Chapter 18

About four days later, Stella and the Winchesters were just about packed and ready to go. They really didn't have that much to take, just what would fit in bags. The boys made a couple trips to Mason's to stock up on ammo and other supplies they'd need. They also stocked up on rock salt, an item that was starting to be seen in stores. Winter came early in the mountains. Stella tossed some of their rattier clothes and bought some new ones: jeans, sturdy t-shirts and flannel button downs for the boys—the Winchester family uniform.

She treated herself to some new jeans as well, but throughout it all, she stayed quiet and mostly kept to herself. Sam, Dean and Bobby all kept an eye on her, slightly unsettled by her silence, but they chalked it up to Stella simply thinking about getting back on the road after everything that had happened this summer. Finally, the day before they were supposed to leave, Stella came stomping down the stairs, clearly in a temper, her arms full of shirts.

She dropped the dirty shirts in front of Dean; they were old ones of his that he'd had stashed in the Impala's trunk. He'd left them on the bed to get washed. Stella glared.

"I'm not your maid," she barked. With that, she turned and stormed up the stairs.

"I don't know what you did," said Sam, "but you'd better figure it out. Stella's usually not so, uh… so…"

"Bitchy?" asked Bobby. "That seems like the right word."

"Thanks for the sensitivity there, Bobby," grumbled Dean. But they were right. Stella had been in a foul mood for the past four days. And her temper was getting increasingly worse. They were going to leave the next day and Dean was pretty sure he and Sam would be driving together; Stella didn't seem to want any company.

"Well? Are you going to go talk to her?" Sam raised his eye brows.

"Me?" asked Dean. "Do I look like I have a death wish?"

Sam started to laugh and just walked away. Dean stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. Stella had disappeared into their bedroom and, so far, hadn't come back out. Clearly he was going to have to go up and into the dragon's lair. He paused at the door to the bedroom before he went in. He took a deep breath.

"Stella? Hey…"

Stella looked up at him as he came in the room, and Dean stopped in his tracks. The expression on her tear-stained face could only be called 'crushed.' Dean was floored. He'd been expecting a lioness with her claws bared; instead, he found Stella in tears.

"Baby, what's wrong?"

A big tear welled up and spilled over. "I lost it. Dean, I lost your ring."

"You lost…" His mouth started to sag open.

"Your silver ring. I took it off when I worked on the Camaro. I know I put it on the dresser… I thought I put it on the dresser. But now I can't find it. I've looked everywhere…" Miserable, she looked down at her hands.

"Stella…"

"I didn't want to tell you. It was the only piece of you I had after… after you died… You trusted me to keep it when Castiel pulled you out of Hell and brought you back. How could I be so careless with something so important?"

She looked so sad. Dean felt horrible knowing it was his fault she was so upset. He had no idea that the ring meant so much to her. Sitting next to her on the bed, he put his arm around Stella and pulled her close. "Don't cry. You didn't lose it."

"I did lose it, Dean…"

"No, you didn't. It isn't lost. I have it."

Her eyes lit up. "You have it? You found it? Where was it?" She sighed and her shoulders sagged, relief washing over her. Dean didn't answer Stella. Instead, he pulled the ring out of his pocket and held it in his palm. Stella started to reach for it, but Dean moved his hand away so she couldn't take it from him. Not yet.

"I was looking at it the other day," said Dean. "While you were sleeping. And I just started thinking. I know we've talked about it before but whenever I see it, I can't help but wonder. Do you resent me for not marrying you…?"

Stella stared at him, shocked, but Dean didn't notice. He was too wrapped up in his own head right then and he just kept talking.

"… Do you resent our jobs for not giving us a normal life? Because that's what getting married means to me, Stella. A normal life. A home in the same town, the same school for kids. Homework and proms and driver's ed. Getting married means a family and I understand now why my mother wanted out, why she thought the worst thing would be for me and Sam to live this life… That's why I can't. I just can't…" His eyes were a little shiny when he looked at Stella, as if he expected her to just get up and leave.

"Oh, Dean." Stella ran a gentle hand down his cheek. "I know how you feel about it, and I respect that. You've always been honest about not wanting to get married. And why. We have a good life Dean. I am not going to have some meltdown over whether or not we have some piece of paper that says I'm yours and you're mine. I am happy where we are, more than happy…"

"I know you are, and I am grateful for that." He kissed the palm of her hand. "But just because I'm not ready right now doesn't mean it's something I don't ever want… I took the ring back because I wanted to make a change to it. I had it engraved. Take a look."

Stella took the ring from his hand, held it up and angled it in the light. It took a second to find the script on the inside of the band: Starlight Starbright – Stella & Dean.

She gave him a brilliant smile. "I love it, Dean. Thank you."

"That's not the only change. I had them, well, I had them resize it. Make it smaller so that it will fit your ring finger." Dean felt warm but he resisted the urge to tug at the collar of his shirt. He glanced at Stella who was staring at him, her face a curious combination of surprise, intensity and suspicion. She held the ring in the palm of her hand.

"What, exactly, are you saying, Dean?"

He looked up and directly into Stella's eyes, and took a deep breath. Then he plunged in, determined to say everything he needed to say—afraid that if he took a breath, he'd lose his nerve.

"I'm still concerned about getting married, Stella. I know it doesn't make sense, but there's something about the idea of having a wife while we live this, this, this life, if that's what you can call it. Well, it scares the crap out of me, baby. I'm not ready to sign on the dotted line... I'm just not… It isn't because I don't love you. I do love you. I love you more than I imagined I could ever love anyone, even Sam. I feel pretty lame calling this a promise ring, but I guess that's what it is… I want you to know that when you look at that ring—and when you look at this one—that someday I'm going to get there…" He pulled a matching ring out of his pocket. "… And I need you to know that there isn't another woman I want in my life other than you. I'm yours Stella. Forever."

He let Stella get a good look at the ring and then he slowly and deliberately put it on the ring finger of his left hand. Stella's face softened. She'd known how Dean felt about marriage for a long time, how he pictured it in his mind, and this was an enormous gesture on his part. He took her ring out of her hand and pulled Stella to her feet so that they were facing each other. He picked up her left hand and angled the ring towards her ring finger.

"May I?"

"Absolutely." She watched him slide the ring onto her finger, and then pulled his head down to her and kissed him. Dean slid his arms around Stella, pulling her close.

"Someday, Stella. Someday there will be a real proposal. Down on my knees and everything. But for now, I hope this is enough…" he whispered.

"It is more than enough, Dean. Rings or no rings, proposal or no proposal, I'm yours, too. I'm not going anywhere; you're stuck with me."

"I can live with that." He kissed her again and realized that he felt lighter; all his concern about the ring and what Stella thought lifted off of his shoulders and vanished. Any life was a good life as long as she was with him.

Dean had his arm over Stella's shoulder when they came down the stairs. They went out onto the deck when they saw Sam and Bobby sitting out there. It took Sam all of five seconds to notice the ring on Dean's finger. His eyes widened and he glanced at Stella. Her ring was back—he suddenly realized he hadn't seen it on her hand for a few days—but it was on a different finger. He started to smile and it quickly developed into a laugh.

Stella had seen his look and knew he'd noticed.

"You romantic sonofabitch," said Sam. "You gave her a promise ring."

Bobby sat up straighter and turned to take a good look at the two. His eyes met Stella's and she smiled at him. He turned his attention to Dean, stared at the ring, and gave Dean one of his trademark squirrely looks, glaring out from under bushy eyebrows.

"'Bout God-damned time you got around to this, boy. About God-damned time."

EPILOGUE

The next day, they said good-bye to Bobby, took a long look at Chateau Bodine. Out on the highway, Bobby headed east, back towards his house—and Singer's Salvage Yard—in South Dakota. Sam, Dean, and Stella headed in the opposite direction. The plan was to follow Route 40 across the state until they reached Dinosaur, CO. From there, the plan was to cross into Utah and make it to Provo by dinner time. It was only a five and a half hour drive. From there, they could pick up Route 15 and head south to Las Vegas.

From there?

With the open road in front of them, it was anyone's guess...

The End – For Now

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thank you all so very much for reading "Starlight Starbright." I appreciate you sticking with me and for your kind words about my work. I am so very glad you've enjoyed the story. I do have other plans for Stella and Dean. My next Supernatural story is tentatively titled "Stella Luna" and will be about the start of Stella and Dean's relationship; a prequel to Starlight if you will. I have a bunch of ideas but nothing written yet…

One caveat: I am starting school again next week and am registered for a full course load, plus I've had several job interviews recently so I may be working full time again soon (fingers crossed – I've been unemployed for a bit now!). So, it may be a while before I can start posting a new story. But if you are so inclined, put me on an author alert and you'll be sure to know when Stella and Dean's adventures start again.

Thank you!