It's Ohio, some corporate suburban town, and Dean stays the night in an industrial-sized Wal-Mart parking lot. He's out of painkillers and so he drinks a flask of whiskey, smokes two cigarettes, and then passes out in the front seat of his car, knee jammed up on the wheel, fucked-up right arm pulled snug against his chest.
He falls asleep to the hum of the dim parking lot lights, the whoosh of cars on a distant highway, the hiss of September wind, falls asleep to the steady thump of his own heart: noises that churn together 'til really they're nothing but an empty, blanketing silence.
It is not silent when he wakes up.
"What the fuck?" he slurs, scrambling to sit up straight, and the little girl in the back seat freezes, fixes him with huge, frightened eyes, then renews her desperate scrabble with the door.
"Woah," Dean says, "hey, what the – hey, slow down, huh?"
She doesn't, and Dean squinches his eyes shut and then opens them wide, trying to fight through his hangover and the bright morning sun to figure out if there's any reason for a kid to be in the Impala, but he already knows that the answer is a resounding no.
"Christo," he tries, but the little girl just lets out a miserable squeak and bangs ineffectually at the window, tugs uselessly at the door handle, blue eyes huge and dark pigtails bouncing. It's more frightening than any demon.
"I didn't mean to," she whimpers, more to herself than to Dean, "I thought it was empty, I didn't mean to."
"Didn't mean to do what?" Dean asks, and he twists around in his seat so he can see her better, ignores the flash of sharp pain from his shoulder. "Listen, calm down, I'm not gonna hurt you, okay? I'm just kinda wondering what you're doing in my car. Could you quit that for a second and talk to me?"
"I'm sorry," the little girl says, and the only warning Dean has is the minute tremble of her mouth before she flings herself back against the seat and bursts into tears. "I'm sucky at this!"
"Sucky at what?" Dean asks, trying to figure out if she's even old enough to say sucky.
Oh for the love of –
"Okay," Dean says, because this is moving just a little too fast for him. "You're running away. In my car?"
"I didn't know you were in it!" the girl explodes, and levels a glare at him that really shouldn't be frightening, considering its freckled, pigtailed source, but it is. "You should lock your stupid doors!"
"I did lock my stupid doors," Dean says indignantly, but christ, did he? He was wiped out last night, fresh off a spat with a pretty nasty poltergeist, and he just wanted to get drunk and fall asleep, just wanted his fractured wrist and dislocated shoulder and chattering head to shut the fuck up for five freaking seconds. He was distracted. And retarded, apparently.
Except – she's struggling with the door because it is locked, which means she got into the car through locked doors, which means she's got powers, which mean she's evil, which means –
"The door is locked!" Dean says triumphantly, good hand going to the back of his jeans, feeling for his gun. "See, the door is locked, so –"
"I locked it before I went to sleep, but I can't get it unlocked," the little girl wails, and breaks into a fresh wave of tears. "If you're gonna kill me just do it."
"What?" Dean says. "I'm not gonna – christ, I'm not gonna kill you." Unless she turns out to be something other than a curly-haired little girl, that is. Then, well, yeah, he's gonna kill her.
"Susan says men in cars want to kill you," the kid sniffles. "I hate Susan."
"Susan—" Dean shakes his head, rubs his shoulder and tries to remember how to problem-solve. What he should do is just reach around back and un-jam the tricky lock, let her loose. But if she's telling the truth, and she really was trying to run away… well, fuck, he can't just let her go – her parents are probably freaking out somewhere, ripping the house apart looking for her, and it's not exactly safe out there for a human this fuckin' small.
"Listen," he says, wishing for a cigarette, but he can't, not with this kid right here. "Listen, let's start over, huh? Okay?"
She says nothing.
"All right." He takes a deep breath, then tries out a smile. "My name is Dean, I'm twenty-four, and this is my awesome car."
He waits, but she just stares at him, eyes watering silently.
"Your turn," he prompts.
"I can't tell you my name," the girl says immediately. "You're a stranger."
"No, I'm not," Dean says, like it's ridiculous of her to even suggest it. "I'm Dean. You're the stranger."
She ponders that for a moment, lower lip tucked firmly beneath her one front tooth, and seems to come to a decision.
"Callie," she says finally, extending one tiny hand. "I'm six. Pleased to meet you."
Dean blinks, then twists uncomfortably around in the front seat so he can take her little fingers in his good hand. "Nice to meet you," he echoes automatically.
"Can you let me go now?" Callie asks, a bit hopelessly. "Sorry I'm in your car, I didn't know it was yours, 'cause it was dark and I thought it was empty, and also," this in an accusatory tone, "you don't snore. If you were snoring I would have seen you and also you didn't lock the doors which is dumb. My daddy snores and he locks the doors."
"Your dad sounds like a smart guy."
"He's a brain doctor."
"Woah," Dean says, suitably impressed. "What's hisname?"
"What's his last name?"
Callie opens her mouth to answer and Dean cheers inwardly, but then her eyebrows shoot together and she eyes him suspiciously. "I'm not telling. 'Cause you're gonna call him and he'll come get me and I am running away."
Dammit. Dean can't figure out if six year-olds are normally this quick. He tries to remember Sam at this age, but Sam was operating at the level of a forty year-old woman by the time he was five, so he's not exactly the most accurate measure of what kids are supposed to be like. Plus it's a bad idea to think about Sam.
"Are you kidnapping me?" Callie asks, when Dean hasn't said anything for a few moments.
"What? No. Hell – heck no. You're the one who climbed in here, remember?"
"Okay, well, I can't open the door, so can you please?"
Dean wants to. He really, really wants to. "I don't know if that's a good idea. It's… it's cold outside." It's not, actually. It's warm for October, and he's sweating in his leather jacket.
Callie rolls her eyes dramatically and folds her arms. "So are you babysitting me?"
"Yahtzee," Dean says, relieved, leverages a finger at her. "Exactly."
"When I have babysitters we get pizza," Callie tells him.
Dean can't help but grin, and he takes a look at his watch. Nine a.m. A little early for pizza, but he's hungry too, and he can't just not feed this kid.
What he should do is take her straight to the nearest police station, but he's not sure how to do that without, y'know, going to a police station – he's been trying to lay low since he got arrested three days ago for grave desecration, and waltzing up to a bunch of officers with a missing little girl in tow isn't exactly laying low. He could call them and arrange a drop-off point and then hightail it, but that doesn't seem like such a hot idea, either, and he feels like it'd be kind of traumatic for the kid… and besides, since when does Dean Winchester need the fuckin' cops? He can handle this.
"Tell you what," he says, smacks the passenger seat next to him. "How 'bout you come up here and we'll go get something to eat?" She can't live far from the Wal-Mart, since she clearly walked here – maybe someone will recognize her at the Denny's he saw down the street.
"My daddy doesn't let me ride in the front," Callie says, but she's scrambling over the seat nonetheless, a graceless tumble of little-girl limbs, and Dean can't help the grunt that escapes as he gets a sharp, tiny elbow to his bad shoulder.
"Is that why you ran away?" Dean asks, wincing as he reaches for his keys. "'Cause your dad won't let you ride in front?"
"No," Callie says, mouth turning down at the corners. "He doesn't care anymore anyway. What happened to your arm?"
Dean looks down at his wrist, immobilized in a stained beige splint that he's had since he put his fist through a wall a year and a half ago, and he tries to think of a more childproof explanation than A poltergeist threw me through a window.
"I fell out of a tree," is what he comes up with.
Callie nods understandingly, busy buckling herself in. "That was dumb."
"Yeah," Dean says, feels himself smile a little. "It was. Bet your dad doesn't like it when you climb trees, huh?"
Callie settles back against the seat, tugs the seatbelt under her armpit so it's not criss-crossing her neck. "He doesn't care anymore," she repeats tonelessly.
Dean starts the engine, one-handedly guides the car out of the parking lot. "I bet that's not true."
"It is true."
"Well, what about your mom?"
"She's dead. She's always been dead."
Dean's heart gives a funny thump at that, and he slides a glance to where Callie's staring out the front window, purple-sweatshirted arms crossed, feet kicking against the dashboard.
"Sorry," he says.
"Susan is not my mom," Callie tells him, and his tired brain has to scramble a little at the non-sequitor.
"She's not your mom. So who is she?"
"She's just married. To my dad."
"Ah," Dean says, beginning to piece things together, and wow, this is really not anything he's equipped to deal with. Goddamn he could use a smoke, but he doesn't want to return this kid to her parents smelling like cigarettes, and besides, second-hand smoke kills babies and pets; he just read an article about it yesterday. "So, uh, you ran away because you don't like Susan?"
Callie doesn't answer, just scowls down at her knees.
Dean sighs, shifts his attention to the road, feels lost in the utter ridiculousness of the situation. He thinks about what Sam would say if he saw Dean here, tongue-tied and awkward next to some snot-nosed six year-old girl with daddy issues, thinks how his brother would laugh and laugh. It's a good thing Sam's not here.
"What's this?" Callie asks, and Dean looks over to see her holding the empty flask of Jack that he'd polished off last night.
"Put that down," he says quickly, and if he could raise his right arm more than four inches off his lap, he'd bat it out of her hand, but all he can do is jut his chin vigorously. "Toss it in back, it's nothing."
She looks doubtful but drops it into the backseat, and the clatter of glass on glass rings out. Callie giggles, delighted by the sound for some unfathomable, little-girl reason, but Dean winces and makes a mental note to clean the car before he meets up with his father this Thursday. Besides the embarrassing collection of bottles on the floor, the Impala's ashtray is brimming over and fast-food wrappers are everywhere, not to mention the pile of bloody clothes shoved under the front seat.
It's been a long fucking time since Dean's let things get this bad, but somehow over the past month he's just let shit build up. He's not usually alone for this long, for one thing, and he's had a run of particularly brutal hunts, so he's always been too exhausted or beat-up to clear out the crap that naturally accumulates when he's on the road.
Now, though, with a girl in the car, he's a little embarrassed. Not that Callie seems to give a shit – she's found one of his cassette tapes and is unfolding the liner notes from inside, studying the goo-like red design on the front of Metallica's Load. Dean decides it'd be inappropriate to tell her it's a photo of semen mixed with cow blood.
"You like music?" Dean asks.
"No," Callie says placidly.
All right, then.
The Denny's sign appears around the curve of the road, and Dean grins with relief. He hadn't given much thought to it, but he guesses this is probably the most he's talked to another person since he and John parted ways in Georgia a month back, and he's a little out of practice. He's gotta figure out some way of weasling her parent's last names out of her, or her address, but he's not sure exactly how.
"This isn't pizza," Callie says as they pull into the restaurant parking lot, disappointment clear in her voice.
"It's too early for pizza," Dean says. "Pizza is lunch food. C'mon, don't you like pancakes?"
"I like waffles."
"They got waffles here. They totally got waffles. You want waffles?"
"Yeah," Callie says, and grins for the first time, dimples splitting her cheeks. Dean looks away.
It takes him a couple moments to unwind himself from the front seat, whiskey-filled head pounding in time with his arm as he stands, but Callie bounces out of the car easily. For a wild second he's afraid that she's going to try and bolt, and Dean, in no condition to run after her, will have to call the cops after all – but instead she comes around the front of the Impala and waits with him as the white-hot pain of his shoulder dies down and his head stops swimming.
It hits him hard, for some reason, her instant trust in him. The way she sighs a little and steps closer, leans against the Impala instead of booking it like Dean probably would if he were in her shoes. He's a dangerous man, for chrissakes: got a car full of trash and a gun in the back of his pants and no less than four knives strapped on various parts of his body. He could hurt her. Who the hell is this dad of hers, anyway? Some brain surgeon that can't keep track of his own kid?
Dean sucks in a breath, pushes down the irrational rage he feels towards Callie's parents and instead gives her head a gentle tap.
"Hey, you ready for waffles?"
Denny's isn't crowded, and no one spares Callie and him a second glance as they head towards a booth in the back. Dean watches, waits for a flicker of recognition in someone's eye, but he gets nothing.
"You ever been here before?" Dean asks.
"No," Callie says, and any hope he had of pawning her off on a familiar face is dashed.
They slide into a booth and Dean leans back, re-settles his arm across his chest, wrist brace knocking into his sternum. He should probably be wearing a sling for the shoulder, but he hasn't had time to stop and find one. And besides, he doesn't want to show up to meet John looking like a fuckin' mess, looking like he can't handle himself alone – because he can, he just had a string of shitty luck, is all.
The waitress comes over and Dean gets a cup of coffee for himself and a glass of orange juice for Callie, and it's off-putting, the way the woman's face softens as she looks from him to the kid across from him, probably figures they're father and daughter. Dean's never been mistaken for anyone's father, before.
"So," Dean says, blowing across the top of his mug and taking a grateful swig, "your dad's name is Fred, huh?"
"It's a stupid name," Callie mutters, dunking her finger in her orange juice to fish out the lone bit of floating pulp.
Dean can't argue with that, so he takes another sip of coffee.
Callie wipes the pulp on the tabletop and scowls down at the orange smear. "That's what they're gonna call it if it's a boy."
"Huh?" Dean says, then, "Oh. Oh." He puts down his mug, cocks his head so he can look the kid in the eye a little better. "Dude, are you tellin' me you're gonna be a big sister?"
"No, because hello, I ran away."
"Uh, hate to break it to you," Dean says. "But that's not gonna change anything."
"I mean, that baby's gonna be born whether you're there or not, you know? And if it's born, then you're its big sister. End of story."
Callie purses her lips, furrows her brows. "No," she says, but she sounds unsure.
"What, don't you want a little brother?"
"It might be a girl. Because Susan doesn't want to know but she says maybe."
"Okay, so a little sister. You don't want a little sister?"
"No," Callie says. "I don't know why they want a stupid baby. It's just gonna cry and poop everywhere and be really gross and then it's gonna grow up and be six and I'm already six and I was already a baby so it's just dumb."
"Well," Dean says, mentally dissecting her words, trying to figure out the root of the issue. "It's not gonna be you when it's six. It's gonna be a different person."
"Why do they want a different person?" Callie asks, and Dean watches in horror as her eyes fill suddenly with tears, trembling on the edges of her eyelashes.
"Hey," he says, panicked, "hey, no. Shit. I mean, crap. No, Callie, they don't want to – they don't want to replace you. They just want – I mean, hey, do you like cupcakes?"
"What?" Callie sniffles, confused, and Dean's maybe just as lost as she is, but he plows onward.
"You like cupcakes, right?"
"Yeah. Vanilla ones."
"Okay, vanilla cupcakes!"
"With chocolate frosting."
"Absolutely. Hell yes. So, let's say you have a vanilla cupcake – with no frosting. It still tastes good, right?"
"Right?" Callie says, doubtfully. "Except but the frosting."
"I'm gettin' there. So you have a vanilla cupcake without frosting, and it's awesome – it's totally awesome. But then you add the frosting, and it's even more awesome. Am I right?"
"Yeah, well, also there can be sprinkles…"
"Hang on, let's just stick with the cupcake for now." Dean scrunches up his nose, tries to remember where he's going with this. "Now let's say you just have the chocolate frosting. Like, you're eating chocolate frosting with a spoon. And it's good, right?"
"Yes, but the cupcake –"
"That's exactly what I'm talking about," Dean says, pointing a finger at her. "You got it. Because the frosting is delicious by itself, and the cupcake is delicious by itself – but you put them together, and it's just, like, it's just amazing. Right?"
"Well, it is. It's the greatest dessert ever, besides pie. So Callie – you're the cupcake here. You're this badass little mini-cake, and your parents love you. You're awesome. And your little brother, or little sister, or whoever – they're the frosting. And they wouldn't be anything without you, because you can't have frosting with no cupcake, right? It's just not possible."
Callie giggles suddenly, despite the tears tracking down her cheeks. "You're weird."
"Yeah," Dean says, huffs a rueful laugh and digs the heel of his good hand into his eye. "Yeah, okay. But you see what I mean?"
Callie doesn't say anything for a moment, and Dean can tell she's actually thinking about it, which freaks him out enough that he backtracks through his words to see if they make any real sense. This shit is harder than taking down a stark-raving werewolf with a Spork.
"I like cupcakes," Callie says finally, and Dean thinks maybe that means he won.
"So listen," he says, trying to look as serious as possible. "Think about what'll happen if you don't go home. This baby's just going to be frosting forever and ever. And frosting's okay, but your parents – think how much they're going to be wishing they had a cupcake."
"Probably a lot."
"Probably a lot," Dean agrees. "And besides your parents, dude, this baby is gonna need you. Think about all the cool stuff you know how to do. I bet you know how to do lots of cool stuff."
"I can make necklaces and also I can do Legos," Callie says thoughtfully. "And I'm the best speller in my class. P-i-c-n-i-c. Picnic. That's the hardest one."
"That is hard. So how's this baby ever going to learn to spell if you're not around to teach it?"
"Well – it'll go to school I think, and –"
"Okay, but it's not going to love its teachers. It's gonna love you."
"Are you kidding? You're gonna be its big sister. You won't believe how much it's gonna love you."
"A lot," Callie says, tilting her head decisively. "It's gonna love me a lot."
"And believe it or not, you're gonna love it, too."
"You are," Dean says, suddenly exhausted for no good reason. "You're gonna love this baby so much it's gonna kill you sometimes."
She looks a little taken aback at that, and Dean realizes belatedly that he forgot to put on the kid-filter, but he's saved by the arrival of waffles.
"Here you go, honey," the waitress says, and Callie's eyes light up as a steaming, whipped cream-covered waffle is set in front of her.
"This would be better with chocolate frosting," Callie says, looks up at him uncertainly. "Right?"
"Yeah," Dean says, smiling a little, and even if she's got the logistics confused, he thinks she understood his point pretty well.
He eats his own breakfast slowly, awkwardly attempting to spear the scrambled eggs with his left hand, and his hangover recedes a little as he eats. And as his hangover recedes, it becomes more and more ludicrous that he took Callie out to breakfast instead of hauling her ass straight to the cops. Seriously, what was he thinking? She may have climbed into his car in the first place, but this, this is kidnapping. Straight and simple. And his arm is too fucked to struggle out of handcuffs, so if he gets caught, he's caught, end of story. He wonders if it's too early for her picture to be on the news, wonders if even now some concerned Denny's patron is phoning the police.
"So," he says eventually, mouth full of toast, "you think you'll let me take you home after this?"
"Yeah," Callie sighs, resigned. "I didn't even pack a sweater anyway."
Dean blurts a laugh at that, chases a crumb with the tines of his fork and grins to himself, can't really believe he succeeded in convincing her. His hunts have been going well, aside from the damage to his body, but he feels now, for the first time in a long time, that he's actually accomplished something, something tangible.
Then an awful thought occurs to him. "Hey, you know where you live, right?"
Luckily her father – or Susan, maybe – has drilled her address into her head, because she rattles it off with no problem.
"640 River Street," she says, and Dean can't believe his luck, because he remembers driving down that road last night and wondering where the fuck the river was and why street names always lie about that shit.
Callie only manages to eat about half her waffle, so Dean boxes up the second half, figures he'll have it for lunch later that day – he's low on funds, is trying to stretch whenever he can.
"Dean," Callie says, after he's paid the check and he's pushing open the heavy glass door for her. "Do you have a little sister?"
"Nah," Dean says, surprised into a chuckle. "Well, sometimes."
"No, nothin' – I have a little brother. He's pretty big now, though."
"Does he love you?"
Dean glances down at her, startled by the phrasing of the question, and his chest constricts. He doesn't know how to fucking answer that.
"Callie, you've got nothing to worry about," he says after a moment. "Your little – whatever – is gonna worship the ground you walk on." Until they don't.
Callie smiles, satisfied, tugs open the door of the Impala and clambers up onto the front seat.
Dean heads around to the driver's side and eases himself in, takes a moment to roll open a window and then finagle his cellphone out of his pocket.
"Hey, so what's your last name?"
When she tells him, Dean nearly dislocates his shoulder again trying not to laugh.
"Callie O'Malley," he repeats, wheezing a little.
"I know," she says, with long-suffering patience. "It rhymes."
Dean gets himself under control and calls the directory, asks for Fred O'Malley and then waits nervously as the phone rings, heart kicking up a butterfly beat against his ribs.
It rings twice and then someone snatches it up, a breathless male voice answers, "Hello?"
Dean passes the phone quickly to Callie.
"Hi, Daddy, I ran away," she says, and the other end of the phone explodes.
Caroline O'Malley you tell me where you are right this instant jesus christ I was out of my mind where the hell are you Callie I'm not mad but where the hell are you.
"I'm with Dean," Callie says after a moment, despite Dean's frantic head-shaking, and then there's another surge of noise.
"He's not a crazy person, he's a good guy, and he's taking me home right now."
Dean groans and starts the car, listens as Callie tries to soothe her father. It would be kind of funny, actually, how unhinged Fred is compared to the unruffled patience of his daughter, would be funny if it weren't for how acutely Dean feels his fear, and his relief.
Finally Callie hangs up the phone and puts it down on the dashboard.
"He's mad," she says, gnawing her lower lip. "Maybe we should eat more waffles."
"He's not mad," Dean promises. "He's gonna be so happy to see you, it's not gonna matter."
"He was scared," Callie says, half-proud, half-frightened.
"No shit," Dean says, winces. "I mean, no duh."
She sighs, leans back into the front seat. "Are you gonna come in and see my room?"
"Sorry, kiddo," Dean says, and he finds he doesn't have to fake the regret in his tone. "I've gotta get going. Gotta go see my dad."
"Oh." She puts a pigtail in her mouth to better digest the new information. "Is he scared, too?"
Dean laughs in answer, turns onto River Street, has to use his bad arm to make the sharp turn. He grimaces and thinks how much he hates towns like this: rows of identical beige houses, always too close, looking like they're jostling one another for room on the too-straight streets. He wishes Callie lived somewhere near a real river.
He eases up on the gas, looks up ahead to see the figure of a man standing in the middle of the street, palm flat against his forehead in deference to the weak October sun, waiting.
"That your dad?" he asks, though the answer is written in the tension of the man's body.
"Yeah," Callie says happily, starts unbuckling her seatbelt, and Dean pulls the car to a stop about fifty feet away, thinks it's probably better that the guy doesn't get a look at his license plate, just in case, because no matter the goodness of Dean's intentions people always seem to misinterpret them.
Her father spots the Impala, then, and he surges forward, head turned to shout something to someone on the sidewalk – a woman, very pregnant, and Dean sees her hands go to her mouth as she starts waddling towards them as fast as she can.
Callie tumbles out of the car and slams the door behind her, starts hustling towards her parents, and Dean puts the car into reverse, gritting his teeth against the twinge in his shoulder as he adjusts the clutch. He waits a moment before backing up, though, waits to see Callie fly into her father's arms, Susan puffing up behind them to bury her face in Callie's dark hair.
It's funny, Dean thinks, how quickly kids forget. Callie probably doesn't even remember he's there.
But even as the thought crosses his mind, she's wriggling out of her father's grasp, turning to Dean and gesturing animatedly.
That's when Dean sees the glint of a red moving slowly backwards down Callie's driveway. A red light on top of a car.
A fucking cop.
Dean tosses his head back and laughs, then throws Callie a wave out the open window and screeches backwards down the street. He's got a damn good headstart, and truth be told, he kind of wants an excuse to go as fast as possible. It's that kind of day, he thinks. Trees turning colors, sun warm even through the layer of clouds, and a misguided cop on his ass.
He hits the freeway going 90, doesn't slow down, the wind whistling through his open window, bad arm in his lap and his good hand loose around the wheel. In a half hour or so, he thinks, he'll pull over and finally get his nicotine fix, maybe finish the rest of Callie's waffle. She left a good-sized pile of whipped cream, so that's something to look forward to. Dean likes whipped cream.
He can't help but wish, though, that it were chocolate frosting.
He loves chocolate frosting.