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SPN Fic: Too Late, Too Little

Title: Too Late, Too Little
Summary: Dean wants more than Bela’s friendship, but he can’t ask for that, not on February 15th.  6,000 words.
Characters/Ships: Bela Talbot, Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, Castiel, pre-Bela/Dean, offscreen Megstiel
Rating: PG-13
A/N: This fic takes place in my post-series Bela/Dean, Gen/Sam AU that includes Morning Routine, Man of Steel, and Rain Day, but it’s the first chronologically.  This AU assumes that Bela came back as a demon and the boys cured her.  This particular fic is half schmoop, half angst, and 100% domestic.
Also on AO3.

They were five minutes from Bela’s house when Dean pulled a left so sharp Sam found himself grabbing for the dash to brace himself.  He blinked away the shock before focusing on their unexpected detour.  Then he blinked at their fuel gauge, irritation blooming.  Maybe there hadn’t been oncoming traffic, but there weren’t any monsters in their rearview mirror either to justify that kind of driving.

“What the hell, Dean, we’re half-full.  And gas was way cheaper in-”

The brown truck next to the gas station caught his eye, and “Jersey” died in his throat.  Buckets of red and pink bouquets sat outside the truck.  A plastic sandwich board read “VALENTINE’S DAY ROSES,” and a taped-on piece of paper added, “50% Off.”

The 15th, Sam remembered, beginning to smile.  It was the 15th.

He’d barely looked at his brother before Dean growled, “Don’t.”

Sam held up his hands, hoping his grin looked less like a smirk than it felt.  “Didn’t say a word.”

* * *

“You’re the one who’s always saying we should bring something.”

“Again: I didn’t say a word.”

“Yeah, well- you normally say we should bring something.”

Sam decided to take the high road and not point out that the last time he suggested they buy flowers, Dean had scoffed and bought a pecan pie instead.

“And flowers are a great choice.”  Flowers, Sam wanted to stress; not roses.  But they were almost at Bela’s door, so he refrained; besides, if he teased too much Dean would do something stupid like throw them away, and that would put an end to his entertainment.

They reached the wraparound porch and paused at the doormat.  Sam watched Dean hide the bouquet behind his back, hesitate, hold it up instead so it was the first thing she would see, hesitate again-

“At the side,” Sam murmured, taking pity on him.  And then in an exaggerated whisper, like Bela was on the other side of the door listening, “Casual.”

“Shut up,” Dean hissed back, and in retaliation, Sam pressed the doorbell.

It opened seconds later, like she’d been waiting.  Which, he reminded himself, she probably had been, since he’d texted half an hour ago to let her know they were at the Tappan Zee bridge.

“Boys,” she said.  Distantly, as though it were a movie or a story from someone else’s life, Sam recalled how that patronizing greeting and matching cat-ate-the-canary smile used to pique him so many years before.  Neither had changed, tone nor smirk, but now it made him smile back.

“Bela.”  He waited for her lead and was gratified when she stepped forward to hug him.

“Hey,” said Dean after, in a chirpy, not very Dean-like way.

She hugged him, too, and when she pulled away Sam watched his brother’s Adam’s apple move in a long swallow.

“Here,” said Dean, more gruffly, and thrust the roses at her.  Bela looked more pleased than surprised, so Sam guessed she had seen them through the peephole.  She didn’t burgle as much as she used to, but that didn’t make her any less perceptive- especially, he suspected, when it came to his brother.

“Thank you.”  She inhaled deeply and dimpled.  “They’re lovely.”

Just say ‘you’re welcome,’ Sam projected.  Just say you’re welcome.

“Yeah.  Well.”  Dean shrugged; the back of his neck was turning pink.  “We just passed a truck.  Everything’s half off now that V-day’s over, so…”

Sam bit his tongue and wished, metaphorically speaking, that it was Dean’s.

Bela didn’t look fazed, which meant she either knew his brother well enough to have low expectations or she had low expectations of men in general.  Or both.  Probably both.

“Yes, chocolate’s going the same way at the shops.”  She sniffed the bouquet again before turning back into her foyer.  “By the way, Dean, a friendly tip: on the slight chance that you ever get a girlfriend, don’t tell her you bought her something because it was cheap.”

Sam grinned, even as Dean stopped short in the middle of the hallway, forcing him to do the same.  He was glad Dean’s back was to him, despite only being able to see his profile (more than just his neck was pink now).  Even from this angle he could see the cogs turning as Dean puzzled out which part to focus on.

“‘Slight?  Slight?”

As usual, he chose wrong.

Bela paused in the entrance to the kitchen, expression innocent.  “Well, you’re not looking for one, are you?”

At this juncture Sam did feel a little sorry for Dean; it was kind of a catch-22 question where Bela was concerned.

“I- I’m not…no?”

“Boyfriend?” suggested Bela.  “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed.”

Sam choked.

“No!”  It was a toss-up which one of them he glared at more.  “I am not looking for a boyfriend!”

“I wouldn’t judge,” said Bela airily.  She pivoted into the kitchen and glided out of sight.  After a mulish pause Dean tromped after her.

“How are you?” Sam asked once they were in the kitchen, before Dean could embarrass himself further.  He slung his duffel to the hardwood floor as Bela disappeared into the dining room.

“I’m fine,” she called before reappearing with a vase that was probably real crystal and going to the sink.  “Quiet day.”   She jerked her head toward the fridge.  “There’s juice and beer if you’d like.”

One look at his brother and Sam was convinced Dean was biting his tongue this time; apparently (and astonishingly) he’d actually learned from the time his “juice is for 5-year-olds” remarks hadn’t gone over well.

Sam went to the fridge and couldn’t keep from smiling, probably goofily, when he saw the unopened jug of Naked Green Machine inside.  “Thanks!”

She shrugged, like it wasn’t spoiling him to pick up the unnecessary, premium-priced juice brand he liked, and handed him a glass from the cupboard.

“So what happened to you two?”

Sam looked up from pouring to find her studying them both through narrowed eyes, in a way that might have felt invasive if he hadn’t seen her look at her hauls the exact same way.  And to be fair, she did have reason to stare.  They’d showered and changed out of their torn, dirt-stained clothes before checking out of the motel, but he still had a cut across one cheekbone, and that was nothing compared to the black eye and other bruises Dean was sporting.  The next time they worked a case on a haunted construction site with endless bricks and tools for an angry ghost to hurl their way, Sam was definitely wearing more than a hard hat

“Nothing much,” said Dean, with an exaggerated shrug that was much less self-deprecating than he probably thought it was.  “Haunted house- actually, the house was razed, that’s what pissed her off- ghost, the usual.  Just a crazy old cat lady.  I mean-”  He fumbled, near to flushing again.  Blackadder, bless him, chose that moment to leap onto the counter and meow loudly.  Bela rescued the roses from his inquisitive sniffing and shooed him off.

“Sad old woman,” said Dean quickly.  “Not sad!  Just- a sad story- real tragic; huge property, wouldn’t sell to developers and wouldn’t die in her sleep, so her great nephew killed her in order to inherit and bulldoze.  She got the last laugh, though, cause then she bulldozed him.  So actually, she was kind of a badass old lady…”  His impressed look turned into a cough.  “Anyway, nothing we couldn’t handle…no thanks, I’ll try some of, uh, that?”

Keeping his lips in as firm and not-smiling a line as possible, Sam returned the beer he’d offered to the fridge and poured a little juice into a second glass.  Dean took a large gulp and then visibly tried not to wince.  “Mmm…”

Bela’s amused smile faded to a look of concern.  “Did you put any ice on that?”

“Uh.”  Dean’s eyes flicked upward, like he could see his bruises.  “No.”

“We got some cold sodas to hold on it,” said Sam, a little defensively.  They’d been in a rush to get on the road, and the motel they’d stayed at wasn’t the kind to have an ice machine anyway.  “And I made him let me drive.”  He knew it wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’t help feeling guilty; Dean had distracted the ghost and taken most of its hits while Sam hid in the relative safety of a truck to destroy the urn of cat ashes the spirit was attached to.

“How about you put your things away, and I’ll get the first aid kit,” said Bela, in a way that wasn’t really a suggestion.

Upstairs, his room looked much the way it had at Christmas, the last time they’d visited, except for the new stack of Bloombergs and New Yorkers on the bedspread.  Sam leafed through the covers and was halfway through an article on how law firms were finally hiring again after the recession before remembering he was supposed to be downstairs.  Normally he’d unpack some, but he didn’t want to miss anything.

Sure enough, Dean was already sitting at the island, his sleeve rolled up to show his largest gash, and Bela was next to him, methodically taking first aid supplies from a basket.  Sam sat at the breakfast nook, where he had a clear view of both of them.

“…think it would have known better than to hunt in a state park,” Dean was saying, obviously in reference to the Wendigo in Olanta that had brought them to the east coast in the first place.

After a brief pause Bela remarked, “South Carolina’s pretty far from Kansas.  No other hunters wanted the job?”

“Uh…”  Half of Dean’s face was now covered by the dishcloth-wrapped ice pack he was holding over his eye, but Sam could still see his cheeks turn a ruddy bronze.  “Well, we didn’t- I’m sure there are-”

“It just seemed easier for us to handle it ourselves,” said Sam, despite having asked Dean the exact same question.  “We’ve done Wendigos before.”

Dean shot him a grateful look.

“And Carolina’s had a better winter than Kansas,” Sam continued.  “It’s good to get a break from the snow.”

Bela’s eyebrows rose.  “And yet you came to New York?”

Sam recalled the countless patches of lingering snow they’d driven past, as well as the radio weather reports for this weekend, and tried not to flush himself now.  Put that way, it was about as plausible as the excuse Dean had given for visiting New York: South Carolina was “in the area.”  Sam had pointed out that Dean didn’t seem to understand what “in the area” meant, but he hadn’t been able to dispute, “Well, it’s closer than the Midwest!”

She took pity on them.  “It’s good you’re here.  We’re supposed to get another six to ten inches at the end of the week; you can help shovel again.”

Dean brightened.  Sam recalled the hours spent shoveling Bela’s unnecessarily long driveway after Christmas and tried not to roll his eyes.

They watched her rub a wet washcloth over Dean’s arm before Dean cleared his throat.  “Sorry we were late.  We would’ve come straight, but we heard about the bulldozer death on the radio, and it sounded like our kind of thing.  We thought we should check it out since Virginia was on the way.”

He sounded guilty and forlorn about it in a way that was at odds with his earlier enthusiastic recounting of the story, but Sam wasn’t surprised.  The ghost had kept them in Northern Virginia for three days; Sam couldn’t keep from wondering what would have happened if they’d already been in Bedford yesterday as planned- just as he’d wondered if it was really coincidence that Dean had found a case on the east coast in early February in the first place.

“You made good time today,” said Bela.

“Wanted to get here at a reasonable hour,” said Dean, still apologetically.  Despite the many times he’d yelled at Dean today to quit telling him to drive faster, Sam nodded in agreement; last time they’d gotten stuck in holiday traffic and bad weather and arrived a little after midnight.

“What were you thinking for dinner?” Dean asked.  “Go out?  We can pick something up.”

“There’s a nice Thai place just down the road,” said Bela.  “Take-out?  Oh, and Cas said to call.  He might come by.”

Dean snorted.  “I’m glad Meg lets him talk to you.”

From Bela’s smirk, Sam guessed she was aware that Meg had taken to answering Cas’s phone and saying that he was too busy being fucked to answer, regardless of what he was actually doing at the time.

“So,” said Dean.  “Have you taken any new- ow!  Sonofa-”  He broke off, clutching his arm against his chest, out of reach of the cotton swab she had just used on him.  “That stings!”

Bela looked equally offended.  “It’s rubbing alcohol!  Of course it’s going to sting!  What did you expect?”

“Uh, a little warning?”

“You’re a hunter.  You injure yourself for a living.  Ergo, I would expect you to know by now what rubbing alcohol does!”

“Yeah, but you still say, ‘This might sting a little’!  Don’t you watch TV?”

“If you watch TV, you already know it’s going to sting!  Now give me your arm!  Don’t be a baby!”

He did, scowling, and then mouthed “Ergo” at Sam, who had to cover his own mouth to hide his expression.

Bela wet the cotton again and swabbed his arm, perhaps a little harder than strictly necessary, Sam thought.  Dean winced and gritted his teeth.

“You know,” said Sam.  “They actually say now that you’re not supposed to use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide on wounds because it hurts the healthy skin.  You’re supposed to use saline solutions.  Which apparently don’t sting.”

That earned him a glare.  “Next time I’m in Hell I’ll be sure to subscribe to medical journals so I can stay current.”  She chucked the used cotton into the garbage can she’d placed beside the table- definitely harder than necessary.

Instead of clamming up like he usually did when she mentioned Hell, Dean pouted.  “Aren’t you supposed to blow on it or something to make it sting less?”

“I believe your mouth can reach your arm.”

Dean rolled his eyes, gave one half-hearted blow, and went back to pouting.

“So are you working anything?” Sam asked as she squirted a dollop of cream on the scrape.

“Not as such.  I still have to deliver my latest acquisition to the client, but he won’t be back in the country for another week.”

“The old dude in Egypt?  So you’re not gonna have to go there?”

“No, he decided to come back to the States for a conference; I’m going to meet him in Washington.”  She taped a cotton pad over Dean’s scrape and smoothed the edges.

Sam glanced between them, confused.  He hadn’t heard anything about this acquisition.

Dean noticed Sam looking and grinned.  “Oh, you have to tell him about it!”  And then to Sam, “You’re gonna love it.”

The smile she turned on him was trying not to be excited, but he could tell she was.  “They’re glasses that translate whatever you’re reading into a language that your brain will understand.”

“You mean-”  He had to pause to collect himself as the possibilities rolled through him; being able to read at a glance all the ancient texts the Men of Letters had compiled, able to access that knowledge without having to ask Cas or Kevin for help; all the hours they could save trying to translate not-so-ancient-but-still-indecipherable texts.  Being able to read normal foreign language books with ease- not that he’d had much occasion to want that skill, but just being able to read whatever he wanted-

He brushed his thumb across his lips, in case he was drooling.

Bela looked pleased.  “I was hoping you’d get to see them before I met with the buyer.”

He warred with himself for a moment before throwing self-respect out the window.  Might as well make use of the puppy face people accused him of having.  “And you have to sell them…?”

“Oh, you don’t want them,” said Bela.  Dean made a noise of agreement.  “There’s a price, of course.  Too much use, and you’ll go blind.  You’ll still be able to read whatever you’d like, but you won’t see anything else.”

Sam couldn’t keep from jerking back in his seat.

“The buyer knows,” said Bela, before he could find his voice to ask.  “He’s an Egyptologist, although he’s daffy for anything ancient.  Loves learning for its own sake.  Probably because he has the money to do it.  He’s well aware of the risks.

“You can try them on, though,” she offered, when he didn’t reply.  “A few minutes shouldn’t hurt you.”

“Where’d you get them?”

“I don’t think you want to know.”  Bela gave him her signature patronizing smile.  He didn’t bother hiding his eye roll.  That probably meant she’d burgled some poor innocent museum.

“How’d the estate sale go?” asked Dean.  “Find anything good?”

Sam did a double take.  Seriously, how often did they talk?

Bela made a face.  “It was all right.  Got some minor charms but nothing I couldn’t have made myself.”  She hesitated before adding, reluctantly, “I did get some boxes, but I don’t know what’s in them.  Well- the glasses indicate Beware, but I haven’t learned anything more specific…”

“You’re not gonna open them, though, right?”  Dean straightened like he’d gotten an electric shock to the spine.  “You have no idea what they could do!  But bets are: not good.  They could kill you!”

Sam half expected to hear something snarky in response, like how she’d been in this gig way before meeting them and could take care of herself, but instead she said patiently, “I know.”

“We can help figure out what’s in ‘em,” said Dean.  “Or- I can.”  He glanced at Sam, who wondered if anyone else was remembering the rabbit’s foot.

Bela followed his gaze and seemed to repress a tiny smirk, which he took as a yes, before looking back at Dean.  “All right.  Speaking of jobs, I might be in Wisconsin next month.  I could…”  She shrugged, turning very faintly pink.

“Yeah!”  Dean was too busy gazing at her to notice Sam’s smirk; apparently Bela’s definition of “in the area” was the same as Dean’s.  “Yeah, that’d be-”

“Halo” blared suddenly.  Dean jumped, pushing the chair backward with an awful skidding sound, and dropped the ice pack to the floor.  He cursed, fumbling for his pocket.

Sam snickered.

Stop changing my ring tones!” Dean growled when he finally got hold of his phone and saw the caller ID.

“Hey, at least he’s calling.  Here, I’ll take it!”  Sam sprang from the nook and grabbed the phone before Dean could make even a token protest.  He swept out of the room without looking back.

“Hey, Cas.  It’s Sam.”

“Sam?  I thought I called Dean’s phone.”

“You did.”  Sam shrugged into his jacket and stepped onto the porch, closing the door firmly behind him so there was no chance he’d be overheard.  “But never let it be said that I’m not a good wingman.”

For a moment there was nothing but static.  “I do not understand…you are growing wings?”

“Uh.  No.  It means I…answered so he could be alone with Bela.”

“Oh.  You’re at Bela’s?”

“Yea-”  It was Sam’s turn to jump as Cas appeared on the porch six feet away.

“Sorry,” said Cas.  He brightened quickly, though, as he moved forward, arms outstretched.  Sam relaxed into the embrace, patting his back; Cas was big into hugging these days.

“Dean and Bela are inside?” Cas asked when he pulled back.

“Yeah.”  Sam started to suppress a smirk before remembering they weren’t there and he didn’t have to anymore.  “She’s, uh, taking care of his boo-boos.”

Cas cocked his head, forehead wrinkling.

“His bruises,” Sam amended.  “There was a ghost, we got scratched up-”  He waved at the small cut on his own cheek.

“Ah.  Let me.”

“You don’t have to-”  Cas’s hand was already on his cheek, warm and dry.  A burst of cold flared from his fingertips and was gone just as quickly.

Sam felt his now unmarked cheek.  “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” said Cas.  “I’ll go heal Dean.”

“No!”  Sam caught his arm before he could reach the door.  “Bela’s got it.”

Cas frowned.  “But I would be faster.  And less painful.”

Yes,” Sam said slowly.  “But it’s not about pain.  Or how fast you can do it.  It’s about-”  He gestured wordlessly before inspiration struck.  “Look, if you were hurt, wouldn’t you want Meg to take care of you?”

“Meg cannot heal wounds the way I can.  Even before she was resurrected as a human she did not have the power to heal.”

“Cas, I didn’t say “heal.”  I mean take care of you.  Like-”  He gesticulated again.  “Put bandages on you?  Rub the cream in?”

He saw the moment Cas understood as clearly as though a light bulb had flickered above him.  The angel gave him a knowing, conspiratorial smirk.

“Yes.  I understand now; if I were injured, I would appreciate Meg’s ministrations.  I agree with you, we should leave Dean to Bela’s.  I can heal him after she has had her way with him.”   Cas gave an exaggerated wink.

Sam was pretty sure it wasn’t because he’d said the double entendre on purpose.

“Great.”  He leaned against the side of the house and got out his gloves; they might be here a while.  “So, how was your Valentine’s Day?  Did Meg like the earrings?”  In addition to advising Cas on chocolate and flowers, they’d helped him track down earrings shaped like human hearts on the Internet.

“She threatened to cut off my wings for being too romantic and said she would have preferred actual, still beating hearts.”  Cas paused.  “But then we had very enthusiastic and enjoyable sex, and I still have my wings, so I suspect she was not too offended by my choice in gifts.”

Sam didn’t know if it was a good or bad sign that that kind of statement didn’t make him wince anymore; after Meg’s return they’d tried to explain to Cas the concept of TMI, but he’d never quite caught on.

Cas’s gaze slid sideways to the front door.  “Did Dean ask Bela to be his Valentine?”

Sam puffed out a breath.  “No.”

Cas didn’t look surprised.  He had broached the subject during the Great Earring Search, and Dean had refuted the possibility in no uncertain terms.

It was clear from Cas’s expression, though, that he was muddling through something.  Sam waited patiently until he spoke.

“I do not understand Dean’s refusal to explain his feelings to Bela.  When I see them together they remind me of couples in your movies.  They bicker and tease, but it is not mean-spirited.  They care about each other’s well-being and habits and preferences- she found the Colt in Lucifer’s crypt and returned it to Dean instead of selling it like the other powerful objects she tracks; Dean helped her on that heist in the fall even though he does not, in general, approve of her work.  And they frequently make each other smile, especially when they think no one else is watching.  I believe that means she might reciprocate his feelings.”

“Cas,” said Sam.  “(a) You’re very observant, (b) I want to see what Dean put in your Netflix queue, and (c) I one hundred per cent agree with you.”

Cas looked pleased.  “So Dean should tell her how he feels.”

“He should.”  Sam exhaled slowly.  “But he won’t.  You know he’s never going to make the first move.”

The satisfaction faded from Cas’s face.  “Because Bela was the First Seal; he tortured her.”

Sam swallowed.  “Yeah.  Because…that.”

“She did try to kill you both before she died,” Cas pointed out.  “And as a demon she caused trouble.  And then Dean did save her.”

“With Charlie,” said Sam automatically.

When Bela resurfaced as a demon and stole the First Blade back for Crowley after they’d killed Abaddon and Cain, it was Charlie who had told them about Bela’s parents and shown them the truth of her deal spelled out in Chuck’s books.  It had sent Dean into a tailspin that Sam hadn’t been able to comprehend at the time, not until Dean confessed about the First Seal.  Killing Bela turned into curing her and, well, here they were, fifteen months, a few shared jobs, and endless angsting later: Valentine’s Day roses and Thai take-out, unresolved sexual tension, and several impatient third wheels.

“That doesn’t make it even,” said Sam, but haltingly; he was pretty sure it did in Bela’s mind; he knew the guilt there wasn’t a one-way street, even if Bela was way better at coping with it than Dean.

“Why not?”

“It just…humans don’t- not all humans see it that way; it’s more emotional than that.”

“Hmm.  Dean does have an unfortunate tendency to feel excessive guilt for his mistakes and to not forgive himself,” Cas mused.  “And to feel guilt for mistakes that were not his in the first place.  And to not forgive others for their mistakes.”

“Please say all that to his face,” said Sam.  “I dare you.”

Cas sighed.  “I understand why Dean would feel reluctant to pursue a romantic relationship with Bela, but it still seems like he is wasting a potential opportunity for happiness.  From what I have observed of their interactions, I believe Bela would be more amenable to a relationship than he thinks.”  He paused, considering.  “Perhaps Dean could learn from my example with Meg.”

Fortunately, when Sam started choking on laughter, it sounded like a cough.

Cas looked at him, concerned.  “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Sam wheezed.  “Please continue.”

“Meg and I had similar- I believe the term is “baggage.””  Carefully, Cas made the air quotes.  “We fought for opposite sides of the Apocalypse.  She was Lucifer’s lieutenant; I once tried to kill her and, failing that, pushed her into holy fire.  If an angel and a demon can form a relationship, Dean and Bela should be capable as well.

When it was obvious that he waiting for an answer, Sam fought to regain his voice.  “I, uh, I see your point.  But again with the, you know, whacky emotional human thing.”

“Meg is human now.”

“Only technically,” said Sam.

Cas looked back at the front door, as though he could see through it and down the hall to the kitchen.  “Perhaps next Valentine’s Day Dean will feel differently.”

Sam’s mirth dimmed.  “Yeah,” he said, more quietly.  “Maybe.”
* * *

“You did not communicate with a dead cat!”

“I did, I swear!  I did all the normal tricks for contacting a human spirit, and I didn’t expect anything from it, but then this grumpy old man voice sounded inside my head: “Ethel and Lucy are driving me crazy.  When is Ricky going to get here?””

Dean cocked his head pointedly and let himself grin.  “Mm hmm.  I think you just watched too much of the show.”

She shook her head slowly, her eyes never leaving his as her own grin grew.  “Believe me, I was just as surprised as anyone.”

“Uh huh.  And that’s all he said?”

“Yes.  Move the-”  At her gesture, he shifted the ice pack so that the dishcloth wrapped around it didn’t dangle over his face as much.  “And then I made up some stuff, too, of course.”

“Of course.”  He flinched preemptively as she dabbed a gash on his cheek, but this cotton swab was damp with water, not rubbing alcohol.  “Sure he didn’t say you had some splainin’ to do?”

Before he knew what was happening, she leaned forward suddenly and blew on his cheek.  She sat back just as quickly, her own cheeks noticeably pink.

It didn’t sting, he thought, but he didn’t say anything; even if he’d wanted to, his throat felt swollen shut.

“That’s Ricky,” she said, and it took him a second to remember what the hell they’d been talking about.  “That was the one still alive.”

He forced his voice to work again.  “Oh, excuse me.  I can’t believe anyone would name their cats Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel.  I can’t believe anyone would have four cats…”

“I think it’s cute.”

“Of course you do.”

He knew his smile was too fond to be strictly platonic, that his teasing had become dangerously gentle, but he couldn’t bring himself to care; not when she was smiling back.

“Hold still…”  She placed the tip of a Neosporin tube against his cheek and squeezed.  She used her fingertip to spread it, and then she was recapping the tube with an air of finality.

He searched for something else to say; that was the last of his cuts, but he didn’t want to find Sam- not yet.

“So- so you’ve been conducting cat séances; what else have you been up to?”

After a beat her eyes flicked away.  She nibbled on her lower lip uncharacteristically and then glanced down the hall.

Dean’s heart sank; she was checking for Sam; she didn’t want to be alone with him anymore.

“I found another,” she blurted, before he could make an excuse to get up.

It took only a second to understand.  He felt his face soften, even though that probably wasn’t what she wanted.

“Which one?”  He glanced automatically at the hall, too, even though he knew it was empty; if Sam had been there, she wouldn’t have brought it up.  Not because Sam wouldn’t sympathize.  He probably would and be awkward about it, and that was the problem.  Sam could sympathize, but he couldn’t understand.

Not the way Dean could.

“The ballerina.  She’s a principal with ABT in New York.  I saw her perform in Giselle last week.  She was…beautiful.”

Bela sounded miserable as she said it, the exact opposite of what would normally be expected.  She didn’t continue, but he waited patiently rather than ask anything; she might want to just leave it at that.

Finally she said, “She was one of the ones…”

This time, given the way she trailed off, he spoke: “That you found.”

She nodded, even though it hadn’t really been a question.  Most of the deals she’d made as a demon had been sealed at crossroads, bargained the usual way when someone desperate or greedy or both summoned her.  But a few she had made offsite, on her own initiative; she’d found the desperate and approached them instead.

Taken advantage of them.  The way she’d been taken advantage of when she was 14.

Those were the ones she looked for again now.

“She was 17, I think.  Abusive father.  Physically.  Not-”  She broke off, suddenly looking anywhere but at him.  Dean’s gut clenched, fury sparking there without warning.

“Yeah.”  It was all he could say to acknowledge the unspoken “sexually.”  Anything more and he wouldn’t be able to keep from sounding livid.  And that wouldn’t help, and it wasn’t his place-

“He got drunk and pushed her down the stairs,” said Bela.  “She broke her foot.  All she wanted to do was get out of her parents’ house and dance, and instead she was crippled right before company auditions.  She didn’t know if her foot would ever heal properly.  So I…told her I could make her better.  And I did.  And I got her into ABT and out of her house.  Her dreams came true.”  She smiled without any mirth.

He wanted to fix that, even if she didn’t deserve it.  “You have a few years, right?  She got ten?”  When she nodded he continued, “So we’ll figure out how to get her out of it.  I’ll help.  You know that.”

Her gaze dropped to her lap.  She nodded again, flushing.

“And for now she’s…happy.  She’s a star.”  He fumbled for the word she’d used.  “Principal.”

Bela’s expression grew strangely wistful.  “I didn’t do that part.  She got promoted all on her own.  She was good.”  She paused.  “I’m going to see more of her shows.  If you’re ever in town…”

He had zero experience watching ballet, but he was pretty sure he’d rather be back in Virginia dodging Crazy Cat Lady’s bricks and wrenches.

“Yeah,” he said. “Definitely.”

She looked almost normal now.  He waited for that to change, for more confessions, but instead she took a deep breath and reached for her first aid box.

“Here.  I forgot-”  She held up a thick tube of something called Arnica.  “This is for bruises.  It should help your eye.  Unless you want to ice it more?”

“Nah.”  Then he’d have to put the cream on himself later.  He put the ice pack down, and she scooted her chair closer.

Her hand was warm against his face as she gently rubbed Arnica around his black eye.  She was so close he was slightly cross-eyed trying to look at her.

She was close enough to kiss.

Dean realized he was holding his breath.  It was all he could do not to let it out in a whoosh, right in her face.

He couldn’t kiss her.  She could never want him that way, not after Hell.  Not after what he’d done to her.

He needed to just be happy that she was their- whatever she was.  Ally.  Host.  Friend.  Friend who was willing to patch him up.  If he asked for anything more he could ruin everything-

“How does that feel?”

“G-good.”  He had to swallow first, and even then his voice still didn’t sound like his own.  “Yeah.  Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

He expected her to move, but she didn’t pull her chair away; she didn’t even lean back.  She was so close that if she were any other woman he’d be reading the signs and making a move already- but he couldn’t do that with her, even if it weren’t for Hell.

He felt frozen, like time had come to a temporary standstill.  He couldn’t stop looking at her lips.  Her eyes kept darting downward- toward his?

Her body language, the way she was looking at him, touching him- maybe she wanted him to ask?

Maybe he could-


 Bela scrambled from her chair so fast he felt a rush of air in her wake.  Dean watched her, feeling dazed, like he was moving in slow motion.

The damn cat had jumped onto the counter again to get the flowers.  She practically threw Blackadder to the ground before snatching up the vase.  When she looked at him again, there was color high in her cheeks; she hugged the roses to her chest.

The silence felt paralyzing.  She seemed very far away, and he didn’t know how to get her back.

“I’ll go find Sam,” Dean heard himself say.

“All right.”  Bela looked down at the roses.  “I’ll, um.  I’ll find the take-out menu.”

Dean got up stiffly and strode down the hall.

It would be different if they’d been here yesterday like they were supposed to.  He would have suggested they go out for dinner and then asked Sam to fake being sick so they’d be alone; during dessert he’d have gradually shifted his chair closer to hers and when they got down to the last bite he would’ve held it out to her on the fork all stupid and gushy-like, and when they went outside he’d have stopped to look at the stars and when she stopped, too, he would have taken her hand, and if she let him do that he would have- he would have asked if he could kiss her.  And it would have made sense then because what else was that ridiculous holiday for?

It wouldn’t work now.  It was too late.  With all the reasons Bela had to hate him, the day he asked her not to had to be special-

He halted involuntarily, hand on the doorknob.


His face tingled where the cream was.  The skin around his eye was cold, but the rest of his cheek still felt warm from her hand.

Maybe next year.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2014 11:49 pm (UTC)

cutie babies. everyone. cuties.

Mar. 4th, 2014 02:36 am (UTC)
Mar. 3rd, 2014 12:59 am (UTC)
Awww. This was sweet. I can see why Dean wouldn't ever want to ask for more, given their history, but he's adorably awkward as he pines. I found the descriptions of Bela's time as a demon saleswoman and her later remorse really interesting.
Mar. 4th, 2014 02:58 am (UTC)
Thank you! *pets Dean* I like to make him suffer. In non-physically-torturous ways, that is. *g* I have ~feelings on how Bela would feel/deal with remorse if she ever got out of Hell; given her "you do what it takes to survive" attitude, I don't think she would feel too guilty for torturing souls on the rack if it meant getting off herself or that she would lose much sleep over crossroads deals for which she was summoned, but I think she would feel remorse for taking advantage of the helpless the way she was. I'm not sure how far she would risk her neck to actually help them in the end, though; she did, after all, improve their lives, if only for a decade... Too many Bela feelings, not enough canon!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )