Chapter 3: The Belly File
Never before had the cracks on her bedroom ceiling ever been so engrossing. Sighing for the umpteenth time, Bella kept her mind out of dark, dangerous waters by tracing her eyes over every dip and groove above her head. Connecting dots as one would count sheep to turn off an overactive mind, her mind desperately grasped for the sweet oblivion of sleep.
It wasn’t working, of course. Not after the night she’d just had.
“My name is Castiel. I’m an angel of the lord.”
He might as well have called her Alice and said, “Welcome to Wonderland,” for all that greeting had cleared things up. The boys had played it off after the fact, of course – calling the strange, monotone man a friend who was particularly devout in his faith.
“He calls us all angels of the lord,” Dean had quipped. “Just think of him as a Jehovah’s Witness without an off button.”
Not that she was paying much attention to the rambling explanations they’d spouted off for a stranger’s presence in her home; her mind was still reeling around the concept that they were actually there. Still trying to forget the imprint of Sam’s arms locking around her as she fainted like some sort of damsel in distress in a bodice ripper romance novel. Because that was such a great first impression after all these years – insert sarcasm.
Way to show ’em you’re a strong, capable young woman who wasn’t deeply scared and broken, Bella, she told herself.
Though after the past few days she’d had, she supposed her mind was bound to call it quits and check out eventually.
Ever since Bobby had called, Bella had been jittery. A strange nervous energy had taken residence in her heart, vibrating throughout her entire body. The slightest sounds had her jumping like a spooked cat and peeking around walls as though the ghosts of her past would pop out with a ‘BOO!’ at any given moment. She was on a hair-trigger detonation to a mental meltdown… a proverbial ticking clock counting down since Bobby’s words had echoed through the receiver.
“We’ll be there late tonight…”
When she’d followed Jake out to the front intending to make sure her message was finally clear – fixing to shoot him somewhere more vital if it wasn’t – she’d been blindsided by three men jumping out of a very familiar car and rushing over.
That fucking car.
Just thinking of Baby had her sighing, her bruised heart aching as she remembered many days of John toiling under the car’s frame, calling out tools for Dean to hand over as he repaired this-or-that. Uncle John had kept that car in pristine condition and Dean loved working on it with him, eagerly devouring all of John’s car wisdom as he paid close attention to which part went where and what it’s purpose was.
Bella had no real love of cars, but she’d enjoyed watching them work on it together. Uncle John always had a seriousness to him that she more often than not saw Dean trying to replicate, but when they’d work together on that car, the tension seemed to ease slightly. Taut shoulders relaxed and she even heard John laughing a few times.
Even her child mind had recognized the rarity of such a scene and a part of her had wanted to be a part of it, even if she was also hesitant to intrude. She started out by bringing snacks to them and lingering at the edge of the garage door before leaving, each time staying just a bit longer until John had glanced at her. Taking in her wide, inquisitive eyes, he’d smiled with indulgent welcome.
“Well, c’mon over here, Bells. Everyone needs to know how to do an oil change. Tomorrow, I’ll teach ya how to change a tire – no girl of ours is gonna grow up calling AAA when she should know how to do the damn – err – darn job herself.”
Beaming at him, she’d glanced at Dean, subconsciously seeking his approval. Crooking his finger at her, he grinned, “Get over here, Belly! I’m not gonna do all the work myself!”
The two of them had included her in most of their car lessons from then on, though most days she was happy just playing with her games or toys on the sidelines, listening to the soothing murmur of John’s voice as he patiently taught Dean the works. True to his word, though, John did teach her how to change a tire the next day. Never mind she’d been about six at the time and wouldn’t be driving anytime soon…
As much as she loved working with them, she was even more content with dragging Sammy out into the garage with her, making him play with her dolls and trucks as they both listened to John teach Dean how to rebuild an engine. Young as she was, she still knew this time was important for them to have. That, and she really loved how Sammy would do voices for her when playing with action figures. Sammy always made her happy.
Sammy also preferred playing with her rather than the car work, often skirting the edges of those father/son moments as though unsure of his welcome. He only half paid attention to his dad and Dean, more interested in Bella and whatever game she’d brought out to the garage to play.
Cars not really his thing, he’d joke about how Dean would talk about the car as if it was a person.
“It’s just a car, Dean,” he’d say in a manner that bespoke how often he’d pointed that fact out.
“No it’s not,” Bella had spoken up before the boys could start a small brawl. Uncle John hated roughhousing in the garage. “It’s like his baby,” she told him. Holding up a doll for demonstration, she cradled it to her chest and said, “And you have to take care of your baby, Sammy.”
The underlining duh was heavily implied.
“Yeah Sammy,” Dean smirked. “It’s not just a car – she’s my Baby.”
Rolling his eyes, Sam just smiled when Bella pushed a game board over to him in a not-so subtle demand to play.
John had been silent but when she glanced at him, he gave her a quick wink that had her grinning wide. “Why don’t you two hold off on that game and I’ll show you guys how to change the brake pads on Dean’s Baby… C’mon over here, little grease monkey.”
Smiling even wider at the nickname, Bella hadn’t even bothered asking Sammy if he wanted to join in. Grabbing his hand, she skipped over, laughing as Dean flicked some oil at Sam who laughed and threw a nearby rag back in retaliation.
“Boys, pay attention,” John had barked.
Both of them stopped instantly and Bella had stilled, afraid they were in trouble for some reason.
She looked up at John with wide, questioning eyes and the stern tightness melted away from his features as he smiled down at her. “Don’t worry, little Bell,” he faux whispered to her. “When they’re not looking your Uncle John will show you how to get one over on these two knuckleheads.”
“Hey!” the boys had simultaneously squawked.
And Bella had lost herself to giggles as John lightly tickled her sides, his deep chuckle sounding rusty but no less genuine.
Shaking her head, Bella shoved the memory into a mental file sequestered in the corner of her mind. The file was old and frail, duct tape barely holding it together as she forced every memory of the brothers and her extended family in there before shoving it in her mental filing cabinet and locking them away. She thought of it as her Belly File and only opened and perused the memories it contained in her lowest moments. Such moments seemed to be happening more and more frequently, to her dismay.
Sighing, Bella sat up and abandoned all hope of sleep. Sleep was a rare commodity these days anyway and the idea of slipping into a nightmare with the brothers downstairs to hear her every whimper and cry sounded about as fun as a root canal without anesthesia. As much as she feared the nightmares about Charlie, she knew Sam and Dean’s presence would spark the ones about them. The same reoccurring nightmare of their abandonment haunted her off and on throughout the years, enough so that it never took her by surprise anymore and was almost soothing in its familiarity. Still, having said nightmare while they were all under the same roof felt meta-weird and almost like she’d be giving them even more power over her.
Last thing she wanted to do was give them the satisfaction of knowing that no matter what happened to her in life, a small part of her had stored more than just memories in her Belly File. Self-preservation had forced a generous portion of her heart into that box as well and despite all the hurt and stubbornness she possessed, that bit of her heart would always belong to them.
Slipping on a light robe, Bella crept down the stairs feeling a bit like a typical teenager trying to sneak out. Resenting the feeling, her shoulders straightened and she took less care with her steps. It was her damn house – she didn’t have to creep through the halls afraid of getting in trouble. A grown woman now, she could very well do what she wanted, when she wanted, thank you very much.
Reaching the kitchen, though, Bella hesitated once more. In recent days she’d filled her quiet moments with the mindless and comforting task of cooking and baking. A part of her itched to break out the rolling pin and start that new recipe her friend had slipped her last week… But it’d been ages since she’d baked any sort of pie, her heart and mind rebelling at the very thought of making one because of the man currently snoring in the opposite room.
Curious despite herself, Bella turned away from the kitchen and edged into the living room, carefully hovering near the wall. The curtains Renee had made years ago were threadbare and let slip in enough moonlight for Bella to make out the shadowed figures sleeping there.
Drawing closer, Bella could make out Dean passed out in the chair Charlie favored for watching the Mariners play. With his face slack in sleep, he looked less troubled than he had earlier. Younger almost. Still, when she toed closer to him and leaned over the back of the chair to frown down at him, she spied the lines around his eyes that told her the years since their parting may not have been all sunshine and roses.
Dean had still been working on perfecting the ‘bad boy’ look when he’d spend the summers at her place and she could easily see now that he’d nailed it and then some. His barely there scruff and oddly symmetrical features had her knowing there was very likely a long trail of broken hearts in his wake.
Though shorter than Sam – which wasn’t saying much because from what she saw earlier she was certain everyone was shorter than Sam – he still wasn’t able to fit his stocky frame comfortably in the chair. Long legs stretched out in front of him and his neck was kinked at an angle that would leave him sore in the morning. She spied a blanket that had fallen to his feet and hesitated. Biting her lip, she kneeled down and grabbed it, ever so carefully slipping it back over him. She refused to grab a nearby pillow for his neck though. Not only would he be sure to wake had she tried to prop it under his head, but she was already annoyed enough with herself for the blanket. He could deal with a sore neck – he was bound to be a pain in hers come morning.
Turning from him, she saw Sammy on the couch and could feel her cheeks heat up. He was covered by a plaid blanket from the waist down and her eyes had adjusted enough to see the gleam of moonlight tracing bare, broad shoulders. He was wearing a light colored tank top, one arm stretched back and under his head which was turned unerringly in her direction. One foot was propped on the floor, unable to fit on the couch and was used to steady his precarious position while the other stretched out over the the couch arm. A foot peeked out from the blanket apparently too short to cover his tall frame. If he so much as twitched he’d likely fall to the floor he was so precariously sprawled out.
Sammy had always been a bit of a string bean, tall and gangly limbs he had yet to grow into, though he’d possessed a wiry strength that had fueled many of her girlhood fantasies. It looked like the years had been both kind and hard for him, just as with Dean. He’d grown up well – extremely well, she thought, trying not to remember the feel of his arms around her or the solid chest said arms had held her against as though she weighed about the same as a casual book. Still, she couldn’t help frowning as she spied the scars marring his smooth skin. They were peppered along here and there – a long, white line with jagged edges along his bicep that had to have been from a knife – a couple circles about the size of a quarter that she tried not to notice were the perfect size for bullet wounds – all signs that let her know something bad had happened. Something had hurt her Sammy.
Knowing she was treading dangerous ground, she shoved that thought into her Belly File and stepped away from him – when had she moved closer? – and headed towards the door. All of a sudden her house felt too full. She was suffocating in a swirl of conflicting emotions that had her fighting the urge to yank at her hair.
Too much, she mentally gasped, stumbling out onto her porch as a hand went to her suddenly racing heart. It’s too much, too soon…
“Hush now, Isabella,” the ghost whispered into her ear. “At least you‘ll always have me…”
“Oh god,” she groaned, taking a deep breath as the night air soothed her warm face.
Because it was oh-so reassuring knowing that she was still crazy and hearing voices, at least.
“Tut, tut,” he murmured and for a second, Bella swore she felt the sensation of a breath tickling her ear as the voice slipped into her mind like water rolling off a river stone.
Shivering, she shook it off. The wind, she told herself. It was only the wind.
“You don’t really believe that now,” he said amusedly. The voice held the tone of a parent watching a child steal from the cookie jar, catching them redhanded and yet hearing the kid try to deny it despite the chocolate crumbs on their face.
It was patronizing and grating; it made her want to slap someone.
Ignoring it, she stepped off the porch and wandered closer to Baby. Distraction, she thought… She just needed a distraction.
Baby looked like it had come straight out of her memories and rolled up in her driveway, all sleek black muscle. Seeing it earlier that night had thrown her into for time loop and second guessing what year it was… It looked completely cared for, so very well loved with regular maintenance and TLC.
Spoiled, she thought with a halfhearted grin, lightly running her fingers along the fender. Baby looked entirely spoiled. Dean had been treating her right.
At least someone hadn’t been forgotten and completely neglected, she couldn’t help thinking.
Testing the handle, she smiled at finding the door unlocked. They’d all rushed out of the car so fast that night and were quick to welcome themselves into her home after the Jake drama that they’d forgotten to lock her up. Not that it hardly mattered in Forks, especially at her house.
Glancing back at the front door, Bella bit her lip to smother a naughty grin and climbed into the backseat. It wasn’t like she was gonna drive off or anything; she just wanted some semblance of peace and quiet and Baby had always been a safe haven for her. For all of them, really.
The leather squeaked under her thighs as she slid in, gently bringing the door to a quiet close. Last thing she wanted to do was slam the door shut and have Dean come running out guns a-blazing. Because apparently they all carried guns now, she mentally snorted, remembering how they’d all stood with weapons drawn and aimed at Jake as he shot his fool mouth off at her.
When she’d dared glance away from Jake, she’d noticed them all standing with near military precision, weapons of choice drawn and ready to fire if the wolf had so much as twitched in her direction. If she thought they’d been bluffing, Sam had quickly squashed that notion.
“One step towards her and I’ll shoot…”
It shouldn’t have but something about the way he’d said it… She hadn’t heard his voice in years and yet it slipped over her like a warm, familiar coat warming her entire body. There was no doubt he’d meant it, too. When she caught glimpse of Jake shaking in barely suppressed rage, she turned back to focus on him, but a not-so-small fraction of her attention remained on Sam. Sam Winchester who unknowingly faced off with a shapeshifting wolf to defend her without knowing anything about the situation. Sam Winchester who stood gloriously tall and ready, like some sort of avenging white knight from one of the fairytales he used to read to her.
But why? Why had Dean and Sam been so quick to defend her? Even Bobby looked fit to spit nails at Jake. They were practically strangers to her now and yet all three of them had not hesitated. Even with Jake fussing about how she’d shot him, they’d still rushed to her aid, hardly flinching at the fact she still held a shotgun propped up and ready to fire.
And they’d never even asked her why she’d shot him… They’d just assumed she’d been justified. Which she had been, really, but wouldn’t the natural thing for someone to do be to at least ask why a person had just been shot? Especially before threatening to shoot said person themselves too?
Her head was starting to hurt. In a quiet corner of her heart she’d always hoped that maybe things were not as she believed. Her bond with the brothers had been so pure that even with the insecurities plaguing her pre-teen mind a part of her had still denied the truth of their abandonment. It couldn’t be so black and white – she knew now more than ever that things seldom were. And with them coming to her defense, no questions asked, Bella couldn’t help but wonder if she was missing a piece of a puzzle. Maybe she had been missing a piece all along.
Hope was dangerous thing, though, so she shook the notion off. Instead, she turned her attention back to Baby. An army soldier stuck into the ashtray on the door opposite of her caught her eye and she smiled. Sliding over, she ran the pad of her finger over the figure, remembering how Dean would make up elaborate stories for her about the soldier and how he got stuck there.
Seeing it still caught there made her wonder… The car was so very well taken care of that she didn’t doubt it had been left there on purpose. A memento from Sam and Dean’s childhood that probably brought a sentimental smile to their faces whenever they saw it. What other tokens of their youth were hidden away? Trusted by Baby to safeguard and keep…
Twisting, she sat up on her knees and placed a hand over the itchy carpet lining behind the back seats. Biting her lip, she fingered the edge of the matt and finding it loose, she carefully lifted it.
Spying the initials carved into the fixture, Bella gave a watery smile. Dean had convinced John to let him take her and Sammy to the empty high school parking lot one summer so Sam could practice driving. Unbeknownst to the adults, they’d both taught her how to drive as well, stuffing their jackets behind her so she could comfortably slide forward and reach the peddles.
One afternoon, they’d simply parked and sat together in solemn silence. It was the summer before their last one with her and they were getting ready to leave the next day. Leaving was hard on them all, even the boys. Sam would get sullen, dragging his feet and eyeing his dad with jaw clenched. He would argue with John over the smallest of things, pushing buttons and testing limits until Bella interfered and pulled him away before he could push John too far. Dean would get uncommonly quiet and serious. Whenever they were near leaving, he’d turn into a stranger – aging ten plus years in a day. Quick to bark orders at Sam while also jumping into action to follow the orders from their dad, Dean didn’t smile nearly as much as he did once they started packing to leave until the next summer.
Bella just cried. Every year since the beginning, she cried as she hugged her boys and uncles, even though she swore that that was the year she wouldn’t crumble into tears. They’d be coming back after all, right? It wasn’t forever – it wasn’t even goodbye, not really.
Dean must have sensed her morose thoughts that day because he got a strong air of determination about him as he turned to her with a grin that looked a tad more forced than normal.
“C’mere, Belly, I have an idea,” he said, and despite her gloomy thoughts, she couldn’t help but return his smile with a bright one of her own. He sounded like he did right before they got into mischief – and while Dean’s sense of mischief got them into trouble more often than not, there was no denying they always had good fun while doing it.
The three of them crammed together in the backseat, elbows bumping and Sammy’s arm going around her to help keep her steady. With a devilish grin, Dean carefully pried up the scratchy, polyester lining behind the seats and Bella’s eyes widened at what was revealed.
Underneath were the boy’s initials, carved with such obvious care. They were wonky and uneven, but something about seeing them made Bella smile. She knew Uncle John traveled a lot for his job and the boys spent more days in Baby than in an actual home… Something about them owning that small part of the car, claiming it as their own – their home – flooded her with sentimental warmth even as it simultaneously gave her new appreciation for the stability her life held.
Shifting beside her, Dean dug into his pocket and with an expert flick of his wrist he pulled out and opened a pocket knife. Grinning, he said, “It’s your turn, Belly,” as he handed over the knife.
Eyes wide, she looked to the knife, to the letters, and then back to his smiling eyes. “Oh I can’t,” she said, trying to give the knife back.
“Nuh-uh,” he said, refusing to take it back. “You’re one of us – time to make it official.”
Glancing at Sammy for support, she blushed when he wrapped his hand around hers and brought her hand up to the seat and poised it right beside his initials. “Dean’s right, Bells. Your initials belong there just as much as ours do. That way when we leave, a part of you will always be with us.”
Tears pricked her eyes as she beamed up at him even as Dean not-so-quietly coughed and muttered something about ‘chick flick’ moments in the background. Rolling her eyes, she jabbed him with her elbow and laughed when he coughed for real.
“Yeah, yeah – yuck it up,” he grumbled as Sam and Bella laughed. “But Sammy’s right, Bella… for once. Your initials belong there so get to it.”
Smiling and very aware that she was holding a sharp object, Bella slowly carved her letters right by Sam’s initials. When she pulled away, staring down at all their initials, she frowned. Biting her lip, she brought the knife back to the seat back, ignoring the boys when they asked what she was doing. With special care, she traced out a heart right after her initials.
“Because you’re my boys and I love you both, even when we can’t be together,” she whispered.
Dean looked like he wanted to make some sort of smart ass remark, but when their eyes met, his mouth closed, thinking better of it. With soft eyes, he said, “You’ll always be our girl, Bella.” Leaning down, he pressed a brotherly kiss to her forehead. She closed her eyes and hugged him, letting his words sink into her and not doubting them for a second. Enjoying the reassurance of his embrace, she knew it would be a long year until she could enjoy Dean’s comforting hugs again.
“We love you too,” Sam murmured when she pulled away from Dean. He didn’t kiss her, to her slight disappointment, but he did bring his hand up to her cheek, pulling her long hair back behind her ear. His fingers lingered there and she shivered slightly, subconsciously leaning into his hand.
“All right already, are we gonna drive or sit back here and braid each other’s hair?” Dean broke the moment, snickering when Sam and Bella jumped – Sam’s head smacking into the roof of the car.
“Jerk,” Sam grumbled.
“Bitch,” Dean shot back, unrepentant.
Rolling her eyes, Bella sighed, “Dorks.”
“Dammit Bella, how many times do I have to tell you – you gotta think of a better insult!” Dean groused.
Giggling, she pushed him out of the car so they could shuffle seats and Sammy could drive. “Now why would I go and do that when calling you a dork pisses you off more than calling you any swear word?”
“Besides,” Sammy grinned back at her before giving Dean a pointed look. “You are a dork – I saw you watching Star Wars the other night… and saw you using the broom to reenact the lightsaber scenes…”
“Dean,” Bella said in her lowest register, mimicking Darth Vader’s voice and breathing. “Come to the Dark Side…”
“Pfft,” Dean snorted, trying to look cool as he crossed his arms and looked out the window. “Don’t try and tell me Jedi aren’t bad ass – Yoda was hardcore.”
They dissolved in their usual banter for the remainder of Sammy’s driving lesson – Dean and Sam taking cheap shots at each other while she mostly sat back and enjoyed the show. As she laughed and joked along with them, in the back of her mind she still worried over tomorrow’s farewells, knowing they would hit her hard. Each time they parted ways was worst than the last. Despite her resolve not to, she’d end up a soppy mess when they had to say goodbye.
Though Dean always insisted that it was ‘see you later’ and not a goodbye, Bella knew ‘later’ couldn’t come soon enough. Not for any of them.
Much to her shame, Bella felt the familiar lump of tears beginning to well up in her throat as she continued to stare down at the initials. To her confusion, though, they didn’t look as aged as they should have been. It almost looked like the whole backseat panel had been replaced recently and someone had re-carved each of their initials into it, complete with the heart right after hers.
Sitting back with a frown, Bella sank against the leather seats with a sigh. She couldn’t shake that feeling as it again crept up on her. That sensation she was missing something – something big – about the brothers. That particular something, she suspected, had a lot to do with their sudden, abrupt departure from her life.
Spying a flannel shirt on the floor, Bella bent down, picking it up. She balled it lightly and used it as a pillow, stretching out in the backseat. Her brain hurt from trying to make sense of her life and her heart was still too bruised to sort through all the facts. She was tired, stretched thin like a soap bubble on the verge of popping.
But at least while lying in Baby she didn’t hear strange voices whispering dark nothings in her ear. If only for the one night she could pretend she was just a normal girl, living a normal life…
And she could take out her Belly File and sort through the memories while ignoring their scars.
(A/N): Thanks so very much for reading. I hope you enjoyed it!