”

“That’s just wrong.”

“’Cause it makes you feel all helpless?” Teasing Dean was almost as fun as teasing Luke or Kevin.

Dean shifted a bit a being pegged. He glared as much as he dared to glare at a woman in a hospital bed.

“Dean, if it makes you feel any better, I promise that I will never cry to get my way.”

Sam heaved a sigh of relief.

Joan tapped Sam’s arm. “Take a picture,” she ordered. “You have to take a picture.”

Sam couldn’t argue. He dug out his phone and snapped a shot. Dean who normally avoided cameras posed and held the baby up so that his face could be seen. Then he handed over his own phone and kept the pose. Sam smirked but obediently snapped another picture with Dean’s phone.

It took a few minutes for things to calm down and Dean to return the baby, but eventually both Sam and Dean settled back into sleep in their chairs. Joan resumed her appraisal of her newborn son. He had dropped back to sleep not long after Dean had given him back. The hospital had bundled him up in several loose layers, and she carefully unwrapped him to get a better look.

“Can I see?”

Joan looked up, a little startled, to see that Sam had slipped out of his chair and was leaning over the bed. She nodded, and he pulled up his seat and hung over the bed rail. The light that filtered through and around the blinds was good enough that she could see both of them clearly, but the baby was the much safer object of perusal. She worked the fingers of one fist free with gentle motions, smiling when he reflexively grabbed onto one of her own. “He’s got such long fingers,” she whispered.

“They match his toes,” Sam replied, just as quietly, as he worked on replacing the sock he had just removed. He had such a look of concentration on his face that Joan nearly laughed. The tiny garment looked even smaller in Sam’s hands. “He’s so small,” he breathed, and Joan knew that whatever reservations Sam had about her, they were in no way transferred to her son.

“Way too little for such a big name,” she agreed. She’d been calling him William all along, but that didn’t really seem to fit him now that he was here.

“Will?” Joan winced and shook her head, and Sam didn’t push. “Bill?”

“Too grown-up. Maybe he can go by that when he’s older.”

And so William John had gotten dubbed ‘Billy’ before he even was strapped into the car seat for the first time. The nursing staff had put up a fuss; they wouldn’t let the baby leave without seeing the car seat that was going to be his home for the next six to eight months. Dean teased them saying that Billy had the Winchester charm already and the girls just didn’t want to see him leave. Nurse Richard said that the entire family was welcome to stay at her place for a while.

Dean nodded once in acknowledgement of the sincere offer but insisted that they needed to get on the road.

Joan’s first day out of the hospital went by in a blur. She and Billy both slept in the back seat of the Winchester car, except for the times she spent feeding and changing the newborn. She had vague impressions of rest stop bathrooms and a couple of half-eaten fast food meals, but the only things that she truly remembered were the rumble of the car engine, two deep masculine voices speaking quietly in the front seat, and the dissonant sound of guitars turned down low.

The next few days were a little clearer. They were still spent in the car, but she managed to follow and occasionally add to the conversations taking place in the front seat. For some reason, they seemed reluctant to stop at a motel for the night. Joan wasn’t sure if this was a money thing, or if they knew the same thing that God had told her back in Missouri and were evading possible attention from unspecified evil. When she asked (okay, whined, but she had good reason) for the chance to clean up, they pulled into a truck stop and waited outside the door while she plunked in a handful of change for a depressingly short shower.

It was unbelievably awkward at times, spending all this time within arms reach of Sam. She trusted in what God had told her; they would protect Billy against anything that threatened him. But it would be nice to have a little more privacy. The only reason that she hadn’t argued yet was a practical one: she was much too tired to fight over anything that wasn’t life and death.

***

Dean had been looking for a place to stop for lunch when the cell phone rang the first time. It wasn’t his phone. He hit Sam. “Hey! Wake up! Get your damn phone.”

“It’s not mine,” he mumbled.

“Then whose is it? Billy’s?”

Sam woke up at that. “Joan has one.” He looked over the bench seat trying to pinpoint the noise source; both Joan and the baby were sound asleep. Billy, in true Winchester fashion, had been wide awake as soon as the sun went down. He also hadn’t wanted anyone but his mother. Dean had ended up finding a dirt road and parking on the side. They had put down a large circle of salt and let a bundled-up Joan pace within.

Joan had snickered and waited at the sight of the salt. When no explanation had been forthcoming other than ‘humor us, we’ll explain it later’ she had made a face and concentrated on getting Billy back to sleep. It had taken four hours before Billy had exhausted himself. His beleaguered mother was trying to catch up on her sleep now.

Or had been until some idjit had called her.

Joan sighed, woke up and then reached into her coat pocket. She glanced at the number and smiled slightly. “Hello,” she answered. “Oh, hi, Michael. How are you doing?”

”I’m not the one a week past her due date.”

Joan laughed. “Billy –William John- made his safe appearance last Saturday.”

”That doesn’t tell me how you are doing.”

“I’m fine. A little sleep deprived, but good.”

”That’s normal. It’s especially hard to do on your own.”

Joan wasn’t sure how to respond with both Dean and Sam avidly eavesdropping. Michael seemed to know what her pause meant. His voice took on a knowing lilt. “Unless you’re not doing it on your own.”

“Michael,” she warned.

“You’re not alone, are you?”

“No.”

”The father,” he asked hopefully.

Joan peeked at Sam who was staring at her with mysterious emotions in his eyes. “How did you know?”

”I prayed for it,” he said honestly.

Joan covered her own eyes. She could hear Father Forthill in her head; the prayer of a righteous man availeth much. She was scared to ask what else the fierce, determined, humble warrior had prayed for.

Michael confessed some more. ”So have Charity and the children.”

Joan groaned. “Michael.”

”It’s really hard to raise a child alone. Especially the first one.” A sad huff. ”Charity would know. I want more for you, especially with your other burdens, Joan. You didn’t have any resentment toward him, so I hoped that he was honorable.”

“Charity didn’t mind, not at all.” Joan concentrated on the easier answer.

”I know. I was going to invite you back, but I’m guessing that’s not in the immediate future.”

“No, it’s not.”

”Is he honorable?” Michael asked directly.

It was easier to address straight on. “Yes. Most definitely.”

”Good. Charity wants to talk to you.” Only a moment passed before the brisk, motherly woman came on the line.

”Joan? How are you?”

“I’m good.”

“Sore?”

“A little.”

”How long was labor?”

“Fourteen hours.”

”Any stitches?”

“No.”

”Did you have any problem with the hospital following your preferences?”

“No, I gained a couple of advocates.” Joan hadn’t had a chance to thank Sam and Dean for supporting her.

”Wonderful. So how big is William?”

“We’re calling him Billy. He was born at about seven AM last Saturday, seven pounds, one ounce and twenty-one inches long. He’s healthy and is eating fine.”

Joan could hear a pen scratching the stats onto a piece of paper. ”Patricia has been asking, as has Father Forthill. You sound tired. Do you want to talk to the kids, or next time?”

Joan was tired. “Molly?” she asked anyways.

”Out with Dresden.”

“What about their injuries?”

”All healed. The casts came off several weeks ago. They’ve already had two brushes with trouble.”

“That’s good. Well, it’s good that they’re back doing their thing. Give them all my love.”

”Of course. You know that you are always welcome at our house.”

“I know, and thank you.”

Charity brushed off the thanks. ”Michael wants to talk to Billy’s father. Keep in touch.”

The phone passed hands again. ”Joan, put him on the phone.”

“I don’t think that’s a spectacular idea.” She glanced at Sam again. He was still watching and listening. He’d get a crick in his back if he stayed twisted around like that much longer.

”Someone needs to look out for you. Put him on the phone.”

“Michael.”

”Put him on, Joan.”

Joan didn’t even consider hanging up instead. She put a hand over the speaker of the phone and sighed. “Michael wants to talk to you. You don’t have to…”

Sam snatched the phone out of her hands before she could offer any excuses. “This is Samuel Winchester speaking,” he said. Better to start out on the offensive.

“Are you William’s father, Samuel?” The voice was mature, caring and patient. It was a father’s voice.

Sam felt slightly chastised for his abrupt greeting. “Yes, sir.”

”Are you taking care of Joan and William?”

“I’m trying, sir.”

”Do more than try. Be gentle with them. Are you protecting them?”

“We’re doing the best we can.”

”We?”

“My brother, Dean, and I.”

”Good. Give the phone back to Joan.”

Sam was only too happy to oblige. Joan accepted the phone with wide, worried eyes. “Michael?”

”Don’t worry. And keep in touch so that Charity doesn’t worry either.”

“I will, I promise.”

”God bless and goodbye.”

Joan echoed the goodbye and ended the call with a sigh of relief. Sam was still staring at her, but he had relaxed slightly.

“He’s a father, isn’t he?”

Joan laughed hard. “Oh yeah. He and Charity have seven kids. His oldest, Molly, is a really good friend of mine.”

Dean relaxed finally, which surprised Joan. Why would he be nervous? “Lunchtime,” he announced. “Joanie, why don’t you pick the place?” That was generous. What had she done to earn that?

“My name is Joan,” she argued for the hundredth time. Sam grinned at her in sympathy. She had noticed that Dean often called him ‘Sammy’ much to the younger brother’s embarrassment.

“Lunch?” Dean ignored her complaints.

Joan rolled her eyes. “Someplace where I can get something vaguely healthy.” This ruled out about 80% of the places that Dean preferred, but she had baby weight to lose and that wasn’t going to happen on a diet of cheeseburgers and pizza. She’d prefer a chance to start cooking her own meals, but until they stopped this particular maneuver of switching drivers and sleeping in shifts in the car she’d have to make do with a restaurant salad.

***

Azazel growled in frustration. There had been a tantalizing reappearance of both Samuel and his brat, long enough for him to send some of his children in that direction. The demons had gotten as far as a hospital before he felt them screaming as they were sent to the Pit. And just after that had happened, the child vanished from his radar, along with Sam. Since then, he’d had sporadic reappearances of both of them, but never long enough to do much more than note the location before they disappeared behind the veil again.

It was enough to make him want to disembowel someone. Some blood and guts to play with would be relaxing, help him to focus.

A little bit of zen mutilation was just the ticket.

***

Chapter 7

Tags: