AN: So, this story is otherwise known as my 'I Heart Witches & Angst & Badass Women & Kid!fics & also Did I Mention the Angst?' Fic. It started as a short Halloween story and morphed into this mighty beast. Right now, it's more looking like it's going to be a mid-November fic rather than a Halloween fic. Basically, this is my love letter to witches, because they are portrayed so grossly on SPN, and my love letter to Ruby, who will forever be my girl. And also it's a spin off of another story of mine: Everything You Want. This beast has pretty much been my entire writing life for about two months now. And as a birthday present to myself, I decided to finally allow myself to post the first chapter.

Just a few quick notes before we begin:

- In this fic, Ruby 1.0 (Katie Cassidy) and Ruby 2.0 (Genevieve Padalecki) are sisters (because that's probably my favourite headcanon ever) and Ruby 2.0's name is Margaret. This is not the first time I have written Margaret. As mentioned, this is a spin off of Everything You Want. Except in that, the sisters were demons and in this, they're not. You don't have to read that fic to understand this fic.

- I'd suggest listening to a lot of Nirvana and Hole while reading, because they're pretty much the soundtrack for this story.

- Original characters also play a supporting role in this fic, and I really love them all, so to make it easier, I'm just going to put a glossary of the original characters (and the people I imagine playing them) right here:

Josef Proctor: Ruby and Margaret's uncle. Husband to Adele. Father of Alice. Josef is another character that was featured in the Everything You Want 'verse. Portrayed by Alex O'Loughlin.
Adele Proctor (nee Casablancas): Wife of Josef. Stepmother to Alice. Adele also appeared in the Everything You Want 'verse. Portrayed by Bethany Joy Lenz.
Tommy Hale: Marisol's fiancé. Local firefighter. Mark's best friend. Portrayed by Taylor Kinney
Marisol Davis: Tommy's fiancée. Currently in med school. Close friend of Ruby. Portrayed by Nichole Beharie.
[First Name Unknown] Davis: Close friend of Josef's. Father of Marisol. Local trauma surgeon. Potrayed by Blair Underwood.
Alice Proctor: Josef and Olivia's daughter. Mentioned heavily, but does not appear.
Cecily Campbell: Daughter of Mark and Ruby. Also borrowed from the Everything You Want 'verse, except in that 'verse she and Mattie were Ruby's younger siblings, not her children.
Matthew ''Mattie'' Campbell: Son of Mark and Ruby. Also borrowed from the Everything You Want 'verse, except in that 'verse, he and Cecily were Ruby's younger siblings, not her children.
Lila Bray ''Bray'' (if you call her Lila Bray and you're not her dad, you're in big trouble) Winchester: Daughter of Dean and Ruby. Borrowed from another 'verse of mine: the Lila Bray 'verse. ...I really missed writing her.


Title: If She Floats
Summary: In 2007, twenty eight year old Mark Campbell dies a suspicious death in Salem, Massachusetts, leaving behind a widow and two young children, and bringing Dean and Sam to the legendary town for the first time. In 2013, thirty four year old Dean Winchester has retired to Arlington, Texas after his wife's disappearance, alone with his stepchildren, a sullen twelve year old girl and a hyperactive eight year old boy, and his baby girl, when strange things begin to happen in their house. There is more of a connection between these two events than you might think. You're just not seeing it. You're not looking for it. Halloween!fic.
Character(s)/Pairing(s): Dean Winchester/Ruby. Mark Campbell/Ruby. Josef (Original Male Character)/Adele (Original Female Character). Mentions of Sam Winchester/Amelia Richardson.
Genre: Angst/Suspense
Rating: T for safety.
Timeline: October, 2007. October, 2013.
Spoilers: Blanket spoilers for entire series. Especially season eight.
Warnings: Minor character death, mentions of pregnancy, language, violence against a child, mentions of substance abuse, canon level violence, minor gore, bodily fluids, vomiting, poisoning, and misogynistic language (some people don't like witches). Also, John Winchester is not painted in a good light by some characters so if you're a fan, this probably isn't the story for you. If there's anything else you feel needs to be warned for, just let me know.
Notes: Title from the song Serve the Servants by Nirvana.

Disclaimer: I own none of the characters you recognize.


If She Floats

Written by Becks Rylynn

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if she floats then she is not
a witch like we had thought

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CHAPTER ONE

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/i/

i miss you (i'm not gonna crack)
i love you (i'm not gonna crack)
i killed you (i'm not gonna crack)

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October, 2013
Arlington, Texas

Dean has no idea what he's doing here.

In this house, in this bed, in this life, in this skin, without her.

On a bright sunny Monday morning, Dean wakes before the alarm clock, like he always does, and he wonders, like he always does, what right he has to be here. Here, in this nice normal house. Here, raising these great kids. Here, living life, breathing, while she is gone. He lies still in the bed and stares at the empty side of the bed. She never got a chance to sleep in this bed. He tries his best not to think about that, not to think about any of the things she never got a chance to do, but the thought crashes into him at random times; when he walks into the house with the kids, while he's making dinner, while he's cleaning the kids' rooms. She never got a chance to sleep in this bed. She never got a chance to live in this house.

She was the one who picked Arlington, opening a map and picking at random, declaring proudly, ''There. Arlington, Texas. We'll go there after all this is over. I think it's far enough away from all the places we've lost people. Massachusetts, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, New Jersey. It's a fresh start. You, me and the kids. We'll start a new life there. Maybe we'll be safe there. Also, hey, Six Flags, babe.''

He rolls over onto his back and stares at the ceiling, waiting impatiently, lips pressed tight, hands clenched into fists, for the ache to pass. The wedding band on his left ring finger feels cold and heavy.

Dean has been here twice now, in this headspace, this empty heart, with another piece of him gone.

How many times is he going to have to do this?

It's been five months. Five months without touching her, five months without kissing her, five months of sleeping in an empty bed and telling the kids not to give up on their mom, even as his own hope for her safe return dwindled. It's been five months since Dick Roman's demise and five months since his wife disappeared without a trace after saving - let's be real here; there's no point in modesty - the whole fucking world. Same old story.

Five months, and it's still so strange to be here without her.

They had been married for about eight months when she went missing. (And, boy, was their first anniversary - September 15th - hard to get through alone, by the way.) They had been married eight months, they had been together for three years, and they had known each other for nearly six years. He tries to tell himself, when it all gets so unbearable, that at least he got three years with her. Six years of her company, three years of her love. But three years is not enough time. It's not a lifetime. Three years may be enough to memorize the contours of her body, the way her hair glows in the sunlight, the way she throws her head back when she laughs, how her eyes always twinkle like she knows something you don't, how deeply she loves. It's enough time to be saved by her countless times, to save her a few times, and to save so many others. It's enough time for the world to almost end.

Three years is enough time to fall in love, but it's not long enough. They deserved more time. She deserved more time. Instead, where are they? He's stuck here, all alone, raising his three beautiful kids, two of whom lost their father tragically at two and six only to have their beloved mother disappear six years later. And she's just...gone. How is that fair? How is any of this fair?

Dean sighs heavily and runs a hand over his face. He briefly contemplates not getting out of bed, but eventually, just as the alarm begins to scream noisily, he takes in a deep breath, turns it off, and gets out of bed.

It's been a really long five months.

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The events of that day in May sent Dean and Sam into a tailspin. Sure, they had managed to gank Dick Roman, therefore getting revenge for Bobby's needless death, but they had lost three family members in the process. As per usual, Dean blamed himself. It was hard not to. It should have been him. It was supposed to be him. He was the one who had gone in there ready to die. She had been so sure they would make it out. She had been so sure that after everything they had been through, they would finally win one.

As soon as the shock wore off, they pulled themselves together and managed, somehow, to track down Kevin Tran and Meg, stole them back from Crowley, and set Kevin and his mother up in a safe house in Wyoming, with Meg and Garth (and sometimes Adele) acting as guards. And then they promptly ripped their way through every contact they had to try and get their family back, burning a lot of bridges in the process.

But then, all at once, things started to change in rapid succession.

About three weeks after that fateful day, Adele found out she was pregnant, Sam hit a dog, and Dean... Well, Dean realized that he had kids who needed to come first. Cecily was crying every day and having panic attacks, Mattie had started having night terrors and wetting the bed - something he hadn't done since he was five - and his baby girl... She was still so small and so helpless. And what was Dean doing for them? Nothing. He had barely been around them for those first three weeks, leaving them with Adele and shirking his responsibilities in favor of chasing ghosts.

After that, things just sort of happened.

Dean took the kids to Arlington, because that was where their mother had wanted them to go, Sam remained in Kermit (it's possible that there may have been - may have been - a girl), Adele went back to Massachusetts to manage the family business that was gathering dust, and the Winchesters, those infamous brothers, unofficially retired.

They make a point of trying to check in with Kevin once a month, but his mother is super protective and not a fan of theirs, and every once in awhile they go on simple hunts that won't take them out of state, but things are different now. They have to be. Are there things that they should be doing in the hunting world? Probably, yeah. Should they maybe be cleaning up their mess? Oh, definitely.

Except fuck that.

They've given up enough.

Isn't it time for them to rest?

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Dean scrapes a hand through his still wet hair and knocks softly on Cecily's door. He can hear her alarm clock beeping incessantly inside, squawking obnoxiously, but nothing from her. No aggravated mumbles about how stupid morning is under her breath. No huffy sighs. No stomping and snarling. ''Cece,'' his voice is a low hum as he cracks the door to poke his head in. ''Baby, it's time to wake up.''

There's a grunt of acknowledgment from the body in the bed, but not much else. She doesn't even snap at him not to call her 'baby' because she's ''twelve, Dean, God.'' He attempts to push open the door even further. Attempt being key. The door catches on a pile of probably dirty clothes on the floor. He manages to squeeze into the room, glancing around at the disaster zone of a room. There are clothes everywhere, draped over the chair, strewn about the floor, and there's a shirt on her lamp. Her laundry hamper, which is where dirty clothes should be, is full of books. Her bookshelf is full of nail polish. Most of it is black. He doesn't understand how one person can have that much black nail polish. ''Cece,'' he sighs, rubbing his forehead. ''Holy shit, girl.'' He squeezes back out the door and returns with a laundry basket, absently tossing items of clothing in.

In the bed, the newly turned twelve year old has her head buried under her pillow, one long skinny leg poking out from under the covers, one arm dangling over the edge of the bed. She has made no move to turn off her alarm clock, but the aggravated groan tells him that it is her current number one enemy.

Dean turns off the alarm and hesitates, just for a second, before he takes a seat on the bed, dropping the laundry basket beside him. ''Cec,'' he tries. He places a hand on her back and rubs gently.

She whines in annoyance and presses the pillow tighter, kicking uselessly and squirming away from his touch.

''Cecily,'' it's sharper this time. ''It's time to get up.''

No answer.

''Cecily Elizabeth.''

''I don't feel well,'' she tells her pillow.

''Why? What's wrong?''

''I think I have cramps. I think I'm getting my period.''

''You know, you keep saying that,'' he says, completely unfazed, ''but has it happened yet? No, I don't think so. You've been twelve for less than a month. You don't get it the second you turn twelve. Your mother didn't get hers until she was almost fourteen.''

A pause. ''How do you know that? What kind of conversations were you two having?''

He reaches out and effortlessly pries the pillow from her grip. She huffs at the sudden onslaught of light, squeezing her eyes shut tight and covering her face with her thick mane of tangled blond hair. She makes an attempt to pull her blankets up over her head, but he manages to wrestle them from her grip and yank them away, leaving her only in her old, raggedy, oversized Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt that used to belong to her father. She makes another whining sound in the back of her throat and curls up into the fetal position to pull the shirt down over her knees before ducking her head into it, like she's some sort of human turtle.

''I'm tired,'' she complains.

''Well, fuck, Cec, maybe you should start going to sleep earlier.''

''It's not my fault I have problems getting to sleep. I think I have a sleep disorder.''

''I think you're probably just twelve, baby.''

''Dean.''

''Sorry. You're not a baby.''

''Did you know that people who stay up late are smarter than people who don't?''

''Did you know that they're also less healthy?''

''...Mom would let me sleep in.''

A loud, sharp bark of laughter escapes his lips before he can stop it. ''Oh, baby, no.''

''Dean, I am twelve.''

He ignores her. ''Your mom would dump a bucket of water on you and sit on you until you woke up, and you know it.'' He shoves her comforter into the laundry basket. ''You have to go to school,'' he says. ''It's Monday. You have a math test today and that singing thing of yours after school.''

''Glee club,'' she says, voice muffled due to the fact that she has her face pressed into her purple sheets. ''It's called glee club.'' He can practically hear the goddamn eye roll. It's really actually quite disturbing how much she is exactly like her mother. Not only is she a tall, willowy blond, but she's also surly, she rolls her eyes a lot, and she has a penchant for thinking that she controls the universe.

He puts his hands on his hips. ''Yeah, whatever. That thing. You love that thing.''

''Glee. Club,'' she hisses.

He throws his hands up. ''Glee club, Cecily! Motherfucking glee club, Jesus Christ. Listen.'' He exhales. ''You have five minutes and then, so help me, Cecily Elizabeth, I'm tossing your ass in the shower myself. Got it?''

She rolls over so her back is to him.

''Cecily.''

''Ugh, got it. God.''

He makes a valiant effort to swallow down the growl of frustration bubbling up in his throat like a cough, but it slips out anyway. Shit, if this is what twelve is like, what can he expect from the teenage years? She was such a sweet girl when he met her, a tiny pint sized six year old who was polite, quiet and amazingly well behaved. And she giggled whenever he so much as looked at her. Now she just rolls her eyes a lot and mopes around with her ear buds jammed into her ears and her nails painted back. Cecily has always been a quiet girl. Not a shy girl, on the contrary, she's actually quite extroverted - she has about fifteen thousand after school activities (ballet, piano lessons, glee club, gymnastics, and she's been talking about joining the volleyball team) and the number of friends she has is larger than the number of people he knows who are alive (and keep in mind that she's been at this new school for less than two months, by the way) - she's just very quiet. Dean has been told that she gets this particular trait from her father. Mark Campbell wasn't a big talker. He vaguely remembers that from that one time with the poltergeist in 2006.

Whatever, it's not bad that she's quiet. That's not what bothers Dean. What bothers him is that ever since her mother went missing, she has taken this quietness to the extreme. She hardly says two words to him, unless it's complaining, or random facts about weird shit, or huffy sighs. She's withdrawn. She's sullen. She's bratty. She misses her mother. Cecily and her mother were two peas in a pod, always whispering and giggling, sharing inside jokes that were meant for just them. Her mother was - is - her best friend. Cecily is lost without her.

Dean gets that. Boy, does he ever. He just hates seeing her like this. He hates seeing her in such obvious pain when there is nothing he can do to fix it, to make it go away. No band aid he can put over the gaping wound where her mother used to be. And that kills him. He can do a lot of things for these kids; he can hold them when they cry, kiss their cuts and scrapes, sneak them cookies before dinner, check under the bed and in the closet for monsters, but he cannot bring their mother back to them.

Lord knows he has tried his best.

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When Dean enters Mattie's room, he is greeted by a remote control car running into his foot at full speed. He lets out a startled shout, pain blooming in his foot and spreading up his leg. ''Son of a...'' He stifles the rest of that sentence, biting down hard on his tongue. ''Mattie,'' he says, and doesn't sigh, even though he wants to. ''Dude.''

''Oops!'' The boy in the bed squeaks, cheeks tinged red. ''Sorry!'' Mattie, the perpetual early bird, is already wide awake, perched on his knees in his bed, still in his Avengers pajamas. His mop of dirty blond hair is mussed and sticking up in every direction. With an impish little grin, he drops the remote and leaps to his feet on the bed, watching closely as Dean moves closer. ''Hey, Dad!'' He jumps up and down on the mattress. ''Dad, what's for breakfast? Is it pancake day? Can we have oatmeal instead?'' Without warning, he lunges from the bed and onto Dean's back, wrapping his arms around his neck. ''I like oatmeal.''

Dean grunts, but can't really find it in him to be surprised by any of this. Mattie has always been, uh, spirited. He chuckles, lips stretching into a smile genuine enough to bring out the eye crinkles. ''Good morning to you too, kiddo.''

Mattie climbs up his back enough to lean over Dean's shoulder and grin, inches away from his face. ''Hi!'' He beams, energetic as always, despite the early hour.

Honestly.

This kid is made out of sunshine and puppies. Just the sight of his smile makes you want to puke rainbows, wear flower crowns and basically just hug him all the time. Sometimes it's hard to believe he is real and not some animated Pixar character.

Mattie leans in even closer to Dean. ''Do I have morning breath?'' He asks, and then blows in Dean's face.

...Of course, then he goes and does something like that.

''Ugh.'' Dean recoils. ''Yes.''

''Can we have oatmeal?'' Mattie asks again, before he decides he's going to crawl off of Dean the hard way, by climbing over his shoulder like a little monkey, so they're face to face and then gripping at Dean's hair to keep his balance, climbing back up his shoulder, and flopping face first onto his bed with a quiet, ''Oof.'' Unnecessarily complicated and painful for Dean, who isn't actually a huge fan of having an eight year old step all over him, but it's pretty par for the course with Mattie.

Dean rubs at his shoulder. ''Oatmeal it is, monkey.''

''Can you cut up apples and put them in my oatmeal?'' Mattie asks, lying on his stomach with his face propped up in his hands, watching Dean pull open his closet.

''Sure, buddy.''

''But also chocolate chips, cinnamon and brown sugar?''

Dean pauses and turns slowly to stare at the boy.

''That's what Mama does.''

Dean arches a brow. ''Sure she does.''

Mattie bobs his head up and down enthusiastically. ''I swear!''

''Mattie, there is no way your mother would let you have that much sugar this early in the morning.''

The boy sighs dramatically but doesn't protest. ''At least the apples, though.''

''Apples are fine.'' Dean holds out a Spiderman t-shirt. ''How's this?''

Mattie shakes his head. ''I don't feel like Spiderman today.'' He slips off his bed and pads over to his drawer, pulling out a pair of jeans and tossing them on his bed. ''Spiderman is better for Thursday,'' he says, as if this is common knowledge.

Dean isn't sure how to respond to that, because he's not sure what that means, but he nods along anyway and puts the shirt back. He flicks through Mattie's massive collection of t-shirts. ''Do you have any shirts that don't have superheroes on them?''

At that, Mattie stops what he's doing, wrinkles his nose and asks, with such genuine confusion, ''Why would I?''

There's a very long pause in which Dean doesn't actually have an answer to that. He blinks. Holds up a shirt. ''How about Wolverine?''

Mattie makes a strange noise in the back of his throat reminiscent of a rooster sound and bounces up and down excitedly. Kid's practically vibrating. ''Wolverine!'' He yanks the shirt from Dean's hands and starts to bound back over to his bed.

''Hey!'' Dean holds up another article of clothing. ''Forgetting something?''

At the sight of what's in Dean's hand, Mattie hisses and rears back. ''I don't wanna wear underwear, though.''

Dean gives him one of those looks. You know the one. It's one of those, really? you think that's gonna fly with me? REALLY? looks. ''I don't think you're gonna win this one, kiddo.''

''Can I wear them on my head?''

''...No?''

''Then NO UNDERWEAR!''

''Mattie,'' Dean says. ''I really don't understand why you think I'm going to let you go anywhere without underwear.''

''Superheroes don't wear underwear!''

''Oh, see, now, that's patently untrue. I wear underwear.''

''I don't see what that has to do with anything. You're not a superhero.'' Mattie pauses and tilts his head to the side. ''Are you?''

''I don't know, Matthew.'' He levels Mattie with a completely stoic stare and lowers his voice to a strange, gravelly bastardization of Batman. ''Am I?'' It sort of winds up sounding more like he's doing a piss poor impression of Cas than Batman, but it works flawlessly on Mattie. His eyes widen and his mouth drops open, properly amazed. Full of awe and wonder, he slowly takes the pair of underwear from Dean.

Dean lets a fleeting triumphant smile flash across his lips. Well, that's one battle down. ''Ready for school today?'' He asks lightly, internally gearing himself up for the second battle.

''Oh, I'm not going to school,'' Mattie chirps.

Dean blows out a breath. Yep. Saw that one coming. As loud and full of laughter as he is, Mattie is still not as extroverted as his sister. He's rather introverted, to be honest. He's a clinger this one, never wanting to leave Dean's side for any lengthy amount of time, and he's only gotten worse in the past few months. Which, well, it's understandable. He let his mother out of sight for a few hours one day and she didn't come home. But it's still exhausting for Dean.

Mattie, unlike his sister, has also never really had any friends his age. Yes, it's true that he's only been at this new school for a couple months, but even before that he was mostly a loner kid. He's never been to a sleepover, never had a birthday party full of other kids, and had only been invited to other kids' birthday parties by well meaning parents. Honestly, yeah. Mattie's a little quirky. Mattie's kind of a lot quirky, and perhaps this is off putting to other kids his age. Apparently, according to Josef, this is exactly what Mattie's mother was like when she was younger (and isn't that a strange thing to think about - can you imagine her bouncing animatedly through her childhood, giggling about random things and climbing all over Josef, making up songs about her tuna fish sandwiches and the way windshield wipers move?) so it's probably nothing to worry about.

It's just...

Well. Look. He's a fucking awesome kid, in Dean's admittedly biased opinion (except no, he's just a fucking awesome kid period, okay?) but he's extremely gullible, which, unfortunately, makes him something of a target for those little shits at school. Two brothers tried to make him eat chalk last week by telling him that it tasted like one of those candy cigarettes that were in all the stores now because of Halloween.

Mattie had hesitated for a moment longer than he normally would have, which is probably the only reason why the bullies' plans hadn't worked out. ''I don't know, guys,'' Mattie had said, squirming uncomfortably and staring at the piece of chalk in his hand. ''My dad says - ''

''Just try it,'' one of the little hellspawns had urged. ''It's good. You'll like it.''

Mattie, who was totally okay with A) being made to eat chalk, and B) the unfortunate fact that he was being filmed by Bully #1's iPhone, had shrugged and lifted the chalk to his mouth. And then Dean had shown up, swooping in just in time to swat the chalk out of Mattie's hand and snatch the phone out of Bully #2's hand with a snarl, deleting the video and marching the rightfully terrified boys over to their ashamed mother.

I mean...

Mattie almost ate a piece of chalk. A piece of chalk. Aside from the fact that those kids suck, what kind of school still uses chalk in 2013? Okay, so Dean gets that Mattie is only eight years old but at the same time, in the course of his, what, five years in the school system, kids have made Mattie do some fucked up shit. One time, back in Massachusetts, some older kid had convinced a six year old Mattie to pull the fire alarm during an assembly. So, you know, yeah. He gets Mattie's beef with school. The kid just ain't good with kids his own age. He's good friends with all the teachers, though. And the lunch ladies. Which is...a little sad, but probably nice for the lunch ladies.

''You have to go to school, kiddo,'' Dean says.

Mattie sighs and falls on his bed dramatically. It's the same struggle every morning. ''But why do I have to?''

Dean pauses. He's trying his best to remain firm, biting back all the apologies for making him go, even in the face of those goddamn huge eyes, but it's not easy. ''Because...education,'' is his sputtered response.

Mattie rolls his eyes. ''Superheroes don't need an education, Dad.''

''Uh, I beg to differ. Clark Kent?''

''Green Arrow - ''

''Green Arrow's a douchebag.''

''Dad! Mama says - ''

''Yeah, yeah,'' Dean waves a hand. ''I'm not supposed to swear in front of you. Sorry. But, let's be real, that's not a dude you want to look up to.''

''Why? What'd Green Arrow ever do to you? Steal your girlfriend?'' Mattie rolls over onto his stomach and hides his face in his pillow, letting out a sad sigh. He falls silent, which is never a good sign, and Dean sucks in a breath, waiting for the inevitable. He takes a seat on the bed next to the pouting child. ''Can I stay home for today?'' Mattie asks, a slight whine to his voice. ''I wanna stay here with you and Sissy.''

''Mattie, even if you didn't go to school, I would still have to go to work and Sissy would still have to go to Norma's house. It's life, kid. But,'' he offers Mattie a big smile. ''How about this: If you go to school today, you can choose what we have for dinner tonight. Deal?''

Mattie still doesn't look one hundred percent convinced, but he nods anyway, licking his lips. ''Can I also have chocolate chips in my oatmeal?''

Dean opens his mouth to say no, but then clamps it shut. He should probably pick his battles here. He sighs. Again. ''Sure.''

Mattie's already twinkly eyes light up and he bounces up onto his knees. ''Yay! Hey! Hey, can I wear my cape to school?''

Dean's eyes widen. ''...Um...''

And the Third Battle begins.

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And last but certainly not least, Dean enters the nursery quietly, shutting the door behind him with a soft click. The sunlight is streaming in through the thin, wispy curtains, shadows dancing on the walls, painted mint green instead of a soft yellow like the nursery her mother had painted for her back in Massachusetts. That nursery is one of the things he misses most about the home they left behind in Salem. She had worked so hard on that nursery. They both had.

In the crib, his daughter is sitting up, half asleep and clutching her blanket. Her fine blond hair is messy and she's sucking on her thumb contentedly, waiting for him patiently, quietly. He smiles as soon as he sees her, one of those smiles that's accompanied by a feeling like a punch in the gut because what you're smiling at is so beautiful and perfect. The feeling must be mutual because as soon as she sees him, she takes her thumb out of her mouth and reaches her arms up for him to pick her up.

''Good morning, Lila Bray,'' he greets, scooping her up into his arms.

She doesn't say much, there's no babbling or crying, she just flops down onto his shoulder, wiggling until she's comfortable in his arms. She's always been a quiet one in the mornings. She's like her mother that way.

''Hi, my sugar,'' he murmurs against her head, dropping a kiss to her forehead. ''How'd you sleep?''

She doesn't answer, not that he thought she would, but he still grins as if she's said something mind blowing. At ten months old, Lila Bray Winchester is the baby of the family and it shows. She is the sun and the moon and the stars and the apple of everyone's eye. The last time she saw her mother, she was six months old. Still a helpless little thing. She was still breastfeeding, had just started crawling. But now. Now she has her very own personality, she's recognizing words, eating solid foods. She's sitting up, crawling, babbling, standing up, she has teeth, hair, she's this close to walking. She's a person now. And her mom missed all of it.

Sometimes it's hard to comprehend. How can she not be here?

Dean pushes these thoughts out of his head as he gets his daughter ready for the day. She doesn't fuss but she's not extremely helpful either, choosing to spend most of her time dozing against her daddy's shoulder. While he's getting her changed and dressed and her steady eyes are following his every movement, something plows into him. It feels a bit like a sucker punch. It's not an altogether unusual thought for him to have, but today it kind of stings.

Lila Bray Winchester looks just like her mother and the part that hurts is that her mother may never know that.

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The rest of the morning goes by about as smoothly as it possibly can with three young kids, which is to say not at all.

In the midst of the breakfast scramble, while Dean is putting Bray in her high chair and listening to Mattie go on and on about why they need a puppy, Sam calls for the daily check in. The phone call is startlingly domestic. Dean is busy making breakfast and doing last minute homework checks. Meanwhile, Sam is preoccupied with some mess Riot has made and calling out a ''see you after work'' to Amelia - and you better believe Dean finds the time to tease Sam about that because weren't you two going to take it slow, little brother? It's not the most productive phone call ever because while Dean and Sam are trying to update each other on life, kids, dogs, and their nice normal jobs - Dean's not going to lie; he does feel a pang of sadness when Sam tells him he's managed to secure a permanent job as a handyman; blue collar work is all Dean is cut out for and he's okay with that, but Sam's a fucking genius and he deserves better - the kids are all talking at once - Mattie is prattling on about wanting to go to Six Flags, Cecily is still trying to feign illness to get out of school, and Bray started shrieking excitedly the second she heard Sam's name - and Riot is barking in the background.

It's so strange.

On the one hand, this kind of life feels so very alien to Dean. Such normalcy has never really been an option for him. Even during the year he spent without Sam, holed up in Salem with her and the kids, mapping out their relationship, learning his way around being a step-dad, it was never really this domestic. He was a retired hunter, but she was still an active witch, often leaving in the middle of the night or missing lunch dates because she had to go play mediator or leap tall buildings or, like, rob from the rich and give to the poor with her superpowers or whatever it was that she did (he's not a witch, he's not permitted to be privy to some witchy things). That year was like living with Piper Halliwell. This is like Leave it to Beaver. It's...nice. There's a certain level of peace associated with the blindingly normal breakfast rush.

On the other hand, why does everyone have to talk at the freaking same time, holy shit.

Eventually, Dean hands the phone over to Mattie so he can tell Sam all about their plans for Halloween and how he's going to be all of the Avengers and how it's Bray's first Halloween and also how Cecily is a big party pooper who has something against having fun and won't dress up and go trick or treating anymore. Dean quickly pops some bread in the toaster for Cecily (oatmeal is apparently not on her list of approved breakfast foods) and takes the homework she has been waving in his face for the past two minutes.

Fifteen seconds.

He's fifteen seconds into explaining where Cecily went wrong on a math problem and she is getting more and more pissed by the second, not just because she had been so adamant that she got that problem right, but because he can tell she's growing incredibly frustrated with the level of noise her brother and sister are making. He can see her hands balling into fists, her lips pressed into a thin line as she tries not to snap at her siblings to shut up. And then the smoke alarm goes off. Bray, startled, starts to cry. Mattie gasps out an, ''oh my gosh, Dad burned the toast and I think the house is on fire'' into the phone. Cecily grumpily snatches the paper back from Dean.

Dean whirls around to unplug the toaster, watching the two black, charred pieces of toast slowly rise up. He blinks, staring. Well, that was...strange. He swears it was only in there for fifteen seconds. Not even twenty. There's no possible way...

He shrugs it off. Life is hectic. Busy. Cecily still needs breakfast, he still has to check her math homework, Bray has oatmeal all over her face, and Mattie needs to stop talking long enough to eat. So he shrugs it off. It's just toast.

There are other things to worry about.

.

.

.

It's raining when he finally gets the kids out the door, and Mattie is pouting because Dean has reminded him that its flu shot day after school. But Cecily lets out a quiet, genuine laugh when she sees the rain. It's the happiest she's looked all morning. She turns to look up at Dean with a small smirk and says, in her standard, raspy little deadpan, ''Waiting for the bus in the rain. ...Except imagine I said that in an aggressive rap.'' And then she snickers.

Dean frowns. ''Was that a reference?''

''Yeah.''

He says, with a small shake of his head, ''Stop making references I don't understand.''

She shrugs. ''Now you know how it feels.''

Dean laughs loudly, freely, and then he opens his umbrella, holds it over his kids and ushers them over to his 2012 Grand Cherokee Soccer Dad car.

Because this is his life now.

(He's almost happy with it.)

.

.

.

/ii/

here we are now, entertain us

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.

.

October, 2007
Salem, Massachusetts

Being a widow and a single mother at twenty five had not been in her plans when she married her high school sweetheart at eighteen.

She understands that it's one of the risks associated with being married to a first responder - he was always running into burning buildings and crumbling structures, putting himself in danger to save lives no matter what, leaving her with that nagging fear of what if he doesn't come home? that never left the back of her mind - but Mark didn't die because he couldn't find his way out of a smoke filled building. He died because of some freak medical emergency. Just dropped dead in the firehouse, apparently.

It was a tragic death, but a natural death. Just one of those things. The cause of death is undetermined, and the autopsy results were inconclusive, but the coroner is sure it must have been natural. A brain aneurysm, probably. A blood clot, perhaps. Maybe some sort of undiagnosed heart condition. It was a tragedy. It was no one's fault.

She scoffs at that ridiculous notion.

Yeah, right.

Her husband didn't die a natural death. Her husband was murdered.

.

.

.

On a rainy day in late October, two days after her husband's memorial service, she comes home with two year old Mattie on her hip and six year old Cecily clinging to her hand. She expects to walk in the door and find Josef and Adele cooking or cleaning or re-organizing her refrigerator simply because they have refused to leave her alone since Mark died. Sure enough, when she heads into the living room, she finds Josef and Adele sitting on her couch. Addie is holding her husband's arm tightly, polite smile on her lips, and Josef's face is carefully blank, but about five seconds away from royal frustration.

There are two men in suits sitting across from them.

''Oh, honey,'' Adele stands and edges around the men with an almost unnoticeable air of anxiety. She rushes right over to her niece and wraps a warm arm around her shoulders.

In his mother's arms, Mattie is babbling away, seemingly unaware of the overwhelming tension in the room. At her side, Cecily shrinks back into her, all too aware of the insurmountable tension in the room.

''These men are from the FBI,'' Adele seems to put an unnecessary emphasis on FBI. ''They're here to talk to you about...'' She glances at the kids and lowers her voice to a whisper, leaning in close. ''About Mark.''

The two men in suits turn their heads towards her, and then stand, and Ruby just knows. She chokes down a sigh. Behind their backs, Josef mouths something at her urgently, as if she hasn't figured it out already.

''Mrs. Campbell,'' the taller of the two men takes a step, offering her a small and genuine, albeit fleeting, smile. ''I'm very sorry for your loss. We don't mean to intrude, but we were wondering if we could ask you a few questions about your hus - ''

The other one, whose eyes have been on Cecily ever since she tried to hide behind her mother at the sight of them, cuts his partner off with a smooth, ''About what happened.''

Ruby eyes them both closely, from their cheap and ill fitting suits to the dirt under their fingernails and the mop of hair on the puppy dog eyed one's head that is most certainly not an FBI regulated haircut. The other one, shorter than the kid he's standing next to but still tall and looming, has a smile that is a little less placating and a little more forced. She resists the urge to sigh again, too tired to deal with this, too tired to deal with anything, right now. ''Cecily, baby,'' she crouches down, placing Mattie down in front of her, one arm still wrapped around the wriggly toddler's stomach to keep him from running full speed at the strangers and demanding they play with him. She does her best to smile reassuringly as she tucks a strand of hair behind Cecily's ear. ''Can you take your brother upstairs for me?'' She grabs Mattie's hand when his little hand shoots out to paw at her face. He's still chatting incessantly, very firm in his demands to stay with Mama. ''Just for a couple minutes,'' she assures both of them.

Mattie whines unhappily and stomps his foot. ''No,'' he turns to bury his face in her shirt. ''Stay with Mama.''

Cecily, wise beyond her years and too smart for her own good, looks worried. She doesn't say anything, though. She rarely does. She's the quietest six year old known to man. She narrows her eyes at the two large and unfamiliar men towering over her in her own house and scrunches up her nose, lips pinched together.

The older one is the only one who reacts to Cecily's suspicious glares. The stiffly professional look in his eyes melts away and he smiles softly, just a little. Cecily relaxes under the warmth of his smile, whether it's real or not, but still fidgets from foot to foot. ''Don't worry,'' he says, and the young girl startles at the sound of his voice. ''We won't bug your mom for too long.'' His voice is gruff but he keeps it low and gentle when speaking to Cecily, a lot like Mark would have, and perhaps that is the reason Cecily's distrust seems to waver.

''You know what, sweetie?'' Adele jumps in then, like the saint that she is, with a wink and smile. ''I'll come with you.'' She sweeps Mattie up into her arms, kissing his cheeks until the discouraged boy giggles. She settles him on her hip and tells him, ''We'll play Candy Land. How does that sound? You and me against Miss Cece, little man.''

''Mama,'' Mattie starts.

''I'll come play with you in a little bit,'' Ruby murmurs. ''I promise, okay? Pinky swear.'' The two year old seems to calm down a bit as he clumsily links his tiny pinky through his mother's, apparently placated by her reassuring promises. Cecily, however, still looks worried, even as she curls her own pinky around her mother's.

''See?'' Adele smiles brightly. ''It's okay. It's just boring grown up talk. Mom won't be long.'' She holds her hand out to Cecily. ''Come on, honey.''

Cecily allows herself to be dragged away somewhat reluctantly, but keeps her eyes on the strange men in her house as she skirts around them. At first glance, Cecily may seem more like her father than her mother - quiet, observant, sweet, helpful - but she's more like her mother than most people realize, mapping out people's personalities and effortlessly coming up with ways to get to them. She has also inherited her mother's distrustful nature. Ruby isn't sure if this is a good thing or not.

Once they're gone, safely disappearing up the stairs, Ruby's eyes go to Josef. Despite the brief flicker of a smile that is probably supposed to be reassuring, he is standing there like a brick wall, arms crossed, mouth shut tight in an effort not to tell their guests to go fuck themselves, completely closed off to whatever these guys have to say. It's not at all surprising. Considering what happened seventeen years ago with Olivia.

''We don't want to take too much time out of your day,'' the giant says again, with a smile. ''I'm Agent Stanley and this is my partner, Agent Simmons - ''

Oh. For. Fuck's sake.

''We were wondering if we could speak to you for a moment regarding the circumstances surrounding your husband's - ''

''Can I see some ID?'' She cuts in rudely.

There is no hesitation. They flash their fake badges proudly, professionally, almost arrogantly, like they've somehow outsmarted her.

She purses her lips and lets out a disappointed sigh, tilting her head to the side and crossing her arms over her chest. ''You know,'' she says. ''I expected so much better from you.'' She shoves her hands into the pockets of her husband's old, ratty hoodie that still smells like him and she suddenly has to fight against an unpleasant and unwelcome tidal wave of emotions, most of them painful. She is just so one hundred percent done with this year. 2007 has not been a good year for her family. 2007 can suck it. ''You're FBI agents,'' she snorts. Her eyes harden. ''And I'm the motherfucking pope.''

The short beat of awkward silence is only broken by the sound of Josef's rumbling laughter from behind them.

Ruby watches, with mild satisfaction, as both of their eyes go wide.

''I - '' the younger one splutters, sending a helpless look at his partner as he searches for something to say. He looks nervous. His partner - his brother, let's be real, okay, she's not an idiot - mostly looks frustrated. ''I'm sorry?''

''You're not FBI agents,'' she sneers, ''and I'm not stupid. You're hunters.''

They falter. It's not particularly noticeable to an untrained eye and it's clear that they're both trying so hard not to, but they do. She has startled them. She gets the feeling not a lot of people do these days. They both stare at her, then at each other, and then their expressions change. Their confusion smoothes over and they slip right back to professional. One of them opens his mouth to speak.

''Don't bother lying,'' Josef says, coming to stand next to Ruby. ''It's not our fault you're glaringly obvious.'' He steps forwards with a fairly judgmental frown and reaches out to touch their suits, starting with the kid's. He cringes and shakes his head. ''At least get some suits that actually fit you, gentlemen. These are trash.'' He grins a little. ''My daughter would be so proud of me for noticing.'' When he attempts to touch the older brother's suit, his hands are abruptly smacked away. He steps back with a lazy smirk, unfazed.

''All right,'' Little Brother elbows his partner and lets out a sigh. ''Okay, I'm sorry. We... We weren't sure how much you knew about what your husband did.''

Despite the way her fists clench and her stomach drops at the use of past tense, she lets out a raucous burst of laughter. ''Oh, boys,'' she shakes her head. ''It's cute when you think you know something. I can guarantee you I know a lot more than you do, Sam.'' She lets her lips curve upward into a grin, eyes sliding from brother to brother. ''Dean.''

Beside her, Josef goes ramrod straight, teeth audibly grinding together in his best attempt to keep his expression from shifting from mild annoyance to blind homicidal rage. Ruby has to admit that she does get a sick sense of satisfaction from the way the Winchester brothers instantly go on the alert, bodies tensing. She does not, however, get any satisfaction from her uncle's obvious and understandable discomfort.

''How do you - ''

''You're John Winchester's boys,'' she says, moving toward them. ''You think we don't know who you are? Your father made quite the name for himself.''

''A real living legend,'' Josef sneers out. ''Oh, wait, I forgot.'' He cocks his head to the side and grins. ''He's dead.''

Dean's gaze moves from Ruby to Josef, growing cold and cutting right through him. Josef doesn't even flinch.

Ruby still does not have time for any of this shit. Her life has gotten ten thousand times more hectic in the past five months and now she has two young kids to raise all on her own. She doesn't need Winchesters poking their noses into every corner of her life. Chances are they'll find something, get the wrong idea about it and leap to fatal assholish conclusions. Just like their father did eighteen years ago. ''Look,'' she says sharply, making sure their attention is on her and only her. ''I understand that you two knew my husband and that your first instinct was that something supernatural happened, such is the life and death of a hunter and everything, but what happened to Mark was natural. He died of a brain aneurysm. Now, if you don't mind, thank you for checking this out, but could you please leave? It's nothing personal but I don't want hunters around my kids.''

Dean and Sam don't move, which is discouraging because she thought she had been perfectly polite, and also because with every moment that passes, she can feel Josef's rage growing and it's only a matter of time before he takes out his anger over their father's sins on them.

''With all due respect, Mrs. Campbell,'' Dean says, and she can immediately tell what's coming. ''Your husband was found bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes and ears. That doesn't exactly scream natural to me.''

Ruby sucks in a sharp breath. There is a sudden tightening in her chest and a churning in her stomach at his words, unpleasant, horrific images flashing through her mind. ''Yes,'' her voice remains perfectly even. ''Thank you so much for reminding me of what my husband went through in his last moments alive. I really appreciate it. I love having that image at the forefront of my mind. It's extremely comforting.''

He at least has the decency to look ashamed, clearing his throat and dropping his eyes to the floor.

''Mrs - '' Sam breaks off in a sigh. ''Ruby.'' He meets her eyes. ''We know it was a witch.'' And then he reaches for something in his inside jacket pocket.

She has a momentary burst of panic, uncrossing her arms and standing straight, body tensing just a little, desperately trying to remind herself that they are not their father. It is not nearly as bad as Josef's reaction. He reacts physically, grasping her arm tightly and making a poor attempt to yank her back, away from the Winchesters and behind him. She places a hand firmly against his chest to keep him in place.

''We found this,'' Sam says, producing a small bag made of cloth. A hex bag.

Ruby pinches her lips together at the sight of it and tries to come up with something to say that will get them to back off. She draws a blank. She hadn't been lying when she said she had heard of them. Everyone in or adjacent to the hunting community has heard of Dean and Sam Winchester, not just because of their father's infamous life and death, but because of the things they've done in the past couple of years. They killed Azazeal. Opened the gates of hell. Cheated death. Not to mention the whispers she's heard about crossroads deals and destinies, little Sammy and his Boy King Status, angels and demons.

They are the living legends.

She's not sure there's anything she can say that will get them to willingly drop a case.

But this is not just a case for her. Her husband is not fodder for their Monster of the Week. This is not their fight. ''We're aware of the situation,'' she folds her arms and keeps her tone frosty. ''My family and I have it under control. We don't need you two bursting in guns blazing. We can handle it.''

''Are you sure about that?'' Dean asks. ''Do you even know who it is?''

Ruby and Josef exchange a look and don't answer.

''What if this witch comes after you next?'' Sam suggests.

She can't help but roll her eyes. ''Well, your concern is touching, you two virtual strangers,'' she deadpans. ''But I can handle myself.'' She smirks. ''You have no idea.'' She pauses and when they make no move to leave, she snarls. ''My husband's death is not your personal mystery to solve. He's not just another case,'' she spits. ''He was a person. He was a husband. He was a father. He is not just a nameless victim. If anyone is going to solve his murder, it's going to be me. Do you understand?''

''He...'' Sam trails off. ''...Saved our lives once.''

Dean sighs and gives Sam a look.

''Oh, yeah,'' Ruby nods. ''You're right. That's totally a more meaningful connection. It's not like I gave birth to his children or anything. Hey, do you remember that thing I said earlier? About you getting out of my house?''

''Okay.'' Josef steps in between her and the Winchesters with a growl. ''You heard her. Time to go, boys. She doesn't want hunters around her kids. And I don't want them around her.'' He narrows his eyes. ''Especially not Winchesters.''

They do eventually leave with minimal protesting. She is not naive enough to think it will end there.

''They're going to be trouble,'' Josef points out needlessly, just after he has slammed the door on them. ''Personally,'' he turns back around to face her. He looks tired. ''I still don't understand why Mark just had to save their lives last year.''

Ruby glares at him. ''Way harsh, Tai.''

''Don't reference at me, Ruby,'' he points a finger at her. ''Are you forgetting what happened when their father came to town?''

''They're not their father, Joe.''

''How can you be so sure?''

''Well.'' She lowers her gaze to her wedding rings, twisting her engagement ring anxiously. ''I'm not my mother.'' She lifts her eyes to him. ''Am I?''

He softens, like she knew he would. ''Absolutely not.'' He shakes his head and moves past her to sink onto the couch. ''Listen, doll, all I'm saying is that I made the mistake of trusting a Winchester once and look where that got me.''

She bites her lip and stares down at the ground.

''More importantly,'' he adds. ''Look where that got Ollie.''

Her head snaps up, eyes widening in shock simply because she can't remember the last time he mentioned Olivia's name.

''So be careful,'' he advises her.

She gives him a shaky smile. ''I'm always careful.''

''Uh-huh.'' He grins and rises to his feet. ''That's why you have two kids at twenty five.''

''Joe, you and Ollie had Alice when you were sixteen. I don't think you have any room to talk.''

He laughs warmly and kisses the top of her head. ''Go play Candy Land, Ruby.''

.

.

.

The Winchesters do not stay out of anything.

She never really thought they would.

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.

end chapter one


AN: Happy October, everybody!

i:
i miss you (i'm not gonna crack)
i love you (i'm not gonna crack)
i killed you (i'm not gonna crack)
-
from ''Lithium'' by Nirvana.

ii:
here we are now, entertain us
- from ''Smells Like Teen Spirit'' by Nirvana.