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Fic: A House is Not a Home, Chapter 6

“It’s late. She should be back by now.” Sam wasn’t quite pacing, but he was obviously having problems settling down. Billy was starting to get agitated, a clear sign of the emotions of his father. “Joan hates grocery shopping.”

“She answer her phone?”

Sam shook his head. “Rang four times and then went to voice mail.”

Dean set aside the whetstone and knife, stood up and stretched. “I’ll walk over to the store, see what’s going on.” His casual manner belied his own worry. “Maybe you-know-who showed up.”

“She would have called.”

“Sometimes she doesn’t get a chance. You keep researching the case. I’ll take a look around.”

The flashing lights were visible a block from the grocery store, and Dean knew that Joan was probably in the thick of the mess. At least he knew that she had a very good reason for not picking up her phone.

Finding out what had happened wasn’t difficult. Dean figured that if there was one universal constant, it was the love of a juicy story. He shook his head as he strode back to the motel to fill his brother in. It just figured that Joan of all people would be the one snatched up by the looney bin.

joaspn

Cassandra sighed as she stripped off her gloves and headed toward the young police officer waiting at the guard station. “We have a problem,” she said without preamble.

“Did she react to the drugs?” The man looked worried. Cassandra was pretty sure this was the first time he’d had someone brought into the ward. She would have remembered a guy this good-looking.

“No, seems to be handling that fairly well. She’s lactating, though, and that makes this situation much more complicated.”

“By lactating you mean . . .”

“She’s producing milk. She’s been nursing an infant recently.”

“So somewhere out there is a baby that we need to find,” he said, catching on quickly. “Shit. Can you tell me how old?”

“Anywhere from six months to eighteen months. She’s completely recovered from giving birth and is in fairly good shape now. Do you want her personal effects?”

“We’ve already confiscated the gun. Anything in there that will help us identify her?”

“There’s not much,” Cassandra admitted. “A necklace, $40 in cash, and the clothes she was wearing. No other jewelry, no I.D., and one tattoo.” She held up the Polaroid to show the unique star inside of a sun that decorated the young woman’s back. “No other identifying marks or scars. I’d estimate her age as somewhere between twenty and twenty-five.”

“Can you get me fingerprints?”

“Already done,” she said, handing him the paper. “Good luck. If she’s not in the system, it’s going to take some pretty impressive legwork to find out who she is. We’ve had patients come through here who never get identified.”

“I’m going to find out who this one is,” he said, reaching out and shaking her hand. “Thanks for your help.” With that he headed out the door.

joaspn

Cassandra stretched and grimaced, feeling the tightness of knots from between her shoulder blades to her neck. A glance at the clock told her she’d been sitting at her desk for almost three hours taking care of paperwork. It was an oddly quiet night, other than the mysterious Jane Doe from the beginning of her shift. Normally there were one or two small interruptions by now, even if they were just requests for a sedative for an uncooperative patient, but tonight it was almost eerily calm.

Shaking off her odd mood, she stood and stretched again, wincing as at least one vertebrae popped. Time for coffee. The walk down to the nurses’ station would do her good.

The scenery when she got there was better than usual, and for a fleeting moment Cassandra wished she’d worn a skirt instead of pants and had applied a touch of lipstick before she’d left her office. Then she shook her head and laughed to herself. The new (hot) orderly was at least fifteen years younger than her. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye while she poured her coffee. He was reading the new employee manual and frowning. She took a few moments to fiddle around with cream and sugar while getting in several more covert, lingering looks before heading back to her office. Nothing like a little window-shopping to brighten a woman’s day.

joaspn

Sam breathed a sigh of relief when the doctor finally left the nurses’ station. How long could someone take to get a cup of coffee, anyway? He waited a few more minutes so that she would be comfortably ensconced in her office and then opened up the computer program that this place used to keep track of the patients. He found Joan’s file (Jane Doe 8-43), read it and tucked it away. Dean had already retrieved her things, so all that was left was Joan herself.

The room was thankfully close to the exit, the first real piece of luck they’d had in this whole debacle. He unlocked both doors and propped them open before turning his attention to the girl in the bed.

Reading the file had been poor preparation for the reality. While he knew academically that she’d been tazered, sedated, and restrained, Sam felt his heart clench when he saw Joan bound hand and foot and lying far too still on the bed. Joan was never still. Even in her sleep she tossed and turned and moved around. He undid the straps quickly. “Joan,” he said quietly but with urgency. “Joan, it’s Sam. You need to wake up.” She stirred but didn’t open her eyes, and Sam reached over and cradled her cheek with one large hand. “Joan!”

The young woman’s eyes slit open. “Smm,” she slurred, and tried to look at him. Her eyes refused to focus and slid closed almost immediately.

Sam felt a small measure of relief at her response, lukewarm as it was. “Hey, we need to get out of here. Think you can open your eyes for me?” Walking was obviously going to be out of the question, but a lookout would be helpful.

After several agonizing seconds, Joan managed to open her eyes, showing pupils that were blown so wide they almost entirely eclipsed the iris. “Good,” he said. “Do you think you can put your arms around my neck?”

She squinted at him, blinked lazily, and hummed an affirmative response. Sam slid one arm under her knees and the other behind her back, waiting until her arms went around his neck and her head came to rest on his shoulder before straightening up. “Your eyes still open?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Good. I need you to watch behind me. We’re going to head out the room, across the hallway, and down the stairs. Dean’s downstairs with the car. OK?”

She shifted in his arms, presumably moving so she had a better look over his shoulder. “’K,” she agreed.

For once, it all went according to plan. Sam carried her down the stairwell, stopping once to adjust his grip. The drugs had made Joan so pliant that carrying her like this was difficult, but he didn’t want to subject her to a fireman’s carry after everything else she’d been through today.

Dean had the engine running and the car door open, and Sam simply eased the two of them into the passenger seat rather than spend the time trying to get her settled in the back seat. Every second they were in the parking lot was a second they could all get caught. They would blow town and then rearrange the seating.

His brother stuck to the back roads, zigzagging through three counties before finding them a motel. She was still pretty much out for the count, so Sam carried her into the room while Dean followed with the sleeping baby.

Joan murmured something slurred and mostly inaudible when he laid her on the bed and immediately curled up on her side beneath the blankets.

“She fought them,” Sam told his brother quietly once Billy and Joan were cared for, dropping down wearily next to Joan. “Apparently she broke a cop’s nose trying to get to that girl.” They’d been able to piece together the events with the help of a security camera and the stolen police file. A demon-possessed woman had been exiting the store with a child, apparently the host’s daughter. Joan had naturally objected, but things had gone sideways when she tried to exorcise the demon without anyone seeing.

Dean shot him a look and sat down on the vacant bed. “Of course she did, Sam. No way in hell was Joan going to let some demon walk off with a kid.” He stared across the divide at the young woman. “They did a number on her, that’s for sure. If I could get my hands on the bastard who used the taser . . .”

“You’d need to stand in line,” Sam told him grimly. He turned to Joan and stroked her hair back with one large hand. “I’ll take first watch.” His tone didn’t allow for any argument, and Dean didn’t feel like offering him one. Instead he made himself comfortable on his bed, kicking off his boots and pulling the blanket up over him. His last sight before Dean allowed himself to drop off to sleep was Sam pulling the blanket up a little further over Joan.

The next several days were miserable. Joan spent over an hour in the bathroom when she woke up, crying as she expressed milk into the toilet for fear the drugs still in her system would hurt Billy. Billy didn’t care for the sudden complete lack of nursing and fussed almost continuously. Sam couldn’t stop himself from hovering over both of them while Dean decamped on errands for as much time as he possibly could. The immediate danger was past and it was now up to his brother and Joan to put the two of them back together.

This didn’t mean that he couldn’t help move things along, he reflected as he eyed the costume on display. He had a feeling Sam would appreciate the cheerleader uniform.

xxx

It would have seemed romantic to say that he’d looked at Joan one day and realized, like a flash of lightning, that he was in love with her. The truth was, it crept up on him piece by piece. But one afternoon, he looked over at her as she played on the floor with Billy, and the decision that he’d made over the past year to keep his distance seemed to be an incredibly pointless one.

With that realization in place, he closed his laptop, stood up from the table and crossed the room in three long strides. Joan looked up from her game with Billy with a smile on her face and Sam reached down, helped her to her feet and kissed her. She made a surprised sound and drew back, looking up at him with a question in her eyes. He cupped her face with one hand, his fingers tangling in her hair, and Joan leaned toward him and kissed him back.

joaspn

Dean juggled the fast food bags and tried to open the door. It was not working. He was making enough noise that either Joanie or Sammy should have heard him and helped him out. Sam could be pissed at him for his last matchmaking effort and ignoring him (so maybe bringing home the cheerleader’s uniform for Joan hadn’t been that inspired) and heaven knew that Billy could have made a mess big enough to warrant an unscheduled bath.

Finally.

The door unlocked and Dean stepped into the motel room and unloaded everything onto the table. It was a controlled tumble. “I brought all that rabbit food, Joanie, that you seem to think…” he looked up and stopped talking.

Finally.

Joan and Sam were engaged in a very intense liplock. Billy was on the floor, near the bathroom playing with a towel. The child saw Dean, dropped the towel and made a beeline for his favorite playtoy. Dean stood there grinning for a moment. He had begun to wonder if his brother was ever going to get his act together and grab a hold of the best thing that had ever happened to him. Dean scooped up his nephew and grabbed his keys. He was going to give Sammy some privacy while he was on the right track. He had already opened the door, when he realized that this might take some time (hopefully). He made a quick step to the table and grabbed what he thought was his bag of dinner and skittered out the door.

Joan and Sam stopped to breathe. They smiled at each other.

“Subtle, he’s not,” Sam grinned.

“He gets points for trying.”

joaspn

Dean sat in the front seat of the car and frowned at his bag of food. He had grabbed Joan’s selection, damnit. He was in no mood for a salad and a chicken sandwich. He was really in a mood for a celebratory beer and some greasy fries. Unfortunately, he had left his wallet on the motel table with his food.

There was no way in hell that he was going to walk back into that room without a phone call from Joan or Sam first. He and Billy would sleep hungry in the Impala first. He couldn’t go hustle pool with Billy in tow either. They were stuck.

At least Billy didn’t seem to mind. The toddler sat in Dean’s lap and patted his hands against the steering wheel. It was after dark and getting cold outside. Dean hadn’t stuck around long enough to grab Billy’s coat or his diaper bag.

Dean grumbled a bit and took a bite of Joan’s sandwich. It wasn’t half bad. It settled the rumblings in his stomach and gave him something to do. He fed Billy little bits of the bread. They finished the sandwich in record time. Dean glared at the salad. He was still hungry but rabbit food? Joan had been after him for months about his diet. If he caved now, she would know and use it to her advantage.

How hungry was he?

In the end, he grabbed a fork and stuffed the lettuce into his mouth. Hopefully, Sam would have her so bedazzled that she wouldn’t realize that Dean had eaten her salad.

Now what?

As thrilled as he was that Joan and Sam were getting together, he didn’t want to think about the actual process. He needed to do something. So he picked up his nephew, lifted him over the bench seat and strapped him into his car seat.

“I guess you and me are going for a little ride, Squirt.”

Billy liked rides; it might just put the boy to sleep. Dean drove around town for a while. There wasn’t much to this little Podunk town. He nearly slammed on the brakes when he saw the pawn shop. Bonus points, since it was also open.

“Aha.” Dean pulled into the parking lot and lifted the sleeping baby out of his seat. It always surprised him how quickly babies could fall to sleep sometimes. The bell rang when he entered. Billy snuffled a little but quickly went back to sleep. The elderly shop owner glanced from Dean to Billy and back again. Dean knew that they confused the guy. He grinned at him. “Do you have any rings, by chance?”

The owner returned the grin. He could guess what would turn a hard-ass like Dean into one that was comfortable carrying a baby. “Not many.” He reached under the counter and unlocked a safe and pulled out a set of rings.

Dean looked them over and was less then inspired. How was one supposed to get a ring for someone like Joan? Okay, so Sam really should have been doing this, but it had taken the boy this long to get close to Joan. Dean didn’t have the patience to wait until Sam decided to take the next step and make it permanent.

Dean made a gesture of frustration and shoved his free hand into his coat pocket. And this time he pulled out his father’s wedding ring. Even Sammy didn’t know that he had it. There were times that he regretted taking it off his father’s corpse since he had never, ever seen John Winchester without it.

“Getting back together,” the owner asked, trying to make small talk.

Dean shook his head and lifted the ring a little higher in the air. “My dad’s.” Sammy would be able to use it now. He was glad finally that he had saved it. The ring was an heirloom when they didn’t have many besides the car and their job.

That confused the man. “What happened to your mother’s?”

“A fire got her and everything of hers.” Dean’s throat only closed up a little with the words.

The man winced. He hadn’t planned on poking a scabbed memory. He leaned over and looked at the ring. The simple etching on the gold reopened a scabbed memory of his own. Dean saw the man catch his breath.

“I… ah… have something you might be interested in.”

The man hurried away, leaving the rings in plain sight. He didn’t return right away. Dean wandered away from the front desk to look at guns. Nothing truly caught his eye. He had most of the guns he needed for his job and he got his specialized ammo from Bobby and other Hunter stops.

Two sets of footsteps had him turning around. The owner was leading a woman of about forty down the stairs. In her hands was the jewelry box. Dean got a pit in his stomach, like he normally got just before God showed up to talk to Joan. As pinched and sad as the two people before him were, he knew that this was a bad idea. “Maybe I should go.”

“No, please,” the woman pleaded. Dean could hear the tears in her voice and that made him even more nervous. She opened the box and showed him the rings, a wedding band and an engagement ring with a tiny diamond.

They matched John’s ring perfectly.

Dean had memories of those rings on his mother’s soft, gentle hands. Dean resisted the urge to swear. He couldn’t breath. “You need those,” he finally said.

“No,” she said slowly. “I don’t. My husband died in a car crash twelve years ago. I finally… finally let him go and…” she smiled a silly smile here. “Love slipped back into my life.” She flashed the ruby that rested on her ring finger. “I’m getting married soon and Rick doesn’t deserve to know that my past rings are in the dresser drawer.”

“Won’t your kids want it?” Dean had to ask.

She shook her head. “Wes and I didn’t get a chance to have kids.”

Dean shrugged. “Well, you’re young enough and kinda hot for someone your age. If your Rick has any sense, he’ll fix that.” Oops. That was not the thing to say to perfect strangers, ‘cept that the old man was laughing and the woman looked a little shell-shocked.

“Thank you,” the old man wheezed. “Rick and I have been trying to convince her of just that.”

Dean reddened. “’Sides, I know how much those rings are worth.” His dad had worked two jobs for over a year to pay for Mary’s. “There is no way Sammy can afford it.”

Now the two owners were confused. “Sammy?”

“My baby brother is finally getting together with Billy’s momma.” Dean couldn’t help but to pat the baby’s back. “It’s about damn time and I want him to have a ring on him for when he finally takes the next step.”

The woman laughed. “Wesley didn’t believe that I loved him enough to marry him, but his older brother, Wayne, knew. He was the one who convinced Wes to buy these.” She fingered the pair in fond remembrance. “He might have even found them for Wes.”

“Maybe you should give them to Wayne,” Dean suggested.

She shook her head and sighed. “Wayne and Wes died in the same crash. It’s probably better that way. The surviving brother would never have recovered from the loss.”

Dean could understand that. “Yeah.”

She offered the box to Dean. “Here. I think this belongs to you now.”

“No,” Dean said. “Not yet and I really shouldn’t touch it until the wedding and I’m the best man.” The woman was starting to look stubborn. “How about this? I’ll send Sammy to you first thing in the morning. That will give you the night to think it over and to figure out how much you want for them.”

“These are priceless,” she answered. “I couldn’t sell them, but I think that giving them to you is the right thing.”

“Well, you have the night to sleep on it.” Dean was already heading for the door, before he caved to the woman’s persistence. “Have a good night.”

“Send your brother first thing!” she yelled after him.

Dean smiled and waved at her. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was headed and ran straight into Goth God. “Oh. Hell.”

“Not even close,” God said in response.

“I don’t work for you.”

“That’s what you think.”

Dean ground his teeth. “Why are you here?”

“I wanted to celebrate with the one person who wanted Sam and Joan to get together almost as much as I did.”

That surprised Dean. God had planned this. “What? Why didn’t you do something before now?”

“Free will.”

“Not a fan, here.”

“Sure you are. You hate anyone bossing you around, even your family.”

Dean now knew why even Joan didn’t argue with God. “Why are you talking to me?”

“I want you to send Samuel here tomorrow morning.”

Yeah, Dean had been considering leaving this town without looking back. He hated taking the rings from someone like that woman. He was even less thrilled that God was calling him on it. Taking the rings smacked of charity.

“Dean, I want you and Samuel to accept this gift.” God turned around and walked away.

“Hey!” Dean yelled after him. “Don’t I get a chance to argue more?”

God just waved his hand and never turned around.

Dean glared at the receding figure.

He took his brother back to the pawn shop as promised, though he wasn’t happy about it. Dean might not work for Joan’s Boss, but even he knew better than to ignore one of those tasks.

joaspn

When Sam stumbled over the threshold, Dean rethought his plan. He’d talked his brother into going out after the hunt, partly to blow off steam and excess adrenaline and partly so Sam and Joan could have some time apart after the latest fight. He couldn’t help but tense up when they fought, certain that some part of his new family would end up walking away. He remembered the fights before Sam left for Stanford just as clearly as Sam, even though these were nowhere in the neighborhood.

Standard practice after the two of them argued was an hour or two of sulking, although Sam called it ‘cooling off.’ Dean had elected to have the sulk take place in a bar, getting in some increasingly-rare adult fun time. But Sam was apparently a little more drunk than he’d thought and planned on, if he was tripping over the door. Dean ignored the way he’d been tripping over his own feet since they’d left the bar; he’d never be the lightweight Sam was. Immediately after the thought crossed his mind, he moved forward and cracked his skull on the door frame.

Once the stars cleared from his vision, he glared at the seemingly-benign lintel. He didn’t remember the thing being that low before. Must have moved on him.

Sam was still sprawled on the ground next to the door, though he’d somehow managed to do so without the usual tangle of limbs. He was staring owlishly at the threshold, then at his own feet. “I think I’m wearing your shoes.” He made a face and added, “And my voice sounds weird.”

Dean frowned. His brother’s voice did sound weird, rougher and with more than a little gravel to it. He shook his head and helped his brother up.

They made the short trip to their respective beds without further incident. Dean could hear the water running in the shower, which was a good sign. Showers calmed his brother’s girlfriend like nothing else. He made sure that the door was locked and the salt lines were in place and fell asleep quickly.

Joan shook him awake half an hour later. “Sam?”

“What’s wrong?” He didn’t sit up or open his eyes, though he did roll over onto his back.

“Why is Dean on my bed?”

Dean groaned. It was definitely too early in the morning for this and he was far too hung over to parse out what strange thing was going on with his brother’s batshit girlfriend. “Try again, please, with a little more clarity.”

She huffed out one of those exasperated sighs, no doubt accompanied by an eyeroll that he didn’t see since he refused to open his eyes and admit that this conversation was taking place. “Sam. You are on Dean’s bed. Dean is on our bed. You two need to switch around and fix it.”

“I’m Dean, I’m on my bed, and I’m either hung over or still drunk right now. Go away, Joanie.” He turned over on his side.

Joan huffed out a sigh. He could hear the rustle as she moved away, rummaged in her bag and then came back to his side. This time the shaking to wake him up wasn’t as gentle. “Dean?’

“Come on, Joanie, what the hell? I’m trying to sleep here.”

“Open your eyes and look at this first.”

Dean went through a litany of mental curses, wishing that Joan would just take whatever this was over to Sam so that he could sleep. He cautiously opened his eyes, squinting even in the dim light of the motel room.

It took him a second to process what he was seeing, partly because the only mirror Joan had managed to dig up was inside of a makeup thing and was therefore tiny. It was Sam’s face reflected in that mirror, and Dean stifled a groan. He sat up slowly, anticipating and dealing with the spike of pain through his head. The occupant of the other bed was lying on his stomach, but enough of the face was visible for another groan, this time as much for the situation as the pain. “Wake him up.”

Joan bit her lip and nodded, clearly too freaked out about this turn of event to argue with him. Dean watched as she sat down next to a body that looked like him, leaned over, and said something into one ear. Sam rolled over onto his back, clearly still a little drunk. “I’m up,” he said, in Dean’s rough voice, before making something very close to one of Sam’s classic bitchfaces and clearing his throat.

“Come on, Sammy. Up and at ‘em, we’ve got a problem.” Dean’s head was pounding; his brother’s body didn’t have the alcohol tolerance his own did and the drinking from earlier had gotten a little out of hand.

Sam sat up slowly and turned his head. Dean watched as his own green eyes grew wide. “What the hell?”

“Exactly,” Joan said. “I just came in here and you two were like that. It’s weird. I want you to fix it.”

“Sam, you got a feeling we didn’t get the witch?”

“Or maybe they managed to get a hex bag in somewhere?”

“No one came to the room. It’s just been me and Billy tonight.”

“The car, maybe?” Dean gave an involuntary shudder at the thought of someone messing with the Impala.

Sam shook his head. “We haven’t been in the car. But it can’t be in here, because nothing happened to Joan or Billy.”

Dean sighed and stood up, wobbling a bit before he achieved equilibrium. “All right. Joanie, you go through your stuff and Billy’s bag and then call Bobby. I’ll check the car and my bag. Sam, you get started on the room. I’ll help once I finish up outside.”

Sam cracked his neck and rubbed his forehead. “Can we have coffee first? How do you even survive with your body like this?”

“Suck it up, Sammy. The sooner we find out what caused this, the faster we can get it reversed and get back to normal.”

Joan was on the telephone with Bobby by the time they had determined that there wasn’t a hex bag. Bobby asked questions about the case they had just finished up (witches, hence the time spent looking for hex bags) and had nearly laughed himself sick before promising to call them back in an hour.

When he called back, it was to basically tell Sam and Dean to wait it out. “Something like this would take too much effort to make permanent. It probably happened right around midnight, so it’ll probably end at about the same time. If it doesn’t we’ll try digging a little deeper.”

It was a very long day, all things considered. Dean’s body had a bad left shoulder and his knees ached a little in the cold, and Sam’s back wasn’t the greatest because he often ended up stooping over for everyday tasks. They did some research on the witch they had sent packing, but the woman was practically a ghost before they’d sent her on her way and they didn’t really find anything new. Witches got a warning unless they had killed someone because neither of them really wanted to kill a human unnecessarily and it wasn’t their place to lecture anyone about her beliefs, but usually by the time a witch came to a hunter’s attention they were already pretty deep into the dark side. Nowadays they let Dresden know about the person and moved on. The magic community apparently had some sort of police, though Dresden was reluctant to talk about it and neither one of them really wanted to know.

Joan was completely uncomfortable with the situation, which would have made Dean chuckle if it wasn’t obviously hurting Sam’s feelings. She spent most of the day running the errands that needed to be done, leaving Billy with the two of them. Billy was a little confused about it all and could apparently tell that something was up, but he didn’t really seem to have a problem with it like his mother.

They all breathed a sigh of relief when midnight came and the two of them were back in their own bodies. Dean welcomed the familiarity of his bad shoulder and the lost inches of height, watching as Sam became reacquainted with his shaggy haircut and sore back.

It was good to be back.

Chapter 7

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