Spoilers: AU from S5 'Abandon All Hope'.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but an overactive imagination, and a list of 101 things I'd like to do to Dean Winchester.
With great big ole' smushes and snuggles to Silverspoon, for her suggestions, awesome beta skills, and for just being my doody!
He doesn't know when, or how it happened, he can't remember the exact moment it all changed. If you'd have asked him about it yesterday, he'd have laughed and told you that you were crazy. He wasn't in love with her, he couldn't be in love with her. But that was yesterday.
The fear had been overwhelming; merging rapidly with the grief that swirled within his gut, as he found himself unprepared and unwilling to say goodbye to her. The guilt at her sacrifice instantly gnawed away at him, and the knowledge that they could have been so much more stabbed at his heart.
There would be other women- there always were. Yet their smiles would never be anywhere near as beautiful, their eyes would never be quite the right shade of brown - they would never make his breath catch in his chest at the simplest of glances; because they would never be her.
Yet in those final moments, with her in his arms, when it seemed all hope had been lost and abandoned, hope had somehow returned in the literal form of an angel.
Dean had not set eyes on Castiel since they left Carthage, and for that he was thankful. He had never begged Cas for his help before yet as Jo's blood pooled beneath him and he felt her slipping further and further away, he had pleaded - all but demanded - that the angel save her life.
Now several hours after the event, the horrific scene remained burned into his brain, and try as he might, Dean couldn't shift the residual sense of fear that lingered.
Jo in turn, had been uncharacteristically silent since their return to Bobby's house, and he couldn't blame her for her introversion. Facing death was a life changing and utterly terrifying event, and he knew she would need time and space to process her thoughts. Facing your own mortality was something he understood, after all.
Ellen had tried her best to maintain a brave facade, but he knew all too well that this day would remain forever in her mind. For as strong and capable a hunter as Ellen Harvelle was, she was a mother first and foremost. The horror and heartbreak Dean had witnessed in her eyes would haunt him for the rest of his days.
But in a desperate attempt to disguise her emotions and feign a sense of normality within the group, Ellen busied herself with preparing dinner, and Dean had wandered into the kitchen to find her standing over a bubbling pot of chili.
He watched her intently, noting the distracted and far away look in her eyes as she repeatedly stirred the wooden spoon through the sauce. Her lips pulled tight into a frown as she stood in silence, and simply peered out into the yard at the solitary figure of her daughter.
Wandering over toward the window, Dean followed the path of Ellen's gaze, and a heavy sigh escaped his lips as he fought the urge to go to Jo. He folded his arms across his chest in an attempt to steady himself, not noticing the quizzical stare that Ellen had affixed upon him. Leaning the spoon against the edge of the pot, Ellen walked over toward the refrigerator and removed two bottles of beer, promptly dispatching of their caps in two well practiced strikes against the counter top.
"You gonna stand there all day, or are you gonna go talk to her?" she demanded, arching an eyebrow as she thrust the two bottles toward Dean.
"I'm sorry…" Dean began, unable to meet her gaze as he apologised for all the things he had and hadn't done- knowing he had been the reason behind her daughter's self-sacrificing and almost fatal actions.
Ellen sighed and began to stir the chili once again, clearly finding something in the action soothing, as she considered his inference. She nodded in acknowledgement. Glancing down at the two sweating beer bottles in his hands, Dean strode out onto the back porch, his eyes scanning the horizon as he attempted to locate Jo.
He found her across the scrap yard, leaning on a fence post and staring out across the fields. The breeze blew tendrils of her hair across her cheeks, but she appeared too lost in her own thoughts to be concerned by the mild annoyance.
Not knowing what to say or how to even contemplate starting a conversation, Dean held out a bottle with a smile, and Jo gratefully took it from him. He leant beside her, staring to reassure himself that she was really there. Yet the words he needed and longed to say were still smothered by a familiar fear. So Dean settled upon the one emotion he had always been most comfortable expressing, and addressed Jo with anger instead.
"What the hell were you thinking, Jo?" He shook his head slowly, eyes narrowed against the dying sunlight.
Jo stared down at the rim of the bottle in her hand. "You would have left me behind?" she demanded, knowing all too well that if the tables had been turned, Dean wouldn't have thought twice about risking his life to save her.
Dean sighed, shaking his head and rubbing the back of his neck nervously, "You know I wouldn't. But you almost got yourself killed, Jo… you just… you shouldn't have come back for me, I could have handled it."
An exasperated smile settled on her features and she blew out an unsteady breath, "Whatever, Dean. You know, getting ripped to shreds by a hellhound wasn't on the top of my 'to do' list today. But I wasn't gonna stand there and watch you die."
She took a slow sip of beer before she finally turned in his direction, daring him to meet her gaze as her eyes settled on his face.
"So, are we ever gonna talk about it?" she asked, her tone tinged with an emotion he couldn't quite decipher.
"Talk about what?" he countered, although they both knew to what Jo referred. He realised the hesitance in his tone had betrayed him already, and Jo peered up at him as if she could almost read his thoughts. Dean avoided her analytical gaze and heard her sigh in quiet resolution.
Jo had always seen through him somehow, and Dean often wondered how she could still care for him as he knew she did. Without the bravado and well placed swagger, he was after all simply a lonely, weary and distinctly troubled guy burdened with demons he had no part in creating.
Yet with Jo, he found the emptiness inside him slipping away and, sometimes, she made him think about a future; about life and love, and how it would be to wake up beside her each morning.
Jo made him want things he had long ago dismissed as impossible, and it terrified him to his very core because good things just didn't happen to Winchesters, and he couldn't stand the thought of hurting her.
"We're done here."
Shaking her head and releasing an exasperated sigh, Jo pushed herself up from the fence post and stared at him momentarily before she began to head back to the house- resigned once again to it being the wrong place and time for them. She knew in her heart it always would be.
"Jo, wait," he called after her, reaching out impulsively and grabbing at her elbow to halt her steps.
She rounded on him, frustration, fear and confusion flashing across her eyes, "No. You know it's fine, I get it. I was dying… it seemed like the thing to do, I guess."
She swallowed hard and blinked back the tears she felt brimming behind her eyes.
"No, you don't get it," he challenged, his grip only increasing on her arm as he licked his lips, knowing he had to take that chance or let her go.
Seeing his hesitation, Jo affixed a weak smile upon her face, knowing it would be futile to push their conversation any further. "Dean, I'm fine… really."
He nodded, his eyes sweeping her body, and he was relieved to find no sign of the horrific wound that had almost claimed her life.
"I'm not." He stared down at the ground pensively as if debating his next move.
Jo opened her mouth to reply, blinking in surprise as Dean tossed the beer bottle onto the ground and closed the distance between them in barely a stride. His arms coiled around her, pulling her to his chest as he wrapped her in an embrace, the harsh stubble on his jaw rubbing against her cheek.
Jo slid her arms loosely around his waist, unsure of how to respond to such an uncharacteristically emotional display. Instead, she simply stood in his embrace, allowing her head to fall against his shoulder. Eventually his hold on her relaxed and he began to comb his fingers through her hair, his chest rising and falling erratically against her own.
"I was scared, Jo," he admitted, his voice little more than a whisper, as his breath drifted across her ear.
"You think I wasn't?" she replied, drawing back to look up at his face. Tears tripped her cheeks and she smiled self-consciously as she struggled to stem their flow. Dean reached up, brushing away her tears with the pad of his thumb, but the gesture simply made her tears fall that little bit harder.
"I thought I was gonna die, Dean," her eyes widened expressively and she found herself leaning further into his touch, "only you can know what that feels like. I'm not afraid of death. I've thought about it a lot... guess every hunter does. Bu-but there was this grief, you know? This- this part of me that was so angry and so… sad. Thinking about the people I was gonna leave behind, about the things I'd never get to do, and…"
"I know," he nodded, resting his forehead against hers as he rubbed his palm across her back, his voice soft and reassuring. "I know."
"I don't want to die with regrets," she finished, staring up at him as he held her gaze. The intensity of his stare shocked her, and she found herself falling silent as she tried to decipher the emotions reflected in his eyes.
"Neither do I," he replied, leaving her no time to answer before his lips crashed decisively against hers.
Jo murmured in surprise, quickly surrendering to his hesitant yet demanding kiss that was happily devoid of the crippling sorrow that had tainted their first. Letting the now long forgotten beer bottle slip from her grasp, Jo threw her arms around his neck and leant against him. His hands scoured her figure as he grasped her tightly, tucking her petite frame to his, until her body was flush against his own.
The sweetness and uncertainty quickly gave way to longing, and they paused only to draw breath before sinking into another hungry kiss that left little room for misunderstandings.
Dean closed his eyes at the feel of Jo's lips against his own, now reassuringly warm and moist, as she kissed him back fervently. Her fingers caressed the nape of his neck as lips, teeth and tongue collided over and over again.
The couple eventually parted, frantically gasping for breath through wide, beaming smiles.
"I meant what I said last night, Dean," Jo said quietly, sweeping her palm over his chest as he pressed a kiss to her temple and nuzzled her cheek, "so if you want this- whatever this is- to be a one night thing…" She winced at her babbling ineloquence, both hopeful and uncertain as to his response.
Dean brushed the tip of his nose against hers before he kissed her tenderly, tugging her top lip between his own.
"What if I want every night?" he arched an eyebrow, his heart hammering in his chest as he awaited her reply.
"What?" Jo widened her eyes, searching his face as she tried to ascertain just how serious he was.
"You and me, Jo… what do you say?" he tried his best to muster a convincing smile, but found all he could do was stare into her eyes and await another rejection. He hoped she would find it more difficult to turn down a sincere declaration of love than she had his patented and usually well-received 'last night on earth' speech.
"Why now?" she pressed, her fingertips still caressing his neck, which Dean hoped was a good sign. However, the thoughtful expression upon her face was making him uncomfortable.
"Because there'll probably never be a right place or a right time for us and, I want this, I… I want you, Jo," he stammered, pulling her close as he once again reflected upon the day.
Jo cocked her head and regarded him somewhat suspiciously, a sly smile creeping across her lips, "And you just figured all this out today?"
Dean shrugged and winced in mild annoyance at her question, "No. Look Jo, you and I… it's always been complicated."
"Things are as complicated as you make them, Dean," she countered, although she made no move to extract herself from his arms, which he assumed was another promising sign.
"I know," he agreed, "I just… I didn't want you to get hurt. Aww, come on Jo, you know how I've always felt about you."
Jo smiled and pursed her lips as she appeared to consider his claims, "Well I know you're pretty familiar with my ass, if that's what you mean?"
Dean bit back a smirk and was about to form a more coherent and he hoped convincing argument, when Jo placed her palm to his cheek and directed his gaze back to her face. He found himself instantly lost in her eyes and knew without doubt that he would happily remain so for the rest of his life.
"I just need to know that this isn't some crazy, knee jerk reaction because of what happened today. I need to know this is real, Dean," she stated, biting uneasily at her bottom lip. Jo hated discussing her feelings almost as much as Dean did, and the conversation had them both decidedly on edge and uncertain.
Dean reached up and grazed the back of his hand against her cheek, brushing his thumb across her lips as he ran his eyes over every curve and plain of her face.
"It's real," he promised, inclining his head as if to kiss her. Jo's eyelids fluttered closed as she anticipated the feel of his lips against her own.
Dean paused, faltering momentarily as he held his mouth above her ear and, in an adorably inarticulate manner, finally voiced his feelings. Jo started slightly as his whispered confession drifted over the shell of her ear, but as the seconds passed and she drank in his words, an incredulous yet euphoric smile broke out across her face.
Dean's hands shook with nerves as he pressed them against the small of Jo's back, and watched her eyes flutter slowly open. His breath caught in his chest, and he knew that whatever happened, he would always remember this moment.
They would make each other happy, of that he was certain, and even if their 'happily ever after' would be a far cry from that of 'normal' couples, he would always allow himself to hope. Because Dean figured that he and Jo belonged together, and she made him want to dream again, about white picket fences and all they implied.
Jo reached up and kissed him, humming in pleasure as he eagerly returned the gesture. She smiled against his mouth as his hands wandered down to her rear and slid into the pockets of her jeans.
"Dean," she warned, hardly able to speak as he moved impatiently to seek out her lips again, "my Mom's watching."
"Hey, she sent me out here." Dean argued, kissing her briefly as she cast her gaze over to where her mother was standing on the stoop, arms folded across her chest as she watched.
"I think she sent you out here to talk, Dean, not feel me up," she grinned, pressing her face against his chest as he hugged her and then peppered the top of her head with kisses.
They turned simultaneously as Ellen called out to them, gesturing that they should come inside for dinner before she walked back into the house. The screen door closed behind her with a resounding slam.
Finally releasing her from his arms, Dean took a step toward the house and then offered her his hand.
Recognising the symbolism behind the gesture, Jo slid her hand inside his and smiled as she fell into step beside him. Dean pushed the door open, stepping back to allow Jo to duck inside before him, and he shot Ellen a smile as he gestured toward the pot on the stove.
"Smells good." He nodded in approval, the smile falling from his face as she glared at him with obvious intent.
"Dinner's in five minutes, sweetie, go tell those other two to wash up…" Ellen stood in front of Jo and simply stared down at her, brushing a strand of blonde hair behind her shoulder as she forced her lips into a tight smile. Jo nodded, about to walk away when her mother called her back and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Images of her daughter, her face pale and bloody assaulted her mind and Ellen squeezed her hand tightly as tearful smiles passed between mother and daughter.
Ellen let out a breath as she watched Jo walk away, trying to lighten the mood by shouting after her, "And tell Bobby to take that damn cap off!"
Dean smirked as he heard Bobby grouse in reply and mutter under his breath in protest, but his grin faded in an instant as Ellen suddenly stood before him with an expression that belayed the seriousness of their impending talk.
"Look, Ellen I…" Dean began, flinching visibly as she pounced on his words.
"Don't you 'Ellen' me, boy. Now, I'm gonna talk and you're gonna listen," she ordered, throwing the dish towel that had been draped over her shoulder onto the counter top.
"Yes ma'am," Dean agreed, staring back at Ellen with equal fear and admiration.
Ellen arched a dark eyebrow, her index finger jabbing his chest as she took a step closer, "If you break my little girl's heart, Dean Winchester, I will personally gut you from fin to tail and feed your sorry entrails to a pack of rabid werewolves. You understand me?"
"Yes ma'am," Dean stuttered, feeling his palms growing increasingly sweaty as her brown eyes scoured every inch of his face.
Resting her hands on her hips, she nodded in satisfaction and a strangely content smile appeared in place of her murderous glare.
"Alright, good. I'm glad we had this little talk," she stated, ignoring the wince she received as she reached out and pulled her victim into a warm, surprisingly maternal embrace.
"Lord knows I love you two boys like you were my own, so don't make me have to kill you, okay?" she warned, watching with satisfaction as Dean bobbed his head in agreement.
"Now, go wash up for dinner," she directed, gesturing toward the direction of the bathroom as the sound of a bickering Jo and Bobby approached the kitchen.
Ellen watched the young man leave the room with a resigned sigh. Whilst she cared deeply for the Winchester boys, she had wanted so much more for her daughter than to fall for a hunter.
Yet the heartbreaking exchange she had witnessed between Dean and Jo only hours before, assured her that despite any misgivings she might have about their relationship, they deserved a chance to be together. They loved each other, and Ellen had to hope that maybe that would be enough.
Bobby led the younger hunters toward the table, spinning the wheels of his chair in an irritable manner, as Ellen bustled around the stove serving up five steaming bowls of chili. She deposited them one by one in front of her diners. The meal passed in an understandable silence as they each picked their way courteously through a meal none had the appetite for. Dean kept a watchful eye on Jo, his hand remaining discretely over hers.
Later that evening, as Sam and Ellen swept up the cards and chips from what had been a half-hearted poker game, they found their gazes settled on the two sleeping bodies laying across the couch. Having observed the pair keenly all evening, Ellen had seen them talking in hushed tones that left their exchange impossible to decipher. Hesitant kisses had been exchanged, as all new lovers are prone to do, and it had taken all Ellen's willpower not to sweep her daughter up into her arms when it seemed that the events of the day finally bore down upon her and Jo had collapsed in a fit of tears.
"Should we wake them up?" Sam asked, following Ellen over toward Dean and Jo, who lay in a seemingly peaceful sleep as the TV flickered quietly in the background.
"No, let's leave 'em be," Ellen insisted, reaching for the throw from the back of the couch and draping it over their entwined bodies.
Jo lay curled up against Dean's chest, his arms wrapped around her as she slept with her head resting on his shoulder. Their chests rose and fell in perfect synchronicity, and Sam smiled as he noted the unusually peaceful expression that seemed to be settled upon his brother's face.
"I'm gonna head up to bed," Sam said quietly, jamming his hands in his pockets as he watched Ellen staring down at her daughter.
"Okay. Goodnight hon," she smiled kindly, taking Sam somewhat by surprise as she reached up and hugged him, then patted his cheek as an afterthought.
"Ellen… are you okay?" Sam checked, remaining wholly unconvinced as she nodded hurriedly and blinked back as yet unshed tears.
"I'm fine," she assured, nudging him in the direction of the stairs before she cast one final glance back at her daughter and gave a silent prayer of thanks.
"Everything's as it should be."