The doorbell rang.

"I'll get it!"

Leigh Winchester had designated herself official answerer of doors in her house, and with two sisters, calling dibs was essential.

"I'm getting it!"

Sam came from his office as fast as he could around the livingroom furniture, because she also was not allowed to answer the door without an adult, and knew it.

They reached the door at the same time, and Sam planted a large hand in the center of the door as his youngest twisted her hands around the brass knob, staring up at him with indignation.

"I'm not telling you again," Sam said, eyebrows raised to convey she had better be listening.

"Please?" she said, hopping in place.

Sam sighed and leaned away, and Leigh pulled the door open like it might be Santa. It might as well have been.

Dean stood there looking as if there was a long, wearing day behind him. Charlie was tucked under one arm like a sack of potatoes, bent at the middle, her tousled head facing the ground.

"I've brought you a gift," Dean said without preamble. "It's going to live here, now. She doesn't eat much."

Sam grinned. Leigh continued hopping and leaned over to try and see Charlie's face while simultaneously waving at her uncle.

Dean waved back with his free hand. "She takes right after you, Sam," he said.

Once an insane number of hugs had been exchanged ("You'd think we lived, you know, a coast away or something instead of one county over," Dean said) amongst and between various girls and uncles and aunt, the girls trooped away to the swingset out back in a tumble of excited chatter.

Sarah smirked at Dean from her spot leaning against the kitchen counter.

"Bitch," Dean said, "Where's my coffee?"

"Your arms aren't painted on," she said, looking him up and down. "You know I can kick your ass, right in front of your brother."

Dean nodded. If he'd ever had a sister, it was Sarah. She handled him better than almost anyone else, from his nonsense to his moods to his desperate need for family. "You can." He looked over his shoulder at Sam. "She can."

"Blindfolded," Sam said. "With her hands tied behind her back."

"I don't wanna hear about your kinky sex life," Dean said, moving for the coffee pot. Sarah slapped him on the ass as he passed. "Oh, my God, that's what I'm talkin' about. Down, girl."

They settled on the back deck with coffee to watch the girls wind up and the day wind down.

There was no doubt that the dark-haired girls were all sisters. There was a sweet familiararity in the shape and expressions of their faces. Allie looked the most like Sarah; Mary had Sam's faintly almond shaped eyes and his demeanor; Leigh seemed to be her very own mix of several generations. The language of sisters lived unspoken in the twining of small arms and the wrinkling of noses. Then there was Charlie, a violent bounce of bright colors and disposition, day to the twilight hues of Sam's brood.

Four separate nights had been spent in tense anticipation when each girl reached six months of age. There was no way the ceiling demon was one of a kind, and there was no point in taking chances. Neither Sarah or Danielle had come close to balking at having the nursery guarded by two incredibly armed men. They'd been armed, too. Marrying a Winchester came with an understanding that certain things were possible and that the family legacy demanded vigilance. Charlie had been last, and Sam and Sarah's three slept in the hallway outside the open door while four adults guarded a crib. Four separate nights, each blessedly uneventful.

Dean looked at the foolishness in the yard for a moment. Then he said, "One of these things is not like the others."

Sam snorted and Sarah laughed outright. One of the girls - Mary, by the pitch of the voice - began shrieking in glee for no particular reason, and the other three chimed in immediately.

"Jesus," Dean said, making a show of covering his ears. "It's like an icepick in the head."

"They're like wolves," Sam said, trying not to laugh. "One little girl howls, they all howl. It's right in the DNA."

"They hunt in packs, too, when they're older," Dean said.

"They eat the males who sit around talking shit," Sarah said.

"Again, with your sex life," Dean said. Sam slapped him in the back of the head. Sarah leaned over and petted his hair back into place.

Dean nodded a little and didn't look at either of them. "All this conflicting reinforcement just confuses me," he said. "I might be traumatized."

Leigh dropped off the monkey bars and ran across the lawn, tripping up the deck steps before clambering into Dean's lap. Dean tucked her into the crook of one elbow and smoothed her hair when she rested her head against his shoulder, slender little legs dangling. If he was aware that Sam and Sarah were sharing a glance over the top of his head that loved him more than life, he wasn't giving any sign. True to form, Mary and then Allie followed suit but without the near-faceplant up the stairs, angling for prime real estate across their uncle.

"You guys!" Charlie yelled from the swings, one of which she was straddling sideways. The annoyance in her voice was clear. "Christ on a cracker."

"Uh-oh," Allie whispered. "Busted."

"Don't you dare laugh," Dean growled at Sam, who was turning red from restraint.

"She 'takes right after you', Dean," Sam said, stretching his legs out before him and grinning.

"Charlotte Erin," Dean said in a tone Sam had known all his life. Charlie reacted by disentangling herself from the swings and running for the deck, arms stiff, face a riot of chastised defiance. She rolled her eyes at her cousins and father as she passed, headed straight for Sam, who she had all to herself.

Sam pulled his legs in and leaned forward and braced his forearms across his knees, looking his niece in the eye. "Is that any way for such a pretty girl to talk, Yeah-Yeah?" he said gently.

Dean sighed while his brother and his daughter tried to out-puppy-dog each other. Allie had lifted her head and was looking him close in one eye. Her amusement was infectious. She was going to be one hell of a lot of trouble in a few years, and he looked forward to every minute. Sarah was watching it all with one raised eyebrow, looking content.

It occurred to him that he could never be any happier than he was when in his present company. No one could. It wasn't possible.

Charlie held her arms out, looking contrite, and Sam swept her onto his lap and wrapped both arms around her.

Happy ending.

-|-

5/12/06