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Fic: A House is Not a Home Chapter Four

Chapter 4
 
Dean knocked tentatively on the door.  Joan had been in a bitchy mood all day and he wasn’t exactly anxious to be chewed out again, but she’d been in there for a while for someone not taking shower.  “You OK in there, Joanie?”
 
“Crap,” he heard her say through the flimsy door.  It cracked open to show Joan’s slightly red face.  “I need you to go get something for me.”
 
“What do you need?” he asked automatically, and her face flushed further.
 
“Tampons,” she muttered.
 
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Dean glanced over at his brother, who was carefully keeping his sprained ankle elevated.
 
“I wish,” she said, her tone miserable.  “Tampons, chocolate, Midol, and a heating pad.  As soon as possible.”  The door shut before he could make further objections.
 
Sam shrugged when his brother glared at him.  “Hey, it’s not like I got messed up on purpose just to avoid this.  I didn’t even know it was coming.”  He looked a little too innocently amused for Dean’s taste, so Dean took the time to whack his brother on his uninjured shoulder as he gathered keys and wallet.  There was no point in dragging this out.
 
The drugstore down the street had a long aisle that included those kinds of things along with over-the-counter birth control, which made no sense to him but at least let him maintain some sense of manliness while he covertly studied the selection.  He finally dug his phone out in disgust.  If he got the wrong thing he’d have to do this all over again.
 
Joan wasn’t answering her cell, so he called Sam.  “What kind does she need?” he asked without preamble when his brother answered.
 
“I don’t know!”
 
“Well, ask her.  She’s not answering her cell.”  Dean gritted his teeth and turned so that he looked like he was debating condom brands and styles.  He knew that once he put that box in his basket he’d lose any chance of getting laid in this town, but he was going to try for at least a shred of dignity until then.
 
“Tampax Pearl,” Sam eventually said after about a minute.  He sounded just as embarrassed as Dean felt, which made things a little better.  “And Dean?  Hurry.”
 
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Dean grumbled as he hung up the phone and grabbed the hated blue box, and then a second after a moment’s hesitation.  There was a display of Midol at the end of the aisle and he grabbed three bottles, adding them to the bags of chocolate he’d picked up first.  The checkout felt fairly humiliating to him, mostly because nothing said ‘whipped’ like tampons in your shopping basket when you were a guy.  That and ‘unavailable.’
 
He turned the music up when he got back into the car, the two plastic bags sitting on the backseat on the passenger side, as far away as he could make them without tossing them into the trunk.  Sam was still on the bed when Dean got back to the motel room, though he looked nervous and edgy.  Billy had woken up from his nap and was making little unhappy noises that weren’t quite crying from his travel bed.  Dean knocked on the bathroom door and handed over the plastic bags without comment before scooping up his nephew, the car seat, and the diaper bag and heading for the door.
 
‘Wait, you’re not leaving me alone with her,” Sam protested, trying to get up.
 
“Yes I am, Sammy,” Dean told him with great satisfaction.  He snagged the crutches on the way out the door, ignoring Sam’s slightly frantic pleas.  “Come on, kiddo.  Let’s go somewhere until your mom isn’t quite so crazy."

xxx
 
“If you’re going to be at this for a while, can I have the keys to the Impala?” Joan had thought that it was a perfectly reasonable request.  Dean had been training her for a little while with guns and such and he had decided that she was a good enough driver to be trusted with his ‘baby.’  They pretty much left her alone whenever God gave her a task to do.  They figured that it was God’s job to keep her safe during those times.  Joan didn’t disabuse the notion, though her experiences had made it rather apparent that she could easily get hurt ‘on the job.’
 
So she wasn’t prepared for the Winchester brothers’ violent spit take at her simple question.  Dean spewed out his beer and Sam choked on his fries.  It was a good thing that they had ordered take-out for lunch instead of finding a restaurant.
 
“Hell, no,” Dean breathed out first.
 
“Why not?  I have friends in Chicago.  They’d love to see Billy.”
 
“No.”
 
Joan rolled her eyes.  “Why not?”
 
In answer, Dean went over, picked his nephew off his blanket and walked to the furthest corner of the motel room.  It was as if he was afraid that she’d take Billy and make a break for the door.  He knew that she’d go nowhere without her son.  The blatant manipulation made Joan wary and mad.
 
Obviously, the emotions were apparent on her face because Dean spoke his normal response: pass off the responsibility to his brother.  “Sammy, tell her no.”
 
Joan promptly focused her glare on Sam.  “Why not?”
 
“Joan,” Sam was searching for the right words.  “We’re really worried about this job.  We’d like you to stay behind a line of salt whenever we’re not with you.”
 
“It’s a poltergeist,” Joan enunciated.  “It’s tied to its house.  This one can’t come after me.”
 
“We’re not too sure about that,” Dean said. 
 
Dean was the better liar of the two and he had no compunction against lying to his ‘family’ if he thought it was in their best interests or if it would smooth the waters.  It had taken Joan a couple of months to figure out Dean would only enter into a conversation/argument that he had previously excused himself from to speak a lie for Joan to believe. 
 
“Okay,” Joan crossed her arms and faced Sam.  “What is going on that you don’t want to tell me?”
 
“It might not be a poltergeist,” Dean blurted out.
 
“I wasn’t talking to you, was I?” Joan challenged.  “Sam, what is going on?”  Joan didn’t need to look behind her to know that Dean was silently telling Sam to repeat the lie.  “Sam?”
 
“We didn’t want you to worry,” Sam blurted out.  “But this job is looking a little more dangerous than the others.”
 
“What are you hunting?”
 
There was a pause, where Sam was waiting for Dean to interject a lie, but Dean had wised up to Joan noticing their pattern.  It was up to Sam –totally- to make her stay put.
 
“We don’t know,” Sam finally said.  “But it’s killed several.  And it’s not tied to any one place.”
 
Joan digested the information.  “And you’re beating your head against the wall right now.”
 
Neither of the boys could argue.  They had no new information and no way to get more information to kill the family enemy.  They could just feel him, or her, closing in.  Billy would be six months old in two days.
 
“So you need a break,” Joan declared.  “One of you can take me to the Carpenter’s.” 
 
“Joan…” Sam started.
 
“You’re not doing anything worthwhile anyway.”
 
“We’ll stop by later, after the job.  I promise that we’ll come back through Chicago soon.”
 
“The Carpenters housed me for the majority of my pregnancy.  They’ll want to see Billy while he’s small…. ish.”  The baby was growing like a weed.  “It’s Michael and Charity.  You talked to Michael, remember?”  Joan was trying not to plead or beg, but she really wanted to.
 
Sam relented.  “You best go to the bathroom now, ‘cause we’re not letting you two out of our sight while we’re there.  And we’ll be back here by sundown.”  It was stupid and dangerous, but there was always a chance that Joan wouldn’t be alive for their ‘next time through.’
 
“Deal,” Joan made a dash for the toilet.
 
“Way to put your foot down,” Dean grumbled.
 
“If you didn’t lie so often,” Sam argued, “she wouldn’t suspect your words in every fight we have.”
 
“I don’t lie that much,” Dean denied.
 
“Yes you do,” Joan yelled through the closed door. 
 
By the time she was done in the bathroom, Dean was packing up the diaper bag (there were at least two guns in there) and Sam was putting Billy into his car seat.  Their logic was obvious, the sooner they got to the Carpenter’s house, the sooner they could leave.  Joan wasn’t so sure that it’d go that smoothly.  There were enough Carpenters to throw a kink into that plan.
 
Dean drove, of course, but instead of being relegated to the backseat as normal, Joan was given shotgun.  Sam came along for the ride.  He kept touching Billy as if to reassure himself.  Joan wondered what lie the boys would offer the family to explain why they came as well.  She didn’t bother wasting her breath to tell them that no one would believe the story.
 
As it was, the Winchester’s didn’t even get a chance to lie.
 
Joan and Billy were mobbed at the door, promptly separated and passed around for hugs.  Molly was the first to get Billy and the last to Joan.  She took one look at Sam and Dean and asked her father, “Hunters?”
 
Michael nodded once with a long-suffering smile.
 
“Demon hunters?” one of the younger kids repeated loudly.  “Mama, are they really demon hunters?”
 
Charity sighed.  “Joan, I thought you had better taste than this.”
 
“Are you kidding, Mom?”  Molly was enjoying the picture of the pair.  “The eye-candy doesn’t get much better than this… Which one is Sam?”
 
Sam waved meekly.
 
Molly sidled up to Dean.  “And you must be the very available older brother.”
 
“Dean,” he supplied.  His smile indicated that he appreciated her looks as well.
 
Molly grinned.
 
Michael forestalled any comment she might have made.  “You have to remain celibate for your apprenticeship.” 
 
“Celibate?” Dean echoed with a wince.
 
“Apprenticeship?” Sam echoed curiously.
 
“Thanks, Dad,” Molly pouted.
 
Michael was not apologetic in the least.  He moved carefully back, using the cane for balance.  “Let them in, children, and close the door.  I do believe your mother has some snacks in the kitchen for our guests.”  Most of the kids filtered to the kitchen.
 
“Apprenticeship?” Sam asked Dean again.
 
The youngest girl answered.  She stepped in front of Sam with her hands on her hips.  “Molly’s learning how to hunt demons like Daddy used to.”
 
Dean added the proud declaration to the cane, the newish looking ramp out front and understood that Michael had been hurt on the job within the last couple years.  He knelt to be at the girl’s level.  “Do you know how long your daddy was a hunter?”  If it was as long as he was thinking, he’d have to sit down and question the older hunter.  He wondered if this could be Sam and Joan’s house in twenty years.  He’d be cool with that.  They’d have to have a garage with room for the Impala, but that was the only improvement that he could imagine.  He grinned: seven kids.  Sam and Joan had to start working on that to match the Carpenters.
 
“It was a loooooong time.  Even before Mommy and Daddy met.”  The girl glanced behind her to make sure none of her family was listening.  “Daddy saved Mommy from a dragon, that’s how they met.”
 
Dean threw his head back and laughed.  “So your dad stole the dragon’s best booty?”
 
Sam choked at the irreverent (and complimentary, in ‘Dean-speak’) comment.
 
The little girl nodded somewhat seriously.  “Everyone’s in the kitchen and Mom made pies yesterday, even Joan’s favorite.”
 
Dean bowed playfully at the girl.  “Well, lead the way, my pretty hostess.  I’m going to have to ask your very experienced dad about some of his hunts.”
 
The girl giggled and latched onto both Sam’s and Dean’s hand and pulled them into the friendly, cheery, bustling kitchen.  It was… strange and unsettling.  Sam had never been a part of such family dynamics.  Even the strangers whose households they stepped into (under false pretenses) were ones that had been destroyed or damaged by the supernatural.  Never had they been included in such scenes.  Dean had vague memories of family meals around a kitchen table and the mess Baby Sam had made with the strained spinach.  He had thrown it on Dad’s chair and Dad hadn’t noticed before he had sat on it.
 
The little girl was comfortable with the disorganized noise.  In a very loud voice, she announced to all, “Sam and Dean want to hear the story of how Daddy stole the dragon’s best booty.”
 
Silence.  Then a snort.  Molly started laughing so hard, she was already crying.  Joan was giggling as well.  Charity and Dean were turning matching shades of red, which Sam found funny. 
 
Michael was chuckling, but his eyes were serious as they weighed and judged the Winchester brothers.
 
Dean didn’t want to be found lacking.  He straightened and faced Michael Carpenter face to face.  “Sorry sir,” he apologized.  “I forgot how kids repeat everything at that age, whether they understand it or not.”  He jerked his thumb at his brother.  “Sammy, here, had me in trouble with Dad for almost a year.”
 
“Slow learner,” Sam teased.
 
“Yeah, it took me that long to teach him what non-essential information didn’t need to be reported to Dad.” Dean shot back.
 
Michael’s eyes twinkled at bit at the brotherly ribbing.  He did glance at Charity, a hint that Dean owed another apology.
 
Dean faced her awkwardly.  “Uhm, it really was a compliment.  Really.”
 
Charity rolled her eyes a bit.  “Would you like pie?  We have apple, peach, raspberry and blueberry.”
 
“Fresh baked?” Dean nearly drooled.  “Can I have a slice of each?”
 
“No.  You have to save room for dinner.  You’re staying, of course.”
 
Dean glanced at Sam.  He was the one better at smoothing it over with the motherly types.  “I’m sorry ma’am, but we can’t.  We have to get back before dark.”
 
“Nonsense,” Molly argued, sounding a bit like her mother.  “They can stay here, right?”  Both Michael and Charity nodded.  “Our threshold is tons stronger than any at a motel or hotel.”
 
It was a strong argument, but Dean and Sam knew better.  With the way that Joan was eyeing them, Dean knew that it’d be better if Sam answered this one.  Joan needed to know part of the truth.
 
“Thank you, it’s very generous, but…” He glanced once at Dean.  He didn’t want to hurt his brother with his explanation.  “We have a… personal enemy, a demon and… he had- has no problem stepping through thresholds.”
 
“Really?” Molly was surprised.  “What type of demon is it?  What clan does it belong to?”  There was a seriousness to her questioning, something that reminded Dean of Bobby Singer; a young, female, hot version… and he so didn’t want to think in that direction.
 
“We don’t know,” Dean floundered.
 
Molly tilted her head and thought through it.  “Has it gone after other members of your family beside you two?”
 
It was an innocent question, oddly enough, but it made the brothers’ hearts clench.  “Yeah,” Dean said softly.
 
Molly turned to her dad.  “It definitely sounds like a clan demon to me.  I’m going to have to call Harry.”
 
Michael assented. 
 
Molly looked at Dean again.  “Have you seen its actual form?”
 
“No.”  Dean’s voice was clipped.  “The yellow-eyed son of a…” he glanced at all the children watching and listening, and then at Charity, and decided not to say that word.  “It possesses people and they end up with yellow eyes.”  He very firmly made his body calm down and tried to smile at Michael.  “We were hoping to pick your brain, sir.”
 
“Of course,” Michael nodded.  “After dinner.”
 
“Sir…” Sam didn’t want to hurt his brother or this family.  “Sir, this particular ss…sucker burns down homes after it’s done.”  He didn’t want to mention the murder and mayhem, but was sure that the adults heard the implied facts.
 
Michael locked eyes with his wife.  They had some sort of silent communication.  Finally, she nodded.  “Dinner will be in an hour.  Why don’t you four all talk in the bedroom?”
 
Molly smirked as she stood and led the way to the first floor bedroom, another fairly obvious new addition.  Both Sam and Dean were loath to leave Billy and Joan without anyone to protect them.  Sam approached Daniel, the Carpenter’s oldest son, and asked for Billy.  Daniel handed him over with an understanding smile.  Dean dug into the diaper bag and pulled out two guns.  The first one he tucked into the waistband of his jeans.  He took the second one and the spare shells and placed them beside Joan.
 
“Do not let them out of your arm’s reach.”  He glanced around at the tableful of kids.  “And none of you will touch it, understood?”
 
Every child solemnly nodded at the order.  They were used to such boundaries that had to be obeyed.  Satisfied, Dean stowed the diaper bag and whatever other dangerous stuff he had packed on top of the refrigerator. 
 
There were stress lines around Charity’s mouth, but she didn’t renege her offer.  Joan was rolling her eyes at the hyper-vigilance, but was accustomed to it.  The last time the boys had briefly discussed the family demon with her, they had hovered for a week.
 
Sam walked into the bedroom with Billy cuddled in his arms.  Molly had pulled in two chairs for them to sit in.  Dean wasn’t thrilled with their backs being toward the closed door, but tried to tell himself that it would be alright.  It was daylight.  The demon wasn’t here yet.
 
Michael sat across from them, a legal pad and a pen in his hand.  He had already written ‘yellow-eyes of the possessed’ and ‘house fires.’  Molly reached over and scribbled ‘clannish’ on the pad.
 
“Tell me about this demon,” Michael invited….
 
Charity bustled around the stove, cooking some ground beef and adding homemade tomato sauce.  “Kids, start setting the table.”
 
“Yes, mom,” chorused about.
 
She looked at Joan and tried to smile.  “It gets a bit stuffy in that bedroom with that many people in there.  You should take them some water.”
 
Joan agreed and grabbed a pitcher of water and a stack of four cups.  It wasn’t fun balancing that with the gun, but Joan knew better than to enter the room without it.  Dean would scold her until the cows came home.  One of the boys, probably Sam, had closed the door to dissuade curious little ears.  Joan huffed, put down the cups while keeping the pitcher upright.  She could hear Michael’s familiar rumble.
 
“…No,” Sam answered.  “It kills the mothers, not the children.  That’s why Joan is in danger.”
 
Surely she heard wrong… Billy was the one that was being threatened here, not her.  The young woman stayed by the door, listening intently as Dean picked up the thread of conversation.  “The demon killed our mom when Sam was six months old.  Pinned her on the ceiling and burned her.”  His voice was tight.  “We’re not sure why, but he does have a ritual and a time table.  And Joan’s the next on his list.”
 
She distantly heard Michael ask a question about Sam’s mother as she opened the door, but all conversation stopped dead when she stepped into the room.  Sam started to stand, his expression earnest, and Joan looked at him, then Dean, and upended the pitcher of water onto them both.  Then she stormed from the room, setting the pitcher down on the first flat surface available as she walked out the front door.  The gun was tucked into her waistband, which was uncomfortable but necessary when you considered the curious hands of the Carpenter children.
 
Her bravado wavered once she got out onto the front lawn, since she didn’t really want to leave the Carpenters.  Especially while Billy was still inside.  She was still a little divided when it came to the Winchesters right now, but as soon as she had calmed down she was walking back in there and collecting her baby.
 
“Joan?”  She looked up at the sound of her name in that oddly hesitant voice.  Sam was standing about ten yards away.  “I’m sorry.”
 
God grant her patience.  “Sorry for what, Sam?”  She had no intention of helping him out of this hole.  He’d dug it himself, he could climb up on his own.
 
“Um, whatever I did to make you mad?”  The way he said it made it seem like a question.
 
“Did you know it’s pretty much impossible to be sorry for doing something if you don’t know what it is you did?”
 
Sam sighed.  “Yeah.”
 
Her resolve softened, just a little.  “Do you want to know why I’m mad at you?”
 
“Please?”  A smile accompanied the statement.  Joan wondered if he had any idea what the fleeting glimpse of those dimples did to her.
 
“I’m in danger, Sam.”  He looked like he was about to speak up, offer some kind of reassurance, and she held up her hand.  “Something wants to kill me, specifically, and you didn’t tell me.  I didn’t know about your mom, and I didn’t know about Jess.  And Sam, this is something I really, really needed to know.”  Joan took a deep breath and forced her fists to unclench.  “I have a job to do, Sam, and I need to know everything I can to do it.”
 
“I figured He would tell you if it was important.  I just . . .didn’t want to worry you.”
 
“That’s not the Job I’m talking about, Sam.  You and I have a responsibility to Billy, and keeping secrets from each other will just make that harder.  That’s why I told you about God.”
 
He nodded, hopefully in acceptance.
 
“And Sam?”  Joan made sure she had his complete attention, reaching out and grabbing his hand.  “If you keep something like this from me again, I will take Billy and we will disappear.  I met a few people over the past year, and trust me when I say I can do it.  I really, really don’t want to, but I will if I have to.”
 
“All right.”
 
joaspn
 
Harry parked the Beetle in front of the Carpenter’s home, edging up to the bumper of an enormous black monster of a car that he was absolutely not jealous of, no matter how cool it looked.  Molly had been frustratingly vague when she called him to the house, and Harry was curious and a little wary about what his apprentice was dragging him into.
 
The controlled chaos of the Carpenter house was a comfortable, familiar balm to him after all this time, though there was an unusual undercurrent of tension buzzing amongst the older kids.  Alicia was riding herd on Hope and little Harry, but she pointed him in the direction of the relatively new ground-floor bedroom.
 
Charity was coming out as he approached the room.  Harry studied her as they crossed paths; she looked tired, worn thin in a way that he’d rarely seen.  “They’re waiting for you,” she said quietly.
 
“Who’s waiting for me?” 
 
The woman shook her head.  “You don’t know them.  Joan stayed with us last year, and now she and her friends have your kind of trouble.”  It was obvious she was trying to tone down her glare.  He and Charity had settled a truce around the same time he took her daughter on as apprentice, and that had included a cessation of hostilities since they were both invested in keeping Molly whole and well.  “She was the pregnant girl who stayed in Molly’s room while the two of you recovered last summer.”
 
He remembered her vaguely, though he really only caught fleeting glimpses of the girl in question.  Harry could read between the lines and knew when Charity really didn’t want him around.  “And now she’s back?”
 
“With the baby, the baby’s father and uncle, and a demon on their trail,” Charity sighed.  “They’re staying with us right now.  Molly thought a good threshold would help.”
 
“And how do you guys know her?  She go to school with Molly or something?”
 
Charity stiffened a little.  “Father Forthill sent her to us.  She needed a place to stay and we needed a hand around the house.”
 
There was something she wasn’t saying, and Harry was suddenly very interested in whatever that might be.  He’d never seen Charity hold back from saying what needed to be said.  Though to be fair, the Carpenter household had just as many beliefs about hospitality as some parts of the supernatural world.  Harry nodded and headed into the bedroom.
 
It was crowded inside.  Harry brought the total of adults up to six when he stepped through the door, and the stress levels inside jumped at the same time.  The two younger men in the room stood up when he entered the room, the taller one moving protectively in front of the brunette girl holding a baby while the other guy covered Molly and Michael.
 
He could respect someone who would do that, even though either one of them could probably take the kid.
 
“Hey, Harry,” Molly said, a smile forming as she peered around the obstruction.  “Perfect timing.”
 
“Why?  Am I about to get invited for pot roast?”
 
The taller of the two strangers narrowed his eyes.  “Christo.”
 
Harry frowned at the Latin, but before he could make a comment the unknown girl spoke up.  “It’s okay,” she said, relaxing her hold on the infant in her arms a fraction.  “He’s good.  Nothing there.”
 
“You’re sure?”
 
She nodded, and the two strangers moved out of guard dog position, though they didn’t relax.
 
Harry waited until the guns were put away before he took a seat.  No sense taking unnecessary chances.  “I hear you have a demon problem,” he said.  “Tell me everything.”
 
joaspn
 
Michael felt the cool air from the house wash over him, and he shut off the sander.  He’d come out to his workshop for a little time away from the growing tension surrounding Joan and the Winchester brothers.  He always prayed better when his hands were occupied.  Taking off his safety glasses and hearing protection, he turned on his stool and faced the door.  Joan was standing there without either of her shadows, looking determined.  “Can we talk?”
 
“Of course.”  He watched as she moved around the room restlessly.  Joan was a person of action.  She had told him once, during one of their conversations when she’d first stayed with them, that God had told her that she was a catalyst, meant to put reactions into motion.  He could bear witness to that with what he’d seen.  “What’s troubling you?”
 
“There’s no handbook on this,” she said finally.  “Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing.  Michael, what exactly can I do as an instrument of God?”
 
Michael thought about this for a minute while Joan continued pacing.  It was a straightforward, blunt question, the kind he would have expected from her, but the answer wasn’t as simple.  “As you’ve said, there is no handbook other than the Bible, which is admittedly non-specific.  But I believe that what you can do as an instrument of God is limited by only three things: your faith, your physical body, and what God wants you to do.  Why do you ask?”
 
“I exorcised a demon by accident a few months ago,” she said.
 
Michael gently grabbed her wrist as she moved past him so he could look her in the eyes.  “By accident?”
 
She nodded.  “There was a . . . man, and I could tell he was demon-possessed.  I just knew it when I saw him.  He was . . . hurting Sam and I yelled for it to get out and leave us alone, and it did.”  Her words rushed out in an anxious torrent.  “This black cloud, like smoke only more dense, poured out of him, and he . . . the man collapsed.  He couldn’t remember anything.”
 
Michael considered this for a minute, releasing Joan to resume her pacing.  It was obvious that she was holding something back, but he wasn’t sure what it was.  “The next time it happens,” and he had no doubt it would, with the company Joan was keeping, “be specific.  You need to tell the demon to go back to Hell, otherwise it will be free to possess someone else.  The one you cast out couldn’t take any of you because of your instructions, but it is still out there causing harm.”  The look of horror on her face made it obvious that she realized the ramifications all too clearly, and he spoke gently to her.  “Demons will exploit every loophole you leave them, so you should come up with a phrase that leaves them no options.” Michael smiled.  “I understand Samuel was studying to be a lawyer.  Perhaps he can help you.”
 
Joan flopped down on the floor across from Michael and groaned.  “Not you too, Michael.”
 
“I want you to be safe and happy, Joan.  It is no accident that God put you with those two.”  He abandoned the subject for the time being and returned to their previous discussion.  “The other important thing you should remember is that this is not your ability.  When a demon is exorcised, it is by God’s power alone.  Approach the task with that in mind.”
 
Joan nodded.  “And as far as everything else goes, I won’t know if I can do it unless I try?”
 
“Pray first, then move forward,” Michael advised.  “Now, why don’t we get back to preparing?”
 
joaspn
 
Joan wished she could stop pacing the panic room they’d sequestered her in, but every time she sat down on one of the bunks she was back up within a minute.  The room was crowded with children and bunk beds and a battered card table, and it took a depressingly short time to walk all four walls.
 
The tiny wind-up alarm clock that was nestled into the rungs of one of the triple-tiered bunks ticked along fairly loudly, keeping time to her movements.  She kind of wanted to smash it, but that would probably upset the younger kids.  Besides, it wasn’t her clock.
 
God, this plan sucked.
 
She’d hoped that once they heard about what she and Michael had hammered out they’d see reason and let her take a little more active role, but Dean had gone into full protective mode and talked Sam into his point of view.  She and Billy were safely ensconced behind a strong threshold, salt lines and an apparently angelically blessed doorway.
 
“Joan.”
 
She looked up at the sound of her name, half-expecting it to be one of the Carpenter kids.  Instead she saw God, dressed up like the Goth teenager and watching her with dark eyes.  “You need to go outside, Joan.”
 
“I’m supposed to protect Billy,” she protested.
 
“No,” he said, coming up beside her.  “Your place is outside, next to Sam.  Don’t be afraid, Joan.  I’ll be right there.”
 
A year ago, she would have argued.  Now she knew better.  She nodded, stood up, handed Billy to Alicia and went to the door.
 
Time to put on the armor and head into battle.
 
joaspn
 
This wasn’t going the way they had planned.
 
The demon hadn’t made it through the wizard’s defenses, which was a plus.  Learning its name had apparently made a big difference in what could be done to keep a safe distance.  But while Dresden had successfully repelled him, he hadn’t managed to do any real damage.  It stood on the sidewalk, yellow eyes glinting in the flickering streetlight and a smug expression plastered across its borrowed features.
 
At least Molly was keeping the veil up.  It was bad enough having this confrontation on the Carpenter’s front lawn.  He really didn’t want to deal with the cops right now.
 
“All you have to do is give me a few minutes alone with the newest Winchester, Sammy.  No one has to get hurt if you give me what I want.”
 
“And why would I do that?”
 
Azazel looked at Sam with a pleasant smile on his face.  “Because, Sammy, if your little slut doesn’t bring down that kid, I’m going to decorate this street with the guts of every person that I can find.  And I’m gonna start with the cute little kids two doors down.”  The smile spread into a grin that was sickeningly lecherous.  “The ones who don’t have a freak like this to protect them.”
 
“I’m right here,” came a familiar voice behind him, and Sam’s blood went cold.  Joan was standing at the bottom of the ramp that led up into the Carpenter’s house.  There was an expression on her face that he’d only seen once before, just before the demon that had been possessing him had been sent packing.
 
The demon watched her with unveiled interest as she walked across the yard to stand next to Sam.  “How are you doing that?” it asked, and at that moment Sam realized that Azazel had been attempting to do something to her.  Attempting and failing completely.
 
“I’m not doing anything,” she answered.  He felt her small, cold, surprisingly strong fingers close around his wrist and watched as Joan closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and stared at the yellow-eyed demon.  “Tell the truth.  What do you want with Billy?”
 
“I want to corrupt him,” the demon said immediately.  The words were quickly followed by an obvious flash of confusion, then rage.  “So that’s what you are.  One of His little playthings.”
 
The fingers around his wrist tightened a little.  “Don’t say anything that isn’t an answer to my questions,” she commanded.  Sam felt his chest ache at the simple fact that Joan, sweet, sunny-natured Joan, had just given a command to a being that could and had killed with a thought, and that the order was being obeyed, even if the demon was clearly not happy with the results.  “How were you going to corrupt Billy?”
 
“I was going to feed him some of my blood,” the demon gritted out. 
 
Sam made a noise of protest in the back of his throat, and Joan glanced at him and back at the demon.  “Is that what you did to Sam?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Sam shoved all the pain and confusion and anger from this revelation into a small box in the back of his mind.  He had to focus.  This was an unparalleled opportunity to discover why things had happened the way they had.  He bent over and murmured a question in Joan’s ear, and she repeated it.  “What are your plans for Sam and the children like him?  Tell us every detail.”
 
The tale that spilled out was hideous in its complexity and goals.  Sam, Dean, and Harry all took turns prompting her with questions to ask the demon, including the location of the Colt.  Joan grew steadily paler as the interrogation went on, leaning on Sam a little more heavily as time passed.
 
By the time they were done with the questioning, Sam had his arm wrapped around Joan’s waist, trying to support her without being obvious about it.  She looked up at him, her expression strained by exhaustion.  “Can I send it away now?”
 
Sam glanced at Dean.  They could probably stand around and question the demon for days and recover useful information, but it wouldn’t be worth the stress it placed on Joan.  “Unless you can think of anything else.”
 
She shook her head and drew herself up, stepping away from Sam and staring at the sneering figure across from them.  “Go back to hell, right now,” she said.  “Stay there forever, and don’t do anything that will cause a single person harm.”
 
The man’s head tilted back instantly and a column of black smoke poured out and drove down into the ground.  Sam had just enough time to get into place before Joan’s eyes slid shut and she dropped bonelessly into his arms.
 
joaspn
 
They stayed with the Carpenters for another week.  Charity tried to make it two, but Dean started to get antsy and as much as Joan loved seeing the Carpenter kids she missed being able to focus on her son a little more.  Father Forthill came by two days after what Dean was calling the Big Fucking Exorcism (title edited when in range of little ears, under threat of Charity’s wrath) with a thick stack of papers tucked under one arm.  He spent most of the day with the three of them, getting details about every crime that the FBI had connected to the Winchesters.  The priest left at the end of the day with a grim expression.  He was back three days later, looking a little more upbeat, and explained that the Church would be able to clear the bulk of the charges outright due to lack of evidence and that with time Church lawyers should be able to get the rest of it dismissed as well.
 
Dean didn’t like it, didn’t want it, and wanted to reject it outright.  Even Joan could see the strings dangling from the Church offer, though she wasn’t sure that those strings were necessarily a bad thing.  Sam focused on the details of the Ordo Malleus and what they were offering, comparing them to the limitations and expectations that would be placed on them.
 
The deal the Church was offering wasn’t necessarily a bad one, though Sam chafed at the idea of it just as much as his brother.  Maybe it was because he’d been raised to be so independent, but he held just as much caution in dealing with the Vatican and this mysterious Order as he would any other organization, maybe even a little more, considering their widespread influence. 
 
Of course, that same influence was exactly why it made cold, practical sense to work with them.  While being under the banner of Rome wouldn’t give them a free pass, it would go a long way towards smoothing things out with a lot of people.  It would give them a more legitimate reason to be poking around into things, hopefully reducing their dependency on impersonating law enforcement.  That little quirk was competing with credit card fraud as the thing that would end up putting them away for good.
 
By the time they got back on the road, Sam had hammered out a deal via Father Forthill that would hopefully combine the best of both worlds: they would operate for the church on a freelance basis, taking each case as it came.  The Order would pay them a small stipend and allow the Winchesters to use them as a reference, if not a direct employer.
 
It would have to be enough.
 
 
 
Chapter 5

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