Love and War (and other games Winchesters play)

(c)2008 gekizetsu

_____________


Dean meets Dani. It does not go well. Pre-Salvation AU.

Dean is out of school and certified at this point but still doing an internship. ~7500 words, PG for language.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein regarding anyone with doctorates, women with doctorates, women in general, lab geeks, crazy bitches, and anything else are only Dean’s opinions and not mine, or Eric Kripke’s, or the CW’s, or those of the International Yak Alliance. Dean is not actually iatrophobic, misogynistic, or racist. He is, however, occasionally a jerk (Sam said so) and a bowlegged whore (see canon).

____________

I stumble, fall in front of you and all your cool friends
You pick me up, you brush me off, I grin
But I just wanna disappear
One day when you fall for me, babe
And I know it's gonna come soon
I'm not gonna brush you off, no way
I'm not gonna kick you in your shins.

– Dave Matthews Band, The Idea of You


-|-


Dean was temporarily stationed at UC Davis, in a shared office on the fifth floor in the physical anthropology department, when he first heard the rumor.


He didn’t gossip. Gossip was dumbass bullshit. But he listened to everything the people around him said, whether they meant him to or not. Listening had never done anything but benefit him.


One of the up and comers in the DNA labs was seeing something when she was alone in her office. He heard it from a couple of the EMTs, who’d heard it from one of the pathologists, who’d heard it from one of the security guys. He’d wanted to write it off, but passing through the labs trying to figure out what was really going on was too much fun. It was finally an assistant of one of the psych professors that gave him a name: Danielle Surma.


Knowing just about everybody had its merits.


She was in the directory. Second floor, small office adjacent to the DNA labs. Had to be something, even to have a small office. If it was nothing, he’d at least have the chance to hit on her, whoever she was. If it was something...well, it wasn’t like he was going to be rushing in and saving anybody. It was probably a combination of dust bunnies and too much caffeine.


He waited until he was wrapping up another run of the mill ID (he got samples of stuff all the time; cops and civilians sent in a hell of a lot of animal bones wondering if they’d found Jimmy Hoffa) that Monday before heading in the direction of the labs.


He ended up pacing the hallway twice before finding the right door, which was already open.


All he saw at first was a lab coat and a handful of papers. He settled in the doorway to see what he was up against.


There was no way she was the one down there complaining about ghosts. His luck couldn’t be that good for so long running. The woman standing there shuffling papers was tall and slender and dark-haired with an olive cast to her skin, and she was smokin’ hot. She was dressed a little better than he was used to seeing around the campus, a step up from the business casual the department heads all wore. Gray patterned jacket and black slacks; heels. He didn’t usually see three inch heels on the lab rats. A tendril of hair had escaped the barrette that held most of it back off her neck, and she swatted at it and finally tucked it behind an ear as she laid one stack of papers aside and picked up a folder with her left hand. No ring. She began to open it, but must have caught him in her peripheral vision, because she glanced toward him and then did a small double-take, stepping to her left and turning toward him, folder held midair.


“Can I help you?”


Carefully modulated and clipped alto. There was something to the set of her shoulders he liked, but he wasn’t sure what it was. Like she was maybe ready to body-check anybody who pissed her off.


“You Danielle?”


She looked him up and down, but she did it quick and with her eyes only, head to foot and back without a change of expression. He recognized it as interest rather than concern.


Yeah, she was into him.


“If you’re from the shredding company, the copy room’s one door down,” she said.


He felt one eyebrow rise in annoyance and he was careful not to let anything else show. “No, I’m from forensics. I’m here about your ghost.”


She immediately went from giving off mild interest to broadcasting annoyance; she rolled her eyes and slapped the folder down onto the nearest surface. “Which one of them sent you over here?” she demanded. “Jesus, I’m sorry I said anything.”


“Nobody sent me,” Dean said. “I just happen to know a few things about what you might have seen.”


She made a dismissive noise at him. “Right. I don’t need any more attention over this.”


Dean straightened in the doorway, then backed into the hallway. “Fair enough,” he said. “See you around.” He began to walk away.


He made it nearly to the elevators before she poked her head out the door. “Hey.”


He half-turned, eyebrows raised.


“You didn’t even ask me what I saw.”


Dean shrugged. “You don’t wanna talk about it, I’m not gonna drag it out of you.”


“So you believe me?”


“Lady,” Dean said, “I got a million other things to do besides play pranks on the lab geeks. I wouldn’t be down here if I thought you were full of it.”


They stared at each other for a moment. Danielle looked like she might say something, but she stopped.


Dean waved a hand at her and kept walking.


“It’s ‘doctor’,” she called after him.


Dean turned to look at her again, squinting.


“It’s Dr. Surma,” she said. “Not ‘lady’.”


He kept squinting at her. Was she for real?


“Oh, just go away,” she said, and withdrew her head.


Dean kept staring at the spot she’d been in for a moment. Then he made an annoyed face toward her door. “Nyah nyah, it’s ‘doctor’,” he muttered in a mocking falsetto. “Crazy bitch.”


He went back to his office and tried to pretend none of it had happened..


Ten minutes later, he left a voicemail for Sam.


“One of the lab geeks just admitted to seeing a ghost, then flipped me shit,” he said. “Can you believe that? And she was hot, like amazingly hot for a geek, then she ruined it by pulling this huge snobby attitude. Screw her, right? Why don’t you ever answer your phone?”


He hung up, then looked at the phone for a moment.


“I have a lot of stuff to do,” he said aloud. “No time for snobs.”


-|-


Sam listened to his voicemail in annoyance two hours later. He called Dean back and got his voicemail.


“I don’t answer my phone because I’m busy running my ass off,” he said. “The least you could do is tell me if there’s really a ghost or not. And don’t date your coworkers. I mean it, Dean, it never works.”


-|-


Dean listened to his voicemail a half hour later while he was trying to decide if he had time to eat something on his way out to a scene. He listened to Sam’s message as he jogged down a hallway.


He dialed Sam back immediately.


“Whiner,” he said. “She’s not a coworker, she’s a few floors down. I don’t associate with her lab-geek kind. I’ve already forgotten all about her. So, you know, don’t call me just to bring up some girl I don’t even remember. I don’t even care if there was a ghost, because I have actual work to do. Listen, if you managed your time better, Sam, you wouldn’t be running your ass off.”


-|-


Sam got his voicemail an hour later and smacked the phone against his forehead with a growl. Then he dialed Dean back and left another message.


“I’m going to kill you,” he said. Then after a pause, he realized he didn’t have any other threats. “Don’t forget dinner on Wednesday.”


-|-


Dean laughed when he finally had a chance to hear that at about eight that night. He knew Sam wouldn’t usually have his cell on when he was home, so he purposely called him back just to leave a message.


“You win,” he said. “All those years of school really paid off, huh? She was hot, though, Sam. It’s not fair when the hot ones are stuck up. Sometimes I wonder if my Sarah is even out there, you know? Put up with my shit, let me have some space, find me totally irresistible and wanna wash my car in Daisy Dukes and a little tank top? Really smart, too, knows what she wants and goes to get it? And then I can pretend I didn’t exist before school. And I can just bring her to your house and say, ‘see, my brother’s a lawyer, and married to a sane person, so how bad could I be?’, but that won’t work because Clinton was president but his brother was a still a douchebag.”


-|-


Sam listened to Dean’s message as he got to his desk the next morning. He stared at the phone for a moment, then saved the message, because Dean would ramble things into a phone that he just couldn’t say face to face.


Dean picked up when Sam called back.


“You don’t need to use me as a reference,” Sam said. “Anybody who doesn’t love you for you isn’t worth your time.”


“Who is this?” Dean said.


“You’re such an ass,” Sam said.


“I told you telemarketers to stop calling me,” Dean said.


“Fine, whatever,” Sam sighed. “See you tomorrow.”


-|-


The assistant ME, Lauren, called him on Wednesday morning.


“One of the microbiology techs is looking for you,” she said. “Said she met some hotshot from upstairs but didn’t get his name. Big jerk, bigger mouth?”


“Is she a doctor?” Dean said. “‘cause if so, I’m busy.”


“She said you were so gorgeous that it was impossible for her to think about anything else,” Lauren said.


Dean sat up straighter. “Yeah?”


Lauren laughed. “Down, boy. I made the last part up. Anyway, she was trying to be subtle about it, said she needed to consult you on a ‘recurring problem’. Did you give her crabs?”


“Keep it up,” he said. “Jealousy at that level must be exhausting to deal with.” 


“Don’t hurt yourself with all the three-syllable words, bone-slinger. You wanna hide from her, then you have a lot of work to do. I don’t know her that well, but I know she’s even worse than you are about not letting things go. She just got her doctorate, according to somebody I occasionally gossip with down there.”


“In what?”


Dean wanted to throw himself onto the floor the moment the words were out. He hadn’t meant to say anything; what the hell did he care?


“Ooooh,” Lauren said after a moment. “You like them uppity, don’t you.”


“Never mind,” Dean said. “I’m just making small talk, okay? If you see her, don’t tell her where I am.”


“She’ll find you eventually,” Lauren said, and Dean heard the amusement in her voice.


“You didn’t tell her who I am?”


“Nope,” she said. “I wanna see how this plays out. Seeya, Winnie.”


Dean rolled his eyes. Why did she always have to go with the nickname?


-|-


He got to Sam and Sarah’s around six, and rang the bell even though he knew he didn’t have to. Sometimes they were...you know. Doing things. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen it all, already. But. They were married now, and it wasn’t cool to be walking in on them doing things. All over the house, and maybe even in the yard. Like bunnies.


“It’s open!


Sam, sounding like he was doing seven things at once, like usual. Dean opened the door and stepped in, finding Sam crossing the living room with little Allie in his arms.


“I like this place,” Dean said.


“Yeah, I know,” Sam said. “You practically picked it out, remember?”


Dean knew that Sam knew better than to greet him without his year-old daughter in his arms. Dean had already put his hands out to take Allie even before he’d said a word to Sam. Allie had her hands out as well, face serious. There was almost some kind of relief in getting to hold his niece again, and he didn’t even try and figure out where it came from. He and Allie were on a level with each other already that made perfect sense as long as he didn’t mess with it by trying to think about it. There was a feeling of hey, been waiting for you every time they were together.


Actually, before she’d been born. But that was a little weird to admit even to himself.


He ran one hand over her head and tucked her into one arm, patting Sam on the chest.


“So?” Sam said.


“Yeah, so?”


Sam closed his eyes briefly. “Ghost? Lab geek?”


“It’s probably nothing,” Dean said. “Probably never hear another thing about it.”


Sarah came out to say hi, and with his arms full of her and Allie, and the sound of Sam walking around behind them, he didn’t really need much else.


-|-


If he didn’t mention any names, or where it happened, and it wasn’t going to be in the news, then it could be talked about in a very general way. Plus, Sam was a lawyer and didn’t repeat things. And Sarah had seen worse than what he might say, and was the soul of discretion anyway. And, if he didn’t talk about things, he was likely to explode.


Dean was gently swinging Allie in his arms, turning it into a game. Allie grinned, eyes fixed on his face.


“Some guy fishing over near Donnell Lake found bonechips all over the place and called it in, since animals don’t usually chew each other up like that. Turns out, some guy put his wife through a woodchipper. A goddamn woodchipper. Can you imagine?”


“That he put his wife through a goddamn woodchipper?” Sarah said. “No. What’s it look like?”


“Oh, God,” Sam said. “Please.”


Sarah reached up to pat Sam on the shoulder. “Come on, this isn’t something just anybody gets to know.”


“Remember Fargo?” Dean said. “It looks just like it does when branches go through, except messier. The bone behaves like green wood. Got almost all of her, though, from the dump site.”


“No way the head fit into the chipper,” Sarah said. “Did you find it?”


Sam groaned softly and slumped sideways on the couch.


Dean shook his head and swung Allie into one arm so that she was upright and could look around. “Head was broken into pieces so it would fit through. So there were teeth, too, but not enough of them to make a positive ID off of.”


“So how’d you figure out who she was?” Sarah said.


“I put her back together.”


Dean said it so simply that Sarah frowned.


Sam sat up. “Dude, bone chips? There was nothing left of her but sawdust, and you just put her back together?”


Dean shrugged. “The parts all know where to go. All I had to do was pay attention and add some glue. Took long enough for the DNA comparison to come back against a couple of samples from missing people that I had time to do it, and figure out she was a she and white and in her forties. Had a computer sketch done from the completed skull.”


Sam and Sarah looked at each other. Sarah looked at Dean and said, “That makes you puzzle champion of the universe.”


Dean shrugged again, but he was pleased. Allie was staring up into his face, waiting. He had stopped swinging her. He began to swing her again, but gentler, more of a rocking.


The world could be so ugly, but none of it would ever touch her. He wouldn’t let it.


-|-


“I might have been a little stressed out the other day,” Danielle said.


The crazy, evil doctor lab geek found him Thursday morning. Somebody had told her where to find him; he had his suspicions on exactly who.


She was just as beautiful, but looked harried. She was standing outside his office door, glancing around. Probably passing judgment or something.


“You might,” Dean said, keeping his tone carefully neutral.


He’d been working hard on not using his words. Sam had reminded him several times that sometimes it was easier to handle getting punched in the mouth than to deal with his sarcasm. It had finally sunk in sometime in the last couple of years. So he’d reigned it in a little, over time. But not always. Being on the other side of thirty might have helped.


“I’ve been getting a hell of a lot of flak for asking whether anyone else has seen anything,” she said. “You can understand that, right? I don’t need that. It’s an old boy’s network around here as it is. Or high school, depending on the day. So...I wanted to apologize. It didn’t seem likely that you were coming to actually help.”


He shrugged a little. “Understood.”


“And I’m sorry for thinking you were the guy from the shredding company,” she added. “That was accidental elitist bullshit.”


He raised his eyebrows in appreciation. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay, you’re off the hook.”


“So, if you still want anything to do with me, and you actually know something about this kind of thing, then maybe you could try and help me.”


He gave her the rest of her attention. “What happened?”


“I saw it again,” she said. “Not just out of the corner of my eye, but straight on, right in front of me.”


“What’d it look like?” he said. “Color, shape, all that. Tell me everything you can remember.”


“This big, gray, smoky mist.”


He rounded on her in response to the leap his heart took. “What? Did it touch you?”


“No,” she said, looking a little cowed. “What is it?”


He ushered her in, and closed the door. He looked around for somewhere for her to sit, but every surface was overburdened. He ended up gesturing around aimlessly for a moment, then gave up. “Did it look more like black smoke, or like a mist? Did you hear anything?”


“No, no,” she said. “It was gray, and it was just a mist. More like steam. At first it was shapeless, then it resolved into sort of an hourglass shape. It didn’t make any sound, but the room around it seemed to get quieter. The same way it gets quieter outside when it snows. The sound was damped down around it.”


Thinking like a scientist.


“How long was it there?” Dean said.


“About twenty seconds,” Danielle said. “Then it dissipated, but didn’t seem affected by the air around it.”


Dean nodded. “Has anyone else seen it?”


“If they have, they won’t admit it.”


“What time did it show up?” Dean said. “Is there a particular time of day or night you’ve seen it?”


“The first two times, it was in the morning, just after I came in. This last time was only about an hour ago.”


Dean sucked at his teeth for a moment. If it wasn’t showing up at a particular time of day, then it wasn’t a repeater. And the way it was forming suggested an attempt at contact with a hint of self awareness. Probably not a death omen. “Didn’t hear or feel anything else?” he said.


“No. I don’t have migraines, my blood sugar wasn’t low – “


“Are you menstruating?” Dean said.


She raised one brow and lowered the other. It looked like annoyance. “No, Dr. Venkman, I’m not.”


Dean smirked.


“Are you playing Ghostbuster because it’s a deep-seated fantasy of yours, or are you just humoring me to cop a feel?” she said.


“Oh, neither one’s a fantasy, babe,” he said. “Trust me. You ever feel anything in the floor, any rumbling, or see anything shake on any surface?”


“No,” she said slowly as if she was only reluctantly letting his first comment go. “Not that I’ve noticed.”


He nodded. “Okay. Let’s go look at your office.”


-|-


Everything was disgustingly organized in her office. She had to be one of those insane, immaculate people where everything in her life was in perfect little boxes with perfect little labels on them. They usually turned out to be the most fun in bed, since they came unbottled eventually, but he knew right away to stay the hell away from her. She was too perfect, and perfect often came with buckets o’crazy.


Dean walked the outline of the small room with an EMF meter, keeping close to the walls, looking for any hot spots. He could smell fresh paint and figured she’d just moved into the office.


“What’s...oh, come on. Really? Are you checking for EMF signatures?”


He looked at her and couldn’t help the surprise.


“I used to watch all the reality shows when I was in graduate school,” she said. “All that ghost-hunting crap, I loved it.”


“I’m glad it was just crap to you,” he said, and he knew the words themselves didn’t sound sincere, but he meant them. He thought about his father and how many kids could really believe there was nothing under the bed or in the closet because of him.


He swept the room, paying close attention to the spot she pointed out for him as the last place she’d seen it. No sulfuric traces; not a demon. He’d truly worried that it might be something demonic from her initial description. It had thrown all his old alerts into overdrive, and he didn’t want to feel that way anymore.


He picked up a few ambient traces, but that could have been from all the equipment in the place. Nothing really leaped out at him. The shelves held mostly books, no trinkets. That ruled out the possibility of a cursed object. People picked up things from garage sales or vacations that they really should not have, sometimes.


He could feel her staring at him.


“So it’s true,” she said finally. “I mean, you have evidence that electromagnetic fields spike in areas where someone has seen or heard something unusual.”


He glanced at her. “That was very carefully phrased.”


“I do that. So, yes or no?”


“Yes or no, increased EMF tends to indicate supernatural activity, or yes or no, there’s something here?”


“Both,” she said.


“Yes and no,” Dean said.


He heard the annoyed exhalation behind him and grinned.


“So who are you?” she said.


“Dean.”


“I know. Dean who?


“Dean Winchester. I’m one of the FA’s.”


“Oh.”


He’d heard that oh before. It meant I guess I should take you seriously, then. He enjoyed it immensely. Whoever had pointed her in his direction had done so by giving her the least amount of information they could. And she was new enough to her posting that she didn’t know her way around the building well enough to realize she was in the anthropology section when she made it to his office. New person, new office, fresh paint. Maybe it was all enough to stir something.


He clicked the meter off and tucked it away.


“Think we can get into the basement?” he said.


-|-


He offered her the chance to stay upstairs.


“What exactly qualifies you to figure out what this is?” she said.


Dean looked at her, and too many things ran through his mind. Oh, he wanted to say something she’d never forget. But for once, it was beneath him. “I’ve seen a few things,” he said.


She looked like she wanted to ask him what, but she didn’t.


It was two more floors down into the basement, but Dean ignored the elevator. Danielle followed about two steps behind as if she might change her mind about the whole thing at any moment. Like any other door in the building, a swipe of a security badge across a sensor was required to get into the lower workings of the place. Big exhaust fans, boilers, a newer heating system; access to air vents, plumbing and electrical systems; extra storage for equipment that had broken down or been replaced. It was close and even though it was well lit, it still seemed foreboding.


Dean walked along the bank of exhaust fans, checking to see if any were newer.


“What are we looking for?” Danielle said, raising her voice to be heard over the machinery.


“See if any of the fans are causing vibrations,” Dean said.


“You mean, are they causing infrasound?’


Dean rounded on her again, but in surprise instead of alarm. He got close enough to realize that her eyes weren’t just brown, but some kind of fresh honey color, almost as if they were dark but backlit by a lighter color. He stared at her for a moment.


“I know what infrasound is,” she said, looking mildly put out.


He wanted to tell her she didn’t know all she thought she did, but he couldn’t tell that story. She wouldn’t get it, no matter what she was seeing upstairs. He also wanted to twirl one finger in the tendril of hair that was lying on her shoulder and see if it was as soft as it looked. She smelled like something light and faintly woodsy, maybe just shampoo, but he couldn’t be sure.


He shook himself out of it.


“Yeah, right,” he said. “You being a scientist and all.”


She glanced up at his eyes. She’d been looking at his mouth. He’d caught her.


“Feel anything?” he said.


She looked surprised.


“From the machines,” he said, doing everything he could not to smirk. “Dizzy, headache, nausea? Anxiety?” Hear screaming, feel the world opening up to swallow you?


She shook her head. He began to wonder if he was freaking her out.


“So you know it can make you see things out of the corners of your eyes,” he said.


“Sure,” she said.


He turned to look at the fans again. He doubted they were causing trouble several floors up. He’d probably have to stake out her office. He crouched down to see what kind of mounting the fans were on and whether any of it was loose. He glanced over his shoulder at her. “You looking at my ass?”


She raised her eyebrows. “Seen worse.”


“So what’s your doctorate in?” he said.


“Microbiology,” she said. “Yours?”


“Don’t have one,” he said. “I’m so damn good, I don’t even need one.”


She gave him a sidelong glance. He’d seen it so many times over the years from so many people that he knew it was a way of checking to see how much crap he was going to keep handing out.


“I didn’t realize the state hired FA’s without degrees,” she said.


He finally stood and leveled a flat stare on her. “A BS in anthro with a minor in archeology isn’t a degree? I’m not good enough to share your air?”


“Touchy,” she said. She didn’t look or sound contrite, though.


Screw this. He had too much to do to keep humoring her snobby ass.


“Okay,” he said, “if you see it again, let me know. If it tries to throw you out a window or something...well, can’t blame it.” He headed for the door leading to the stairs.


“That’s it?” she said. “Hey...hey, what the hell is your problem?”


He kept walking.


She caught up to him on the stairs and said, “It’s true, isn’t it? They don’t certify the FA’s without doctorates.”


“Figure it out,” Dean said without pausing.


“Why are you being so hostile about it?” she said, on his heels. “Are you menstruating?”


He turned, and she ran right into him before backing down a step. “I couldn’t care less what’s up your ass,” he said. “I’m checking to see what’s actually going on. Whether you approve or not is the last thing on my mind, doctor. I know a hell of a lot more about it than you do, or ever will.”


She blinked up at him before folding her arms. There were spots of color on her cheeks, but it didn’t mollify him. “I wasn’t trying to piss you off,” she said.


“Then I can’t wait to see what it looks like when you do try,” Dean said.


She looked genuinely upset. “You can’t handle women who speak their minds?” she said.


“You can’t come down from your freakin’ pedestal long enough to acquaint yourself with the commoners?” Dean shot back.


“You don’t even know me,” she said, hands on hips.


“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all I need to,” Dean said, glaring down on her.


She swept a nonexistent strand of hair away from her face. “Can I get back to work, then?” she said.


“Sorry to inconvenience you, princess,” Dean said.


“Don’t let it happen again, you scruffy nerf herder.”


Dean felt his eyebrows shoot up. She was quoting Star Wars at him.


They stared at each other for a long moment.


“So, dinner?” Dean said.


“Meet me at Froggy’s at seven thirty,” she said. Then she sidled past him and ran the rest of the way up the stairs.


He watched her go. Not bad from the back.


He left Sam a voicemail.


-|-


Sam listened to it about an hour later.


“Sam. I’m having dinner with a hot, insane doctor. I think I might have a thing for hot, insane doctors.”


He laughed, forwarded it to Sarah’s phone, then returned the call.


“Act casual. I mean casual the way most people understand it.”


-|-


Sarah listened to the message and laughed. She called and left one for Dean.


“Wear that one green shirt I like so much. No tongue on the first date. And talk about yourself, for once. You never talk about yourself.”


-|-


Froggy’s on 2nd was a lounge-type bar and grill that was a favorite hangout for both the college kids and the medical center crowd. Dean had been there numerous times and hated the beer choices. He kept going back anyway.


Danielle had a brother that she was very fond of but exasperated with; her parents were born in Armenia but raised in the States; she had always wanted to be a microbiologist. She liked beer and hated bullshit and had a greater love of pop culture than she wanted to let on. She only laughed when she meant it, not because she thought she should; she could discuss the Human Genome Project with almost girlish enthusiasm and then argue with him over why Metallica was over after the St. Anger album.


Friends and family called her Dani, but he was neither at that point, so she told him he could drop the doctor and stick to Danielle for now.


She struck him as a blue collar girl desperately trying to put on a white collar world, and paranoid that she’d never make it. She seemed familiar, somehow, but not safe.


He wasn’t looking for safe anyway.


He told her about Sam and Sarah and Allie; she told him it was good to hear someone talk about their family with such obvious love in his voice.


They spent a lot of time looking at each other.


“You’re different,” she said, stirring her iced tea. “Rough around the edges. Not all wrapped up and polished like everyone else around here.”


“Is that good or bad?” he said.


She smiled. “Tired of polished. It makes it harder to get a decent handhold.”


He smirked. He couldn’t help it.


“You just turned that into something dirty in your head, didn’t you,” she said.


Dean let his smile become genuine. “I do that.”


They went their separate ways that night after dinner, but not because it had gone wrong. Dean was way too interested and knew better than to push something like that. She seemed interested, too, if he knew anything about women solely from the way they tended to look at him when they wanted to see more. It was better, especially with a colleague of any kind, to take things slow.


Plus, he was still pretty sure she was crazy.


He told her what he was going to do about whatever might be in her office, and he’d need her help. She seemed perfectly happy to pitch in. She wanted to examine the process.


-|-


He got home about nine and left Sam a voicemail. “We drove to Vegas and eloped. And man, based on the amount of sex we just had? She could be a guy or from a different species and still be pregnant.”


-|-


Sam listened to it the next morning and saw that it had arrived at about nine the night before – seriously early to be calling it a night. Dean liked this one, a lot, and was playing it off so hard that Sam wished he could have watched them have dinner from a distance, just to see what it looked like when Dean was just beginning to fall in love.


He returned the message. “Should I send her flowers, or just a blank restraining order?”


-|-


“Okay,” Dean said, “I looked up a little history on the building.”


“When did you do this?” Danielle said.


They were standing in her office at about seven thirty the following morning.


“Some time during the night,” Dean said. “My sidekick geekboy of a brother has other stuff to do, now, so I got stuck doing it myself. How long have you been in the office?”


“About two weeks,” she said.


“I smelled the paint the last time I was in here,” Dean said, gesturing at the walls. “So did they just paint in here, or do something else?”


“It used to be one big office,” she said. “But they split it into two, because of space restrictions. At least, that’s what they told me.”


“So there were some renovations,” Dean said. “That can stir things up. You’ve seen the damn thing, so I don’t need to try and convince you that ghosts are real, do I?”


She took a breath and said, “Well...there was an unidentified visual apparition of unknown cause or origin. Can I go with that for now?”


“Whatever floats your boat,” Dean said. Crazy, he thought. “Have you had enough of it?”


“I’m not thrilled about wondering what it is, or when it’ll be back,” Danielle said. “It’s not the kind of distraction I really need. So...yes?”


“Then you pick a night, and we’re going to come back here with some stuff, and we can try and call it up and see what it really is and maybe find out what it wants,” Dean said.


She looked at him sidelong as if she was waiting for him to laugh and say gotcha!.


“Or you can just pretend you don’t see it,” Dean said. It was partly a challenge and partly an opportunity for her to take the easy way out.


Apparently all she heard was the challenge. “I’m not afraid,” she said. “I’m hesitant to resort to some kind of religious or new age ritual to respond to the unknown.”


Okay. That was a reasonable thing to say, for someone who wasn’t used to the idea of the supernatural. He couldn’t blame her. He had started out with a scientific approach and then gone straight to what was, for him, the next logical step but had to sound nuts to her. Just because she’d seen something more than once and knew it was weird didn’t mean she was embracing the whole concept wholeheartedly.


He sighed.


“Don’t think of it as a ritual,” he said. “Think of it as adjusting the atmosphere of a location to enhance the probability of a hypothetical outcome. It’s an experiment.”


Sometimes it was okay for him to use his words.


She seemed to consider that. “Let’s do it tonight,” she said. “I’m assuming we want the majority of the building cleared out first, and that’s why we’d be doing it at night.”


“Yes,” he said with relief. “If it’s quiet around here, then there’s a higher probability that we’ll be successful. Plus, we don’t need anybody asking us what we’re up to.”


She raised her eyebrows.


Yeah, she was into him.


He glanced at the ceiling. No sprinkler system, and the nearest heat sensor was in the hallway. He could use candles if he wanted to without risking a problem. “Nobody died here,” he said aloud.


“Excuse me?”


“Nobody jumped out one of the windows or off the roof or hung themselves in here,” Dean said, gesturing around her office. “There was no explosion that killed anybody. Nobody died in your office. So it’s not somebody returning to the scene just because they died here. If you were wondering.”


She leaned against the edge of her desk and looked at him with her chin tilted down a little. “I was wondering what might cause something like this.”


“Violent death in the vicinity, usually,” Dean said. “Unfinished business. If something’s lying dormant or even just wandering through, renovating a building can stir things up. No one mentioned experiencing anything before, when this was one large office. That doesn’t mean nothing happened, but it doesn’t mean anything did, either.”


“So what do we need to do?” she said.


-|-


They met back at her office at eleven that night. Everybody but the cleaning staff and the security guards were gone by then. Even the most die hard worker bees were gone at that time on a Thursday night in that section.


He asked her to close the door. That way it was her decision to be in a closed room with him with all the lights off, after hours. She did it without hesitation.


She didn’t ask about the specifics of the pattern he drew on the floor in chalk, or the ring of salt outside it. She watched everything he did, though, with interest and silence. She seemed to know better than to talk through what he was doing. She had pointed out the spot she’d seen the apparition in, the same spot each time, and that was where he’d begun to draw. When he laid out candles and sprinkled mugwort around and into them, then cedar ash, she didn’t comment. She sat crosslegged on the other side of the circle when he asked her to.


“Summoning,” he said. “If there’s anything here that wants attention, this might help. Or it might just show up on its own.”


“Are you...a Wiccan?” she said softly. He didn’t catch any hint of derision in it. Nervousness, maybe. She was trying to ask a lot more than what she’d put into words.


“No,” he said. “This is just the nice way of getting something to come out and play.” He paused and glanced at her. She wasn’t comfortable; he could tell. The same shoulders that had made him think she was set to kick somebody’s ass were, by then, hunched in a little. “And I’m not in some cult, and I’m not a devil worshiper. I’m just going by lore that’s about as old as mankind. Common sense says to go with what usually works.”


“So you’ve done this before?” she said.


“Trying to get a ghost to show up?” he said. He was careful to specify so that he didn’t find himself getting into anything he didn’t want to talk about. “Yeah. Or, actually, Sam has. I’m not too hot on asking things to show up. Mostly I like it when they go the hell away.”


She smiled a little.


“You don’t have to do this, if you’re not comfortable,” Dean said.


“It’s okay,” she said. “I figure, this is my problem, so I should see it through.”


He lit the candles and turned out the lights, then sat on his side of the circle. The scent of mugwort left just a hint in the air. Candle-flickers painted the walls and ceiling.


He murmured a few key phrases in Latin, then repeated them in English for Danielle’s benefit and the benefit of anything listening. He and Sam had tried another version of the same thing on that priest in Providence, the one who’d been killed on the steps of his own church and then had decided to even things up for the forces of good in all the wrong ways. Or, Sam had been stuck with it by himself, using a Spongebob Squarepants placemat as an altar.


Hey, it had worked. They could get anything to work.


He placed a finger over his lips when it looked like she might say something. She immediately looked at his mouth and seemed to be fixated there. He grinned and braced his hands behind himself, leaning on them and watching the candlelight.


He glanced at Danielle occasionally, wondering how long she’d put up with the whole thing. It had to look really damn strange, but she was hanging in there. It made him wonder whether it really had been just a visual apparition, or whether it was the first one she’d ever seen, or whether she was wearing a matching black lacy bra and panties. He had a feeling that under all that conservative business-wear was some truly interesting lingerie.


He repeated the Latin without the English chaser. He wasn’t talking directly to any spirit, just opening the space a little and inviting whatever might already be nearby. Very nearby. He wasn’t dumb enough to hang a banner on his part of the universe and announce an open house. It wasn’t likely he’d be able to do that even if he wanted to; it took a real lighthouse to do something like that, like Sam. But he didn’t feel like taking any risks. This was small stuff.


When it got a little cold suddenly and the candles flickered, Dean sat up straight again and Danielle looked around. When she glanced over her shoulder, she scrambled to her feet and came around to Dean’s side of the circle. “Holy shit.”


Something was shifting just outside the edge of the strongest light, wavering back and forth over one spot. It was almost intangible enough to blend in with the surrounding shadows, but it wasn’t in synch with the spaces between the flickering light.


Danielle didn’t grab him or try to hide; she stood beside him and watched.


Dean got a sense of being looked at. It wasn’t the same feeling he got when people looked at him, and he hadn’t felt it in one hell of a long time. There was something too basic about it, sentient but no longer functioning on the same plane, a half step off the consciousness he enjoyed. It didn’t feel evil, whatever it was; it just seemed to be hanging around like a wisp of spider web caught on a branch. If it had ever been human, it no longer held that identity. There was no standard way to communicate except for what he was already doing. He grabbed the rest of what he’d come with, bay and camphor and hawthorn to banish and protect.


When it dissipated, it didn’t matter whether it was because it ran out of energy or because the ritual – experiment – had worked. It was what they’d do now that it was gone that mattered. He’d had a look at it, confirmed it wasn’t evil, and had a feeling he could block it.


“Is it permanently gone?” Danielle said.


“Might be,” he said. “Wasn’t really here for anything, far as I can tell. It’s nothing to worry about, though. It wasn’t all that aware of us or itself. There are a couple of ways to keep something like that from forming.”


He smudged the room with sage and did a quick banishment in Latin, then left bay leaves behind the bookshelves and in the drawers of her small desk. He felt her watching him. It was a feeling decidedly different from the one the mist-form had given him.


“You speak Latin,” she said finally. She said it in a low, awed voice.


“Yeah.”


“Fluently,” she said. Same awed tone.


“Really?” Dean said. “If we’re stating the obvious for fun, let me jump in with ‘we should be dating’.”


She blinked at him. “We should at least be doing this.”


She grabbed him and didn’t have to lean up all that far to kiss him.


So much for taking things slow. But doing a little summoning and having a real encounter could get people pretty keyed up, so it was understandable.


-|-


“Sam,” Dean said on Sam’s voicemail. “It was just some disturbance stirred up by the renovations, probably just some left over energy or a fit somebody threw once. You guys have to meet Danielle. She’s nuts, but she’s amazing. She’ll probably say a few things that sound like she’s insulting you at first, but it’ll be no worse than anything I’ve ever said to you, so just ignore it. Her brain-to-mouth filter only works, like, every other day.”


-|-


Sam listened to the message and then called him back.


“But will she wash your car in little shorts and a tank top?” he said.


-|-


Dean listened, then called back.


“Screw that. I want her to wash it in heels and a lab coat while explaining why some brands of 40-weight motor oil are molecularly superior to any other.”

 

-|-


Sam laughed for nearly a full minute.


When his phone rang again a moment later, he refused to pick it up for a very different reason than the one he’d had while he was at Stanford the first time.


“Sammy,” Dean said to his voicemail, “I think she might be out of my league.”


Sam dialed back. Dean didn’t pick up his phone, and Sam knew why. This was an easier way to talk.


“Nobody is out of your league,” he said. “Nobody. You’re one of the best people I have ever known, or ever will know. You just go on being you, and if she doesn’t get it? Her loss. Big time.”


-|-


Dean saved his messages and did not respond.


-|-


Sam saved his messages and understood why Dean did not respond.


-|-


A few weeks and a handful of dates later, Dean decided that justice really did exist, because there was a woman in the world that had a kink for guys who were rough around the edges and capable of talking dirty in Latin.


And he was right about the lingerie.


-|- -|- -|-