Sam rolled his right shoulder back and forth a few times, grimacing at the soreness still lingering in the joint, while he focused on the newspaper lying open on the table in front of him. Isabel had gone to work a few hours ago, ready to face a totally different menace than the one he was used to, while Michelle had taken off for work an hour later. Dean, as per usual, wasn't up yet and Michelle had told Sam to go ahead and raid the fridge if he wanted to. She had seemed unusually chipper this morning and that brought things to mind Sam didn't really want to envision. He didn't begrudge his brother this relationship - not at all - but there were just certain things he didn't need to know about. Michelle obviously didn't kiss and tell, which he appreciated, and he was putting his faith in that Dean would be more discrete than he sometimes was.

An hour later, Dean finally turned up. He looked like he had just woken up and wasn't a hundred percent aware yet. Sam arched an eyebrow at him when he dropped onto a chair and just sat there for a moment, staring bleary-eyed ahead of himself. "She's okay with it."

Sam frowned. "What?" he asked, not sure what that was supposed to mean.

Dean sighed and scrubbed a hand over his lips, then focused on Sam. "I told her. And she's okay with it. As it were ... she knows about hunters," he said and Sam could tell that he was unsure of how to respond to that.

"Well ... that's good news, Dean. That means she won't kick your ass to curb for that at least," Sam teased with a smile.

"Shut up," Dean grumbled and ruffled his hair with both hands, then locked his fingers behind his head. "This is a good thing, isn't it? I mean ..."

"Yeah, it's a good thing, dumbskull," Sam agreed. "Question is now, how do you feel about it? Because ... honestly? ... this takes away an out you had."

Dean dropped his arms again and gave him a dark look for his trouble. "An out?" he asked, stressing the word. "What the hell does that mean?"

Sam shook his head. "Don't tell me you haven't considered this to be a possible way to avoid commitment, Dean. If she hadn't liked it, if she had considered you a nutcase and shown you the door, you wouldn't have to worry about how to adapt to a relationship. Once the first fling is gone, there's something called everyday life and you probably won't get away with half the crap you do now once you two settle into a routine."

"Routine," Dean muttered and scrubbed both hands over his face, then got up and disappeared into the kitchen to grab some coffee. Moments later, he settled back down on the chair and just sat there, the steaming mug sitting on the table in front of him all but forgotten. "I don't know how to handle this, Sam," he finally admitted. "I don't know how to ..." He trailed off, shook his head, then finally grabbed the mug and sipped the coffee.

"You'll figure it out. It takes some getting used to, but once you're in the groove, it's cool. You'll like it," Sam promised.

Dean gave him a pointed look. "What about you and Miss Munchkin?"

For a moment Sam had no idea what he was talking about, then he grimaced. "Would you stop with the nicknames? Her name is Isabel. Izzie if you want. But stop with the rest. She doesn't like it."

"And how do you know that? Has she complained about it?" Dean countered evenly.

"No, but I can tell she doesn't like it," Sam said. "And there's nothing going on between us. Nothing at all."

"Too bad. You would make a cute couple," Dean said with a smirk and sipped his coffee. "I would shack up with Chell for the coffee alone. She's a damned miracle worker when it comes to making good coffee. It's just as good as Grace's."

"Speaking of Grace, maybe we should let them know we're going to stay?" Sam suggested.

Dean frowned. "Are we?" he asked and Sam realized that this was his uncertainty about the future that shone through. Dean was in unfamiliar territory right now. He would have to find a way to handle this situation and fast.

"Yeah, we are," Sam confirmed. "You have got to give this relationship a chance, Dean."

"I was going to, you know," Dean countered. "Don't kid yourself, Sammy. I know you've got the hots for Iz ... abel," he added. "Don't try to deny it. And she's so into you, it's almost painful to watch. Give the girl a break, huh?"

"And what? Marry her? Settle down? Start a family?" Sam sighed. "Where do you expect this to go? Because ... honestly? ... I see that prophecy in the making right here, right now. Gaia said we were destined to have kids, both of us, and that we're going to pass on this damned curse to them. That's not my idea of a good way to have kids, knowing what they'll have to live through."

"We don't know they'll have to, Sam. You know that. Unless some bonehead opens the gates to Hell again, there's not going to be any demons. The rest we can pretty much deal with. Like we always have. Like we always will."

Sam just stared at him for a moment, then dropped the topic. Dean was right and he realized he was doing right now what he had accused his brother of doing moments before. He was looking for an out, albeit subconsciously.

***

One week later

It was weird, this living together stuff. In part, it was a bit like living with dad and Sam again. Of course, Sam was next door and judging from the sudden closeness between Isabel and Sam, Dean could only guess that they'd struck up a more close-knit relationship. Sam had that satisfied air about him and was much more relaxed about things and Isable? Well, that girl could glow.

Dean smirked to himself. He had seen that one coming from a mile away and had only barely resisted prodding Sam until he caved and did something about it. Okay, so he had prodded, but only a little.

But living with Michelle was a weird thing. Not that he didn't enjoy it. Not by a mile. But ... she was paying everything. At first he hadn't really cared, but it was beginning to bother him to some extent. And now this? She wanted to move?

"Where do you want to move to?" he asked and eyed her with a light frown furrowing his brow.

"A house," she said without looking up from the paper. "It's getting a little tight here and I've always wanted a house, but have never really been able to justify it. And ... well ... a yard would be nice. I like gardening. Flowers and stuff."

"A house, huh?" He mulled that one over for a moment. "I can't afford a house."

That made her smile. "You won't have to afford it. I've got it covered," she said and finally looked up to meet his eyes. "I keep telling you, Dean. It's okay. You do what you do for the good of everybody. I don't mind picking up the check. It's not like I don't have the money. Besides, I would probably have gotten to this point on my own sometime soon. You don't have to worry about it."

He said nothing to that, but he thought a lot. "Maybe I should get a job," he said, but the idea alone made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on edge. Okay, he could work in a garage. That would be okay, fixing cars. But then what? Would there be time for hunting?

"And what about all these trolls you say keep popping up? Considering the amount you and Sam have already ... retired, I would say this is a very real problem that needs to be dealt with. If you're busy doing whatever you think you have to do, who will make sure the people of Minneapolis can live in peace?" She sounded in part surprised, in part concerned. "I'm by no means an expert or anything, but ... I think you would do this town a favor by hunting trolls instead of getting a job of some kind. I mean ... hunting is a job, isn't it? It just doesn't pay very well."

"Try not at all," he said with a grimace. "And yeah, it is a job. But ..."

"Don't worry about the money, Dean. Please. My parents left me with a lot of it. We're covered, no matter what." She glanced at her watch. "Damn, I gotta go," she added and rose, then paused. "Please ... just don't worry about it. It's not a big deal and it doesn't matter where the money comes from, right?"

He met her eyes and felt torn in two directions. "Right," he agreed because he knew she had to go and he knew her well enough by now to know she worried if he worried. "You're right. Forget it. It's not important." He brushed it off, made sure his tone of voice gave her that impression as well, and she bought it.

"Good. I'll see you tonight," she said, kissed him goodbye and left.

"Not if I see you first," he muttered and made a face. "Gotta stop watching all those movies," he added and slumped back on the chair.

***

"She wants to move."

Sam said it first and Dean stared at him for a full second before he could even think of how to respond. "What?"

"Isabel. She wants to move. She wants a house." Sam dropped down on a chair, his expression telling Dean he had no idea how to take that bit of news.

"So does Michelle," he finally said and narrowed his eyes with suspicion. "They've talked about this already."

"Probably. Seeing as Isabel doesn't do anything that Michelle doesn't do," Sam agreed. "How do you feel about that?" he asked after a moment.

Dean arched an eyebrow. "Me? I don't really have a say in the matter, do I? It's not my money. She wants a house, she can buy a house. It'll benefit me in the end, won't it?" He smirked, but Sam had the distinct impression that there was more here than met the eye.

"You've got a problem with it, don't you?" It was the obvious conclusion he could draw from Dean's words. With his brother it was always a matter of reading between the lines to get to the real meaning of what he said. Dean wasn't in favor of being blunt unless it served a purpose.

It was the pause before his reply that proved to Sam that he was right. "What are you talking about? Of course I don't," he scoffed. "So ... are you up for hunting trolls tonight?"

Tactical withdrawal. Dean always did that when something cut too close to the bone. For a moment Sam considered pursuing it, then he sighed lightly. "Yeah, sure. As long as I don't get battered around too much, I should be fine."

The satisfied smirk on Dean's lips made him shake his head. "Good. I could use a good hunt right now."

***

Three months later

The house-idea had gone from idea to reality in less than three months and the move had happened with no particular involvement by any of them. Michelle had insisted on reusing what she had, Isabel had gone in the opposite direction, thrown everything out and bought new stuff.

The houses were next to each other, not a big feat these days where a lot of places stood empty, and for the first few days it had been a novelty to all of them. Then routine began to settle in. Michelle and Isabel went off to work every day and Dean and Sam continued hunting trolls and whatever else came their way.

It took three months of this before Dean suddenly felt like he'd been hit over the head with a baseball bat. Returning from a hunt, which had dragged on a little longer than expected, it was dark by the time the guys got home. They were both bushed and ready to get some shuteye. Sam took his leave of Dean and walked briskly over to his front door. He glanced back briefly before letting himself into the dark house and Dean just stood there and stared at these two houses, at the porch light shining over his door, and it struck him that this was what he had always claimed he'd never want. Suburban life. And for a moment he couldn't convince himself to take a step toward the house.

Was this what he wanted? Living with Michelle felt good. There were issues, of course, things they had to hash out along the way, but Sam insisted that was normal. So, had he gone 'normal'? Was this the kind of life mom and dad had lived before the demon? He tried to recall, tried to remember if things had felt this way back then, but he couldn't quite place it. Maybe because he hadn't exactly been in dad's shoes, but had been thoroughly protected and loved by a mother who was always there for him. Until that night, of course.

With a sigh, he glanced down himself, at his muddy clothes, the moisture still dripping from him, and he figured he would have to give this whole thing some more thought. But not tonight. He needed a shower and he needed to sleep in tomorrow.

He had to admit that he was getting a little tired of trolls these days. They weren't bright enough to really matter, but the ones they went up against at the moment were big enough to make him care. And this latest, two-headed monstrosity had thrown him into a wall three times before Sam had managed to lop both its heads off. On account of that, he felt like he'd gone a few rounds with a block of cement and he looked the part too, covered in mud and bruises that would take weeks to heal. Fortunately, nothing was broken, but he could feel every bruise if he even thought of moving. In the heat of the moment, it hadn't been bad, but now that he had cooled down a little and was ready for a good night's sleep, his body betrayed him. All he wanted to do was crawl into bed, but he was filthy and he needed a shower more than anything right now.

It was four in the morning and the house was quiet as the grave. He closed the front door quietly behind him and bent down to untie the laces of his boots before kicking the mud-encrusted footgear off. Michelle was gonna have a fit if he tracked this into the house. The thought of her made him smirk faintly, but he was too damned tired to keep it up. Straightening up brought it home to him how many times his back had collided with that brick wall and he groaned under his breath while carefully arching his back and shifting his shoulders in another attempt to ascertain if anything might be broken. It didn't feel like it, though. He was going to be hard pressed to get out of bed in the morning, but just knowing that there was nothing on the schedule for the following day and that he had a nurse in the house if push came to shove made him feel a little better already.

The leather jacket hit the tiles of the entrance hall with a wet splat and he made a face, then figured the cleaning of the garment could wait until the morning. Michelle kept going on about sending it to the cleaners, but he had always managed to get it back up to par on his own before, so why pay someone for doing that? Especially considering what the jacket meant to him.

With that on his mind, he picked it up and hung it on the hook in the hallway before making his way up the stairs to the bathroom. Once there, he got undressed as fast as his complaining body allowed for, then stepped into the shower stall and closed the frosted glass door behind him. He turned the water up as hot as he could stand it, then braced himself against the wall under the showerhead, dropped his head and just let the heat of the water and the pressure it applied sooth sore muscles.

How long he stood there wasn't something he consciously considered. It didn't matter, really. This place had an endless supply of hot water, something he had stated as a must when they'd gone for the house. The soft tick of the shower stall door opening in combination with a brief chilly draft made him raise his head a little. The biggest change he'd had to get used to was the now complete lack of privacy, but it wasn't something he missed. On the contrary, the term that Sam had applied to him and Michelle not too long ago was one he actually relished. They were attached at the hip and he liked it like that.

Her fingertips trailed up his back so lightly, he almost thought he was imaging it, but then she settled her palms on his shoulder blades and slipped her fingers up over his shoulders while easing up against him. She spooned her body perfectly against him, her hands sliding down his sides to his hips and his fatigue took a backseat to the liquid hot silver feeling pooling in his abdomen. Again and again she managed to take him by surprise, to do things he hadn't thought she would, and this was another one of those. Not that they hadn't showered together before. But this was totally different. He wasn't in control and she didn't want him to be.

Her left hand circled around unto the flat of his belly and he couldn't help himself from sucking his stomach in in sheer anticipation of where this was heading. She pressed her palm against his stomach, exerting a light pressure he had come to associate with her for some reason, then smoothed her hand downward, her fingers splayed over his skin. He couldn't help himself from responding to her touch. The second he had heard the tick of the door opening, he had felt himself respond and this wasn't exactly putting a damper on his growing need for her.

He shifted a little, but she slipped her right arm around his chest, pressing herself a little harder against him. "No, stay still," she said softly, her lips whispering over the back of his neck, sending a shudder through him despite the heat of the water cascading down over them.

It took very little for her to convince him and he relaxed back into his previous stance, hands braced against the tiles, head down, eyes closed, while the water soaked them both and her hand found his straining erection and wrapped lightly around it. The touch was almost electric, like every time she took the lead and he merely followed. On some levels, he saw himself in her. The hunger for human closeness brought on by the lack of it too soon in life.

Sex had always been a means to an end for him, a way to get close without baring his soul. But this, this was cutting all the way to the bone. Hell, it was splitting the bones open and laying the marrow inside bare for the world to see. And he didn't care, because she never talked about what she saw when they were alone, when he opened up and she listened. He had told her things he hadn't even been aware of himself, had opened the floodgates he had fought so hard to keep closed, bricked up and sealed off. But with her, he could let go, he could talk and know she wouldn't judge. He had told her of the things he considered wrong, things he had done, and she had listened and remained gentle and understanding and not condemning. Looking into her eyes after that first revelation, he had feared to see distance there, but she had merely shrugged, suggested they go out to dinner, and that had been it.

He knew that some would have seen that as rejection, but she knew him well enough to know that big reveals should not be followed up with platitudes. The furthest he would go on the emotional scale was what she called consolation sex. It was soft and slow and could last for hours.

Her fingers rippled along his length and derailed his thoughts as sure as a rock on the tracks would derail a speeding freight train. He spread his fingers over the tiles, his elbow joints feeling a little loose right now. With her right, she raked her nails over his chest lightly, drawing lines of chilled fire over his skin, while she started slow, meticulous strokes with her left hand, her grip firm yet loose.

Groaning, he shifted, his biceps trembling lightly, all his aches and pains forgotten for the time being. He clawed the fingers of his right hand against the tiles and chomped down on his lower lip. Man, she was good. Not that he would ever doubt that. But it took him by surprise time and time again how well she knew him, knew his responses and what he needed at any given time. And man, did she give.

Her grip tightened a little and the wall seemed to have developed some sort of suction, because he couldn't for the life of him keep his arms stretched out any more. To avoid any untoward accidents – despite it being the furthest from his mind right now – he shifted forward a little and she followed him fluently, never losing a beat. His legs trembled, his breath got stuck in his throat, and he couldn't for the life of him keep a lid on how this made him feel. His brow connected lightly with the tiles while the sense of her lips on his skin drove him mad. He felt nothing but her and what she did to him. All other aches and pains were gone – forgotten for the moment – while the water washed him clean and her ministrations took away any concerns he'd ever had.

They found their way into the bedroom somehow and submerged themselves in each other for a good part of the remainder of that night. When the sun began to creep over the horizon, she was asleep and he wasn't far behind. Whatever concerns he'd had before about this arrangement were gone for the moment.

***

True to form, sleeping with someone else in the room was always a superficial thing. It didn't mean he didn't get enough rest, it just meant he was more alert. And he subconsciously knew she was there before he felt the bed give. He was too tired to respond and still too far into sleep to be able to, though.

In part he mourned the fact that he was so beat when her hand settled between his shoulder blades and he felt her hot, sweet-smelling breath on his cheek. "Good morning love," she whispered and pressed a kiss onto his ear.

He shifted a little and managed to pry one eyelid open, but couldn't really focus. The tone of her voice and her words in particular filled him with a sense he couldn't really describe. It just made him feel like nothing in this world would ever hurt him again. And it pulled a lazy smile from him.

"Are you awake?" she whispered and eased down behind him, spooning up against him.

All he managed was a content grumble and despite the fatigue that kept trying to tug him under, he felt himself respond to her closeness, the feel of her breasts pressed against his back, the warmth of her body nestled up against his. She slipped her arm around him, her fingers trailing over his chest, drawing lines of electric fire over his skin and it slowly pulled him back to full awareness.

"Tough night?" she asked and pressed her lips against the base of his neck, which sent a shiver of growing delight through him. Although they had spent a lot of time together already, it continuously surprised him how she knew exactly what to do to turn him on.

"Hit a wall a few times," he managed, his voice rusty with sleep.

"Aw baby, I'm sorry. I should let you sleep." She shifted against him and he gave up on the idea of getting any more sleep right now. He would have to catch up on that later in the day. Or just make it an early night? Unless Sam had come up with something else for them to hunt, of course.

Her hand rubbed lazy circles on his chest, using the barest hint of nails, and he suddenly grabbed her hand, stopping her by pressing it flat against his chest and meshing his fingers with hers. Being tired meant less control and less control could end badly right now, because – man, he was so turned on. "You're not gonna let me, are you?" he asked and smirked. He could feel her smile against the back of his shoulder.

"Got something to tell you," she whispered, her breath scalding hot on his skin.

As always, his mind kicked into overdrive at those words. When they came from a woman he cared about, they usually meant nothing good. Hell, when they came from his brother they meant nothing good. Suddenly worried, any semblance of sleep was swiped away and he opened his eyes and squinted toward the window and the single sliver of sunlight falling through the crack in the heavy curtains, drawing a mosaic of color and light on the soft carpet. "Yeah?" He responded on instinct, his voice near a whisper too. A part of him wanted to hold onto what he knew about her, that she wouldn't pull this on him now, but the part that had been trampled a few times insisted that she was pulling out, that she'd had enough of this life he was living and him in extension. He knew his voice took on that somewhat distancing tone he had developed to show the world that nothing could hurt him while he was bleeding inside. "And what's that?"

Her slow, sensual shifting against his back came to a standstill. But she didn't pull away, and after a second she started shifting subtly again. "Well ..." she muttered "... it's kinda big. I think."

The way she worded it confused him. He didn't know what to make of it, had no real feeling for where she was heading with it. If she wanted out, wouldn't she have said something else, been more blunt? "Big, huh?"

"Yeah," she agreed and nuzzled the back of his ear with the tip of her nose. "For me, anyway. It doesn't have to be for you. Just so we're clear. I'm not forcing you into anything and I'm not ... expecting anything from you. I just need you to know, okay?"

Now this was beginning to sound ominous. Feeling the need to face her, he shifted around and she pulled back a little, but met his gaze dead on. She didn't look sorry, but maybe a little apprehensive. "What are you talking about?" In general, he didn't really want to know. But he needed to know just the same.

He wasn't entirely sure if she was attempting a smile that failed miserably or if she was grimacing. Then she cupped a hand against his cheek and regarded him solemnly for a moment. "I'm pregnant."

The range of his expectancy had gone from being dumped to being told she was dying of some obscure disease, but this hadn't even crossed his mind and he had no living clue how to handle that bit of information at first. All he could think of doing was to stare at her.

She shrugged one shoulder and started to pull her hand away, but he caught it and stopped her movement in mid-motion. "As I said, I'm not going to hold you to anything. I've given this some thought and I want this child. But ... if you don't ... if you feel you're not up to it or something along those lines ... I understand. I just want us to be completely clear on this. I can do this alone. I will if I have to." She closed her fingers around his for a moment, then got up and left the bedroom. It took him a moment to really realize what she had said and, more so, that she might be taking his silence the wrong way.

"Shit," he muttered and scrambled out of bed. "Chell," he yelled and stormed out of the bedroom and down the stairs. "Michelle!"

"What?" she called back and he changed course and strode into the kitchen. She stood there, looking a little perplexed.

He stopped an arm's length from her and just stared at her for second. "I didn't ... don't think ..." He stopped, took a breath and a second to consider what to say, then sighed. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't respond, okay? I was just ... shocked."

"You were shocked?" she asked and arched both brows.

"Not like that. I was surprised, okay? It's ... this is a big thing. This ..." He stopped again and blinked rapidly a few times, then shifted his gaze to her stomach. Not that it was showing yet or anything. "You're pregnant."

"Yes, I am," she agreed with a light nod. "And ... as I said ..."

Before she could complete that sentence, he pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. "I heard you. And that's not gonna happen," he said. "No way, no how. You think I'm gonna leave you with that responsibility? No kid of mine is gonna grow up without a dad."

She slipped her arms around him while pressing against him, a small smile playing on her lips. "I was kinda hoping you'd say that, but ... you know ..." She shrugged lightly and grabbed his behind.

***