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

Dean and Sam sat in the chairs in the living room in the dark. They had caught naps, chatted with the family. Now everyone else had gone to sleep and the Winchester boys were too wired to sleep. This was normally the time when they went out and killed things.

This place, this house was so… suburbia. It was a home like they’d never known.

“I want Billy to have this someday,” Sam broke the silence.

“You are not going to start that up again.” Dean rolled his eyes.

“No, no. Joan’s made her choice and I… accept it, but there is no reason why we can’t have it all.”

Dean was quiet for a while. “I want you to have it all, Sammy.”

“I know.” Sam sighed a little. “You know that you will always have a place in my home, right? That you make my home?”

“This had better not be a chick-flick moment.”

Sam laughed quietly.

The two settled into companionable silence. Then they heard footsteps on the stairs. They grabbed their weapons and moved to defensible locales.

“Sam? Dean?” One of Joan’s brothers whispered.

“Luke?” Sam asked back.

“Yeah. I thought I heard you guys.”

“We didn’t mean to wake you.”

“I wasn’t sleeping. I was working on n-dimensional theory and thought I heard… anyway, are either of you interested in seeing some of Joan’s most embarrassing moments?”

Dean laughed. “You’ve got the good stuff?”

“Have I ever. Has Joan ever mentioned any high school musicals?”


Luke flipped on a light switch with a grin. Sam and Dean had been expecting it and had already hidden their weapons. “Let’s get ice cream and I’ll show you the best high school musical ever.” He waved a DVD in the air. “I have been waiting for someone to show this to.”

“Junk food and a show?” Dean grinned. “Now I am starting to believe the genius label.”

“What was the musical called?” Sam asked, as always, interested in the details.

Luke even grinned at the simple question. “Well, it started out ‘For the Love of Zombies,’ then it became ‘Zombies in Love.’ By the performance, the title had been changed to ‘Zombies Arise.’”

Sam and Dean looked at each other. “You’re kidding me.”

“Nope. You’ve got to see this to believe it.”

It only took a couple minutes to get situated in front of the TV. That part was easy. The hard part was keeping the laughter to a low volume. Dean and Sam especially were hard pressed not to awake anyone else. They weren’t very successful. Kevin was the first to join them in the living room. Will and Helen were next. Joan and Billy were the last ones down.

“Oh, no!” Joan wailed when she saw what they were watching. She knew exactly who the culprit was. “Luke! Was this necessary?”

Luke grinned at Sam, Dean at Kevin, together they all responded with a resounding “Yes!”

“Mom?” Joan tried to appeal to a higher power.

Helen shrugged. “It is good entertainment, honey, now that we know that you survived the set falling apart. And they left the ice cream out. Why don’t you get yourself some?”

“Hey!” Will said loudly. Everyone quieted. “My little girl’s solo is about to begin and I want to hear it.”

“She did do a good job,” Luke admitted to Sam.

Her voice came through the recording clear and strong. ’Stop your fighting, and this war. Look upon your friends. Don’t you know the reason why; called us back again? Night is long and getting longer…’

It only took two lines into the song for Dean to recognize it. He stared at Joan. “Dude, you’ve been singing my nephew a zombie song as a lullaby every night?”

Joan snorted. “Try and tell me that you don’t think it’s the coolest thing.”

Dean grinned a little. “It does mean that you were destined for our family.”

Sam smiled at Joan and nodded once. “Why don’t you let me hold Billy while you get your ice cream?” Joan handed over Billy. Luke was the only one to notice that the exchange wasn’t as fast as others had been.

Dean waited until Joan had left the room and hissed at Luke. “Dude, you have got to get me a recording of this.”

“Sure.” Luke looked between the two brothers. “Do you want a DVD, a CD or for me to just download it onto your computer.”

“Download,” Sam said as Dean said, “Cassette tape.”

Luke stared at the older man. “A cassette? Do they still sell those?”

“If you look really hard.” Sam snorted. “The Impala only has a tape deck.”

“You need to update that,” Kevin mentioned.

“Don’t get him started,” Sam butted in. “I once suggested that he do just that when he was rebuilding the car and…” Sam glanced at Dean’s dark face and then indicated it. “That’s exactly the response I got.”

Will was impressed. “You rebuilt your car?”

Dean nodded. The cheerful openness from earlier was completely gone now, hidden by an impressive array of internal walls, and Sam realized how shaky this ground was and hurried to change the subject. He asked Luke, “Do you have any other videos of Joan?”

He grinned. “I have her cheerleading tryout.”

Joan walked back into the living room to hear that. “You’re kidding. I was sure that the squad would have destroyed every copy of that cheer.”

“It’s on YouTube.” Luke laughed. “And it gets more hits than a lot of regular cheerleading stuff.”

“I bet Sam would like to see you wearing your cheerleading outfit,” Dean teased, just to watch both Sam and Joan turn red.

“I never got on the squad,” Joan said. “Nor received a uniform.”

Luke grinned. “She used her tryout cheer to call out the cheerleaders for their vapid, shallow lifestyle.”

“I like vapid and shallow,” Dean argued. “Especially in pretty girls.”

“They dropped a ‘friend’ because the gossip was too good. She had a baby and left it where it was easily found,” Joan said sadly. “She had to change schools.”

Dean winced and admitted. “Ah, disloyalty is something entirely different.”

“I know, Dean.” Her smile indicated that she had forgiven him already.

Sam finally spoke up. “Now, I’m curious.”

Luke messed with the DVD and finally got a homemade menu. “Be curious no more.”

Dean took one look at the expression on Joan’s face frozen on the screen and barked out a laugh. “Someone’s in trouble.”

His brother nodded in agreement, a smile on his face. “I’d recognize that look anywhere.”

Dean and Sam laughed their way through the cheer. At the end, Sam grinned at her. “You earned that standing ovation.”

“She came up with the cheer in less than four hours,” Luke bragged.

“You’re good with music and rhymes. Do you ever write your own songs?” Sam asked genuinely curious.

Joan looked shell-shocked at the idea. Other members of the family, her parents especially, were pleased with the idea. “No. I never really considered it.” She grinned. “And I can’t exactly pack a piano in the back of the Impala.”

“There’re laptop programs for song writing,” Luke offered.

“Really?” asked Dean.

“No, Dean,” Joan cut him off. “I don’t have time.”

“We spend a lot of time in the Impala,” Dean argued. “It’s not as if you have a lot of other things you can do.”

“Dean,” she said, glaring in a sadly familiar way.

He opened his mouth again but caught Sam’s telling glance. Oh. Yeah. They could always get it for her as a Christmas present.

After the cheerleading debacle, Helen unearthed an old tape from Joan’s elementary school years featuring Joan dressed as an unhappy daisy. The young woman sat down next to Sam, who took the opportunity to sneak a bite or two of her ice cream while she was distracted. Eventually the night caught up to the Girardis and they began to drift off to bed. Sometime between the daisy and graduation Joan fell asleep against Sam’s shoulder. Sam handed Billy over to his brother and scooped her up. The move was almost as practiced as picking up his son; Joan had a tendency to drop off wherever and whenever it was convenient and Sam always hated to wake her up. Their schedule made it hard for her to find sleep since she refused to do so when they were out on a hunt and Billy’s schedule didn’t exactly correspond to a Hunter’s. He deposited her on her bed, pulling a blanket up over her before heading off to sleep.

The next morning Dean stopped him on the stairs before he reached the kitchen. Luke was next to him, looking a little panicked, and Billy was tucked under Dean’s arm. “You don’t want to go in there right now,” his brother said.

“Why not?”

Luke grimaced. “Dad finally got around to asking her what kind of relationship you two are in.”

“And now Joanie’s pissed,” Dean added. “I think he ran a background check, too.”

“It’s none of your business!” Sam winced at Joan’s tone. He’d only heard her sound like that twice before, and neither of those events were exactly pleasant.

“You’re my kid, of course it’s my business,” he father returned, just as heated. “I just need to know that you’re taken care of.”

Sam flinched at his word choice. Back when they’d first caught up with Joan, she’d sat next to him on a motel bed and told him, word for word, exactly what her father had said when he’d found out that Joan was pregnant. There was no doubt in his mind that Joan had reacted to those words in the exact opposite way that Will Girardi had intended.

“You lost that right a long time ago, Dad.” Her voice was steady and oddly calm, which paradoxically made Sam angry on her behalf. “’That boy’ and I have been doing just fine without you. I don’t need to be ‘taken care of,’ Dad.” With that she stormed out of the kitchen and up the stairs, passing the three of them on the landing. “We’re leaving,” she snapped out, heading towards her bedroom without stopping.

Dean shrugged and passed the baby to Sam. “I’ll pack our stuff. You see if you can calm her down, or that’ll be one awkward car ride.”

Luke raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, good luck with that. I’m going to find someplace safe until things are a little quieter.”

“Coward,” Sam muttered, though he couldn’t blame the younger man. Joan in a temper was a scary sight, and Sam knew with absolute certainty that he’d never seen her this far over the edge before. This ranked right up there with the fight he and his dad had the night he left for Stanford. The thought of that made him want to find some way to mend the fences here. He still remembered four years of silence that had been broken by a series of arguments before his dad had died, and Sam wouldn’t wish that on Joan for anything in the world.

He stood in front of the bedroom door for several long moments, absentmindedly bouncing Billy a little while he tried to come up with a strategy that wouldn’t end up with Joan turning her anger around on him. Dean came up behind him with an annoyed look, duffles in one hand, and gestured for the baby with his free arm. “Just knock on the door, you pussy.”

Sam glared at his brother’s retreating back, but did as he suggested. It opened a crack, just enough for Joan to see that it was him, and then she gestured him into the room.

Her bag was sitting on the rumpled bedspread with the diaper bag next to it, and the closet door open. “I’m guessing Dean packed up already?”

Sam nodded, watching as she moved from the closet to the bed and back again. “Are you sure about this? You could just stay here for a while, try to patch things up with your father. Maybe if Dean and I aren’t around he’ll thaw out a little more.”

“It’s not your fault, Sam.” Joan smiled at him as she packed her bag, but the expression on her face was wistful and a little sad. “My dad and I were like this before I ever met you. It’s not about you. Not about Billy, even.”

Sam blinked at that revelation. “I thought you said you two were close.”

“We used to be.” She took a neatly folded stack of clothing out of the laundry basket before passing it to Sam, who was packing up all of Billy’s things. “I . . .I can’t talk about this here. Ask me when we’re on the road.”

Sam nodded as he shoved the stack of onesies into the diaper bag. “Do you have what you need from in here?”

“Yeah.” Joan looked around the room, her face still slightly sad. Then she brightened and grinned at him. “I found an old box of tapes that Dean is going to absolutely hate.”

He accepted the change of topic with a smile of his own. “Really?”

“I don’t know if I can even listen to them,” she confessed. “I’m pretty sure they’re mostly boy bands and that song from Titanic.”

Sam winced. “That’s pretty bad.”

“I was in elementary school. Cut me some slack.” She rummaged through the desk drawers, coming away with a small stack of photos. “All done,” she announced, zipping up her bag.

“Yeah, me too.” Billy’s bag had picked up several Girardi additions and barely zipped shut. Dean had the baby downstairs, using him to keep Joan’s family distracted so they didn’t get too helpful and start packing the trunk.

If Joan had paused at any moment in time, Sam would have found some way to talk her into staying here for a little while longer. One of his biggest regrets would always be those four years of silence between him and his dad and how he would never get that time back.

But the woman didn’t hesitate. She hugged every member of her family, including a reluctant Grace, said her goodbyes, and climbed into the backseat of the Impala.

Arcadia was long gone from their rearview mirror before Sam brought up their earlier conversation.

“It was the end of senior year,” Joan began, looking at both of them but focusing more on Sam as she spoke over the rumble of the engine. “There was a man named Ryan Hunter. He worked with the police as a community activist, he was on the school board, and he owned the newspaper. And he was evil.”


She shook her head. “Human evil. He had already graffitied the Catholic church and burned down the synagogue and at least one other church. I knew he was doing it, but I couldn’t prove it, and when I asked my father to check him out he refused. Ryan took out one more church, a soup kitchen, and a church-funded pregnancy center before being caught red-handed at a mosque. Three people died in the fires, and it could all have been stopped if my father had just listened to me.

“Arcadia is no longer my home. And now obviously wasn’t the time to make up with my dad. The door is open, but that house is just the place where my whole life changed. It’s good to remember, but it’s not my home and it will never be my home again.”


Joan set Billy down on the fold-out changing table that this particular diner provided and pulled the washcloth out of the diaper bag. After wetting it down and wringing it out, she began attacking the smears of applesauce across his cheeks. For some reason, Billy had been more in the mood to play with his food than eat it today.

A waitress came out of one of the stalls and began to wash her hands. “Someone enjoyed his applesauce,” she said, drying her hands on a paper towel. “Didn’t you, Billy?” She ruffled his hair, and the baby smiled, his father’s dimples popping out.

Joan turned to look at the woman. “It’s a little creepy when you do that.”

Waitress God shrugged and tickled Billy a little, bringing out a giggle. “I love babies. They’re so honest about who they are.” She brushed at the soft brown hair one last time before turning to Joan. “They need help across the street. You should go over and ask for a job.” She was out of the door before Joan could lodge a protest.

Joan sighed, finished wiping up her child’s messy face, and headed back out into the diner. “Hope you remembered to tip. Our waitress was God,” she said quietly into Sam’s ear. “Are we staying here for a while?”

“We can take a look, see if there’s a case,” Sam said. “Why?”

“Thought I’d head across the street and see about that help wanted sign,” she replied. She hated going into the details of her God-missions in public. “Watch Billy for me? I’ll meet you guys later.”

The lights were turned down inside the restaurant, but the office in the back was brightly lit and the manager more cheerful than the gloomy outside would have led her to believe. “It’s only temporary,” she told Joan as she took the young woman for a tour. “Maddie is having surgery, but she’ll be back in a month.” Once Joan assured the woman that she was only looking for something temporary, her smile grew somehow wider and brighter. “Perfect! Are you ready right now?”

“Ready for what, specifically?” Joan asked, suddenly a little wary.

“I just need you to do a quick audition. Nothing fancy, just a verse of something done acapella. If that goes OK, we’ll head up to the owner’s office and sing for him.”

“I thought you needed a waitress.”

“Oh, honey, everyone does double duty around here. We’re all expected to hop onto the stage and do a couple of songs when the bandleader calls us up, waitress and hostess and even managers. Don’t worry, they go easy on you your first week or so.”

Joan grumbled internally. God seemed determined to make her perform no matter what she wanted. “Do you have anything specific in mind?” When the woman shook her head, Joan closed her eyes and began to sing the first thing that came into her mind. It wasn’t her usual style of music, but it had been playing in the diner across the street.

Debbie was still smiling when Joan reopened her eyes. “Perfect,” she said. “Jake has a thing for the classic female country singers. You do Patsy Cline for him, exactly like that, and you’ll have a job.”


It didn’t take any of them long to become accustomed to Joan’s new job. Both Dean and Sam became moderately addicted to the unbelievably awesome coffee they served at the restaurant. There weren’t any major cases in this particular town, but Sam and Dean took care of a half-dozen salt and burns in the immediate area and passed along several jobs that they couldn’t reach, Dean making a special trip to the roadhouse to hand over the info. Sam used the opportunity to work on a side project that he’d been putting off, an electronic reference to pretty much everything the Winchesters had run across in the last few years. Joan slowly became more comfortable singing on the tiny stage in the restaurant. She would probably never truly enjoy it, but she was a decent singer and could pretend with the best of them.

Unfortunately, everyone at Mac’s turned out to be frighteningly well-adjusted. When Debbie told her that Maddie was coming back after three weeks, she still hadn’t found out exactly who she was supposed to be helping. God always had a double or triple-layered plan for what she would accomplish on these missions, and so far the only thing she could see that she’d done was learn how to sing in public without entirely freaking out.

She sighed and headed over to her newest customer. Tonight was her last night. She had to figure out who she should be helping before her little family hit the road again.


Steven sat down wearily at the table. He’d debated driving through the night, but the thought of the empty house that was waiting for him at the end of his journey was a little too depressing to face. Eating out alone wasn’t much better, but the people in the room next door to his at the motel had a fussy baby and he hadn’t wanted the reminder of Lindsay.

God, he was going to miss his daughter. Driving away from that dorm building had been one of the hardest things he’d ever done. For the last seventeen years it had been just the two of them, Steven and Lindsay against the world. Even though she would be coming back on breaks and for the summer, it would never be the same.

“Hi, I’m Joan. I’ll be your waitress tonight. What can I get you this evening?”

Steven looked up at his waitress. She was young for a place like this, probably only a couple of years older than Lindsay and easily ten years younger than every other employee here, not to mention far more energetic. “Any specials?” he finally asked. He hadn’t even touched the menu.

“Our special today is roast lamb with curried potatoes and mango salad,” she said, smiling at him. “There’s also a pretty good 8 ounce sirloin with baked potato and house salad.”

“The special,” he told her. He really didn’t care what he ate, but he could practically see his daughter making that disapproving face she got when he skipped meals.

She scribbled the order down on her pad. “And to drink?”

Steven sighed and scrubbed at his face. He really, really wanted a beer, followed by a bottle of whiskey, but if he started drinking tonight he wouldn’t stop. “Coffee.”

“All right. I’ll be right out with the coffee.” The girl turned around, long brown ponytail bobbing as she hurried away. Steven watched her leave with a bit of bemusement before turning his attentions toward the stage.

There was a band playing, striking a good balance of audible without becoming ear-splitting. A skinny older man with a grey beard was singing a passable version of Kenny Rogers ‘Ruby’ that the other patrons seemed to be enjoying. When he was finished, he acknowledged the applause with a terse bow and headed over behind the bar, picking up an apron and nodding to the woman currently standing there. She finished up the drink she was pouring, handed it over to a customer, and disappeared into the kitchen.

Joan was back with his coffee a minute later, setting the cup and saucer down in front of him followed by a ceramic cow filled with cream. “Your food will be out in about ten minutes. Let me know if you need anything else before then.”

Steven nodded and took a deep, appreciative swallow. He thought about telling the girl to take the creamer with her, since he drank his coffee black when it was this good, but she was already walking away by the time he looked up.

He was ready for a refill by the time his food arrived, and Joan took care of it with a warm smile that was neither flirtatious nor weary. “I think you like the coffee here almost as much as a friend of mine.”

He managed a smile, which wasn’t as hard as he would have thought. She reminded him a little of Lindsay, though his daughter had never and probably would never end up waiting tables anywhere. “Its pretty good coffee.”

“So I’ve been told. Well, enjoy your meal! I’ll be around if you need me for anything.”


Steven watched as the girl turned to the bandstand, tray held down at her side. The bandleader was making an imperious come hither gesture. “Come on up here, sweetheart. I think it’s your turn to entertain us tonight.”

While his waitress bantered with the man on stage, Steven took a bit of his food. It was just as good as he expected from the quality of the coffee, and he savored the lamb and potatoes while the band started playing.

He stopped eating as soon as he recognized the song, a lump in his throat. His Maggie had loved Bob Dylan and had passed that love along to their daughter. When her mother died, Lindsay had played this song over and over until the old record wore out and he’d been forced to buy a CD to replace it. It was still Lindsay’s favorite song.

It seemed like the song went by much too quickly. Joan blushed at the applause, her gaze turning to someone that Steven couldn’t see, and hurried off the stage in that direction. There was a quick conversation before she headed back to his table. “Is the food all right?” she asked, a furrow between her eyebrows. “I can get you something else if you want.”

“The food’s fine. The song just . . .it’s my daughter’s favorite song. I wanted to hear it without distractions. You did a very good job singing it.”

The pink that had mostly faded from her cheeks was back in full force. “Thanks. My mom used to play it when she painted.”

“Has she heard you sing it?”

“No.” The girl glanced back over to the mystery person in the corner. “My parents haven’t heard me sing in years. They don’t live around here.”

“That’s a shame,” Steven told her. “I think your mother would love to hear you sing that song. I’m thinking about bringing my daughter here when I get her at Christmas break and requesting it.”

“Oh, I won’t be here by then. Tonight was my last night. We’ll be on the road tomorrow morning.”

“Where are you headed?”

“I think we’ll be going north. We’ll see.”

Steven sighed. “Just think about what I said, OK? Trust me, you should sing that song for your mother.” It had been exactly what Steven needed to hear.


Sam slipped in through the employee door, nodding to one of the waitresses (Jennifer, her name was Jennifer) as he walked in. They were used to him after three weeks of meeting Joan at the end of her shift and he was able to move past the handful of people without any hindrance.

Joan was still out on the floor, and that was expected. He’d showed up early on purpose, hoping for a chance to hear her sing before they moved on. She only ever sang for Billy, and even that was growing more rare as he got older and had less need for lullabies. Sam missed her voice sometimes.

Almost like the man was reading his mind, the bandleader called her up to the small stage at that moment. Sam watched from just outside the kitchen door as Joan set aside her tray, squared her shoulders and headed up.

“All right, let’s give Joan here a big hand. This is her last night here with us, so let’s make it special. Got anything in particular you’d like to sing for us tonight, Joan?”

She nodded and said something to him, head turned away from the microphone. The man grinned and repeated it to the band, just as quietly, and they launched into a song that Sam didn’t know. Joan stepped up to the microphone, her bearing calmer than he would expect. “You must leave now, take what you need you think will last,” she sang, and the song suddenly clicked with Sam. The tempo was a little slower than Bob Dylan’s version, the tone a little more bluesy, but Sam remembered listening to Dylan back in his angsty teenage phase and the lyrics for “Baby Blue” struck a chord for him back then. Still did, to be honest, though he’d never admit it to Dean.

Joan was swaying by the second verse, her long skirt moving gently from side, and Sam couldn’t take his eyes off of her. Her eyes were closed as she sang, one hand gripping the microphone as the other hand kept the beat against her leg.

She was beautiful.

Chapter 6