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Fic: A House is Not a Home, Chapter 5a

Henricksen eyed the car in the motel parking lot, comparing it with the grainy surveillance photos he had seen in the past. It certainly looked like Dean Winchester’s car, a black 1967 Chevy Impala, though the Illinois plates were not precisely what he was expecting. There weren’t too many of these things being driven around, which made them a little easier to track. This tip looked to be the best lead he’d had in months. Dean and Sam Winchester had effectively vanished after Baltimore, and their case had been officially lowered in priority. If he hadn’t been nearby on another case, he wouldn’t have been allowed to follow up on the sighting of the car. Things were falling into place now. With one last glance at the vehicle, the best indication of his prey’s proximity, he headed into the manager’s office.

He had to show his badge and ID to secure cooperation from the old man who ran the place, which pissed him off a little, but eventually the agent got the man talking.

“Yeah, I remember the Impala. Used to want one when I was younger.” He waggled his eyebrows a little. “It was a guaranteed way to pick up girls.”

“Who drove it in?”

The man sucked on his teeth for a second. “Young couple with a baby. The girl was a sweet young thing; asked about my grandkids.” He pointed to the picture taped to the register, a proud look on his face.

Henricksen glanced at the photo, but his mind was moving relentlessly forward. Was the girl a hostage or an accomplice? Or was this all a coincidence? “Just one man with her?” It was rare that you spotted just one of the Winchesters. They stuck together, watched each other’s backs. It was what made them so hard to catch. Had they separated?

The manager looked at him in disbelief. “Like I said before, a young couple. One man, one woman, and a baby. Paid for the room in cash.”

“What did the man look like?” He pulled two pictures out of the file and set them down in front of the old man. “Either one of these ring a bell?”

“Didn’t really get a good look at him,” the man said. “He stayed out in the parking lot, taking care of the luggage.”

“Try.”

The manager studied the pictures for several long moments before tapping the one of the younger brother. “This one, maybe, but I wouldn’t swear to it. Like I said, the girl took care of the room.”

“Can I see how she registered?” The FBI agent waited while the man opened up the book to the correct page and pointed to a name close to the bottom of the list. He wrote it down, thanked the man, and got a room across from the couple with the Impala. After starting off an extensive search for the name ‘Joan Girardi,’ he sat down next to the window to watch.

After about half an hour of tedious inactivity on his part, punctuated by frustrated expletives directed at the Bureau’s filing system, his laptop quietly beeped to signal the end of the search. He spent about another hour or so weeding through the results before he found what he was looking for: seven months ago, Joan Girardi had given birth to a son in a small town in Wyoming. The father was listed as Samuel Winchester. The motel manager’s “sweet young thing” was involved up to her neck.

Victor suppressed the anger he was feeling and focused. Dean was the real quarry here, not Sam and his little girlfriend. The only real use those two had was to flush out Dean. Use the girl to get Sam, use Sam to reel in his older brother.

As if by magic, the door he was watching opened and a young brunette stepped out, closing the door behind her. She was dressed in a T-shirt and shorts and had a towel tucked under her arm, with her long, dark hair pulled back into a tight braid. Henricksen watched as she crossed the parking lot and headed through the gate to the motel pool, and he smiled. That was sloppy of them.

He walked over there casually, careful to keep his walk slow and unhurried. The gate squeaked a little as he walked through. It was late in the day and the pool was empty except for the girl, who was doing laps across the deep end. Henricksen watched from the shadow of the building for a few minutes as she swam, marking out the rhythm of her even motions. It would take proper timing, but he should be able to handle it

He continued watching as she moved back and forth through the water, slowly making his way around to where she’d left her things. Eventually she climbed out of the pool, wrung out her hair, and headed toward her clothes. Henricksen stepped into her way before she reached them. “Where is he?” he asked without preamble. She looked at him with wary confusion, and he felt a moment of blinding rage. How dare she look so innocent when she was helping a murderer cheat justice? He grabbed her by the upper arm and squeezed, enjoying the gasp of pain. “Where is Dean Winchester? I know you’re helping him.” She tried to pull away and he twisted her arm a little, eliciting a yelp. “Tell me now!”

The girl looked at him sharply, without a trace of fear, and when she spoke her voice was strong and controlled. “Get out of him and go back to Hell where you belong,” she said.

The agent had less than a second to register the words before he felt something twist inside of him. There was a sharp pain in his chest. He tried to gasp for breath and found that he couldn’t, and his hold on the girl loosened as he dropped to his knees. She stepped away and around him, diving for her belongings and coming up with a gun and a cell phone. She ignored her clothing and continued moving away as she hit a speed dial number. “I need help at the pool,” she said to whoever was on the other end, presumably one of the Winchesters. He dragged in a breath as he heard the sounds of feet running on asphalt. What had she done to him?

Dean Winchester arrived first, skidding to a stop beside the girl. She handed him the gun immediately and moved a little behind him. Sam came up shortly after with a baby held in one arm. He handed the baby over to the girl even as he eyed Henricksen. The agent tried to summon up the anger he usually felt when it came to the Winchester brothers, but it refused to come.

“Who’s this?”

The girl shrugged, and he noticed that she was trembling slightly. “I was hoping you might know. He grabbed me when I got out of the pool. Wanted to know where Dean was.” Sam picked up the towel from the pile of clothing and draped it over her shoulders and she flashed a tired smile at him. Apparently he’d noticed the shivering as well.

“What else happened? The EMF meter went off just before you called.” Dean kept his eyes on the target as he asked the question. Victor was breathing a little better now, but he didn’t want to risk anything after that little episode. And if he was honest, he wasn’t entirely sure he could take down the older Winchester.

She winced as the baby jostled the arm he had grabbed earlier and switched the child to her other hip. Henricksen could see the red mark of his hand on the girl’s upper arm, and suddenly felt ashamed. He remembered taking pleasure in the pain he had caused as he sank his fingers into her pale skin and twisted, and his stomach began to churn with guilt. The feeling was so overwhelming that he nearly missed her soft words.

“It was a minor demon. I could feel it when he touched my arm. I don’t think it was strong enough to take over completely, so it settled for the next best thing.”

“Which is?”

“Bringing out the worst in people,” Sam said, frowning at the handprint bruise forming on the girl’s arm. “Feeding all the dark impulses that lurk in every human being.” He guided the girl over to a chair, and she sat down gratefully.

“I sometimes think that’s worse than full possession,” the girl said quietly. “How is he?”

“Let’s find out. Sam, make sure the guy’s not having a heart attack or something. Then we’ll find out who the hell he is.”

Victor felt efficient hands on his neck and face, checking for a pulse point and breathing. The struggle for breath had eased while they talked and he managed to croak out, “What happened?”

Sam rifled through his pockets, none too gently, coming away with his gun, badge and wallet. “She just saved your life,” the young man answered curtly. He glanced at the badge and raised an eyebrow. “Agent Henricksen.”

Dean spat out a curse, receiving a glare from the girl. “I thought the priest said that was taken care of.”

“It was,” Sam answered. “I double-checked. We were completely cleared weeks ago.” He stood over the FBI Agent, stepping out of reach. “Which makes me wonder why he’s out here hassling Joan.”

“Guys?” Joan called out. “Demon, maybe?”

Sam was not about to give Victor an easy way out. “Why were you harassing Joan?”

“I was trying to track down your brother,” he said, reaching up and gingerly massaging his chest.

“Why?”

Victor turned his head to look at the tall, rangy man. “Because he’s wanted for murder.” The unsaid addition of ‘you idiot’ still filled the resulting silence.

“Not anymore,” Dean said gleefully. It was an odd juxtaposition with the weapon held steadily on Victor’s center mass. “Better check again, Agent Mulder. All charges were dropped.” He gestured to Sam, and the man’s brother dropped Victor’s cell down into his lap. “Call your boss, man. Check the status.”

“He should call farther up the chain of command,” the girl said, standing up and reaching for the pile of clothing. The baby was set down on the discarded towel, well away from both the pool and the tableau of upset people with weapons, while his mother pulled a shirt on over her bathing suit. “I mean, your boss said you could come, right?” She stepped into the long denim skirt, somehow utterly unself-conscious. “It’s possible that your boss has the same reasons that your passenger had.”

“Huh.” The idea gave all three men pause, though Joan continued to serenely gather her things. “That’s . . . kind of scary, actually.” Sam was looking at the young woman with some emotion Victor couldn’t read. Then he turned to the FBI agent, and his expression became much more clear. “Let’s get started.”

xxx

The demon currently inhabiting Steven Groves sat at the man’s impressive desk, doing some necessary, if loathsome, paperwork. Groves’ position at the FBI was far too useful to risk losing it right now; no one was in a better spot to nab the Winchesters brothers the next time they popped up. The opportunity to set a few future demons free for a little quality carnage was a very pleasant bonus, of course, but orders from below had made it clear that control of the Winchesters was a priority. Azazel had made it pretty clear the last time they’d had contact that it would be his ass on the rack if he couldn’t deliver, which meant he’d need to light a fire under that little pissant riding around in Victor Henricksen. This had gone on long enough. Something was making noise about dismissing the charges and he didn’t want to have to leave this host and his cushy life until the Winchesters were wrapped up in a neat little bow.

He was thinking of going into politics after this.

The call came while he was sipping an Irish coffee with just the right amount of whiskey and browsing future possession candidates. “I’ve got Sam Winchester,” Henricksen’s voice said without preamble. “He was with some girl in Virginia.”

“Sam, but not Dean?”

“I’m sure once we let it be known that we have Sam Winchester, big brother will come running to the rescue.”

One Winchester was better than nothing, and Sam was the one they really wanted. “Do you have the girl as well?” She might make a good bargaining tool. The Winchesters were notoriously soft-hearted and foolish when it came to things like this. Even if she was just an innocent bystander in all this, Sam would bend over backwards to protect her.

“They’re in a holding cell downstairs.”

“I’ll be right there.” He hurried down as quickly as was seemly for Steven Groves. He had to lay eyes on Sam in person before he put the word out that Sam Winchester was in his hands. Azazel was known to flay people that didn’t come through, and recent rumor had it that Azazel was working hand-in-hand with Lilith right now. That bitch had one of the nastiest reputations in Hell. He had absolutely no desire to upset her.

Special Agent Victor Henricksen was waiting outside of a holding cell, looking through the one-way glass at the young couple inside. Sam was speaking softly to the girl, who looked worried and more than a little afraid.

Henricksen didn’t appear to be moved by the girl’s plight. The demon they’d wormed into him was gone, but that wasn’t particularly worrisome. It had done its job well and had probably moved on to greener pastures. “We have Sam, the car, and the girl. I’m sure Dean will come running soon enough.”

“Excellent. I’m going to go in there and question them. Maybe a professional can get him to turn on his scumbag brother.” The demon smiled, enjoying the flash of anger that crossed the human’s face. The man was a liability that he would have to take care of on the way out, and that was definitely something to look forward to. “You watch. Maybe you’ll learn something.”

He strolled into the room and took the seat that kept his back to the mirror. He wouldn’t put it past a Winchester to start flinging the name of you-know-who around and the last thing anyone needed was to have a possible security breach here. Taking care of the problem would be unnecessarily messy and they had orders to keep a low profile right now. “So, Sam Winchester. You are a hard man to track down.”

The unknown girl next to him had stiffened when he walked into the room, sitting up straight and clutching Sam’s hand in a pathetic search for protection. Idiot. There wasn’t a thing Sam could do to help her. They were both trapped, and this particular smackdown had been a long time coming.

The girls fingers tightened around Winchester’s hand and the thing inside Steven Groves smiled in anticipation. Fear always made it just a little bit better. She stared at him with wide brown eyes, and then her jaw set. “You get out of him right now,” she said, her voice quiet to Steven Groves’ human ears but something like thunder and the pealing of church bells to the demon. “Go back to Hell and stay there.”

For a moment everything seemed to freeze. Then there was unbelievable pain as it was ripped from the comfortable home it had made in Steven Groves flesh and pulled into the fires of the Pit. Pain and darkness and shrieking surrounded him, clawing him into pieces and leaving the demon to wonder what had happened.

joaspn

Joan had been sleeping in the back of the Impala, one hand on the shotgun and one hand on Billy’s foot, when the classic car shimmied a little. Joan lifted her head enough to know that the trunk had been opened and the boys were returning from a hunt. Their movements were calm and methodical; nothing had gone wrong. She relaxed and let herself doze a little.

Dean woke her up rudely, unlocking and opening the back door, letting in the cool night air and shoving her shoulder. “Joanie, I know you’re awake. It’s time for you to drive.”

Joan moaned, feigning sleep. Dean huffed, not at all convinced. He grabbed the shotgun away from her to unload it and put it in the trunk with all the rest.

“Joan,” Sam spoke quietly, “we’re exhausted. Will you please drive?”

Joan sighed and opened her eyes. “Where are we headed?”

“The next city on the map.” Dean was unconcerned with specifics. “Find us someplace to sleep.”

As soon as Joan vacated her seat, Dean filled it. The first thing he did was insure that Billy was all right. Sam waited until Dean was done with the check-up to sit in the passenger’s seat. Only after Dean had done his customary post-hunt check did he hand over the keys to Joan.

Joan accepted the keys and started the car down the road. A quick glance in the mirror revealed that Dean was already asleep, leaning against the window in the back seat. “Where are we going?”

“Arcadia’s next on the map,” Sam mumbled. He was too asleep to see Joan’s stunned face.

She drove for a while, her mind churning. Everyone else was asleep. Then Joan felt it. She looked into the rearview mirror again with a slow smile. Little Girl God was smiling back at her, seated between Billy and Dean. Dean would have been horrified if he had been awake.

“It’s time to go home. Don’t you think so, Joan?”

“It is.”

The girl was gone the next time Joan checked. Dean and Billy were sleeping restlessly. Joan steered the Impala onto the familiar streets. All too soon, though it was probably over an hour later, she parked on the street in front of the house. Very carefully, because she knew what happened if she awoke either of the Winchesters with a touch, she reached around Dean and Sam and locked both of their doors. Just as carefully, she climbed out of the car and locked and closed her door. Finally, she eased Billy out of his car seat and repeated the same act on the last car door. She took a deep breath and marched up the walk. She reached the front door and was surprised to find it unlocked. A simple turn and she and Billy stepped into her parents’ home.

Kevin met her in the landing. For a moment, they just stared at each other. They saw the differences that had happened in the seventeen months of separation.

Joan was the first to grin. “Kevin, are you just now getting in from a date?”

Kevin flushed and adjusted his collared shirt. “Ah, yeah.”

“Is it serious? Is she cute? Are you still seeing Lily?”

Kevin was still stunned. “Joan?”

“Yes.”

“You’re… home. Is that William?”

“Yep.”

“Is he small or big?” It was an honest question of ignorance.

“Billy? He’s long and scrawny, which will make perfect sense when you lay eyes on his dad. Here.” Joan set Billy onto Kevin’s lap and dropped a diaper bag by the doorway. “Watch him, please. I’m dying for a real shower in a non-motel bathroom.” With that statement, she dashed up the stairs.

Kevin stared at the baby in his lap. Thankfully, Billy had slept through his introduction to his uncle. So the fact that he wasn’t fussing was a plus.

But still, a baby?

Luke had always seemed like a little old man with his intelligence revealing itself about the time Kevin had any solid memories of his younger brother’s biological development.

But Luke was smart and he was home for a couple of days between his internship and MIT. There would be fewer repercussions if he woke up Luke as opposed to anyone else.

It took Luke a good five minutes to process the fact that 1.) Joan was home and 2.) this baby that Kevin was foisting off on him was his nephew, William John. It took him three more minutes to decide that babies were best left to the professionals, so he left the still sleeping baby with Kevin and very quietly woke up his mother.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

“Kevin has Joan’s baby and we don’t know what to do with him.”

Helen paused, somewhat uncertain that this was not a dream. “Joan’s William?”

“Yes, she’s in the shower, taking a really long one, even for her.”

Helen flipped back the covers and raced toward the kitchen. William had started to wake up and he was getting perturbed at all the unfamiliar faces. Helen took the baby in hand and found where Joan had left the diaper bag. With tears in her eyes, Helen examined her grandbaby top to bottom.

So when Joan finally came down from the shower, William had a dry diaper and was playing with his grandmother and his two new found uncles. As soon as he set eyes on his mother, he was reaching for her. The baby got squished between his mother and his grandmother. He protested the reunion loudly. Helen cried with him.

As Joan fed William, Helen started making breakfast. As soon as William was full, the two women switched places; Joan cooked the pancakes and Helen admired William more – who recognized his name as Billy.

It was all cozy, homey and peaceful, which was why Joan wasn’t surprised that the Winchester brothers chose that moment to wake up and freak out.

One of them, probably Dean, pounded on the front door.

“Damn it, Joanie! You and Billy had better be safe and in there!”

Joan huffed theatrically. “You better let them in before they kick down the door.”

Luke didn’t want to have to explain a broken door to his father, so he was the one to hurry and open the door for the two young men.

The shorter one brushed Luke aside and the tall one slipped past them.

“Joan,” he asked worriedly.

“We’re fine. Billy’s right there and he’s fine. I thought you two would sleep longer.”

“Joanie,” the shorter of the two said, looking pissed, “Where are we?”

“In Arcadia. The next town on the map. You told me to find someplace to sleep.” She waved her hands. “So I did.”

“How many times have I told you that you have to be specific with Joan,” the tall one hissed. “She finds more loopholes than you.”

Helen looked at Joan with a raised eyebrow.

“Mom, this is Sam and Dean. This is my mom, Helen Girardi and my brothers Luke and Kevin.”

Dean was still pretty pissed, but Sam had the grace to look ashamed. “We’re sorry ma’am for the rude entrance . . .”

“I’m not,” Dean muttered.

“. . .but we were worried when we woke up in a strange place without Joan or Billy in sight.”

“We’ve been doing the cross-country thing for a while,” Joan tried to explain.

“Joanie,” Dean interrupted, “is that your Dad?”

Joan looked, but quietly, quickly looked away. He was standing there, his face like stone. “Yes.”

“Why is he packing? Not that I think it’s wrong or anything. Every guy should have a gun and know how to use it.”

“He’s a cop,” Joan replied sweetly.

Dean shut his mouth for a whole two seconds. Sam looked a little worried.

“This is your fault,” Dean finally complained to his brother. “I’m going back out to the car to sleep.”

“No, no,” Helen argued, “we’ve got plenty of room.”

“And I’ve got hot, off-the griddle pancakes,” Joan tempted.

Dean looked torn.

“I vote for pancakes, then bed,” Kevin said.

“Dude, you are a freaking genius. Joanie, where are the plates?”

In response, Joan handed him a plate piled high with pancakes. Dean accepted the plate with one hand and stole baby Billy with the other. Helen was surprised and didn’t fight it. Billy cheerful burbled to Dean and yanked on his short hair. Dean was obviously a very familiar face to him.

“Dean,” Joan said, frustrated. “He was fine where he was.”

“He’s fine where he is now,” the man countered.

Sam offered Joan a sympathetic smile, but made no move to return the baby to his grandmother.

“Neanderthals,” Joan complained.

Luke chuckled at that as he set the table with butter, syrup, jellies, forks and knives. Dean snagged some silverware and then dumped a bunch of syrup on the pancakes.

“If you’re sharing with Billy,” Joan warned. “No syrup and soak the pancake in water for a little while.”

“Your momma’s no fun,” Dean told the baby.

Joan continued flipping pancakes. “Are you going to do it?”

“Yeah,” Dean grumbled. Helen watched. She was surprised to note that though the young man had used almost a quarter of the syrup bottle, he had managed to completely miss one of the pancakes on the plate. That was the pancake that he now liberally sprinkled with water and let soak. He then started eating the pancakes for himself, one-handed. Here again, he showed that he and Billy were used to this arrangement. When Dean had decided that the pancake was ready, he pulled out a baby spoon that had been in his shirt pocket to mash up and scoop the soggy pancake. Billy obediently opened his mouth for Dean like a baby bird.

Helen shook her head and turned her attention back to her daughter. Joan had filled up three more plates and passed the first stack to Luke. Kevin wheeled to the fridge to get drinks. Sam followed Joan’s directions to find the glasses.

“Dad, would you like some?”

Will paused for a moment. Helen gave him a look demanding that he not ruin this moment. Any arguments could happen later, in private. “Yes, but I’ll take the next plate.” He motioned with the gun enough so that everyone knew that he’d be putting it away.

Sam passed one stack of pancakes to Kevin and offered the second one to Helen. “Mrs. Girardi?”

Helen waved it away. “No, thank-you. I’m not hungry yet. You eat it… and please call me Helen.”

Sam flushed slightly but nodded. He took the plate and sat next to his brother. He brushed a hand over Billy’s head in affection before he reached for the syrup. Billy was immediately distracted from the food. He reached for Sam and Dean let him be passed. Sam held the baby comfortably. Billy nestled into Sam’s chest and started sucking on his fist. Helen knew from experience that the baby would be asleep soon. Sam, too, was experienced at eating one-handed.

Joan continued pouring pancake batter and flipping the ‘cakes as they needed it. She wasn’t concerned with either of the boys hurting her son and Helen could see why.

Will accepted a stack of pancakes from Joan and sat at the head of the table. Kevin looked from Sam to Dean to Billy and back again.

“So Sam,” he asked.

The brother in question met his gaze. “Yes?”

“You’re Billy’s dad, right?”

Dead silence, which was damning in itself. Helen hadn’t made the connection and she was surprised that Kevin had. Sam put down his fork and covered Billy’s head protectively with his large hand. Dean put down his fork and started wiping his hands on a napkin under the table. He also scooted his chair back some. They were waiting in terse silence for the next move.

Helen shook her head; this was so unexpected. Everything Joan had hinted at had led the family to the conclusion that Billy’s dad would never be in the picture. Now, it was obvious that he, and his brother, were fully involved in Billy’s life. Helen glanced at Joan. She stood there, staring at her father, her knuckles white as she held the spatula.

Will was also stunned into immobility. His first reaction was anger and confusion. Helen hoped that he’d keep silent until the shock had passed. Angry words now would burn bridges within the family.

“Joanie,” Dean said with a forced smile. “Your pancakes are burning.”

Joan grumbled as she checked the damage. The tension in the room dropped slightly, as the comment had been intended. Helen would have never pegged Dean as a peacemaker, he seemed more of an agitator to her.

Dean picked up his fork again and pointed it at Kevin. “At least you waited until the gun was put away, Blabbermouth.”

Luke snickered nervously at that. Helen finally took a plate as well so that she’d be with the others. Joan had a huge stack of pancakes made before she turned off the burners and joined them, sitting next to Sam and Billy.

Kevin tried to relieve the tension that he had inadvertently created. So he picked a topic that he knew best. “So Dean, I’m betting you got a full ride sports scholarship to somewhere. Football, am I right?”

Joan winced as did Sam; who knew what lie Dean would pawn off on her family?

But Dean shook his head. “Me? Nah, the college scene really wasn’t me right after high school. Though I’ve given it some thought since.” He offered his patented ‘Dean Winchester grin.’

“What about sports?” Kevin pressed. “You have the shoulders for football, or swimming.”

“Naw, team sports don’t interest me. I never could depend on anyone but Sammy watching my back and most of our schools didn’t have a pool.”

“Track?”

“Nope.”

Kevin shook his head at the blasphemy. “You didn’t play anything at all?”

Dean grinned again (he was playing right now to get the attention off of Sam). “Oh, I played.”

“He played dodge the coach-slash-principal-slash-teacher who saw the untapped potential,” Sam finally added.

“I was good at that,” Dean admitted.

“He was better at insulting the adults that tried to encourage him,” Sam delighted in bragging about his brother. “He threw the wrestling coaches in two consecutive schools.”

“I played baseball,” Dean admitted.

“You did?” Sam and Kevin chorused.

Dean shrugged. “Well, it wasn’t like I joined a team or anything. But I knew a guy, star player, and he had to leave town for a funeral and so they gave me his uniform.” Dean grinned at the memories. “It’s a good thing he was a star catcher since I hit two homeruns, had six RBIs and caught a handful of guys trying to steal bases.”

Sam was as flabbergasted as the rest of them. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was only two games and it wasn’t as if you could have yelled my name from the stands.”

Sam was not mollified. He shifted Billy to his opposite shoulder so that he could punch Dean’s arm. “I could have been yelling your number.”

“Dude, it wasn’t a big deal.”

“Where was I?”

“Science Fair.”

Sam frowned at the memory. “You helped me with that. Every time.”

“The one with the partner, the carrot-top girl, the one who had a crush on you.”

“Her name was Melanie. She had a crush on you,” Sam corrected. “You helped us put it together.”

“Well yeah,” Dean reached for more pancakes. “Last minute. You two planned and plotted in the library for several days, remember?”

“I remember the jock. Jim Wilmot, right? He dropped off a six pack of beer the night before dad got home.”

Dean started shifting in his seat. Kevin wondered what can of worms he had opened. “Uh, maybe. It was a long time ago and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“He was a senior and he got a full ride scholarship.”

“He deserved it,” Dean defended the other student from ages past.

“Dean, you were a sophomore and you were just as good without the daily practice.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“You could have gone to college. Dude, you could still go to college on a sports scholarship. You’re in as good a shape now as then.”

Joan laid a hand on Sam’s arm. He calmed down and tried to smile at her. “Dean is where he’s supposed to be, Sam.”

“But he…”

“He’s happy,” she cut him off.

“And full and tired,” Dean finished. He turned to Helen. “You said we could crash in here?”

Helen opened her mouth and closed it twice before she found words. “Of course. Let me find you some blankets.”

“That’s not necessary, ma’am.”

“Yes, it is.”

“She needs to fuss,” Joan warned. “And a word of warning: I rarely win any arguments with my mom.”

The boys looked at each other. Dean finally grinned at Helen. “I surrender. Do whatever you need to do so that I can sleep.”

The three of them trailed after the older woman as she ransacked closets and handed out blankets. “Joan can sleep in her room. Luke, do you mind giving up your bed?” He shook his head, taking care to stay away from the maelstrom. “One of you can sleep in there, and the other can take our bed.”

Sam and Dean looked at each other and put out their hands. One quick round of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ had Dean shaking his head in disgust and heading with his pile of blankets to Helen and Will’s bedroom. Joan disappeared with the baby into her old room, and Sam headed up into Luke’s room.

“How did you know?” Will placed a shaking hand on Kevin’s wheelchair once the chaos had died down and the two strangers with his daughter had headed off to bed. In separate rooms, thankfully, since he’d already put his weapon away.

Kevin shrugged. “Joan gave me a hint. She told me ‘when you see his dad’ when she plopped Billy in my lap. And then there’s Dean’s voice. He’s the one who left the message on the machine when Billy was born.”

Will nodded. He knew that every other member of the household had listened to that message dozens of times. He had only listened once and couldn’t bear to hear it again. That’s how Kevin recognized the voice that he had not. It also meant that Sam and Dean had been there for the birth. He was relieved that Joan had not had to endure that on her own.

joaspn

Sam woke up a little disoriented, mostly because he was alone and in a strange place. Strange places were paradoxically familiar, but being alone was so incredibly rare that he didn’t know quite how to handle it. He stumbled out into the hall and very nearly knocked over Joan’s younger brother.

“Hey, you OK?”

Sam nodded, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. “Yeah, just not quite awake. You?”

“No, I’m good.” He smiled, and Sam saw a hint of Joan in it. “So, um, I guess we need to talk.”

Sam raised his eyebrows. “We do? About what?”

“I think you know what this is about,” Luke said. The younger man tilted his head to meet Sam’s eyes. “I’m aware that you and your brother are kind of scary, and you could probably kick my ass pretty easily, but that doesn’t matter. If you ever hurt my sister, I’ll track you down and find some way to hurt you.”

“We’re not like that,” Sam was quick to point out. “Joan and I are just friends.”

“Yeah, for your sake, my dad better keep believing that. Just take care of her.” Luke smiled again, with the same startling similarity to his sister. “And just a heads up: when Grace gets here, she’s going to tear you a new one for pretty much everything.”

Joan’s friend Grace showed up an hour later and delivered the foretold reaming before awkwardly hugging Joan and settling down to doggedly resist Billy’s determined advances. Sam suspected that his son had a pinch of his brother’s way with (and fondness for) women. He’d cooed and smiled for every single one of the female Carpenters.

As he watched Joan tease her brother and friend while juggling Billy, Sam felt some sad, almost wistful knot bloom in his chest. She fit here the way she never would (never should) in Winchester world. Joan was a person who belonged with her family, and it was obvious that her family had missed her.

Helen swooped in and snatched up her grandson and Billy immediately transferred his affections to her, patting at her face and hair with chubby baby hands. She didn’t seem to mind, laughing as the child tugged experimentally at the curls. Billy would be loved here, cared for and protected and cherished. They both would.

joaspn

Dean could tell that something was bothering his brother by the way Sam wandered around the room, restlessly standing up moments after he sat down, picking things up for a closer look and setting them down again. It was something his brother had picked up from him. It took him some time, but eventually he managed to get Sam away from the crowd of Girardis, dragging him out onto the porch. “All right, let’s hear it.”

“Hear what?”

“Whatever bug you’ve got up your ass.”

Sam leaned against the rail and looked at the house. “Maybe we should leave Joan and Billy here.”

“What?!” Dean stared at his brother. “Are you out of your friggin’ mind?”

“She could have a normal life here, Dean. Look around you. She’s got family here, friends, a life that she could step back into. She could go back to school.”

“It’s not safe.”

“The Demon is gone.” Sam smiled. “Mostly thanks to Joan. She knows how to protect herself now. Hell, we taught her how.”

“She’ll never go for it,” Dean said. It went unspoken that he would never ask her. Joan was occasionally a pain in the ass, but she was his pain in the ass.

“Maybe we shouldn’t ask her.” Sam flicked his eyes toward the Impala.

Dean snorted. “You better be joking, Sam.” He watched as his brother looked down at his sneakers. “Could you really just do that to her?”

“I don’t know.” He was quiet for a minute. “It’s just . . . sometimes I think we’re doing them more harm than good, dragging the two of them all over the place. Joan deserves better than this.”

“It’s funny.” The boys jerked to attention and turned to the doorway. Joan was standing there with her arms crossed, her expression dark. “I thought we had this discussion in Chicago. The one about making my decisions for me and not telling me everything.”

Breathless silence, inside the house as well as out. They had an audience, and Dean was pretty sure he couldn’t defuse this argument before it began. “I’m just going to . . .” he motioned toward the house.

Joan nodded, her eyes on Sam. “Go ahead. Sam and I need to have a little talk.”

Dean slipped past her, reminding her in a whisper about the civilians hanging around, and headed into the house.

She walked past him and down the steps before pausing on the sidewalk. “You coming?” Her voice was tightly controlled; he was in for it. Sam caught up to her with a few strides, and they headed up the street in silence for a while. He was furiously preparing his reasoning and logic as they walked, but he knew better than to speak first. Better to give her some time to cool off.

They had gone about half a mile before she finally spoke. “You don’t get to make those kinds of decisions for me, Sam.” She stopped and looked at him, her expression fierce, and Sam winced. “No one does. If you try it again, you’ll regret it.” She started walking again, the movements fast and sharp. Still angry, then. “Where do you get off deciding what’s best for me?”

“I wanted you to have your chance at a better life,” Sam said, keeping pace with her easily. “You shouldn’t have to live in a series of crappy motels rooms and cheap apartments, and neither should Billy. It’s a lousy way to grow up. I should know. You could have a normal life here, Joan.”

“I don’t want normal!” Joan turned on him, eyes blazing. “This is what I want. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. You have your job to do, and I have mine, remember? Where does that fit in your plan? Did you want to get rid of me that badly?”

“I’m not trying to get rid of you! I just . . .I wanted you to have someplace you belong.”

“I don’t belong here, Sam. I haven’t in a long time. I belong with you and Dean and Billy, helping people wherever they are.” She was looking up at him, her arms crossed over her chest, and Sam had an impulse to step closer, lean over and kiss her.

He took a step back instead. This wasn’t a good time for that kind of complication. “I’m sorry. You’re right, this is your decision to make. But are you sure that this is what you want?”

“Yes, Sam. I’m sure.” She smiled suddenly, the storm over. “Even when Dean’s being annoying and you’re being patronizing, I want to stay with you guys.”

“I am not patronizing!”

“Please,” she scoffed. “You practically invented the condescending look.” Joan started walking again, and Sam kept pace with her easily. “Lucky for you, I grew up with two brothers and have advanced ignoring capabilities.”

“So where are we going?”

“I thought you deserved a little tour of Arcadia, since we were out anyway.” She shrugged and nudged him with her elbow. “You seem interested in ‘normal,’ Sam. It’s not all its cracked up to be.” There was a pause, and she grinned suddenly. “And I can’t exactly be categorized as normal, anyway. You do realize that if you guys left me here, I’d probably be back on the road within a week.”

“Maybe,” Sam conceded. “But it was a chance I might have taken. The life we lead isn’t for most people, Joan. Even if we settled down somewhere, hunting gets into your blood. It’s hard to give it up.”

“And that’s why I couldn’t have stayed,” she said, a bit of a smile on her face. “It’s in my blood now too.”

Sam smiled back, though he wasn’t entirely sure he liked that declaration. He couldn’t help but wish sometimes that Joan hadn’t been dragged into the Winchester life. She had been so innocent when they first met. It would have been nice if she had had the chance to keep that blissful ignorance.

Chapter 5b

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