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Fic: One Step at a Time 3/4




John took a long, deep breath before he squared his shoulders and walked into the building. It had been years since he’d had to do anything like this. Most of his employment since he’d pulled up stakes from Lawrence had been under the table jobs at places that were clearly up to something shady. He didn’t think he’d had a real job since he sold his half of the garage, and without anything on his resume that he could report to an employer it had been difficult finding a job close enough to Dean. He’d spent most of the week checking in at every place in town that might possibly hire him and desperation meant that he was still making the rounds on Saturday.

The guy who owned the place came out of the garage’s small, greasy office. He was probably a World War II vet, given his age and the way he held his body, and despite that age he was basically a walking slab of muscle. John had learned a long time ago how to recognize a United States Armed Forces veteran. It had bailed him out of trouble more times than he could count. “You the one who called about a job?” the man asked, peering up at John with a studying gaze.

“John Winchester,” he said promptly, offering his hand. Polite respect was the best way to make an impression on a member of the Greatest Generation. Dean was better at this than he was, in a lot of ways. The kid could pull of genuinely earnest in a way that John had never truly been in his life, despite all of the crap that had happened in his son’s life.

“Well, Mr. Winchester, I’m Jim Phillips. Folks mostly call me Butch. Mind telling me why you’re looking for a job?”

It was a deceptive question, simple on the surface but really asking a lot more than was obvious. It was the kind of question John might ask when he was trying to get a witness to open up on a hunt, and there were all kinds of answers that he could give. John settled for the most truthful. “My son’s in the hospital. Going to be there for a while, so I’m going to be in this town for a while. Figured a job was better than sitting around getting drunk, and this way I’d be able to pay some of the bills.”

The man looked at him, gaze steady if a bit myopic. He seemed to be taking in what John had said and rolling it around his head before he finally nodded. “What do you know about those damned trouble code readers?”

Lucky for him, Dean had picked one of those up about two weeks before the accident. His son had been intending to take it apart for some no-doubt nefarious plan, but he hadn’t had the chance and John had found it and a manual in a cleaning sweep of the Impala. He’d even taken the time to read through the manual, desperate for any distraction while he waited for the doctors. Right then he couldn’t bear to look at his journal or anything that reminded him of hunting. “I can use them.”

Butch shook his head. “I know what the problem with a car is. I can find it and fix it. But the damned light won’t go off unless someone uses that thing, and the customers complain. Damned idiot lights are more trouble than they’re worth.”

“I can help with that.” John had professional references, of a sort: Bobby Singer had promised to vouch for him if he gave someone the number to Bobby’s salvage yard. It wasn’t perfect, but it should work. John was a good mechanic and he was going to be in this town for a very long time. It was long past due, honestly. “And I’m good with all of the other stuff, too. See that car out there?” He pointed to the Impala, because it was pretty much the best resume a mechanic could have. “That car has been the family car since I bought it in 1973. We’ve driven it across the country four separate times, and it still runs as good as it did back then.”

As he’d suspected, the Impala got him a probationary shot at a job and his skills with a wrench helped him cement it a little. He hadn’t even had to bust out the sob story of Dean, though he’d held it in reserve. John was rusty when it came to getting and holding legal gainful employment and he’d been prepared to pull out all of the stops if he’d needed to do so. Most of Dean’s recovery was being covered by all of those anonymous benefactors, but John needed to sleep under a roof and eat real food and build up some sort of nest egg for when Dean was released from rehab but not ready for the road. Every aspect of their lives was going to have to change, at least for a while. It would take some getting used to, and John hoped it didn’t come crashing down on his unprepared shoulders and hurt his son even more. Dean had already lost too much to hunting.

Once he had a job secured, John headed over to see Dean. It would take a little more time before he could turn the job into a semi-permanent residence, though he’d probably end up trading in some of Dean’s accumulated good will with the kind of history he’d built up, even if most of it wasn’t in his name.

Dean looked oddly, genuinely happy when he made it to the hospital. It wasn’t an emotion he was used to seeing on his son, even before the accident, and it didn’t take long to realize that there was something going on with Dean. “Lay it on me,” he said, sitting down in the visitor’s chair next to the bed. “What happened while I was gone?”

There was a long pause, too long really, before Dean spoke. “I think it might be better if you don’t know right now. I really don’t need the headaches it’s going to stir up.”

That sounded like an excuse to John, and a pretty bad one at that, but the chance that whatever revelation he was hiding would ruin both of their moods meant that John let it go, for the moment at least. “Tell me later. Got a job in the garage in town. It should help tide us over.”

“A job or a job?”

“Mechanic work,” he answered shortly. “Probably boring, but I can take on a few local hunts in my free time to keep my hand in. I’ll start looking for a place to live on Monday.” Finding a place with wheelchair access would be a real bitch.

Dean nodded. “I’ll tell you everything tomorrow, Dad. I just want to keep it to myself for now.”

xxx

Once they had moved him to the rehab center, the days quickly became routine. He changed into a T-shirt and sweatpants after breakfast and wheeled down to the large gym, where Tom would help him onto the weight machine. They’d work his upper body first thing in the morning, and then switch over to exercises designed to keep the muscles of his legs from atrophy while they waited for his legs to heal. After about an hour and a half of free time to rest, he’d be back down for a second round. The last round of the day started about an hour after lunch and was always the longest, combining the exercises with what the man called occupational therapy. Dean thought that it was a stupidly long name for what basically amounted to relearning how to do certain tasks now that he couldn’t bend his ankles.

It was the hardest Dean had worked in his life. Tom kept pushing and Dean could appreciate that. It was clear that he would never be exactly the way he used to be, but he’d traded the mobility for some increasingly impressive upper body strength. His dad was in and out a little more frequently once they moved him, occasionally gone on hunts but more often looking for work . Winchesters didn’t do well on charity. Bobby dropped off a stack of old, dusty books and a stack of empty notebooks with the promise of more to come and that served to keep him occupied whenever he wasn’t being tortured in physical therapy.

The weekends, of course, were quickly becoming another story entirely. Lisa drove down with Ben every Friday night that she could swing, crashing in the apartment that his father had rented once he’d realized that this was going to take a lot longer than any other previous hospital stay. The place probably wasn’t great, but they still hadn’t let him out overnight so Dean hadn’t seen it. Tom told him they were waiting for him to get enough physical dexterity to be self-sufficient and that they would re-evaluate him soon for that particular decision. Dean was going a little stir-crazy at the rehab place and was ready for the change. He hadn’t had a weapon handy since the accident unless one counted the small knife that he kept in his bedside drawer; it would be too much trouble to conceal it from Tom during all their different activities if he was carrying it all the time.

The work paid off before too long. Jim brought his first prosthetics by the rehab hospital on a Tuesday afternoon. They were ugly as hell and slightly uncomfortable because they still needed padded in a few places, which was the point of the visit. Dean pointed out where the thing was uncomfortable, where it pinched a little and where it was way too loose, and the man took careful notes and disappeared with the legs, leaving Dean to Tom again. Jim was back with the adjusted prosthetics the next afternoon and this time they took special care in strapping the things into place.

He realized that it was a little strange to be so ridiculously excited about getting to try his first pair of prosthetics, but Dean had missed just walking (all right, he missed a lot of things including alcohol, but walking was about to be fixed so he was willing to let the others go for a moment) and while it wouldn’t be the same as having his real legs, it was a start towards normalcy. He was still hoping that someday he’d be able to hunt again, but right now being able to pee while standing would be a nice start. He’d been on his ass for two weeks and was ready for a change.

He was wearing shorts for the day, and probably for the foreseeable future, and the stumps of his legs still looked swollen to him and felt tender. Looking at them irritated him a little. That wasn’t how his legs were supposed to look. He had already lost some muscle there and the pain meds had made him nauseous enough that he’d also lost weight in general since the surgery, so to him his legs looked skinny and short, ending with swollen lumps instead of feet.

Tom had explained that the prosthetics he would be using today wouldn’t be on more than thirty minutes at the most. They would gradually increase the time that he spent wearing them while his body adjusted, and then he would be fitted with more permanent prosthetics. Today Tom was hopeful that they’d get up on the bars before the end of this session, but he didn’t seem to have any further goals. Dean was going to prove him wrong, though. He was going to take a step today if it killed him.

He had a fine sheen of sweat built up by the time both prosthetics were in place and he was ready to begin, more from nerves than exertion. The bars almost seemed to be mocking him from where he was sitting, and Dean clenched his hands into fists and glared at them. Those things weren’t going to beat him, not today and not fucking ever. He wouldn’t let it win.

xxx

It was shaping up to be a bad night, and Dean could tell that from the moment he woke up that morning. His thigh muscles were knotted with cramps for some reason, back muscles tight from trying to compensate, and he was having phantom limb pain before he even opened his eyes. It wasn’t only pain today, which was even more aggravating. The sole and toes of his right foot itched like he had athlete’s foot and nothing Dean tried could convince his body that the itch wasn’t real.

He knew from experience that medication probably wouldn’t touch what he was feeling, and Dean hated the feeling he got when he took anything stronger than Tylenol. The pain and the muscle cramps eased back as he massaged his legs, going back and forth between them, but it never truly disappeared. Therapy was cancelled for the day, which further soured his mood. Any time spent not working on his recovery was time he was probably going backwards.

Tom took a turn when Dean let him because his hands were tired, his professional detachment mask on after a very brief conversation. He was glad about that. Today was one of those days when he wanted to pretend that this body wasn’t his at all, and that was hard to do when you were having a conversation about pain levels and phantom limbs and muscle cramps.

Eventually the pain backed off, but the weird itch remained. Dean reached for a fresh notebook, one of those leather-bound books that looked like it was in active decay, and, after a quick perusal of the text, something that would help him translate Hebrew. Hopefully if he focused on something else for a while his brain could figure out what was going on with his body, and when he was working on something like this at least he was doing something more productive than arguing with his own body. He would rather be working on weapons, but that would probably get him kicked out.

The contents went back and forth between the two extremes of ‘dry as dust’ and ‘overly flowery shit’ and Dean sighed as he slowly translated it into English. Some parts of it made him stop, pause, and re-read, turning the grammar around a little in his head. He might not have learned Hebrew yet, but he’d picked up fairly easily that the only real difference between Modern Hebrew and Ancient Hebrew were confusions with grammar.

He was ten pages into the book when his eyes widened and he reached for his cell phone. His dad needed to be here, to read this. It was couched in that super-poetic language, but if Dean was doing this right this reference resembled his mother’s death a little too closely for coincidence. He left a terse message on voicemail, instructing his father to come to the hospital as soon as he could.

While he waited for his father, he continued the translation. This wasn’t really his thing, after all, and it had mostly become his job because he was on the disabled list and John Winchester didn’t have the patience for it. They’d have to have someone else look it over, Pastor Jim or Bobby most likely, because Dean was positive he was missing things. The things he was scribbling down with more and more speed were more than enough to keep him horrified and he couldn’t help but hope that some of what he was writing down was a mistranslation.

His dad showed up an hour after Dean had called, looking typically rough. Dean knew he’d gotten back from a hunt at some ridiculous hour and gone into work right afterwards and that his call had woken the man up. That didn’t quite account for everything, but Dad’s drinking was his own business. “What have you got?”

Dean swallowed. “I think I’ve got a lead on what killed mom.”

There was a sharp, sudden intake of breath from John Winchester, letting Dean know that the words had hit his father like a sucker punch. “You’re sure?”

“I said I think, Dad. Of course I’m not sure. But as long as I’m reading this right, it looks like this might be a solid lead.” He passed the notebook over to his father, his eyes flickering to the slim, musty-smelling book sitting on the table. He wasn’t far into the thing and needed to keep translating in case there was more that they would learn from the thing.

He half-expected his dad to tear through the pages, reading the information he’d jotted down as fast as possible, but he was as thorough as always, reading quickly but carefully. “How soon can you get this finished?”

“Tomorrow morning,” he said, confident he could have at least a rudimentary translation by then if he worked through the night. “Do you think we’ve finally got a bead on the damn thing?”

“Maybe,” John admitted. He set the notebook down on the bed and rubbed his face with both hands, the calloused skin of his palms scratching audibly against his rough beard. “We’re closer, anyway. We have at least a possibility of a name. Good work, Dean.”

Those words had the same effect as always and Dean couldn’t help the smile that crept up his face despite the context of the whole mess.

xxx

Tom stayed just outside of Dean Winchester’s room, listening carefully to make sure those two were on the right track, but he didn’t need to worry. They were some of the best hunters in the business and both John and Dean had caught on almost immediately.

It had been a risk, slipping that book into Dean’s pile. If they started to question where the book had come from in the first place and talked to Bobby Singer the whole thing might unravel. There was just no other way to get the information to the Winchesters without the big reveal and he didn’t want to attract the kind of attention that he would gather from both sides of this little squabble if he just spread his wings right there in Dean’s hospital room.

He walked down the hallway until he was far enough away from the bustle of the everyday crowd to fly to his little brother’s side. Cas had been keeping watch over Sam Winchester and getting increasingly antsy about it. Angels were all created with specific purposes and Castiel wasn’t really meant to be a guardian. They could all do everything, technically, but they all took care of their specific niche the best. No other angel bore messages or communicated information like Gabriel, for instance, and there wasn’t any one better suited for leading the armies of heaven than Michael. Cas was meant as a warrior and a keeper of knowledge.

“Anything new?”

“A demon attempted to get close to him,” Castiel said. “It was possessing his roommate. I sent it back to hell.”

“Kid still alive?”

“The demon had destroyed the body beyond normal repair already. The reapers took his soul to its destination.”

Gabriel sighed at the matter-of-fact report. Dean had loosened his brother up in the original timeline, but he could still do with a little relaxation. “Sammy know anything was up?”

“I believe he was unaware. They know little of demons at this time, despite the fact that Sam has been shadowed by them his entire life. He mourns Brady, though. They were friends before the demon took him.” Castiel turned to him. “Is Dean well?”

“He’s still learning how to handle things. I had to make sure he was down today. It was time for him to start figuring things out.”

“I am still unsure if it was right to keep them apart like this,” Castiel said, his tone unhappy. “We both know they’re stronger together.”

“We can’t let any of those yahoos use them against each other,” Gabriel said, the argument a familiar one. Castiel had been in charge of making sure Sam didn’t read the article that had pointed Lisa Braeden toward Dean. Sammy was safe here at Stanford right now, especially with Gabriel’s little brother keeping an eye on things. With John and Dean becoming aware of old yellow-eyes, Azazael would have to make a play for them. That information had been closely guarded by both sides so that no one figured it out and stopped things. In the original timeline, John Winchester had still managed to put large chunks of it together and Gabriel was confident that John would put the playbook he had put together to good use. It wasn’t straight information sharing, which would have made the Winchesters openly suspicious, but it wouldn’t be hard to connect the dots with that and with the other things that John had figured out over the years.

There were a handful of causality loops caused by the angels in the original timeline, but Gabriel had taken care of those this time so that the already strained timeline didn’t shatter completely. It had been a bitch, keeping all of the details the same without anyone figuring out that ‘Dean’ was actually Gabriel, but he’d managed it without any problems. Part of him wished he could have stopped the whole thing right there, but that kind of thinking would get him dead real quick. His current plan was to derail the plan for the time being and then do a shake-up in heaven with his spare time afterwards. Really, he was surprised the whole thing had worked the first time. It all hung on just the slightest details and had taken an incredible amount of work to line up. And here he was, Castiel at his side, fucking the whole thing up.

Gabriel smiled at the thought.

“Well, if there aren’t any problems on this end I’m heading out to start a few rumors, get things moving in the right direction.” He needed to work in more than one direction so that John Winchester ended up with the Colt and Azazael realized that Dean was vulnerable. He’d already made sure that old yellow eyes had recognized the possible threat of Dean Winchester with one of those trips to the past, so as soon as the demon got wind that Dean was holed up in the hospital he’d be on top of that.

The trick to it would be keeping the two rumors from meeting up. The demon couldn’t realize that John Winchester was close to the Colt, though he was fairly certain that John would end up using his supposedly weakened son as bait.

onestepcas

John rubbed at his eyes, feeling old and bleary and worn-down. He’d driven straight to the hospital after his trip with just a quick stop at the apartment to drop off a package for Dean, just in case. It looked like he wouldn’t be able to be around this weekend, so it made sense to make sure the apartment was stocked.

Dean was working on the parallel bars when he got into the room, bulky prosthetics strapped on for the world to see. It was hard to see him like this, to think of his sweet, good-natured little boy as a disabled man, and even harder to realize that it was at least partially his fault for putting Dean into the situation in the first place.

He must have drifted off while he was watching his son, because the next thing he knew he was being gentle shaken by Dean’s quirky physical therapist. “Dean, I think you better take your old man down to your room before he takes up residence in the gym,” the guy said, his tone joking.

Dean rolled his eyes at the guy and turned to John. “Good trip?”

“I found what I was looking for,” he said, mindful of his surroundings. “Stashed it back at the apartment for safe-keeping. It’s in the usual place for things like that.” They’d always kept weapons in the same places in every apartment, rental house, or motel room, and a few other necessities tucked in common places. It added stability to their lives. “Think I’m going to head back out tonight, though. See if I can’t play Killdeer, buy you some time.”

Dean nodded. “Lisa has the spare key?”

“As long as your girl hasn’t lost it,” John grunted. He’d only met Lisa once or twice, and while she seemed like a nice enough girl, he wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for Dean to get involved with her right now. Of course, his son was effectively out of the game for the immediate future and possible forever, so now was as good a time as any to try for a relationship. “Just came by to see how you were doing and let you know how things went.”

“Be careful, Dad.” Dean wouldn’t say ‘I love you.’ John didn’t think he’d heard those words from his son since Mary had died. Instead Dean used actions to say what he couldn’t get out. It was a problem they shared.

“You too, son.” He bent down and hugged Dean close. “I’ll call you from the road.”

xxx

Lisa showed up at the apartment at her usual time, though she was a day earlier than normal. This was Dean’s first weekend out of the facility, sort of a dry run before they moved him to outpatient status. Ben had stayed behind this weekend, giving her sister a little time to spoil him, and she was looking forward to seeing Dean without their small shadow for once. She loved Ben, don’t get her wrong, but it was nice to have a break every once in a while.

John wasn’t home, so she unlocked the door with the key she’d been given and stepped inside, preparing to crash on the bed. They had an unspoken agreement that she got the bed when she visited and he took the couch.

She dropped her bag next to the garage-sale coffee table, like always, and turned on the lamp. The sight that greeted her with that light made her freeze.

John wasn’t exactly into decorating and other than a handful of faded pictures propped up on handy surfaces there normally weren’t any personal touches to the place beyond the battered secondhand furniture. Now, though, the walls were completely covered. There were maps and printouts and photocopies of something written in Dean’s oddly neat hand. It looked like a combination of something the U.S. Marshals might use for fugitive recovery and the Hollywood version of conspiracy theory. She was suddenly very, very glad that Ben had stayed in Indiana for the weekend, no matter how much he had groaned about not getting to see Dean.

There was no sign that John was anywhere in the apartment or that he would be back within the next few minutes, which was oddly settling for her. Lisa wasn’t exactly sure what she’d do if John Winchester picked this moment to show up and talk to her.

There were a lot of things that she could have done with this particular sight. She could have called the police, of course, but there probably wasn’t anything illegal here. Just a whole lot of weird and strange, and definitely not something she would have expected from John Winchester. The guy had seemed fairly level-headed the first time she’d met him, though he was a bit closed-off.

Her next instinct was to call Dean and she followed through on that one, pulling out her cell phone and hitting the speed dial as she sat down on the threadbare couch, eyes focused on the wall of crazy. It rang three times before he answered, his voice sounding a little odd. Lisa couldn’t tell if it was because of the connection or if there was a problem at his end, but right now that didn’t matter. “Why does your dad have a wall of weird in his apartment?”

There was a long pause while static crackled over the line. The cell reception in this place was pretty bad. “I can take a pretty good guess. Come over to the hospital. I’ll get Tom to let you in.”

“It’s after hours,” she protested. It was always a pain when people ignored those kinds of things where she worked.

“Trust me, Lisa, Tom won’t mind. It’s not always a good idea to be around my dad when he’s like this. I’ll explain when you get here.”

Lisa really didn’t like the way that sounded. John hadn’t seemed like a bad guy at all when they’d met, though she hadn’t really spent much time with him. This kind of instant turn-around was frustrating and more than a little worrying and she was doubly glad that Ben was back in Indiana. No matter what was going on, though, she wasn’t about to leave Dean alone in this whole mess. They might not have defined their relationship beyond her mentally calling him ‘boyfriend’ but with Ben in the picture tying the two of them together Lisa was fairly sure they were stuck with each other.

When she got to the hospital Tom was waiting by the door. The keys were in the lock and once he let her inside he locked up behind her. “Past couple of days have been kind of rough on him,” he said quietly. “We were thinking of changing the plans for this weekend, but Dean managed to push through therapy like always and I’ve got a feeling that if we tried to stop him he might just make a break for it.”

Dean looked drawn, more tired than usual which was saying something, but he smiled as bright as ever when she walked through the door. “Hey, just who I wanted to see. It was getting boring around here. All they ever do is make me work.”

“And it’s paying off, since you’re getting away this weekend,” Tom said. “I’m going to head down the hall and work on some reports. Call if you need anything.”

He shut the door behind him and Lisa headed over to the bed and dropped down into the chair sitting next to it. “All right, what’s going on?”

Dean looked her over, the gaze more assessing than appreciative. “It’s a very, very long story, Lisa. Are you sure you want to know?”

“You better tell me right now,” she said, working to keep her tone firm.

“All right.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “When I was four years old, my mother was murdered and the house set on fire to cover it up. My dad has spent pretty much all of his time since then searching for the son of a bitch who did it. I didn’t see what’s at the apartment, but I can almost guarantee you that’s what it is. We got a fresh lead this week and Dad’s back on the trail.”

“Wow.” She reached for his hand, both to try and offer comfort and to find a lifeline for her own use. “That’s . . .that’s a lot.”

He laughed. “Yeah, it is. The cops never believed Dad when he tried to tell them what he saw, so he took Sam and me on the road looking for the bastard that killed my mom. We never talked about it to anyone except a couple of friends that Dad decided we could trust. I’ve never told anyone about this before.”

“What did he do when he wasn’t looking for the killer?”

“PI work and bounty-hunting, mostly, but he didn’t have a license so it was all under the table. A little mechanic work on the side when he could get it.” She had the feeling he was skirting around something, but for the moment she let it go. This was already enough for her to handle.

They talked for a while and Dean managed to talk her into crawling onto his hospital bed. He was having muscle cramps in his thighs and what was left of his calves, and she helped work those out. She kept waiting for Tom to come back in and throw her out, but somehow she fell asleep like that, curled on her side around Dean, and didn’t wake up until the nurse came in for morning wake up call.

No one made a big deal about her presence, even though it was clear she shouldn’t have been there overnight. Dean was pretty well-liked here, it seemed, and Tom must have vouched for her with the rest of the staff because they mostly left her alone. It probably didn’t hurt that she helped Dean with his shower and other tasks that the nurses would typically need to do.

Lisa had planned on spending most of her day at the rehab hospital before this latest twist, watching Dean’s therapy and discovering if there were any specific exercises that they wanted Dean to do while he was ‘on leave,’ so those plans didn’t change. There was an odd tension in the air, thick enough that it was almost tangible against the skin on the back of her neck, and it was hard to tell where it was coming from. Most of the nurses were behaving the same as normal, or what she would consider normal. Dean, though, was still carrying that drawn, tired expression from last night. Lisa was starting to suspect that it had less to do with pain and more with worry, since John was apparently AWOL. She’d think the stress was coming from him, but Tom was oddly distracted this morning as well.

John didn’t show up when it was time for Dean to leave for the weekend, which surprised Lisa but apparently not Dean. Her boyfriend seemed resigned to it and they managed to climb into her little plastic Hyundai without problems, wheelchair folded up in the backseat and duffelbag with a surprising number of books tucked in next to it. That stack of old, musty books that had rested on his bedside table and practically redefined what she thought about Dean. He wasn’t wearing the prosthetics, but they were tucked into the well behind the passenger seat.

The apartment was the same as she’d left it the night before, suggesting John was gone for a little longer than she’d originally thought. It made her angry, the casual disregard he held for his son. Dean was so easy to love, most of the time, and it was clear that to him this was business as usual. It was a bit of a revelation, honestly. His entire childhood must have been a series of variations on this particular theme, with the search for Mary Winchester’s killer taking precedence over anything else. It explained a lot about him and his relationship with his brother.

It was technically only barely wheelchair accessible inside this place, but John had kept the place so sparsely furnished that it worked that way. The bathroom and kitchen were decently set up and that was what really mattered, even if the doorways were just barely wide enough in a few places to allow the wheelchair through. Dean needed to line up perfectly and build up speed to get into the larger bedroom because he had to pull his arms in to make it through, but he seemed to like the challenge so Lisa left him to it and brought in her bags while he was finding his way around the apartment.

Even though they’d left the hospital behind Lisa could still feel the tension building, so it must have been coming from Dean. It had gotten worse as they settled in for the evening, so much so that she would have sworn someone was watching her as she rummaged around looking for takeout menus. They couldn’t quite afford it, but after the day she’d had she was in no mood to cook. The two of them would figure out how to navigate the kitchen tomorrow, since it looked like it would be just the two of them.

On the plus side, time without John Winchester might mean that they could see about resuming the physical aspects of their relationship. It had been a long dry spell on her end at least, and probably for Dean as well. If they had the apartment to themselves it meant that they would be able to take their time and figure out how to make things work now that things were different.

Lisa smiled at the thought. Yes, if she could manage to dispel the feeling that she was being watched she would definitely jump right into that project, with enthusiasm. This was as close to date night as you could get when you were a parent. Better make the most of it.

She and Dean argued over their dinner choices for about ten minutes before settling on Chinese. Once the order was placed Dean made the transfer over to the couch. Lisa got something for both of them to drink (Dean couldn’t have alcohol right now because the doctor still had him on painkillers and so she made a pot of green tea instead) and they ended up staring at John’s wall of maps while they waited. “Can you tell where he is from that?” she asked into the silence.

“Yeah, it’s not a problem. Black pins are old sightings. Dad had a theory that the son of a bitch was doing the same thing all over the country, basically as a serial killer. He found fourteen different deaths, though they weren’t all identical. Then things went quiet for ten years and there were seventeen more over the course of a year, and those are marked with the yellow pins. Quiet again after that until a few months ago, but there have been nine deaths that fit the pattern so far. Those are in red.”

“I probably don’t really want to know this, but what is the pattern, exactly?”

“There’s always a baby involved, one that turns six months old on that day. There’s always a death, with an unexplainably hot fire, but sometimes it’s the mother and sometimes someone else in the family, like the father or an aunt or uncle or grandparent or sibling. The baby always makes it out, no matter what else.”

“And that’s the way it happened with your family?”

His arm wrapped around her a little more tightly. “That’s exactly what happened with my family. No one would ever believe my dad when he said something strange happened, and he’s never been able to get someone to see the pattern since. He gave up last time when it was clear that the FBI guy he was talking to thought he was the one doing the killing.”

“God, that’s horrible.”

“Dad’s pretty determined to stop the guy this time,” Dean said. “That’s why I’m not making a fuss now. It’s been hounding his ass for the last twenty years. Maybe if he can stop the guy he’ll finally be able to let it all go.”

Lisa was on the verge of pointing out that it was technically a job for the cops to bring that guy in, but she was trying to think of a polite way to phrase it so that it didn’t cut into the possibility of making out later when someone knocked on the door.

“There should be money in the silverware drawer,” Dean told her as she got up. “If not, my wallet’s in the pocket of my jacket.”

It turned out that John Winchester had about two hundred dollars stashed in the drawer, tucked underneath the plastic divider. Lisa shook her head at the odd habit, probably one that the Winchester family had started years ago, and went to answer the door and hopefully intercept dinner before the delivery guy got bored and left.

The guy at the door was older than the typical delivery person, but he had the bags in his hands and the typical frustrated expression from someone with that particular job description. Lisa wasn’t particularly worried about security, but she’d been a single mom too long to not be cautious. She left the chain in place and opened the door enough to speak to him.

He smiled when the door opened, the expression smug. “Well, you’re pretty much exactly what I pictured when I heard Dean was shacking up with a girl. Those Winchesters always did have great taste in women.”

Lisa took a few hurried steps back, more in confusion and panic than out of any deliberate escape plan, slamming the door with as much forced as she could muster and running for Dean. For his part, Dean was in the process of moving into the wheelchair as quickly as possible. Whatever was going on, Lisa was going to stay as close to him as possible.

The door flew into the living room like it had been propelled out of a cannon and the man strode inside, hands now empty and held in front of him. “That was pretty rude, honey, but then the Winchesters always did favor fiery women.” That same smile from outside, the one that promised cruelty, slid onto the man’s face, and his eyes turned a shade of yellow that closely resembled a urine sample. “Long time no see, Deano. Heard you were laid up and thought I’d pay you a visit.”

Dean shook his head. “I really don’t plan on it, douchebag.”

“Oh, but we have so much to catch up on. Just let me take care of this little detail and we can chat.” He waved his hand in Lisa’s direction.

Nothing happened, and Lisa tried to catch Dean’s eye so that he could explain what the hell was going on. From what she could see of his face, Dean was smirking.

“You really didn’t think we knew you were coming, Azazael?” His eyes flicked up to the ceiling of the room. Some part of Lisa winced, because John was never going to get the security deposit back with a massive occult drawing on the plaster above them. She didn’t know what it meant, or what it was stopping, but it was pretty clear that it pissed off the man with the yellow eyes. Maybe later she’d be in the mood for that pun.

“I won’t exactly have a problem busting out of this thing, Dean, and you won’t be able to leave in the time it takes to get out since John drew this one right over the doorway.”

“I know,” Dean said simply. “That’s why Dad left me this as a little insurance policy.” He reached into the drawer of the garage-sale end table and pulled out a revolver that looked like it had just managed to escape an old John Wayne movie. “He had a feeling that you’d try something like this.”

“You really going to kill me, Dean? Right here in front of your cookie?” The nasty smile had never really disappeared, but it was almost gone now. “I’m pretty sure pretty little Lisa is going to run screaming for the hills if you try something like that. Besides, I know a few little secrets about Sammy that I’m just dying to share.”

For a moment Dean wavered. Lisa could see it in his expression and the way his eyes flicked over to her and back to the man in front of him. Then his shoulders went back and his chin raised. “Not interested,” he said, and fired the gun.

Lisa’s hands flew up to cover her ears and she almost yelped at the sound, her eyes glued to the sight in front of her. The man dropped to his knees, worn hands clutching at his chest, and then fell forward.

Dean let out a breath. He looked from the gun in his hand, lowered now that the threat was gone, to the dead body lying on the living room floor. He wasn’t looking at her, which Lisa was fairly certain was a deliberate choice on his part. “Lisa, call 911. The neighbors probably heard the gunshot. We need to call it in now.”

She nodded, reached for her cell phone, and fumbled through the numbers with shaking hands while she attempted to process it all.

xxx

In the end, the police brought him in for questioning and then released him without pressing charges. It would never have flown in a larger city, but out here in a more rural area they let it go with self-defense. It helped that he now had a good reputation with this community because of the accident and that he’d been ‘helpless’ to attempt any less lethal measures.

Lisa stuck with him at the police station for as long as possible and then waited for him when they did separate them for questioning. She still wasn’t saying much, but Dean was sure that wouldn’t take much longer to break. The first time you saw someone die it was always weird and strange and scary.

They didn’t make him go back to the rehab hospital, though they probably should have tried to for at least another week. After that close call, he wasn’t in the mood to feel trapped and helpless in a hospital bed at night, especially once Lisa headed back to Indiana.

The silence was held until they got into a hotel room (since the apartment was currently a crime scene) and Lisa had clocked the door behind them. “All right,” she said, calmer now that she’d apparently had time to think things over. “Tell me everything.”

Dean smiled.




Epilogue