Summary: It's been over a year since the events of Frozen Light. Things have changed. But the hunt is in Dean's blood, and one day, things change again.
Life has changed.
She smiles as she parks the Impala in the driveway and kills the engine. The house is still and bright in the sunlight of the end of summer. She can hear Balthazar and Gabriel bantering over a Star Wars character through one of the open windows, and she can’t help but sit there for a second, wondering at the oddity that is her life. For the first time since the fire and her mom’s death, she could be normal –is normal, or at least far more than any other hunter she knows. Well, except maybe Pastor Jim and Bobby since they actually have a steady job beside the hunt. She has a home, not just a base of operations, and a family. A steady boyfriend and siblings –if not by blood, then by all intents and purposes. And a big brother.
It’s been over a year since the Novaks found her bleeding and broken in the ramshackle house John had decided to set up camp in. They’ve taken every precaution to ensure she would never be in such a situation ever again, and John Winchester has been locked behind bars ever since, with their testimony and that of several other people who’d suspected her abuse over the years. Teachers, families she’s met on a hunt with John, people like that. Given his long record of criminal offenses –theft, credit card scams, impersonating of a Federal officer, etc.–, he’s stuck in a high security facility for a very long time.
She closes the car door delicately –can’t go hurting her baby, after all– and leans against the sleek black car. The air is still warm against her skin and she closes her eyes, leans her head back and inhales deeply. People greet her from the neighboring houses. She smiles at them, waves. This is delightfully normal, something she never thought she’d get to say one day. Normality’s never been her thing, and she keeps hunting even now, because she couldn’t live with herself if she just stuck her head in the sand and let people die for selfish reasons. She’s already got more than she ever dared to hope for.
She tilts her head to the side, smiles as Anna twitches.
“Thanks, Anna. I really feel good now.”
The red-head swats at her half-heartedly, chuckling. “Don’t be stupid.”
They look back at the house.
“It’s still strange, you know? All this…” She trails off with a sweeping wave of her hand, and Anna sighs.
“I can only imagine,” she says. “But I hope you’ll come to consider this as normal. We just want you to be happy.”
They share a secret smile. “You know I am. Come on. Gabe and Balth are gonna rip each other’s head off if we don’t prove Vader’s far better than Luke and Han Solo combined.”
Laughing together, they walk into the house and promptly get sucked into the brothers’ heating argument. They end up in a Star Wars marathon with tons of popcorn and a huge pizza dripping with cheese and grease. In their moments alone together, Michael often jokes about it, says it’s a good thing she’s hunting because otherwise she would grow fat in no time. Castiel and the others, though, marvel at the way she doesn’t take any weight.
She’s been getting back on the hunting wagon in the past few months. It wasn’t easy at first, as John had seriously fucked her up, but with time and a lot of training, she’s got herself back in shape and ready to kick supernatural ass. She can still remember the pure satisfaction when she sent that demon bitch back to Hell, the thrill of the hunt, the happiness to be back in the game. The Novaks are her family, but the hunt is her life. Without it, she’d never have survived all her years in John’s tender care.
It’s been a while since she last contacted any of her hunting contacts, though, and she knows it’s a matter of time before they decide enough is enough and check up on her. Maybe, she thinks later that day, maybe she’s just jinxed herself. Michael’s been covering up for her since he got custody of her: he’s got contacts in a garage not too far from their house and they’re willing to employ her whenever she’s in town and say they’ve sent her on a mission across the country from time to time. Though she doesn’t like lying, she knows it’s necessary, and Michael respects her decision.
Thanks to him, she can get on the road whenever she finds a case or the call of the road becomes too strong to resist. She’s like that, wild and free, and she gets restless after a while of staying in the same place. She doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep going like that. There will be a time when, maybe, Castiel will want to move out and she won’t have Michael to back her up anymore. She’ll have to deal with things on her own, but she doesn’t want to think about that. They still have a few years at least, or so she hopes. For now, they’re comfortable and content under this common roof, and the hardships they’ve been through have taught them the value of family. Maybe it won’t happen, after all.
They’re all gathered around the dining table enjoying a delicious batch of lasagna –courtesy of Gabriel when her phone rings. Giving them all a look of apology, she flips it open and raises it to her ear, says “Winchester,” only to recoil when Caleb’s voice thunders from the other side.
“Winchester? That all you’ve got to say, you crazy bitch?” She sees her siblings tense out the corner of her eye but ignores them and briefly excuses herself. She goes to stand outside on the porch overlooking the quiet street from she stands. The sky is dark overhead, distant stars twinkling softly in the night.
“Caleb,” she sighs.
“Nice to see you at least remember my name,” he snarls, and she rubs her forehead.
“I’m sorry, man. I just…”
“Got abused and never told anyone. Yeah, I think we got that.”
She instantly perks up at that. “We?”
“What do you think? First thing Ellen did when she found the article was to call us to the rescue. Too late, it seems.”
She exhales slowly. “Wait, when you say ‘us’, you don’t mean…”
“Jim, Bobby and I, plus Ellen and Jo, of course. And Garth. And Joshua. And Rufus. Needless to say, they’re all pretty pissed at John.”
“He’s in jail, Caleb. For life.”
There’s a malicious laugh at the other end of the phone. “Whenever has that sort of thing stopped us? Maybe a cursed object could do the trick.” She chuckles as he starts muttering under his breath, making up and discarding plans of revenge.
“I’m sorry, Caleb. Really.”
There’s a pause at the other end of the line, then a low curse. “Look, baby girl, this ain’t your fault. I wish you’d told one of us, though.”
“You know I couldn’t, Caleb.”
“Yeah. I still wish…” He trails off, and she smiles at the empty air.
“Wishes aren’t worth much to people like us, Caleb. We just have to rely on our skills.”
He snorts. “Yeah, guess so. I’m glad you’re fine.”
“Where are you?”
“South Carolina. Ghost geezer’s been terrorizing tourists.”
“Kick his wrinkled ass for me, will you?”
“’Course. What about you? Take your chance at normal yet?”
She smirks. “’Course not. You know how I get.”
He knows, Lord, does he know. When Dean stays indoors too long to her taste, she becomes a walking nightmare, and it only got worse as she grew up.
“I have to go,” she says. “But I’ll call the others, maybe drop by the Roadhouse sometime. I hear there’s been a streak of strange deaths in Jefferson City.”
“I’ll tell people the case’s yours. Take care, baby girl.”
When she goes back inside, she just says Caleb’s an old friend and leaves it at that. No one asks questions.
She spends a lot of time on the phone the next few days. Bobby gives her an impressive rant about stupidity and independence and asking for help, Jim lectures her quietly on worrying her loved ones –to his defense, he doesn’t outright say she’s been selfish–, Ellen fusses over her and threatens to come over and make sure she’s treated right. Rufus raves about several ways of making John Winchester rue the day he was born, Garth’s just happy she’s fine, and Joshua confesses to sending several cursed objects to a high security facility to make a certain prisoner’s life Hell. Figuratively of course.
In the end, Jo’s the only one who actually gets it. The others, they’re men –except Ellen, of course, but Ellen’s older. She’s an adult, a mature woman. And she’s rarely got anything positive from her interactions with grown-ups. Jo, though, she’s different. She gets the shame, the horror, the fear and helplessness. They’ve both been raised in the hunting business, taught how to handle weapons and fight like pros, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t times when they can be caught off-guard. They’re still girls, very pretty girls, and their upbringing gives them a tough but sensual edge, an aura of mystery that lures men to them like moths to the flame. Sometimes, it ends up turning ugly in a dark alley where the guy doesn’t take no for an answer and they feel that kind of helplessness that leaves a scar behind which will never fade.
They catch up quietly, and when she gets off the phone, Dean goes back to Castiel, leans into his embrace and dutifully relays Jo’s colorful death threats. He smiles and tightens his hold on her, before flipping his brothers off when Gabriel wolf-whistles and Balthazar makes kissing faces.
It’s been over a year since Dean came to live with them, and still, there isn’t much they know about her, they realize one evening as someone insults her on the phone and she merely greets them like it’s normal. She spends the next few days calling people they’ve never heard about, and when they ask, the only answer they get is that they’re old friends. She never elaborates, doesn’t give them the slightest hint as to who they are. She’s almost as aloof and mysterious as when they met her, but they’d have thought she would open up now that she doesn’t have to keep her being abused from the world.
She doesn’t. She works as a mechanic, turned down the opportunity to go to college and have a shot at a more normal life. To their surprise, Michael agreed. Michael, who’s been telling them their whole lives that they should work at school and go to college so they can have a good life and earn enough money to be able to do whatever they want whenever they want to. Dean, though, she’s been the exception in the family ever since she first walked in through the front door. Michael took a shine to her immediately, it’s almost eerie how easily their distant brother warmed up to her, and how she confides in him when she wouldn’t even talk to Castiel himself.
Sometimes, he wonders if the one she’s actually in a relationship with isn’t his older brother. He knows it’s not true, that she wouldn’t ever do something like that to him, and neither would Michael. They’re both good people, true to their word and trustworthy, but there are those glances, those private jokes none of them kids understand, those secret smiles and hours spent locked up in his office talking about God knows what. They’ve tried to snoop before, half-heartedly, without any result. But Castiel can feel his impatience grow, and a mere glance at Gabriel is enough to betray his uneasiness. Balthazar is no better. Anna and Rachel have always been better at controlling themselves: he guesses being girls and all, they understand the need for privacy better.
Still, there’s something going on, and he feels like Dean is slipping away from him, like she’s not being truthful with him, and he hates it. Because he’s being honest with her, has been strictly monogamous since they started dating –something he never would have thought would ever happen, and still they haven’t done much more than kissing and sleeping in each other’s arms. If she’s going to keep denying him her trust, then he feels she owes him at least some honesty.
As if sensing his thoughts, Dean looks up from where’s she’s sketching, and is met with five abrupt stares. She tenses immediately, Rachel notices sadly. Her eyes narrow and her fingers twitch as if she were itching for something, some kind of protection or… a weapon. Her stance is defensive too despite the fact she’s currently sitting on her favorite armchair, and her mouth is but a tight line.
“What is it?”
“We’re just wondering who those people were.”
She knows who Gabriel is talking about instantly, and her already wary gaze shutters, almost like a reflex, a trained response. Whatever this is, she won’t give them an answer today.
“Friends.” I told you already goes unsaid, but it’s there, hanging heavily in the air between them.
“Don’t they have names?” Balthazar tries to make it sound light-hearted, but there’s no way to take the prying edge off the question. She looks at him like he’s stupid, and Rachel hurries to interfere.
“Look, Dean, we’re just curious. And concerned. I mean, in the year you’ve been with us, you’ve barely ever said anything about your life before, and–”
“I’m entitled to my privacy.”
“Of course, you are,” Anna says, “what Rachel means is that we barely know anything about you.”
A pause. Dean’s lips twitch before she stills.
Castiel’s quiet admission gets her attention immediately, and she turns to focus on him.
“We know you like pie, classic rock and Dr Sexy M.D., that you like to be outdoors and that you’re brilliant with cars. We know you refused to go to college so that you could work as a mechanic and that you’re away on mission most of the time. And now, we also now you have those ‘old friends’ you’ve been calling. But that’s pretty much all. We don’t know why you refused college, what you do on those missions, who those mysterious friends are or where they were when you were being abused.” She flinches at the word, but he doesn’t falter, keeps going mercilessly. He’s tired of the secrets, the mystery. He wants at least some honesty.
“I don’t want to talk about my life before.” Dean says quietly. She has used this excuse before, and they’ve always respected that, because they know there must be horrors in there that should stay buried for all eternity.
“We aren’t asking about the bad here, Dean,” Gabriel says, golden eyes uncharacteristically serious. “We just want to know about your friends. It’s not top secret, is it?”
She grits her teeth together, stays silent for a while, mulling over his words.
“They’re good friends,” she says at last. “Loyal.”
“Then where were they when you were being abused?” Castiel blurts out, tactful as ever. Anna glares at him as Rachel winces, but he can feel Gabriel and Balthazar’s silent support –if slightly reproachful, and his gaze doesn’t waver as he keeps it on his girlfriend.
“They didn’t know.”
“Right,” Castiel mutters, “because as friends, they’d never have noticed your bruises.”
She raises her chin defiantly, insulted on her friends’ behalf.
“I only saw them from time to time.” And she’s perfectly able to conceal any proof of abuse, as proven when she first arrived in town. It’s not enough to them, though. Real friends would have seen. “Don’t you dare,” she hisses, surprisingly guessing where his thoughts are going. “I have the utmost faith in them. They’d have killed John if they’d known. I couldn’t let them do that.”
Balthazar picks up the interrogation immediately. “Why?”
She looks away, and silence falls over the room like a stifling blanket.
“It all comes back to the matter of trust, then, huh?” Gabriel says bitterly. “Family is a matter of trust, Dean. You don’t get that and we understand that. But this–” he makes a large gesture to encompass the room, the six of them sitting there, the house, “–it can’t work if you’re not willing to at least try. And I don’t think you are. We don’t think you are.”
Castiel picks it up from there. “We can’t work like this.”
She licks her lips nervously. There was a very distinct difference between Gabriel’s and Castiel’s ‘we’, and she knows the second one refers to her and Castiel as a couple. Suddenly, the world seems very dark, and her heart is pounding in her ears, her mouth very dry, her throat parched and knotted and her chest feels very tight. It’s suddenly very cold and very hot at the same time. She distantly thinks that maybe she should have updated the wards.
Castiel is staring at her, blue eyes cold as he waits for her to yield and spill or just– She doesn’t know what he’s expecting. She despises the technique, forcing her to chose between breaking up or giving up her secrets, but in the end, there is no choice. They’re all behind him on this, even facetious Gabriel and kind-hearted Anna, even motherly Rachel and snarky Balthazar, and she finds the last of her support crumbling away to leave only Michael. But Michael is not here, he’s away at work and won’t be back for some time, and this is something she needs to deal with on her own anyway.
She clenches her fists in her lap until her knuckles are white and steels herself. In the end, the only thing that will stay true is the evil she needs to hunt and destroy. Even now as her boyfriend, the first man she’s ever loved, is breaking up with her and her friends –almost siblings are making no move to help, just staring her down, expecting her to cave and bow to their curiosity, she can feel the call of the hunt like the wind in her hair, like the air on her skin, like the sun on her lips. It’s like a distant, powerful song, a long-loved perfume, a familiar thrill in her veins. It’s everywhere in her, written in her body, in her mind, and her soul pulses with it. Michael once said that her soul was the most beautiful thing he had ever behold. She didn’t believe him, doesn’t now.
But she has a soul, and sometimes, she can almost feel it.
She steels herself and climbs to her feet. Castiel’s eyes widen in shock. Gabriel’s face falls, identical horrified expressions on the girl’s features, while Balthazar looks stunned. With a sharp nod, she turns and heads to her room.
They watch her cross the living room with a worn duffle bag slung over her shoulder a few minutes later. The door clicks shut and the Impala’s engine roars to life, before she fades into the night, and there’s a note left on Michael’s pillow in her handwriting.
He doesn’t talk to them for an entire month after that.
I’m leaving. You taught your family honesty, truth and trust, and I’m proud to have been part of it for over a year. But you know me, Mike. You know my life, what I do and who I am. There is no room in there for sincerity, no room for trust. My relationship with Castiel was bound to fail one day, when he decided he wanted me to settle down and stay home more often, and that’s something I’d never have been able to do. I love him, Michael, I really do. But being with him is endangering him, and you, and everyone in this family.
I can’t do this. My presence here is hurting everyone emotionally, and I can’t do that to you all. I failed you, and I’m sorry. I hope they’ll forget me quickly. I know I won’t ever.
Most of all, Michael, I want to thank you. You gave me a chance and a new start when I was ready to die and calling for Death, you took me in and adopted me and never asked for anything in return. Thank you, Prince of Light, I shall never forget.
They wait one week, then another, and another, until one month has passed, and still there is no sign of Dean anywhere. It’s another two weeks before they gather the courage to go and open the door to her room. They’ve never been in there before, Michael had made it clear that this was to be her sanctuary, somewhere none of them had any right to put a foot in if she didn’t explicitly invite them to do so. They hover by the closed door for what seems like an eternity, suddenly inexplicably reluctant to violate the privacy they were so eager to breach not two months ago. They look at each other, aware that they all realize that nothing is going to be the same and that they need to do this.
Castiel steps forwards, and turns the handle. The door opens.
The room is empty. The bed is made, the dresser is empty, all personal objects gone from the shelves except from a few books mostly borrowed from Castiel and Rachel. Everything is cold and impersonal, and there’s even a thin layer of dust on the furniture, a definite proof no one’s been in there for quite some time. Something catches Gabriel’s attention, and he crouches to retrieve it. It’s a picture, a small photograph. Turning, he wordlessly flips it over so that they all can see.
Dean is there, smiling at the camera, Castiel’s arms wrapped around waist, her hands on his and her head on his shoulder while he leans his chin on hers, love and happiness radiating from their every pore. She’s all light, standing there at the fair, sunlight playing with her hair, giving her skin a golden hue and making her eyes sparkle with joy and a contentment they’re sure they haven’t seen for quite some time on her face. Her whole body is relaxed, her demeanor easy.
On her pillow, there’s a small piece of paper with only two words.
And then they realize why Michael’s been so upset with them.
They’ve pushed her away.
The wind ruffles her hair. She takes a sip of beer, the bottle cool in her palm, small droplets of perspiration dripping from the glass onto her fingertips before vanishing. She loves this, the sun caressing her skin, the familiar smell of the Impala’s engine cooling down and the warmth of the hood under her body, the comfortable stretch of her legs as she leans back and looks at the landscape. It’s a beautiful day by the river, the grass is lush and green and there are birds singing in the branches on the bank.
Hey lady–you got the love I need
Maybe more than enough.
Oh Darling… walk a while with me
You’ve got so much…
There’s a black dog terrorizing people in Wisconsin, a Wendigo in Washington, a poltergeist in California. She’s on her way, and she sings along the radio and John’s old tapes in between rest stops, one hand dangling through the open window and the other on the wheel, emerald eyes on the road which has been home for longer than she can remember, and she smiles as the Impala hums along.
Many have I loved – Many times been bitten
Many times I’ve gazed along the open road.
Many times I’ve lied – Many times I’ve listened
Many times I’ve wondered how much there is to know.
Jo looks up when she walks into the Roadhouse, and sees. She doesn’t say anything, just nods and uncaps a couple of beers. On the house. She knows, they all know, that people like them aren’t made to stay in one place too long. One year is already more than she ever thought she could last under one roof. And everybody knows that Dean freakin’ Winchester never stays long. She’s like that, wild and free like the wind and the wolf wandering lonely in the darkest places of its domain.
Many dreams come true and some have silver linings
I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold.
She drives, wild and free, swings and jerks her head to the beat, burns the Wendigo, stabs the black dog, purifies the poltergeist, and still she smiles and sings the song of blood and war and violence and the darkness from which she will never be free.
Mellow is the man who knows what he’s been missing
Many many men can’t see the open road.
There are memories dancing at the back of her mind, good times in the sun with a boy of light and his siblings of choice. Family. She got a taste of it, but they weren’t part of her real life. She tells herself it’s better for her and them. Too many lies, too many secrets. Too much danger. They don’t see the road like she does, can’t understand the call, the wildness running through her veins, and she loves, drives and kills and saves, saves lives and meets people and creatures and she doesn’t regret.
Many is a word that only leaves you guessing
Guessing ’bout a thing you really ought to know, ooh!
Sometimes, lying alone in the dark, the sheets cool and lonely on her body, she allows herself to think of him and to feel. She misses him, and them, and she wishes it could have been different, but it wasn’t, and maybe she could have told them the truth. No doubt they’d have taken her to a shrink. Then, she rolls over and wipes a hand down her face as if to chase away the doubt. Darkness is her element, she thinks, and forces herself to smile and hum until it isn’t so fake anymore.
She sings and she dances.
You really ought to know…
She doesn’t come back.