Chapter Notes: As promised, I have the next chapter. The evil writer's block seems to officially be past! WOO HOO! The next chapter will be a bit delayed in coming, however, as I will be out of town for a week and a half and won't get much opportunity to work on it while I'm away.

I've been threatening y'all with something for months now and it happens in this chapter. You've been warned!

Chapter 29

So yes. It was officially official that Dean Winchester cared a great deal about Angela Platt. She'd been learning that with a steady stream of daily proofs of his own brand of prickly affection, his undaunted loyalty, for months. But it was different to have him suddenly invited into the fold, the holy trinity of Angela-Neil-Caroline. He was officially in. Heck, if Caroline was willing to practice with him so they could surprise her with a birthday song it was clear enough that he was pretty much a permanent fixture now. He'd been accfepted into the tight little trio to become the Fab Four. Just like the Beatles. Heck, Dean and Caroline had an oil and water thing going that could put Lennon and McCartney's worst rows to shame. It was all good. A nice fit.f

And then there was the necklace. Every night before she went to bed, Angela would look in the mirror and see it hanging at her clavicle, this beautiful reminder of what Dean meant to her, and what she meant to him. It stood as a testament of the depth of their friendship, a daily reminder that she held a tiny piece of his heart nestled snugly next to hers.

But knowing that you've got a place in Dean Winchester's heart and watching him fall for someone else? Nothing in the world could have prepared the love-struck teen for that devastating, soul-crushing blow. Everything went to Hell in a hand basket in November of 1993 when Kim fucking Kao moved to Phoenix.

It was no secret to anyone that knew him that Dean was girl crazy. He liked them tall; he liked them short; he liked them with dark hair, blonde hair, red hair, long hair, short hair. He liked them thin; he liked them curvy. Green eyed, blue eyed, brown eyed. White, black, and, it turned out, Asian. If it was pretty and it had boobs, Dean salivated like some kind of trained lab rat – or one of Pavlov's dogs. And while it was never easy watching Dean's eyes go vacant and kind of glassy as he ogled some passing girl, Angela had at least mostly gotten used to it. Since he was essentially a pariah at school, it wasn't like his attentions were ever returned (however much those girls might have looked interested right back – because let's face it, Dean was damned easy on the eyes).

But then Xiang Kao and his family moved to Phoenix, with their fifteen year-old daughter Kim, and suddenly Dean Winchester, skirt-chaser extraordinaire, only had eyes for one girl.

"Fuck, Ange, she's perfect," Dean breathed in a sharp hiss as the girl in question passed their table in the cafeteria at lunch hour. Her long, silky black hair was clipped back at the sides in two matching yellow barrettes and it swished in a stream down her back as she walked.

She was a tiny thing, barely standing at 5'3", but she was flawlessly pretty in a way that made her look almost unreal, like a doll. Gorgeous in a way that made Angela want to claw her damned eyes out, the snotty, stuck-up, know-it-all bitch. One year above them, Kim was a recent transfer from California and had her sights set on the honour role with a competitive streak that put Angela to shame. She was focused, determined and quiet in a way that spoke more of self-imposed reserve than shyness, but with a mind sharp enough and opinions strong enough that she spoke them when the occasion called for it.

Angela hated her with a devotion that made Simon Zealotes look subdued.

It wasn't strictly a matter of jealousy (though Angela was rational enough to admit that the green-eyed monster played a pretty big factor there). It was that Kim Kao represented, in Angela's opinion, all things that were wrong with the world.

She was like Angela's doppelganger, only prettier and evil. For instance, Kim played the cello, much like Angela played the clarinet, but Kim was too good to join the band or get lessons at school. Oh no, she had to have private tutors so she could make snide remarks about the amateur playing of everyone else that wasn't her. And instead of being put off by this high and mighty behaviour, Dean seemed to be turned on by it.

"See, that's dedication, man," he'd said wistfully one day after Hurricane Kao (or Cow, as Angela secretly liked to call her) rushed past. "That's… that's hot."

Dean also loved to wax poetic about how sexy it was that Kim was so smart. He'd talk dreamily to himself, musing to no one in particular (because really, no one listened when he talked about Kim) about how sexy Kim looked when she was reading, or about how smart chicks were babes.

It was like Kim Kao was everything Angela could be if Angela were prettier. It just wasn't fair that being beautiful made Kim, who wasn't even a nice person, rank so highly on everyone's radar while Angela remained pretty much invisible. Angela was smart (way smarter than Dean), and pretty talented as a musician. She was also nice (though she said it herself) and generous and didn't turn her nose up at other people.

Kim Kao had also turned down Dean's advances, with an emphatic, resounding 'no' twice, but that didn't seem to deter him in the least.

"You're so shallow," Angela said in the most bored voice she could muster as she twirled her plastic fork through a cooling Tupperware dish of noodles. "You only like her because she's pretty."

"Yeah, whatever," Dean muttered with disinterest, his keen gaze trained on Kim's form as she settled at a table with her friends. "I'm pretty sure Neil here's a flaming homo, and even he'd agree with me that Kim is smokin' hot."

"Hey!" Neil complained, affronted.

"Eyelashes like that and you're calling Neil a homo?" Caroline jibed.

"You wish you were this pretty," Dean countered without taking his eyes off his prize.

Angela had to force her long fingers to veer away from the charm at her neck, had to stop herself from absently stroking the metal with nervous flicks, because it made her heart twinge in despair to remember how wearing Dean's necklace made her feel, all the while knowing that he didn't return her feelings. She'd been wearing the thing for exactly two weeks and already it had become a part of her skin, something she fiddled with and picked at and ran through her mouth like a cart on a rail line, zipping back and forth with absent-minded pulls while Caroline looked on in disgust as the silver chain cut into the meat of flesh at the left side of Angela's mouth and then the right with each pull: zip-to-the left, zip-to-the-right.

"I can't even begin to tell you how seriously out of your league she is," Caroline told Dean smugly. "And even if she didn't want to yak at the very thought of dating you – which she does, by the way – you'd still never stand a chance with her. Girls like her don't waste their time slumming it with guys like you."

Dean did manage to cut his eyes in their direction at that, shooting a heated, molten metal flash of green in Caroline's direction before pursing his lips in thought.

"I'm just curious about something," he mused. "Does being a supreme-assed bitch come to you naturally, or is it something you've been practicing at? I'm just wondering, 'cos you're such a fuckin' natural at it, it looks effortless."

"For you, it is," Caroline said sweetly.

Angela really didn't get what Dean saw in Kim Kao. Sure, there was the obvious beauty thing she had going for her, and sure she was smarter than most of the teachers at Albright Academy. But she was frigid and snobby, not deigning to lift her gaze in Dean's direction unless it was to sneer at him. How could Dean still like her when she was so clearly mean to him? Did being beautiful really make up for the gaping hole where her personality should be?

Angela didn't think so, but Dean clearly did.

He lusted after her with the most pathetic moony eyes she'd ever seen, holding open doors for her and offering to walk her home and generally humiliating himself in front of Kim and her friends at pretty much every opportunity. This pathetic behaviour went on for weeks, and Angela swore to herself that, given enough provocation, she'd put some of Dean's self-defense training to good use and clock that bitch right in her too-pretty face. Ugly her up a bit and see if Dean still liked her then.

A week before Christmas, though, brought an opportunity Angela hadn't counted on (and would later regret), when a walk home from the movie theatre led to some very unforeseen circumstances.

It was Saturday evening and they'd just finished watching "Schindler's List." Dean, Neil, and Angela were walking home in silence, each of them feeling subdued and overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the horrors they'd witnessed in the movie. Dean, especially, was looking particularly introspective, his brow furrowed and his eyes trained on his boots as he scuffed at the ground with his feet and generally avoided meeting gazes with anyone.

Angela really missed Caroline's presence in that moment. Yes, it was totally girlie to be weepy and emotional over a movie, but in all fairness, "Schindler's List" was based on a true story, and the holocaust undeniably did happen, so it wasn't like her feelings of sympathy and grief over hideous acts of genocide were misplaced or unfounded. She was entitled to mourn thousands of dead, even if it was fifty years after the fact. But Dean and Neil were both guys, and even though Angela maybe kind of secretly suspected that Neil could possibly be a little bit gay (she hadn't failed to see the way his eyes sometimes lingered on Dean's butt, or focused on his lips when he was talking), neither of her two best guy friends were good for the kind of cathartic post-chick flick weeping that best girlfriends share when they've just suffered through something as emotionally draining as "Schindler's List."

But Caroline was in Vermont for the Christmas break and so Angela was the only representative from the XX camp and had to suffer her feelings in silence, without anyone to pour her bleeding heart out to. If she tried with the boys now, she knew Dean would make fun of her without quarter, especially because it was clear that he was feeling affected by the movie too. And when Dean came even close to emotional vulnerability, he joked it off or antagonized people until they were angry enough that they wanted to kill him. It was his way of avoiding his feelings, and it worked without fail at making her want to bludgeon him to death.

So no caring and sharing with Dean, then. She would just have to suffer her post-movie blues in silence. Maybe write an extra-long and weepy journal entry when she got home.

They cut through the park on their walk home, the late-afternoon sun glaring on the horizon as it began its daily descent West as dry earth and wilted grass crunched beneath their feet. There were no kids out now that it was past suppertime, but Angela did notice a group of people trailing not far behind them as they neared the swings at the centre of the park. She couldn't make them out through the glare of the sun, but there looked to be about five dark silhouettes grouped together.

She looked casually over her shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of their pursuers and only making out the tell-tale poochiness of matching bomber jackets and sleek, bald or close-cropped heads. Skinheads. Oh holy crap!

She wasn't sure, but she thought she'd seen a couple of them outside the theatre when they'd gone into the movie a few hours ago. Now it looked like maybe they'd followed them home. That was so not good. They must have been waiting outside the movie theatre, watching people go in so they could pick fights with them when they got out. Because, God forbid free-thinking people should watch a Jew-sensitive film about the holocaust, right? These neo-Nazi freaks were probably going to swarm them and beat the crap out of them.

As if on cue, one of the skinheads spoke.

"Hey, Chink bitch!" Snorts of laughter as the voices got closer. "I'm talkin' to you!"

There was only a moment's confusion before Angela noticed two other figures in the park – further ahead of them, and slightly to the left, walking close in step with each other – a tiny, dark-haired frame alongside another slim and slightly taller frame. She could just barely make out the angry, worried scowl on Kim Kao's face as she hurried her pace with her best friend in tow.

"Yo, Chinky!" another of the skinheads shouted. "C'mere for a sec!"

Now, Angela Platt realized several things at once. 1) Dean Winchester was a sneaky, lying piece of crap (who'd pretended – and she really should have realized there was a con going on – to be interested in seeing the latest heartbreaker Spielberg flick when really he was only going because Kim Kao would be there); and 2) a pack of skinheads were following Kim home and, if their racial slurs and jeering tones were anything to go by, were looking to maybe enact a hate crime. More importantly, coming in at #3) there was no way Dean was going to let those scumbag skinheads get away with hurting anyone, let alone the girl he was all moony over.

Things were about to get very, very bad.

"Come on," Dean hissed at her side, picking up his pace to a quick jog so he could catch up with the would-be hate-crime victim in question. He didn't wait for Angela's reply, didn't check to make sure that she was following – it was a command to follow and not a suggestion, spoken in his 'I'm taking charge' voice – but instead made his way to Kim and her friend without ceremony or pretense.

Angela and Neil scurried after him, both feeling static-charged and mildly terrified. A gang of skinheads looking for violence, even in the carefully groomed suburbs of Phoenix, was not something to take lightly.

"Hey," Dean said to Kim as he matched her step. "How 'bout an escort home?"

He inclined his head fractionally in the direction of the approaching gang behind them and Kim flinched before nodding, not making eye contact. Maybe, Angela thought, they'd be safe now that they were traveling in a larger group. Strength in numbers and all that. Maybe the skinheads would back off.

"I'm fuckin' talking to you!" a voice shouted from behind.

Maybe they were all going to get seriously killed.

"Chinky! Chinky-chinky-chinky!" another of the group sing-songed.

Angela picked up her pace as they cut through the park, hoping to make a hasty retreat to the other side where they'd be closer to houses, closer to witnesses. She felt her heart beating wildly in her chest, her stomach churning in awful knots as nausea rose like a wave inside her. Sure, she hated Kim with a fiery hot passion that was pure and true, but she didn't want anything bad to happen to her. And she sure as hell didn't hate her because she was Chinese. This disgusting display of racism and aggression was like something out of a horror movie. It was just… wrong.

"We'll get you home," Dean said in a level voice, which was pretty shocking considering the absolutely livid look on his face. "We won't let 'em hurt you."

Kim did look up then, her big brown eyes wide and terrified, seeking reassurance. She swallowed and nodded, trusting in Dean's promise because she didn't have any other alternative. Angela could relate.

"Where you rushing off to, huh?" one of the skinheads taunted, his voice much closer.

Angela chanced a glance back and saw that they were pretty much upon them now, practically nipping at their heels, almost within reach. Two of the younger-looking neo-Nazis broke from the group to flank their prey, blocking their passage out of the park. Dean gave Angela's shoulder a reassuring squeeze as they came to an abrupt half, his other hand performing the same gesture on Kim's tiny, trembling shoulder.

"'s'okay," he murmured.

It really didn't feel okay. Angela was so scared she could feel a lump forming in her throat, tears daring to prick the back of her eyes, and any minute now she knew she'd start bawling.

There were five skinheads swarming in a group around them, their shaved heads glinting like polished cue balls in the glaring sun. Two of them, the eldest of the pack, were tall and huge, like tanks, while the remaining three were visibly smaller and younger. She'd guess at them being in their mid-teens, sixteen or seventeen, maybe. The bigger ones looked to be in their early twenties. They were all similarly dressed in matching camo-pants and Doc Martins with white laces, as well as black bomber jackets. The slighter of the two tanks had a dark goatee and a spidery-looking tattoo climbing up the right side of his neck.

"What's your hurry?" Goatee Guy asked, licking his lips suggestively as he eyed Kim up and down with a leer that made Angela's skin crawl. "Looks like you got your posse here and are ready for a party."

For all that she could be a snarky, mouthy, stuck-up bitch, it appeared Kim did know when to keep her mouth shut. She inched closer to Dean, seeking protection behind his larger frame, but otherwise didn't offer up any reply.

"Well listen," Goatee Guy said to Dean, Neil, Angela, and Kim's friend (Angela couldn't remember her name). "It's awful nice of you to offer to walk the little China girl home, but we can take it from here."

It was a dismissal, and an offer of clemency. Leave now and we won't hurt you too. Well fuck that. Angela might be a cowering light-weight when it came to fighting, but no way in hell was she going to leave another girl alone and at the mercy of a gang of dickheads just to save her own skin.

"Angela," Dean said to her as his eyes remained locked on the skinhead who seemed to be leading the group. "You and Neil get them outta here. Go to my place – it's closest. Jane'll drive everybody home."

Wait – what?

"What are you going to do?" Kim's friend asked, sounding as terrified as Angela felt.

Dean grinned then, light and cocky.

"I'm just gonna shoot the shit with our friends here, right fellas?"

The skinheads snickered, clearly amused by Dean's plan to throw himself on the sword, so to speak. They didn't quite make a move to stop their escape, but by the way they fidgeted, Angela could tell they had no intention of letting them go, either. At least, not with Kim.

"You think you're impressing your girls here?" Goatee Guy taunted Dean with a sneer. "Because I'm pretty sure there's nothing impressive about getting your ass kicked, son. I mean, I get it," he admitted with a chuckle. "I do. The ladies love the hero type."

"You're not wrong," Dean acknowledged.

"You look like good, Aryan stock," Goatee Guy added, as though offering up that kind of compliment was a gift Dean should thank his lucky stars for. "Head on home now and we'll forget all about this."

Dean pushed his bottom lip out in thought, mock-pondering, before nodding in assent.

"Okie dokie," he said. "You heard 'im. Let's go."

He took Kim's hand in his and turned as if to leave.

"Oh no," Goatee Guy laughed mirthlessly. "She stays. We got business with Chinky Chan, don't we boys?"

Angela's heart sank like a stone into the churning acid in her guts. She'd almost thought they were going to walk away from this.

"Come on guys," Neil tried. "Nobody wants any trouble."

"You shut your mouth, faggot!" one of the younger skinheads snapped venomously. "Or you'll be next, after the cunt-eyed bitch."

Part of Angela felt as though it had floated away from her body. She knew they were in real danger now, especially considering how quickly the situation seemed to have escalated, but at the same time she almost couldn't believe that this was really happening. That there were people like this in the world, who could just hate you so much for no reason other than the fact that you were unlike them, was so baffling it made her angry and sad at the same time. And it frightened her, because there was no way to reason with these people. There was no talking the situation out, no wordsmithing that would win them free passage. They were well and truly screwed.

"Okay, we're done here," Dean said dismissively. "Angela," turning to her with bright, determined eyes. "Remember what I said. Get them home." Then, lowering his voice, "Just… run, okay? Run and don't look back. Go!"

She didn't know what it was that made her body respond the way that it did, but before she could stop to think about it she was grabbing Kim's slim wrist and yanking her away, half-dragging her through the park with Neil and Kim's friend matching her stride for stride. She didn't want to run, didn't want to leave Dean behind, but he'd done that thing with the Drill Sergeant voice and she'd just sort of snapped to in her terror, like some kind of sleeper-soldier operating on auto-pilot.

They managed to break far away enough from the fray that they felt they were at a great enough distance to pause and look back. The skinheads weren't following, too intent on Dean, who was clearly shooting his mouth off to get their undivided attention. They circled him like a pack of wolves, offering taunts of their own designed to humiliate him before they 'taught him his lesson.'

"We can't just leave him there!" Kim pleaded in a strangled whisper, pretty, brown eyes practically bugging out of her head. "They'll kill him!"

And suddenly Angela was standing on a bridge, frozen in terror as a mother's wails of 'My baby! My baby!' echoed over the rushing of water below. She saw Dean's face set in a look of determination before he turned on a heel and ran, vaulting himself over the side of a bridge with a drowning little girl below. A broken collar bone, dislocated shoulder, and sprained wrist remaining as souvenirs of an innocent life saved.

And right then Angela knew that Dean would do this thing, now, and would come out standing. He'd vault over this bridge, or throw himself to the wolves, and take the whole pack of them down. He'd do it for a drowning toddler, or a pretty Chinese girl, or his best friend. He'd do it and he'd win.

"No, they won't," she replied with certainty, turning in mid-step to halt her own retreat.

She wasn't going to run away. She was going to stay, bear witness to his act of bravery, and be the strong hand on the shoreline to pull Dean to safety if need be.


Dean Winchester was insane. Kim had thought he was a bit touched in the head, what with how many times he'd tried asking her out, but she'd never really thought he was crazy. Gorgeously handsome and stupid, yes, but not crazy. And if she had to be honest, even if it was only with herself, she kind of secretly liked the attention. It was pretty flattering when the best looking guy in the whole school rolled out the welcome mat and pretty much offered himself to you at every opportunity. She'd never had any intention of saying yes, mind you – her parents would disown her if she so much as gave him the time of day. But a teeny, tiny part of her had maybe even liked the guy for his tenacity and charm (and let's not forget the dimple in his left cheek when he smiled brightly enough).

She'd never have asked him to take a beating for her, though. And while she was beyond grateful that he was distracting those nasty skinheads from whatever plans they had set aside for her, she really didn't want Dean getting hurt because of it. Because of her.

"We can't just leave him there!" she heard herself whisper-shriek. "They'll kill him!"

Better him than you, her mother's voice whispered in her head, and she found she had to bite back the urge to cry. It would be wrong to use Dean's crush on her like this, to let him use himself as a distraction so she could escape, even if he was a nobody from the wrong side of the tracks. Her father, were he here now, would probably have a whole lot to say about how this was right, how she had a bright future ahead and Dean didn't. He'd say that she was going to Julliard or Harvard some day, while Dean likely only had life as a gas attendant or jail to look forward to. She'd told herself that enough times to keep her gaze from lingering on his broad shoulders or plush, kissable lips.

But it would be wrong. It would be wrong to just leave him here to face an angry gang of racist assholes just because he had a crush on her, but she was so scared she thought she might pee herself. Besides, there were five skinheads, and Angela, Neil, and Dean added to Kim and Holly made it at least equal numbers, if not equal odds. If they didn't put up some kind of resistance Dean would probably get beaten or stabbed to death.

"No, they won't," Dean's friend (Angela, Kim thought her name was; Dean had called her Angela) spoke, her voice breaking through her frantic thoughts, grim and certain and proud in ways Kim didn't understand.

She was about to protest when she caught part of the conversation between the neo-Nazi swarm and the resident Knight in Shining Armour.

"So this is how you get your kicks?" Dean was taunting. "Pickin' on girls half your age and half your size? Wow. They sure make 'em brave where you come from."

Several of the skinheads retorted at once, an angry cacophony of insults that blurred together in the fading daylight. The freaky-looking guy with the tattoo on his neck stepped forward and snarled something about Dean being a faggot chink-lover, his fists clenching with angry, restless energy. The guy was clearly bruising for a fight, anticipation and adrenaline etched in every tight line of his massive frame.

But Dean was completely relaxed, or he appeared so from where Kim stood. He stood at ease, his head tipping back with a chuckle as he offered up another taunt.

"Dude, make up your mind," he laughed. "Either I'm fudge-packin' or I'm hot for the Asian chick. It don't work both ways."

And here he tossed his head back for a casual glance in their direction, broad smile faltering when he saw that his friends had halted their retreat. His gaze darkened, brow furrowing only momentarily before he turned the charm up a notch, his grin returning to face the prowling skinheads once again.

"I'll give you a hint, though, guys: I'm a sucker for a pretty face."

"You've made a big mistake," the one with the tattoo growled. "We're gonna bust that pretty face of yours, and then we're gonna start on your slant-eyed girlfriend!"

Upon hearing those words, Kim's instincts instantly shouted at her to run. Runrunrunrun run away from the angry Chinese-hating guys who wanted to hurt her. Dean the good-hearted moronic pretty boy was buying time for her escape and she was just standing there gawking when she should be running, when she should be finding a phone and calling the police, when she should be doing anything but just standing there waiting to get beat up or raped or…

"Go home, Kim," Angela said as she grabbed Kim's shoulder to turn her around. "Dean'll be fine. He can take care of himself."

Kim wanted to tell the four-eyed geek to keep her hands to herself and to stop being so damned bossy. Holly was looking at her all big-eyed and hopeful, pleading without saying a word to just go, make their escape. And part of Kim was sorely tempted to do so, just take her new best friend's hand and run, leaving Dean's rag-tag group of losers to deal with this horror show on their own. But at the same time, it was insulting and humiliating to be ushered off like some kind of damsel in distress, like she was some kind of coward, like she couldn't face this like the rest of them could. Yes, she was short, and yes, she was the one the skinheads wanted, but if they thought she was somehow less capable of dealing with this than they were, they were all sadly mistaken.

She didn't have time to retort, though, because everything kind of unraveled all at once as the testosterone bubbling and boiling not far away reached maximum temperature and the fighting started.

It wasn't like in the movies. It wasn't coordinated with perfectly-timed close-ups and sound effects and cut-to's of knuckles cracking jaws or anything like that. The sound of flesh hitting flesh didn't crack like pool balls at high velocity; punches didn't snap like branches on trees. And the bad guys didn't take their turn in a choreographed fight that left the hero displaying his prowess one ass-kicking at a time.

No. The skinheads swarmed Dean in a cowardly display of mob brutality. The guy with the tattoo grinned like a wolf and got off the first shot, an angry-looking punch that looked strong enough to fell an ancient sequoia. And Dean just… ducked. He dodged and wove and slipped right out from underneath them so fast Kim was sure the skinheads were punching each other in their lust for blood. Then he struck out with a viper-strike fast punch and one of the tank-sized men went down.

Someone snagged his arm from behind and Dean spun, cracking the guy in the throat with his free elbow so hard Kim heard the man gag. Then without missing a beat Dean lashed out with a side kick that caught one of the skinnier skinheads in the gut.

It was over in minutes. Dean fought with brutal efficiency, his punches so hard and fast they cracked against flesh in silent strikes that ought to have been thunderous. He took them all down, kicking and lashing and head butting when they got too close, when they boxed him in or grabbed him to hold him still. He was like a ninja out there, all lethal grace and fluidity, and Kim found she had to hold her breath as she watched him dance.

She'd heard a rumour about Dean not long after she started at Albright. Everyone said he was a hot shot bullshitter with an ego the size of Texas, that he bragged about taking on some mugger one-handed while his arm was busted up in a cast or something.

Looked like it wasn't so much a rumour as unbelievably, dizzyingly true. Because if her eyes weren't deceiving her – and she was pretty sure they weren't – she'd just witnessed him take on five guys at once (some of whom were much bigger than he was) and emerge victorious. She didn't doubt now that he could take on a mugger blindfolded with one arm tied behind his back.

He was… he was as terrifying as he was beautiful to watch. Like forged steel still hot from the smithy.

When the last of his opponents stilled, Dean straightened, sniffing and swiping a trickle of blood from his nose with the back of his hand before addressing them.

"You come near any of my friends again, I'll kill you," he promised them. "I won't bother with the cops or restraining orders or any dumb shit like that. I'll hunt you down one by one and cut your goddamned balls off. You got me?"

Kim couldn't hear from her vantage point if any of them replied, but Dean seemed satisfied by whatever groaning or moaning met his ears. He turned on a heel to rejoin his waiting friends but then thought better of it, pausing and turning his head to face the downed skinheads once again.

"And if I hear about any race-related hate crime bullshit, I'll know who to blame."

Then he broke into a quick jog to meet up with his own gang. When he got close enough that he could see his friends' waiting expressions, Dean's clouded face brightened like the sun, his grin so big Kim felt her stomach do a funny little flutter. That wasn't anything new, but it was unexpected, given the circumstances. She felt… strange. Like her skin was too tight. And Dean… He was so beautiful, so vibrant, so pure and righteous, like a warrior of God or defender of defenseless damsels.

"Hey!" he called out, grinning from ear to ear like the cat that ate the canary.

"I… wow!" Kim heard Holly stutter out in wonder. "You just…"

"You just kicked ass!" the tall chubby guy exclaimed in proud awe. "Dean… You're like… like Michael Keaton Batman!"

Dean positively preened under the attention, feigning a nonchalant shrug even though his eyes practically glowed green, so bright and so pretty with those long lashes.

"We should go," Angela cut in absently, her voice sounding kind of hollow and far away. "In case someone else comes."

Dean's head pulled back, his eyes scrutinizing as he watched his friend, taking his time, probably, as he tried to read her expression through those ridiculously thick glasses. (Kim was still trying to figure out how those two were even friends, what with Angela being such an ugly nerd and Dean being irresistibly pretty and buff and probably dumb as a post.) Then his eyes narrowed in suspicion and something flashed behind them before the grin was back in full force, his good mood unshaken by whatever vibes he was getting off Angela.

"You mind if we walk these ladies home?" he said before casting a wink at Kim and Holly, smug and cool and so sure of himself.

Kim's knees were turning to jelly.

Angela held still a moment, the tall guy next to her watching with a face sad with sympathy, before she pulled up a smile that looked carved out of wood.

"Sure," she said, all lightness and air in spite of the sparks crackling all around her. "Though I don't know why you're bothering bringing us along. It's pretty hard to woo the damsel when you've got an audience. Not that that's ever stopped you from trying…"

Yeah, Kim really didn't like Angela What's-her-face.

If Dean was putt off at all by his friend's jab, he didn't show it.

"Just figured we'd better stick together," he said. "In case they decide to follow the stragglers home?"

"I was gonna say the same thing, actually," tall chubby guy said.

The skinheads were slinking away, back to wherever they came from, it appeared, licking their wounds and sulking with their tails between their legs. But Kim sure didn't want to take any chances. Sticking together for the walk home sounded like a fantastic idea, in her mind.

"Right," Angela replied, shoulders tense. "Right."

They started towards Holly's house first, with Holly giving directions while everyone else trudged silently along. Kim felt she should say something, but the tension among the group was tight and weird. And she felt weird. And conflicted. And warm.

Angela was pissed and possibly sulking – which Kim didn't get at all. She'd been the one, after all, insisting that Dean could handle himself. She'd been the one with her gigantic eyes looking so fierce and proud as she assured them all that Dean knew what he was doing. She was the one that pretty much lead the group in Dean's stead: she lead them away and they followed; she stopped to stand by her friend, and they stopped and stood by with her. So what the hell was her problem?

"You mad at me?" she heard Dean ask quietly, and peeked over her shoulder to see him nudge the brooding geek with his hip. "Come on, Ange! What was I supposed to do, huh?"

"I'm not mad," Angela insisted. Though she clearly was.

"Then what?" Dean prodded.

Kim returned her gaze front and centre but left her ears trained on the conversation behind. Their foot scuffs were loud and crunchy in the dry Arizona earth, gravel scraping against worn soles where dirt collected at the edge of the street.

"Nothing," Angela stubbornly insisted.

"Awww," Dean drawled, and Kim grinned at the smile she could hear in his voice. "You were worried about me, huh? That's real sweet, Ange. Real sweet."

Then he yelped with an exaggerated 'Ow!' that suggested Angela had just hit him, and chuckled to himself. "All right! All right!" he surrendered, and the conversation fell after that.

They walked in silence for a few more minutes before Kim heard the crunch-crunch of footfalls jogging closer to her, turning her head fractionally to see Dean stepping up to her side to peer down at her intently, his eyes both bright and soft in the fading light.

"You okay?" he asked.

His freckles looked like flecks of gold in the light, like he'd been kissed all over by the sun – which was supremely unfair because freckles were imperfections and were not supposed to look so… edible.

Oh God!

"I'm fine," Kim insisted firmly. Then, clearing her throat, softened. "I'm fine. Thank you."

And she meant it.

If it hadn't been for him, Kim didn't know what would have happened today. She and Holly could have been seriously hurt, and probably would have been. Five guys against two girls were really bad odds, but Dean had been there and had fought the monsters away. He'd done that – for her – without Kim even asking. He'd saved her.

"Thank you," she repeated, looking up to meet his eye. "I know I haven't always been that nice to you… but, I really appreciate –"

"Don't worry about it," he shrugged. "I woulda done it even if you weren't the prettiest girl in school."

He grinned crookedly at that, mischievous and sheepish at the same time. Kim kinda wanted to kiss him.

If this were the movies, he'd have stormed over in a billow of steam with his shirt ripped open at the front and his hair ruffling in the wind, and their friends would have melted into the background while Kim and Dean came together and embraced for a passionate, curtain-closing kiss because Kim realized her deep and unrecognized love for Dean in the moment that he saved her.

But there was no kissing. There were no declarations of love, neither internal or external. The stars didn't align and the angels didn't sing.

But Kim did take his large hand in his, wordlessly twining their fingers together, and gave him an encouraging smile. Her parents were going to kill her. But she really wanted to kiss him.


End Notes: Runs and hides!