Ghosts in our rear view mirror

"There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." – Leonard Cohen

Disclaimer: The Winchester boys aren't mine but I'd make Dean wear his boots all the time if they were.

Rating: M (Language, Sexual Situations, Angst)

Pairing: Dean/OFC, Sam/Sarah

Warnings/Spoilers: Everything through 4.10 is fair game.

A/N: A one-shot for dragonsinger as part of the Holiday Fic Exchange at spn_het_love. She asked for plot over porn and I hope that I delivered. Amazingly, this is not set in any of my existing 'verses. I know, you're shocked.

Beta(s): embroiderama, maisfeeka and powerof3

So when you reach out
Please call my name softly
I bear tired crosses, misfortunes, insecurities
And I am not in the business of miracles.

The war was two years gone, its generals and lieutenants sucked back into hellfire in a Wisconsin cemetery before the final seal was broken, but black-eyed foot soldiers still stalked back alleys in big cities and shadow-filled streets in small towns. They spilled out of the cracks to steal what little power they could find in a world full of the stink they called humanity, a world that would never know how close it came to being lost in the hidden battles with the dark things still slithering through its streets.

And it still hurt like fuck when one backhanded you into a brick wall.

Dean rolled into a crouch, wiping the blood off the side of his mouth. Damn thing hadn't been able to play possum for long, its eyes going dark underneath a flickering utility light when it turned to face Dean behind the grocery store, dried crimson flowers on its chest that glimmered as dark as its eyes.

"Dean Winchester. As I live and breathe." The ghost of a smile flickered across its face, clutching the old woman's purse in its right hand. "Metaphorically speaking." It snorted. "And here we thought you had gone into hiding with your baby brother."

Sam had made his choice, had earned his apple pie life the night he hollowed himself out from the inside and sent Lillith and Alistair and every other white-eyed bastard back to Hell. The only thing keeping the shell together was an angel's hand on Sam's heart, Castiel's last act before his own fall from Grace. Not even a year puttering around in an auction house with Sarah Blake had brought back Sam's old laugh, no matter how easily all three of them had become experts at ignoring the bruised smudges under Sam's eyes that never faded.

Dean swallowed, returning the demon's smile with a smirk of his own.

"Gotta say," he drawled, "You're a crappy ass gang-banger. Can't even pull a clean getaway stealing a purse from a grandmother."

"This is so much more...interesting." Its eyes gleamed. "A Winchester where you would least expect to find him."

"Didn't exactly expect a demon on my doorstep."

The poor kid beaming down at him was already buzzard food, matted blood congealed on his jacket from whatever fight the demon inside had picked before grabbing an old woman's purse. The knife was out of the back sheathe and jammed up through the thing's chin between one breath and the next, sparks shooting through its face as the body convulsed and landed on the ground – its grin burned onto dead flesh as it lay there twitching next to the toe of his boot.

"Doesn't mean I wasn't prepared for one," he said softly, kneeling down to pick up the purse.

The old woman was still waiting where Dean had left her standing in the parking lot.

She brushed the blood off the corner of his mouth with the handkerchief she pulled out of her purse, whispering 'mãe abençoada' under her breath while she patted Dean's cheek. And she didn't stop whispering as they walked to her car, a sing-song litany overflowing with soft sounds that not even Sam would have understood until she opened the battered trunk and held out a plate loaded with cookies.

"Nossa senhora de grail, ajude a ser mais como você.."

"Uh, thanks."

She patted his cheek a second time before shuffling to the front seat of her car, grinning at him over her shoulder as she slid behind the wheel and slammed the door shut. The engine turned over three times, sharp sputters before it caught, and she leaned out to wave at him as the car lurched forward.

He was still standing there when the car slowly turned out of the parking lot, watching the broken tail light.

He would have been better off spending Thanksgiving weekend with the Blakes in Pennsylvania.

Neither of them had missed Aunt Theodora's frown when she opened the front door and saw him standing next to Emma wearing a battered leather jacket and jeans that had seen better days, her eyes sizing him up and discarding him without saying a word.

It was the same way Aunt Theodora had looked at Dad, tittering behind her hand whenever Dad used the wrong fork for his salad or put his water glass in the wrong place after drinking from it. Joshua Phillips didn't know the rules of etiquette, didn't care about when to send thank you letters and how to dress for tea. He was common, with his callused hands and scarred face and the semi he used to park in front of the house; the blue collar worker so far beneath the Worthington standard of good breeding that he was a joke and his wife was an embarrassment to the family name.

Bringing Dean Winchester with her had been a mistake the second he put his feet up on her grandmother's coffee table.

Like mother, like daughter, Uncle Royce had whispered – as loud as the whispers on those afternoons when it was Dad sitting in the corner of the couch laughing at Aggie's jokes.

Dean just snorted and let loose with a cackle that drowned out the football game, his lips curving into a smirk as he plucked a stuffed mushroom cap off the plate of hor'dourves on the end table and shoved it into his mouth. Aunt Theodora's face went pale when Dean asked for a taquito, shrugging his shoulders when she didn't respond and eating another mushroom cap.

That grin never left his face the entire day. It was still there when he ignored the dessert fork and slurped down spoonfuls of lemon meringue pie after dinner, waggling his eyebrows at Emma when their eyes met.

She smiled back, telling herself that Christmas was going to be different.

No judgmental aunts and sarcastic uncles. Just the two of them drinking eggnog and eating double fudge brownies together on Christmas Eve, watching It's a Wonderful Life while Dean complained about black and white chick flicks. She would lean over and tell him that he needed to open a present, a breathy promise before she excused herself and slipped on the red bustier and stockings that were already hidden in the back of her underwear drawer along with a garter belt.

And he would slide his rough hands underneath the silk and the ribbons before laying her down in front of the tree, multi-colored shimmers dancing between the cracks of her eyelids as her body arched against his mouth, and he murmured his own promises about what he was going to do to Emma Phillips before it was time to leave for New Paltz in the morning.

But the goddamn tree wasn't cooperating.

It had been in storage for three years, the tallest box in a corner full of memories and old twinkle lights that used to flicker underneath the angel hair Emma would spread out across the mantle of the old fireplace back in Windsor. Scott was the one who always set up the tree, smiling at her as she strung popcorn and cranberries together. Both of them singing along with the Christmas carols Scott had loved so much while they hung mismatched ornaments off the plastic boughs of a fake Douglas Fir and Tigger swatted at low-hanging candy canes.

All he had left behind was a note and the cat batting at Emma's bare toes.

She sucked in a breath and twisted the wing nut that attached the metal trunk to its base.

Dean knocked on the door like he always did, brisk taps with his knuckles while he balanced the plate of sugar cookies on his other arm.

It was as much a reflex as sliding knives into hidden sheathes every morning and slipping 'Christo' into casual conversations, as easy as pulling out a fake ID and plastering a smile on his face every time he stared at scratched metallic numbers on a stranger's apartment door and waited for it to open.

Except he'd been staring at the same metallic numbers off and on for five months running, ever since the afternoon that Aggie's niece cocked her head and told him there was more to life than refrigerator repair booty calls and week-old Chinese food with cheap beer. It wasn't like some chick wearing yellow hospital scrubs covered with cartoon cats had any right telling anyone there was more to life than week-old Chinese food, especially when she was standing there holding a brown paper take-out bag, but Emma Phillips had smiled like she didn't care about the grease underneath his fingernails.

It's Indian, she said, dangling the bag out in front of him. And there's a bottle of tequila in my apartment with our names on it.

There wasn't much to do but follow Emma outside, not with Aggie folding her arms across her chest and glaring at Dean like he was the world's biggest idiot until he grabbed the bag out of Emma's hands. And maybe he was, mistaking the look in her eyes for something else when Emma suddenly slammed her glass of tequila onto the coffee table and kissed him sloppy on the mouth, her fingers tugging his shirt out from his jeans. A one time offer, another sweet smile that kept Dean Winchester inside his bones long enough to kill one more son of a bitch.

But Emma stopped when she saw Castiel's mark on Dean's shoulder, blue eyes flickering down to the jagged scar across his stomach, the pads of her fingers touching a yellowing bruise that still ached whenever Dean pulled on his t-shirt in the morning. He tried to bite back the hiss, tried to keep from jerking when skin touched skin. She just watched him like she already knew the answer instead of asking the obvious question.

My dad was a hunter, she said finally, leaning down to kiss the bruise. I thought you knew.

Didn't seem to be much reason to hide after that. She never turned him away whenever he showed up bloody on her doorstep, torn between barreling into the apartment and throwing her onto the bed or turning on his heel and never coming back whenever Emma's eyes found the neat line of stitches down one cheek or her fingertips brushed the two day old scabs on his knuckles.

Even when he was standing there with nothing but a swollen mouth and a plate full of sugar cookies.

One eye peered out into the hall through the gap made by the safety chain before Emma opened the door completely. She grinned up at him, wearing a pair of white cotton panties and a Pearl Jam t-shirt held together by hope, and the smile never left her face when Dean thrust the plate of cookies at her.

"You're late, Winchester," she said. "And you forgot the beer."

"Hard day at the office," Dean answered lightly.

Emma snorted. "You do know that Aggie's very particular about where she keeps her socket wrench." She looked at him over her shoulder, and one stray curl brushing against her neck was just begging to be pushed out of the way when Dean started ripping off that goddamn t-shirt she was wearing. Bare feet slapped against the linoleum as Emma walked into the kitchen, setting the cookies down next to brightly colored tins and trays covered with chocolate chip cookies and fudge.

"I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole, Em." He gestured towards the counter. "Are you laying in supplies for winter or something." Dean smirked at her. "You're a little overdressed to be having a party."

"I was putting up the Christmas tree."

"Looks to me like you were making some kinda weird art thing." Dean shook his head. "And it's gonna fall down the second that damn cat of yours jumps into it."

"Some guy who's supposed to be good with mechanical things is coming over to fix it." Emma's arms slipped around his neck as she stood up on her toes, hot breath making the hair underneath his ear prickle. "There might even be a Christmas Tree Repair booty call in the deal if it actually looks like a tree before Christmas Eve."

She fell backwards onto her heels, touching the corner of his mouth like he was one of those broken bodies she helped make whole after the doctors and nurses were through with them - retraining muscles with strong hands and a voice full of belief.

"You really did have a hard day at the office, didn't you?"

"But there's one less demon out there pretending to be a punk ass kid stealing purses from little old ladies."

Emma didn't say anything to that, just tightened her arms while he slipped his hands underneath the hem of her t-shirt and rested them on her hips.

The shower was running when Emma stumbled into the kitchen, heading right for the cupboard and pulling out the first box of tea she wrapped her fingers around before letting the door slam shut. Tigger wove in and out of Emma's legs, making piteous noises until she leaned down to scratch his back.

She set down her mug next to the crumpled plastic wrap on the counter, flicked on the electric teapot and dropped the tea bag into the cup. Crumbs were scattered across the surface, along with bits of colored sugar and a piece of fudge Dean had dropped next to the plate of sugar cookies. Someone had painted a woman wearing a blue headdress on the plate, the Virgin Mary with her shining halo and a mother's smile, and there was a flowery inscription painstakingly written around its edge.

Nossa Senhora de Grail, ajude a ser mais como você.

It was something Dad would have done, chasing the kid who stole an old woman's purse into an alley behind the grocery store. Dad would have finished the job he started when the kid's eyes flashed black under a utility light, using holy water and old words that even Emma could recite in her sleep instead of the knife that Dean Winchester carried in a back sheathe wherever he went.

And Dad would have looked just as chagrined explaining to Mom how a little old lady had patted his cheek, flashing a grandmother's smile that made it impossible not to take a plate of candy canes and Christmas trees meant for her grandchildren.

Dean turned bright red the longer he talked about it, scratching underneath his ear while Emma massaged his bruises with the same arnica salve that Aggie had taught her to make when Emma was thirteen. It worked just as well for sore muscles after a therapy session as it did in their living room when Aggie and Dad would come home at three in the morning, covered with cuts and bruises and overflowing with a story about another life saved from the dark.

The blush had disappeared when Emma straddled his thighs, replaced by the grin dipping down into the crook of her neck, his fingers digging into her shoulders while his tongue flicked the pulse below her ear and she didn't want to think about his muscles stiffening underneath her fingers or remember that the knife on her nightstand could send demons back to Hell. She didn't want to remember that Sam Winchester could send demons back to Hell with nothing but a thought or that his older brother would leave for weeks at a time tracking down the ones still left behind, not when Dean was whispering her name and sliding his hand between her legs.

But when Dean's breathing was slow and the moon shining on the snow outside lit up her bedroom as brightly as the cross out on Kenyon Hill, when one leg was hooked over both of hers, Emma kissed her fingers and touched the corner of his mouth. Wondering how a man who stood side-by-side with angels and demons to save the world – a man who stood side-by-side with a brother who did the work of one while being touched with the blood of the other – could still get embarrassed when an old woman gave him a plate of sugar cookies.

There was one cookie left, a candy cane covered in red sprinkles.

It was halfway to her mouth when the bathroom door slammed open, footsteps pounding down the hall into the living room until a funny-looking kid wrapped in one of her bath towels stopped dead in his tracks and screamed at her.

"Don't eat that fucking cookie!"

Nothing said grace under pressure like taking one look at the freaking kid in your living room and calmly putting the cookie back on the plate where you found it, even when the color was draining from your cheeks when you came to the obvious conclusion.


It came out strangled, followed by a deep swallow of whatever tea Emma had made while she was trying to wake up. She made a face, wrapping her fingers around the mug before taking another sip and walking into the living room as gracefully as any chick could with a fucking four-year-old dripping water all over her carpet. Emma knelt down next to him, never breaking eye contact even when Tigger rolled over onto his back and yowled for the attention.

"What happened?" she asked softly, one hand brushing floppy wet hair out of his eyes.

"That bitch put a hex on the cookies!" Dean sucked in a breath. "And now I look like – "

He looked exactly like he did in that picture Jenny had found in the basement of the old house in Lawrence, exactly like the kid in the newspaper holding his baby brother on his lap while the house burned and Dad's eyes never looked the same again. He hadn't been so small since Alistair was slicing away little pieces of his soul, fake sincerity with a sharp edge asking Dean the same question every night until he broke.

He wasn't going to break all over again because of a goddamn witch. Especially one who looked like a grandmother. Hell, maybe she wasn't even a witch. Maybe she was another goddamn pagan god walking around pretending to be someone's grandmother, some god that turned people into kids as part of their annual ritual and baked bread out of their bones or something. Or maybe she was that goddamn Trickster – still alive and kicking and keeping a ready supply of sugar cookies in the trunk of the car. Some sweets for the road and another sucker at the end of the turnpike.

But he was still betting on witch, thanks to that frigging incantation she had muttered after handing him the cookies.

Patting his cheek like Dean Winchester was a good little boy.

"I'm gonna kill her, Em. I swear to God."

And God help him if her eyes didn't narrow right along with his.

Her mother used to call them both packrats, laughing at the boxes they would pile up together in the garage. Teasing them about the fact that every single one of them was labeled and organized and full of things no one in their right mind would want to keep, old clothes and old books and someone else's junk. Dad would laugh right back at Mom before handing Emma an old alarm clock that Aggie had fixed to stick into a box.

You never know when you'll need the one thing you don't have, he would whisper.

And old habits were hard to break.

The conference phone was in the storage locker, stashed with boxes full of electronics that Scott had collected since high school.

Emma could never bring herself to throw any of it away after the Kimballs had descended upon the house, retrieving clothes and pictures and everything that Scott would have wanted her to keep, small things that were part of the life they had shared before he made his choice. But all the Kimballs had left behind were pieces of scrap that only their son could have loved and the same accusations that stared back at Emma whenever she looked in the mirror, accusations that stayed with her long after Emma moved back to Binghamton.

Aggie was already in the apartment when Emma returned from the storage locker, her mouth twitching every time she looked at Dean. Her aunt was as much a packrat as any of them and Dean was wearing an outfit culled from the hand-me-downs that Aggie collected for the local shelter, glaring at Aggie over the edge of a book that looked older than all three of them put together.

"My sneakers are pink," Dean hissed.

"Don't push me, boy," Aggie retorted with a grin, "Or I'll throw you over my knee and give you a spanking."

"Fuck you, Aggie." His eyes brightened when Emma stepped into the living room. "I've got a witness. I'm pretty sure there's some kinda law about harassing your employees." Dean snorted. "I wonder if spanking counts as sexual harassment?"

They both started laughing. Aggie was bent over her own book, her head shaking right along with her gray curls, and Dean's cackle lost none of its potency when it was coming out of the body of a four-year-old. But his eyes burned when Aggie wasn't looking and his laugh turned sharp when Emma sat down next to him, her own laugh nothing but a shadow.

There wasn't anything funny about the tiny hands clutching a dusty book with Aufwecken der Hexe written down the spine, in how the splash of freckles standing out across Dean's nose looked out of place on a gangly little kid with a thick mop of hair that kept falling into his eyes.

She coughed, pushing the bangs away from Dean's face, and dropped her hand when he scrunched up his face. "Did I miss anything?" Emma asked softly.

"Just your crazy aunt getting off on dressing me up like a girl." He nudged Emma's shin with a pink sneaker, a little girl's face beaming up at her. "Don't suppose you've got some black markers or something. There's no way in Hell I'm taking out a witch wearing crappy-ass Strawberry Shortcake sneakers."

"Couldn't we use them as a distraction? You can throw the bucket of water on both of us while I'm holding her down."

The words fell out in a jumble, her cheeks going red when Dean's mouth twitched. She couldn't have sounded more like an idiot if she had tried. Even Aggie was staring at her like she was a lunatic. Emma hid her hands in her lap, clenched so tightly that her nails left half moons in her palm, but she pasted a smile on her face just the way Mom did every time Emma asked her when Daddy was coming home.

"It's a good thing you didn't follow in your Dad's footsteps, Em." The ghost of a smile flickered in his eyes before Dean slammed Aufwecken der Hexe shut. "Between your half-assed plan and your aunt's crappy research books, I'm gonna be stuck like this until I grow out of it." Dean stretched out across Emma's lap, his small hands reaching for the phone. "Here's hoping Bobby can help us come up with something. His research books don't suck and most of them aren't in freaking German."

It was harder than a joke but Emma laughed right along with him, watching Dean's tiny fingers snatch at the cord. He walked towards the phone jack, clutching the phone to his chest like it should have been a stuffed animal, and he grimaced when he tripped. Emma grabbed Aggie by the elbow, tightening her hand with a shake of her head while Dean steadied himself on his feet.

There wasn't anything she wouldn't do to help him, even if all Emma could do was sit on her ass and watch Dean stumble.

Didn't have to be a brain trust to figure out that they were running around in circles.

It was bad enough that he could hear the smile in Bobby's voice every time he said something. Dean didn't need anyone reminding him that he sounded like fucking Mickey Mouse, even when he was reading a passage out of Le Marteau des Sorcières describing a transformation spell using a dead goat and some herbs that only grew in Brittany three hundred years ago.

And he really didn't need the goddamn guilt trip about Sam.

Especially from Bobby Singer.

The man had helped Dean keep Sam on his feet during the last battle, holding Sam upright when the blood started spilling from places that weren't supposed to leak red when those white-eyed bastards kept on advancing, and he had helped Dean dress wounds that would have killed a man who wasn't held inside of his skin by an angel. They had made a vow with nothing but the sulfur in the air as their witness and Dean went to sleep every night remembering the price of breaking, of doing wrong just to save his own skin.

"You're not making a lick of sense, boy."

"Sam's not part of this."

"But he can - "

"Jesus, Bobby! I'm sure as fuck not dragging him back into this when I'm the one who got the stupid whammy from a sugar cookie."

His baby testosterone made it come out as a screech, like he was a kid screaming in the middle of a department store because his mom wouldn't buy him the bright red Hot Wheels dragster instead of his father's son. Aggie was staring at him with arms folded across her chest, not saying a word when Bobby snorted into his mouthpiece, but Emma touched Dean's back. Rubbing it in slow circles, the same gentle touch she had used on his bruises the night before.

"Maybe we're coming at this from the wrong angle," Bobby said finally, his voice gruff.

"Meaning what?" Dean managed.

"Meaning the iconography is all off for this to be a witch, leastways the ones that deal in animal parts. All you've got is a plate with the Virgin Mary on it and some kinda inscription that sounds like it should be Spanish but isn't. Your girl's cat woulda been sensitive to a hex bag, even if you were a damn fool and didn't scour the place for one. We don't have a clue what we're dealing with, Dean."

"Could still be dark magic," Dean retorted. "Lots of traditions out there mix up the mojo with Judeo-Christian symbology. Hell, I've seen an angel work blood magic and it wasn't exactly a smiling virgin on a plate."

"All I'm saying is that maybe it's not a hex." Bobby sighed. "Maybe it's...something else."

"And maybe Grandma was in cahoots with the gang banger from Hell. That's another angle we didn't think about," Dean hissed. "Maybe that yellow-eyed fucker's kids are still trying to execute Azazel's end game and this was supposed to knock me out of commission so they can get to Sam."

It was just the last piece of straw falling through his fingers and they both knew it. Sam had side-stepped the end game, turned it on its ear because he was a goddamn Winchester before he was anything else. Learned the right lessons from their father, the ones that counted for something.

But sitting there spouting off crap was better than watching your boss hold her tongue because all she started seeing was the kid after the lisp kicked in and anything you said came out like a shrieking temper tantrum, even when she was glaring at you with a whole world full of rebuttals. And listening to Bobby try to turn the whole thing into something else was making his teeth itch. Like Bobby would have been arguing for comfort and joy if he was the one stuck in the body of a fucking four-year-old.

"Guess it's time to shit or get off the pot." Dean shrugged his shoulders. "So we got nothing saying that it's a witch. All we've got is a plate and one sugar cookie."

"And the inscription," Emma said softly.

"Figure out what it means and we might have our answer," Aggie added. "Are you sure it's the same thing as the incanta – "

"I'll take the translation," Bobby cut in abruptly. "You can do the smart thing, boy, or keep hitting the books until I get back with you."

The buzz of the dial tone was a shock, heat spreading from the top of Dean's head down to his toes when the hard questions in Aggie's eyes were replaced by something else. She leaned over to turn off the phone without saying a word, picking up Aufwecken der Hexe and flipping through the pages, writing notes into the legal pad she had kept by her side the whole time. Didn't even look up when Dean jumped to his feet and jammed his arms into the down-filled coat she had brought along with the other kids' clothes.

Nothing left you scrabbling for air like a sucker punch to the gut.

Dean barreled down the street with his hands in his pockets, turning the corner into the park just as Emma reached the sidewalk. Dean's head was bent right along with his shoulders, pink sneakers bright against the snow, and he didn't look up when he passed the playground and some red-faced blonde boy called out something about his shoes that made every kid around a snowman start laughing.

Emma caught up with him in the gazebo, wood creaking as she ran up the steps. All those laps in the pool during lunch and she was still wheezing from running, an ache in her lungs that had nothing to do with the chill turning her breath into wisps. He scooted over when she sat down next to him, close enough that his shoulder was brushing against her arm. Her hands fell to her lap, curled around each other while she watched the wisps in the air and listened to him breathe.

Dean tilted his head up to look at her, freckles stark across his nose.

"This whole thing is fucked, Em." He looked out towards the playground, screams and giggles drifting towards them. "And it's not like I don't deserve it." His laugh was shaky, knuckles scrubbing down his cheek. "Hell is for children, right?"

A shiver worked its way up her spine, the hair prickling at the back of her neck.

She had overheard the story in bits and pieces, from conversations in the shop where Dean would crack jokes about time moving faster in "the Pit" and Aggie would turn white the second Dean wasn't looking at her. There were hard whispers in the back office, when Aggie was hissing into the phone and demanding to know what kind of man Robert Singer had dropped into her life under the pretense of a favor. And Emma had touched the hand print burned into Dean's shoulder, had traced its outline with her lips and her fingers while his nails scratched down her back – knowing enough of the story to believe him when Dean Winchester finally whispered the truth of it into the curve of her neck.

Emma swallowed past the scratch in her throat.

"This whole thing really is fucked if all you're going to do about it is quote Pat Benatar, Dean."

"I..." Dean's voice trailed off. "Bobby's the closest thing I've got left to a father."

"And Sam's your brother." She leaned forward, stretching her legs until she could feel the burn in her muscles. "I don't think there's anything Aggie wouldn't have done to keep Dad safe."

"Bet your dad never asked for anything after Aggie lost her leg."

"He wouldn't even let her do recon if she promised to stay in the car." Emma dropped her legs to the ground, standing up abruptly, and walked to the side of the gazebo. There were more children on the playground, mothers sitting off in pockets of two and three on benches despite the snow that had started to fall. "So tell me what to do," she said, leaning against the rail. "And I'll do it. I don't care...about getting my hands dirty. If that's what it takes to break the hex."

"The last thing you're doing is killing anything for me," he answered. She heard light footsteps walking towards her until Dean was standing at Emma's side, close enough to bump into her with his shoulder. "But I might let you do recon if you promise to stay in the car."

"The way things are going," Emma retorted, "I'm driving the car."

"Is there a reason why the women in your family are perverse?" Dean grinned up at her.

"Aggie's gone out of her way to be nice to you today." Emma bent down and kissed him on the forehead, brushing his hair backwards when Dean scrunched up his face. "I would have brought you a dress to match your shoes," she added, poking him on the nose.

"Now that was just downright uncalled for." He hitched up until he was balanced on the railing, resting his chin on the top. "And you're gonna pay, Phillips."

"Hit me with your best shot, Winchester."

"As soon as I'm man-sized, you're so fucked."

He waggled his eyebrows up at her, flashing the same cocky grin he'd use whenever she caught him drinking milk right out of the container or using her toothbrush because he couldn't find his. It was more adorable than a grin had a right to be, riding the tail-end of a crappy comeback, but the smile reached his eyes when Emma snorted. She covered her mouth with both hands, her shoulders shaking as an elderly couple shuffled down the bend onto the gazebo path, managing to return their nods with one of her own.

But Dean's cackle roared across the park, turning heads the harder he laughed.

The biggest piece of the puzzle was already in place when he and Emma tromped through the door of her apartment, both of them stomping their feet on the doormat and throwing their coats into the closet before heading into the living room.

Aggie was on the phone with Bobby, both of them discussing the translation of the incantation. Turned out that it was Portuguese and even Dean had to admit that a spell asking for aid from 'Our Lady of the Grail' probably wasn't using magic from the dark side of the Force, especially when there was a lady on the goddamn plate looking up at them with the same smile on all those old paintings Sam used to love so much – different faces with the same smiles and shining halos and babies held safe in her arms.

Bobby stopped sounding smug when the how couldn't answer the why. Apocalypses had a way of changing the rules and there was more to power than where it came from.

It was the way you used it.

The rest of the puzzle pointed to Laurentina Tavares, a local curandeira respected by every single one of Aggie's contacts in the local spiritual community.

But standing in the driveway of a tiny white house with foil stars in the windows and colored light bulbs nestled into the pine trees in the yard and a statue of the Virgin Mary underneath the front window, there was no way in hell he was letting down his guard. They had modified the sheathe for Ruby's knife so that Aggie could wear it and Dean had a silver flask full of holy water in his belt that he wasn't afraid to use when push came to shove.

Even Emma could recite the exorcism from the Rituale Romanum.

Nothing could change the fact that they were all screwed if things went south, especially when the three of them together had all the makings of a bad joke. And he was really screwed if Laurentina wasn't a little old lady who liked to give total strangers sugar cookies in parking lots.

Emma's hand hovered over the door knocker, a battered-looking cherub looking off into the distance with its chin on its hands. She knocked three times, biting her lower lips as the door swung open, and sucked in a breath just as a woman appeared in the doorway. She wasn't wearing a coat or a scarf over her head but Dean would have recognized the sparkle in those eyes when they settled on a face, the same grin when Emma stretched out her hand.

"Mrs. Tavares? My name is Emma Phillips. We spoke on the phone earlier about a healing?"

"Please call me Laurentina," she said. There was a silver crucifix nestled in the hollow of her throat. "We can talk in the sala de visitas."

She moved aside to let them in, gesturing towards a room to her right. She patted Dean on the head as he walked past her, not doing a thing when he whispered 'Christo' under his breath when she did it. There was no sense taking anything for granted, even with the crucifix she was sporting.

Her living room looked about as sinister as Missouri Mosely's and Dean sank into the couch when he sat down. Laurentina waited for all of them before she settled into a rocking chair, picking up the knitting she had left on the coffee table. The soft click of the needles filled the room while she hummed, the creak of the rocker acting in counterpoint while she watched them expectantly.

"Would you like some chá? Tea?" she asked softly, another grin splitting her face as she looked right at him. "Or is it cookies that you're after?"

Dean choked, trying to cover it up with a cough. She was freaking toying with him. He let his hand drop to the silver flask clipped to his belt.

"We're...fine," Emma answered. She glanced at Dean, waited for his nod before she reached into the bag she was carrying and pulled out the plate. "Although it seems apparent that this belongs to you." Emma's voice was as sharp as her smile when she set it on the coffee table. She sat back against the pillows, narrowing her eyes, and there was no denying Emma's blood when she folded her arms just as tight across her stomach as her aunt always did. Her face just as set in stone.

"Such a fogo in you. All for your homem pequeno." The knitting dropped to Laurentina's lap, another smile flashed at Dean. "You chose well for yourself, guerreiro."

"Let's cut the crap, Laurentina." His breath came out in a huff. "What the hell did you do to me?"

"Nothing that you did not need. Your doença da alma, your soul sickness. It called to me. So I came." Her voice dropped, the sparkle in her eyes going dark as she leaned forward. "But your soul? It requires the grand gesture." Laurentina sighed, tapping one finger against her lips. "Always the grand gesture. Even when you do not deserve the escuridão."

"The fuck?"

"You are..." Her voice trailed off and Laurentina looked at the wall, folding her hands in her lap. "The débito. The... How would you say it? The debt. It is paid in full."

Dean closed his eyes, could feel the cold hilt of a blade in his hand. Could still feel it cutting both ways.

"There' paying off that debt."

His chest cracked when Emma's hand slid down to his, her fingers holding on tight.

"Mãe abençoada, Dean Winchester." Laurentina's eyes were full of tears she did not shed, as full as the throb in his throat when she sucked in a ragged breath of her own. His eyes burned. "An anjo gripped you tight and raised you from perdition, and yet you question Nossa Senhora de Remissão when she smiles upon you."

"By turning me into a kid?" he managed.

"By giving you a sign."

There were shamans out there less obtuse than Laurentina Tavares but the way she said it, with a voice as full of belief as the woman who used to sing him to sleep every night, made it hurt a little less to breathe.

The only thing more uncomfortable than sitting in Laurentina Tavares' living room was the silence in the car after they dropped Aggie off at the repair shop.

Dean was curled up against the window, leaning on his elbow as he rested his forehead on the glass. The shadows of bare-limbed trees shimmered across his hair through the glass, replaced by the shine off of street lights, and Emma was the one who flicked on the radio. Hoping for a song that would break the silence, something that drowned out a curandeira's words because her own throat was scraped raw just from listening.

An anjo gripped you tight and raised you from perdition, and yet you question Nossa Senhora de Remissão when she smiles upon you.

But the music in the background didn't register until Dean snorted, even though Emma was keeping time by tapping her thumbs on the steering wheel.

"Maybe the old lady is right and the universe really is trying to tell me something." There was a wry smile on his face as he continued staring out the window, his mouth quirking up to the left. "Unless your aunt is so perverse she called KNCZ and requested 'Love is a Battlefield' just to turn the screws a little more." She didn't expect the sigh. "Got some things rattling around loose inside of me, Em."

"And I don't?" Emma kept her eyes on the road, ignoring the sudden heat of his stare.

"Not like me."

The debt. It is paid in full.

"Jesus, no." She sucked in a breath. "And maybe it's not even fair to compare the two." The apartment building was coming up on the right. Emma slowed down the car, pulling into the parking lot, and sat there with her hands on the steering wheel while the engine idled. "But there's always going to be blood on my hands and someone might still be alive if I hadn't ignored the signs. Because it made my life easier just to pretend that they weren't there."

Dean's mouth was a thin line. "Just what the hell did Sam tell you about me and..."

"Not as much as you have," Emma retorted, turning the key in the ignition. She didn't say anything else until she was standing in the snow, her boots crunching on the ground. Emma slammed the door. "You can read between the lines when you're already a little cracked to begin with, Dean."

"God." The laugh sounded more like Dean and less like the four-year-old boy staring up at her. Emma's stomach dropped. "She told me that people would listen but..." His voice trailed off and he jammed his fists into his pockets, started trudging towards the side door of the building. "Come on," he said, looking at her over his shoulder. "What are you waiting for?"

She ran to catch up with him, feet pounding up the stairwell until they were on the second floor. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Dean grinned at her while Emma unlocked her door, both of them kicking off their shoes in the foyer. "I'm just sick and tired of having a dick the size of a thimble." He locked the deadbolt, waiting for her to slide the chain lock into place. "And we're burning the Strawberry Shortcake sneakers."

There were two pizza boxes and two six packs of Fresca sitting on the counter in the kitchen, right next to the fudge and the saucer with the last sugar cookie. Dean put his finger to his lips and inched forward slowly when something rustled in the living room, thumping against the wall when he saw his younger brother with both hands on Sarah's cheeks, pulling away from the kiss when Emma stumbled past Dean into the living room.

"Hey!" Sam's face burst into a smile. "Merry Christmas!"

"We couldn't wait for tomorrow." Sarah slipped underneath Sam's arm, leaning against him with a radiant smile of her own, her hand resting lightly on the swell of her belly. A glint sparkled around Sarah's finger and the only thing Emma could do was smile back at them, at the easy way Sam's hand slid down to rest on top of Sarah's, both of them cradling the answer to the most important question. "So we decided to bring Christmas to you," Sarah added.

"But I thought Dean was here. No one answered the door at his apartment." Sam frowned. "I wanted him to be the first to know once she started showing."

"I'm right here." Dean stepped out next to Emma, smirking when Sam choked. "Yeah, I know. I'm fucking four."

"How..." Sam shook his head, scratching underneath his ear.

"A curandeira slipped me the magic mickey in a sugar cookie." Dean sauntered up to Sarah, reaching out to gently touch the swell of her abdomen with one tiny finger. He blinked once, his eyes shining, before Dean flashed a shit-eating grin up at her. "What kinda crazy chick lets herself get knocked up by my little brother? You know the kid's gonna come out looking like a baby sasquatch."

Sam snorted and rolled his eyes, throwing an arm across Emma's shoulders and pulling her in close as soon as she was in arm's reach. She stood up on her toes and whispered 'congratulations' against Sam's cheek, one hand rubbing circles on his back.

If anyone had a right to laugh about the whole damn thing, it was Sam.

He sure as hell wasn't being subtle about it, sipping slowly on his beer at the end of the couch after refusing to give Dean his own bottle. Making cracks about Dean not being able to reach high enough to help Emma and Sarah put ornaments on that fake tree without a stepping stool. When it turned out that Emma's frigging cat had a better haircut for a four-year-old, Dean muttered 'fuck you' and stomped into the kitchen.

Maybe Dean deserved it.

There was only one thing left to do and Dean had been putting it off for an hour, losing his nerve after watching Emma's eyes shine when she took her turn rubbing Sarah's belly. Shoving down the ache in his throat with three cold pieces of pizza and two cans of Fresca because it would hurt like fuck if he was wrong and there was still too much rattling around inside of him for one stupid cookie to fix, no matter how hard Nossa Senhora de Remissão was smiling down on him.

Doing it alone was the best thing.

Except goddamn Sam followed him right in there, catching Dean red-handed just as he was about to touch the cookie.

"So that's what a magic mickey looks like. I thought it'd be bigger."

"Cute." Dean rolled his eyes. "There was a whole plate of them, okay?"

Sam's eyes widened, another grin flickering across his face. It probably should have pissed him off, that stupid expression Sam would get when something was totally hilarious. Like he had just super-glued a beer bottle to Dean's hand in the middle of Texas. But there weren't any shadows underneath Sam's eyes, the hollows filled in on his face, and he hadn't looked that much like Sam since Dad had died. Hadn't looked that happy since he was talking about Jess in the car on the way to Jericho.

"That apple pie life looks pretty good on you," Dean said softly.

"Can't say the same for you," Sam retorted. His eyes narrowed, the brown bottle tilting up for another slow swallow. "It's just..." Sam shook his head, his breath coming out in a huff. "Jesus, Dean. Why didn't you call me?"

"And put up with all those jokes about my mouth finally getting me into trouble I couldn't talk my way out of?" Dean shrugged his shoulders, scratching underneath his ear when their eyes met. "Made a promise. Bobby and I both did. Back in Wisconsin." The words tumbled out, another crack in his chest that made it easier to breathe. "You were dying, Sam. Castiel fell bringing you back and not even Missouri can find him now. Nothing's gonna screw that up for you, Sammy. Especially not me."

Sam stared at him.

"You know you're an idiot, right?" he said finally. "Going off hunting by yourself with nothing but Ruby's knife to back you up." Sam's fingers tightened around the beer bottle, the skin white across his knuckles. "Christ, you live in a crappy one-room apartment with more roaches than a roach motel because the place is hip deep in moldy Chinese take-out boxes."

"Don't need the recap, dude. The universe sent a little old lady with that message three days ago."

The murmur of soft voices drifted in from the living room, Emma taking the low part on some stupid Christmas song when Sarah went high. They were both off-key, giggling when Sarah forgot the words. Laughing harder when Emma came in at the wrong time. Freaking Nirvana couldn't have mangled those chestnuts roasting on an open fire any harder if they'd tried.

But he didn't even need to close his eyes to hear a room full of little girls singing along, little girls with Sarah's hair and Emma's eyes and Sammy's bitch face when one of them got pissy. Maybe even a little boy with Mom's hair and Dad's smile who could pop bulls-eyes on a whole row of tin cans just like his father did when he was six. And every single one of them would swear up a storm just like Uncle Bobby and repair old clocks faster than their Great Aunt Agatha.

Laurentina Tavares was probably rocking in her chair, eyes twinkling as her knitting needles clacked together because the guerreiro had just given up the escuridão. Whatever the fuck that meant.

Sam stared at him like he was an idiot when Dean started laughing, leaning up against the counter.

"Are you high?"

"Nope." Dean snatched the beer bottle out of Sam's hand, swallowing the last of the beer before chucking it into the garbage when it was empty. "It's just time for me to go get man-sized." He slid the saucer across the counter, bumping Sam's elbow with it. "Go ahead and do it, Sammy. I double dog dare you to eat the fucking cookie."

Sam was carefully pushing the plate away from him like it was covered with radioactive waste when Dean turned on his heel and ran for the bedroom.

The metal bar of the bed frame was hard against her hip, a dull throb undulating down her leg every time she moved. Emma felt as old as the mattress, full of creaks that matched the metallic rasp of the coils. They had forgotten to turn off the lights on the Christmas tree before sliding underneath the thin blanket and geometric patterns of red and blue and green reflected off the speckled paint on the ceiling.

"Remind me again why we're sleeping on the sofa bed?"

Emma smiled, feeling the deep rumble of his voice as she scooted closer. "Because there's no way in hell I'm letting your pregnant soon-to-be sister-in-law sleep on a sofa bed that used to be in Aggie's garage."

"That explains why the mattress smells like ass."

But he chuckled when she curled around him, one leg through his and a hand on his belly. Fingers trailing up slow across his chest, lightly scratching into the curve of his neck, her mouth finding his when she raised herself up on an elbow. He was tugging up her t-shirt before Emma could say 'no,' the calluses on his palms moving slowly across the spray of goose bumps down her back as she straddled his thighs, blanket skimming her hips. She finished pulling off her t-shirt herself, touching the three day old scab at the corner of his mouth before leaning down to kiss it.

"You smell pretty good, Winchester," she whispered against his lips.

He dragged his nails down her arms, her thighs. More goose bumps rising to meet his fingers. He took his time, hand skimming lazily across a breast, teasing skin until a hard nub trembled against the rough pad of a fingertip.

A grin was her only warning before Dean rolled Emma onto her back, hands holding her down by the wrists. The flat of his tongue scraped across a nipple, a taunting circle that had her whimpering when his teeth nipped, her body bending like a bow as he sucked – a flick of wet against crinkled skin that made her sigh and fall against the mattress. Not caring one bit about the metal bar, ankles resting in the crook of his knees when his mouth moved to her other breast and she was straining against him all over again.

Emma pushed her hips up into his, shivering as Dean licked a stripe between her breasts.

"Want to suck you off."

"Gonna come too fast," he answered.

She closed her eyes when Dean started kissing down her abdomen, tiny burns that left their mark as the Christmas lights shimmered in the cracks between her eyelids. He let her wrists go, the ache pulsating along with the pulse beating between her thighs, the rush of blood in her ears. A hand on each of her thighs pushed her open, Dean's mouth dipping down to tongue her through the moist cotton and, god, he just pulled her underwear to one side. Brushing the quivering bead when he wasn't fucking her with his tongue. Playing her with lips and fingers and passes against slick skin, heat rising through her belly when she groaned.

Her hips bucked when she came, with a hard spasm and a short sharp cry.

Two pairs of hands grabbed the elastic at her waist, the rip of fabric competing with their breathing as they slid her underwear past her hips. She wanted it hard, on her knees with her head hanging forward and her elbows resting against the bed. Breasts close to the sheet, the friction tingling through her every time Dean rammed into her.

And she was going to get it hard, cool air eddying against the wet while she waited for him.

"Shit! Don't have a – "

"Just do it," she hissed.

He didn't have to be told twice, the teasing her with quick short thrusts had her moaning until she swelled around him. Riding pulse for pulse, one hand digging into her hip and the other knotted in her hair, head jerked backwards whenever he went deep. Just enough tension for the muscles to stretch in her neck, the 'oh oh oh' boiling over in counterpoint to the slap of skin against skin, the 'harder' that hitched in her throat and the 'fuck me' that spilled out as she rocked backwards.

The scream when Dean let go of her hair, nails marking her hips with half moons.

Emma was still catching her breath when she rested her forehead on the mattress, could still feel her body moving with his after Dean planted a kiss between her shoulder blades and collapsed on top of her.

Dean could feel the flush on Emma's skin, warmth on his lips when he kissed her shoulder. The goddamn tree lights were still blinking and they were both going to be bruised come morning because of the freaking metal bars and someone had waited in the bathroom until they were done, footsteps padding back to the bedroom once they had both been reduced to ragged breath and sweat-slick skin.

He'd been fucking four for three days.

Someone had to expect there'd be sex in the living room before the sun rose on Christmas morning. And there was more coming if he had any say about it, Emma's lips wrapped around him, the hollows of her cheeks pressing soft and wet. Wouldn't just be her screaming.

Not that Emma would have been any quieter behind closed doors, what with that red lingerie get-up she was hiding in her underwear drawer. The ribbons alone were enough to make a man go cross-eyed.

"So do you wanna wear that red bustier thing for me on New Year's Eve?"

She shivered, the hairs underneath her ear prickling against his lips. Until the words registered. Something close to a choke popped out of her throat and she started turning in his arms, glaring up at him from underneath her tangled hair.

Dean grinned. "I think your little cotton panties and t-shirts are sexier, even when they're for those crap-ass bands that you love so much. But I'll try to suffer through a night of you wearing crotchless underwear if you throw in a pair of high heels."

"I can't believe you were snooping around in my underwear drawer."

"Just making sure the place is safe. Aggie would kick my ass if I wasn't protecting you from what's out there."

"Monsters are not going to attack my underwear." Her lips curved into a smile. "But now that you've revealed your cunning plan, there better be a Devil's Trap in the bottom of that drawer or – "

He didn't let her finish, swallowing up her threat until it became a sigh.

"Sweetheart," Dean drawled. "I've got lots of plans for you."

"Like what?"

"For starters?" He mapped the length of her collarbone with his lips, scratching down her side in slow circles. "There's the baby thing. Sam's got the lead but I think we can beat him with numbers." She stiffened, eyes going wide like he'd just clocked her on the back of the head. "Can't tell me you're not already on board with that, Em. I heard the way you moaned when it was just skin on skin."

Her eyes narrowed. "You don't even have a key to the apartment," she said. "Don't you think it's a little early to be talking about kids."

She recovered fast. He had to give her that.

And maybe Emma was right. But the way her eyes had looked when she touched Sarah's belly, smiling gently at Dean when she realized that he was watching her – even when he was stuck in that kid's body – was something he never thought he'd see again. Not directed at him. Dad had spent hours describing that smile for days on end, when Dean would watch Sammy in silence and try to forget the crackle and spit of fire. A mother's smile. He'd already lost it once, had it paraded around as a joke when he was hanging from hooks.

Just one more note in Alistair's litany of all the things he couldn't have.

"Those things...rattling around loose inside? They're not gonna win, Em." He sucked in a breath, her face softening as she shifted up to kiss his shoulder. "I can't let them."

Emma didn't say a word, brushing the hair out of her eyes and sliding out from underneath the blanket. She was a pale flame against the dark, curves set off by twinkling lights as she walked to the fake fireplace, tugging on the stocking that Sarah had knitted with Dean's name on it. Emma knelt next to him on the bed, one finger tracing the letters before she handed it to him.

The only thing inside the stocking was a key.

And the neighborhood seems familiar, I know we are close
It smells right
I can feel it against my skin
Home, I inquire of her,
Hold a glorious thought on our long drive home.


This story was written for the prompt "Dean/OFC – a good witch, a demon and a stupid Christmas spell."

The title of this story is a line from the poem "A Shaman's Prayer" by Max Roth, as are the quotes at the beginning and the end of the story.

The spiritual tradition in the story is a combination of Latin American curanderismo and Portuguese folk tradition; I am by no means an expert and it was never my intent to belittle the traditions by the liberties I surely have taken with them. The Portuguese throughout the story, likewise, is probably off as well – despite the help I received on it from M. Never underestimate the grammatical harm you can do to foreign languages with Yahoo! Babel Fish.

"Mãe Abençoada" is Portuguese for "blessed mother."

"Nossa Senhora de Grael, ajude a ser mais como você" is a Portuguese phrase that roughly translates as "Our Lady of the Grail, help me to be more like you."

"Aufwecken der Hexe" is a very rough German translation of the phrase "Waking the Witch." I thought it made a decent title for a book about witches.

"Le Marteau des Sorcières" is a very rough French translation of the phrase "The Hammer of the Witches."

Let's face it. At this point, you've all probably watched enough episodes of Supernatural to be able to recite the exorcism ritual from the Rituale Romanum. Just saying...

"Curandeira" is Portuguese for "healer." I went with the rules of romance languages to feminize it. Not that I haven't always used these rules, so my translations may be horribly off. But I did try...

"Sala de visitas" is Portuguese for "living room." (Technically, "room of visits," which I thought was really cool.)

It's probably obvious that "chá" means "tea."

"Fogo" is Portuguese for "fire."

"Homem pequeno" is Portuguese for "little man."

"Guerreiro" is Portuguese for "warrior."

"Doença da alma" is Portuguese for "soul sickness." Hey, I might as well get all of these written down for the curious.

"Subtil" is fairly obvious. It's Portuguese for "subtle."

"Escuridão" is Portuguese for "darkness."

This one is obvious, too. "Debito" is Portuguese for "debt."

"Nossa Senhora de Remissão" is Portuguese for "Our Lady of Forgiveness."

I freely admit to being biased when it comes to psychic ladies on the show. Pam was awesome but Missouri rocks my socks off.

Lastly, I did my best to tone down the adult content. If you feel more work is required in this regard, please let me know and I will fix it accordingly.