Blackbird


Winchesters don't take losing lying down and they know how to play the odds — but some things out there are stronger than luck.
Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine, but I'd make Dean wear his boots if they were. Always.
Pairing: Dean/OFC
Rating: M ( Language, angst, sex and a pool table )
Spoilers: Technically, this takes place after "Simon Said" and covers everything through to the beginning of "No Exit" but there are references to things mentioned in later episodes. I'd say up to "Born Under a Bad Sign" to be safe.
Miscellaneous: This is the sequel to Bad Connection.

Betas: wenchpixie is the yang to my yin and there's nothing I could do in this fandom without her; as always, she rallied the troops, made certain I took care of myself and gave me lovely notes. ysbail once again provided much needed direction regarding the opening scene and, as she always does, made me smile because we really do have the same taste in music. embroiderama assisted me with characterization (as I've never written Bobby before) and reassured me about the sex scenes. miconic grappled with my commas and my use of conjunctions; I should be fined every time I think about using "and" in a sentence but she's the reason why you'll never know this. noirbabalon provided me with insight into Dean's character and single-handedly battled my desire to make him schmoopy. merioddities is not only one of my Dean meta partners in crime but she also reviewed the document for me. misskatieleigh also helped me with a wee character issue for Dean. And they all did this in less than 48 hours. For a 11,000+ word fic. Everything in this story rocks because of them. The mistakes? Those are all me.


Sam woke up with a migraine.

Staying up drinking with Jo and Ash had seemed like a good idea at the time – mostly beer, with a couple of whiskey shots as chasers when conversation got particularly slow. After answering a storm of questions about Penny, the conversation meandered to their now broken pattern regarding the others touched by the Yellow-Eyed Demon. It didn't get any easier trying to find a new one the drunker they became but even Ellen had to admit that it was a valiant effort. Dean wasn't around to make fun of them when they started singing along to the jukebox; he wouldn't have shut up, especially when Ash pulled out his falsetto for 'I'm All Out of Love.'

He didn't even remember the time when he toppled into the small bed but there had been sunlight on the horizon when he looked out the front window before stumbling up the stairs. Sam had collapsed fully clothed onto the rickety frame, already asleep.

Sam needed to sleep, at least until his head stopped pounding, but something was having a field day downstairs; a cacophonous giant opening doors and walking around like it owned the place. Ellen never made that much noise when she was making breakfast. Sam sat up the moment leaden footsteps stomped across the floor of the kitchen and he reached inside the nightstand drawer for the .45 he'd put there when he'd unpacked.

He opened the door slowly, expecting to see Dean inching his way down the hall or Jo standing beside him – cocking her shotgun with a grin on her face – while they decided what to do. He was greeted by an empty hallway and tapped three times on Dean's door. It was one of the signals. Sam waited, hearing sheets rustle and Dean mumble something to himself before the mattress creaked underneath shifting weight. Shit.

If he had some cute chick in the same bed with him, Sam might have ignored Dean himself provided he could actually sleep through the noise. It was probably just a kid on a prank.

Sam made it down the stairs, treading silently on the balls of his feet and following the wall, when a metallic crash erupted from the kitchen. There was a loud oof followed by someone breathing hard as bare feet slapped into the linoleum. He braced the gun on his hand and turned the corner. "Drop it right now!" Sam yelled into the room, aiming for the big metal pot reflecting the dim light of the overhead light into his eyes.

"Jesus Christ!"

"Penny?" Sam blinked.

Penny Hillsworth was staring at him over the top of a stewpot that was as big as her entire torso, curly hair all over the place despite a half-hearted attempt to pull it into a ponytail. "I'm going out on a limb here, Sam, but I'm guessing you're not a big fan of oatmeal?" Penny gestured towards the Quaker Oats container she'd set out on the counter next to the stove with her head.

"I like oatmeal just fine," Sam returned. Her eyes focused on the gun he was still pointing at her. He felt like a moron. "Dad always said whiskey made Winchesters stupid." He lodged the .45 into the back waistband of his jeans, trying to ignore his pounding head. "Dean used to make it for us when we were kids. With lots of honey and milk."

Her eyes softened. "That's how the Old Ones like it," Penny said gently. "But it has to be steel cut oats that you soak overnight, not the instant oatmeal you get in packages." She smiled at him suddenly. "My mom knew things like that. Every Midsummer's Eve, she made Tommy and me leave a bowl of bread, milk and honey near the base of the old oak tree in the backyard. We thought she was crazy." Penny looked away suddenly, putting the big pot on the stove.

He never realized how tiny she was until she was standing next to Ellen's old gas range, wearing baggy pink sweatpants and a Metallica t-shirt that came almost down to her knees. Penny sighed, one hand coming up to push stray curls out of her face. The stretch of skin – suddenly too-tight around her eyes – reminded him of Dean and he was three steps across the room, getting ready to put a hand on her shoulder, when Penny turned to look at him. "You ever make oatmeal for your brother, Sam?" she asked, cocking her head.

"No." Sam had to smile back at her. "By the time we were old enough to join Dad on hunts, we were eating at diners."

"Well, now's your chance." She handed him one of those big glass measuring cups other people used in baking. "Give me six of those in the pot."

"That's a lot of oatmeal." But he picked the pot up off the stove and walked over to the sink.

"That Ash guy is sacked out on one of the pool tables and a lot of people are sleeping off last night in trucks outside," Penny returned. "Ellen Harvelle doesn't strike me as a woman who would turn anyone away when they're hungry." She shrugged her shoulders. "Besides, it's physically impossible for a Hillsworth to cook breakfast for less than ten people. It's one of the immutable laws of nature."

"Right up there with big brothers always thinking they're right because they're the oldest." Sam chuckled.

"Exactly." Penny started opening cupboards and pulled out a huge jar of honey along with a bag of raisins. "Score!" she yelped, adding an unopened bag of chocolate chips to the growing pile of things sitting next to her. "The only thing better than milk and honey with oatmeal is when you top it all off with chocolate chips!" Penny winked at him. "It's a family recipe, you know."

Sam snorted, putting the pot of water on the stove and switching on the burner. "You don't need chocolate at breakfast, Penny." He looked critically into the pot. "Are you sure we need this much oatmeal?"

Penny peered over the edge of the pot, container of oatmeal in both hands. Without even measuring it, she started dumping oats into the pot. "Trust me," she said, right before she grinned at him and shook some more oats out of the container. "I'm a scientist. We're trained to make exact measurements."

"I see."

Penny wiped her hands on a towel hanging off the front of the stove. "Are you willing to put your money where your mouth is, Sam Winchester?" That only made Sam laugh harder and Penny shook her head, moving to another cupboard and pulling out bowls. When he just looked at her, eyes wide, she started laughing herself. "These are for the toppings. I'm not even certain you could eat a bowl of oatmeal this big."

"Dean doesn't just call me Sasquatch because I'm taller than he is."

Penny chuckled and set the bowls on the counter next to everything she had gathered. They didn't say anything after that, listening to the oatmeal boiling in the pot while they filled up the bowls with raisins, loose granola, chocolate chips and some dried fruit. After they were done, Sam leaned against the counter and watched Penny stir the oatmeal. He grinned when she started humming while she stirred, an old song that Dad used to sing as a lullaby when they were growing up.

"Don't take this the wrong way," she said abruptly, green eyes focused on his face. "But I wish I could go on a hunt with you guys."

"It's not safe, Penny."

"I know. It's just…" Penny frowned. "It's your life. And I'll never understand it. Not really." She started stirring again, looking away from him. "How…" Penny placed the wooden spoon on the little coffee plate she'd set out on the counter, face turned towards the wall. "How can I help him if I don't understand what he has to go through?"

Sam didn't have an answer for that.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

You took care of Sammy, you took care of me. You did that, and you didn't complain, not once. I just want you to know that I am so proud of you.

Dean reached out to pull Penny towards him. Voices began calling to each other downstairs, unable to drown out his father's gravelly voice, but Penny was gone – just the scent of lilacs on the pillow where she'd been sleeping. She'd never done that before; he'd always wake up to find her working on her laptop or watching him with her knees curled to her chest. Penny had probably come to her senses, tiptoeing out of the bedroom after realizing the mistake she'd made.

The only thing holding Dean Winchester together was skin.

The demon's got a plan for your brother.

He rolled onto his back, covering his eyes with his right arm as footsteps stopped outside the door. It opened slowly, a low creak against the laughter, and Dean moved his arm just enough to squint. Penny was balancing two steaming bowls on one arm while she shut the door behind her, spoons clutched in her right hand. She set a bowl down on the squat dresser next to the bed. Dean smelled honey and chocolate, remembering the way she leaned back into him that last night in Chicago – tucked against him in the biggest old-fashioned bathtub he'd ever seen, sighing like there was no one Penny Hillsworth trusted more in the world to touch her.

Trust was the second thing Dean was going to break, right after promises.

You've got to try and save him, Dean.

"Sam and I made you breakfast," she said.

Dean sat up, shaking his head sharply as he moved back against the scratched headboard. "Sam cooked?" He took the bowl from her hands and made room for her as Penny sat down across from him. "That's a first." Chocolate chips were sprinkled across the oatmeal, melting along with the honey from the heat. She'd even poured a little milk on top. Just like he used to do for Sammy when they were kids. Dean swallowed.

But if you can't, you're going to have to stop him.

"He put the water in the pot for me," Penny returned, grabbing the bowl off the dresser. "I wish I'd known that Sam was awake before I nearly brained myself jumping up to the top shelf." Dean snorted. "And he's mad at you for ignoring his signal," she added.

"Signal? He knocked three times. That's the 'I know you've got a cute chick in there, I'm just letting you know I'm okay' signal. And here I was, naked and alone." Dean's mouth quirked up into a smile, the grin pasted on his face.

"I brought you breakfast in bed, Dean Winchester. You be nice or I'll never make you oatmeal again."

"You keep making these threats you never carry out, Penny Hillsworth." She didn't even know that when he leaned forward, Dean could feel the brush of his father's breath against his ear; the recoil in his gut when the words struck home. And the only way to do that is to kill Sam. Penny tasted like honey and chocolate and a little cinnamon, chasing away the echo of his father's voice with one small hand crooked around his neck.

"You never got the rope," she breathed against his lips.

"You never let me leave the room." It was so goddamn easy to fall into her, feeling her mouth curve into a smile as fingers brushed through his hair.

Penny laughed as he pulled back, her hand touching his cheek and her eyes going soft all over again. "There's nothing that can't be remedied with time and a little patience." Her voice was light and a part of him wanted to believe it was true. Even for the man who was supposed to kill his little brother, the secret bottled inside that bruised.

"What about school?"

"Ellen said I could stay. I finished my last seminar so all I have to do is defend my master's thesis next week. I'll be fine if you give me a couple of hours every day to study my notes." She grinned at him. " Lynn doesn't need her car back right away." A shadow crossed her face. "Unless I'm in the way of your next…gig."

"We're not doing anything right now," Dean replied, "But we're only sticking around until tomorrow."

"Oh." Penny looked down at her bowl. "Okay."

"Remember what I told you? About being duped by the demon? We have no idea what the fuck is going on but Sam… He thinks there are answers here. That Ash can help." Penny looked so shocked when he said that, Dean chuckled. "I want to ask someone else for help," he added. "And he's not so far away. You're small enough that Bobby has a closet or someplace where you can sleep. Don't think he'd mind if you tagged along."

"Bobby Singer?" The smile dropped from her eyes and Penny shivered. "The man I'm supposed to contact if…"

He nodded. "Bobby's an old friend of my dad's. Knows a lot of lore." Dean tried to casually take another spoonful of oatmeal and Penny looked like she was forcing herself to swallow just as much as he was. "Might know something about this if I can give him some more clues. And…"

"You trust him," she said, setting her bowl on the dresser. Penny had finished most of her breakfast but there was a little bit of milk left on the bottom.

"Yeah."

Penny didn't say anything to that, just watched him finish his oatmeal. She waited until he set his bowl on top of hers, spoon clacking against the bottom of his bowl until Dean retrieved the spoon and set it next to his, and then crawled forward just enough to curl up beside him – one arm slipping behind his back as she rested her head against his shoulder, the other pulling tight across his waist. It's your lucky day, kid.

And when Dean jumped, Penny just held on harder; rubbing his back lightly until his breathing slowed down.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Hey, Sammy."

Dean walked out of the room he was sharing with Penny, fully dressed and hair rumpled, just as Sam reached the hallway off the stairs. The upstairs shower was running and Sam guessed that it was Penny. Dean was already frowning when their eyes met, worry lines crinkling his forehead; his mouth shut abruptly and he turned towards the wall.

"Dean, they can help us. Ash's program… Have you really taken a look at it?" Sam knew that Dean was pissed about telling Ellen what was going on, and the only thing that had kept Dean from arguing about it again over pool the night before was Penny Hillsworth showing up at the Roadhouse. Even one night with her couldn't stop Dean's paranoia from kicking in the next morning. "Ellen would never hurt us," Sam added.

"No?"

"Dad trusted her enough to tell her something was going on," Sam retorted.

"Sometimes, Dad trusted the wrong damn person." Dean sighed. "Look. You want to have that mullet-head help out? Can't stop you at this point. They already know enough to hurt us if they want to." He scratched underneath his ear. "But there's more people out there than this Roadhouse, Sam. People who've helped us all along."

"Most of them are dead, Dean." Sam thought he imagined Dean's jaw clenching until hazel eyes flickered towards the bathroom door.

"Bobby's still kicking, last time I checked."

Sam chuckled. "Bobby's probably still going to be kicking after the rest of us are gone." He met Dean's rueful grin with one of his own and sighed. "But that's not a bad plan. We can get Bobby up-to-speed the next time we stop by the salvage yard."

"Thought you'd see things my way, Sam." Dean grinned, both hands in his pockets. "He's already making you lasagna for dinner tomorrow night." And Sam could only shake his head as Dean walked past him down the stairs, whistling low, shoulders bent like they carried something heavy.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The soft murmur of voices drifted towards her from the other side of the room, followed by the rhythmic crack of balls against the sides of a pool table. People had started drifting into the Roadhouse after Ellen made them meatloaf with corn niblets for dinner; she refused to let Penny help with the cooking and wouldn't even let her touch the dishes, so Penny told Dean she needed to do some work and grabbed her book bag from the car.

He was already playing pool when she came back in, Jo Harvelle flitting around him as she wiped off tables and set chairs onto the ground. The way Jo leaned in to talk to him, eyes flickering everywhere but at his face, made Penny's jaw ache. Lynn did that uncomfortable tilt with every person she'd ever slept with who never called back, asking them to remember why they noticed her in the first place.

Penny might have felt sorry for her but watching Jo's back as she cleared off another table was an exercise in comparisons – words like short and statuesque or messy versus beautiful. She had no illusions about herself; there were girls who walked around in pink sweatpants and there were girls who looked like they walked out of a modeling portfolio, even when they were dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt.

And there was the one indisputable comparison.

She was a bioengineering student sitting among people who lived and breathed a life her mother had touched once as a girl when a man named Patrick Daly woke her from a seven year sleep with his blood and his sweat and his tears because the Old Ones demanded nothing less as currency. The demon that followed the Winchesters had made the same demands – a mother's blood, a father's sweat and their sons' tears. Every person in the room was marked by some variation of that price; Penny could see it in the lines of Ellen Harvelle's face or the way the three men by the door played cards and yet kept something that could be used as a weapon close to hand.

Even Ash looked like he could pick up a bottle and use it.

She sighed, rubbing her eyes, and focused on her monitor. Penny had run the model three times in the last hour, based on six months of lab results, and the delivery system remained stable each time. There weren't as many damaged cells being repaired by the synthesized compound as Penny wanted there to be but it was a start. She was about to look over some of the equations when the screensaver suddenly popped up; Penny had been watching Dean and Jo talk for so long that it was a shock when her mother's face stared back at her.

Penny took a long swallow from her water glass; her mother's eyes twinkled. The picture had been taken at the hospice, just months before she died, and Cecily Hillsworth still looked like herself, only a little more tired and with a bandana instead of her riot of gray-tinged curls.

"…makes no sense."

"Sam, we can't do this without a bigger sample size than what you're giving me. Just you and this Andy person and his brother isn't going to cut it." Ash's voice was still a drawl but there was an underlying authority to the way he said it. Dean hadn't just been pulling her leg when he said that Ash went to MIT.

"Maybe you're limiting your sample by not expanding the scope of your search," she said, twisting in the booth and looking over her shoulder so that her eyes met Sam's. "Have you tried a national or state-wide search on Sam's pattern? That could up your sample size and you can begin reviewing the data for other similarities." Penny hoped that didn't make her sound like an idiot; she thought they were looking for other people like Sam. It made sense to do that geographically.

Ash snorted but then he shrugged his shoulders. Sam's eyes widened, and his smile seemed to light up his corner of the Roadhouse. "It was a pretty lucky day for us Winchesters when you knocked out my brother with your umbrella," Sam said.

Penny tried to smile, hoping it reached her eyes. Sam's mouth twitched, but already he and Ash were talking in low voices about their next steps and Penny knew she'd been pushed aside. Penny twisted back to face her computer. She touched the face on the screen, small shocks crackling against her fingers, and closed her eyes.

You've always been my good luck charm, Penny. Always.

Dean's low laugh rumbled towards her across the music from the jukebox and was met by Jo's bright giggle – the same scene she'd been staring at all evening while her computer whirred, Jo leaning towards Dean like she was giving him the winning hand without him needing to ask. Penny knew that nothing going on between them now, could see that in the way Dean always moved outside of her personal space whenever Jo tipped into his but knowing that didn't keep the panic at bay.

The only thing to do was hold on tight and hope it was enough.

His head turned and their eyes met, a small smile crossing his face when he realized that Penny had been watching him, but Dean didn't do anything but move around to the other side of the table and start planning his next shot. Jo glanced at her, too. Penny averted her eyes quickly, glad the laptop was still sitting open in front of her and that there was something she could pretend to be working on instead of watching a beautiful blonde flirt with Dean. She had spent more time doing that than working while Dean played pool by himself.

Her watch beeped and Penny reached down into her purse, pulling out her glucose meter. She touched it to her forearm, wincing as the lancet came out. She didn't know how to take out a ghost or what a zombie really looked like but Penny understood what it meant to lose something. She didn't know if that's what really mattered, what was important in the end, or whether a girl with an umbrella was enough to keep whatever demons still haunted him at bay when a whole world of hunters stood by his side.

But she did know that Dean Winchester wasn't playing another round of pool by himself.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The stark guitar brought back memories of warm arms around him; body swaying in a brightly lit kitchen, and the sound of his mother's voice singing the words to him masked every other conversation around him – until there was the thump of glass against the top of the table he'd been using for his beer. Penny had just set down a bottle of tequila, which she followed up with two shot glasses. Ellen added a basket full of chicken wings, with extra carrots and celery, as Penny swung herself up onto a stool.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

"I love this song," she said, resting her elbows on the table and her chin on her hands.

Dean propped his cue stick against the table and swung up into the seat opposite her. "Reminds me of my mom," he managed, picking up the bottle. Dad used to sing it instead of a lullaby after Mom died; it always made Sam stop crying, no matter how bad things got. "You sure you're okay to drink this?" he asked.

"You sound like one of my brothers." Penny made a face and then she grinned. Dean didn't say anything to that, just frowned at her as he poured himself a shot. Her purse was slung over her shoulder and she set it on the table in front of her. "I checked my levels and I'm okay. Even took some Lantus; if I eat while I drink, I'll be fine. It's not like I'm making a habit of this, Dean." He probably imagined the shadows that crossed her face because her grin widened. "Besides, pool is more fun with tequila," she added.

"You play pool?"

"Theoretically." Penny frowned when she noticed he'd poured less tequila into her shot glass but didn't comment on it.

"Let me guess. There's a program on your laptop that runs all the probabilities and then comes up with a shot for you?" That earned him a big belly laugh, one that made Penny lean forward on the table to keep herself in the chair while her curls shook. She threw back her head suddenly and swallowed her entire drink, slamming it down on the table in front of her with a challenge in her green eyes. Dean shrugged and followed suit.

She was the one who picked up the bottle the second time around, filling both of their glasses to the line, but Penny did stop and eat a drumstick before sending her second shot home. "Tommy and I came up with our own version," Penny said, filling up their glasses a third time. "We're the only ones who understood the rules."

"Why am I not surprised?" Dean grinned back. Then he made the mistake of putting his hand on the table, fingers tapping the wood in time to the music. It was Kansas, reminding him of days on the road; Sam in the backseat reading a book while Dean asked questions about the war. He sighed.

Penny leaned forward and splayed his fingers open, holding tight with hers. "Don't worry," she said. "I'll just tell anyone who asks that I'm the one holding your hand and you're only putting up with it to get in my pants."

Dean snorted. "You've got an answer for everything, don't you?"

"It's a character flaw." Another chicken wing devoured, Penny picked up her shot glass and waited for him to do the same – clinking sides before tilting her head back. "I'm pretty sure you're going to get in my pants," she added after she swallowed. "Just in case you were worried."

"Good to know," he returned, finishing off his own drink. "Tequila isn't cheap, Baby Doll."

"You didn't pay for it, Shotgun."

"You don't have to get me drunk so you can have your way with me," Dean said, watching her chew on a piece of celery while he started filling up their glasses. "I'm pretty sure those sweatpants aren't staying on until morning." He grinned at her. "Just in case you were worried."

"I'm onto you."

"Not yet," he retorted, waiting for her to bring the glass up to her mouth. Penny's shoulders twitched but she banged her empty shot glass down on the table with another laugh. Five seconds later, his glass was sitting empty right next to hers.

"It's going to take more tequila than that to beat me." Penny slid off her stool, bracing herself against the back before striding towards the pool table. She looked at him over her shoulder. "Are you ready?" There was something about the way she asked it that might have made it a dare, except Penny's cheeks were red when she looked at Jo Harvelle walking by with a swish of her bar towel on a nearby table.

There was a hell of a lot more at stake than just a game of pool.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Four hits.

Sam stared at the results of Ash's search. Three of the names he recognized – Andy Gallagher, Max Miller and his own. The fourth name, Scott Carey, belonged to someone Sam had never met. Even Ash had expected more than four people, going slack-jawed when he ran the search a second time and the same four names popped up on the monitor.

"Shit," Ash breathed.

"What the hell can we do with four people?" Sam returned.

Ash whistled. "Start comparing as many records as we can find, I guess." He grinned suddenly. "But I bet you're not going to show much in the vital statistics department."

"No." They had moved around too much, using different names so they couldn't be tracked. That still didn't keep Sam from feeling like someone was coming up behind them anyway, something bearing down on them that Dean knew about. His eyes turned towards where Dean and Penny were playing pool, his brother laughing out loud at something she had just done before grabbing her hair and pulling her mouth up to kiss his.

"Guess I'll start pulling as many vital stats as I can before I start comparing them."

Sam took a sip of his beer. "Maybe four is deliberate? We know there are kids out there that don't fit the pattern but what if there's a reason for the four that do?"

"Like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse?" Ash meant it as a joke but he stopped laughing when his eyes met Sam's. Both of them were chugging on their beers, Ash's eyes as wild as Sam's stomach.

"Except that Max is dead," Sam managed, setting his empty bottle in front of him on the table. "Biblically speaking, four was used to denote God's creation, what comes after Godhead itself. So it's really meant to talk about matter." He leaned forward, elbows on the table. "Just think about what that means: four seasons, four cardinal directions, four elements."

"Four dimensions," Ash returned thoughtfully, pushing hair back behind his ear. "That's life right there." He went pale.

"The fourth book of the Bible is the Book of Numbers." Sam's breath almost whistled through his chest. "It's about people living in the wilderness, unable to enter the Promised Land because they weren't prepared to accept the promises of God. It's about the differences between a generation of unbelievers and those with faith." He frowned. "Generation…"

There are signs. Look, it took me a while to see the pattern, but in the days before these fires, signs crop up in an area – cattle deaths, uh, temperature fluctuations, electrical storms.

Sam shook his head sharply. Rosie. The same cycle twenty-two years later; Dad had identified it himself – it's what Ash used to model the pattern in the first place. "I am so stupid," he whispered. Ash looked at him sharply. "Check for the same signs in 1961," Sam added, voice getting louder. "And then we'll try 1939."

Ash was already typing in new search parameters when Sam flagged down Jo for more beer.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Penny Hillsworth played pool like a lunatic.

The rule Dean remembered was the one where you got to roll a random ball into the nearest pocket, based on getting close to the number your opponent was thinking about but only if you bounced the cue ball three times by hitting it when you were taking your shot. From what he could tell, Penny broke every rule she told him about five minutes later, which wouldn't have been so bad if Penny hadn't been so gleeful, using fancy words like corollaries that she could quote the same way Sam could recite Latin. And failure to comply with or understand Penny's rules resulted in penalty tequila shots.

Ellen came over and put a pitcher of ice water and two glasses on their table. "We closed up about an hour ago," she said. Dean turned his head slowly, focusing on the older woman's face instead of Penny's ass while she was stretched over the pool table. Ellen looked more amused than pissed off, which was probably a good sign, and that low chuckle ringing in his ears had come from her; he could see the chairs stacked on tables all around them and the place was empty. Even Ash was somewhere else. "How long are you two going to be?" Ellen asked.

"But 'm beatin' Dean," Penny said.

"Make this your last game." Ellen gestured towards the pitcher. "You two had best start drinking that if either of you intend to be anything but horizontal tomorrow." Suddenly her hand smacked into Dean's arm, but the older woman returned his grin. "I'm serious, Dean."

Dean didn't say anything while she walked out of the room. The jukebox was still running in the background, probably on random, and most of the lights were out except for the ones in the pool room. Penny was still bent over the edge of the table, trying to line up her shot. There was a rule or two he was ready to make of his own; John Winchester's sons didn't take losing pool lying down but at least the litany of his father's lessons – how to bank a shot, when to bet your full hand – didn't make his chest ache.

"You're holdin' that stick th' wrong way," he said, covering her back with his body and cupping his hands around hers. Penny's shoulders were bowed underneath her t-shirt and there was a rush of lilacs as she moved her hips backwards into his crotch. She bent her head forward, hair falling around her face in a tangle, and he could see her neck muscles flexing when his hands moved up to her waist.

"Are you goin' t' show me how t' hold a stick?" Penny asked. She turned around underneath him, pulling herself up to the ledge of the table. "Can hold a stick," she added, head tilting up to look at him. And then she was kissing him; tongue moving against his until Penny started sucking on his lower lip, fingers curled against his chest and scratching slowly. He strained against the fly of his jeans.

"You don' stop, I'm screwin' you right here."

Penny was already pulling his shirt up over his head, fingers tracing the scars on his chest once it fell on the floor. Her eyes were full as the tips of her fingers brushed against the most recent ones, still pale and puckered. "You saved m' cousin, Dean. Got hurt." Penny touched another long scar, almost ten inches long, down the right side underneath his shoulder. "Wha' did this?"

"Succubus." Dean wound his hands through her hair as she leaned forward, lips as light as feathers along the length of the scar. Her arms came around his neck, body hitching up to curl into his while she wrapped her legs around him; feet hooking around his thighs. "You're goin' t' b' pissed if someone sees."

"I don' care if anyone…sees." Her mouth was hot against his neck, right near his ear. "Don' want t' stop, Dean. Want you." Penny swallowed and she leaned backwards, hands resting on the felt of the table. "Want t' find some rope. Tie you down." She rubbed the table top with her right hand. "Right here. You'll feel it agains' you. Soft and scratchy. And I'll work you t' screamin' with everythin' I have."

He started taking off her shirt, and she sighed when he dipped his head down to her breasts. "I'll have you bendin' your back just t' get more," Penny whispered, almost a song the way it was pouring out of her mouth. "And all you can d' is ride it out." She lifted her hips while he pulled down her sweatpants, gasping when he'd finally peeled off her underwear and his mouth came down. Penny shuddered, and a sharp noise escaped from her throat.

"Like that?" Dean asked, stretching his back and sliding out of his jeans.

"What part o' m' screwin' you don' you understand, Dean?" But her fingers were already digging into his shoulders when he pressed inside her, legs tightening around his thighs as she slipped forward on the edge just enough to counterbalance the stretch in his calves. Penny looked like she was getting ready to say more, green eyes going dark; whatever was going to come out turned into a groan, her head flung back sharply as her throat worked. "Oh, God," she managed. "Like that."

A ragged cry erupted from somewhere, his entire body convulsing, but Dean ignored it until the pressure of Penny's arms around his neck made him to realize that he was screaming into her mouth and every noise in that room was coming from them; the moist friction of skin, the wooden thump of table legs against the floor and the clacking of balls rolling into each other. All of it underscored by rough breathing when their bodies relaxed against each other.

"Can hold a stick, Dean."

"Hell, yeah."

She reached up to kiss his chin but Dean pulled his head just out of reach. "Hey," she protested. "Goin' t' kiss you."

"Need t' tell you somethin', Penny." She reached up again, arms flung around his neck, and looked annoyed when he ducked out of reach a second time. No goddamn tequila was going to get the best of him; it was important. "Don' worry abou' Jo." Penny's eyes softened and her fingers were already rustling through his hair. The tequila didn't even make him sound hinky. Dean grinned at her. "Fuck. You don' even need t' worry abou' Cassie."

Their mouths crashed together, Penny's arms tightening around his neck, and she sighed past his lips with the tang of tequila and hot wings. But then she made a little sound in her throat and pulled back; Dean was the one who tried to catch another kiss, settling for one on the top of her nose because her head was tilted up and it was there. Green eyes narrowed as she stared up into his.

"Who th' fuck is Cassie?"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hell had frozen over.

Sam was the one behind the wheel of the Impala, listening to some college rock station he'd found once they crossed out of Nebraska, while Penny curled up around Dean in the back seat of the car. Both of them were sporting sunglasses and sleeping as much as they could when Sam wasn't making them drink water.

Sam didn't know who looked more like a lunatic. Penny hadn't been awake enough to realize that Dean was buying her a pair of Strawberry Shortcake sunglasses at the first gas station they'd stopped at; she had thanked him when Dean pointed out that the color matched her sweatpants. His older brother had actually snickered when she put them on. Not that Dean looked suave with an arm around her shoulder, grinning down at her like an idiot as her curly head burrowed against his chest.

A brown leather jacket and a pair of kick ass sunglasses couldn't change the fact that Dean fucking Winchester had spent all morning snuggling with a chick. And Sam had the pictures on his phone to prove it.

Dean called it something else, of course, when they stopped at McDonald's for lunch and Sam teased them both about it over a round of Big Macs until Penny caught her reflection in the window and actually smacked Dean on the arm. When Penny joined them outside after going to the restroom, she was blinking at them both without the benefit of her sunglasses. After lunch, it was Penny who let Dean stretch out with his head in her lap, murmuring to him softly enough that Dean remained asleep while she inched his sunglasses off his head and replaced them with hers.

Penny winked at Sam when their eyes met in the rearview mirror.

When they pulled into Bobby's place, Penny was stroking Dean's forehead gently and trying not to chuckle every time she looked down at the closest Strawberry Shortcake face on Dean's sunglasses. The look on Dean's face when he sat up, stretching as Sam rolled the car to a stop before one hand came down to cup the sunglasses, was fucking worth the stitch in Sam's side. Dean growled and pressed Penny to the back seat, kissing her hard until Sam coughed.

Bobby was already coming out of the house to greet them as they tumbled out of the car, dogs barking in the back to let him know the Winchesters had arrived. His eyebrows quirked up when he realized there was a girl standing between the Winchesters. When Dean was the one to introduce her, Bobby shot Sam an incredulous look with a raise of his shoulders that Penny might not have noticed but it made Dean scratch underneath his ear and ask where they could put their things.

When Sam came out from Bobby's living room, where he'd be sacking out on the couch, he wasn't surprised to find Penny setting the table. "Where's Dean?" he asked, watching her set out the silverware.

"He went off with Mr. Singer." She looked at the salad stuff that Bobby had set out on the counter and frowned when the timer went off on the oven. "Think we should make the salad?"

"I'm thinking that with the amount of time we're cooking together, we should open up a restaurant."

She snorted, turning the oven onto 'warm' before rooting around cupboards for a bowl. "Hillsworth and Winchester? That sounds like a law firm." Sam's jaw clenched; Penny probably didn't even know about law school, or if she had it was something so normal that she wouldn't have marked its loss.

Sam took a deep breath, forcing himself to laugh. "If you put your name first because you're older, Penny Hillsworth, I'm prosecuting you for violating the Younger Sibling's Code of Honor."

"I would never do that, Sam." Penny started washing the lettuce while Sam began chopping up carrots on the cutting board. She winked at him. "I did it alphabetically."

"Hey, I've been meaning to thank you," Sam said. Penny's shoulders stiffened and she gave him a funny look. "For helping us out last night. We're nowhere near having this thing figured out, but we've got a sample size Ash can live with. He's compiling vital statistics and getting ready to do a comparison."

"Oh. You're welcome." She grinned. "But I didn't do much."

"Did enough," he returned. Penny shrugged.

Dinner was almost on the table when footsteps shuffled towards them down the hallway from Bobby's study. Dean was watching Penny nervously when they sat down and Bobby shot her a smile as she looked up from cutting the garlic bread. "Dean says you had a run-in with the boys back in Chicago," Bobby drawled when she sat down, placing the bread basket in front of her.

Sam snorted. "More like she laid Dean flat with her umbrella."

"You love that part, don't you, Geek Boy?" Dean's voice was a growl and there was a grimace on his face until Penny handed him the bread basket. "You're just damn lucky the pouka wasn't at a circus," his older brother added.

"Or on a plane." Sam smirked back at Dean.

"Brothers." Penny rolled her eyes and giggled before turning her eyes towards Bobby. "Sam and Dean were after the pouka that was using my college campus as its hunting grounds. They rescued my cousin and her roommate from it." Bobby's eyes had widened at the way she said pouka, pronouncing it with an easy trip off her tongue. Most people had problems with Gaelic; Sam couldn't pronounce it to save his life.

"It's pretty amazing," Bobby said slowly, his eyes glittering like hot stones. "How they came across the one girl in Chicago who believes in boogeymen and doesn't even blink when she finds out about two boys who hunt them." Dean recoiled and shot Bobby a look so dark it should have smoked through the older man's chest, but Bobby kept a calm gaze on Penny Hillsworth.

"Dude – " Dean began but he shut up when he caught Sam's eye. Sam shook his head.

Sam half expected Bobby to say Christo at her, but all that happened was Penny sighed and took a sip of her water. "His name was Patrick Daly." Her voice was barely a whisper, but it sent a shiver down Sam's spine when their eyes met. "He saved my mother when she was fourteen." Penny pushed a piece of lasagna across her plate. "She used to laugh about it. 'The girl who sleeps,' she said. Like that was normal. Except…"

"The Old Ones left behind a changeling, took her to the other side. 'The girl who sleeps' was just a shell." Bobby's eyes had softened. It didn't surprise Sam that Bobby knew the story, he'd been collecting hunter lore for longer than Dad had been hunting, but he guessed his face was as white as Dean's when Bobby calmly continued. "The man damn near lost his life rescuing that girl, so the stories say."

"There were three trials. They made my mother watch but when he was done, he didn't just rescue her. He made them pay her back, a life for each year stolen from her." Penny picked up a cherry tomato from her salad and popped it into her mouth. "She called him the man who slipped back into the dark before she could thank him." He hadn't imagined the way Penny glanced at Dean, who was staring at something past Sam's shoulder and slowly eating his lasagna.

"He was lucky they were part of the Trooping Sidhe," Bobby observed. "The Unseelie would have flayed him and still kept the girl." His face cracked into a smile, genuine, and Bobby's body shifted like he was thinking about reaching forward and touching Penny Hillsworth on the hand.

"A life for each year stolen from her," Sam said softly. She tried to smile; Penny knew he had figured it out. "And you're the seventh," Sam went on. "Seven is a powerful number. Lucky." He grinned at her suddenly. "The Winchesters could use some good luck right about now."

"You'd be better off with a rabbit's foot," Penny returned lightly.

"Dad could have used something back in Vegas," Dean interjected, eyes flickering on her face. His older brother was frowning. "We didn't know so much about the Sidhe back then. Remember, Bobby?"

That got Bobby laughing. He and Dean started telling a story about the first time Dad hunted a goblin, back when Dean was thirteen and Sam was nine; even though Penny laughed at all the right parts, Sam could tell she wasn't really listening. Dean could tell, too; the skin on his jaw stretched tight when she excused herself after dinner, the screen door slamming behind her as she went out into the salvage yard.

"Well, she's lucky I locked up the dogs," Bobby said.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Winchesters could use some good luck right about now.

Penny jammed her fists into the pockets of her pea coat. It was a quiet night, colder than she had expected despite the month. The air was sharp in her lungs whenever she breathed it in, causing an ache in her throat as she trudged between the broken bodies of cars. She didn't feel betrayed but there was something stuck in the back of her head, the look on Dean's face when Bobby Singer began asking questions. The two men had discussed her, whatever that meant in the end.

She sighed, stopping by a large tree at the end of the property. It was an oak tree, roots deep in the earth, and Penny sat down with her back against the trunk before she even realized that she had. Hands on either side of her hips, Penny leaned her head back until it connected to the bark and took another deep breath. The stars glittered above the leafless branches and she listened to the wind rustle through them, a dry sound as they scratched together.

"I messed up again, Mom."

Penny didn't expect an answer but the wind continued to blow, wrapping around her like the arms she still missed even though its touch brought a chill to her skin. But she had messed up; now Sam Winchester was thinking she could fix something that was broken and she knew he was talking about Dean, even if he never said it. The way Sam watched his older brother was enough. The way Dean always walked like the weight of the world sat square between his shoulder blades was harder than anything to watch.

"I'm the wrong girl to help him."

She knew the answer Mom would give to that – when you were falling like a stone, you were the only person who could help yourself when you hit the bottom – but even her mother's view of the world wasn't the right one. Those rules couldn't apply to a world where demons killed mothers and little boys were pushed into manhood because there was no other choice, where little brothers were kept safe from monsters. Her family had been raised on the old stories but the worst trauma they'd endured was her mother's illness. Even if there was something supernatural about that, it was nothing they could have fought, nothing to be done but make her mother comfortable.

The Old Ones had given her mother a life for each year they had stolen but that gift killed her all the same. Her mother would never have changed that bargain, even knowing ahead of time how it would have turned out, because family was everything. My legacy, her mother would say with tears in her green eyes and a smile playing on her face while her grandchildren danced and sang around her bed at the hospice. And her mother would chuckle whenever one of the kids came up to Penny, rubbing her belly for luck like she was a Laughing Buddha, because everyone knew she was Cecily Hillsworth's good luck charm.

Dean knew the Winchesters weren't even going to have that; it was too late for grandchildren around his father's bed, and it was nothing Penny could fix for him. Whatever luck she had turned bad the afternoon her mother died, squandered in so many back rooms as Penny began her one-way collision with the girl who woke up bruised and bloodied with an IV in her arm. But Dean Winchester made her want to find the first falling star in the sky and wish on it like she was six again.

"It's a little cold to be sitting outside like it's summer," a soft voice said over her shoulder.

Penny recoiled. She waited for Dean to visualize ghost-like in front of her or Sam to slip out of the shadows like he had the first night they met in Chicago, but the crunch of feet against brittle grass as heavy boots walked towards her brought a whiskered figure into view. Bobby Singer reached down a hand and helped Penny to her feet, awkwardly looking out into the fields past his chain link fence. "Thanks," she said.

Bobby made a face and held something out in his hand. "Dean came here to ask for this." It was a necklace with a purple stone – probably an amethyst if all those months in Geology were well spent – and a silvery mark etched into the stone. "It's a rune of protection," he added. "Called Algiz."

She blinked, gently taking the necklace. "But…" Penny shook her head sharply. "I thought he was coming here for answers about...the demon." She put one hand out onto the tree, bark rough underneath her fingertips. Algiz. The rune glimmered underneath the stars and all Penny could do was stare at it.

"Some things out there are stronger than luck." Bobby's voice was gruff. It was what her father told her, the day she woke up from the coma, and Winston Hillsworth had meant it as an admonition; no amount of luck could have saved Penny Hillsworth from herself. Bobby Singer was trying to tell her something else and there was no rebuke in his eyes. "And those boys need that."

"It never seems to be enough." Penny's voice cracked, but it was her heart that fluttered in her chest; a bird whole and healed just waiting to fly high under the moon.

Bobby chuckled, so much like Dean that she wondered just how much time the Winchesters had spent with Bobby Singer while they were growing up. "There's always more where it came from," he said softly. "But they're stubborn. Especially Dean." He sighed, watching her critically and smiling all over again when her back straightened. "You're probably going to have to force it down his throat for at least the next decade or two."

"My brothers are always saying that I'm the most stubborn girl in the world," she retorted.

Bobby Singer had the grace to say nothing when her hands trembled a little, just watched her while she put on the necklace.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The conversation with Bobby had gone better than Dean hoped that it would, especially with Sam there filling in numbers from some of the different patterns he'd figured out the night before. It was all still a shot in the dark but it was something to worry about besides the fact that some secrets were so big they should never be shared.

Sam set himself up with Bobby's James Bond DVD collection after they were done, preparing for an all-nighter on the couch in the living room. Bobby helped Dean get his things and set them in the small room where Bobby was letting him shack up with Penny but that didn't keep Bobby's eyebrows from rising up underneath the brim of his baseball cap when Dean carried in Penny's things. Penny wasn't there. Bobby excused himself and said he had to go take care of something in the yard.

Dean grabbed a new pair of boxers out of his bag and headed across the hall to the bathroom. He turned the water on as hot as he could stand, scrubbing so hard his skin was red. Things were so goddamned complicated that he just wanted to go somewhere and think. The water pounded into his shoulders, loosening some of the tension, but it didn't do jack for the ache in his gut whenever he thought too damn much.

The water was still hot when Dean stepped out, rubbing the towel along his arms before wrapping it around his waist. Picking up his clothes along with the new pair of boxers he forgot to put on, Dean padded across the hall. There was a dim line of light spilling out from the room and he could hear Penny humming inside softly when his hand touched the doorknob. The humming stopped and the door swung open, Penny standing before him wearing nothing but the charm and a towel held loosely underneath her arms.

Dean swallowed. Penny dropped the towel before the door was fully closed, grabbing him by the hand and leading him towards the small bed, and turned off the lamp on the nightstand. The only illumination in the room was the moonlight coming through the window, spilling over her skin and her curly hair as she stretched out against the mattress. Dean would have sworn her whole body glowed a little when he lay down on top of her and she wrapped her arms around his back; his hands on her shoulders had the same sheen.

"You're all warm," she whispered, fingers moving down the lines of muscles on his back. Her hands moved down past his hips, gripping onto his ass, before coming back up and stopping to rest at his waist. Her mouth opened up underneath his, a will-o-the-wisp sigh escaping past her lips as her nails gently scratched up his sides, while his hands pressed her shoulders down into the pillow. He moved his hands down to her breasts. Penny had her fingers in his hair as he started moving lower, dropping his mouth down. "Dean?"

He looked up at her, green eyes softer than he'd ever remembered seeing them. "Yeah?"

"My good luck came back the morning you showed up on my doorstep." And her fingers were underneath his arms, pulling his mouth back up to hers. She claimed it quickly, rolling him gently onto his back, and braced herself on top of him; her tongue moving so fast in his mouth it was almost a glimmer against his, there and gone before he could blink. The words registered and he was pushing her up by holding her upper arms, staring up at her.

"Are you sure you didn't whack yourself a couple of times?"

Penny smiled down at him, one hand brushing his cheek. Her mouth came down to his again, just a light touch against his lips before she pulled back up to touch her forehead to his. "Now I want to tie you up and gag you." Penny's mouth was a curve against his cheek. "At least then you'll shut up long enough for me to tell you that I love you," she added, pulling herself away when Dean tried to push himself inside because the only other option was to run and there was no way in hell he wanted to do that, even with his father's voice screaming No in the back of his head.

"Pen – " Dean began, but her mouth cut him off again when she kissed him.

"I've already said it, Dean Winchester." Penny touched him lightly on the chin with a closed fist. "No take backs." Before he could react, her lips were on his neck as her thighs slipped across either sides of his, her tongue flickering against his pulse as her hand slipped between them to encircle him. His body bent backwards against the mattress when her mouth kept going lower, lips stopping to lick scars on their way down his abdomen while her hair swept up behind.

She drank him in slowly and it felt like her entire body shivered every time his pulse rushed through his veins. Penny's hands were on his hips, scratching slowly in sensitive spots, until she brought her right hand across to meet her lips. She began speeding up when his breath caught and slowing down every time his back arched.

"Come here," Dean rumbled, and he bent up to grab her thigh; fingers digging deep until she got the message and started turning around. Penny never stopped, the pressure coursing from his pelvis down both of his thighs and through his belly. Even when he felt her hips stiffen and her body jerk, Penny's lips and mouth and tongue played against him like a dare and suddenly he was the one groaning.

"Jesus," he managed. Penny gave a small laugh and shifted so that she could rest her head against his chest. Her hand traced circles on his stomach and the only thing he could do was join her, a low chuckle. "You don't do things by halves, do you?"

"Not with you." Penny leaned up to kiss his shoulder. And when he looked at her, Penny Hillsworth was a pale shimmer, almost translucent from the light filtering into the room past the curtains, with an Algiz rune glittering around her neck. "I'm yours, Dean Winchester," she added, staring him square in the eyes. He could feel the flush breaking out all over her body.

"Oh, you're fucking mine," he answered slowly. "And you are lucky."

"You really think so?"

"Damn straight. A lesser man would have taken one look at you and thrown you back in for something a little bigger." Penny smiled when he was the one who brushed her cheek with his hand. "And that's not even taking into account your anger management issues."

It wasn't the answer she was asking for but Dean wasn't ready yet to tell her that sometimes, when she was laying next to him and he could feel her heart beat, there was a little bit of hope knocking on Dean Winchester's door.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

All three of them were uncomfortable as hell.

It wasn't just the scene that they'd witnessed in the Roadhouse. Walking into a fight between Jo and Ellen wasn't high on Sam's list of fun things to do but they walked out with another job – something murdering blonde girls in Philadelphia – and all they could do was stare at each other in the parking lot. Angry voices were still coming from the bar and the only thing that kept Penny from marching back inside, a determined look on her face, was Dean's hand on her arm. Even after they moved Penny's things from the trunk of the Impala into the Bug, Dean making cracks about the color being the kind of thing a tree-hugging hippie chick would drive, no one turned away or said anything.

Sam knew why it was so hard for Dean to leave Chicago after spending three days of his own with Penny Hillsworth. She even had Bobby Singer playing some crazy version of Monopoly called Illuminopoly and the older man hadn't even complained when she and Dean burned the plastic hotels and houses using the acetylene torch out in the garage because Dean thought they would look cool. Tommy had warned him about Penny, how she had a way of getting into the cracks – just like my mom could, her older brother had said. Once Penny's inside, you're going to get caught up in a whirlwind and you won't want it to stop.

"I…" Penny's hands were stuffed into her jeans' pockets. Dean was watching his shoes until she opened her mouth, head whipping up to look at her. "I asked Bobby to make these for me yesterday." She pulled something out of her right pocket and Sam saw the glint of metal against sunlight as Penny tossed it to Dean. Then he was the one reaching for the spark arcing in his direction. "One for each of you." Dean stared dumbly into his palm and Sam's throat got dry when he realized that she had just given them both a set of keys. "The big one will open the front door. The small one is for my apartment," she said.

"Penny," Sam began. He hadn't had keys since Stanford. "You didn't have to…"

"Of course I didn't have to," she said briskly, glancing at Dean. They both smiled at that. "But I have it on pretty good authority that Chicago's on the way to lots of places," Penny added. "Now you've both got a place to stay there." Her green eyes twinkled but Sam couldn't tell if it was from the angle of the sun or something else.

He was going to thank her but Dean was crossing the dusty lot with the biggest steps Sam had seen him take and suddenly Penny was standing on her tiptoes, arms flung around Dean's shoulders, without either of them speaking a word to each other. Sam walked away, turning his back, so that all he could hear was the murmur of their voices. He didn't want to listen to the actual words; it had been hard enough the last time just watching Dean.

Sam turned around when he heard a car door close, averting his eyes until Dean's back no longer greeted him from the rolled-down window. "You going to say goodbye or not, Sammy?" Dean asked, voice roaring across the parking lot. He grinned and shook his head, joining Dean by the door and half-leaning in so Penny could reach out and hug him around the neck.

"You take care of each other, Sam." Her voice was low in his ear. "Don't let him drink too much tequila when he's playing pool," she added, squeezing his arms with a laugh. "He likes to make up new rules." Penny sighed and let go, smiling up at him despite the tears standing in her eyes. She didn't say anything after that, just turned the key in the ignition and waited for them to step back before she pulled out.

Penny stopped the car right before turning out of the parking lot, abruptly leaning out the window and waving at them furiously. Sam had to look away, eyes drawn to Dean. His older brother stood there with his jaw clenched, not saying anything, but Dean glanced at Sam when the grumble of the Bug's motor grew so distant he could no longer hear it. "Let's go," Dean said. "Got a girl or two to save."

Dean slid into the driver's seat, skin still stretched across his jaw, and Sam joined him in the front seat after taking a breath. Sam waited until they were on the highway. "You want me to drive for awhile?" Sam asked softly.

"Nope," Dean returned, leaning down to turn on the radio. His eyes widened and he actually grinned wryly, right side of his mouth quirking up as a lone guitar meandered throughout the car. Dean started singing along with the radio when the words started, his smile growing wider as they hit the open road. He looked at Sam like he should be singing, too, but Sam just laughed and shook his head. "Hey, Penny loves this song," Dean explained between verses.

"Nice try," Sam observed.

"I'm fucking serious, Sammy. You think I'd listen to The Beatles unless I was trying to get into some chick's pants?"

"You used to listen to Britney Spears."

"I used to watch the video with the sound turned off!" Dean chuckled. "And I was thinking about getting into her pants the whole goddamn time."

Sam smiled and leaned back against the seat, elbow on the window. He propped his chin on his hand while he watched the scenery fly by. When he closed his eyes, Sam could have sworn his father was sitting between them; it was Dad's voice he heard singing along with Dean instead of the guy on the radio, a memory that didn't make his throat ache. But when he glanced sideways at Dean, watching his older brother smile and tap his thumbs on the steering wheel in time to the music, Sam's throat hurt just like it did when they pulled out of Chicago.

How can I help him if I don't understand what he has to go through?

Sam still couldn't answer the question but he guessed that, if anyone could, it would be Penny in the end.


A/N:

The title of the story is one of my favorite Beatles' songs.

I may burn somewhere for making Ash an Air Supply fan.

No, the Old Ones aren't those Old Ones. It's one of the more common names for faerie. Although…watching the Winchesters take on Cthulhu itself could be an amusing crossover one day. I won't be writing it. How many 'verses do I have at this point? It's better not to ask.

I deviated from canon by having Penny suggest the search that lets Ash and Sam find Scott Carey before "Hunted." It just made sense for her to make the observation about widening the search simply because a larger area would provide more evidential support for patterns. (Besides, she wasn't content to just hijack my plot. Now she's moving on to Kripke's…) On the other hand, Penny's hijacking allowed Sam the opportunity to show that relying on Ash for research support hasn't liquefied his brain.

And, yes, I did do research on the number four. I owe a great debt to the website, Bible Numerics.

The Big Mac strikes again! Love you, wenchpixie!

Algiz is one of the Futhark runes; to whit: "A very powerful protection rune, a warning for intruders. The so called 'horror helmet' is a combination of four R's in a cross arrangement with the spikes outwards. This rune is also connected to spiritual animals, and protects its bearer against evil forces." It seemed appropriate given Dean's fears for Penny.

Illuminopoly really does exist. It's twisted and wrong and my husband and I did actually buy a copy of Monopoly and torch our houses and hotels.

As always, I tried to downplay the verbiage used in the sex scenes. If there is still work needed in that regard, please let me know.

I should add that what Penny's does to get drunk isn't smart; it's not a behavior that I personally condone...and I don't know medically if it would actually work.