Heat Beneath Your Winter
Sam said she needed to learn how to use salt and fire - which is how Penny ended up freezing her ass off in a cemetery near South Beloit on New Year's Eve, digging up the grave of Robert Smiley.
Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine but I'd make Dean wear his boots all the time if they were.
Overall Rating: T (Language)
Overall Pairings: Dean/OFC
Miscellaneous: This is a vignette in the Gobsmacked 'verse. Like Grudge Strip Halo Deathmatch II, it takes place after Winter - the last major story in the main storyline. Don't worry - there's a new story in the 'verse already in the works for the main storyline; this was just my holiday present to Dean and Penny fans.
Betas: embroiderama, without whom. The good parts are all her. The mistakes? Those are all me.
It was impossible to grow up a Hillsworth and not be superstitious.
When other kids were making jack-o-lanterns with funny faces during class, Tommy would just give her a knowing look and the two of them would hunker down to make the scariest-looking thing possible. They had learned a long time ago that most kids didn't have a mother like theirs, one who knew all of the old stories and all of the folk remedies to protect herself and her family from the Kindly Ones – things to say and charms to use for every possible occasion.
It was their duty to protect the kids in class because they knew better than everyone else what lurked in the dark.
Their mother had been rescued by a man who slipped back into the night. It was no different than grass being green or the boiling point of water, one of the unspoken truths of their childhood – there were monsters and there were victims and there were heroes, fairy tales made manifest behind the faces of strangers.
So it wasn't a big step to add ghosts and vampires and werewolves to the list of things that were real when it already included bogans, changelings and the pouka that attacked her cousin.
But even she was unprepared for the world of hunting.
Sam had managed to convince Dean that Penny needed to learn more than purification rituals and salt lines. Practical things, he'd said. About how to use salt and fire. She saw firsthand how persuasive Sam Winchester could be, pulling apart every argument Dean had made until his older brother scowled and turned to the wall, scratching his ear with the same nails that left tiny scars on her hip the night Dean swore that she would never go on a job.
That's how they ended up in a cemetery near South Beloit on New Year's Eve, freezing their asses off while digging up the grave of Robert Smiley – three feet deep into the ground.
Her hands ached from the cold, even inside her wool mittens, but Dean had two shovels in the back of his car. There was no way in hell she was going to let him think that Penny Hillsworth couldn't hack the first real thing he trusted her with – something beyond inscribing a Devil's Trap on the back of her bedroom door and cleverly covering it up with a picture she had stashed in her closet.
"What's keeping Robert Smiley from attacking us while we dig open his grave?"
"Should have known you'd be full of questions." Dean braced himself on his shovel. "Ghosts have habits," he explained. "It's wrapped up in how they died and why they became ghosts in the first place. Smiley kills under specific circumstances. That's the only reason you're here on this little shindig, Short Stuff."
"Thanks," Penny muttered.
He chuckled. "According to Sam's research, Smiley goes after married mothers in the area whose kids die young on holy days. Easter. Christmas. All-Saint's Day. Just like every single one of his kids did. Leaves a mark that matches the cross on his gravestone, usually burned right over their bellies." Dean looked at her when Penny sucked in a breath, steadying herself against her shovel because it was better than puking on her new boots. "Sam recognized the symbol from Dad's journal but it took him a couple of days to track down the location and the story of the guy," Dean added.
"So while you were getting your ass kicked in Halo," Penny returned slowly, "Sam was doing research because he saw something on the news?"
"It was in the newspaper," Dean retorted. "But, yeah. It'll take more than a dead cult leader to get past Sam." He was grinning, doing nothing to downplay the pride. "Especially when the dude was so fucked up he made the local papers himself when he was alive. That was all Sam needed."
"You're a really good big brother," Penny said. The last time Patrick had looked like that while thinking about her, Mom was still alive. She coughed, putting a hand onto his arm. "Even if you do swagger around all the time like you own the place."
"You trying to butter me up so I'll let you use the gasoline and the matches?" Dean asked the question softly before tapping the ground. "If this thing is much farther down, you're going to have to stop."
"Screw you, Dean." Penny started shoveling faster, sneaking a glance at Dean. Her cheeks flushed when he started to laugh, low in his throat. "I'm not above taking out your kneecaps."
"Oh, you're a little trooper." His eyes were shining at her until she blinked, a trick of the light. "It's just that things get buried deep in these old cemeteries and you're going to end up throwing dirt back in our faces once we hit five feet or so." Penny made a noise back in her throat and Dean smiled. "I'm not kicking you out or anything but…"
"I'm a shrimp."
"But you're the sexiest little shrimp I know, Baby Doll. At least when you're not wearing a hat that looks like it's got mud flaps." Dean's smile turned hungry and he wagged his eyebrows at her. "Getting dirty with you is not without perks."
She stared back at him, seeing the stretch of the gloves across his fingers as he held the shovel, and swallowed. Now he had her thinking about sex, about the way he'd keep the gloves on while he eased her jeans down past her hips. Penny shook her head, a small smile flickering across her mouth. "Are you trying to butter me up so I'll let you in my pants the minute we're back in your car?" she asked.
"If it weren't so cold," Penny retorted, grinning up at him. "You're going to have to settle for when we get home."
"Like I'm settling for anything, Penny."
And Dean surprised her by tucking a hand underneath her chin and tilting up her head, kissing her gently before she dropped the shovel – standing on the tips of her toes and hitching herself up by holding onto his jacket.
He leaned down and picked up her shovel when she sank back to her heels. "You ready to get back to work?" Dean handed her the shovel with another huge grin on his face. "Can't think of anyone else I'd rather have digging a hole in the ground with me on New Year's Eve."
"What about Sam?"
"Sam doesn't bring hot chocolate with those tiny marshmallows on a standard salt and burn." Dean chuckled and started digging again. "But, sometimes, Sam brings hot dogs for when we're burning the damn thing. Dad said it wasn't much different than sitting around a campfire."
She probably imagined the wistfulness in his voice because Dean looked like he did whenever he was trying to pull her leg, with his lopsided grin and the way he was snorting down a laugh, but it was unfair that she had tents and s'mores and brothers who split up the parts when they sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" together while Dean had jokes about hot dogs and burning corpses – and in the game of loss, if anyone was up there keeping score, Dean and Sam Winchester had won hands down. Hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows could never make up for a lifetime spent chasing down nightmares so the rest of them could sleep at night.
Penny wasn't sure anyone could pay the Winchesters back for every New Year's Eve they spent digging up a corpse and setting its vengeful spirit to rest, all those nights they missed mingling safe with family and friends waiting for a big red apple to drop at midnight.
And cemetery duty didn't explain all the weapons she'd seen tucked in the back of the Impala while Dean was getting shovels. New Year's Eve at the Smiley family plot was probably a slow night for Dean Winchester.
Penny wiped her eyes with the top of one hand before bracing her shovel between the ground and her shoe. She pushed down hard, feeling the shock up her arm when the metal edge slid into the hard packed dirt. Her shovel skidded off a rock, traveling across the ground before smacking into Dean's boot.
"Hey," he hissed, taking a breath. "What did my shoes ever do to you?" Dean's eyes narrowed when she looked right into his face.
"I'm okay," Penny answered before Dean asked the question. "It's just…" She smiled at him. "Sam should be here, Dean. He's your brother and…" Her voice trailed off when Dean's eyes widened, staring at her like she was something in a zoo. "He doesn't have to make himself scarce because of me."
"Sam made himself scarce because he's probably worried about going back for hot dogs and finding us having sex in one of the crypts." He shrugged his shoulders. "Besides, all work and no play makes Sam a dull boy. I'm just hoping that he hooks up with a chick at that karaoke place your brother is always taking him to." His mouth twisted. "So are you up for it? When we're done?"
"Sex in a crypt?"
"Got a blanket in the car." Dean's lips curved up into a smile. "You can work out that thing you've got for heroes in my natural environment."
The problem with being raised on old stories about ancient deeds and monstrous foes – of knowing the who and the what and the how without the why – was that the stories mothers told daughters used pretty words to wrap up the truth. Real heroes bled and died, armed with rock salt and the hard stories that fathers passed down to sons.
But growing up with her mother had prepared her enough to recognize a hero when she finally met one – even when the idiot was wearing a down-filled jacket that was too big for him and ogling her with a shit-eating grin.
The title of this story is a lyric from the song "Lonely In Your Nightmare" by Duran Duran.
A note about the cemetery… The Smiley family was real. My friend Bob and I stumbled across the cemetery (in southern Wisconsin, actually, not Northern Illinois) while we were driving around Beloit proper. We both thought it was pretty sinister the way Smiley's wives all died within years of each other, and the number of kids who died, so he was the first thing I thought of when I needed a cemetery up near Chicago. I really don't remember the dates, though. That was just something creepy that I made up.