Title: Knight in Cracked Leather Armor
Characters: Dean/Caitlin, Sam
Warnings/Spoilers: Set between Hunted and Playthings.
Disclaimer: Don't own them, making no money from them.
Summary: After days of keeping one eye fixed surreptitiously on the door, Caitlin almost missed the moment the Winchester brothers finally walked through it.
Author's Notes: This is the second in a planned series about Dean's relationship with an original character, Caitlin Connor. It's a sequel to 'Uncharted Waters' so some references won't make sense if you haven't read the first story. Massive thanks to my beta, stealthyone, who has patiently nursed me and this story through several traumatic drafts.
After days of keeping one eye fixed surreptitiously on the door, Caitlin almost missed the moment the Winchester brothers finally walked through it.
Harvelle's Roadhouse was host to more than its usual quota of patrons this particular Saturday evening, and Caitlin was busy behind the bar serving demanding customers. Her eyes strayed to the door at that moment only because she noticed several people at a nearby table looking in that direction.
A new arrival had pushed the door wide open and now stood effectively blocking the entrance. He was unusually tall, a giant clad in worn jeans, a striped shirt and a blue denim jacket.
It had been just over two weeks. Two weeks since she had spent twenty-four hours with Sam, sitting vigil at his seriously ill brother's bedside.
Two weeks since she had come face to face with the potentially fatal cost of being a hunter.
Of course, she'd already known that monsters and the supernatural existed. She had discovered that at eighteen, when her aunt had finally told her the truth about her and Jo's unorthodox lifestyle. But it wasn't her life, and it had all seemed a little unreal - until she'd helplessly watched Dean fight a deadly venom coursing through his body, worrying alongside his brother and then rejoicing when he was finally out of danger.
As a result, she felt a connection to these people, these "hunters," that she had never really experienced before.
Sam paused, unruly brown hair falling into his eyes as they scanned the room, alert and wary. They softened as they lit on her, and his lips quirked into a welcoming smile.
Caitlin smiled back, inordinately glad to see him. She had spent only a short time with Sam, but looking at him now, he felt more like a friend of long standing than a guy she'd just recently met. She chalked this familiarity up to the traumatic experience they'd shared.
It was good to see him smiling. He hadn't done much of that back at the motel.
Caitlin moved from behind the bar and took several steps toward him, then stopped dead as Sam moved, leaving room for his companion to enter the room.
He too paused in the threshold, body tense, eyes sharply scanning the crowd of faces, and she wondered if this shared cautious vigilance was for some specific reason or simply a way of life.
When no one showed more than cursory interest in the newcomers, Dean's stance relaxed.
It occurred to her, irrelevantly, that this was the first time she'd seen him fully clothed and on his feet. Memories flooded back. Dean, curled up on the bed, jaw clenched, grasping her hand in a bone-crushing grip as he rode out a spasm of intense pain. Dean, lying weak in his brother's arms, begging Sam to make the pain stop. Dean, out of danger, blushing in embarrassment as he realized he was practically naked under the thin sheet.
Caitlin scanned him, starting at the heavy, scuffed steel-toed boots, and moving up to jeans with a hole in one knee that she knew was from wear and not a fashion statement. His black T-shirt clung to a torso that she'd seen was hard with muscle and scattered with scars, and nestled against it sat the familiar gold amulet that had hung around his neck throughout his whole ordeal. Over the tee, a green shirt hung unbuttoned, the exact shade that would bring out the green in his eyes when he stepped into the light. A weathered brown leather jacket with the look of a much-loved friend topped the outfit.
The whole effect was damned sexy.
And that was so not good.
The instant attraction she'd felt when they'd first met was a natural physical reaction to an attractive guy. Scrap that. A drop-dead gorgeous guy. But that didn't explain the strong feeling of connection, the "something" she had not allowed herself to feel for a long time. She was drawn to him, and that scared her because the last thing she needed right now was a man to complicate her life. Consequently, every time Dean Winchester's face had appeared in her daydreams during the past few weeks, she'd ruthlessly pushed it away.
Unfortunately, she had no control over her sleeping dreams.
Caitlin did a quick, discreet mental check of her appearance and grimaced. Hair a disheveled mop of tangles, make-up in severe need of replenishment and a prominent beer stain on her cream T-shirt. Not one of her better days.
She was running a hand quickly through her hair in an attempt to push it into some kind of shape when Dean met her eyes, then quickly looked away.
In stark contrast, Sam covered the ground between them in a few long strides and enveloped her in a warm hug.
"Good to see you, Caitlin."
"You too, Sam," she said, smiling as he released her.
Sam turned and looked pointedly at Dean, who stood in the same spot, hands jammed in his pockets, studiously ignoring his brother's frown.
Close up, she could see that Dean was still pale and drawn, shoulders drooping a little in a posture of fatigue. Concerned, she took a step toward him. "Hey, Dean."
Once again, his eyes flicked in her direction. He nodded shortly, then looked away, clearly uncomfortable, and literally shuffled his feet.
She tried to sound casual. "How are you feeling? You look—"
"I'm fine." His tone was curt to the point of rudeness, and she stopped speaking, confused at this unexpected coldness. Then Dean spotted Ash at the far end of the bar, working at his laptop. "Dr. Badass, my man!" This time, there was warmth and a note of relief in his voice.
Ash raised a hand in greeting as Dean took off across the room without another glance in her direction, leaving her standing there feeling a little stupid, a little hurt and vaguely angry.
She felt Sam's hand on her shoulder.
"In all that stuff I told you about Dean," he said softly, "did I mention he can be a real jerk sometimes?"
She turned to face him, forcing a smile, angry with herself for letting her feelings show. "I think you forgot to mention that."
Sam's eyes flicked to Dean, who was now greeting Ash with a high five and a great deal more enthusiasm than he had shown her.
Sam sighed. "Dean doesn't do weak too well. And you saw him at what he thinks is his weakest."
And Dean couldn't handle it. It made sense. When she'd left the motel, Dean had still been very fragile, asleep more than he was awake and barely able to make the journey to the bathroom even with Sam's help. He had been cranky and irritable, and it occurred to her now that having her around to witness his so-called weakness was part of the reason.
Typical immature male reaction, worrying about his macho image when he should have been worrying about his health.
"That's just stupid, Sam. He was dying – actually, he fought death and won. What's weak about that?" She blushed scarlet. He fought death and won? She sounded like some kind of lovesick poet.
Sam's lip quirked. "Yeah, I know. But that's not how Dean sees it."
"Well, you're right then. Your brother's a jerk."
"He'll come around."
Caitlin shrugged in what she hoped was a convincing gesture of nonchalance. "It doesn't matter to me either way."
Spotting Ellen returning from the cellar, she waved her over. "Ellen will be really glad to see you guys. She was worried sick about Dean."
Leaving her aunt to greet Sam and deliberately refusing to look Dean's direction, Caitlin returned to the bar. She caught sight of herself in the small mirror on the wall and frowned. She needn't have worried about her appearance - he'd barely looked at her. Still, she'd told herself that seeing him again would dispel the romantic image she'd built up in her mind, and sure enough, despite the effect he'd had on her when he first walked in, looking so handsome and sexy, he'd certainly achieved that goal.
Dean Winchester was no romantic hero with a tragic past. Well, sure, he did have a tragic past, and he probably was a hero, but still… the connection she had felt between them had obviously been a figment of her overactive imagination.
"Hey, sweetheart, you've got customers dying of thirst over here!"
She turned toward the group of hunters crowded around the bar and rolled her eyes. "Coming right up."
Caitlin glanced at her watch. Ten p.m. She was due for a break, if she could pry Ash away from his laptop long enough to spell her at the bar. She raised an eyebrow and tapped her watch when he glanced her way, but he just frowned, mouthed something unintelligible and continued working, hunched over, fingers flying over the keys.
Caitlin sighed resignedly. Ash was running a software program that might help discern a pattern to a recent series of bizarre killings in Nebraska. It was hard to argue that her need for a break was more important.
Since coming face to face with the harsh reality of the hunting world, she had taken more of an interest in what was going on around her, and had even helped Ash with some research. Apparently, she'd passed his computer proficiency test, and her skills with photo imaging software were saving him time when he needed to analyze various leads, most recently a blurred photograph of some lettering found on the wall of a house.
She'd been pleased to be able to help in some small way. It made her feel that she was earning her keep. Admittedly, she'd arrived at the Roadhouse at a time when Ellen had desperately needed the help - Jo had left home abruptly several weeks before, leaving Ellen shorthanded. Yet although she had agreed with Ellen to work shifts at the bar in return for bed and board, Caitlin she still felt she wasn't quite pulling her weight. Helping Ash with his research was a step in the right direction.
She'd been busy since returning to the bar, her only quick break taken up listening with scant attention to the tall tales of a young hunter who was clearly out to impress.
She'd barely had time to exchange two words with Sam, and his brother she had studiously ignored, apart from the occasional surreptitious glance in his direction. He'd dragged Ash from his research long enough to play a couple of games of pool, which Dean won hands down, then sat down with a group of hunters unfamiliar to her. She never once saw him so much as glance in her direction. Well, that was good. It was for the best. The less interest he showed, the easier it would be to put him out of her mind.
Over half their customers had left, and the room was quieter. Caitlin leaned on the bar for a moment, ostensibly wiping spilled beer with a damp cloth, but really watching the Roadhouse's remaining patrons, observing body language and expression, as always itching to capture the scene before her on camera.
The odd snippet of conversation floated her way. "You wouldn't believe the size of that wendigo…" "So I let loose with the incantation, and before that demon knew what hit it…" "You're kidding me, right? You can't use just any lighter. Zippo's the only really reliable brand on the market…"
She smiled to herself as she compared their conversations to those she was used to having in bars in Boston. There, the discussion would have revolved around politics and film, the latest fashion and who was sleeping with whom. That was the normal world, where lighters were used to light cigarettes, not ignite the bones of restless spirits. The Roadhouse felt like an entry point into a parallel dimension and, so help her, it was beginning to feel just a little too much like home.
She looked idly round the room, eyes drawn to Dean now sitting alone at the end of the bar, nursing a whiskey. He looked weary, and his gaze was a million miles away.
She started as Ellen came up beside her. She looked sideways at her aunt and frowned at the speculative look on Ellen's face. "What?"
"What did I tell you about falling for the Winchester charm?"
Caitlin bristled, while trying not to blush. "I'm not falling for the Winchester charm," she retorted. "Dean isn't my type, anyway." Actually, that much was true. She usually fell for the quieter, studious types, like Toby. Or rather, the quiet, studious type she'd thought Toby was, she corrected herself, the familiar anger briefly surfacing. Or like Sam. She almost laughed at that. Sam would definitely be her type, if he didn't feel more like a friend than a potential boyfriend.
Ellen rolled her eyes. "My mistake. Obviously you've had one eye on him all evening because you're concerned about his health."
The blush deepened as Caitlin found herself caught between embarrassment and annoyance at the clear exaggeration. She'd only glanced in Dean's directly a couple of times, three at most. Hadn't she? She shrugged. "So, I think he's hot. It doesn't mean anything."
Ellen looked serious. "Cait, you don't want to get involved with Dean Winchester. He's a good man and he knows his job, but he's trouble."
Sam's appearance at her elbow saved her from thinking of a reply.
"How about you give your slave a break, Ellen?" Sam said. "I haven't talked to her all evening."
Ellen arched an eyebrow. "This isn't a country club." Then she smiled. "Cait, why don't you clock off? I'll finish up here."
Caitlin nodded her thanks and poured herself and Sam a drink. They retreated to a table at the far end of the bar, a little apart from the main room.
Sam was easy to talk to, and she found they had a lot in common. She told him a little about her photography degree, and he told her about his years at Stanford. When he started talking about a couple of cases he'd seen in the newspaper that might be worth checking out once Dean was fully recovered, she saw a natural opening to ask the question she'd wanted to ask all evening.
"So, how is Dean, really?"
Sam's brow crinkled in a worried frown and shrugged. "He's doing okay, I guess. I don't think he's in much pain any more, but he tires easily, and he sleeps a lot." He paused and sighed. "He's pushing himself too hard, but that's nothing new."
"Giving you a hard time?" she hazarded.
Sam looked amused. "What do you think?"
"Oh, let me see. At a guess, he's behaving as if nothing happened, insists he's well enough to hunt and says you're fussing about nothing." She cocked her head. "How did I do?"
Sam chuckled. "Ten out of ten. I told you before, you have him pegged. He's not too hard to deal with, though. Stubborn ass that he is, if he does too much, his body just gives in and makes him sleep."
Caitlin smiled. "That could be awkward in the middle of a hunt."
Sam snorted a laugh. "That's why we're going to stay put for a few days." He glanced across at Dean and then checked his watch. "I think I'm going to turn in, and see if I can get my stubborn big brother to call it a night too."
"Before he falls asleep in his drink?"
"You get the idea."
Caitlin raised her glass in mock salute. "Good luck with that."
Sam drained his glass and stood up. "See you in the morning. Maybe the three of us could go and get coffee, or something. You and Dean can catch up."
She glanced at Dean and shrugged. "Maybe. Let's see what happens, okay?"
Sam left, and almost immediately, the rusty-haired hunter Caitlin had been talking to earlier took his seat.
"Buy you a drink, gorgeous?" he asked.
Caitlin smelled whiskey on his breath and noted that his speech was slightly slurred.
She gestured to her half-full glass. "I'm good, thanks."
At the far end of the bar she could see Sam talking earnestly to Dean. Dean's jaw tightened, and he shook his head decisively. Sam shrugged and hooked one hip onto a bar stool beside him. Clearly, Dean had won round one and Sam wasn't going to push him.
"I reckon my luck's in tonight, running into you," the hunter said, jolting her attention back to him. "You're even cuter than that other chick used to work here. She was pretty enough, but she had a real mouth on her."
His words made her cringe, and warning bells began to sound.
She hadn't paid much attention earlier when he'd come across to the bar to talk to her, just stood and listened absently with one ear as he regaled her with stories of monsters slain and skeletons salted. He'd seemed harmless enough at the time.
Now though, as he shifted his chair closer and leered at her with unmistakable lust in his blue eyes, she scolded herself for not being more careful.
She shifted back a little, but he -- Josh, that was his name -- leaned forward further. "How about you and me get out of here and go somewhere a bit more private?"
"Sorry," she said pleasantly, trying to cover her unease. "I'm not interested."
He frowned. "That's not the vibe you were giving off earlier, babe. You were all over me then."
"Look, you've read it all wrong. If you'll excuse me—"
She stood up and started to walk away, but he shot out of his chair and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her roughly to him. She wriggled to get free, but he was stronger than he looked. He curled the other hand around the back of her neck, gripping tightly, painfully, and tried to kiss her.
Caitlin felt a stab of fear. He had pulled her into a dimly lit corner out of sight of the bar, and the customers who might be able to see them were all intent on their own conversations. If she didn't get away from him or draw someone's attention right now, he could easily drag her out the door without anyone noticing.
She opened her mouth to shout, but Josh tightened his grip, and she smelled whiskey as he forced his lips onto hers, his tight grip on her neck and the arm around her waist effectively holding her in place. She tried to struggle, but he was stronger than she'd thought, and he had her trapped.
The next moment, the pressure on her neck was gone, and she stumbled against the wall as Josh flew backwards with such force that he landed sprawling on the floor.
She hadn't seen him move, but Dean was suddenly there, standing between her and the fallen hunter, an expression of thunderous rage on his face.
"She said 'no,' you dumbass. What part of 'no' don't you understand?"
Dean shot a glance at her and she nodded that she was okay in answer to his unspoken question. He returned his attention to Josh. The young hunter wiped blood off a split lip and let loose a string of expletives as he struggled to his knees. Dean stood balanced lightly on the balls of his feet, alert, ready for a counterattack.
It didn't come. An older man appeared, insinuating himself between the two protagonists.
"Sorry, Winchester," he said. "The boy's had a few too many. He didn't mean anything by it."
"That's not how it looked to me," Dean said coldly.
The man pulled Josh to his feet, one arm around his shoulders, effectively holding Josh back. "We'll be leaving now, we don't want any trouble."
Dean didn't relax his stance or his flinty expression and Caitlin was glad that she wasn't on the receiving end of his anger. He looked hard, dangerous and ready to take on either man should they make the wrong move.
The older man nodded to Caitlin. "Sorry about that, love. If I'd known you were Winchester's girl, I'd have kept a closer eye on my nephew here."
Winchester's girl? Carefully avoiding Dean's eyes and trying not to blush at the erroneous but not unwelcome conclusion the man had reached, Caitlin simply nodded.
They left without further incident. Caitlin was tempted to follow them, her embarrassment mounting as she became keenly aware that the whole room was quiet. How many had witnessed the mini-drama playing out before them?
Ellen was hurrying toward her, and she caught her aunt's eye, smiled reassuringly and rolled her eyes, trying to convey No big deal. I'm fine. Just totally mortified, that's all.
Ellen hesitated, then took the hint and returned to the bar.
Sam must have followed Dean, ready to back him up, because he was standing a few feet away. He shot her a sympathetic look, eyed the crowd, and then strolled over to the jukebox and fed it a quarter. The dulcet tones sounds of Johnny Cash started up, Sam's signal that the drama was over, and one by one the Roadhouse's patrons returned to their drinks and conversation.
Caitlin reckoned she had two choices. She could just die now and save further embarrassment, or she could make light of the whole ridiculous episode. For the sake of her sanity, the latter option was preferable, though she was leaning toward the first.
As for Dean, she should probably hit him on the nose right there and then for his outrageous macho intervention, as if she was some kind of helpless damsel in distress. Then again, maybe not, because the fact that he'd noticed she was in trouble proved not only that he was aware of her existence after all, but that he cared enough to intervene. And annoyingly, she realized that mattered to her a great deal.
Suddenly drained of energy, she dropped down heavily in her seat, and after a moment's hesitation, Dean sat down opposite her.
"You okay?" he asked.
She smiled self-consciously under the concerned intensity of his gaze. "I'm fine. Just feeling like a complete idiot."
He looked at her quizzically. "Why? You didn't do anything wrong."
"I know, I just…" She shrugged.
There was an awkward silence.
"So, the whole knight in shining armor thing?" Caitlin said finally, saying the first thing that came into her head in a desire to dispel the tension she could feel building. "That was a bit of a show stopper. I'm pretty sure the whole room was watching."
Dean raised an interrogative eyebrow. "Is that bad?"
"No, not bad," she assured him hastily, realizing her words had sounded accusatory. "Well, maybe just a bit..."
"Much?" he supplied when she hesitated, searching for the right word.
She hesitated. "Well… kind of, yes."
Dean sighed. "I get it. This is where you give me the speech."
"The one about how it was none of my business, how you had everything under control and could have handled that dirtbag on your own."
Caitlin felt a laugh welling up. "Oh. That speech. Well, I guess you do deserve it, but you can relax, because you're not going to get it."
"I'm not?" He looked confused.
"Well, first off, you did stop short of beating your chest, or challenging him to a duel, so it could have been worse."
His lips twitched.
"And second," she went on, feeling he deserved the truth, even if it did make her look like a total wuss, "truth is, I didn't have anything under control. I should have seen the signs and warned him off earlier, but I wasn't paying attention. And much as I'd have liked to flip him over my shoulder, I don't know how. So – thanks."
Dean smiled slightly. "You're welcome. And…"
She looked at him curiously. "What?"
"Look, I'm sorry, okay?" he said, his expression a little sheepish. "I can be a real ass sometimes."
She knew he wasn't apologizing for the incident with the young hunter. However, while she was convinced his earlier behavior was more likely due to awkwardness than deliberate rudeness, it had still stung, and she wasn't sure she was ready to let him off that easily.
"I noticed," she said dryly.
"Yeah." He gave her a wry smile. "I'm sure Sam'll be happy to give you chapter and verse." He shifted in his chair and cleared his throat. "I was rude, and you didn't deserve that. I mean, you were… you were there for… Sam when he needed someone, and I'm grateful for that, really. It's just…"
He broke off, seeming unable to find the right words. Yet there was really no need for words - she could see in his expressive eyes everything he was unable to say. Her annoyance melted away. After all, he had rescued her from an unpleasant game of tonsil hockey with Josh and he was trying so hard to explain himself. Not to mention the fact that he looked adorable when he was floundering like this.
She smiled. "It's okay, I understand. Let's just forget it."
He shot her a grateful look. "I'll make it up to you."
"Count on it."
He leaned back in his chair and let out a slow breath. "So – some evening, huh?"
She nodded. "I guess some good has come of it, though. I mean, I've learned to be on my guard with drunken hunters." She paused as he nodded agreement, then went on. "And you've built up your macho image. Not a bad night's work, really."
He looked at her steadily for a moment and she hoped he hadn't taken her words the wrong way. Then his face creased in a broad grin. "Hell, yeah. Rambo eat your heart out, huh?"
She returned his grin and said softly, "For the record, I don't think you ever lost it."
"Your macho image."
His eyes widened and he looked away quickly. "Okay. I… thanks."
They were silent again, but this time it was companionable rather than awkward. Dean slouched in his seat, more relaxed now. "You know, if you're gonna be hanging out in the Roadhouse for a while, it wouldn't hurt to learn how to protect yourself next time you have to deal with a dirtbag like Josh Parker."
She looked at him doubtfully. "I don't think I'm cut out to be Buffy."
Dean chuckled. "I'm just talking about learning a few defensive moves, that's all." He paused. "I could teach you, if you like."
Into Caitlin's mind popped a vision of herself, lying on the ground, pinned in place by the weight of Dean's lean, muscled body, those full, soft lips only inches from her own.
She smiled. "I'd like that."
A/N I hope you het readers enjoyed this and Caitlin came across as a believable character. There will be more stories about Dean and Caitlin, but in the meantime I'm going back to my first joy - brotherly love, pain and angst!!