A/N: I liiiiiiiiiive! Mostly. College sucks balls. So does family sometimes. Alas my muse has returned, the story is mapped out finally (THANK YOU CONSTANCE I WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT YOU) and I'm writing like the wind before college starts again. Also this is not Beta'd so feel free to point out any mistakes.

Disclaimer: I own nothing, save my OCs.


Chapter Thirty-Four
Daring to Hope

Thunder Creek, WY
May 9, 2001

"Garrett, widen your stance a little," Paige said sternly from the front of the class. She moved through the lines of kids to adjust how he was standing. "There. Better. See how you balance your weight equally on both feet? And be sure to keep your knee bent, Kelly, it makes it harder for people to push you over."

Paige smiled and watched as the kids for the Saturday morning combat class bumbled through their positions. Most of them were young and uncoordinated, but they had a zest for learning this stuff that could potentially save them later on in life.

"I'll let Travis lead you guys for a while," she announced, nodding at her younger step-brother.

Eighteen-year-old Travis offered a shy smile and moved to the front of the class, adjusting his glasses on his thin freckled nose before clearing his throat and instructing the kids on basic holds and how to get out of them.

Paige left him to it, wiping her sleeve across her forehead as she moved to the side of the room opposite from where the parents were observing.

Connie offered her a glass of ice tea that she accepted gratefully. "How's the arm?" she said in lieu of greeting, watching as one of the little boys stumbled and fell.

"Fine," said Paige, crunching on a piece of ice. "The kids are picking this stuff up quickly. Hard to believe that two weeks ago they couldn't even do a decent athletic stance."

"I will never understand why you drag your ass out of bed at the asscrack of dawn to teach kids how to beat each other up."

"Not each other, Connie, come on," Paige corrected. "Learning this," she waved towards the group of kids, "saved our lives more than once."

"True," Connie allowed with a faint smirk. "Whatever would you do without me to pull you out of mine shafts?"

Paige shot her friend an exasperated look. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you?" she said dryly.

Connie grinned. "Nope."

"You sound far too cheerful. What the hell are you doing up at this hour? It's not even eight yet and grandma won't be making breakfast for at least another hour."

"Couldn't sleep," she shrugged in a dismissive fashion. "Thought I'd watch the sunrise, or whatever it is you weird people do." Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Paige sipping her drink. The circles under her eyes were even darker than before. "You been having nightmares?" she guessed quietly.

Starting slightly, she turned to meet Connie's eyes and sighed. There was no point lying. "A few," she admitted. "Most of them involving me burning to death. Those that don't feature Dean never coming back, anyway." She shrugged and stared down at the ice cubes floating in her tea, adding, "It's stupid, Con. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."

"Right. Because you're always fine, right?" Connie said sarcastically, resisting the urge to roll her eyes when all Paige did was smile.

"Better get back to it. Thanks for the tea, Con."

"Mmm," grunted Connie, watching Paige take up her position beside Travis again.

Getting anything out of this family is like pulling teeth, she thought to herself grumpily as she made her way to the kitchen. Maybe if she was lucky Mary would cook breakfast early, because she was starving.


Yellowstone Park
May 9, 2001

If Dean wasn't being so goddamn annoying, Chris would have found the entire situation hilarious.

As it was, his hunting partner had begun to resemble a bear that was getting crankier by the day. He himself wasn't in the best of moods, either—he'd barely seen Amy at all in the past month and had seen his son even less. So, to distract himself, he had started out by being amused by Dean's irritation.

That first week after the hunt in Colorado, he'd been acting a little off. He kept opening his mouth and turning around to say something to someone who wasn't there, and then he'd just brush it off and try to act natural. When they woke up in the mornings, Chris would glance over at Dean's bed and see him sleeping on his side with his arm outstretched.

Dean's snark had gotten worse and worse, until he was all but growling at everyone and everything. His temper was short and he was extremely snappish, especially towards law enforcement. Luckily for them the FBI already had a reputation as being dicks or it could have been a lot worse.

For God's sake, Dean had been the worst the one week they were back in Thunder Creek. He'd literally heard the other man's teeth grind when they'd found out that Paige and Connie were on a hunt in Texas. If looks could kill, his grandpa would be dead a dozen times over by now.

At least he'd gotten to spend time with Amy and his little guy. Dean had spent about half of the time bonding with JB, and the other half brooding like a teenager.

The attitude had long since gotten on Chris' nerves. He missed having conversations with his friend where he didn't get snapped at.

"Dean," Chris said to get his attention.

Dean looked up at him, his brows furrowed downwards. "What?" he said irritably.

"Can you quit with the snapping and the growling and get your ass over here to look at this?" he requested evenly, inclining his head at his laptop screen. "Grandpa just sent us a possible hunt in Kansas."

"I fucking hate Kansas," Dean grumbled, but he crossed the room anyway to pull up a chair and sit beside him.

"What's wrong with Kansas?"

"Last time we were there we almost got barbequed. The time before that, we almost got killed by a psycho bitch with a machete. The time before that we had to jump off that goddamn roof because of the poltergeist — "

"Okay, I get it," Chris cut him off loudly, wincing at the memories, "you fucking hate Kansas. Maybe this time we'll get lucky and not almost get skewered."

"Chris, that almost happened the time before that shit with the poltergeist."

"Dean."

Dean just grinned.


Thunder Creek, WY
May 22, 2001

Paige raised her eyebrow in question, walking silently up behind Connie, where the younger woman was busy at the front door with a lock pick in her hands. She hadn't heard from Connie since the ninth, when she'd come to give her tea at morning hand-to-hand practice; grandpa had sent her off on some specialized hunt that didn't require any help and she'd turned in her report but hadn't come back. One brief voicemail was all she'd gotten to ensure herself that Connie was alive, something about needing a "vacation".

Despite the fact she was annoyed, she couldn't help but be amused. Connie looked like hell and her clothing was rumpled.

"Goddamn this door, who makes doors like this? It's fucking Wyoming, not the Louvre, for Satan's sake," Constance was muttering, the lock pick scraping methodically as she struggled to unlock it.

Biting back a grin, Paige halted about six feet behind her friend, out of the range of Connie's arms. "Lose your key?" she asked with obnoxious cheerfulness given the early hour.

Connie's reaction was predictable. She yelped and jerked away from the door, swinging her fists in Paige's direction. She ended up over-balancing from her crouched position and landed hard enough on first her knee and then her hip to elicit a sharp curse.

"Graceful," Paige drawled with a grin.

"Shut up," Connie groaned, rolling over so she could get to her feet easier. When she did get to her feet she staggered slightly as blood returned to her starved limbs. In her peripheral vision she saw Paige opening her mouth to say something else and pointed at her without actually looking. "Still shut up," she warned, rubbing her abused anatomy and muttering under her breath. "Hells bells, it's not even six in the morning yet, why the fuck am I even awake. . ."

Biting back another grin, Paige silently offered Connie the key to their apartment that the younger blonde snatched out of her hand without comment. A moment later the door was unlocked and she was making a beeline for the kitchen with Paige a few steps behind her, considering she'd paused to close the door and toe off her shoes.

"Where the hell is all the food?" Connie yelled from the kitchen, her voice full of nothing but frustration.

"Not in the fridge?" Paige offered as she seated herself at the barstool. "Oh, you know, good morning, by the way. Nice to see you. Glad you're alive," she growled, glaring at her hunting partner.

Connie flapped her hand dismissively. "It was just a mine shaft and I was fine. Cole is the one you should have been worrying about," she responded absently, busy digging around in the fridge for any salvageable food. She was fucking starving.

"So where the hell have you been? One voicemail was all I got. Honest to Christ, you could have at least let me know when you were going to be back. I was worried, damn it."

"Oh," Connie winced. "Sorry. Took a pit stop at the Grand Canyon, then I fancied a quick hop to Australia for the opera. Then decided I wanted to be in Paris for a while, you know, improve the accent."

"Your French accent is terrible," Paige pointed out as she snagged the last apple from the fruit bowl and watched in great amusement while her younger sister searched in vain for something she could actually eat.

"Hence why I was in Paris to practice," Connie shot back, poking her head over the top of the fridge to glare at her. She pointed at the apple and shouted, "Where the hell did that come from?"

"The fruit bowl." Paige crunched extra loudly just to make a point before deciding to take pity on her obviously starved sister/friend/hunting partner/whatever. "C'mon. I've been dying for some of Jay's pancakes, anyway," she sighed, tossing Connie the three quarters of the apple that was left and all but dragging her out of the apartment to breakfast.

It was a quick but silent ride, and they were one of the first groups in the diner. Jay looked mildly surprised to see them there so early but told the cook to start their regular breakfast orders anyway and was bringing their coffee by a moment later.

"Coffee," Connie grunted while Paige and Jay watched her in great amusement. She downed one and a half cups piping hot before she even felt remotely human again. At least this early it only took a few minutes for Jay to bring their food by, skillfully evading Connie's fork stab when he tried to take her coffee cup and give her a fresh one. He just topped off her current cup and left without comment.

Paige sipped her own coffee and held back her grin several times as the regular early morning crowd started to filter in and were genuinely surprised to see them there. Connie was not a morning person in any sense of the word and looked irritable and snarly, snapping at anyone who even looked sideways at her or bothered her in any way shape or form. Paige bothered her tons, poking her on the arm, telling her to rise and shine, smell the roses, look alive because the Earth was saying hello, all while trying to steal the extra bacon Jay had put on her plate.

Connie stabbed her forearm hard enough to draw blood and tucked into her breakfast like a half-starved wolf pup. Paige had to constantly remind her to put her napkin in her lap, stop slurping her coffee, take small bites, don't talk with your mouth full.

"Okay, mother," Connie growled, a bit of egg flying onto her plate.

"Classy," said Paige dryly, biting into her own toast.

An inelegant snort was the only answer she received. They ate in comfortable silence, feeling human once their stomachs were full and coffee cups newly topped off.

"So," said Connie carefully while keeping her eyes on her plate, "heard from Dean lately?"

"Not much," Paige sighed, folding the paper and setting it on the booth beside her. "Talked to him about ten days ago, he was on a hunt with Chris in Kansas that's taking way longer than they thought it would."

Biting her lip, Connie wondered the best way to go about the next question. Paige looked no better than she had on the ninth, but she didn't look worse. Just tired. "He really cares about you," she said suddenly, meeting Paige's eyes. "A lot. He looks at you like he can't believe you exist."

Paige snorted and rolled her eyes.

"Seriously," she insisted softly. "I thought he was going to stab me, and I didn't even get to tease him about you two doing the thing."

Momentarily distracted, Paige made a face and repeated, "Doing the thing?" She snorted and demanded, "What are you, twelve?"

Unruffled by her partner's attitude, Connie downed half her cup of coffee and studied the older woman intently. "Chris called to complain about Dean being an annoying as shit asshole for the past month. They've been stuck on hunts that took longer than usual and they're both sick of it. Sounded like Dean was being a lot more irritable than usual."

Now avoiding Connie's look, Paige sighed and picked at the end of her T-shirt. "Okay, so I haven't been sleeping very well," she admitted.

"That much is obvious."

"It's stupid. I slept just fine before he came along, why can't I sleep fine now?" Frustrated, Paige tore a stray thread off and frowned, directing her gaze out the window at the main street where people were starting to appear, ready to enjoy the warming weather.

"Could it be because of the fire? I mean, he carried you out of it and helped you afterwards, not to mention it scared the shit out of him. He's protective, maybe you miss that."

"I'm not an infant, and I can take care of myself," she said defensively.

"I know you can, but that doesn't mean it's not nice to let someone else be the protector for a while." It was Connie's turn to sigh and direct her gaze out the window. "Sometimes I wish I had someone to lean on like that, so I didn't have to be the brave one all the time. It would be really nice to have a break."

Paige was staring at Connie like she'd grown another head, but couldn't deny that she had a point. "When did you get so wise?" she said irritably, still plucking at loose threads.

"I've always been wise," Connie sniffed, glaring at her.

Silence fell between them again as they mulled over their thoughts.

"I miss him, Connie," Paige admitted quietly, staring down at her palms. She left it unsaid that they'd never really gotten a chance to talk after all that had happened in Colorado, and she wasn't sure where Dean stood. Hell, she'd even told him she loved him, for God's sake.

Connie nodded and reached over to poke her forehead with the straw from her water glass. Paige glared at her, but the glare softened when she quietly said, "I know."


Thunder Creek, WY
May 30, 2001

Dean's face was pale and drawn. There were dark circles under his eyes and a yellow-tinged bruise darkening his jaw. He slammed the door to Chris' truck shut and paused to have a short conversation with him through the open window that ended with him flipping her brother off with a laugh. Chris waved cheerfully as he gunned it, no doubt heading straight for home.

Paige didn't blame him; he hadn't seen his wife or baby in a month. She would see him tomorrow at the family brunch, anyway. For now, her attention was fixed on Dean, her palms suddenly sweating as she watched him get nearer. He looked tanner than he'd been in March, but she couldn't help but notice he also looked a little thinner. For the life of her she didn't know how to greet him. Did she smile? Hug him? Kiss him?

It slightly surprised him how nervous he felt. Jesus, he hadn't seen her in a month and a half and had missed her for all of it. Their conversation had nagged his mind for ages, haunting him, making him wonder why he hadn't said it back. For one he didn't know for sure if this was love; it was stronger than what he'd briefly felt for Cassie so he figured it couldn't be anything else. For now he shoved that all aside and noticed that she wasn't as pale as she'd been in May, much like him. It appeared they'd both been enjoying the nice weather.

Deciding not to bother with any romantic shit — it wasn't really his style anyway — he stopped right in front of her while he searched for something to say. It frustrated him that they were being awkward now, which in hindsight seemed silly considering everything that had happened in Colorado. This was a new thing for him, same as her. He decided bluntness was the best approach, considering they were both straightforward people.

"I hate being awkward," he said softly to break the tense silence. Paige smiled faintly and just like that the tension was gone. It slightly amazed him, actually.

"Me too," she admitted with a slight laugh. "I just . . . I don't . . ."

"Know what to do," he finished for her, smiling now. "I don't either, if that makes you feel any better. I, uh . . . I've never really dated before."

"Neither have I," Paige said mirthfully, blue eyes alight with humor.

"Come here," he chuckled, pulling her into a tight hug. He rested his chin on the top of her head and rubbed it back and forth a few times.

Paige leaned her head against his chest. "Missed you."

"Missed you too. Pretty sure Chris was about four seconds away from ripping my throat out with his teeth."

She wasn't able to contain her laugh but did her best to muffle it against his shoulder. "I heard," she admitted.

"It's not funny," he insisted even though he was grinning at her reaction, "your brother could do it if he really wanted to. That guy's like a ninja."

"A ninja?" she repeated with a snort, pulling her head back to look at him. One of her eyebrows arched upwards.

"Shut up," he grumbled good-naturedly, stepping back and shouldering his bag. "I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted."

Paige nodded agreement and followed him up to the apartment, filling him in on everything they'd been up to and listening to him recount their hellish hunt in Kansas. By the time they got inside they were both chuckling at their respective hunting partners. Dean dropped his bag on the couch, toed off his shoes, and hung his coat on the rack.

"You mind if I take a shower?" he wondered, peeling his shirt away from his stomach.

"You smell," she laughed, shoving him towards the bathroom. "Towels are under the sink."

Dean emerged ten minutes later cleaner than he'd felt since before Kansas. As a general rule he hated Kansas because of the bad memories there but the seven hellish hunts they'd had so far—thankfully far away from Lawrence—had only reinforced his dislike for the state. It was humid and sticky and gross there, too, which didn't help.

He was wearing a plain black T-shirt and plaid pajama pants Paige had gotten for him a few months into their friendship. She'd thrown them at his head and ordered him to stop complaining about being cold at night. They'd kind of been his favorite pants since. The soft fabric felt nice against his sunburnt skin. He'd put on about a pound of Aloe Vera before emerging from the steamy bathroom.

Paige was reading on the couch, curled up against the arm with her book propped on her knees. He stretched out on the remaining space and used her hip as a pillow. She wordlessly shifted around until he was laying in her lap and he sighed in contentment, relaxing for the first time in ages.

"You look as tired as I feel," he said after a few minutes of comfortable silence. There were shadows under her eyes that matched his and she looked paler than usual.

"I haven't been sleeping well," she admitted, dragging her eyes from the book to look down at him. Their eyes met and they smiled at each other before she went back to reading.

"What are you reading now?" he wondered curiously, craning his neck in an effort to read the title. Paige tipped the book downward over his face without removing her eyes from the pages and he read A Clash of Kings.

"Hmm," Dean supplied, yawning and rolling over, rubbing his eyes with one hand.

"So far it's nothing but pain," she said absently. "I can't decide if I like the author or hate him for killing everything I love." Paper rustled as she turned the page and continued reading.

"You know nothing, Jon Snow," he said in a dramatically deep voice, smirking up at her.

Paige stared down at him for a long moment before laughing and gently cuffing his ear. "Of course you would have read these," she snickered, flicking his ear for good measure. She closed the book and put it on the side table, yawning herself as she did so. "I'm beat. Bedtime?"

Dean wordlessly grumbled agreement. He fell face-down on her bed and was mostly asleep when he felt the bed dip. She must have taken a shower because her hair was damp and she smelled like citrus shampoo. He reached out for her and pulled her until her back was snug against his chest, her head tucked under his chin.

"Missed you," he mumbled against her hair, pressing a kiss to the back of her head.

"Missed you too," she yawned, turning in his arms and folding herself into him. He hugged her tightly for a moment before relaxing his arms and allowing his mind to drift back into a comfortable and relaxed sleep, the best sleep he'd had in a month.

/

The next morning Dean woke up alone in bed but that didn't faze him. He felt better than he had in months. He swung his feet out of bed and halfheartedly straightened the sheets and comforter, yawning as he did so. By the time he got to the kitchen he was actively trying to not freak out over the fact that he didn't seem to sleep well anymore unless he was with her, and that just tangled his emotions and thoughts up into worse knots.

Coffee was percolating. A quick glance at the clock told him it was just after eight in the morning, and Paige was nowhere to be seen.

He heard muffled thumping and then a curse from Connie's bedroom in the apartment. Keeping in mind how violent both women could be, he dared to edge towards the door in question just in time to hear Connie's voice.

"OW DAMN IT WHY ARE YOU SUCH A SADIST," the younger blonde was shouting.

"If you'd just hold still I would have been done five minutes ago you block-headed idiot!"

"OUCH," Connie growl-whined.

"Shut it, pipsqueak." A pause, a yelp, and then, "There, done, was that really so hard?"

"Bite me," Connie was grumbling as Dean hazarded to push the door open and stared at them. There was blood all over the younger blonde.

"Hi," he said a little awkwardly, studying the wound Paige had clearly just finished stitching in her forearm. "What did you do, lose a fight with a grizzly bear? You look like shit."

"Yes, thank you for your input," Connie snarked, getting to her feet. She looked at Paige, eyebrows furrowed before glaring at Dean. "How do you delete people?" she wondered flatly.

"Murder," Paige deadpanned. "It's called murder, Connie. I've cleaned up enough blood for today. Go get some food, you're grumpy."

Connie shoulder-checked Dean on the way out of her room and he watched her retreating back with raised eyebrows.

"She really hates me, doesn't she?" he mused aloud. It didn't bother him either way it just baffled him a little.

"Nah," Paige dismissed cheerfully, tossing the bloody towels in the trash can and removing the plastic cover from Connie's comforter. "It's how she shows affection."

Dean's eyebrow shot up. "By threatening to disembowel me?"

Paige shrugged and grin as if to say what can you do. "She's not exactly normal, don't know if you noticed."

"Oh, I noticed," he promised with a snort. "Is she going to eat all the food, or are we taking pity on her and taking her to Jay's?"

"Haven't decided yet, but do I detect a hint of fondness?" Paige teased, poking him in the side.

"No!" The denial came with a smile he couldn't quite hide; he was ticklish there damn it. "Slightly. Like, this much," he insisted, holding his thumb and index finger millimeters apart.

Paige just laughed and hugged him tightly, burying her face in his chest to stifle the sound as he hugged her back and chuckled lowly.

"You two are helpless," she said, voice muffled by the fabric of his T-shirt, and Dean just grinned and hugged her tighter.

/

Two hours later, Connie was fed and mostly human again as they headed down the road to the ranch house for the welcome home celebration. Dean sat silently in the passenger seat of Paige's suburban, quietly marveling about this family and how strange they could be. They were always having parties and hanging out at each other's houses and kidnapping each others children for playdates and it was open and warm and loving and everything his childhood hadn't been.

A part of him — the part that still remembered his mother's soft blonde hair, her loving smile, her gentle hands and calming voice, the feel of warm lips on his forehead — envied Paige and Constance the childhood they had gotten.

All the pictures made him smile because as kids they had just puppy piled everywhere, and even now as grown adults, they did the same thing quite often. Movie nights usually morphed into everyone-on-the-ground-in-a-nest-of-blankets-and-p illows nights.

Quite frankly, he loved it.

Loved having all these people around who would defend him just as he would them, who would watch his back and laugh at his jokes and debate the merits of a rifle versus a shotgun.

As they neared the ranch house, he was completely lost in his thoughts. Beside and behind him, Connie and Paige were bickering like normal.

(Don't make me get the TARDIS, Paige.

Since when are you the companion?

I'm not a companion, I'm a Time Lord; we've been over this, blondie.

Don't call me blondie, shrimp.

Don't call me shrimp. I'm taller than you!

I'm older!)

It was the warm feeling that spread through his chest then, the same feeling that had been plaguing him ever since he first found this place; hell, even before that. Ever since Brad Newbern had crouched in front of him in a hospital and ruffled his hair. Ever since Mary Newbern had nursed him back to health, his vague memories containing the grandmother cradling him in her arms and rocking him back in forth, singing to him softly in a language he didn't know and making him feel safe as he had never felt safe after his mother died.

All of that and more — it was John's heavy hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently and telling him good job on the hunt. Brad's laugh as he slung his arm over Dean's shoulders and shook him slightly, pulling him into his side as he had watched the older man do countless of times to Chris, Noah, Jared, all of them. Debbie making him sit down and force-feeding him homemade pie that made his heart ache because it reminded him of his mom's. It was Paige's warmth at his side as they debated Dumbledore versus Gandalf because they were both apparently closet nerds, and then Connie butting in with her comments and sarcastic wit until the three of them were wrestling around like a bunch of three year olds.

He felt safe here, he realized. Safe in a way he'd never felt before. Safe to be himself, to speak his mind, to not have to fear his father's harsh words or reprimands, his brother's scathing remarks and abandonment.

It scared him more than he was willing to admit, how much of a niche he had found here.

How much this place had changed him.

And it had changed everything, shown him options and doors for his life he never even knew he had.

Their voices drew him back suddenly, making him jolt a little.

" — Gandalf is the White Wizard and resident badass and he doesn't even need a wand, Connie," Paige was saying as they sped down the highway for Red Hill Ranch. Connie had moved to the middle at some point and was now unbuckled and leaning forward, elbows on the center console as she bickered with her sister.

"I know, I'm just saying, Dumbledore is a badass too," Connie said, defending the wizard.

"Of course Dumbledore is but, what, Dumbledore can beat Gandalf? Not a chance!"

"Oh please, we both know that Gandalf would bitchslap Dumbledore across Middle Earth," Connie said scathingly.

"Agreed," Dean piped in, grinning over his shoulder at Connie. "Plus he can summon enormous talking eagles. I doubt Dumbledore can do that."

Connie looked between the two of them before laughing a little and saying with a smirk, "He's a keeper, Paige, you've finally found one who can understand your references and general weirdness."

"Oh, shut up," Paige said, elbowing her so she sat back against her seat, and they were all laughing by the time they pulled up the ranch house. The girls jumped out first, but Dean took his time, taking the scene in.

He could hear the music from the backyard and smell the barbeque already on the grills. The dogs raced up to greet them with happy barks and madly waving tails, and he saw Lilly and Gunnar race by with a screeching Garret two steps behind them, saw Amy with JB on her hip talking to John and making animated gestures with one hand. Closing the door firmly he took it all in, smiling slightly as that familiar feeling washed over him, the warmth that spread through his chest and filled him to his core.

Family. Safety. Home.

Connie flicked his ear hard enough to make him yelp and mockingly asked, "You coming or not, pretty boy?"

Smirking, he charged at her. She yelped and bolted, and he was one step behind her, the two of them cursing each other out the entire time while the family just looked on in amusement.

/

An hour later he has JB on his hip and is chatting with Jared about the crops they're planning on for the next season and the irrigation projects and how long it takes him to feed the bloody cows. It's simple talk, comfortable talk, and JB just sits on his hip and watches everything from his high vantage point.

"It still cracks me up," Jared said after a long moment, watching as JB smacked his hand against Dean's cheek and Dean jokingly tried to eat his fingers, making him wiggle and squeal as he tried to climb Dean like a tree.

"What does?" Dean wondered, managing to grab the boy's feet and hold him upside down for a second, blowing a raspberry on his exposed chubby tummy and making him giggle some more before righting him and bracing the little boy against his chest with a grin.

"The total badass Dean Winchester, cuddling a baby," Jared deadpanned with a mischievous smile.

"So what, I'm like his uncle," he shrugged.

"You're not like his uncle, you are his uncle," Jared said dryly.

Dean's cheeks colored slightly. "Never had a nephew before," he said quietly, bouncing the chubby-cheeked little boy a few times.

"Well, you've got one now," Chris said cheerfully as he appeared at Dean's side. "And you're going to have another niece or nephew here pretty soon." He grinned cheekily.

Of course Chris would reveal it that way, Dean thought later. Amy was pregnant again, and now he could only wonder how much less hunting they would be doing. Chris sauntered off cheekily announcing it to everyone as Jared wandered off to get another beer, leaving him alone with the baby.

Paige wandered over a little while later, taking JB from his arms when he offered the little boy. JB was babbling happily and hugged her enthusiastically. She smiled and kissed his cheeks, nuzzling their noses together.

Dean watched them for a moment with a smile on his face, reaching up to ruffle JB's dark hair. Those blue eyes sparkled up at him lovingly and it just made him smile further.

"You ever thought about having kids?" he wondered, blurting it out before he had a chance to censor.

"All the time," she said immediately with a smile. "Why? Have you?" Her eyebrow shot up at the question, a bit surprised he was even willing to talk about it or bring it up.

For a moment he was too stunned to say a word. "I, uh, never really thought about it I guess," he said slowly, even though that was a major lie. He'd wondered a lot as a teenager if it would ever be allowed for him, given his lifestyle. "It was never really in the cards until recently. Um, I mean, I never really thought I could until recently. I mean, not because of you — shit no that didn't come out right — I meant that until recently I didn't think that I could because, well. Hunting."

She just smiled up at him and laughed softly. "I didn't mean to put you on the spot, Dean, I was just curious," she said gently, kissing JB on the forehead.

"I would love to be a dad," he said honestly, shyly, ducking his head to look at his boots.

Paige leaned into his side and nuzzled her face into his shoulder for a moment. "I think you'd be a wonderful dad, Dean."

And just like that, he dared.

He dared to hope.

/

E/N: Not as long as usual but long enough, methinks. Dean in his awkwardness is freaking adorable, okay?

Reviews are loved!