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Fic: A House is Not a Home Chapter Two

Chapter 2
 
“You need to teach me how to defend myself,” Joan said, breaking the surprisingly comfortable silence between the two of them.  Well, three if you counted Billy.
 
Dean looked up from the gun he was cleaning.  “I do?”
 
“It’s ridiculous that one of you has to stay with me every time I leave the motel room.  We can’t do it forever, and I’m this close to strangling you both.  So start teaching.”
 
“Why not get Sammy to do it?”
 
Joan looked stormy.  “He won’t push hard enough.  You’ve seen how he acts around me.  I need to know how to do this, and I can’t learn from someone who treats me like I’m made of glass.”
 
Dean considered this for a moment, studying the girl in front of him.  She shifted under his scrutiny, but didn’t back down.  It was true that Sam tended to go out of his way to make sure Joan didn’t need to lift anything heavier than Billy.  He always gave up his bed in favor of the floor, even when injured, and he was never physical with her beyond the inevitable touching that came with living in such close quarters all the time.  That was apparently more than a little frustrating to Joan, who was still carrying something of a torch for Dean’s brother, even if she refused to admit it.  And yeah, he had to admit that his brother would never push her hard enough to make any training worthwhile.
 
“Are you ready?  I mean after . . .,” he gestured vaguely at her then at Billy, who was sleeping in the pulled-out dresser drawer that served as his bassinet.
 
Joan nodded, smoothing the loose shirt she was wearing a little self-consciously.  This switched Dean’s focus from the girl in front of him to the clothing she was wearing.  Like the Winchester brothers, Joan lived out of one bag of clothing and had done so since they had caught up to her.  But Dean was starting to get a bad feeling at the way that clothing hung off of her.  “Joanie, do you have any clothes that aren’t for pregnant chicks?”
 
Joan shook her head and Dean groaned.  There was no way she could seriously train like that.  She needed to go shopping.  Which meant that he needed to go shopping with her, since he wasn’t ready to abandon this particular policy just yet.  “Get Billy ready to go.  I’ll leave Sam a note.”  His younger brother was getting the cast off his arm now.  Joan had waited until he was gone for a long stretch of time before confronting Dean about this.  He had to admire the planning.
 
Dean fidgeted at his post outside the dressing room.  He was the only adult male in the tiny thrift store, and the clerk kept giving him odd looks while he’d followed Joanie around with Billy as she flipped her way down the racks.  This entire production had taken longer than he’d planned.  Hopefully Sam wasn’t out looking for them; if his little brother saw him standing around, holding his nephew and the diaper bag while Joan tried on clothing, he’d never heard the end of it.  And why did girls need to try on clothes, anyway?  You see something your size, you buy it, you wear it.
 
Joan finally emerged with a stack of clothing and they headed for the checkout.  The total wasn’t as bad as he expected, but he considered complaining about it anyway so she would put back the least practical items.  “What do you need a skirt for?”  He gestured to the item as the cashier picked it up.  “It’s just gonna take up space in your bag.”
 
“I like skirts,” Joan said, glaring.  “I can do almost everything in a skirt that I can do in pants.  And I just dropped off my old clothes, remember?  I’ve got the room.”
 
Dean let that pass and focused on the next thing.  “You don’t really need more shoes, either.  You’ve already got boots and sneakers.  Bet you can’t run in those worth a damn.”
 
Joan rolled her eyes and dug out a five dollar bill.  “There.  I paid for them, they’re my problem.  Can we please just finish up and get back?”  Billy began to fuss and she took him back and tried soothing him.  “It’s all right,” Dean heard her murmur.  “Mommy’s just arguing with Uncle Dean.”  The baby began to cry in earnest, and Dean quickly paid, grabbed the bag, and hustled them out the door.
 
“He’s hungry and he needs a fresh diaper.”  Joan hurried across the parking lot of the shopping center and waited impatiently for Dean to unlock the Impala.  She slid into the backseat, laying the screaming baby down on her lap and rummaging through the diaper bag.
 
“You’re not going to change him in the car, Joanie.”  Dean looked a little worried.
 
She glared at him as she spread a blanket across the backseat.  “Do you want to listen to him howling all the way back to the motel?”  Joan took care of it with practical efficiency, and Billy’s cries subsided into hiccupping sobs.  She handed Dean the dirty diaper, which he accepted gingerly, and adjusted the blanket so it was covering her torso.
 
“Oh, you have got to be shitting me,” Dean groaned, looking a little desperate as he turned around.
 
“It’s the fastest way to calm him down.”  After a minute or so, everything was situated and blessed silence ensued.  “You complain about this every single time,” she said quietly, careful to keep her voice even to avoid upsetting the baby.  “This is just one of those things that you’re going to have to get used to.”
 
Dean privately thought it was a little creepy that boobs had a non-recreational use, but he would never say so.  He jogged to a nearby dumpster and tossed the dirty diaper.  Keeping in full view of the car, he meandered a little.  Then he saw some hoodlums eying the Impala and returned to the car.  They had probably been admiring the classic itself, but still, he sat on the hood of the car while Joan took care of matters and thought about the specifics of her training to distract himself.  No knives; he didn’t want her getting close enough to use them.  Definitely guns.  Probably some fighting, enough for her to disable and get away.  He’d like to teach her some of the other tools of the trade; being able to pick locks and hotwire cars was incredibly useful.  She’d refused to be involved with the credit card scams, which would have been a problem if they didn’t somehow come up with the money or things they needed when they needed them.  He suspected that Joan’s ‘boss’ had something to do with that particular turn of events, and wasn’t exactly sure how he felt about that.
 
Joan knocked on the window while he was mulling over the ramifications of God meddling in his life.  “All done,” she said.  She buckled Billy into his car seat and climbed into the passenger seat while Dean got the engine going.  They drove in almost companionable silence to the motel.  Joan tended to get over being angry or even irritated pretty quickly, although she was easy and sometimes fun to rile up to begin with.
 
If Joan was serious about training, Dean would like to do it in one place.  He and Joan would have to make the full use of the hours in the day and driving from place to place took time.  He knew of only one place safe enough.  So he told everyone to pack up.  They were hitting the road in an hour.
 
joaspn
 
Bobby Singer had been tinkering on yet another mini van when he heard it: the purr of the Winchester’s Impala driving up the long driveway to his house.
 
Good.  He could use Dean’s help with some of the classic cars in the barn.  The boy was good with the pretty girls from that era.  His hands were starting to get stiff in the cold anyway.  He used a rag to remove most of the grease on his hands, pulled his jacket a little closer around him and went out the greet the boys.
 
Dean parked in his normal spot and Bobby immediately noticed that the back seat was occupied.  They had never before brought anyone to his place.  Why would they?  They were completely reliant on each other, they didn’t need anyone else.
 
So why had they?
 
The brothers jumped out of the front seat and hurried to open the doors to the back.  Dean was fiddling back there and the dark haired woman that Bobby could almost see was handing Sam several grocery bags.  She climbed out with one in her arms and a bag slung over her shoulder.
 
Then Dean pulled a baby out of the Impala.  He was grinning and bouncing the baby.  He shut the door with his hip and bounded over to Bobby.  “Hey, Bobby.”
 
“Dean.”
 
“Joan wanted to cook.  Figured that you wouldn’t mind her using your kitchen.”
 
Bobby nodded to Joan.  He looked from one brother to the other.  “What the hell are you two boys up to this time?”
 
Dean swung the baby around so that Bobby could see his tiny face.  It looked vaguely familiar but the only baby he had spent any length of time with was…
 
Sam.
 
Bobby’s eyes widened.  “Tell me you didn’t, Dean.”
 
Dean grinned even more.  “Don’t look at me.  This is my nephew William John Winchester.”
 
“Damn fool,” Bobby directed Sam’s way.
 
“Hey,” Dean stepped in front of Sam.  Always protecting, always deflecting, even if he’d been the one to aim the trouble that way in the first place.
 
“He should be yours, you dumb ass.”
 
“Yeah, I know.”  Dean shrugged.  “But I don’t have nearly as good taste in women as Sam.  Joan is definitely a keeper.”
 
Bobby was suddenly reminded on how the ‘yellow-eyed demon’ had been moving all over the place according to Ash and knew that they were protecting Joan.  Still, he had to comment.  “I always thought your dad was the dumbest Hunter in the world for several reasons, dragging you boys everywhere was top of that list.  You boys seem determined to outdo his stupidity at every turn.”
 
“Maybe we should,” Joan started.
 
“Get into the house and out of the cold,” Bobby finished.  “Ain’t your fault that you fell for his looks before knowing just how little brains the skin hides.”
 
Joan smirked slightly, but still looked up Sam.
 
He nodded.  “For Bobby, that was practically a hug at the door welcome.”
 
“If you are sure, Mr. Singer,” Joan said.
 
“Do I get some of that food?”
 
“Of course.”
 
“Then sure.”
 
“Thank you.”
 
Bobby turned and led the way into the house.  He figured that she knew about the Hunting that was the Winchester family business.  He had so much Hunting paraphernalia lying about that he would never be able to hide it all.  The boys knew that and had made use of it every time they had visited.  He did glance around entryway before holding the door open for Joan.  Books everywhere and a thin layer of dust on top.  It had been years since a woman had stepped through the door and that had been Ellen.  Joan didn’t even wince at the mess.  Dean and the baby followed and Sam pulled up the rear.  They all kicked the snow off their shoes.
 
Joan went straight for the kitchen like a homing bird.  Bobby hoped that the dishes didn’t smell too bad.  He followed behind.
 
She was smiling at him.  “You have wonderful cabinet and counter space, sir.”
 
“Bobby,” he corrected.  “I might let the boys get away with sir, but you just call me Bobby.”
 
She nodded, a bright smile stretching across her face.  She had already turned on the oven, started running hot water in the sink and was searching through the cupboards.  She found some of what she was looking for.  The first was a baking sheet.  She washed it off and placed some frozen pre-made dough on it from her grocery bag.  She popped that into the oven and went looking for the next thing on her list.  Joan located his largest pot with an easy smile and a soft ‘Aha.’  That too she scrubbed.  And then scrubbed again with a frown.  She sniffed the pot and looked at him. 
 
“Did you brew anything in here that was harmful to humans?”
 
Dean hooted with laughter and even Sam smirked.
 
Bobby could admit that it was an intelligent question.  “Nah.  Once I use something from the kitchen for… that sort of stuff, it no longer stays in the kitchen.”
 
Joan accepted the answer and apparently decided that the pot was safe.  She put that on the stove and started dumping in pre-made broth and assorted meats and vegetables for a stew.  Bobby knew that he and the boys were watching Joan bustle around the kitchen, but he couldn’t seem to stop.  Neither of the boys seemed inclined to either.  Dean was just watching her out of the corner of his eye, while concentrating on the baby.  Sam was trying not to get caught staring.  He disappeared and reappeared with all the Winchester gear, plus a bag with big, dark flowers on it that was certainly Joan’s. 
 
As soon as Sam took off his coat, Joan ordered him, “Go wash your hands.”
 
He looked mildly affronted.
 
“I’m giving you a knife,” she placated.  “I need help cutting things.”
 
Sam relented.  Bobby and Dean smirked, but it was short-lived.  “You too,” Joan said.
 
Bobby didn’t know who she was talking to.  “Me?”
 
“Yes.  There’s plenty of cutting to do while I find everything.”  She was being very diplomatic, considering that she was currently scrubbing down his kitchen table.  She probably wanted to scrub the whole room from ceiling to floor.
 
Speaking of which, Bobby remembered all the mouse traps he had scattered around the kitchen.  He should probably check them before Joan ran across them.  The first two were empty but the last one had a dead tenant.  Bobby glanced around and saw the lightest of the grocery bags.  It looked like it had a bunch of little stuff in it.  He grabbed it.  “I need the bag, mouse trap,” he said at Joan’s wide-eyed look.  He dumped the bag out on one of the counters that Joan hadn’t scrubbed yet and watched three little boxes of cheap birthday candles skitter the furthest. 
 
Joan’s eyes tracked their movement as well.
 
“Joanie?” Dean had noticed her posture.
 
“I’m not a big fan of mice, Okay?  Dead or alive.”
 
Bobby grabbed the candles and the grocery bag all in one smooth movement and winked at Joan.  She relaxed slightly.  Bobby hadn’t realized that it was close to Dean’s birthday.  “You won’t have to see it,” Bobby promised.  He dropped the dead rodent and trap into the bag and carried it out.  He passed Sam on his way in, all scrubbed up.
 
Bobby decided that he liked Joan and the way she took care of the boys.  He went out to the garbage bin to dispose of the mouse and then returned to the house to clean up (and to hide the candles).  The Winchesters had visited several times over the last twenty-odd years, but this time might be the most fun and interesting.
 
joaspn
 
It wasn’t all fun and games, Bobby reminded himself.  Both of the boys had a gun within easy reach at all times.  They couldn’t totally relax even in the protection of his house, which Bobby would have felt insulted by if he hadn’t remembered exactly what it was like.  Joan very nearly did though.  She had no problem being nit-picky about the job that Sam and he did peeling and cutting up the peaches and apples.  Dean harassed them too.  Bobby did find it funny how much the boy’s language had cleaned up in Joan’s presence.  He also couldn’t get too upset once he saw Joan rolling out pie crust.  He hadn’t had fresh, homemade pie in ages and it looked like Joan was planning on baking three or four.  It was a damn good thing that she had thought to bring her own (cheap) pie tins. 
 
Some time in between, Joan managed to wash all of his previously dirty dishes, plus any others that she thought that she might need in the near future and add noodles and spices to the soup.
 
“It’ll be ready in ten or so minutes,” she announced as she reclaimed the now-fussy baby.
 
“We’ll wait for you,” Sam said.
 
“You don’t have to.”
 
“We’re waiting,” Dean concurred.  “Just go…” he made a shooing motion.
 
“Feed Billy?” Joan supplied.
 
“Get outta here.”  Was Dean blushing?
 
Joan took the baby and left the room.
 
Sam waited all of two minutes before turning to Bobby.  “Where in your library is the good stuff?”
 
Bobby was taken back.  “Excuse me?  You know I won’t let you boys play in the darker…”
 
“He means the books about the good side of the tracks,” Dean interrupted.
 
Bobby looked from one very serious boy to the other.  “Are you asking about angels and such?”
 
“Sure, whatever you’ve got,” Sam agreed.
 
“There isn’t a lot.  Rumor is, the Vatican has a whole library on the stuff that they keep locked down.  They don’t like for it to get out.”
 
Dean shrugged.  He was not one to concern himself with things he couldn’t change.  “But you have some.”
 
“Sure.  It’s right next to the Bible on the south side of the door.”
 
Both boys disappeared without a ‘thank- you.’  Joan must have seen them dart past.  “Hey!  Someone take the bread out of the oven!”
 
“Bobby’s got it,” Dean delegated.
 
Bobby only did it because he didn’t want to eat burnt bread.  “Do you want me to put the pies in?” he yelled.
 
“Yes, please,” Joan replied.  “One of the apples and the peach.”
 
Bobby juggled the pie tins all wrapped up in aluminum foil.  Finally he could get them into the oven as they were supposed to be.  He darted past the occupied living room the same way that boys had.  He nearly tripped over Sam and Dean, seated on the library floor.  There was a whole lot more of them now than when they were younger and getting underfoot, but some things never changed.
 
Each one was engrossed in a book.
 
“I think I found it,” Sam announced first.  He passed the book to Dean.  Bobby read over the young man’s shoulder.  The paragraph was short.
 
‘CHOSEN: Humans who have conversations and receive instructions from a physical manifestation of a benevolent God closest to the Biblical representation.  Their instructions are seemingly innocuous but have major positive repercussions.  Some are gifted with powers, often they have prophetic dreams.  Their greatest defense is that they give every appearance of being ‘normal’ to humans and the demonic alike.  Joan of Arc might have been the most recognizable of the CHOSEN.  There is some discussion as to how well Joan of Arc obeyed her actual instructions.  Several sources believe that broadcasting their position puts the CHOSEN into danger, as it is the only way for the demonic to identify them.’
 
Dean flipped the page over and then back again.  “Dude, that’s it?”
 
“That’s all I could find.  Bobby, do you have anything else on it?”
 
Bobby looked from one Winchester to the other.  “You guys don’t think that you’ve <I>met</I> one of these?”
 
The boys had some of their infamous, silent communication before deciding to trust him.  “No,” Sam said slowly.  Dean fanned the pages in the book as he thought hard.  Bobby snatched the tome away from him.  Sam finally jerked his head toward the door.
 
It took Bobby a couple of moments to understand what they were thinking.  “Joan?”  He hissed.  “Granted, she’s a nice kid but don’t you think that someone who talks to God would have the brains not to climb in bed with the likes of you?”
 
Sam didn’t meet his eyes.  “She can’t tell anyone normally.  It’s got to be incredibly lonely.  Isolating.”  Bobby could tell from Dean’s reaction that Sam was revealing as much of himself as of Joan.  The old hunter knew how much Sam’s connection to the yellow-eyed demon weighed on him.  “She’s still human,” Sam insisted.  “And has all the same thoughts, temptations and overwhelming circumstances as everyone else.”
 
“I still think you two are blowing this all out of your asses.”
 
Billy burping was the first clue that Joan was approaching.  She walked up to the trio with a smile.  “What are you all doing?  Dinner is ready.”  She happened to glance down at Bobby’s book.  He had it opened to a random page, only Joan found the picture smirk-worthy.  She gently removed the book from Bobby’s possession.  “Oh, this must be what that poser Sanya met had read.”
 
All three males looked over her shoulder at what picture she was looking at.  Knights of the Cross.
 
“You’ve met one?” Dean asked.  He sounded as unbelieving as Bobby felt.
 
Joan looked from one man to another.  She seemed to shrink within herself.
 
“Joan,” Sam said quietly.  “If you say yes, there will be no hesitation in the field when you tell us someone is on our side.”
 
Joan gradually returned to her normal sunny self merely because Sam believed her.  Bobby now believed how isolating being a Chosen could be.
 
“Tell us about him,” Bobby demanded.
 
“Sanya?  Or the poser thinking he was a legitimate Knight?  The poser made fun of Sanya’s Kevlar but didn’t have a decent sword.  He’s now in a special Vatican hospital.  I only met Sanya once.  He’s really nice.”
 
Nice?  That was the last descriptor Bobby would have attached to the picture of a muscle-bound, sword-swinging man in a short cape hacking up a demon.
 
“Which sword does he carry?” Sam was all about the specifics.
 
“Hope,” she smiled at the memory.  “So how about dinner?  I’m hungry.”  Joan turned on her heel and walk away.
 
“Now do you believe us?” Dean asked.
 
Bobby was awed with the trust they had in him.  He nodded.  Sam and then Dean followed Joan into the kitchen.  Bobby stayed where he was and tried to grab a rein on his thoughts.  It was one thing to be something of an expert for nightmare stuff, it was something entirely different to have a Chosen in his house, cleaning and fixing meals.  He tried to wrap his mind around the fact that the Winchesters (one of whom was already what Hunters Hunted, according to some) had been given protectorship of a Chosen.
 
That was worse than the idea of Sam being a Daddy and John Winchester missing a chance to see his grandchild.
 
“What the hell are you thinking?” he muttered to the ceiling.  Then he too walked to the kitchen to see how good Joan could cook.
 
Joan was a good cook and the smell of the apple pie in the stove reminded all to save room for dessert.  Bobby steered the conversation away from shop talk and into a series of embarrassing stories about both boys from when they were kids, making the girl laugh and the boys turn red and mock-scowl.
 
When the girl got up to take the pies out of the oven, Sam proceeded to distract his brother with the traditional ammunition of little brothers everywhere: teasing.  Bobby caught on quickly enough and kept it going until Joan peeked around the corner with a candle-studded apple pie.
 
The smile on Dean’s face when Joan and Sam broke into a round of ‘Happy Birthday’ was well worth the price of admission.  After the pie, Joan headed off to bed with Billy.  The boys crashed soon after, leaving Bobby to savor having a full house before turning in.
 
joaspn
 
Joan was the first one downstairs the next morning.  She quietly helped Bobby make up some coffee and then some bacon and eggs.  Bobby had a feeling that she had something to say so he made her job (or was it His Job?) easier.
 
“Spit it out, girl.”
 
Joan’s smile wobbled a bit but she took a deep breath and the words rushed out of her.  “Did a woman you love die here?  In a horrible manner?”
 
Bobby blanched as if she had struck him.  He really didn’t want to answer.  He really didn’t want to answer, but she was looking at him with so much compassion.  “My wife,” he whispered.
 
She nodded as if it made sense.  She put a hand on Bobby and he knew comfort.  Enough that he could tell her part of the story, a story that he had never completely spoken of out loud.  “She got possessed.  By a demon.  It was before I knew anything.  She… I… it got to the point where…”
 
“Rabid dog?” Joan offered his very words of that day back to him.
 
Bobby nodded.
 
“Bobby,” she waited until the man was looking at her.  “She understands now.  She forgives you.  She loves you and wants you to forgive yourself.”
 
Bobby couldn’t breathe.  It was too much.  The hurt, the memories, the guilt.  Sam was climbing down the stairs and Bobby had only a few moments to compose himself.  He knew that there was a good reason for leaving the squeaks in the stairs.  The boy was carrying the baby.
 
“He’s hungry,” he said as he offered over the baby to his mother.  “Wants to know why everyone else gets fed before him.”
 
Joan accepted the baby with the same comforting smile that she had bestowed upon Bobby.  Sam rested one hand on her back for a second while the other cupped the infant’s head.  The tenderness combined with Joan’s questions poked into painful areas he had thought long-healed.
 
Dean wasn’t far behind his brother, although his entrance was more of a shuffle punctuated by a demand for coffee.  Once Billy was fed and Joan joined them at the table, Dean broke the companionable silence. 
 
“You ready to train?” he asked Joan.
 
Both Bobby and Sam looked up, startled, and then stared at Joan.  Sam immediately started protesting.  “Joan, you don’t have to.”
 
“I’m not allowed to use the shotguns until I practice,” she reminded him.  “If training is what it takes so that I’m allowed to go to the grocery store alone, or with Billy, then I am going to train.”
 
Sam’s face hardened, lips compressing.  “You’re not hunting.”
 
Bobby watched as a similarly stubborn expression formed on Joan.  “If I’m supposed to hunt, I will.  I have my own job to take care of.”
 
“It’s not safe.”
 
“A lot of things aren’t safe.  That doesn’t mean that I can duck out on my responsibility!”
 
“Whoa, hang on a minute,” Dean said, standing up and walking around the table.  “Joanie, do you want to hunt?”
 
The girl deflated.  “No.  I just want to know how to protect myself when you guys aren’t around.”
 
“All right.  Sam,” he turned to his brother and made sure he had Sam’s complete attention, “is she a human being?”
 
“Dean--,”
 
“No, answer the question.  Is she human?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“Does she have free will?”
 
Sam ground out the next word.  “Yes.”
 
“Just making sure we’re all on the same page.  Joan, go get your coat.  We’ll meet outside for target practice in five.”
 
joaspn
 
Bobby was waiting the next morning when Joan came downstairs to start breakfast. 
 
“How do you know?” Bobby asked before she had even reached the first floor.  “How do you know she forgave me?”
 
“She told me, Bobby.”
 
Bobby didn’t know whether or not to be suspicious.  “Why?”
 
“She doesn’t like how you’ve used your life since then.  She wants you to have happiness even if she isn’t here.”
 
“I don’t know if I can.”
 
Joan smiled.  “I think you can.”
 
The squeak on the stair and the murmuring to the baby were the warnings Bobby needed.  Sam was bringing Billy down again.
 
Breakfast that morning was similar to yesterday, without the arguing pseudo-couple.  The girl took the baby upstairs to feed him and get dressed while Bobby and Sam got breakfast moving, Sam firmly on coffee duty after that debacle last summer with undercooked eggs and overcooked bacon.
 
After breakfast, Dean and Joan once again disappeared into the maze that was his junkyard, leaving Bobby with an edgy Sam and a baby that started fussing as soon as his momma was out of sight.  Bobby gave Sam some research and watched over the baby with a little trepidation while he took care of the business that kept him clothed and sheltered.
 
He found that Billy settled if he hummed a little, though the kid thankfully wasn’t terribly picky about the tune, and the next couple of hours passed in relative calm before the kid started crying in earnest.
 
Sam was in the room before he’d had time to get out of his chair, scooping the infant out of his carrier and into his father’s arms.  Bizarrely, it reminded Bobby of Dean as a child and how he’d come running when little Sammy cried out.
 
Sam had the baby’s tiny body cradled against his chest, one big hand supporting Billy’s head and neck while the other undid the snaps of the onesie and checked his diaper.  “Yeah, that might be why he’s unhappy.  Probably hungry too, aren’t you kiddo?”  He nodded to Bobby, gesturing towards the stairs.  “I’m going to change this diaper.”  The wails lessened in volume to the older man’s ears when Sam left, though they didn’t stop.  They got louder again after about fifteen minutes, the boy coming back down to the first floor with the still-crying baby.
 
“At least we know he’s still breathing,” Bobby pointed out, and Sam huffed out a stressed laugh.
 
“I think he just wants Joan right now.  I can’t tell if he’s hungry or just picking up on our frustration.”  He started pacing with the child, humming a little, though Bobby didn’t recognize the tune.  “C’mon, kiddo, settle down.  She’ll be back soon.”  The wails slowly subsided into hiccupping sobs as Sam kept up the humming and pacing, one hand rubbing circles on the baby’s back.  It was the same unfamiliar song, over and over, and Bobby finally asked what it was.
 
Sam shrugged, continuing his movements.  “Joan sings it to him when he won’t settle down.  It usually works for her, so I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
 
The woman in question came in right then, sweaty and disheveled and plucking at the buttons on her shirt.  “Sorry, sorry, got distracted.”  Her arms were trembling a little as she reached for the baby, a familiar mixture of adrenaline and exertion that comes from a crash course in firearms mixed with PT that he dimly remembered from boot camp.  There was a flash of pale skin as she turned away with the baby, followed by blessed silence once she’d hurried up the stairs.
 
A snowstorm blew in while they were eating lunch, so the rest of the day was spent in research and weapons maintenance.  Sam had stumbled upon some battered book about guardian spirits that was probably more fiction than fact, but it was interesting enough to keep the boy’s attention.  Joan fell asleep at the kitchen table after dinner and Sam half-carried the girl upstairs to the room she’d taken over.  Dean found a stack of old paperbacks that he’d picked up at a library booksale and was amusing himself by reading Ray Bradbury’s ‘Illustrated Man’ to Billy.
 
When Bobby headed to bed, Dean was stretched out on the couch with Billy sprawled out on his chest and Sam was crammed onto the cot shoved against the wall.
 
joaspn
 
“Why has she forgiven me?”
 
That was the question Bobby asked the next morning.
 
Joan shook her head.  “For the same reason that she wants your forgiveness.  She loves you.”
 
“Why does she want my forgiveness?”
 
“That’s between you and her.  It hurt her too much for her to tell me.  She feels that it was somehow her fault that you never visit the grave in the north corner.”
 
Bobby blanched.  “That wasn’t her fault.”
 
Joan simply waited.
 
“It wasn’t,” he reiterated. 
 
“Your head knows that.  But what about your heart?”
 
Bobby growled impatiently as Sam’s sure footfalls indicated that this conversation was once again put on hold.  The younger man was moving stiffly into the kitchen, for once without his son in hand.  “That cot needs to be put out of its misery,” Sam grumbled, stretching out as best as he could in the tiny kitchen.
 
“Next time don’t sleep on it,” Bobby said.  “There’s a perfectly good bed upstairs.”
 
“Didn’t mean to fall asleep down here,” Sam said, dropping down into a seat and rubbing his neck.
 
Bobby saw Joan look over from her place over by the counter before she walked over and stood behind Sam.  “Lean forward,” she told him.
 
Sam looked hesitant.  “Um, why?”
 
“Just trust me.”  Sam slowly leaned until it became obvious that to go any further would be painful.  “Put your hands on the table,” Joan instructed, and Sam shot a confused look at Bobby before doing exactly that.  The girl put her hands on his back, a frown of concentration on her face as she gently prodded a couple of places before pressing her knuckles in.
 
The unexpected sensation made Sam choke back a cry, and he arched back a little, which only gave Joan a little more leverage.  She let up after about ten seconds, running the heels of her hands up and down Sam’s spine and then repeating the process two more times.  “Better?” she asked, and Bobby doubted he was the only one who heard the hopeful note in her voice.
 
“Yeah,” Sam said after a moment.  He twisted his shoulders experimentally.  “Yeah, it is, actually.  How’d you learn to do that?”
 
“My brother Kevin gets knots in his back like that all the time when he stays in one position for too long,” she said, beaming and turning back to the counter.  “I learned how to fix it so he would stop complaining about it.”
 
That day fell into the now-familiar pattern, with the exception of Joan popping back to the house every couple of hours to check on the baby.  Dean had apparently given in to that particular demand after hearing the tale of the day before.  He didn’t want his nephew to wail like that any more than the rest of them.
 
joaspn
 
“Why did your Boss let it happen?”
 
Joan sighed as she stirred the sugar in her tea.  She should have known when Bobby gave her extra time to wake up that he was about to ask the hard question.  She wasn’t equipped to handle the hard questions.  Most people didn’t even know how hard the hard question was.
 
“Why?” Bobby repeated, his hurt eyes burning into hers.
 
“That’s a Big Picture question and knowing that Big Picture?”  Joan shook her head.  “It’s too much.  Much, much too much.  You have to trust me on that.”
 
“It’s because of all the people I’ve helped since then.”
 
Joan nodded.  “That’s some of it.  Have you ever read the story of the Israeli King Hezekiah in the Bible?”
 
It took Bobby several moments to work through the Old Testament stories.  “The king that asked for more time and then he fathered one of the worst kings in their history.”
 
“That one.”
 
“I don’t think I like what you’re insinuating,” the old man growled.
 
Joan looked startled.  “No, no.  I’m not saying that you or your wife would have done anything horrific or anything, I’m just saying that the results of it not happening could have happened generations down the line.”
 
Bobby looked up at the ceiling and heard the sounds of movement above.  “Or just one.”
 
Joan was just watching him.  She didn’t confirm or deny.  It wasn’t as if she really knew.
 
joaspn
 
Bobby hadn’t asked Joan any more questions yet this morning but Joan was wary.  The last time, he had bowled her over with the ‘Big Picture’ question.  He didn’t say a word.  Which was good since Dean, Sam and Billy woke early and would have cut really short any conversation.  When Bobby finally did start talking, he was addressing Dean.
 
“What do you have planned for training her today?”
 
Dean shrugged.  “The usual: target practice, running and some self defense.  Why?”
 
“I need to dig up a grave.  She should know how to do that too.”
 
Dean looked from Bobby to Joan and then to Sam and back around.  “What am I missing?”
 
“Boy,” Bobby grumbled.  “Digging, salting and burning the bones is often the safest job.”
 
“Sometimes it’s not,” Dean countered.
 
Sam kept his mouth shut since he wasn’t all that pleased with the training thus far.  Joan being exhausted at the end of each day while her son needed her… that was wrong.  But there was no way for Sam to win against Dean and Joan (and even Bobby) when they stood united.  He still argued every chance he had to no avail.
 
“She still needs to know how to do it,” said Bobby.
 
“It’s a lot of work.”
 
“And running’s not?”
 
Dean got a mulish look.
 
“Dean.”  The table of men all looked at Joan and realized that she had made her decision and there wasn’t a single one of them that could change her mind.  “I’m doing it.”
 
“Ah, hell.”
 
Joan addressed only Bobby.  “When do you want to leave?”
 
“After target practice.”  She was still flinching too much to be of much use to anyone.
 
After three hours of combined target practice and gun maintenance lessons, Bobby led Joan to the grave he had mentioned earlier.
 
“I thought I was digging up the grave.”  Joan had her arms wrapped around herself as she watched Bobby dig in the north corner of his property.
 
“You will.”
 
“You’re not babying me, are you?”
 
Bobby chuckled.  “No, I’m babying me.”
 
It didn’t make sense to Joan until Bobby hit the wooden casket, opened it and lifted out a tiny body wrapped in a quilt.  “Oh, Bobby.”
 
“It’s time they were buried together.”
 
“Yes, it is.”
 
joaspn
 
Joan cried when they left Bobby’s.  Dean was horrified and didn’t know what to do with her silent tears.  Sam kept promising that they would return soon and that they often called Bobby.  There wasn’t any reason that Joan couldn’t call Bobby any time she wanted.
 
Dean agreed and went so far as to make Joan put Bobby’s phone numbers into her cell for emergencies.  She waved from the backseat as the Impala pulled away and Bobby went back into his too-quiet house.
 
 
Chapter 3

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