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Chapter 7

The Impala’s engine stopped, as did the music that wasn’t as loud as Dean preferred. Joan was sure the volume was out of deference of her and her newborn baby, new residents of the Winchester car. Since they had left the hospital, they had traveled through four states and numerous cities. Joan wasn’t even sure what state they were in this time.

“What time is it?” she mumbled.

“Five,” Dean said quietly. “You need the restroom or breakfast?”

Joan yawned and leaned over the front seat. “Yeah. Give me money.”

“Why?”

“Your idea of breakfast doesn’t match mine. Billy and I can’t exist on M&M’s.”

“They’re peanut M&M’s,” Dean argued. “What kind of donuts would you prefer?”

Joan gave him a look. “Give me money.”

Sam shifted and waved his entire money clip at Joan. Dean and Joan hadn’t even known that he was awake. Joan flushed slightly. Though she demanded money from Dean, she didn’t know what to do with Sam’s.

“Find me something too,” Sam murmured.

That she could do. Joan peeled off the top twenty-dollar bill and dropped the clip into Sam’s shirt pocket. She slid out of the backseat and walked quickly into the convenience store. It was cold outside as compared to the warmth three adult bodies produced in the car.

Dean was grinning again. “Dude? Handing her all of your money? She‘s a girl.”

“I trust her.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“Don’t read into it.”

Whatever. “Keep an eye on the baby.”

“Billy’s sleeping.” But the tall, young man opened his eyes and straightened in his seat. Dean topped off the gas tank and wandered into the store to pay. The clerk wasn’t behind the counter. Dean glanced around until he found him.

And promptly lost his temper.

The man was almost six foot tall and three hundred pounds and had Joan trapped in a corner.

“No, really,” Joan insisted. “I don’t need any help.” She was juggling a flat of bottled water, a bottle of orange juice, two bottles of milk and several muffins. She somehow managed to dodge the man’s meaty hands as well.

Dean grabbed one of the man’s arms and spun him around and into the glass door behind him. The door might have cracked, but he didn’t care. “She said that she wasn’t interested,” he snarled.

Joan took advantage of his distraction to edge around the man and to the cash register. “Dean, I’m ready to check out, have you picked your junk food?”

“He harassed you, you don’t have to pay.”

Joan shook her head. “Choose your junk and let’s go.”

“Saint Joan,” Dean teased; even as he made sure his body was between her and the now-repentant clerk.

“Did you know that Joan of Arc died when she was nineteen?” Joan asked idly. “I’ve already outlived her.”

Burned at the stake. Burned to death. Joan was not going to die that way. (And Joan of Arc was never, ever going to be mentioned again.) Dean paid for everything and ushered her out to the safety of the Impala. “I can’t take my eyes off you for a minute before you get into trouble, can I?”

“I’m going nuts in that car. My legs are getting cramped. When are we going to stop and get a room? We seem to be going round in circles.”

They had done a bit of back tracking, hoping to lose any demons on their trail. Dean was going stir-crazy as well. It was time for a new job, something simple. If it was safe enough, they could bring Joan along so that she could see what really existed in the world. As much as Dean and Sam didn’t want to strip her of her innocence, she needed to know just how dangerous the world was. It was for her own safety as much as for Billy’s. If they didn’t, Joan was headstrong enough to go off on her own and get both of them killed.

“We can stop tonight,” he finally offered. He had grabbed some newspapers. Sam could go through them for a possible job, a local one.

“Oh, thank you.”

For a girl, she didn’t make a lot of demands. She hadn’t even mentioned getting dropped off at a bus station. She hadn’t been surprised when Sam and Dean had packed up her room and checked her out without telling her. Dean knew that she noticed, but she didn’t bring it up. Why not? Most girls couldn’t stop asking questions. Joan had just double-checked her bag to make sure that the boys had grabbed all of her stuff.

***

Joan would have to be blind to miss all the guns in the trunk of the Impala. She pretended not to see it, like she pretended not to see the weapons scattered around the motel room, under pillows and in drawers. It was interesting watching Dean and Sam scan through the newspaper and the internet stories. She wasn’t sure what they were looking for, but they hadn’t found it yet.

The shared motel room hadn’t surprised her as much as it should have. Sam had taken the floor without any prompting, helping her settle Billy into his temporary home.

They always asked her if she was hungry or if they could get her something. They always changed the conversation if they knew she was awake and whispered when she was ‘sleeping.’

They were walking on eggshells and it was driving her crazy.

The good news was that she had completely focused on her child for eleven whole days. On day twelve, Joan was more chipper than anyone with her job had any right to be. Joan was looking forward to leaving the secrets and lies behind. It would be wonderful if someone believed her. She was pretty sure that they would.

“Front page or comics?” Dean asked her.

Joan shrugged. Neither mattered. “Whichever.”

Dean handed her the whole stack and then watched as she very carefully avoided the obituaries. “What’s wrong with the obits?”

“Ever since I had the dream about Rocky and then next morning…” She looked up to see both boys watching and listening to her intently. “A boy I used to babysit died. I found out in the paper. I don’t like them.”

Sam nodded like he accepted it, but his brain was working overtime.

Then came the kinda weird part. Dean and Sam sat her down with very serious expressions. They explained that they had business in town that she couldn’t accompany them with. They went on and on about how she was not to leave the room for any reason whatsoever. How she was to call them if she got nervous in the least. They gave her warning after warning without giving her a reason why. Joan sat there, wide-eyed and listening, just waiting for them to mention the supernatural, but it never happened. Dean even handed her the keys to the Impala for ‘if she felt the need to run.’ They had a lot of faith in her instincts.

Joan watched from the window as they loaded up with weapons (very carefully hidden from her in a big bag) and then followed the dirt path behind the motel. As soon as they were out of sight, she put Billy in the snuggly that Charity had given her, went out to the Impala to get a bag of salt and a loaded shotgun and followed the same path.

It was a good thing that it was clear, moonlit night. She was still rather unbalanced from losing all the weight around her middle and then having it artificially there again with the snuggly. Billy was the smart one, sleeping like he should have been. It was less than a mile, when Joan finally saw the house. It was dilapidated, like most of the houses she had seen in her dreams about the Winchester boys. She could see a pair of flashlights flickering in the upstairs windows. She walked up to the front door and opened it. It didn’t squeak, or squeal or make any ominous sound like in the movies.

Taking into account everything she had learned from Molly about thresholds, Joan did not cross over. Instead, she made a large circle with the salt, one that touched both edges of the doorway. She sat down in the middle of the circle and placed Billy in her lap. She readied the gun and waited.

Billy awoke and made the fun little baby noises that already entranced all the adults in his sphere. This time, they attracted someone younger. The boy was dirty and about eight years old. He was almost see-through and blurred sometimes when he moved. Joan had dealt with enough ghosts to recognize one when she saw one.

“Hi, there,” she whispered.

He looked so very frightened.

“It’s okay,” Joan tried to reassure him. “This is my son, Billy.”

The ghost edged closer to the ring of salt.

“I take care of him.”

The boy offered a pained smile.

“What’s your name?”

“Zack.” The name was a whisper on the wind.

“Hi Zack. My name is Joan. I’m here to help you.”

The kid was stunned and it showed on his poor bruised face.

“Do you like to play outside?”

The boy looked scared. “My dad doesn’t like me to.”

“I wasn’t asking about your dad. I was asking you.”

“I… like grass,” he finally said.

“What do you like about grass?”

“The way it smells.”

“What does it smell like?”

The boy again looked behind him to make sure no one was coming. “Freedom,” he whispered.

It broke Joan’s heart. “Does anyone come and invite you outside to play in the grass?”

Zack nodded. “A girl. But my dad doesn’t like her. He doesn’t let me near her.”

“Is she near you now?”

Zack looked around and then smiled shyly to a blank corner. “Yeah.”

A big man materialized behind Zack and reached for the child ghost with harsh hands. Joan knew evil when she saw it and figured that this was why God had told her to bring a gun. Joan aimed and shot at the target. The kick from the gun had her seeing stars and the noise made Billy start crying. It took a moment for her to reorient herself with her surroundings. Zack was still there and looking completely awed.

“I was sent here to help you,” Joan told him again. “I really mean it.”

Sam and Dean clattered down the stairs, guns at the ready.

“Joanie!” Dean swore.

Zack started to fade out.

“Stop!” Joan demanded. All the males obeyed her. Even Billy stopped crying for a moment. “Zack, it’s all right. They’re here to help you too.”

Zack was not convinced. He edged as close to the salt line as he could possibly go. Joan edged closer to him too.

“Joanie, don’t you dare touch that salt line,” Dean threatened. “Don’t get any closer.”

She ignored him. “We’re here to help you go out and play in the grass. Your dad was a bad man. Do you understand?”

Zack shook his head.

“Look, is the little girl still there?”

Zack nodded.

“Does she have blonde hair and glasses?”

Zack nodded again, surprised that Joan knew what the girl looked like. Dean might have sucked in his breath, but she was concentrating on the child.

“I know her. She loves to play with little boys like you. Does she have pink alien antenna on?”

Zack nodded for a third time.

“I bet she’d be willing to share them with you.”

“They’re pink,” Zack declared. Dean stifled a laugh at that. Zack warily glanced back at Dean and Sam.

“Dude,” Dean said. “Go out and play in the mud. With or without the girl.”

Zack looked at Joan. She smiled at him. “The girl will play in the mud too.”

Zack saw something that none of the living saw. He reached out and grabbed something. Someone was holding him by the hand. He walked to Joan and then looked back at Sam and Dean. “Will you carry me out?”

“Where are you, Zack?” Joan asked.

He pointed to the middle of the floor. “Down there.”

“We’ll get you out,” Joan promised.

Zack’s smile lit up Joan’s heart. The boy ran to the threshold and then vanished in a flash of light right before her eyes. Joan sat back with a sigh of relief. Billy decided that he had obeyed long enough and started wailing. She was completely occupied with calming the baby down. It took awhile. When he had finally subsided, she looked up.

Dean and Sam were crouched outside the salt circle with serious expressions.

“Didn’t we tell you to stay in the motel?” Dean accused.

“Dean!” Sam was flabbergasted.

“The killer ghost wasn’t going to go anywhere until you freed Zack,” Joan shot back.

“So we weren’t doing our job, is that what you are saying?”

“You said it, not me.”

“Hey!” Sam put a hand on both of the combatants’ shoulders. Billy had started wailing again.

Joan tried to calm him down again. “Really doesn’t like it when we argue,” she muttered. “You had better not be taking his side,” she told the child.

“So,” Sam sifted his fingers through the salt. It calmed him down and centered him like few other things. “You know something of the supernatural.”

Joan smiled. “God is supernatural.”

Dean winced. “Why are you here?”

“I was told to come.”

“By a premonition?” Sam guessed. “By a dream, like how you knew that your young friend was dead before you read it.”

“No, my instructions were a little more precise.”

“They’re directly from God,” Dean said slowly.

Joan blinked and then smiled. “Did God talk to you in a dream? He’s done that for my mom.”

“No. There was this crazy-ass little girl in the waiting room while you were in labor. I’m not saying that it was God but…”

“You told me it was God,” Sam interrupted.

“Well, she-he-it had powers over demons.”

Joan smiled so brightly. Sam and Dean could see the burden being lifted off her shoulders. “So you believe me?”

“I believe that we have a little boy to get out of this house,” Dean said. “That’s what I believe. He’s been here for too long already.”

“I’ll go get the shovels from the bag.” Sam looked at Joan. He stepped into her salt circle and lifted Joan’s head with gentle fingers. “You are going to have a beautiful bruise on your chin.”

Dean reached over and snatched the gun away from her. “No touching my guns, especially since you don’t know how to use them.” He handed the gun to Sam. “Your girl made a promise on our behalf. Get the damn shovels.”

Sam left to exchange Joan’s gun for the shovels they had left at the tree line. Joan stretched, picked up Billy and stood.

Dean pointed at her. “Don’t even think about stepping outside of that circle, Joanie.”

“But the ghosts are gone.”

“Not until we’re sure they are gone. You stay here.”

“How long?” Joan asked with a sigh. She sat back down and tried to get comfortable on the old wooden porch.

“Until we say,” Dean snapped.

“How long?” Joan asked. “Until you dig up Zack? Until you rebury him?”

“Until dawn.”

“Now you’re pushing it Mister.”

“Do you know what we’re dealing with here? Do you know how many boys have disappeared in this house?”

“No, you haven’t told me. You’ve only talked about this place when I couldn’t hear you.”

Dean stepped up to her and made sure she was paying very close attention. “Three boys while he was alive, five more since he fell down the stairs and broke his own neck. Not sure who cremated him, but that saved us some work. The youngest one he killed was just two years old. This… son of a bitch preyed on boys and then he killed them. You and Billy are staying in that damned circle until I say so.”

“He started with his own son, Dean,” Joan said sadly. “That’s why we’re here to stop him once and for all.”

“Sam and I are taking care of the kid…”

“His name is Zack,” Joan interrupted.

“You stay put.”

“Dean…”

“I want your word, Joanie. I want you to promise me to stay put.”

Joan considered it. She really didn’t want to promise, nor ‘stay put.’ “One hour,” she bargained.

“Oh, hell no,” Dean snorted. “That’s barely enough time to find the kid, let alone rebury him in this cold. The ground is frozen you know. Five hours.”

“That’s dawn,” countered Joan. “And I don’t want to freeze sitting here. Ninety minutes.”

“You followed us, you pay the consequences. Four hours.”

“I was given a job by God. You don’t outrank him. You have your job and I have mine. Two hours.”

“Deal,” Sam said on Dean’s behalf. He also dropped his coat around Joan.

“You’re going to need this,” she protested.

“I’m going to be digging and working up a sweat. You and Billy need it more.”

Joan ducked her head to hide a smile. “Thank you, Sam,” she murmured. Then she looked Dean right in the eye. “I promise to remain within this salt circle for the next two hours.”

Dean sighed in relief. Then he grabbed one of the shovels and tapped the wooden floorboards looking for a weak spot. He trusted her enough to turn his back on her. Joan didn’t mind. She watched as the two men used their experience to demolish the floor and jump into the dirt-bottomed crawlspace.

“What kind of dreams do you have?” Sam asked in the midst of digging.

She didn’t answer right away and Dean glanced at her to see why. Joan’s whole face was red. She ducked her head and looked away. He grinned. He could only think of one reason why she’d be that embarrassed. “Why Joanie,” he teased, “do you dream of Sammy here? Was he naked? Or nekkid?”

Now Sam was blushing too.

Then Joan grimaced. “I’ve seen you two digging up and burning more graves than I can count. There was that one death omen that was hidden behind a brick wall that you found with the female cop.”

Now both boys were staring at her in shock. Dean noticed that it was a very effective diversionary tactic.

“You’ve seen us?” Sam confirmed.

Joan nodded.

“How much?”

Joan’s bottom lip quivered and she glanced away. “I saw your dad… the accident… the… Ouija Board and the funeral pyre. I know what John did.” She looked down at her own son and a couple of tears dripped down. She sniffled and tried to regain composure. “You guys don’t make for very restful dreams.”

“I bet,” Dean muttered. “Closer to nightmares.”

Sam had a horrible thought but couldn’t not ask. “Joan. Is William John named after Dad?”

“Yes.”

What could they say to that? That was the message that their eyes exchanged. They should have known better than to assume that it was a coincidence when Joan was involved. The woman in question checked the clock on her phone. “Only ninety more minutes. Have you found Zack yet?”

Sam and Dean resumed shoveling. Dean was the first one to stop. “I think I found something.” The two got down on their knees and used their gloved hands to wipe away the dirt.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean cursed. “This was one sick fuck.”

Joan winced at the language but was curious. “What?”

Sam met Joan’s eyes and they were filled with sadness. “He wrapped Zack in a child’s sleeping bag and buried him with some of his favorite… toys.”

“Oh.” Joan couldn’t help the tears that fell.

“I think we should burn this house down,” Dean muttered.

“Firefighters,” Sam argued. “And Joan and Billy need a couple more days in the motel before we move again.”

Dean grunted and glared into the hole that Joan could not see. “You bury the boy. I’m salting and burning the toys on the other side of the house.”

“Just help me get Zack out.”

Dean nodded and the two men worked together with obvious experience. Joan cried harder when she saw the tenderness they used on the long dead corpse. She cried when she read the ‘G.I. Joe’ logo on the sleeping bag. Kevin had had a bag like that when he was little. The two carefully stepped around her and Billy and out to the yard. They picked a place on the far side of the field, near the woods to start digging.

Joan watched and shivered.

Once Sam had a good start on the grave, Dean left him, returned to the weapons’ bag for a garbage bag, salt and gas and tromped back into the house. He jumped back into the hole, tossed some things into the garbage bag and stomped out the back door, grumbling the whole time about burning the ‘damn house down around the ghost’s ears.’ Dean finished before Sam, but he went and washed his hands and face in Holy Water (it was the only water they had in the bag). Then he came to Joan and reached a hand down to her.

She gladly accepted the help to her feet. She and Dean quietly walked to the far edge where Sam had finished digging. Dean helped his brother gently lay the body into the grave and then the two hopped out.

“Do you want to say anything, Joanie?”

She smiled. “Play in peace, Zack. Enjoy the grass and the mud.”

“Damn straight,” Dean agreed.

Sam rolled his eyes at how his brother effectively broke the solemn moment. Then the Winchester men started filling in the unmarked grave. Joan felt a little guilty about it, but knew that Zack wasn’t in the ground. He was in a better place. She yawned; she was so tired. It had been an exhausting night.

The adults were silent as they walked back to the motel room. Even Billy seemed to respect the moment. Sam was given first dibs on the shower.

“Joanie?” Dean said quietly.

The woman in question was already half-asleep. It was the wee hours of the morning and she had barely managed to stumble back to the motel under her own power, exhausted. They had offered to carry her and Billy but she was stubborn. Sam had been the one to remove her boots and cover her and the baby with a blanket. “Hmmm?”

“Thanks for naming Billy after Dad.”

A smile, a murmur, genuine confusion. “How could I not?”

It was then that Dean decided that Joan was perfect for his baby brother and the Winchester family. They were never going to let her go. He just had to convince Joan and Sam of that fact.

***

A little torture had given him some perspective. He’d even gone back to spunky little Ava Wilson. She was ready for picking, so he relocated her to Cold Oak to see if she’d fight it out.

Samuel Winchester belonged to him. His mother had sold him to Azazel long before he was born. And when the demon discovered how the Winchesters were hiding from him, there would be blood. Probably other bodily fluids as well.

They would appear again. All he had to do was wait.

And then Samuel and his child would be his.

***

Epilogue

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