AN: Okay, now. Can I just say something here? AND SPOILER WARNINGS FOR ANYONE WHO HASN'T SEEN 7.03 'CAUSE I AM ABOUT TO RANT, PEOPLE. To be perfectly honest with you guys, I was bitterly disappointed by Friday night's episode. Dean and I are having a bit of a disagreement because of his thickheaded stubbornness in the episode. I was left completely blindsided, shocked and appalled by Dean's behavior. I felt his actions were totally unnecessary and careless. And if Ruby were there she would have kicked his ass and he would have been sleeping on the couch for, like, ever. I am not kidding here. I'm actually a little surprised by my anger. Usually, if I'm pissed at Dean, it just blows over, but I am still really, really livid. On the plus side, I found the directing fabulous. That's not just me sucking up and kissing ass either. Some of the shots were really pretty. Also, I'm currently writing a Lila Bray 'verse version of season seven so 7.03 has provided me with some juicy emotional angst to plow through. It also gives me some nice leverage for a certain plot point in said story. But it is entirely possible - or so I have been told my my ''lovely'' brother - that I need to get a life and stop thinking so much about these things.

In other news, I have now watched some of the Supernatural: Anime Series. It's...not for me. It's not bad or anything, it's just that anime shows in general kind of scare the bejeezus out of me.

And last but not leat, to all you fellow Canadians, HAPPY THANKSGIVING! Make sure and...you know...stuff your faces. I, for one, will be stuffing my face in about three hours.

(Oh, and is anyone enjoying the Salute to Supernatural Convention in Toronto this weekened? Hope you're having a great time! I've heard Jensen smells great - no, seriously. I've been told he smells really good.)

Title of this chapter from the poem ''Remember'' by Christina Georgina Rossetti.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.


slower, slower

Written by Becks Rylynn


Chapter Four

''Remember me when I am gone away''


''We're all mad here.''
- Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


A half hour before he has to go pick up Piper, Dean pulls Ruby's stupid mom car into the driveway of the Daniels' family home.

This, you must understand, is a big mistake.

He regrets not driving right past the house the moment he turns into the driveway, which is unfortunately Impala free. Which means Ruby and Sam aren't back yet. Joey, however, is standing outside in the front yard, sending sidelong glances in Dean's direction as he dutifully waters his wife's tulips. Aw, fuck. Joey's going to shoot him and bury him in the backyard, isn't he? Dean cracks his knuckles anxiously before reluctantly killing the engine and stepping out of the car. He moves out from behind the jeep almost sluggishly with a trying smile on his face and a hand raised in a half wave. ''Hey, Joey. Victoria's flowers are lookin' nice this year.''

Joey gives him a flat look, glances at his wife's flowers, and then without warning, turns the garden hose on Dean. A startled yelp escapes Dean's lips as a steady stream of ice cold water assaults him, soaking through his clothes. Eventually, Joey turns off the hose and tosses it aside, same dry, unimpressed look on his face. Gasping and choking on the water that has sprayed into his mouth and up his nose, Dean frantically tries to wipe water off his face. ''Dude! What the hell!'' He shakes his arms, sending water spraying everywhere.

''I am not your dude,'' Joey snarls out bitterly. He strides forwards, finger jabbed in Dean's direction. ''Is it true?''

''Ugh,'' Dean grumbles, stripping off his wet and heavy jacket. ''Is what true?''

''Just because I'm not a hunter anymore, boy, that doesn't mean I don't have contacts,'' Joey warns. ''I have eyes on you, Dean. And I know. I know about what you did.''

Dean blanches. Oh. Oh, shit. ''I...I don't know what you're talking about,'' he stammers.

''You don't?'' Joey sneers, taking another step. ''All right then. Let me break it down for you. Today I got a phone call from a friend of mine who heard through the huntin' grapevine that you went all kamikaze and made yourself a deal with a demon. Now just tell me,'' he snaps, eyes ablaze with anger. ''Is it true?''

Dean swallows thickly. See, this is exactly what he was afraid would happen. It's not like he's an idiot. He knows he has to tell Piper and Ruby about his deal. He knows that. But he was really hoping he could put it off until the end of the trip. Then he could just blurt it out and run like the coward he has been told he is. ''Look,'' he sighs, trying to ignore the shivers starting because of the cold water sinking into his skin. ''I don't really want to talk about this right now, Joey.''

''How long did you get?'' Oh, now, if he didn't know any better, Dean would say the old man's worried about him. It's a crazy idea, really. Joey has made it perfectly clear that he is not a member of the Dean Winchester fan club. What more is there to say?

Dean would like to point out that he tries to answer. He opens his mouth to tell Joey everything, to make him understand, but his throat dries up and his tongue suddenly feels too thick and too wooly, so he closes his mouth and walks away instead. Still dripping wet, boots squishing grossly, Dean walks a determined path to the front door and tries to block out the sound of Joey yelling after him.

He makes it all the way upstairs and to the bathroom with a fresh change of clothes before he lets himself breathe. He looks at himself in the mirror, hands braced against the sink, and he carefully surveys his reflection in the mirror. It's not often that he likes what he sees in the mirror. Today is no different. Mostly what he sees right now is a deadbeat father who has six months left to live and hasn't even told his kid yet. Suddenly tired, he quickly looks away from his weary reflection and tries not to think about how Piper and Ruby will react to the news of his deal. Ruby will get angry, no doubt. But Piper...Piper will cry. He hates it when his little girl cries.

This isn't what he wanted for her. He never wanted her to feel what he felt growing up. She never knew her mother. All she has is Ruby and that's always been more than good enough. But she knows her dad. She knows her father and who he is and she's going to feel it when he dies.

You know, things would be so simple if he had just stayed gone all those years ago. If she never known him, if he hadn't been so damn selfish. Everything would have been fine for her. They would've been just fine. What's he really given her these past twelve and a half years anyway? What's he done for her?

He lets out a sigh and pushes a hand through his hair. It's almost November. He's only got a little over six months left and he still hasn't told them. All the times he's been here since he made his deal... Each and every time he would open his mouth, fully intending to drop the bomb, but then Piper would smile at him or laugh, and Ruby would look at him like he wasn't the bane of her existence, and each and every time without fail, he would chicken out. How is he supposed to tell them this? How is he supposed to tell them that in a mere six months he's going to be savagely ripped apart and dragged down to Hell? It's an impossible task.

When he has changed into dry clothes and has firmly avoided looking in the mirror, he hesitates and then swings open the door. Joey is waiting for him, leaning against the opposite wall, jaw clenched. ''Just tell me,'' he growls out. ''How long did you get?''

This time Dean has nowhere to run, so he squares his shoulders and decides to face the music instead. ''One year. ...It's more like six months now.''

Joey tenses, then looks away with a scoff of disgust. ''You Winchesters,'' he snaps. ''Such self sacrificial bastards. And you,'' his eyes darken. ''You're just like your daddy, you know that? Haven't you taken enough from me?''

''What exactly am I taking away from you this time, Joey?'' Dean fires back. ''Huh? You hate me.''

Joey narrows his eyes, looking positively lethal. ''And you don't think you dying is going to affect my granddaughter? My daughter? They both love you.''

Dean can't help but laugh at that. ''Ruby? Ruby loves me?''

''Oh, cut the bullshit,'' Joey says hotly. ''I know you're sleeping with her.''

''I am not sleeping with Ruby!''

''It's not nice to lie to old men.''

''Joey, I'm not ly - ''

Joey goes forwards, shoving Dean hard enough to send the younger man stumbling back into the wall. ''You better tell them quick, do you hear me, boy? You tell my daughter... You tell her or I will.''

''Tell me what?''

Dean feels his heart drop, whirling around to face the speaker. Ruby's standing at the top of the stairs, duffel bag thrown over her shoulder, Piper's pink and sparkly backpack in her hands, and she' staring at them both like she's trying her hardest to decipher what the emotions in their eyes mean.

''Sweetheart,'' Joey starts quietly, ''Dean has something he needs to tell you.'' To put emphasis on this, he sends a positively cutting look in Dean's direction.

Ruby sighs heavily. ''Awesome,'' she monotones. ''I'm sure it'll be real great news. Just let me put this stuff away. I'm sure it would be better if I didn't have large and heavy objects to hit you with.''

When she has disappeared into her old room, Dean falls back against the wall, covering his face with his hands. ''Well, thanks,'' he mutters out sarcastically. ''That's really great, Joey. How the fuck am I supposed to - ''

''You just are,'' Joey cuts him off with a pointed look. ''She has a right to know. They both do.''

Dean would like to argue with that, but he really can't. Slowly and hesitantly, dreading every second of what's to come, he sends one more look in Joey's direction and then follows after Ruby, slipping into her old childhood bedroom. The door clicks shut softly behind him and when he lifts his eyes, he feels like he's been transported back to the past. ''Wow,'' he lets out a somewhat nostalgic chuckle, surveying the bedroom. It's seriously like time has stood still in here. ''Let's do the time warp again.'' He eyes the old rock band posters on the wall and the teddy bear on the bed. Arching an eyebrow, he jerks his thumb towards the poster of Courtney Love on the wall. ''That right there? That's the scariest thing I've ever seen.''

''Fifteen year old me had some anger issues, yes.''

''...Yes, because twenty seven year old you is a regular cheerleader,'' he mutters under his breath.

She throws a look over her shoulder. ''What?''

''Nothing.'' He ducks his head to hide a smile. He turns, eyes scanning the pictures taped to the mirror. Carefully, he plucks one of Beth and Ruby off the mirror and studies Beth's young face, big smile covering her lips. Sometimes he forgets how beautiful she was. Beth really was a gorgeous girl. His eyes shift upwards, landing on Ruby. She used to always say that compared to Beth, she was nothing special. And maybe she didn't have the perfect skin that Beth had or shiny, supermodel hair, maybe she did have braces for awhile and glasses for longer, but her eyes have always sparkled in a way Beth's never could. He looks away from Ruby quickly, clearing his throat and turning around, attention back on the picture in his hand.

''You should see Beth's room,'' Ruby says softly, reaching around him to take the picture from his hand. She looks at the photograph for a second, small smile tugging at her lips, and then she swallows and places it back on the mirror. ''It's even scarier. Nothing's changed. Nobody's touched it. The only thing Mom and Dad ever did after she died was change the sheets.''

He grimaces briefly, trying not to remember all that gore. Childbirth is a messy thing and, as he had learned twelve years ago, it was not meant to happen on the pristine (and quite expensive) white sheets Beth had made her mother buy her.

''You go in there and suddenly you're back in the nineties,'' Ruby continues quietly, turning away from him. ''It's like you expect her to skip through the door in her cheerleading uniform or see her pretending to do her homework or doing her make up.'' She takes a seat on the squeaky bed, eyes bright, sad smile gracing her lips.

''Hey,'' he says suddenly, mostly to break the silence. ''Do you remember...'' He takes a seat next to her. ''...Do you remember that night when your parents were supposed to be working late, but they came home early so - ''

''Beth made you climb out of my window,'' she laughs a full on eye crinkling, head tossing laugh, throwing one leg over the other. ''Because nobody would ever believe we were doing anything.''

Dean can't help but laugh at the memory of awkwardly trying to simultaneously climb down the side of the house and maintain his badass image, which seemed like it was of dire importance back then. ''I seriously though you were going to push me out the window.''

''I did think about it,'' she admits. ''You were totally shameless.''

''Oh, and Beth wasn't?'' He challenges lightly. ''Ruby, she tried to get me to have sex in your parents' bed once.''

''What? Oh my god, why?''

''She said she wanted to spice things up.''

She laughs again, hand thrown over her face. ''Yeah, well, Beth...'' Sobering, she shakes her head fondly, eyes staring straight ahead of her like she's trying to see back into the past. ''She was one of a kind.''

''She certainly was,'' he nods. ''That, uh,'' he sideways eyes her, ''that seems to be a theme with you Daniels girls.''

She's still smiling when she looks at him, genuine and softer than usual. He's not one for all of that sentimental shit, but he does enjoy it when he and Ruby get along. There's a certain level of peace to it that feels comfortable. ''Was that a compliment?'' She asks, nudging his shoulder. ''Directed towards me?''

''It was tossed in your general direction,'' he says flatly.

She looks at him closely for a second in that distinctly Ruby way and then she rises to her feet, gliding away from him. He shakes himself out of whatever nostalgia laced mood he had been in and licks his lips. Moment over. ''You said you had something to tell me,'' she prompts, turning around to face him, arms crossed. ''What is it? I can already tell by the look on your face that it's bad news so you should just get it over with. You're not going to miss her birthday again this year, are you?''

''No,'' he stands. ''Definitely not. Not this year. I just...'' He trails off and tries to formulate a way to break this gently. It's not working out so well for him. Gently may be out of the question when it comes to this. ''You're going to hate me,'' he blurts out.

She stiffens, lips pressing together impatiently. ''For what?''

''I'm...'' And he doesn't know how else to say it so she just says it, the words pouring out of him before he can stop himself. ''I'm dying.''

She goes rigid. He swears he sees real devastation and terror flash through her eyes for a split second, but quickly decides it's probably just a mixture of shock and anger. ''...What?''

''A few months ago Sam...'' Dean takes a deep breath and tries not to remember the feel of Sam's pale, gray skin under his fingertips. ''...He sort of...died a little bit...and to get him back, I had to make a deal with the crossroads demon. She gave me a year to live.'' He stops and waits for her to say something, but she remains silent, eyes blank and emotionless. ''The deal,'' he continues reluctantly. ''It's up in May so...so that means - ''

''You have six months to live,'' she finishes for him.

''I...'' He cracks his knuckles nervously and then clenches his fists because he has suddenly been struck with the inexplicable need to touch her and he knows he can't do that. ''...Yes.''

She nods slowly like she's absorbing the information, dropping her gaze to the ground. But when she still doesn't say anything, he gets desperate, taking a step towards her. Even if she's just going to yell at him he needs her to say something. ''Ruby,'' he pleads. ''Aren't you - fuck, just... Say something.''

She lifts her eyes to him and he realizes too late the consequences of stepping too close to her. She's actually quite calm when it happens. She just looks at him, curls her hand into a fist, and punches him in the face. He staggers backwards. She walks away. He wonders why he ever expected anything less from her. There's a ringing in his ears as he brings a hand up to his face, and spots dance behind his eyes like mocking little sparkling stars that tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he is an idiot. For a second, he actually thinks she might have broken his jaw. Blinking frantically to clear his vision, he rubs his sore (but thankfully not broken) jaw and tries to shake it off. That was not an altogether terrible reaction. Painful, yes. But it easily could have been much worse. At least she didn't kick him in the family jewels, right? That would've been worse. Letting out a grunt if both pain and frustration, he works his jaw and then chases after her. Hell, if this thing's started, he's not gonna let it end until everything is resolved and fixed.

He bounds down the stairs, catching sight of her just as she disappears into the kitchen. Ruby may seem like a major hard ass, but she's far more breakable than she'd like to admit. If she starts to feel any emotional vulnerability whatsoever, she goes into cleaning mode. It's a nervous habit she picked up from her mother. After watching her mother clean during times of emotional distress, something in her brain began to tell her that it was completely normal behavior. It's just the way her brain has managed to rewire itself. Dean kind of prefers to get drunk, punch walls, and chop the heads off monsters when he's upset, but hey - cleaning works too. He halts in his tracks right by the kitchen door, suddenly alarmed by how far he can manage to see into Ruby's psyche.

What's that supposed to mean?

He waves it off and quietly enters the room. Sure enough, she is bent over the counter, frantically scrubbing at the already clean Formica. ''Ruby...''

''Don't talk to me,'' she warns.

''Ruby, I'm sorry.''

''I said don't talk to me.'' Her voice trembles, but he can't be sure if it's with sorrow or rage. He swallows and remains rooted to the spot. When he moves closer to her, she drops the rag in her hand and turns away from him, bringing a hand up to cover her mouth.

''I had to do it,'' he says, feeling strangely calm. ''Ruby, I had to do it for Sam.''

''For Sam,'' she echoes, chuckling bitterly, bracing herself against the sink. ''Yes, because I'm sure this is exactly what Sam wants, huh? You dying for him? You know,'' she turns her head slightly. ''You always do this.'' She spins around, leaning back against the sink with her arms folded over her chest. He really hates the way she's looking at him right now. It's the same look she gives Piper when she's not angry, just disappointed. Jesus Christ, no wonder the kid always folds like a wet paper napkin under this look. It's like fucking mental torture. ''Always,'' she goes on quietly, an undoubtedly hostile smirk flickering across her lips. ''I don't even know why it still surprises me.''

''What the fuck is that supposed to mean?'' He snaps out defensively.

''It means you're a selfish bastard and I'm done expecting you to be anything but.'' The words hit him like a physical blow, hitting hard and way below the belt. She pushes off the sink, glaring at him with her angry and glistening eyes as she steps towards him. ''You're always doing this,'' she tells him, ''and I've waited for it to stop, and I've waited for you to grow up, and I've waited for you to...'' She trails off, lowering her eyes. ''But this is it, Dean. It's over. I can't wait for you anymore, and Piper shouldn't have to. You're...You're always out there doing all of this reckless kamikaze shit and it's...it's like you forget you have a little girl at home who needs you. And it's not fair. And I'm done. If you want to die so badly, you can just...you can go die. I don't need you anymore.''

Every word she spits out at him like nails pricks him like a needle and when she finishes, starting to brush past him, he has to look down at his wrists to make sure he isn't bleeding. He thinks about letting her little fit slide. Of course she's going to be upset and pissed. Of course she's going to whip out the insults that cut the deepest, that's what she does. But he doesn't have the greatest self control, so when she brushes by him, he reaches out, locks a hand around her wrist and spins her back to him. When she struggles, he only grasps onto her other wrist, staring down at her like she's nothing. ''You think you're better than me?'' He hisses out. He leans closer to her. She leans away. He tightens his grip on her wrist. ''Remember Beth, Ruby? Do you? Do you remember what you tried to do after she died? How you tried so hard to bring her back? How you would've willingly sold your soul to witchcraft if I hadn't stopped you?'' He yanks her into his body roughly and his nails dig into her skin. ''You and me, sweetheart, we're the same. Do not, for one second, pretend that you're better than me because you're not.''

Her eyes bore into him and she wriggles free of his vice like grip, stepping away from him. ''You ever grab me like that again,'' she advises lowly, sounding slightly breathless, ''and I'm gonna break your arm. You got me?'' She spins on her heel without waiting for an answer, storming out of the kitchen looking pale and agitated.

Once she's gone, he swallows in a giant gulp of air, attempting to regain a steady breathing pattern. He scrubs a hand over his face and turns away from the door, leaning his arms on the counter and dropping his head into his hands. What is it about that woman? How is it possible for someone to make him feel so peaceful and content one minute and so unbelievably low the next? What kind of sorcery is that? How does she do it?

Truth is Ruby's always been like this. Ever since the first time he met her, she's been something of a stabilizer. She gives him the illusion of a happy normal life with a daughter and a place to rest his head and she kicks his ass when it needs to be kicked. But on the flip side, she has the power to tear him down like no one else, ripping him up into pieces that can't be fixed. She has the ability to reduce him into nothing but a pile of ash on the ground. And the thing about Ruby, the thing that never changes, no matter what, come hell or high water, is that he is completely and forever stuck with her.

...At least for another six months.

''Dean.''

He looks up, clearing his throat quietly.

Sam raises his eyebrows in question. ''Hey, man,'' he says hesitantly. ''You, uh... You okay?''

Dean waves it off. ''Fine. I just need to talk to Ruby.''

''Whoa.'' Sam steps in front of the door to block his brother, holding his hands up. ''Dean, maybe now's not the best time.''

''Look, I'm not gonna die with her hating me, all right? Now move.''

''I'm just saying...maybe you should give her a few minutes to cool off.''

Dean scoffs. ''Ruby doesn't cool of, Sam. She gets angrier and then she gets physical.''

''Her dad's in there with her now,'' Sam says. ''Just give him a few minutes to - ''

''Oh yeah,'' Dean sneers. ''Because I'm sure Joey's in there talking me up as we speak, right? Step aside, little brother.''

''Dean - ''

''Move or I move you. Your choice.''

Sam stares at him and then his shoulders slump in defeat. ''Fine,'' he sighs, shaking his head. Somewhat reluctantly, he steps aside. ''Just let me ask you one question,'' he adds on softly.

Dean stops with his hand on the door, flinging a look towards his brother. Oh, please don't let him ask about -

''You and Ruby... Are you two...? You're not...?''

Fuck.

Dean gnaws on his lower lip. With a tired laugh, he shakes his head and looks away from Sam's eyes. ''That's a random question.''

''That's not an answer,'' Sam points out.

Dean pushes through the door without answering the question. In the living room, Ruby is sitting on the couch with her head in her hands. Her father is sitting next to her, talking to her quietly and rubbing her back. (Sometimes, on the bad days or the lonely nights, Dean will sit and he will wonder if Ruby knows how lucky she is to have a father like Joey Daniels.) ''Ruby,'' he practically whispers her name out, shuffling from foot to foot.

She looks up at him with dull eyes, body slumped in exhaustion. ''What?'' She murmurs. ''What more could you possibly have to say to me?''

He closes his eyes briefly, sucking in a breath. ''We need to talk about - ''

''Talk about what?'' She interjects. ''What else is there to say, Dean? You said it all. You're an idiot and in six months, you're going to die. What more can you say?''

''...Y-You're going to die?''

The air seems to almost visibly thicken and Dean suddenly finds that he can't seem to make air reach his lungs.

''Oh, god,'' he hears Ruby whisper weakly. ''Oh my god...Piper...''

Everything gets very quiet all of a sudden as Dean slowly turns around to face his daughter. Sam's standing in the doorway to the kitchen, wincing and looking at the ground like he can't look Piper in the eye. Joey's got his eyes closed, one hand massaging his forehead. Ruby's on her feet, one hand over her mouth, the other wrapped around her stomach. And Dean is stuck staring into his daughter's green eyes - the only physical attribute she inherited from him - watching as it all sinks in. He swears that when her face scrunches up and tears form in her eyes that it is the most pain he has ever felt. ''Baby,'' he manages to get out, head spinning. He doesn't know what else he's supposed to say. He can't make this better with ice cream or a kiss on the forehead. This isn't something he can just slap a band aid over.

And this right here...this is exactly the reason why it took him to long to tell them.

''Piper, honey,'' Ruby's voice wobbles dangerously, on the verge of breaking. She takes one single step towards the young girl and then halts in her tracks. ''W-What are you doing back so early? You were supposed to wait for your dad to come pick you up.''

''One of the girls... She fell and broke her arm,'' Piper murmurs in a daze, still staring straight ahead at her father. He finds himself unable to move under her gaze. ''So...Miss. Daisy cancelled practice and Karen's mom drove me home. Daddy, are you going to die?'' She says it all in a rush, voice squeaking on the last word.

Nobody says a word.

She begins to tremble, standing there in the open doorway, still wearing her ballet outfit, fingers clenching the straps of her bag so tightly her knuckles have gone white. She always makes a big deal out of the fact that she's twelve now and she's not a baby anymore. Right now, she has never looked younger. ''Is it true?'' She asks softly.

Still, nobody says a damn thing.

Dean tries to remember how to swallow. It wasn't supposed to go down like this. Not in a room full of people. He was going to sit her down and everything was supposed to be calm. He was supposed to be calm for her. Nothing is calm right now. Ruby's crying and Piper's about to freaking explode and Sam's standing there like a giant bucket of guilt because he always looks so damn guilty when talking about the deal.

Joey, at last, stands. ''Piper - ''

''Is it true?'' She demands in a shrill scream.

Ruby jumps.

''Yes.'' It takes Dean a moment to realize that was his voice.

Tears slip down Piper's cheeks and her voice comes out strained and small when she speaks. ''Are you sick?''

Ruby chokes on a sob and has to look away, raking a hand through her hair. She sends Dean a look out of the corner of her eye that he swears says do you see what you've done? This is your fault!

''No, baby,'' he rasps. ''I'm not sick. It's nothing like that.''

''Then what is it like?'' She wails, dropping her bag and rushing towards him. ''Tell me!''

The kitchen door shuts and when Dean spares a glance over his shoulder, Sam's gone.

''Okay,'' he says, voice shaky (because right now it is anything but okay). ''Okay, Piper.'' He places his hands firmly on his daughter's shoulders and bends down so he's eye level with her. ''You need to listen to me,'' he pleads. ''And I know this might not make a lot of sense but you have to believe me when I say that this... It has to - ''

''It has to what?'' She cries out, shoving his hands away and stumbling away from him. Her eyes stare at him like she doesn't know him. Like she's looking right through him. ''It has to happen?'' She blubbers. ''You have to die?''

''Piper...'' He reaches out for her desperately without any idea of what he's doing. He's not quite sure if his plan is to hug her or attempt to prevent her from wailing on him, but whatever his plan is, it doesn't work.

The second he tries to grasp her arm, she wrenches free quite violently and shoves at his shoulder with a wild screech of, ''Get away from me!''

''Piper, wait!''

Piper shakes her head, lips wobbling, tears running down her cheeks. She spins on her heel to run away, heading straight for the front door. Ruby pushes past Dean to chase after her niece, her own eyes glimmering, and then all hell breaks loose. A swirling mass of energy forms in the doorway and both Piper and Ruby stop in their tracks. Before Piper even has a chance to scream out in shock and fear, the black cloud takes the shape of an achingly familiar person and the air in the room thins.

A single moment passes and then Piper manages to whisper out a meek sounding, ''Mom?''

.

''She's so pretty.'' Tears make tracks down Beth's pale face, still glistening with sweat as she clutches the baby to her chest, somewhat awkwardly. She smiles down at the baby, shushing her gently when the bundle squirms. Ten minutes with a baby and already the least maternal person in the world is being lit up - illuminated - by motherhood. Seriously. That's not just the world's cheesiest metaphor. Dean has never seen Queen Bee Beth Daniels smile at anyone like she's smiling down at her daughter.

Their daughter.

Dean stands at the end of the bed, arms folded over his chest as he searches for the right emotion to feel, 'cause there sure are a lot of them surging through him right now. There is a part of him that just wants to scream. Demand to know what the hell Beth was thinking when she foolishly decided to keep her pregnancy a secret and went through nine months without ever seeking any medical attention. What the hell is wrong with her? Didn't she realize how dangerous that was?

Beth's a drinker, he knows she's a drinker. One of those naive teenagers who drinks to get drunk just to see if she can get away with it. Did she drink while she was pregnant? Smoke? What had she done? There's a part of him that is so filled with rage and frustration and hurt. But then the other part of him is looking down at that baby girl and he's so scared and so joyful and still stuck in the disbelief category. He's a father. There are no words to describe how that feels.

He just wishes his mom were here.

Soft fingers brush against the back of his neck, sending a tingle down his spine. He turns to look at Ruby. She's staring at him, face creased in worry. ''You okay?'' She asks softly.

He somehow manages a half hearted shrug. ''I don't know,'' he answers honestly. ''I just...delivered my own kid.'' He shakes his head at how bizarre that statement sounds. He's not used to this yet. Not prepared. Not ready. ''I'm just waiting to wake up,'' he admits.

She frowns at him for a brief second and then offers him one of those shy, half smiles that is all eyes and lips - that is so distinctly Ruby - and then she side steps him, hand grazing the small of his back as she glides over to her sister. Still looking frightened and a little ashen in the dim light of the room, Ruby crawls onto the bed next to her sister, breath catching noticeably when she eyes the baby.

Dean almost smirks. Well, good. It's nice to know he isn't the only one who is utterly petrified by the mere presence of the infant.

''Beth,'' Ruby murmurs, hand pressed to her sister's forehead. ''You're burning up. I really think we should call - ''

''Isn't she beautiful?'' Beth gushes, eyes stuck on the baby in her arms. ''Like an angel,'' she whispers. ''The most beautiful girl in the world.''

Ruby looks stricken. ''Yes, she's beautiful. But you have a fever, Beth.'' She touches her sister's forehead again and then cups Beth's cheek gently, brushing hair out of her eyes. ''And it's only getting worse. I need you to be okay.''

''What do you think we should name her?'' Beth asks with a bright, unconcerned smile.

Ruby draws back, now looking as if she is seconds away from bursting into tears. ''Beth, please - ''

''You're holding her wrong,'' Dean can't help but interject, shaking himself out of his stupor and his self induced paralysis.

Beth's big hazel eyes stare up at him. ''I-I am?'' Her teeth sink into her lower lip in concern. When the mattress dips under his weight, the baby blinks open her eyes and a gasp gets caught in his throat.

''It's okay,'' he assures Beth, gently reaching out to help her. His eyes flick towards Ruby and then at the phone on the bedside table. She swallows hard and slides off the bed, snatching up the phone without Beth noticing. ''There you go,'' Dean murmurs, keeping his eyes on Beth as he adjusts the baby into a safer and more comfortable position in her mother's arms.

''You don't...You don't think I hurt her, do you?'' She questions worriedly. ''By holding her wrong, I mean?''

''Oh, no.'' He smiles softly and brings a hand to her forehead, wincing slightly at the heat radiating from her skin. ''Babies are...'' He clears his throat. ''...They're tough.'' The lack of prenatal care might hurt her, but he doesn't say that.

''Yeah...'' Her voice cracks and more tears roll down her cheeks as she runs one finger down the baby's soft cheek. ''...Yeah...'' She sniffles noisily. ''...So pretty...'' Blinking tearfully, she pushes a shaking hand through her hair and turns her head, just enough to catch sight of her sister dialing the phone. Instantly, the wonder and peace drains out of her eyes, replaced by rage and frustration. ''Ruby,'' she hisses, eyes glinting with fire. ''What are you doing?''

Ruby throws an impatient look over her shoulder. ''I'm calling Mom and Dad.''

''Don't you dare!'' Beth's voice raises, panicked and loud. She jolts forwards, upsetting the little girl in her arms, and Dean's arms shoot out to take the baby quickly, shushing her softly. Beth's wide, panicked eyes go to Dean, that same pleading look in her eyes that she used to give him when she needed him to buy her something. ''Stop her,'' she begs. ''Dean, you have to stop her right now!''

''He's not going to stop me,'' Ruby retorts hotly. ''He knows we have to - ''

''You don't have to do anything!'' Beth screams. ''Ruby, if you call Mom and Dad, I'll never forgive you.''

Ruby doesn't look impressed. ''I'll deal.''

''Ruby, no, please... You can't call them! You can't...'' Beth trails off, putting one hand over her chest, a slightly pained look darting over her face, gone within a second. She shakes it off, looking adamant.

''Beth,'' Dean stands, still rocking the baby gently. ''Maybe - ''

''No!''

The baby lets out a wail.

''You can't tell them!'' Beth's breathing speeds up and her voice comes out garbled, slurred with sobs. ''Please, Ruby, please don't tell them. They don't need to know.''

''They're going to find out eventually,'' Ruby points out logically. She makes the mistake of moving closer, putting one comforting hand on her sister's shoulder. ''You may have been able to hide a pregnancy, Beth, but even you can't hide a baby.''

And then Beth grabs onto her sister's arm, digs her fingernails into Ruby's skin until Ruby gasps in pain, and wrestles the phone from her hand. ''And I don't intend to,'' she shoots back. ''I'm not keeping her,'' she admits simply, regretfully. ''I can't.''

''What?'' His voice comes out strangled, getting caught in his throat. He lifts his eyes to Beth sharply, reluctantly tearing his eyes away from his baby. He knows he has no right to feel anger flow through him at that admission. It...probably would be the best choice. It's just that... He never thought he was capable of feeling this much for one person and maybe he isn't ready to let go of that just yet. ''But I thought you said - ''

''I know what I said.'' Beth pinches her lips together in that determined way of hers, keeping her eyes carefully off of her daughter. ''But I can't. I can't keep her. I just...'' She licks her cracked and dry lips. ''...Can't.''

Dean feels a flash of panic race through his chest, a sharp pang of longing. He looks down at the baby in his arms, who is amazingly calm. It is not often that he seriously thinks about giving it all up. The last time he even considered leaving the hunting lifestyle behind was when he was with Cheyenne. When he was with her, he used to dream about the life they could have had together. He had even come up with a plan, albeit a somewhat weak one. The minute he turned eighteen, he was going to take Sammy and they were going to run. And then once they were settled somewhere far away from their father, he was going to find Cheyenne and give her a ring because he had honestly loved that girl. His plan was to settle down in some calm and peaceful no name town in the middle of nowhere. A fucked up little family unit.

But even then, those were just dreams. The entire time he was with Cheyenne, he knew that all their relationship was running on was fumes and borrowed time. But this little girl... She has the power to change it all. Cheyenne may have been a pipe dream, but he would give up everything for this girl in a flash. In a heartbeat. He's been a dad for less than an hour, but he already knows that he'd pretty much do anything for her. He guesses, with some bitterness, that is what a father is supposed to do.

''Beth, listen to me,'' Ruby is saying forcefully, so forcefully that it jars Dean out of his infant induced trance and inner monologue. Blond hair falling in her face, Ruby digs one knee into the bed, eyes as lethal as knives as she stares Beth down. Dean doesn't think he has ever seen little Ruby Daniels look at anyone like that before. ''I cannot clean up your mess this time,'' she spits out. ''Do you get that? Is it getting through? Regardless of whether or not you give her up, people are going to find out. You need medical attention. She needs medical attention. We're just kids.'' Her voice starts to tremble. ''We're just kids, Beth. We can't fix you. Do you understand what I'm saying to you? Please understand.''

Beth stares at Ruby like she doesn't even recognize her. Dean gets the feeling that this is the first time Ruby has ever stood up to her sister like that. For a second, Beth almost looks proud. But then she sneers, wraps her hand around Ruby's wrist and pulls. ''No, you listen to me. Both of you.'' She sends Dean one of those patented Beth Daniels demanding glares. This one actually comes close to startling him. ''Here's what's going to happen.'' She looks in between them to make sure they're listening to her. ''You,'' she swings a glance at Dean, ''are going to take the baby to the hospital and make sure she's okay. Tell them that you...you found her abandoned or something. I don't know, you're an expert at spinning tales. Come up with something. And you,'' she looks back at her sister. ''You are going to help me clean up and clean the sheets and we're not going to tell Mom and Dad a thing. And then it will be over. Got it? The baby will go to some happy family, I'll go back to being pre-pregnancy Beth, get back on the cheerleading team and go to college, Ruby, you'll become some sort of doctor or lawyer or whatever you want, Dean, you can go save the world or whatever the fuck it is that you hunters do...and none of us will ever speak of this...this...unfortunate incident again. Understood?''

Her voice is low, eyes narrowed angrily. She clearly thinks that this will be just another thing to sweep under the rug, possibly used for blackmail purposes later on in life. Just another thing she can erase and pretend never happened. Well, Dean ain't buying into her shit this time. She may be able to bully her sister into doing her dirty work for her, but Dean isn't her puppet anymore.

''Ruby,'' he says calmly, eyes fixated on the baby still held in his arms. At least one person in the room is remotely calm. ''Can you give us a minute please?''

Ruby hesitates, letting out a shaky sigh and throwing her hands over her face, looking extremely distressed.

He stands, moving towards her. ''Ruby,'' he lowers his voice. ''Hey, it's okay.'' He bends down to whisper in her ear. ''Just let me talk to her for five minutes? Five minutes and if she's still being a bitch, we're takin' her to the hospital, okay?''

She doesn't say a word, but she does cast one more pleading look at her sister. Finally, she nods, slipping out of the room.

Dean turns back to Beth, swallowing thickly. Judging by the look on Beth's face, time is of the essence. Five minutes is all he has. She's sweating and pale, hands shaking, eyelids looking heavy. It could just be the simple matter of adrenaline wearing off, but he's not willing to take any chances. Not with this. He's giving himself exactly five minutes and five minutes only to convince her that she needs help. If her stubbornness prevails, he's going to pick her up and take her kicking and screaming to the hospital. He thinks he should be able to convince her, but he wonders if he's giving her too much credit. She always has been rather selfish. He's just hoping that she loves her daughter.

''Beth.'' He speaks quietly, deciding that the gentle approach is best in this situation. He takes back his spot beside her on the bed and pushes the baby into her arms, all but forcing her to take the child. ''You need help.''

She swallows, but looks like she has a rough time doing so. ''I'm fine,'' she whispers. The tears beginning to roll down her cheeks once again tell him otherwise. ''I'll be fine,'' she adds. ''Women give birth every day.''

''We need to get you looked at,'' he presses.

She shakes her head stubbornly, an honest to God pout on her lips. ''No.''

''Beth, look at me.'' He lifts her chin up, forcing her to meet his eyes. ''I know you.'' When she shakes her head and begins to pull away from him, he grabs her face with both hands. ''Yes, I do,'' he insists. ''I know you better than you think I do.''

She closes her eyes. ''D-Dean...''

''And I know you're scared, and I know you're tired and probably really fucking sore, but we have to take you in. We have to do what's right.''

She shakes her head again, weakly this time. ''Everyone...Everyone will know.''

''Beth - ''

''Everyone will know,'' she repeats, cheeks tinged red. ''I don't want them to know.''

When he notices that her words are starting to come out slurred and her eyes are getting dull, he speeds things up. ''Baby, this isn't a secret you can keep.''

She lets out a small sob and closes her eyes, teeth biting her lips.

''Beth, look at her,'' he orders. It's damn hard not to raise his voice, frustration beginning to get the best of him. How is it possible for one person to be this stubborn and this cavalier when it comes to something like their life? (Pot. Kettle. Black.) ''Look at her. That's our kid, all right? That's our daughter. That's my daughter and whether you like it or not, I have to do what is best for her now. And part of what's best for her is making sure her mother fucking takes care of herself. You got me, baby?''

She doesn't answer, trembling fingers tracing the baby's face. ''She's...She's perfect, isn't she?''

He sucks in a breath. ''...She is...''

''Ten fingers. Ten toes.'' She laughs tiredly. ''My nose. I can...I can...already tell she's going to have your eyes...''

''Yeah,'' he murmurs. ''She's perfect. She's...gorgeous. She's all you,'' he whispers. ''Your nose, your lips, your skin. And I'll bet she'll have your hair and your laugh and God forbid, your attitude. And I'm sure she'll be so pretty as a little girl and so damn beautiful as a woman, but we need to make sure she gets there, all right? We're her parents. Our job now is to keep her safe and healthy. If there is one thing you're going to take away from this, can't you please take that?''

She is eerily silent.

''Beth?'' When he still doesn't get an answer, he raises his eyes. ''...Beth?''

.

''Oh my god.'' Dean stares straight ahead of him, unable to form a coherent string of thoughts, limbs feeling like jello. Her skin may be positively white, so white it's almost translucent, and her lips may be blue, but her eyes are exactly the same as they used to be. So full of life and fire and steely determination. That is perhaps the scariest thing about this mess. ''Beth... It's you...''

Beth's cracked lips twist into a gruesome sneer and she tilts her head to the side. ''Looks like.'' In the blink of an eye, she is standing right in front of him, one hand clamped around his neck, icy cold hand cutting off his air supply. It takes her roughly somewhere around five seconds to do the rest of the damage. She jerks her head towards Piper and sends the girl flying out the door. It slams shut behind her and locks. She throws her hand out towards her father and Joey goes sailing through the air, hitting the wall hard and slumping to the ground unconscious.

''Beth!'' Ruby snaps out of her stunned stupor, eyes flashing as Dean chokes and gasps for air, clawing at her arm. ''What are you doing?''

''Oh, relax, sister dear,'' Beth grinds out sarcastically. ''You won't have to clean up this mess.''

''Come on, Beth, this isn't you. You don't want to do this.''

Beth frowns. ''I don't?'' She tilts her head to the side and thinks about that long and hard. Too long. The edges of Dean's vision begin to go black and blurry. Eventually, she shrugs, curls her clammy, dead, twig like fingers tighter around Dean's neck and throws him across the room like he weighs nothing. He hits the wall and goes to the ground, vision blurred. Beth flickers. She goes in and out like the reception on an old black and white television set, and then she's right there in front of her sister and she's grinning like a mad woman. ''Then tell me,'' she whispers, ''what it is you think I want.''

Face to face with her dead sister, Ruby falters. Dean can see it. It's in the way her eyes cloud over. He tries to shake off the pain shooting up and down his body, but his body won't move.

''She's still in there, isn't she?'' Beth asks, voice so soft he can barely hear it. ''The girl you were before? That little weakling? That shy, quiet, unimportant nobody? She's still right here. I can see her.'' She takes a step towards Ruby. Ruby goes back. ''Let's see if we can't make her show her ugly mug, hmm?'' Her hand locks around Ruby's wrist and she sends her sister crashing into the coffee table, wood cracking and splintering and breaking under the force.

''Wow.'' Dean lets out a loud, cackling sort of laugh, pushing himself onto his knees. ''Still the same old bitchy little Bethy, huh?''

Beth turns to look at him sharply, hissing angrily through her teeth like some sort of wild animal.

He grins. ''You hated that name, didn't you? Bethy?''

She laughs, just as nasty as him. ''At least they didn't call me Little Miss Bell Jar.'' She cuts her eyes to Ruby. ''Right, Rubes?''

''They only called me that,'' Ruby retorts through gritted teeth, rolling onto her stomach. ''Because you told them to.''

''Nah, you know what?'' Deal hauls himself to his feet. ''There was another nickname that you hated even worse than Bethy. What was it again? It was something like...OH!'' He snaps his fingers in victory. ''I remember now.'' He plasters a smirk on his lips and doesn't let himself look at Ruby, no matter how much he wants to check on her. ''Whore.''

And just as he was hoping, Beth instantly shifts her attention and her unbridled rage from her sister back to him. Once more, she sends him to the ground, only this time it doesn't end there. Slowly, moving in that weirdly seductive Beth way of hers, hips swaying like they used to, she makes her way over to him, crouching down in front of him, long black nightgown pooling around her on the floor. Her fingers grasp his shirt and her freezing cold breath tickles his neck about as much as her dark hair as she leans in to whisper something in his ear. ''It takes one,'' she murmurs breathily, ''to know one, baby.''

She smells of blood and dirt and decaying flesh, all of the things that accompany death and his stomach turns over at the smell. He closes his eyes, doing his best not to gag. When he opens them again, she's gone. He groans, trying in vain to shake off the nasty pain reverberating throughout his body. That is really gonna ache later. Well, that's one thing he knows for sure. When you come face to face with your dead ex-girlfriend who is still seventeen and spry, it really hits you how old you're getting. But he has more pressing matters to attend to. ''Ruby! You good?''

On the ground, amidst the broken jagged pieces of wood that used to be the coffee table, she is struggling to her feet. ''Yeah,'' she says, the shaken tone of her voice betraying how really freaked out she is. ''I'm good.'' She doesn't look at him as she rushes over to her father's prone form.

Dean heaves himself to his feet. ''I'm fine too,'' he mutters bitingly. ''Thanks for asking.''

''Just go check on Piper.''

Anxious and preoccupied, all he can really think about is the safety of his daughter and brother, so he doesn't notice that during the commotion, his gun has fallen out of the waistband of his jeans. He also doesn't notice that it is now suspended in mid air, pointed right at him. There's a banging on the door and Sam and Piper are calling for him, so he doesn't hear the safety being clicked off. Some else, however, does. Later, he will be so pissed when he realizes that she didn't even try to warn him. She just reacted.

Ruby's heels clatter noisily on the floor and she skids to a halt in front of him just as a shot rings out. Behind her, the gun falls to the floor. She doesn't have an extremely violently noticeable reaction to the gun shot other than a startled sounding gasp and a slight jump, but he figures it's from the noise. He jumps too. It's unexpected. He whirls around to see what the bullet hit, and then he rushes past her, snatching up the gun to empty it. ''Ruby, you okay?'' The unused, unfired bullets fall to the ground harmlessly. Ruby doesn't answer him. ''Ruby?'' He lifts his eyes to her just as she turns around. The first thing that he sees is her eyes and all of the pain burning brightly and vividly in them. Then he sees all of the blood. He lurches forwards just in time to catch her when she falls, sinking to the ground with her, a string of profanities leaving his lips.

Beth swirls into view above them, laughing like a maniac.

The words fucking bitch come to mind, but Dean never gets the chance to tell her his newest opinion of her because the door bangs open loudly and when Beth whirls around, she gets a chest full of rock salt and disappears. For now. Coast clear, Sam lowers the gun. ''Was that who I think it was?''

Hands pressed to Ruby's stomach, blood seeping through his fingers, Dean nods. ''Yeah, that was Beth.''


''Of all the ghosts, the ghosts of our old loves are the worst.''
- Arthur Conan Doyle


end chapter four


AN: Architect, there you go. I shot Ruby just for you.

Hands up, who guessed it was Beth? All of you? ...Yeah, I didn't really do a great job with the surprise part, did I? Ah, well. Win some, lose some. Oh, and one more thing: I'm going to be putting up pictures of Beth, Piper, and Joey Daniels up on my profile so be sure and check those out.

Up Next:

Dean patches Ruby up. Also, more flashbacks.