Title: That Old Illusion of Free Will
Chapter: Twelve
Summary: AU Out of spite, Lucifer destroyed the angelic vessel lines one by one, save a lone vessel: Jimmy Novak. Ch.12 - The plan to deal with Meg is set in motion. Story complete.
Rating: T
Disclaimer: 'Supernatural' was created by Eric Kripke. No disrespect is intended.
Notes: This story, like so many I begin, was never intended to be as long as it ended up. Thank you for reading!

Jimmy's nervousness at meeting Jo's mother was displayed throughout the day in his distracted manner and anxious expression.

Only in my life, Jo thought, would a demon attack take second place to meeting my mother.

In an attempt to ease his jitters, Jo gave him the fast and dirty rules in dealing with Ellen Harvelle. "Don't show fear. Whatever you do, don't show any fear, because my mother will sniff it out and latch on to it."

"It's okay to be afraid of her," Dean commented. "I still am a little."

Jo shook her head, dismissing Dean's remark with a roll of her eyes. "Be respectful. A little bit of smartass is fine, but heaven help the man who sasses her." She pointed at Dean. "Don't be like him. Dean walks the line of sass."

"I'm utterly delightful." Dean crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe. "When do I ever sass?"

"Don't lie to her on anything. She has this detector built in to her that will let out a screeching noise in her head if you even try to lie. And then she'll pounce on you until you fold and tell her everything, pissing her off and leading to the last rule: don't piss her off."

Sam came into the kitchen. "Oh, come on, you two, quit scaring him." He looked at Jimmy. "If you be yourself, you'll be fine. There's nothing to be nervous about, Jimmy. Ellen wants what's best for Jo, like any parent would. Meeting her isn't a problem." He reached for his coat. "The only problem I see here is the fact that we have yet to discuss Meg in any way other than the fact that she was here. She'll be back, we all know that. The question is when and can we be prepared for her by then?"

Jo put her coat on. "Relax, Sam. I'm on it."

"You're on it," Dean asked, straightening. "You gonna share that with the rest of us?"

"Of course." She reached for her purse. "Why do you think Sam and Jimmy picked up so much salt this morning, and the paint and brushes?"

"Devil's trap?"

"To start with."


Jo grinned. "You'll just have to wait and see. Gabriel says Meg returned to her host and is making her way back here, and Cas is off keeping an eye on her progress. They think she'll be here about one or two tonight."

Dean's gaze was curious. "Cas stopped by again?"

"Only for a minute while Gabriel spelled him with Meg." It was Jimmy who answered, doing so as he put his coat on and reached for the car keys. "Did the whole conversation in my head bit so he didn't have to come too close. He'll follow her here, come down when it's certain she's coming after us tonight. I won't confront her. He will. We trap her, he sends her back."

"Well, as long as we have a plan."

Seeing her mother come down the escalator at the airport shredded Jo's resolve to be calm, cool, and adult every minute. She ran to Ellen, crying all the while, and cried a bit more on the ride home.

Home. How proud she was to be able to show her mother that she had a home! Jo gave her the grand tour, noting in an absent-minded way that Gabriel had done a bit more redecorating to accommodate extra guests. He'd put a bed in the empty bedroom for Ellen and a couch in the largely empty family room for Bobby.

"Your house is real nice, Jo."

"Thanks. I'm still in the decorating phase for a lot of it. It's just such a big house to me. Gabriel said Jimmy needed compensated for approximately what he'd lost and this house is about the same square footage I guess."

"You'll get used to it. Wait until you've got a couple kids running around. It won't feel so big then. You won't have a quiet place for years." Ellen laughed. "And decorating is an ongoing process. Trust me, you'll still be decorating a decade from now."

The baby's room made them both tear up again, Ellen setting the rocker into motion with one hand and picking up a stuffed bear to hold. "Got a name in mind?"

"Katherine is the main contender. We haven't really looked at any other names seriously." Their name debate always ended with Katherine.

"Katherine, huh? That's a good name. Katie or Kathy?"

"Jimmy likes Katie." She shrugged. "Either is fine with me."

"I'd like a granddaughter named Katie."

"You'll have one in a few months." Jo motioned to the hall. "I've got to hit the can again and then I should see if Jimmy needs help with dinner."

He didn't need help it turned out and soon they were seated and eating. Jo looked around their dining table and nearly cried a fourth time.

They were all her family and they were all here. She couldn't think of a better Christmas present. She swallowed hard past the lump of emotion in her throat and took a bite of stew.

After dinner, she excused herself to make sure the bed was ready when Ellen wanted to sleep. Gabriel had left sheets, blankets, and quilts on the end of the bed. She wondered why he'd left it for her to make instead of his usual trick of bringing it to being fully completed. She'd have to tease him about getting lazy later.

"Hey, Jo," Dean leaned against the doorframe to the second bedroom, peering in at her, "Sam and I'd like to get Jimmy a little something for Christmas. Feels strange not having a gift for anyone since it is Christmas eve. Why don't you get your coat and come help us pick out something?" His smile was charming. Behind him, Sam's expression innocent.

Too charming. Too innocent.

Jo paused in making up the double bed. She pursed her lips and set down the quilt she'd been unfolding. "Uh-huh. And leave Jimmy at the mercy of my mother's relentless questioning? She put you up to this?"

Sam came around Dean and to the end of the bed, snagging the quilt and laying it out on the bed. "Might as well get it over with, Jo. You know it's going to happen."

"No." She crossed her arms and shook her head. "He's been through enough. She can damn well talk to him with me there. Now, if you guys really want to get something for him, that's fine, but you're on your own picking it out. I'm staying right here."

Jo stomped out into the kitchen, and found her mother and husband already at the table, the questioning about to begin without her.

Ellen sat at the table across from Jimmy and Jo. Over dinner, the entire story of the demon attack had come out. It was one more thing they were going to have to discuss. She stayed silent until the door closed behind Dean and Bobby, who were going after a few more items before the rest of the stores closed. Sam was on his laptop, earbuds in his ears, not paying attention to them.

"When were you married?"

"August twenty-second."

"You have all the proper documents?"

"Of course. Would you like to see them now or later?"

"Later is fine. You have more pictures than those in your bedroom?"

"There's an album in the living room," Jo told her, sipping at a cup of decaf coffee, her brows raising.

"Wasn't talking to you, Jo. This is a conversation between myself and Jimmy." Ellen gestured between herself and Jimmy.

"The album is still there whether he tells you or I do."

Jimmy was a little flushed, but not much, just a bare hint of color to his cheeks. "It's on the lower shelf of the coffee table. Jo, why don't you go get it and bring it over? I think Ellen would like to see the pictures."

"Oh, I'm not leaving this table until we're done with this conversation."

She was protective of him. Good. It was a good sign. Also good was how he tried to keep her calm. Ellen found that, thus far, she was liking Jimmy Novak. He seemed to be a good match for her stubborn daughter. "Refresh my memory…. How far along are you, Jo?"

"Six months."

"I see. You were married in August, which means you were pregnant when you got married." She looked at Jimmy. He looked right back. There was no guilt in his eyes and she returned her gaze to Jo. "Joanna Beth, did you marry Jimmy because he knocked you up? The truth."

Jo's eyes opened very wide. "Mom!" She appeared shocked that Ellen would even suggest that.

"Ellen, no, please, it's not like that." Jimmy leaned forward and slightly angled across Jo, a movement that drew her eyes off of Jo and onto him. It wasn't calculated on his part, she could see that. Rather, it was instinctual.

Ellen could appreciate that movement, adding it to what she'd already gleaned from observation. "Then how is it?"

"We didn't know she was pregnant when we got married."

She sat back. They were holding hands under the table, just one more little thing that indicated that there really were feelings between them. The little things, the almost unconscious things, couldn't be faked no matter how hard people tried. They kissed when they thought no one was watching, gave each other familiar touches, and in general, behaved like the semi-newlyweds they were. "I see. You seduced her?"

"It was more of a mutual thing," he replied.

"I jumped him, okay, mom? Me. Your little girl. I jumped him."

Jimmy shook his head. "That's not entirely true, Jo. I was doing quite a bit of the jumping myself if you'll recall."

"Okay." Ellen reached for her own coffee and took a long drink, taking a second to process that before deciding to ignore that they'd told her that. "You love her?"

"Yes." Said with not one hesitation.

"You love him, Jo?"

"Yes." No hesitation there either.

"Well then. Welcome to the family, Jimmy." She relaxed a fraction, breathing an internal sigh of relief. It seemed Jo had exactly what Ellen had wanted for her all along: a good life outside of hunting. "Tell Castiel I want to talk to him later."

Jimmy put one arm around Jo. "I will."

She smiled at them. "So…. You two have a plan for that demon yet?"

The plan was a simple one really. They'd lay out salt lines and make it look like the lines had been unintentionally broken in a couple places, forcing Meg exactly where they wanted her. The Impala would be parked down the street far enough to be out of sight and Jimmy would drive their own car down by it, making Meg think Jo was alone. As soon as it was parked and locked, Castiel would join him and return to the house. Jo would be waiting for Meg - bait. The general consensus was that it was Jo Meg would go after for several reasons.

Jimmy was too protected by Castiel. Jo had managed to hurt Meg before Cas had stopped her last time, and she was pregnant. Meg was going to want to hurt her as much as possible.

They were setting a trap that hopefully Meg wouldn't think about: a devil's trap above and one below. Dean and Sam were on ladders painting the trap on the ceiling. As for the one below….

"Gabriel?" Jo called for him, knowing he was there somewhere. He'd be waiting and listening in. "Oh, Gabriel?"

"Yes, Jo?" He appeared. "Something I can do for you?"

"My most favorite, handsome, talented archangel?" She batted her eyelashes at him.

"I do like flattery, thank you."

"Do me a favor?"

"What would that be?"

"Sear a devil's trap onto the floorboards under the carpet?"

"Castiel could have done that for you at anytime. You do know he has that capability now, right?"

"Yes." She patted his arm. "But I didn't want you to feel left out."

He sighed and rolled his eyes. "How big do you want it?"

"The bigger the better."

Dean snickered from the top of the ladder, pausing in painting. "That's what she said."

Gabriel made a choking sound that was faintly reminiscent of laughter and snapped his fingers. "Done. Covers the full center of the room. It's about double what Dean's painting. Lines are solid, no breaks. If she manages to break it, I'll be surprised."

"Thank you."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Anything else?"

"Why, you got a hot date waiting?"

"No, but if you want Castiel here, ready to slip into Jimmy when the time is right, I should go spell him."

She caught his arm before he could disappear, looking up at him with gratitude. "Thank you for this."

He stepped over to the hallway, taking her with him and lowering his voice. "You'll be safe this time. No last minute rescue because you won't need rescuing. Castiel will be here the entire time and so will I as back-up. This demon…she can't hurt you or Jimmy."

"But everyone else can be hurt, right?"

There was an apology in his eyes. "Yes. You're the only ones we're to protect and for the obvious reason." He touched a finger to her stomach. "She invaded your home. You're only protecting it. Keep that in your mind as you wait for her to show up and you'll remain calm."

If things went south, there was the chance that Jo would lose those she considered her family again. She went through the afternoon watching the preparations and wanting nothing more than it all to be over with everyone safe and sound.

Having been the one to send Meg's host away, Castiel was logically the one to easily find her again. He'd done so and, save a brief conversation with Jo and Jimmy on what they were going to do about her, he'd stuck with Meg from high above, leaving Gabriel to protect the house.

When all of this was done, he and Gabriel should sit down with Jo and Ellen and talk with them. He suspected Ellen wasn't going to be forgiving him anytime soon, or forgiving Gabriel, but that was fine. They'd done what they'd had to for the greater good. Ellen's forgiveness was incidental and unnecessary. Neither Castiel nor Gabriel needed Ellen's forgiveness.

He followed the demon Meg, amazed at her persistence. Sam and Dean had known her a very long time now and each time they thought she'd been taken care of, she'd come back at them with a vengeance.

This time was going to be different, he vowed.

This time, he'd make sure Meg couldn't return for any of them.

With Meg reported as being still a ways away, Jimmy let Jo persuade him into going to bed for awhile. She told the others that they all might as well try to rest while they could, insisting she and Jimmy were going to rest only until about eleven. As soon as their door closed, it occurred to him that she hadn't meant sleeping. She was amorous in an almost desperate fashion and though he tried to get in the spirit of things, thoughts of Ellen in the next room able to hear them cooled his own libido fast.

"I can't." Jimmy rolled onto his back with a frustrated sigh.

Jo raised up onto one elbow, her hand on his chest, fingers drawing tiny imaginary circles slowly down him. "What do you mean you can't?"

"It's going to sound silly."

"Tell me."

"Your mom's in the next room. I can't."

Her smile was amused. "Jimmy, sweetheart, I'm pregnant and we're married. I think she already knows we have sex." Her hand slipped lower and she leaned over, pressing her lips to his side and kissing a slow path over his skin.

"No, I know she knows."

"And I'm pretty sure they all realize what I wanted to do with you in here. In fact, if there was a willing woman giving Dean the eye, he'd probably be giving her the old college go in the other bedroom."

"I know, I know, I just keep getting this mental picture of Ellen giving me a disapproving stare."

"When did she give you a disapproving stare?"

Sliding a hand along her back, he shook his head. "She didn't, but I keep imagining it anyway."

Jo pulled away, and moved to turn on the light. "Will you relax," she asked, returning to his side and settling against him. "She likes you. In fact, I think she likes you better than she likes any guy I've ever dated."

"She said she likes me?"

"She did. While you guys were all out back working on the perimeter. She likes you. It's Castiel she's pissed with."

While he felt better about Ellen in the next room, Jo's amorous impulses had gone as quickly as they'd reared up. She laid back against him, this time with her head on his shoulder, her stomach pressed to his side. "Do you think we'll get her," he asked.

"We have to," Jo replied with a sigh.

They laid quietly together, dozing until Sam knocked on their door and told them Meg was coming and they needed to be in the other room sooner rather than later.

While Meg hated that Castiel had sent her host hours away, she was relieved to have escaped him. The touch of his palm would end her here on earth and she couldn't allow that to happen. Perhaps she'd have to settle for returning that bitch Jo back to death instead of the playtime with Jimmy that she'd wanted.

Jo would be easier to catch alone than Jimmy. She was slower due to her pregnancy, that baby changing how she could fight. Her stomach would be vulnerable….

Meg paused, remembering a flash of herself from a very long time ago, pregnant and semi-vulnerable to the hunters that had come after her and the rest of her family. They'd called her names, tied her up, and made her watch as they'd killed her father and brother. When they were done with them, they'd released her and made a game of chasing her down in the woods. All of her knowledge hadn't helped her right then and she'd died in those woods.

It was fitting, then, that she dispatch a pregnant hunter.

Rage at what had been done to her that very long time ago slid through her in a hot rush. She'd almost forgotten how she'd ended up dead and in hell the first time.

She turned her thoughts back to Castiel.

Too bad he was back at full power and back to being the innocent, righteous creature she couldn't corrupt. She'd halfway hoped he'd stayed broken after Lucifer was gone. She would have liked to break him the rest of the way and witness that remaining light inside him become cloudy gray and slowly seep to black as the fullness of human sins covered him over. She would have liked to turn him into a companion for herself and teach him how to wallow in the freedom of chaos.

There was a faint, almost nostalgic twinge inside her for how well he'd played her in that ring of holy fire. He'd learned deception well, used both it and her desire for him against her. Would he have kept that learned behavior in him? Or had it been sloughed off when his powers returned to normal levels?

Oh, the things she could have taught him! The things she'd known as a human were paltry in sum compared to the things she knew now. She would have liked to see him wallowing in lust and gluttony, enjoying things he'd never thought he'd ever do.

She watched the house, watched Jimmy and Jo through the front window. They paced back and forth, but then Jimmy kissed her.

The garage door went up.

"Stay in the house," she heard him say, voice muffled. A moment later, the car drove off and the garage door closed.

Jo was alone.

Meg watched her a moment longer through the window, then smiled as she approached the house. She'd kill Jo again, and the child. If the chance arose, she'd kill Jimmy as well. She searched for an opening she could get through, pleased to find that there was indeed an opening that she could make wider.

She went inside the house.

Jo was there in the living room, turning with a gasp and backing up. "Meg."

"That was very naughty of Jimmy to call on Castiel to keep me from opening you up and seeing that baby. I'm very disappointed we couldn't do that earlier." She took a few slow, sauntering steps into the room, pleased when Jo continued to back away. "How about we do that now?"

Something moved to the left at the other end of the room, a man stepping into view. "How about we don't and say we did?"

Dean Winchester. She licked her lips. "Well, well. I should have known you'd still be sniffing around her." She gasped as if a sudden thought had occurred to her. "Is that baby in her really Jimmy's? Or is it yours? You've never been too picky who you bang, have you, Dean?"

"I don't do married chicks."

"That you know of." She looked carefully around, peering at the kitchen, then moving to the hallway and looking down it. She heard no one but them, saw no one else present. "Where's Sam? I saw Jimmy drive off." Meg walked back towards them, going a bit further this time, close enough to see the nervous pats Jo gave her stomach.

"Don't know. Haven't seen him."

"Liar. You lie enough to be one of us."

He stepped to Jo and grasped her arm, tugging her towards the back of the house.

Meg's brows rose and she made a reflexive glance up at the ceiling, laughing. Painted there, in a light color barely visible, was a devil's trap. If the room had been dark, she might not have seen it.

"How stupid do you think I am, that I'd fall for the old 'devil's trap on the ceiling' trick?"

Dean and Jo both stopped moving, Dean taking a few slow steps towards her and grinning. "You really want to know how stupid I think you are?"

"You're awfully brave when you think you're somehow protected from me, Dean. I'm going to rip you open and shred your insides while you watch. Or maybe I'll start with girlfriend there, save you for later."

"Okay." He shrugged. "But you might find that difficult since you just fell for the old 'devil's trap under the carpet' trick."

Amused smirk fading, Meg looked down at the floor in alarm. "Impossible. This is wall-to-wall. It hasn't been moved." Yet when she tried to step back, she couldn't. There was a definite boundary there. It was a strong one, too. "A trap wasn't here the other day." She felt the beginnings of panic, shooting a glare at Jo. "How did you do it?"

Jo stopped patting her belly and shrugged. "Oh, I know an archangel with a flair for decorating."

"I should have broken your neck when I had you pinned."

"Ahh, but you didn't, did you, Meg?" Jo tilted her head to one side. "I warned you not to touch my husband."

With an eye on the trap above, Meg circled the room, feeling out the boundaries that trapped her.

"Oooh…. You touched Jimmy, Meg?" Dean 'tsked'. "That's a big no-no." He looked at Jo. "Did she touch him in that special place?"

"She was planning on it and that pisses me off, because I'm the only one who gets to touch him there."

"Wonder what Jimmy had to say about that?"

"Jimmy said no." The voice, gruff and calm, was in her ear, a body behind her where there'd been no one a moment earlier. That voice belonged, not to Jimmy, but to Castiel, who could smite her with a touch.

Meg threw herself forward, out of his reach, falling to her knees in the middle of the upper trap, her circle of freedom shrinking. Get it together, she told herself. Get it together. Just say the spell you earned in hell and crack the ceiling…and the floor. But was the trap beneath her on the floor? Or was it somehow deeper, in the very earth itself? She'd have to break both and wasn't sure she had the strength to do that and escape Castiel.

"Hey, Meg. You know, I don't think I ever paid you back for that week we were closer than close." Sam stepped into view in front of her. For a brief second, she wondered if this was how he'd looked when Lucifer had gone into him: cool and cruel, his beautiful human features tight with anger and arrogance. Sam wasn't even worried. Neither, she realized, were Dean and Jo. They had the confidence that came from trapping a thing so fully that it couldn't ever escape.

That thing was her.

She was surrounded now. Dean, Jo, Castiel-Jimmy, Sam.

Two more people stepped into the room. Bobby Singer. Ellen Harvelle.

She moaned and whirled, looking at one, then another, searching for an opening, for some escape. There was none. "Go on, then," she yelled. "What are you waiting for?"

It was obvious what they were waiting for. They wanted to toy with her like she'd toyed with them, the satisfaction on that in all their eyes, even Castiel's.

She cursed her own stupidity and arrogance in not even thinking she'd be walking into a trap. It had been a very long time since Meg had been this stupid. Perhaps successfully eluding Lucifer had made her cocky.

Ellen crossed to Jo, mother and daughter embracing. An arm about each other, they began to speak the Latin exorcism, their gazes both triumphant and defiant.

"I'm glad my hounds ripped into you, Jo. My only regret is that I wasn't able to watch you die and drink in your pain and theirs."

Sam's voice joined theirs, then Bobby's.

She trembled, gripping the body she was in as tightly as possible. "I'll crawl back out, I swear I will! I've done it before and I'll do it again!" She writhed with pain.

Dean's voice joined theirs, growing louder in a crescendo and then…stopped.

Sneaker clad feet came into view by her face. She turned her head to look up at Castiel, glaring at him now. "You can send me to hell, but I'll make sure every demon there will know where they are. The word will travel. They'll never be safe. So if you think sending me back is the answer -"

Slowly he crouched and raised a hand. He snapped his fingers. "Tell me, Meg, what is it the demons will know?"

She swallowed hard, suddenly unable to recall where she was. What state? What town? That information was gone from her mind. "Bastard," she spat.

His small smile chilled her. "I'm far more now than I was the last time we met."

Her lower lip trembled.

That hand lashed out and the last thing Meg felt on earth was pain engulfing her essence, more than she'd ever felt when exorcised. It rolled over her and through her and became her. Latin, she thought, would have been preferable to being struck down by an angel.

And then she was in hell, where the agony never ended and all those she'd ever wronged converged upon her in glee.

Jo was shaking. Dean could see it and see Ellen tighten her arm around her. He moved closer, also embracing Jo and the two of them held her until she shifted and pulled away. He wanted to say something to her, to Cas, to all of them about finally beating Meg, but he had nothing to say that would convey the satisfaction he felt. He settled for a simple, "Good riddance."

"You said it," Jo replied, hugging herself.

"She won't be returning for a very long time," Castiel said, making the body disappear.

"We thought that before," Sam said, "and she managed to crawl up out of the pit."

Cas turned his gaze to Sam. "Do you trust me, Sam?"

"Of course."

"Then believe me when I say that she's gone." He came close, attention focusing onto Jo. "You need rest." Stretching out a hand, he tipped her chin up to study her face. "The past couple days have taken an emotional toll upon you. For the child's sake, you should rest immediately." Now he gave the room a sweeping glance. "I suggest all of you rest."

"Don't have to tell me, twice," Ellen said, touching Jo's arm. "Come on, sweetie, let's get you into something pretty and comfy before Cas leaves and Jimmy's back."

"Mom -"

"Please, Jo."

Dean saw emotion pass between the two and slowly, Jo nodded.

"Okay. I do feel ready to drop. The help would be appreciated."

Bobby headed for the family room, Sam after him and when Cas went to follow Ellen and Jo, Dean grabbed his arm. "Cas, wait."

"Jo needs her husband, Dean."

"This'll only take a sec."


"Is there anything you haven't told any of us? I mean anything important?"

"Like what?"

"Like all of that with Jimmy and Jo. Is it true? Will Jimmy stop being your vessel some day and have rest? Can you see it?" But it wasn't Jimmy and Jo he was really asking about. He desperately wanted to know if seeing the future for all of them was in his new and improved abilities. What was in store for him?

Castiel watched him, then nodded, voice hushed. "There will be an end to the suffering on this earth that you and they experience. It might not be soon, but it won't be forever."

He let Cas go and then it was Jimmy beside him, staggering and shaking his head before muttering a 'good night' and moving down the hallway towards the bedroom. Dean mulled upon Cas's words as he got ready for bed and as he lay in the dark. It was a comfort to know there would be an end. He'd honestly begun thinking he'd go on forever as he was.

Morning brought in invitation from Jo before he'd even drunk a full cup of coffee. She wanted them to stay another day and night, maintaining that it'd be impolite to leave before Christmas dinner. Her invitation was said in a coaxing tone that he was too tired to figure out. Having had Jimmy and Jo's cooking for a couple meals now, Dean was inclined to stay - if only for another home-cooked meal.

Gabriel had brunch ready for them, a consideration, he claimed, only because they'd been up to all hours. Plus, he'd cleaned the living room around Dean and Sam's slumbering forms and removed the salt from all over the house. He said he was taking off later for a week of sun, sand, and women and disappeared.

Brunch carried them through a leisured afternoon of tv, card games, and naps in Jo's case, while Jimmy worked on a complicated menu with Sam and Ellen's help. Dean relaxed in the recliner, eggnog in hand and a plate of cookies on his lap, watching 'A Christmas Story' with Bobby. It was such a feel-good movie that he couldn't help but grin like an idiot while he watched it. Gradually Sam and Ellen came in to join them, Ellen bringing a fresh platter of cookies and setting it on the coffee table. She pulled out the photo album from beneath the table and opened it, flipping through the pages and occasionally nudging Bobby to show him a picture.

The plot of the movie had just gotten to the restaurant dinner out, when the doorbell rang. He heard Jimmy answer it.

"Theresa, hi. I'd almost forgotten Jo invited you for dinner."

"Jo didn't forget. She called this morning to remind me to come and to bring…"

That voice was familiar. Where had he heard it before? Dean looked up and craned his neck back to look at the woman, Theresa. She was already disappearing through the doorway into the kitchen. He got up, made a lame excuse to Sam, Ellen, and Bobby about getting more eggnog, and went into the kitchen. She had her back to him and was handing a file folder to Jo.

"I brought that folder you requested. Now, what was that this morning about a friend you thought I should meet while I'm here?"

Dean cocked a brow at Jo, who at least had the decency to blush.

She swept a hand in his direction. "That would be the man behind you."

Theresa turned to face him.

He couldn't catch his breath, setting his cup down before he dropped it.

Theresa, obviously a friend of Jimmy and Jo's, was Risa, the Risa from the future that would never happen. She was more beautiful than he remembered, her dark hair pulled back and her only hint of make-up a bit of color on her lips.

She licked those lips. "You're staring. Have we already met?"

"A lifetime ago maybe."

Jo snorted as she opened the folder and looked at the contents. Jimmy looked over her shoulder.

"I doubt that. I'd remember you." The woman's gaze slipped down him and back up, warm, friendly, and a ton of flirtatious.

Closing the folder, Jo handed it to Jimmy, who set it to one side out of the way. "Dean, this is Theresa Merrin. She's the librarian I mentioned; who helps me with research. Theresa, this is Dean."

He took her hand in his. "I'm Dean, Dean Winchester." Theresa, huh? Yeah, he could see how Risa could come from 'Theresa'.

"Is that anything like 'Bond, James Bond'?" As she drew her hand back, she cocked her head. "You look very familiar to me."

"Dean gets around," Jo said. "It's entirely possible you've run into him before."

There was interest in Theresa's eyes and right then, Dean knew he'd be asking for her number later. He also knew he even going to call her. "Anyone ever call you 'Risa'?"

"Only when I was on stage in college."

"On stage?"

Behind Risa, Jo's grin became strangely self-satisfied.

Risa glanced away, then back. "I did some…dancing to pay for my last year."

Dancing? In seconds, he understood her meaning and Jo's grin. "It's an honorable profession."

She laughed. "First time I've heard it called that. What's say we grab some of Jimmy's expensive beer and go chat awhile, Dean?"

"I like how you think."

Jimmy got them a couple beers, told them to help themselves when they wanted more, and returned to cooking with an amused turn to his brow.

Theresa motioned towards the living room. "I'll go find us a place to sit."

He turned to Jo the second Theresa had disappeared into the living room. "Your friend is a librarian stripper," he hissed. "Do you know how hot that is?"

"Former exotic dancer and I thought you'd appreciate that," she replied. "She's not seeing anyone."

"Is that a hint?"

"Do you need one?"

"I could kiss you."

"Jimmy might have a few words to say about that." She motioned at the living room. "Well, go get her, tiger."

As he turned, he felt Jo slap him on the rear. Dean shook his head with a smile and joined Theresa in the living room.

After giving them several hours of rest, Castiel and Gabriel decided it was time to talk to Ellen and Jo. Gabriel went around the living room, putting the others into a deep sleep while Castiel thought about what needed to be said. He opened his mouth to tell them both how keeping them apart had been necessary and found Ellen taking charge of the conversation.

"You think I can forgive you, Cas," Ellen asked.

He raised his brows at her challenging tone. "I'm not asking forgiveness, Ellen. I believe we covered that before."

She snorted. "Dean's right. You guys are all dicks."

Jo touched Ellen's hand and turned her head to look at her. "Mom."


"They did what they had to. Haven't we both been in that position?"

"They kept us apart, Jo. Do you have any idea how hard that was for me?"

Weariness slid across Jo's features and she glanced at Gabriel and Castiel before asking, "Like I had it easy?" She shook her head. "For months I had no one and then I got Gabriel."

"Hey!" He looked up, indignation that was patently false upon his face. Castiel could see it was false even if the two women couldn't.

"No offense, Gabriel, really, but you weren't exactly the sort of companion I wanted or needed."

"The one you wanted and needed was Jimmy." Castiel took a brief glance into the living room. Dean, Sam, Bobby and Jo's friend Theresa were all taking a long, nap. He transferred his attention back to Jo. "Jimmy arrived and you were no longer alone."

She nodded. "Mom, you had Bobby to keep you going. I had to stand on my own. I mean really on my own, with no safety net. No friends, no family…. No one I knew. My slate was wiped clean. There's a growth that comes from being forced to be alone and face your own loneliness that I needed. If it hadn't happened, where would we be now?"

Ellen looked away.

"I love that you want me safe and want to protect me, but at the same time, I hate it. It made me feel trapped, like I was constantly dependant on you and not really grown. Carthage was a turning point, yet if we'd come back together, it would have thrown us backwards. If you'd had any idea where I was, it would have taken us backwards, too. I needed to really be alone in the world; to find my feet; to make a few decisions that brought me to where I am now. I have a husband, a baby on the way, and I'm not your little girl anymore."

"I know that."

Castiel could hear a hitch in Ellen's voice and peered closely at her. She blinked several times, lips tightening in an effort to stave off tears. He wondered how many mothers across the world found it difficult to let their children go.

"Mom, come on. In your head, I'm still five."

Ellen rolled her eyes. "Maybe there's some truth to that."

"Maybe?" Jo arched a brow. "Can't you see that you needed a separation, too?"

She snorted.

"I'm serious. How long were you looking out for me? How old am I? That number says it all. It's been that many years since you were just you. These months, you were able to be that again. You began a hunting partnership with Bobby and from what I can see, it's a good one. You've got someone equal on your terms and we both know that never would have been me. We weren't equal. That's a fact. You always called the big shots while giving me a bone now and then to keep me from running off again."

"Jo -" Ellen squeezed her eyes shut.

"It needs to be said. This time, you couldn't get at me and yes, it was painful, but you and I both know it had to happen. I had to grow up sometime and you had to learn how to be yourself again." She turned in her chair. "Mom, Castiel and Gabriel aren't the bad guys here. They did what they had to and it was for our own good."

Ellen reopened her eyes and wiped at the tears that fell from them. Her hands shook. "When did you get so wise?"

"It's all part of that growing up thing. Besides, I had a lot of time to think about it."

Jo had said all that should have been said and in a far better way than Castiel ever could have.

Gabriel sat forward. "Are we good now, ladies? Can I take off on my vacation?"

"I suppose." Ellen looked at him. "Might want to wake up the sleeping beauties in there before you go though."

"Nah," he shook his head. "Castiel can do it before he goes." Gabriel stood and went around the table, placing a hand on Jo's shoulder. "I'll be back in a week. All you'll need to do if you need me is call for me. The closer you get to your due date, the closer I'll be to make sure everything goes well."

"I'm sure everything will be fine, Gabriel. You don't have to -"

"No, I do. A lot of angelic hope is pinned on this you know."

"Thanks for reminding me of that," she told him in a dry tone. "I feel just like a Winchester now."

"Trust me, Jo, you're a helluva lot prettier than any of them." He winked at her and disappeared, leaving Castiel alone with them.

"I did what I was told to do, Ellen," Cas told her. "You can stay angry with me or move on. It really doesn't matter."

"I ought to smack you upside the head."

"If it would make you feel better, I'll allow it this once."

"No!" Jo shook her head. "You will not! That's my husband you're in, Cas. You will not allow him to be hurt by anyone. Got it?"

He let a hint of amusement tug his lips into a small smile. "Yes. You know I take good care of him."

"You better." It was Ellen who answered. "That's my son-in-law, father of my grandkids."

Castiel studied them. The grand emotions were done for the moment and they were all going to be fine. Jo had asserted herself, Ellen had backed down, and their relationship was sliding towards a healthy manner, no longer too dependant on each other. Without saying another word, he left.

He wandered for a few hours, feeling a little lost with the task of taking care of Meg completed. As the day wore on, he headed for heaven, but found no angel there he wished to spend time with. What he wanted was human companionship for awhile.

There was only one place he could find it without a body.

He materialized in the section of heaven where he'd previously found Amelia Novak. She was still there, by herself this time. Claire wasn't present and he stepped forward, revealing himself and sitting on the couch in the reality she had currently in place. It was the home she and Jimmy had bought in Pontiac, the one he'd found Jimmy in.

Amelia sat down beside him. "Castiel?" It wasn't a guess this time, but rather a question that indicated she wondered what he wanted.

"I thought you'd like to know that Jimmy is happy and well."

She smiled. "I do. Thank you."

"It's Christmas day," he told her.

"You're not spending it down there? With them?"

"Were I to join them, I'd be taking Jimmy away from the festivities. I don't desire to take him away any more than necessary." He shook his head, "No, I'm not spending it with them. I'm here," he glanced at her. "I…I would like to spend it with you, if you're amenable."

"With me?" Her lips parted and after a moment, she nodded. "Okay." Reaching out, she took his hand, or rather the image of Jimmy's hand, in hers. "Merry Christmas, Castiel."

"Merry Christmas, Amelia."

Outside Amelia's reality, snow fell and night descended. Castiel sighed, and enjoyed her company. He did the same thing his friends below were doing and in this moment, he felt a kinship with them that he couldn't enjoy with them at present. In a few hours, he'd return to his duties, to righting the ongoing problems of heaven and earth, but for now, he'd rest, and know that for the moment, all was well.