Author's Notes: You already know that I don't own these characters, but there...I've said it again. I'd love to hear whether or not this is going where you thought or hoped it would, so please, read, enjoy and don't be shy about leaving reviews. It's the only way I have of knowing whether or not you like it so far. :)

Chapter 45

Dean held the phone and looked at it as though it had just insulted him. "Huh," he said to the empty room as he pocketed his phone again.

"Something wrong?" Meranda asked walking in from her bedroom. She had quietly made her way there to call Jackie when she'd seen him going through his phone so they could both have some degree of privacy.

He turned to her and smiled. "Nah...nothing important," he said in a less than convincing tone.

"He'll come around," she said, walking into the kitchen. "Just give him some time."

"Yeah, I hope so, but...honestly, I don't know."

"Dean, you have to realize that you're asking him to –," she began.

"I know what I'm asking him to do," Dean cut her off, his frustration apparent. "I'm asking him to do what I've done…trust. I don't necessarily expect him to trust you, but I damn sure expect him to trust me."

She walked to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. As he hugged her in return, he noticed that the moment they touched, it felt like the burden on his shoulders had not only lightened, but had also begun to dissolve.

"How do you do that? Is that part of what you are?" he asked openly.

"Do what?" she asked, honestly not understanding the question.

He thought momentarily about just brushing the whole incident off, but he knew that they needed to talk and he'd found himself in a talking mood. No need to waste it, especially when they were running out of time. This last fact motivated him into action and, more than that, dictated his approach.

"Are you taking energy from me?" Dean asked, trying his best not to sound accusatory.

Her brow instantly furrowed. "No, why?"

"It's just that…well, when you touch me…when we um, touch each other…it's like the stress just…disappears," Dean struggled to get the words out despite his attempt to be direct.

She leaned back and cupped his face in her hands, smiling. "No, I promise, that's all you. You know, it'd save us a lot of time if you'd just realize that I'm not doing anything to manipulate the direction of things."

Dean released a heavy sigh, suddenly realizing that every moment he engaged in this conversation was going to require him to make a choice. Would he let his guard down and say what's on his mind and in his heart? Or, would he keep the walls up and spend the rest of his life wondering what could've been if he had let her in?

He closed his eyes before beginning to speak and kept them that way until he finished. "Sammy has this 'theory' that maybe you somehow put our, um, our emotions on like...a fast track. Like when you marked us, you somehow were able to speed things up as far as how we feel. That we'd feel this way anyway if given enough time. Is this making any sense or am I the rambling idiot that I feel like I am?"

She kissed him gently and smiled, her affection for him heavy in her eyes. "It makes perfect sense. That's actually the one of the better descriptions that I've heard."

"So, is there like, I don't know…maybe a way to slow it down so I can get a grip on it? 'Cause honestly, it's like having a rocket strapped to your back…not that I don't wanna have these feelings," he quickly added. "It's just that…well, it's a little powerful at times, you know?"

"I wouldn't even know where to begin to try slowing it down. But I can take away some of the anxiety that it's causing if you'd like," she offered with concern in her eyes.

Dean had already experienced that ability of hers at the hotel and knew that it worked. Again, he had a decision to make and, feeling the wall inside him soften a bit, he nodded. Even though he knew he'd made the right choice, he felt a twinge is his gut that didn't quite tell him that he shouldn't have taken the path he chose, as much as it asked if he was sure that was what he wanted to do.

She smiled and kissed him again. "Just so you know, you have the same effect on me and I'm fairly sure I know why."

Dean's brow furrowed and he tilted his head in question.

"Well, at the risk of really scaring you off…" she averted her eyes to the floor, took in a deep breath and gathered her courage before finally looking into his eyes.

She knew that, for Dean, keeping himself guarded and cut off from anyone who might have an opportunity to hurt him was his nature. The only way he felt he could prevent inevitable pain was to keep those at bay that he might feel something for. She also knew that attitude would lead him to a miserable and lonely existence, and just it wasn't in her to love him without wanting desperately to spare him that.

"I love you," she shrugged, hoping with everything she had that he wouldn't bolt.

When Dean heard those words, he felt a comforting warmth grow inside him and he laughed nervously. He put his forehead against hers, closed his eyes and breathed in a cleansing breath. At that moment, nothing else mattered and Dean felt as if the world had melted away from around them leaving just the two of them, together.

Her arms were still around his waist and she reached from within to relieve him of what she expected to be a tidal wave of dread, anxiousness and fear. She was surprised to find that there were so many other positive emotions flowing through him, including a sense of relief, that she had to sort through them to find what she was looking for. Once she located them, she was mindful to take just a fraction of only the angst from him and, with great control, she did so painstakingly slow in hopes of making his emotional ride less like a roller coaster and more like a peaceful coasting. She wanted this to be as "normal" for him as it could be and, for herself, she wanted to have as little influence over it as possible. She believed, and hoped, that she'd found the balance needed.

He opened his eyes and smiled into her face, cleared his throat and laughed nervously again before responding.

"I love you," he said, just above a whisper.

They stood in silence, just holding each other, forehead to forehead, nose to nose, basking in the complete and total comfort they seemed to suddenly be enveloped in…and again she quietly, gently took a tiny fraction more of his uneasiness. They both felt as though they could stay that way forever.

"So, where do we go from here?" Dean asked, breaking the silence. Dean knew that this talk was coming and part of him was actually glad that he'd had courage to be the one to ask.

She smiled and chuckled under her breath, then kissed him gently.

"How about dinner?" she asked.

"Dinner? I thought we had to talk about –," Dean started.

"In time...I promise. Right now, if it's okay with you, I'd like to just enjoy this," she said, smiling and placing her palm on his chest.

Dean opened his mouth as if to respond, but whatever words he thought about speaking dissolved into a smile and he nodded then kissed her forehead and breathed in her scent. If nothing else, she's gonna teach me some patience, Dean thought.

"Well, I think it's safe to say that we've lost Sammy for the night," Dean said, looking down the empty hallway.

"Hmmm...well, he's still gonna have to eat. He'll need the fuel to focus. How do homemade cheeseburgers sound?" Meranda offered.

Dean's eyes lit up and, at once, his mouth watered, so much so that he could only answer with a smile and a nod.

"Oh! We've still got some bacon in here if you wanna have a bacon cheeseburger instead," she said, looking up from the fridge. With that suggestion, she watched whatever part of him that had been distracted with the impending conversation all but vanish, leaving the food lover in its stead.

Dean stepped up behind her, nuzzled his face into her hair and found her ear. "Are you trying to turn me on?" he asked, half-joking.

"And fries…," she said in a playfully seductive tone as she ran her hand through his hair to the back of his head, pulling him gently to her, "Dripping in grease…covered in salt…and drizzled with ketchup."

Dean released a mock growl as he pulled her to him suddenly, causing her to shriek with laughter, which was music to his ears. He quickly kissed her, then let her go so she could finish in the refrigerator.

As she began taking things from the fridge and placing them on the counter, Dean joined in the preparations for dinner, putting a frying pan on the stove and getting utensils out. They found a smooth and comfortable rhythm and worked in harmony with each other.

"So, will Jackie be here for dinner tomorrow?" Dean asked, sounding hopeful.

Meranda stopped in mid-movement and looked at him, her eyes narrowed.

"Why, Mr. Winchester, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were looking forward to her company," she said with a thick, Southern drawl and a sly smile.

"Yeah, well, I've got some things I'd like to talk to her about," Dean replied sheepishly, quickly making himself busy with dinner.

Meranda smiled and resumed the task at hand.

"Then you'll be pleased to know that she will be joining us. She's actually gonna show up a little early to help with preparations."

Dean's mind instantly became consumed with thoughts of what he should say, but more importantly how he should say it. He knew that Jackie would be resistant, especially if he presented himself with the same attitude that he'd demonstrated to her in the past. Of course, that was before he'd come to realize that they truly were on the same side and he hoped that this revelation would serve to guide him where she was concerned.

"Oh, good," he responded, sounding uncharacteristically excited about it.