Normal is Overrated

By: Ridley

Beta: Tidia

“God, this sucks.”

“Stop you’re whining, Damien.” Dean was worried that Caleb’s complaint lacked the fire and strength it had earlier in the forest. He wondered if Sam was right about them heading straight for the clinic in New Haven. Stopping the toxin would be pointless if Caleb bled to death first. He looked to the front seat of the car where he briefly met his brother’s gaze in the rearview mirror. “It’s not too great from where I’m sitting either.”

“My bad.” Caleb snorted. “Triad empathy thing kicking in?”

“Not so much.” Dean had experienced the link that bound him to Knight and Scholar during the war. It was meant to be a warning that one of their Triad was in dire straits. Dean didn’t need his Guardian mojo now to know Caleb was hurting. “I think it’s just overkill if we’re attached at the hip.”

“Wouldn’t know.” Caleb tried to maneuver away from Dean in the cramped backseat as Dean shifted the wadded up shirt he was holding against the hunter’s side. A piss poor laugh barely eclipsed his hiss of pain. “The psychic thing feeds off close proximity. You’re practically on my lap.”

“The pain I’m feeling has to do with watching you bleed out on these fine seats.” Dean knew how his friend’s abilities worked. Damien didn’t need to deal with Dean’s anxiety on top of everything else. He made a concentrated effort to maintain his calm by playing it as close to normal as he could. “They’re originals from the 1979 anniversary model. Silver leather is fucking rare.”

Caleb groaned. “I thought since we weren’t in the Impala I’d at least be spared your bitching, Deuce.”

“No such luck. I put months of labor into this baby. She may be Sam’s ride, but she’s a part of me.” Sam glanced to the rearview again and when Dean met his gaze their speed increased. The car had been a back to school gift. New York was a pedestrian city, but the subway didn’t quite make it to Kentucky and Mac's place had an extra parking spot. Besides, Dean saw presenting his brother with a car of his own as a symbolic blessing this time around. He was glad he went with the bigger block engine.

“Well, I’ve invested years in you,” Caleb said through clenched teeth. “I think I deserve a little more consideration than The Bandit.”

Dean rolled his eyes at the antiquated, not to mention incorrect, reference to the star vehicle from Smokey and The Bandit. “Dude, this is a 1981 Turbo. Bandit drove a 1977 Trans-am. Don’t you remember the T-top?”

“I remember Sally Fields was extremely hot.”

“Right.” The expected answer had Dean laughing for the first time since the fucked up hunt had begun. “Was that before or after she stripped out of the wedding dress? Because we all know how you feel about brides.”

“I have no problem with brides,” Caleb said, his voice drifting off. “As long as they’re someone else’s...”

“He needs to stay awake,” Sam snapped.

The clipped order from the driver’s seat had Dean glaring at the back of his brother’s head. Sam could sound just like their father. “No shit, Einstein. It’s not like I’m back here spinning a bedtime story.”

“Goddamnit, Sam.” Caleb jerked in Dean’s arms, struggling to lift a hand to his temple. “Your lack of practice shows. Stay the fuck out of my head.”

“Stay awake and I will,” Sam said, his voice holding no remorse. “If you go to sleep there is no guarantee you’ll wake up.”

“Thanks for that,” Dean said. Sam had backed off on his abilities, like a teetotaler with booze. Caleb didn’t think it was the right way to go, but Dean was trying to be supportive and let his brother find his own way.

Sam continued looking at the road, maintaining his white knuckled grip on the wheel. “The auloniad’s poison is sedative in nature, Dean. It’s how they finish off their victims.”

Some days it was easier to be empathetic than others. “I know the nymph’s MO, Sam.” Dean had done the research. Mythology made wood nymphs sound like some of Heff’s finest Bunnies had escaped the mansion and were out for a frolicking good time in the forest, but the truth was a lot uglier and much more sinister. The auloniad they had been tracking took her mating seriously, turning her chosen victim into compost to fertilize her precious trees.

“What is his problem?” Caleb’s voice was still weak, but his glassy eyes were wide open and staring at Dean now. “He’s been pissy for weeks.”

“He is more broody than usual.” Dean didn’t bother to lower his reply. He waited for Sam to glance up in the mirror again; making sure his brother knew what he thought of his bitchy attitude. “I’m guessing having you for a roommate has finally pushed him over the edge.”

“I’m an awesome roommate,” Caleb protested. “I’m hardly ever there.”

Dean had kept The Knight occupied training new recruits to rebuild their ranks and shouldering more than his fair share of clean up from the war. Sam was busy with school and Dean was still adjusting to being Commander in Chief, juggling the reigns of The Brotherhood, trying to find some semblance of balance. “Then maybe he just needs to get laid.”

“That’s your answer for everything,” Sam said. “Both of you are dogs.”

“We should have made him the bait.” Caleb shifted his body against Dean’s in the cramped backseat. “Whatever happened to the youngest hunter rule?”

“If I remember it right, your raw sexual energy is what happened,” Sam said.

“You did brag about being the best choice of lures, Damien.” Dean grinned. “So much for being the nymphomaniac in the group.”

“Said the dude who once got the life sucked out of him by a siren.” Caleb attempted to return the half-assed smile, his breath hitching. “Mac always said… a woman was going to be the death of us.”

“Not tonight, Damien.” They hadn’t made it through the battles they’d seen in the last year to be taken out on a rookie hunt. Dean tightened his hold on his friend, glancing out the window to find familiar pastures and landmarks. “We’re almost home.”

Sam downshifted as they approached the farm, throwing gravel behind them. “Whose car is that?”

Dean looked up as his brother made the sharp turn into the drive, the back end of the Trans-am fishtailing as he slammed on the breaks. There was a light blue Honda hybrid parked near the Impala. “Shit.”

“What’s wrong?” Sam opened his door. He quickly got out, pushing the driver's seat forward so he could help with Caleb. “Why are there lights on in the house?”

“Tonight is so not my fucking night,” Dean hissed. Juliet was supposed to be in Tennessee. He’d talked to her yesterday. She was set to head out to check some radio collars her team had lost tracking on. They had planned to hook-up on the weekend. She was way early.

“Tell me about it.” Caleb’s voice was slurring. He stumbled, nearly going to his knees before Sam shifted The Knight’s arm over his shoulder. “I’m so not dressed for company.”

“Why do we have company?” Sam growled. “Who the hell is here, Dean?”

“A friend of mine.” Dean glanced at his watch. It was nearly midnight. This was not how he intended for Juliet to meet Sam and Caleb. Considering Caleb was in need of medical assistance he was willing to try to see the upside. If Damien was worse off than he thought, Juliet’s surprise visit could be a blessing in disguise.

“A friend?” Sam waited for Dean to get out, taking his share of Caleb’s weight. “Do you mean a woman?”

“Should that really be such a shock to you?” Dean heard the screen door from the kitchen slam and then barking as Boo bounded from around the house to greet them.

“If this were a bar or a cheap motel, then no,” Sam ground out. “I wouldn’t be surprised to find triplets handcuffed to your fucking bed, but this is the farm, Dean. The farm! Jim would be so pissed.”

“This is my home, Sam.” Dean had a sudden vivid memory of his father coming back early from a hunt only to find a twelve-year-old Dean had invited a girl from school over to their ratty apartment. Sam’s rant was tame compared to what Dad’s explosive reaction had been. Home in the Winchester world was more like a fortress and bringing a stranger in was as treacherous as handing over the keys to the enemy. “And for your information Jim invited her.”

“How the hell did she get in?” Sam ignored the revelation about Pastor Jim and started toward the front of the house. “Does she have a key?”

“Can we talk about this later?” Dean concentrated on keeping a hold on Caleb, who surprisingly hadn’t added his two cents on the subject. Juliet didn’t have her own key, but Dean had told her where he kept the spare one he left for old man Dingus who took care of the animals when Dean was away. He’d been seeing Juliet for over a month and she sometimes made it to the farm before Dean left his shop in town. She was Jim’s niece. It had seemed harmless until now.

“She’s expecting you to be alone, Deuce,” Caleb said. “She has a bottle of wine and pie.”

Dean looked at him, realizing exactly why his friend had been so quiet. Caleb searched out the unfamiliar presence psychically assessing the threat. “Stop wasting your strength, Damien. You’re going to need it.”

“Get rid of her,” Sam said.

“What is your problem?” Dean parroted Caleb’s earlier question. He chalked his brother’s odd behavior as of late up to the stress of getting back into school and the move to New York, but was beginning to wonder if something else was going on.

“My problem is that Caleb is bleeding to death and you’ve got a hot date!”

“I’m not bleeding to death,” Caleb countered.

“I didn’t know she was coming, goddamnit,” Dean said. He didn’t like the fact Juliet was here anymore than Sam, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to be dressed down for it by his little brother.

“Obviously,” Sam said. “Because you sure as hell wouldn’t want anyone finding out your dirty little secret.”

“Victim of a poisonous nymph here,” Caleb said weakly. “Mysterious chick or not- I’d like to go in.”

Dean swore as the front porch light came on to illuminate the yard in bright light. “Dean?” Juliet stepped through the door, Dill yapping at them from her arms.

Dean sighed “It’s me, Juliet.”

“Juliet?” Caleb coughed, trying to stand straighter. “For real?”

Dean lowered his voice. “Call me Romeo one time, Damien and nymph venom will be the least of your worries.”

“Tell her to leave,” Sam hissed. “We don’t have time for this.”

“No.” Dean would have liked nothing better than to have shuffled Juliet off into the night, leaving her completely and blissfully unaware of his secret life just a little longer. But as Sam pointed out, Caleb was bleeding to death. “She’s a doctor, Sam.”

“Look at you going for the brainy girls, Deuce,” Caleb said. “Mac will be beside himself.”

“Don’t get too excited, Damien.” Dean nudged them to start moving again. “She’s a vet, and I doubt we’ll see her after tonight.”

“Maybe your luck’s changed,” Caleb said.

“Don’t count on it.” Caleb should have known better. He had been around for Cassie. Dean’s hands were sticky with blood and he left red finger prints on the white railing as they stepped on to the porch.

“Dean?” Juliet looked from the ominous mark to him. She was trying to assimilate the scene before her with the story Dean had given her about working late on a special project for a customer. It wasn’t a complete lie.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” Dean said.

“But you sure are a sweet surprise,” Caleb said. “I’m Caleb and the scowling guy is Sam.”

Dean rolled his eyes at his friend’s attempt at charm. Caleb was acting as if it the boys had just made it home from a few late night beers at the local sports bar. “Stay out of this, Damien.”

Sam grunted. “We need to get him inside, Dean.”

“What happened?” Juliet’s gaze traveled the length of Caleb’s body as she quickly stepped aside for them to pass. “He’s bleeding.”

“Hunting accident.” The tried and true answer slipped easily from his lips. Dean and Sam maneuvered Caleb up the steps and inside, leaving Boo outside on the porch. “Sort of.”

“You didn’t tell me you were a hunter.”

The distaste was obvious. Dean briefly wondered if shooting Bambi would be a quicker deal breaker with this woman than the sordid truth. They would soon find out. “It’s not what you think.”

“I think he needs a hospital,” Juliet said.

“I’ve had worse, sweetheart,” Caleb said with bravado.

Juliet put Dill in her crate, giving the pup a stay command before following them through the living room into the downstairs guest bedroom. “Dean, should I call an ambulance?”

“No. We’ve got it covered.” Dean helped Sam ease Caleb onto the bed. The hospital wouldn’t allow them to remain in control or administer the treatment Caleb would need. Mac and Esme were away on their much deserved and delayed honeymoon. He glanced over his shoulder to Juliet. “Do you have your medical bag?”

“Yes, but…”

“Could you go get it?” Dean watched her hands come to her hips, her lips press firmly together. He’d learned she had a stubborn streak over the weeks they had spent together, and that he could maneuver around it with just the right look. “Please.”

She backed quickly out of the room, her gaze not leaving his until she passed through the doorway.

“She’s hot, Deuce,” Caleb said once Juliet was gone. He bobbed his eyebrows lasciviously at Dean and it might have made Dean feel better if Damien hadn’t gasped when he reapplied pressure to the wound in his side. “No wonder you’ve been keeping her a secret.”

“You’re hot. You have a fever,” Sam countered, laying his hand on The Knight’s forehead, but looking at Dean. “I thought we were past keeping secrets, especially within The Triad.”

So that was it, Dean thought. Sam was pissed he hadn’t rang him up the instant Juliet showed up. “Sorry to violate the whole complete honesty streak you’ve got going on, Bro, but I really didn’t think my dating life was a hot topic for Round Table discussion.”

“Relationships have been a problem for us in the past,” Sam said.

“I’m not dating someone buckets of crazy, Sam.”

“Whoa. You’re dating?” Caleb wrapped his fingers in the tail of Dean’s over shirt, giving it a slight tug. “You know she’s out of your league. Right?”

“Shut up.” Dean forced a grin, knowing Caleb also needed the distraction he was offering Dean. “You’re just jealous, Damien.”

“Please. I taught you everything you know.”

Sam sighed loudly, making his frustration with the chitchat known. “The poison is spreading faster than we thought. We can talk about you lying to us later.”

Caleb pulled away from Sam’s touch with a frown. “Stop freaking out, Sammy. You’re going to scare away Dean’s new friend before she finds out how awesome we are.”

“I’m not worried about Dean’s new friend. I’m worried about you, dick head.” He stood, giving Dean another pointed look. “I’m going to get what we need out of The Tomb.”

Juliet nearly collided with Sam as she rushed back into the room, doctor’s bag in hand. She made her way to the bedside, glancing briefly at Dean. “How are his vitals?”

“My heart started racing when you came in the room, Doc,” Caleb said. He tried lifting himself up higher in bed. “Is that a bad sign?”

Dean placed a hand on Caleb’s chest to keep him still. He looked at Juliet. “His pulse is strong and a little fast.”

“Just the way I like my women.” Caleb winked at Juliet.

Dean noticed her mouth twitched as she took a seat on the bed beside Caleb, but she was trying hard to maintain her professional front. He’d seen this side of her when she helped deliver a neighbor’s foal a few weeks back, and again when she took him on a tour of the wolf relocation facilities in Tennessee. She was all business, taking her stethoscope from her bag and slipping it on before pressing the end against Caleb’s chest. “How’s the pain?”

“Will you hold my hand if I say I’m in agony?”

“Sorry.” She pulled the stethoscope from her ears, letting it rest around her neck. “I have morphine to help with that.”

“No painkillers.” Dean shook his head. They couldn’t risk Caleb going to sleep. “Damien’s allergic.”

“Okay.” Juliet looked doubtful, but returned to questioning Caleb. “Any trouble with your breathing?”

“Not right now.” Caleb, despite his condition, didn’t miss a beat. “Could I get a rain check for mouth to mouth?”

“You’re giving her a new appreciation for her nonverbal clientele, Dude.” Dean placed his free hand over Caleb’s face. “Ignore him from the neck up. He’s slightly delirious from all the agony.”

“I’m used to figuring things out without much input from my patients.” Juliet smiled at Caleb. “I just need your body.”

“Story of my life,” Caleb managed to mumble around Dean’s fingers.

Dean removed his hand. “You wish, fugly.”

Juliet pressed her fingers against Damien’s wrist. “I’m sure Sam appreciates you for your mind.”

“Please.” Caleb grinned. “The brainiac only thinks I’m good for one thing.”

“That’s a little more than I needed to know,” Juliet said. She turned to look at Dean and he noticed her cheeks had pinked. “I do need to see the wound.”

Dean lifted Sam’s bunched over shirt from Caleb’s side. The makeshift bandage revealed Caleb’s torn tee and two deep gashes over his ribs, a third shallow cut sliding down his side, disappearing under the waistband of his jeans.

Juliet studied the slashed material for a moment. “Can we get rid of the shirt?”

“Who’s jealous now?” Caleb looked up at Dean, then flashed another grin at Juliet. “All of the women he meets want to get me naked.”

“Really?” Juliet pulled a pair of scissors from her bag using them to cut away the shredded tee. “How does Sam feel about that?”

Dean smiled, realizing he’d never gotten around to explaining the truth about Caleb and Sam to Juliet. “Lucky for Damien, Sammy doesn’t hold his faults against him.”

“Please.” Caleb snorted. “Sammy’s completely jealous of my way with women. I can’t bring any dates home now that he lives with me.”

Juliet tilted her head, inspecting the injury closer. “I imagine a sleepover would put stress on your relationship.”

“Relationship?” Caleb frowned and Dean knew he was reading Juliet’s thoughts. His face reddened. “Deuce, what the hell did you tell her?”

“So…” Dean cleared his throat, ignoring his best friend. “What do you think, Doc? Simple sutures handle it?”

“If we’re lucky.” Juliet leaned closer; a strand of dark hair escaped her ponytail to fall across her face. Dean resisted the urge to reach out and tuck it behind her ear. Caleb was smirking at him for even thinking about it. “I’ll need to clean the wound before I can say for sure.”

“Use this.” Sam reentered the room, his arms full with the farm’s medical kit, bottles from The Tomb and a silver flask which he extended to Dean.

“I have antiseptic.” Juliet started for her bag. “I don’t need alcohol.”

“It’s not alcohol.” Sam reclaimed his place by Caleb on the other side of the bed. He looked at his brother. “Dean?”

Dean realized the gig was up, the illusion he had created was about to vanish. It was funny he hadn’t realized how drawn in he was until Juliet’ eyes finally met his. He wasn’t ready to run her off. His father’s voice rang clearly in his head. ‘We do what we do and we shut up about it.’

“What is it?” She gave an impatient little huff to dislodge the strand of hair from where it had fallen across her eyes.

“Holy water,” Dean said.

“Okay.” A frown crossed her brow, the small scar above her left eyebrow momentarily disappearing in the crease. “The problem being that just because water’s blessed doesn’t mean it’s sterile.”

Dean rubbed his hand on his jeans. Juliet was thinking completely logically. Sam was still staring at him expectantly.

“We’re a very religious lot,” Caleb said. “Pastor Jim’s influence.”

Dean glared at his friend. Caleb had picked up the connection to Pastor Jim while snooping. He wondered what else Caleb had lifted to be used against Dean at a later date. “That’s not why we use it.”

“I didn’t mean to be disrespectful,” Juliet started. “But I don’t want to risk any kind of contamination…”

“It’s to purify and purge the body of evil.” Dean knew they were beyond their typical subterfuge. He had forgotten how hard it was for an outsider, someone from the normal world, to put it all together. To see past the curtain, as Missouri was fond of putting it. He had openly laid the pieces out on the table for Cassie and she still refused to see the truth. It was easier for her to think Dean was a crazy asshole than to admit there were things she and science could never understand. “We use it anytime a wound is caused by a supernatural entity. It’s not a cure, but it’s necessary.”

“Supernatural entity?” Juliet let out a nervous laugh. She looked at the wound again and then to Dean. “This looks like an animal attacked him. What exactly were you hunting?”

Dean realized she still wasn’t following him. “Nymphs. An oak nymph, actually.”

“Nmyphs?” She repeated the word slowly, her face showing confusion, but slowly morphing to frustration. “As in maidens with magical abilities to bewitch humans with their beauty?”

“Most history has been twisted and exaggerated to some degree,” Sam said. “Nymphs were often associated with gods and goddesses and therefore with ethereal gifts, such as extreme beauty.”

“The one that got me was ass ugly,” Caleb said. “More like a fucked up goat than any Waterhouse or Draper painting.”

Juliet looked at Caleb and then from Sam to Dean. “Is this some kind of elaborate joke?”

“This isn’t a joke,” Dean said. Like most people, Juliet couldn’t see past her own knowledge, which left one alternative. He would have to show her. Dean uncapped the flask, his gaze going to Caleb’s and getting a small nod from his best friend. He poured the holy water over the gashes. Damien cried out, arching off the bed as the water bubbled and hissed, smoke rising over the wound. Juliet started, hand going to her mouth before reaching out to grasp Dean’s wrist, preventing him from pouring any more of the water.

“What are you doing?!”

“What I have to do to stop that,” Dean said. He pointed to the wound where black spider-like tentacles magically appeared under Caleb’s skin branching out like invisible ink from the wound.

“Oh God.” Juliet let go of Dean. She looked at Caleb, all color draining from her face.

Damien gave a harsh laugh. “Tell me you’re not squeamish, Doc.”

“I don’t understand.” Juliet let her hand hover above Caleb’s stomach. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s poison,” Dean said. He laid one hand on Caleb’s arm, glancing at Sam before pouring more from the flask. The dark streaks receded, shrinking back towards the wound. “The holy water will slow down the spread giving you time to stitch him up and us to deliver the antidote.”

Juliet gave Dean a baleful look. “Nymph poison?”

“Auloniad, actually.” Sam was in Scholar mode, his frustration taking a backseat to his favored role of teacher. “It’s a subset of nymphs, more vicious than your water variety.”

Juliet continued to stare at Dean. He licked his lips, lowered his voice. “I didn’t want you to find out this way, but we need your help.”

“Or we need for you to get out of our way,” Sam said. His brother had little patience for those in ‘normal land’ these days. People unaware of the sacrifices made for them, the casualties that occurred. Sammy was like an embittered veteran from a war that civilians could not comprehend.

“What didn’t you want me to find out, Dean?” Juliet’s tone took on a higher pitch. “That nymphs are real?”

“They are real,” Dean said, solemnly. Dean thought back over the last few weeks, dissecting the moments they had shared together. Surely, there must have been a time when he could have explained, made her understand. “Nymphs and a whole bunch of other shit you’ve only read about in books or saw on the big screen.”

“Fairies and elves?” Juliet stared at Dean with a look he hadn’t seen from her before, but recognized as good old disappointment.

“I’m sorry.” Dean realized no moment merely appeared for life changing news to be delivered. Those pockets of time had to be carved out, willfully created. He hadn’t made the effort in fear of the very reaction he was receiving now. All he had accomplished was to delay the inevitable. If he had explained earlier, she would only have left sooner.

“Woodland creatures as a lot are bad news,” Caleb said. He had his breathing under control, but Dean didn’t miss his fists still gripped the blankets beneath him. “Trolls and fucking gnomes are the worst.”

Dean ran a hand through his hair. “You’re not helping, Damien. Just take it easy.”

“This conversation isn’t helping,” Sam spoke up. He tossed Dean their medical kit. “Stitch him up, Dean so I can inject the snake venom.”

Dean bit back on a groan. Sam couldn’t have merely called it a cure.

“Snake venom?” Juliet gawked at Sam. “Now you’re kidding, right?”

“It’s the only antidote for nymph poison.” Dean had once seen Mac use it on Bobby. The results weren’t pretty, but Bobby was still kicking and that was what mattered most.

“Why would you think that?” Juliet demanded. She glanced to where Sam was busy filling a syringe and then glowered at Dean. “Don’t do this. Believing in fairytales is one thing, but dosing someone with poison…”

“I know none of this makes a lot of sense,” Dean said. Not a lot of things behind the curtain made sense in the parameters of the known world. Asking Juliet to grasp the fact he was about to inject his best friend with snake venom to save his life was like asking her to accept that the world was flat, or that gravity was a figment of her imagination. He tried to take her hand, but she jerked away as if his touch burned her skin.

“Chemotherapy doesn’t make a lot of sense to a lay person,” Sam said. He met Juliet’s gaze. “But doctors inject people with that poison all the time.”

Dean ran a hand through his hair. Leave it to his brother to present more logic when trying to explain the illogical. “Sam…”

“Medicine is based on research and fact,” Juliet snapped. “This….this is heresy.”

Sam tapped the syringe, depressing the plunger to remove any air bubbles. “Do you know of Eurydice?” he asked.

Caleb moaned and Dean knew it had nothing to do with his physical pain. Sam had become obsessed with Eurydice since they learned of the nymph. “Please just knock me out, Man.”

“Eurydice?” Juliet stood. Dean didn’t blame her for putting some distance between her and the three of them, inching closer to the door. She was afraid.

“Eurydice was the original oak nymph,” Sam explained as if he were saying something that Juliet should have learned in grade school. “Daughter of the god Apollo, wife of Orpheus. She was killed while being chased by a satyr. She stepped on a serpent.”

Dean let out a heavy breath when Juliet only looked more repulsed by Sam’s enlightenment. Sam didn’t seem to notice and went on with his diatribe as if dealing with a slowwitted child. “Nymphs were practically god-like then, immune to human weapons and treachery. Snakes were their one mortal enemy, so it makes perfect sense to use their venom now.”

“Of course.” Juliet laughed. “That explains everything. I feel much better about being a part to attempted murder.”

“We know what we’re doing,” Sam said. “It’s not some avant-garde drug. As a doctor you should appreciate the fact we’re lucky to have the work and research of generations of hunters to rely on.”

“Hunters?” Juliet brought a hand to her throat, gripping the silver charm Dean knew her grandmother had given her. “Supernatural hunters?”

“Look.” Dean held up a hand to stop the volley between the two. He turned to Juliet. “I know you don’t understand, that it all sounds crazy, but I don’t have time to go into details. If you can’t help, then you should just go.” He stood, taking a step closer to her. She retreated until her back was against the wall looking like a frightened and cornered animal.

“Deuce.” The nickname had him refocusing on Caleb. The Knight was shivering, his voice weaker. “I hate to slay the moment…but I’m not feeling so hot.”

“We gotcha, man.” Dean reclaimed his spot on the bed, picking up the suture kit. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

A slight touch on Dean’s shoulder stopped him. He turned to find Juliet at his side. Her posture was rigid, determined, but Dean caught the way her lower lip trembled before she caught it between her teeth.

“I don’t know what’s going on here. I don’t think I want to know.” She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. The professional mask was back in place. “I can’t ignore a wounded man.”

“No woman can resist me,” Caleb said weakly.

Juliet looked at him. “I’ll take care of the wound. Your friends can concentrate on the rest, but I have to tell you that I strongly suggest you reconsider their plan of treatment.”

“Duly noted, Doc.”

“Thank you.” Dean started to smile, but Juliet gave a sharp shake of her head.

“When it’s finished, I’ll be leaving.”

Dean nodded. It was the outcome he had expected. “That sounds more than fair.”

Juliet’s brown eyes pooled with tears, but she managed to keep any from escaping. “Nothing about this is very fair, Dean.”

Dean swallowed the lump lodged in his throat. “Welcome to my world, Juliet.”

Juliet was washing her hands in the kitchen sink when Dean found her. Her back was to him, but he could tell by the slight shaking of her shoulders she was crying. She hadn’t spoken to anyone but Caleb during the procedure, allowing her patient to continue to flirt and returning in kind to distract from the pain. When all fifty-six skillful stitches were in place, she gathered her things and quickly left. Dean didn’t blame her one bit.

His father’s voice screamed inside his head for him to just turn around and walk away, go back to his Triad and leave things with Juliet as they were. Another whisper urged Dean to reach out to offer his thanks again, an apology if nothing else. Pastor Jim had never steered him wrong.


She turned the water off but didn’t turn around. “I was just cleaning up before I get on the road to Tennessee.”

“It’s late,” Dean said. “You’re welcome to take my room, or Pastor Jim’s.”

Dean watched her wet hands grip the counter, keeping her back to Dean. “Was he one of you?”

Dean sighed, understanding what she was asking. “Pastor Jim was the best of us.”

She whirled to face him, angrier than he had seen her. Her face was flushed, eyes red and puffy. “And what exactly are you, Dean?”

“I told you what I was that first day you came here.” Dean stepped forward. “I’m The Guardian of an ultra secret society sworn to protect the innocent from all evil in the world. We’ve been around in some form or another since the days of Camelot.”

“You also told me you were Batman.” Her voice shook. “Should I be on the lookout for the bat cave, too?”

“No bat caves at the farm.” Dean shrugged. “We do have a Hunter’s Tomb.”

“You lied to me!”

Dean held her gaze. “Technically, I was completely honest with you from the very beginning.” He had not only told her about The Brotherhood in a roundabout way that first day they met, but had bragged about it on their first and second date. It may have been in jest, but still…

“Good god, Dean.” Juliet roughly wiped her eyes. “I thought it was a line. A really unique and bad pick-up line.”

“Bad? I beg to differ.” Dean tried for a smile. He took a step closer to bridge the distance between them. “It got you to sleep with me.”

“This isn’t funny.” Juliet shook her head, more fresh tears falling. “You let me fall in love with you, you jerk.”

Dean tilted his head, thinking he might have misheard. “You’re in love with me?”

“That is so not the point.” Juliet glowered at him, hugging her arms tightly across her chest. “Don’t give me that look!”

“What?” Dean was still reeling from the L-bomb. “What look?”

That look.” She pointed an accusing finger at his face. “The one where your eyes get all dreamy and you look like a lost little boy. My mother warned me about men like you.”

“I’m sure she did.” Dean had no doubt any mother worth her weight in salt would want her daughter to steer as clear as possible of him.

“Grams, too,” Juliet seemed to be reprimanding herself now. She smoothed both hands over her dark hair. “God! How could I be so stupid? The smile and the incredible sex should have been my first clues. And you were single! I knew you were too good to be true.”

“You thought the sex was incredible?” The withering look she gave him let him know humor was not helping. “I might have left some things out, but I never lied to you.”

“I thought you were a mechanic from Kansas!”

“I am a mechanic from Kansas,” Dean said.

“You know what I’m talking about,” Juliet choked. “I thought you were normal.”

“Normal?” Dean had been called a lot of things, but normal was never one of them. "You had to suspect something when you saw the scars?" Even though his body had been wiped clean, he still had acquired new marks.

"I thought you were into extreme sports!" Alerting Dean she had thought about it, but had come up with her own reasons. “The only thing I couldn’t explain was the hand print.”

“I was saving that conversation piece for when you got tired of the amazing sex.” Dean wasn’t about to explain Castiel, who was a whole other kind of ‘not normal’.

“Stop.” She shook her head. “Just stop.”

He stood close enough now that he could see the gold flecks in her brown eyes. She loved him. Love always meant things were never as bad as they seemed. There was hope. He reached out and did what he had wanted to do earlier, tucking the loose strand of her hair behind her ear. “Juliet, don’t you know normal is completely overrated?”

Juliet didn’t move away, instead she tipped her head up to look at him, leaning ever so slightly into his touch. The anger was gone, leaving something worse. She looked hurt, wounded. “Overrated or not, Dean- I need normal.”

He licked his lips, lowering his voice. She didn’t sound completely convinced. “Normal is really nothing more than what a person gets used to.”

“Not for me.” She shook her head, stepping away from him as more tears filled her eyes. “I can’t…I could never get used to this.”


Dean knew his and Juliet’s conversation was over before Sam called to him from the entrance way of the kitchen. The interruption saved them both from saying things they might regret.

“Sammy?” His brother looked upset.

“I know this isn’t a good time, but Caleb needs you.” Sam gestured over his shoulder. “He’s having a rough time.”

“Yeah.” Dean ran a hand over his mouth. “It’s okay. We’re finished here. Juliet was just leaving.”

Sam nodded. “I can show her out.”

“That’s not necessary,” Juliet started.

“It is.” Dean briefly met her gaze. “Sam will make sure you get off safe and sound.”

Juliet brushed a hand under her eyes, erasing the wetness from her face. “All right.”

Dean slowed in front of Sam. “Take care of her.”

His brother nodded. “I plan on it.”

They stood in awkward silence for a long moment, Sam studying Juliet. She wasn’t exactly his brother’s type, but then Cassie had been a surprise, too. Caleb told Sam what he gleaned from Juliet’s thoughts, her connection to Pastor Jim and Miss Emma. In Sam’s mind being a great niece by marriage didn’t entitle her to their automatic complete trust, but at least it explained why Dean had let her into the farm. The look on his brother’s face as he left the kitchen told the rest of the story. Sam found it hard to stay angry at Dean when he was hurting.

“You don’t have to go.” He cleared his throat, wishing he could tell her things weren’t as bad as they seemed. The thing was she had only seen the tip of the iceberg. Sam stuck with the simple truth. “He doesn’t want you to go.”

Juliet stared at him and he broke his own rule to read her. She thought they were all crazy, freaks. She didn’t know how she had let herself get into this. It was like a bad dream she couldn’t wake up from. Sam used to have that same feeling a lot.

“I think it’s best that I do.” She moved to get her purse, medical kit and overnight bag from the table.

“Maybe you’re right.” Sam stepped forward and took the small duffel before Juliet could reach for it. “I’ll get that for you.”

“You don’t have to.” She froze in place as Sam loomed closer. His height was intimidating. The fact he hadn’t shaved in a few days, smelled of sweat and was covered in Caleb’s blood probably didn’t help her feel more comfortable. “It’s okay. Pastor Jim would never forgive me if I forgot my manners.” He took the bag and opened the door for her. “After you.”

“Thank you.” She gathered her purse, folding her arms over her medical bag as they stepped outside.

Boo thumped his tail against the porch, but didn’t bother to get up from the rug where he was resting.

“See ya, Boo,” Juliet said softly.

Boo’s tail tempo quickened and he whined. Sam gave the dog a frown, realizing Dean wasn’t the only one smitten. Traitor.

The late night autumn air was cool, the smell of leaves and newly mown hay floating on the slight breeze. Sam took a deep breath, glad to be outside, but not so happy with the company. He found it hard to be around regular people. School was proving more difficult this time around.

“I hope Caleb will be alright.”

“He’ll be fine.” Sam glanced at her as they made their way to the drive, forcing a half grin he hoped was somewhat reassuring. Pastor Jim would expect him to try and be nice even if Juliet wasn’t exactly giving them the benefit of the doubt. “He wasn’t kidding when he said he’s had worse.”

She cut her eyes to him. “It must be hard to watch someone you love hurting.”

“It’s not something you ever get used to.”

She was surprised when he echoed her private thoughts but shrugged it off. “I imagine not.”

They reached her car and Sam waited as Juliet dug in her bag for the keys. The lighting wasn’t the best. Sam caught the trace of tears on her face as she bent her head to search the bottom of her purse. She was biting her lip, trying to keep it together until she could make her escape. Sam found himself suddenly thinking of Jessica. Along with the memory came a pang of empathy.

“Try your jacket pocket.” Caleb had taught him to pick up on little nuances people weren’t even aware they held in their minds. Memories. It was a talent that could come in handy as a trial lawyer, but Sam didn’t want to contaminate his new life.

She looked up; touching the pocket of the light windbreaker she wore. It was dark blue, a white wolf paw on the front with Mt. Peterson Wolf Preserve stitched below it. “I forgot I put them there.”

“It’s been an eventful night,” Sam said.

“Definitely not what I was expecting.” She used the keys to open her door, tossing her medical kit and purse inside.

“I know what you mean.” The images came to Sam without much effort. Juliet had hoped to surprise Dean, excited at the prospect of spending time with him. She’d stopped and gotten cherry pie at Whole Foods. Sam knew it wasn’t Dean’s favorite, not even a close second but the gesture was sweet. He stepped around her to place the overnight bag in the back. He’d known his brother was acting strange, seemed different over the last two months. It hadn’t taken long for Sam to realize Dean was keeping something from him, something important. Sam had been hurt, pissed. It made him feel their physical separation on a different level. He didn’t expect a woman to be at the root of it all.

“You don’t like me.”

Sam blinked, realizing he’d been staring at her. She misinterpreted. “I don’t know you.” He stepped back, pulling free from her thoughts. He felt tired and drained. Caleb was right. He was out of practice. “I try not to judge people.”

“You think I’m judging you unfairly?” Juliet reached up and rubbed her temple, wincing.

Sam had probably given her a headache. The least he could do was try and use the information he’d gotten. “I believe you think that maybe we’re some kind of freakish cult. That Pastor Jim’s church might have been a cover for something nefarious. You think you and your family didn’t know him at all, and that Miss Emma was probably wronged in some way. You think maybe you should alert the police.”

Juliet looked startled. “How did you…”

“Telepathy.” Sam tapped his head. “I read what you were thinking.”

“Psychic?” Realization lit her eyes. “That’s how Caleb knew my favorite poem and the chocolates I like.”

“You were impressed with his ‘sensitivity’.” Sam smirked. Caleb pulled random stuff out of thin air while Juliet stitched him up. He was doing it as much to distract Dean as he was to impress Juliet. For all Caleb’s trash-talking, he’d never known the older hunter to ever seriously compete with Dean for a woman’s attention. He was as loyal as the day was long. “You thought it was because he was gay.”

Juliet’s face reddened and Sam knew she felt foolish. “And Dean? Has he been reading my thoughts all this time?”

“Dean’s not psychic. He’s a normal guy compared to me and Caleb.” His brother was The Guardian, and extraordinary, but Sam didn’t think any of that would win him points with Juliet at the moment.

“Normal seems to be relative with you Winchesters.” Juliet gripped her keys.

“I guess it is.” Sam felt her turmoil as she looked toward the house. Every ounce of common sense she had was screaming at her to get in the car and get the hell out of there, but still she hesitated. It hit Sam like a hammer. She loved Dean.

The feelings he’d picked up from his brother on his last visit were so similar to the ones Sam felt when he first met Jess. He didn’t recognize it on a conscious level, but had understood enough to be jealous, and more than a little threatened. Sam couldn’t lose his brother, not after they had worked so hard to recover their relationship, to build an even stronger one.

“I should really go.”

Sam wasn’t sure if she had spoken the words out loud or if he’d heard her thoughts. She was looking at him, as if Sam should either agree or give her a damn good reason not to leave. Sam was tempted to gladly bid her adieu, but he had wrestled much bigger demons than petty insecurity. “Did Dean tell you about our mom?”

Juliet shook her head, her voice softening. “Only that she and your father were gone.”

Sam swallowed, the familiar lump springing to his throat at the mention of his dad. “She was murdered by a high-level demon called Azazeal.”

“I’m sorry.” Maybe she was passed looking shocked because Juliet didn’t flinch or even seem doubtful of his confession. She offered condolences as if Mary Winchester had died peacefully in her sleep.

“Dad never saw the world the same, and he didn’t allow me and Dean to forget it. Everything was dangerous, evil lurked around every corner.”

“I guess an oak nymph is pretty tame eye opener compared to a demon.”

Sam’s mouth twitched. He was beginning to understand his brother a little better. “After the shock wore off Dad became obsessed with not only protecting us, but tracking down and killing the bastard.”

“Anyone in his position would want revenge,” she said.

“Revenge is a slippery slope.” Few people could conceptualize the thirst to destroy an enemy. Sam had learned the hard way, done things that if spoken out loud would definitely have Juliet running back to her safe illusion of normalcy. He continued to speak of his father, keeping their similar fates to himself. “It drove Dad over the edge, and he pulled Dean and me right along with him.”

“Dean told me you traveled around a lot, that the farm was your home.”

“Dean was my home.” Sam loved Pastor Jim and the family they found within The Brotherhood, but he hadn’t needed it the way Dean had. He had come to understand that over the years. Sam had always been sheltered by his brother. “He raised me, took care of me when my father couldn’t see past his own selfishness to do so. If not for Pastor Jim, I’m not sure we would have made it. He and the people he connected us to were the only good things to come from my father’s quest, and even then the rewards were bittersweet.”

“I understand why your father hunted, but Pastor Jim…he seemed so peaceful.”

“Hunters do what they do for different reasons. Some come to it like my dad; others do it out of duty to their family, or out of a sense of honor.” Sam thought of Joshua and Caleb. “Jim was a hunter for all the right reasons. He wanted to protect people, save them. He believed in the greater good and the sanctity of life. Dean hunts for those very same reasons.”

“Why do you do it?” Juliet stared at him, her dark eyes wide and unblinking.

“I hunt for penance.” He knew she was wondering what he could have done that was so terrible. He could hunt lifetimes and never feel clean. “I’m not the altar boy Dean brags about.”

“He loves you very much.” She glanced to the house again. “Caleb, too. It shows on his face when he talks about you.”

“I know.” Sam didn’t need anyone to tell him how his brother felt. Dean’s actions spoke to the depths of their bond, a connection shared equally on both their parts now. It gave him the strength to say what he needed to. “He loves you, too.”

“Maybe love’s overrated.” Juliet’s eyes filled and she looked away.

“You don’t believe that.” Sam doubted his brother would fall for a cynic. “If you did you would have been gone the moment I pulled out that vial of snake venom.”

“I took an oath, you know.”

“Not the Hippocratic Oath.” Sam gave a half-grin. “Despite his tendency to chase every tail coming and going, Caleb isn’t a dog.”

“He kind of reminds me of a German Shepherd.” She smiled. “You two have an interesting relationship.”

“We’re not gay.” Sam knew what his brother had told her. He liked she pretended to be shocked at the new revelation.

“Women everywhere heave a sigh of relief.”

“Dean would be relieved if you came back inside.” He wasn’t above using her kindness against her. “Caleb might need further treatment.”

“No…” She shook her head, all levity fleeing. “I appreciate you explaining, but it doesn’t change anything. This is all beyond me.”

“Normal can be lonely,” Sam said. It was a warning. He knew how hard it was to leave his brother behind. “Dean won’t come after you.” Dean would respect her decision; see it as doing the right thing for her.

“I don’t expect him to.” Juliet stepped around her door. “I need some time to process.”

“If after your processing you decide to come back - you need to know you can’t change him. You have to accept him the way he is. He’s not a project.” Sam had been down that road, and realized too late Dean was great as is. He wanted to make sure he and Juliet understood one another. “I don’t want to see my brother hurt.”

“Neither do I.” She bit her lip, her arms hugging her chest. “I won’t be back.”

“I felt certain about that once, too.” Sam understood she realized the danger Dean was in on a daily basis. It was more than likely one of the reason she was leaving. Just as their Dad had learned all those years ago, evil lurked around every corner. He couldn’t hold her fear against her. Sam wasn’t a hypocrite.

“Goodbye, Sam.” Juliet got in the car.

“Wait.” Sam caught the door before she could shut it. “Just in case you change your mind, apple pie is Dean’s favorite, followed closely by peach. Dean thinks Marlene at The Dinner Bell in downtown New Haven is a goddess of pastry. I have it in good confidence that he’ll do practically anything for a slice of whatever she bakes.”

Juliet gave him a sad smile. “Thanks for the tip.”

Sam closed her door, watched her pull out of the drive before heading back to the house. Dean surprised him by being in the kitchen. “Everything okay?”

“Caleb needed something to drink,” Dean held up the glass of water. “Juliet get off okay?”

“She’s gone.” Sam knew it wasn’t what his brother was hoping for, but had expected it just the same.

“I told her she didn’t know what she was in for.”

“How’s Caleb doing?” Sam hoped to change the subject.

“He’s in a lot of pain.” Dean ran a hand over his mouth, his silver hunter’s ring flashing in the light. “To quote Damien, this fucking sucks.”

“He’ll be okay.” Sam held his gaze, running his thumb over his silver ring. “How about you? You okay?”

“Triad empathy thing must be kicking in despite the overkill.” Dean gave a harsh laugh, rubbing his glassy eyes. “I’m hurting, too.”

“Things will look better tomorrow.” Sam broke his own rule and lied. A broken heart wasn’t as easy to treat as nymph venom. Seeing those he loved hurting was something he would never get used to. He pointed to the table where Juliet had left her care package. “But on the bright side we have pie and wine.”

Dean’s laugh was real this time. He picked up the boxed dessert, giving it a discerning eye. “It’s cherry, but it will have to do.”

“Next time around will be better, the real thing,” Sam said, grabbing the wine. Caleb would bitch because he couldn’t join in. Sam would make him feel better by telling him his manly reputation was restored.

“A great apple pie is hard to come by.” Dean sighed, wistfully.

“But worth waiting for,” Sam said. He looked at his brother. “No one deserves a slice of happiness more than you, Bro.”

Dean grinned. “Now you sound gay.”

Sam laughed, tossing his arm around his brother’s shoulders. “I prefer to call it being sensitive.”



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