Disclaimer: I own nothing!
This fic has been rewritten and edited so many times, that I've actually lost track of my original draft for it, as it was meant to be a holiday fic. But, grad school exams and flu managed to enforce a writing hiatus, so I hope you guys don't mind this being merely an exercise in fluff!
If you like Lisa/Dean, look away now - you have been warned!
With thanks and smushy sibling hugs as always, to the awesome Silverspoon.
He gripped the beer tightly in his hand, clutching at the cold, damp bottle as if it were the lifeline he secretly knew it had become.
Because Dean Winchester is a drowning man; submerged in a treacherous sea of guilt, pain, and sadness that leaves him gasping for air each time he allows himself to consider reality.
Everyone is gone now, and only he remains- a young veteran of a life that nobody with a meagre thirty years on this earth should be able to comprehend.
Sam was gone, snatched away, as were their parents and the small, dysfunctional group of friends they had come to love as family.
Ellen Harvelle had been the only real mother figure in their lives and, though Dean had admittedly been afraid of the brunette's formidable temper, he had grown to love and respect her for the unyielding maternal presence she had represented.
Then there was Jo, forever in his heart but destined to remain for eternity on that uneasy precipice between friend and lover.
Sometimes Dean imagined they would have driven each other crazy with their bickering, often quick tempered banter, yet other days he believed that he and Jo could have really been something special. Most days, he believed she could have been everything.
The sounds from the house were muffled from the garage, and he was thankful for the peace and solitude this small escape allowed him.
It's not that he didn't care for her, or that he wanted to hurt her, but more that a constant tug of discontent had settled in his gut. He didn't love her, and for that he was truly sorry, because he had tried so desperately to become a part of her life, to forget all he was and who he really was; anything to make her happy.
But grief and loneliness are relentless masters, and the denial with which he had tried to silence his emotions was now demanding a voice.
The need to flee, that feeling of both wanting and needing to leave and never look back, had been one that had accompanied Dean throughout his life, and as his fingers toyed with the corner of the white sheet draped over the Impala, they only grew stronger.
Tugging the sheet free, Dean released a breath he was sure he had been holding for the past few months, and his eyes scanned the old vehicle that had essentially been the one constant in his life.
Every good, slightly less heart-breaking memory of his father was etched into the fabric of the car and, if he thought long and hard enough, Dean was sure he could even see his mother's smiling face, glancing back at her infant son as he rode without a care in the back seat – back when his world had not yet been touched by tragedy.
Dean placed his hand on the hood of the car, feeling a warm, responding hum against his skin, as if the energy of those who had lived their lives in her confines were recorded somehow in the metal.
The Impala was a constant; an old friend. The tape deck would always jam, a thin tear would always remain in the leather of the passenger seat, and a toy soldier would forever be wedged into the ashtray. It was comforting somehow, the only link to a past he had been trying desperately to forget.
Rounding the car slowly, Dean slid his hand over the roof, and paused as he stood with growing trepidation behind the trunk. He knew from memory what was in there; Sam's duffel bag, still packed, just as he had left it, and a Winchester rifle.
Dean took a deep, unsteady breath and opened the trunk, a decision he almost instantly regretted as soon as his eyes took in the two items laying side by side in the darkness.
His fingers reached impulsively for the rifle, and he lifted it reverently into the bright light of the garage. The barrel gleamed as he turned it in his hand, testing the weight of the weapon as he stared past the gap of the trigger, and saw beyond it to a hardware store in Missouri.
Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes against the images, his stomach rolling at the renewed stench of fresh blood that memory evoked.
He leaned the cold, smooth metal of the barrel against his forehead, cursing silently that the object had been unable to record some small, fleeting reminder of it's owner; the smell of her perfume, the sound of her voice, anything to confirm her existence somewhere other than his broken heart.
He opened his eyes with a heavy sigh, scrutinising the smudges on the barrel until he found what he was looking for. Her last fingerprint remained on the metal, recorded in blood in the moments before she had left this earth.
His thumb pressed down over the imprint, dwarfing the small pattern of loops and swirls just as his hand had enclosed around hers, as he had grudgingly pressed the plastic box of fuses and wires into her palm.
The guilt would never leave him, of that he was certain; because Jo had died for him, misguided by a loyalty and perhaps a love he knew he could have never deserved.
Though his senses have been dulled by the alcohol, and the months of living as a civilian, the footsteps that approached the door captured his attention, and his heart sank at the implication.
Taking a few measured steps into the garage, Lisa folded her arms across her chest and cast a displeased eye on both objects currently in Dean's hands.
"I thought we agreed, no guns," she began, her brown eyes settling ruefully on the rifle, "I don't want those things in the house, Dean."
"It's not loaded," he replied quietly, his tone tinged with a curious mix of defeat and defiance.
"I don't care," Lisa shook her head, rubbing the tops of her arms absently, "I don't want it in my house. Can you get rid of it... please?"
Dean's gaze remained unnervingly transfixed on the gun.
"It belonged to a friend..." he began, hoping to appeal to Lisa's more sentimental side.
"Well, can you give it back to them? I don't want Ben around those things. You know how I feel about it, Dean… we've talked about this before," Lisa argued, her posture echoing the sentiment in her voice.
"I can't, they're... she's..." Dean realised in that moment that he had never spoken Jo's name aloud since her death, let alone confirmed her fate.
"She?" Lisa queried, smiling as she tried to lighten the moment with an ill-timed attempt at humour, "should I be worried?
"She's dead," he said flatly, his heart constricting at the finality.
Lisa blanched, shocked not by the reality of his announcement, but by the bitterness and obvious regret carried within his words.
"I see," Lisa stated, processing this new information as she stared down at her feet, an uncertain smile twitching at her lips, "like I said… should I be worried?"
It would be one thing competing with a living, breathing woman, but Lisa knew she could only stand to lose when confronted by one of the numerous ghosts from the hunter's past.
Dean felt a bubble of anger rise up from his gut, and his jaw clenched as he decided silence would be his only form of reply. Resting the weapon across his lap, he took a long, slow swig of beer and then peered down into the depths of the bottle as he felt her eyes burn into him.
The soft sigh Lisa released became quickly lost in the vast silence, and she murmured softly, "Jo."
Dean paused, the rim of the beer bottle about to touch his lips once again.
"What?" he turned to meet her gaze, the liquid rolling against the side of the glass the only audible sound.
"You talk in your sleep," she informed him, as pieces of the puzzle began to slot together in her mind.
Sam had previously bestowed this information upon his brother, delighted even in regaling Dean with his night-time ramblings with the joy only a younger sibling could muster.
Though most of Dean's nocturnal mutterings were nothing more than amusing, sometimes mildly incriminating nonsense, on nights when nightmares had invaded his mind, Jo's name had left his lips in a panicked cry.
Lisa had latched onto the ambiguity of the name, deciding to leave her growing questions unanswered. Besides, she had learnt over the past few months that access to Dean's innermost thoughts and feelings had not yet been granted to her. She suspected they never would be.
Taking Dean's silence as an affirmation of her suspicions, Lisa's attention became captured by the beer bottle he strangled with his left hand.
"You know, it's not even 11.30," she stated, her displeasure obvious. Lisa had begun to tire just recently of Dean's propensity to seek solace in alcohol, when he stubbornly rebuffed all human attempts to reach out to him.
"Yeah, well it's five o'clock somewhere," he quipped, though his eyes were devoid of humour as he dared steal another sip whilst under her scrutiny.
Taking a deep breath, Lisa pursed her lips, surveying the fragmented man before her with equal parts sympathy and frustration.
"I know you miss him," she attempted, shaking her head and sighing as a mask of ambiguity descended over his features, and he closed down once more.
"Things will get better, Dean, you just... you just gotta give it time," Lisa offered, reaching out a hand and then retracting it before it could land on his shoulder. Lisa glanced at her watch, hurrying along her pep-talk.
"Look Dean, you and Sam were close, I get that, but... you need to move on, this... all of this," she gestured to the bottle and yet her words encompassed so much more, "it's not helping anybody. People die. We just learn to accept it and move on."
Dean turned suddenly, as if her words had somehow struck a nerve, finally breaking him free of his stoic silence. However, the demand of how much she knew of real, palpable grief remained unspoken. He felt so disconnected from his surroundings of late that even arguing seemed pointless.
Lisa would never understand his heartbreak, and would never allow herself to understand the deep, formidable bond that had existed between the brothers. They had lived together all their lives as siblings, but Dean had also been the father figure John had negated to be to his younger son, and as Dean and Sam grew, side by side as always, they had become the very best of friends.
"I have to go, I have a class starting in a half hour." Lisa rechecked her watch, pausing as she turned to head toward the door only to toss over her shoulder, "Please get rid of that thing."
Dean watched as she nodded down at the rifle, and his fingers curled tighter around it in an almost protective manner.
Lisa stopped in her tracks, realising in her heart of hearts that a goodbye was now imminent and unavoidable. She felt a breath leave his body as she rested her hand on his arm, and the expression of remorse that met her almost stole her breath away.
"I'm sorry," Dean offered- an apology for everything he had and had not done, and for the glaringly obvious fact that they could never belong in each other's worlds. Lisa would never understand him, and Dean could never become the person she so desperately wanted him to be, though he had tried in vain for so long now.
Although he had tried to subdue it, the slow, niggling resentment that was born out of Lisa's apparent disdain for Sam would never be silenced. Dean's loyalty and love for his brother would never allow total forgiveness.
Lisa blinked repeatedly, realising the implication behind his words, and that nestled not so eloquently within his apology was their final parting. Her lips ghosted his cheek, and she felt the muscles of his arm tense beneath her fingers.
"We'll talk about this later, okay?" she suggested, releasing his arm as she hurried toward the door before any further words could be spoken.
But his voice held her fast before her feet had glanced the lip of the first step.
"I won't be here."
Gripping the door jamb with whitening knuckles, Lisa took a deep breath.
Listening to her retreating footfalls, Dean cradled the rifle against his chest, as he mourned silently for everything he had lost, and everything that could never be.
The hard yet alluring lines of the Impala glinted against the glaring sunshine, and Dean couldn't help but grin as he turned the key in the ignition and was once again greeted by his favourite sound.
The engine purred approvingly as he settled into the driver's seat and the soft pressure of his foot against the gas pedal elicited another deep, gravelly roar.
"Aww, baby, it's so good to hear your voice," Dean whispered with a smirk, leaning his head back against the leather interior as he listened to the increasing ferocity of the engine as he eased his foot that little bit further down.
Drumming his oil slick hands triumphantly against the steering wheel, Dean turned off the engine, and climbed out of the car. He closed the hood carefully, his movements measured as he beamed at his handiwork.
"How's she doin'?"
Dean's head turned sharply, and his smile grew almost impossibly wide as his eyes settled on the woman strolling languidly across the old car yard toward him.
"Purring like a kitten," he stated, distractedly. Wiping his hands on the rag tucked into his pocket, Dean appeared oblivious to the black streaks that still stained his skin as his attention became easily fixed upon her. Brown eyes creased with a similarly affectionate smile, holding his green eyed gaze even as she reached his side.
Dean watched her blonde curls bob and blow in the breeze, and the pink blush that kissed her cheeks was a welcome reassurance that this was real; that she was real. His heart fluttered wildly at the very sight of her; at Jo Harvelle, standing before him, as vivacious and beautiful as he always remembered.
"Good," she nodded her approval, smiling as his arms fastened around her waist and he pulled her body flush to his own.
Suddenly noticing the black, greasy streaks that covered his hands and clothing, Jo recoiled from his touch, struggling playfully as he held her fast.
"Dean, you're gonna get oil all over me," she protested half-heartedly, rolling her eyes as he shook his head, too caught up with staring down at her to care.
The warm breeze whipped around them, ghosting across their ears as they remained in an embrace. Jo looped her arms around his neck as he nuzzled the tip of his nose against hers. Silence remained, as Dean bent his head, his lips a breath away from hers, and he gazed down at the woman he thought he would never again see on this earth with an expression of wonder.
She had been 'gifted' back to him by an all-powerful God- a deity who still struggled with the guilt of having been a once trusted friend. Castiel had returned the Harvelle women to the earth, just as he had tried to do once previously, before the fates had cruelly stepped in. This had been Castiel's one final act as a friend and 'brother', and though Dean's anger at his betrayal was still very much an open wound, the woman in his arms gave him reason to momentarily forget the raging war in heaven.
Because Jo was alive, having agreed to forego the peace of paradise for the man she knew she could have loved, and Dean had been right; she was everything.
"Dean," Jo whispered, breathing rapidly as their lips parted briefly, and a moan of approval vibrated from her throat. Coaxed by her murmurings, Dean melded their lips together again and again.
He realised that he had been mistaken before – that was his favourite sound.
Jo grinned breathlessly as they broke apart, and traced her fingertips up and down the back of his neck as his lips found her cheek and coasted across her skin.
Suddenly remembering the oil stricken nature of the hands currently wandering her curves, Jo slapped playfully at his chest, her cries now indignant and not fuelled by desire.
"Dean, quit it!" she whined, her eyes widening indignantly as he slapped both hands against her rear and gave her backside a determined squeeze. She was sure there would be two very incriminating hand prints left in their wake.
"What?" he inquired, his handsome face a pantomime of innocence.
"Ass!" she accused with a huff, swiping his hands away, but defying her own protestations as she moved back into his arms a mere second later.
A well-practiced and tellingly smug smirk tugged at Dean's lips as he dabbed a greasy finger on the tip of her nose and silenced the initial gasp of her response with a toe curling kiss.
The sound of an approaching car finally brought their kisses to an end, but Dean held onto her tightly, still fighting the urge to never let her out of his embrace. It had been four months since Ellen and Jo had been returned to them, and once the initial shock had worn off, Dean had vowed to finally take the chance they had previously been denied.
Sometimes he mused that life was just too good; first Sam had returned, and then Ellen and Jo. It was difficult to grasp the positives that life occasionally threw his way, because they happened so infrequently. But Dean would do all in his power to hold onto Jo, because he had the sneaking suspicion that Castiel had known all along what Dean had only realised too late – Jo had quite simply been meant for him.
"So, you wanna catch a movie later? Maybe grab a couple of burgers?" Dean proposed, smiling as Jo contemplated this only briefly before nodding her head. Though his idea of a date wouldn't be quite so appealing to most women, Jo recognised the clumsily romantic gesture for what it was and appreciated it nonetheless.
"Sure, sounds good," she agreed, sliding her hand down his chest and plucking the rag from his pocket, which she used to wipe the black smear from her nose. "Just no corny horror movies, okay? Those things are so unrealistic.
"Right. No lame horror movies, no Kutcher, no Aniston, no Disney," he agreed, running through their movie 'no go' list as Jo wrinkled her nose in disdain, and bobbed her head in ready agreement.
Dean remained still as she reached up and gently dabbed at his cheek, drawing back once she was satisfied she had gotten the final trace of car oil from his face. The rag dropped from her hand, and a soft, contemplative smile settled on her features as her fingertips glided across his skin.
Closing his eyes at the sensation, Dean leaned into her hand as she cupped his cheek. He swallowed hard, finding himself feeling undeserving of the tenderness that radiated from her touch. Her lips began brushing feather light kisses against his jaw, and his hand grasped the fabric of her shirt a little tighter.
When his eyes finally fluttered open, he stared around the cluttered car yard before capturing her gaze with an expression of awed disbelief.
"You gave up heaven for this?" he whispered ruefully, unable to choke out the words 'for me', even though he knew the truth behind her eyes and the implications of her actions.
Jo shrugged, glancing to the side as she replied, "I guess everyone has their own idea of heaven, right?"
"This was yours?" he scoffed sadly, shaking his head as he tried not to think of all she had sacrificed for him. Jo had given up her life trying to save him, and then willingly abandoned heaven to return to a thankless existence.
"This?" Jo giggled, arching an eyebrow as she gestured to the dilapidated house and the debris strewn yard around them, "No."
She shook her head firmly, smiling before she pressed herself closer against him and he instinctively curled around her, "This is."
She punctuated her words with a kiss, and Dean pressed his face into the curve of her neck to breathe in the intoxicating scent of her wonderfully warm skin. Jo shivered as he brushed a kiss against her throat, and her hips strained to arch tighter against his as a second and then a third kiss awakened every nerve in her body.
"Oh," Dean began, pulling away just a little so he could rummage in his pocket, "I found these."
Dean grinned as he held aloft a pair of black lace panties that had been plucked from the back seat of the Impala, with the memory of a post-hunt celebration fresh in his mind.
Stealing a glance out toward the approaching truck, Jo's eyes widened in abject horror and she snatched at the offending item with a blush and a mischievous snicker.
Dean watched her cram the panties into the pocket of her jeans just as the truck pulled up in front of the old house, and a familiar voice volleyed over the final splutters of the engine.
"You two want to make yourselves useful?" Ellen called out, watching in approval as Sam gathered up an armful of grocery bags and trudged toward the house.
Shooting his brother a sympathetic nod, Dean traipsed over toward the truck, Jo's hand clutched tightly in his own as he eyed Ellen.
Jo smiled at her mother and grabbed a bag and a six pack of beer. Turning her back to her mother, the action highlighted the two large Winchester sized hand prints imprinted across the rear of her jeans.
Remaining oblivious to her mother's analytical gaze, Jo wandered toward the house, leaving Dean caught in an impromptu and decidedly uncomfortable staring contest with the Harvelle matriarch. Ellen's narrowed eyes scanned Dean intently, and she folded her arms across her chest. She watched Dean swallow hard, his adam's apple bobbing noticeably as he anticipated her reaction.
Unable to uphold the façade any longer, Ellen began to chuckle.
"I'm just messin' with ya, kid," she soothed, hefting a bag into Dean's arms as he visibly deflated.
"I can't believe you're still afraid of my Mom," Jo whispered, peering at Dean from behind the foliage of the vegetables he carried.
"Sweetheart, please... I'm not afraid of Ellen," Dean stammered with a shake of his head, adding a comical wince to demonstrate the absurdity of his girlfriend's suggestion.
"Uh-huh," Jo nodded, biting back a smirk as Ellen bustled past them and Dean all but ducked at the action, having anticipated a swift thwack across the back of the head.
Sighing in defeat, he finished lamely, "Maybe a little."
Jo snorted with laughter, opening the screen door and then pausing as Dean appeared to be staring up in contemplation at the crumbling Singer residence.
"Home, crap, home," he announced, sighing contentedly as the sound of warring voices suddenly drifted from inside the kitchen.
Stepping inside, Dean placed the groceries on the table, frowning as Sam shot him a decidedly pleading look.
"All I'm saying is, you should ask for her number," Ellen said from between a can of tomatoes she was holding in one hand, and a can of peaches she brandished aloft in the other. "She seems like a real sweet kid."
"I'm sure she's great, it's just... I..." Sam floundered, trying to summon the thousand objections he had to asking the grocery store deli assistant out on a date. He had no desire to inflict their lifestyle on anyone, particularly not a naïve college student. As far as Sam was concerned, she should remain oblivious to the world of hunters and the creatures they pursued, unless at the detriment of her own life.
"Sam, you gotta get back in the saddle sooner or later, she's cute... she likes you, ask her out!" Ellen ordered as opposed to suggested.
"Dean?" Sam cleared his throat, nodding over toward Ellen with a tight smile that did not go unnoticed by either Harvelle women. Jo watched the scene unfold with interest, covering her smirk behind her hand and a feigned yawn.
Dean floundered, gaping as he glanced first at his brother and then at Ellen, who was peering expectantly between the siblings. A dull thud signalled that the two cans had been placed down onto the counter top as she awaited Dean's reply.
"She's kind of got a point, Sammy," Dean stammered, "I mean, dude, it's like you've taken holy orders or something. Ask the chick out! She likes you, she's kind of hot and, as far as we know, not a demon... she's tickin' all the boxes so far. Man up... Take her out for coffee."
"Life is for livin', Sam," Ellen stated, smiling with unchecked adoration at her daughter as she tried to dismiss all thoughts of mortality from her mind and continued unpacking the groceries. Jo routed out a bag of chips and hopped up onto the counter, oblivious to her mother's attention.
Sam stared witheringly at his brother, having hoped for more of a supportive response.
"Traitor!" he hissed, rolling his eyes good-naturedly as Dean smirked and turned his head from Ellen's eye-line.
"I'm not gonna anger 'momma bear'. Besides, she's right. Ask the store chick out. Work that geeky, shy vibe you got going on and stop being such a girl about it," Dean directed, biting down ferociously on a chip Jo offered him.
Staring straight ahead, Sam huffed out a silent protest, suddenly feeling like the entire household was conspiring against him.
"Fine. I'll ask her out," he conceded, narrowing his eyes and ignoring the smirk of victory that rapidly overcame Ellen's face.
Dean patted his brother on the shoulder, secretly hoping behind his taunts and bravado that Sam would indeed find happiness. He knew the memory of Jess still haunted him, but Dean lived in hope that somewhere out there was a girl who could make him forget the past, and anticipate the future.
Optimism was new to Dean, but it was a trait he was trying desperately to adopt.
Standing before Jo, Dean placed his hands on her thighs and leant in to press a kiss against her lips.
Ellen pretended to be unaware of their interaction, and Sam and Bobby now sat side by side on the couch, pouring over a dozen or so new tomes that the older man had managed to procure at a house clearance.
Holding her gaze, Dean reached up and pressed his palm to her cheek, murmuring contentedly as he felt her smile against his palm. Glancing back at his 'family', who were assembled around them, Dean returned his gaze to Jo and rested his forehead against hers.
"Life is good."
Jo laughed softly, her quizzical smile broadening, "You mean aside from the whole Cas, Leviathan, war in heaven thing, and..."
"Shhh," Dean shook his head, pressing his fingertip to her lips in a bid to silence her. Despite Jo's pessimistic reply, the uncharacteristically light and jovial mood that had settled upon him would not be subdued.
Taking a moment to consider all that had happened over the past few years, all the sacrifices, heartbreak, and tragedy that had clouded their lives, Dean smiled down at her with a deep, heartfelt sense of gratitude and love.
He removed his finger from her lips, and replaced it with the softest of kisses.
"No, life is good."