Title: A Miracle of Rare Device
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Supernatural. They are owned by Eric Kripke, the WB, etc. and are used for non-profit, entertainment purposes only.
AN: As with most of my fics, this blossomed into something more than my original intention, which was a light, humorous Christmas fic concerning my favorite demon hunters and yours, Sam and Dean Winchester. But then the angst came and it was pretty and I couldn't resist because, really, who can resist pretty angsty boys? Not me. Title taken from "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Feedback is a wonderful and much appreciated thing.
A Miracle of Rare Device,
Or The Once a Decade Christmas Ritual of the Brothers Winchester
Sam didn't understand, which wasn't too much of a shock to him, not then, not with the life he currently found himself leading, a life of constant traveling and constant fighting, a life of sleepless nights and difficult days spent in the car or in a book, researching the next big nasty thing standing between himself and his father, between himself and Jessica's killer.
Sam was used to puzzles, to searching for the hidden clues inside odd occurrences, for the thing that would allow him to understand the how and the what and the why, that would let him know what he needed to know in order to deal with the oddness before moving on to the next odd town and its inevitable odd puzzle.
But this… this was beyond Sam.
He sat up in bed, eyes fixed on the shiny red ribbon currently attached to the- Sam squinted- sports section of the local Nebraska paper, paper that covered something large and lumpy and vaguely gift-shaped. The thing didn't move or explode or magically transform into an eight foot tall spectre ready to possess his body and go on a murdering rampage the day after Christmas. It just sat there next to his pillow, still looking somewhat like a present waiting for him to open.
Sam looked around the room, but it was empty like the last three times he'd checked upon waking and finding this lumpy gift-shaped thing next to his head. His eyes darted back to the clock. 7:16 blazed back at him red and shiny like the ribbon, and his confusion increased.
He had a present.
From his brother.
Who was up and gone.
All before 8 a.m.
"What the hell?"
The motel room door opened and Sam whipped around to find Dean sauntering in with two cups of coffee and a massive bag of something that smelled absolutely heavenly. His brother glanced his way, stopped, and then grinned at the expression on Sam's face.
"Morning, sunshine," he said. "I got you some breakfast."
Dean moved over to his bed and sat down, passing Sam one of the coffee cups. Then he dove into the massive bag, pulling out Styrofoam container after Styrofoam container, setting them down on his bed, the two nightstands, and then onto Sam's bed, his grin widening as he watched Sam watch his every move.
Sam knew he looked like a slack-jawed idiot. A drooling slack-jawed idiot at that. He couldn't help it though. It wasn't every day he woke up to find his brother awake and chipper and serving him breakfast in bread a little before eight in the morning just a week after Sam had tried to kill him.
Sam watched Dean open the various containers, his mouth watering at each new food revelation. There were scrambled eggs. Sausage patties. Belgian waffles. And even- Sam eyed the last container, clear plastic instead of Styrofoam and filled to the brim with red, ripe, delicious-
"You bought watermelon?"
Dean shrugged and turned away to take off his jacket. "I remember you liked it." He paused, his jacket half on, half off, and said, "You still like it, right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. I just… I didn't expect this."
His brother shrugged again and sat back down. "It's Christmas, Sam. Or close enough, anyway, to matter." And that was it. That was all he said. He bit into a plastic-wrapped knife and fork set, grimacing as he got a piece of it stuck on his tongue. He froze that way, his arm up, head down, and tongue out, peering at Sam who peered back at him, examining him for any and all signs of demonic possession. Because whoever this chipper, breakfast serving, present giving pod person before him was, he was not Sam's brother. That was for damn sure.
Dean looked from Sam to his food and raised an eyebrow.
Sam crossed his arms over his chest and raised a brow right back.
Dean rolled his eyes and blew the plastic off his tongue, letting it fall into his eggs as he said, "Something wrong, Sammy?"
"Since when did Christmas matter? We haven't celebrated it since I was eleven."
"And- And- I don't know." Sam gave up, his righteous indignation fading in the face of Dean's terse simplicity. Apparently the fact that their father despised Christmas and always had, going so far as to stop Dean and Sam from celebrating it on their own, didn't matter to Dean. Which, quite frankly, weirded Sam the fuck out.
"This is just… weird," he finished somewhat lamely, but he needed to get across the utter strangeness of this situation to his apparently oblivious brother at all costs. Even lame ones.
Dean's mouth twitched and he said, "You think Christmas is weird?"
"Yes, Dean. I think Christmas is weird. I'm a Winchester. We all think Christmas is weird. Which is why we don't celebrate it. Remember?"
"But, by being a Winchester, you should be comfortable dealing with weird shit, even weird Christmas shit, right?"
"Well, yeah, but-"
"Shut up, Sam, and eat your eggs. This early to rise, breakfast in bed shit isn't going to happen everyday, so enjoy it while you can."
Now that was his brother. Sam shut up and looked at all the food around him, struggling between pestering Dean about the how and the what and the why of all this and eating his eggs.
He chose the eggs.
He could always pester Dean after he finished his breakfast.
"I feel like I'm going to throw up."
Dean looked his way and chuckled. Sam sat slumped on his bed, his stomach packed full with food, all heavy and warm, and it made Sam want to curl up in a ball and go back to sleep for the rest of his life.
After he puked.
Whichever came first.
"Then you probably don't want to open your present just yet," Dean said, flipping yet again through the five channels on the battered old TV set. Sam wanted to tell him that if he couldn't find football after the first forty flips, he wasn't going to find football. Ever. But he couldn't drum up the energy to do so.
Besides, he had a present to open.
Sam tilted his head to the side and looked at the still unopened gift next to his pillow. Between shoveling mountains of food into his mouth, he'd glanced at the lumpy, newspaper-covered mass, trying to discern what was inside. The last time Dean had given him a gift Sam was eleven and had woken up on Christmas day to find a scratched yet polished silver knife and Dean's old copy of Nirvana's Nevermind by his bed. Sam had given Dean a protection pendant he'd traded his Walkman for with one of his classmates, who had gladly given up the musty old heirloom from her grandmother for a slightly used yet still kick-ass Walkman.
Sam still had the tape. Or he had. Until the fire.
He'd left the knife behind when he'd moved to Stanford.
Dean still wore the pendant, on a leather strap around his neck.
Sam sat up and reached for the gift, giving it a good shake. He stopped at the clinks that sounded through the paper, startled yet not surprised. He turned to look at Dean, a small smile tugging at his mouth, and said, "You got me beer? For Christmas?"
Dean squirmed a bit and did another round of channel flipping. Sam's smile grew bigger as his brother squirmed some more before he burst out with, "It was three in the morning, Sam. I didn't have a whole lot of options. Besides, that's not just any old watered down shit right there. That's good stuff. High quality."
Dean turned to glare at him, and Sam started laughing at the scowl on his face. The scowl deepened as Sam laughed, which only caused him to laugh some more.
Beer for Christmas.
Only his brother.
Dean turned away in a huff, his scowl morphing into a full fledged pout as he said, "I should have gotten you the bag of dog shit I found outside the liquor store instead."
"But the beer went better with the waffles, right?"
His brother flicked him off and Sam tried to stifle his laughter before Dean's pout transformed into a swift punch to his face. Teasing him about his typical Dean gift was one thing; pissing him off when he obviously tried to do something nice for Sam was something different altogether.
Especially after Illinois.
"Seriously, though, thank you. For the gift and the breakfast. It was nice. It was-"
But Sam left that unsaid.
"It was nice. Thank you."
"I didn't give you just the beer," Dean said, his pout lifting somewhat at Sam's sincerity. "Have a little faith in your brother here."
Sam gave the present another inquiring shake. "Did you throw in a pack of cigarettes, too?" he asked with a smile, but his brother's jaw tightened and Sam knew he'd pushed too far. Dean wouldn't act this way if whatever else he'd given Sam along with the beer was something frivolous he could pick up at three in the morning in the middle of Nowhere, America.
This was something else.
Sam looked down at the gift, wondering what was inside, wondering what would make Dean as tense and sensitive and nervous as he was that morning. He removed the ribbon and set it aside and then slid one finger under the taped end, easing the paper up and open. He glanced at Dean before unwrapping all the way, but his brother stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed on the TV and not on Sam. He knew Dean was watching him, though, watching and waiting, so Sam removed the newspaper, revealing the predicted six-pack of Bud and two other objects placed between the bottlenecks.
Sam lifted the first one out, an old faded photograph from their childhood, a shot from Sam's first birthday by the looks of the cake and the streamers. Baby Sam sat in an empty cardboard box, ignoring the bright, shiny toy beside it in favor of cavorting in its plain packaging. A miniature Dean kneeled next to the box, his fair head bent close to Sam, watching Sam point at something with a short chubby finger.
Sam looked up from the picture to the second object twined between the bottles, to a leather strap ending in a dented yet polished protection pendant, scratched but still gleaming to a high shine.
"I had it blessed again at the local church," Dean said, still looking at the TV and not at Sam. "Should be good to go."
"But this… this is yours. I gave it to you."
"And I'm giving it back."
"You can't give it back, Dean."
"Why not? It's mine, isn't it?"
"Then I can do anything I want with it. And what I want is to see it dangling from your neck in about five seconds, Sam."
Dean paused in his channel flipping and looked at Sam, finally looked at him, casting him a glare that reminded Sam so much of their father that he reconsidered his theory of demonic possession. Maybe the spirit of John Winchester really was with them and not off doing god knows what in god knows where America.
Dean switched off the TV and sat up. He worked his jaw around and stared at Sam with flat, angry eyes. Then he said, "Put it on. Now," and Sam felt the first stirrings of anger within himself as well.
More glaring, more anger, more silence. Then:
"Stop being so goddamn difficult, Sam."
"Stop trying to order me around, Dean. I'm not ten anymore."
"You're sure as fuck acting like you're ten right now."
"And you're sure as fuck acting like Dad right now. Trying to order me around-"
"Trying to keep you safe-"
"Dad didn't keep me safe, Dean. Hauling me, hauling us,all across America, putting us in the line of fire in his own personal war against the supernatural, was not keeping us safe."
"He did his best-"
"No, Dean. No. You did your best. Dad did whatever the fuck he wanted. Just like he's doing now." Sam paused and shook his head, surprised at the fact that he wasn't surprised. It was his father and his brother. It was them and him, always and forever.
He looked back at Dean and said, "Is he here, now, Dean, with us? Is he letting us know what the hell is going on? No. He's off on his own, pausing just long enough in his fucking obsession to send us to some godforsaken nut house and gracing us with a two minute phone call to make sure the job was done. He didn't even ask if we were all right, Dean. He didn't care. He doesn't care."
"That's not it. He cares, Sam. He just-"
"What? Can't show it?"
"Something like that, yeah. Look, Sam-"
"Stop defending him, Dean! Shit. I don't need another lecture on how fucking perfect our father is and how ungrateful I am not to recognize it."
"What you need is to stop treating Dad like he's fucking Satan because he's not. He tried his best, Sam, and you really are a fucking moron if you can't recognize that."
Sam shook his head and turned away. Loyal to the last, his brother was, even when the recipient didn't deserve it. Especially then. Sam could see Dean out of the corners of his eyes, looking like he wanted to hurl the TV remote at Sam's head.
Sam knew how he felt. He wanted to chuck something hard and heavy at Dean as well.
He watched his brother close his eyes and draw in a deep breath, watched him unclench his hand from around the remote and set it aside, his movements slow and deliberate. Then he said, his eyes still closed, "Just forget about Dad for a minute, Sam. This isn't about him. This is about you and me, and I'm asking you to put the pendant on."
And for a moment, Sam wanted to, really wanted to. He wanted to make Dean happy and do what he asked, but he couldn't.
"I can't, Dean. I'm sorry. I just… I can't."
Dean's fingers dug into the bedding, but he didn't start yelling again. "Why not?"
"Because it's yours."
"Oh my god, Sam, didn't we just go through this? I want. You. To wear it. So put it on and stop arguing about it."
Sam shook his head and stood his ground. "This has kept you safe for over ten years, Dean. You can't give it to me now. You still need it."
"You need it more than I do, Sam."
"No, I don't-"
"Yes, you do! You're a fucking magnet for the supernatural! You're being used as a goddamn playground for every evil thing between here and the Atlantic. You need this to keep you safe."
"No, I don't. I have you."
Dean stilled at that, but only for moment. Then he shook his head and said, "I'm not enough. I didn't keep you safe from that psycho doctor in Illinois, did I? I let it get you-"
"No, Dean, you let me get you. And I can't- That can't happen again. So just, just put it back on, all right. Please. Put it back on."
Sam unwound the necklace from around the bottles and held it out to his brother. Dean didn't take it though; he just watched Sam in that silent, stubborn way of his that drove Sam up a wall. Dean watched and waited, so Sam got out of bed and tried to put the pendant back on his brother himself. But Dean grabbed his arm and stopped him, holding onto Sam as he tried to yank away to do it again.
"Let go of me."
"Get the fuck off me."
"I'm serious, Dean."
"I am, too, Sam."
Dean shot up and shoved Sam back down onto his bed. Sam tried to stand, but his brother moved too fast and pushed him back down again. He went to push back, but Dean latched onto his arms and leaned in, pressing him down into the mattress. Sam squirmed under the pressure, stilling as a wave of nausea rolled over him, as all the food he'd eaten rocked and rolled in his stomach.
Dean eased up a bit, but he didn't let go. "Now, you fucking tell me what is wrong with you, or I'll-"
"You know what's wrong with me, Dean. Shit, you said it yourself. I'm a magnet for the supernatural. Bad things happen when I'm around, and you- You need this. You need this to protect you. So put it on, Dean. Please. Put it back on. You need to put it back on. You…"
Sam felt hot tears prick his eyes, and he turned away, fighting hard not to let them fall. He shook, his whole body shook, but he couldn't help it, couldn't stop it, couldn't fight it, couldn't contemplate his brother being taken away from him, too.
Dean finally let go and Sam moved away, put some space between them and leaned against the wall. He felt Dean watch him and he tried his hardest not to picture his brother pinned to the ceiling, fire all around, blood dripping down, his eyes wide and scared and helpless and staring down at Sam, asking him how could this happen, how could Sam have let this happen. He tried and tried, but the picture came anyway, and Sam leaned his head against the wall, wishing it away, willing it away, but it came and he bent over and threw up, choking on the pain and the possibility, choking on a future without Dean.
He heard the sink turn on in the bathroom, felt a cool washcloth pressed into his hand a few moments later. Sam wiped at his mouth, then leaned down to clean the mess on the floor. Dean tried to pull him away, but Sam jerked out of his grasp and continued his efforts. He heard his brother sigh and say his name, but Sam ignored him. He focused on cleaning and ignored everything else. He felt another damp washcloth drop down beside him a few moments later, Sam grabbed it, finished his cleaning, and then stood. He made his way to the bathroom, ignoring his brother still, ignoring him as he shut the door, as he shut himself in and his brother out, his name on Dean's lips like a sigh.
Sam emerged from the bathroom an hour later, hair still damp from his shower but mind steadier, the vision and the shaking gone. He pawed through the bag of clothes by his feet, looking for a clean shirt, knowing Dean was in the room watching him, watching and waiting. He found a relatively clean shirt, one devoid of dirt or blood or sick, and he pulled it on, stalling before he'd have to turn around and face his brother.
"You can keep your back turned from now until next Christmas, Sam, but we are going to talk about this."
Sam sighed and glanced at his brother from the corners of his eyes. Dean sat on his bed, one hand curled around a half empty bottle of Bud, his eyes on Sam and not letting go. Sam looked away, stuffed his dirty shirt into a bag, and said, "There's nothing to talk about, Dean."
"It's the same nightmare. Nothing more."
"I repeat: Bullshit."
"And I repeat-"
"Stop. No. You do not get to rag on Dad for being all evasive and then pull this shit, too. You're not the only one who's tired of not knowing what the hell is going on, but unlike you, I have to deal with two stubborn and evasive bastards instead of just one. So tell me what's going on, Sam. You owe me that."
Sam turned around. He leaned back against the wall, crossed his arms over his chest, and tried to stare Dean down, tried to get him to back down, but just like when they were kids, Sam looked away first.
"So I'm a bastard now, huh? Nice. Real nice."
"Stop trying to change the subject."
"I didn't change the subject. We're still talking about how much of a stubborn, evasive bastard I am, about how it's my personal mission in life to keep you in the dark-"
"Sarcasm. Great. That's real helpful, Sam."
"About as helpful as calling your brother a bastard, Dean. That doesn't exactly inspire a person to want to communicate."
"It's better than me punching you in the face, which is what I feel like doing right about now."
Sam held his arms out and took a step forward. "Go ahead. Take your best shot."
"My best shot would land you in the hospital for three days, Sam, and you fucking well know it. So stop with the pissing contest and tell me what the hell is going on."
Another stare down and that's when Sam saw it. The necklace. The pendant.
His brother had put them back on.
"You put it on."
"Of course I did, Sam. Jesus, you think I wouldn't after what just happened?" Sam shrugged, and his brother rubbed a hand over his face. "And you're supposed to be the smart one. Christ."
"Cristo, you mean."
Dean peered at Sam from over the top of his hand. "I'm supposed to cuss in Latin now? What, does English offend your delicate, college bred sensibilities?"
"No. It's just what you say when you think someone is possessed."
"I know you're not possessed, Sam. Only you can be this big a pain in my ass." Dean shook his head and Sam though for a moment that he'd get away with what he just said, but then his brother dropped his hand and sat up, staring at Sam with a renewed focus that made Sam wish he knew when to shut the hell up.
"Is that what this is about? What happened in Illinois?"
Sam didn't say anything.
"What happened there wasn't your fault."
"I almost killed you."
"Yeah, and you probably will again."
"Come on, Sam, you know the risks of this job. We come across the nastiest evil shit every single day, and more likely than not what happened in that asylum will happen again. You can't keep beating yourself up about this. Or about what happened to Jessica. That wasn't your fault either."
"You don't know that."
"Yes I do."
No hesitation at all, just blind loyalty like always, and Sam lost it. "No, you don't! You fucking don't. This thing has killed twice, Dean. Twice. Both times around me. I've read Dad's journal. I know that nothing like this has ever happened anywhere else in the world. Just around me. Only around me. Who's to say it won't happen again? Who's to say it won't come after you like it came after Mom, like it came after Jess? Who's to say I won't wake up one night and find you- find you- Fuck." Sam banged his head against the wall and cursed again. He could see it, see it in his head, could see his brother dead and bleeding and on fire, and he closed his eyes to try to block it out. It wasn't going to happen. He wouldn't let it happen. He wouldn't let it. He wouldn't let it. He wouldn't-
"Sam. Sam! Jesus Christ, Sam, stop it!"
He felt hands on his face and he opened his eyes to see Dean right there, right in front of him, stopping him from hitting his head against the wall again and again and again to try to drive the picture out. Everything blurred together, fact and fiction, the past and the present, mother and lover and brother, and all Sam could see was fire and blood.
Dean jerked Sam out of his thoughts with a jerk to his head, shaking Sam like Sam shook before, like his brother shook now. His fingers dug into Sam's face as he said, "Listen to me. You listen, all right? I am not going anywhere. You got that? Do you understand?"
"No. I'm not going anywhere, Sammy. I'm not like Mom. I'm not like Jess. I know what's out there, I know how to defend myself, and nothing's going to happen to me, all right? You got that?"
"But you don't-"
"What? Know? Yeah, I realize that. None of us know anything about this fucking thing, but that doesn't matter, Sam. Because we'll figure it out. Just like everything else. We'll figure this thing out, and then you know what we're going to do?"
Sam shook his head.
"We're going to find this thing and we're going to kill it, and if it leaves any bones behind, we're going to salt them and burn them and if we have to, we'll burn down every other fucking thing it's ever touched in the last twenty years to make sure it's gone for good. It's going to be us, Sam. You and me. You got that? You understand?"
Sam nodded and Dean finally let go. He closed his eyes and breathed in and looked so much older than Sam could ever remember, and Sam remembered that Dean had been at this for six years straight, six years of killing and fighting and almost dying, day in and day out, and Sam felt like shit for not being a better brother, for ruining Dean's Christmas, his first Christmas in a decade, his-
Sam blinked, yanked from his guilty train of thoughts by his brother, who still had his eyes closed and looked older beyond his years and had one corner of his mouth twitching like he knew something Sam didn't and found it funny as hell.
Like he found Sam funny as hell.
Sam frowned and said, "What?" and he tried to keep the petulance out of his voice, he really did, but Dean must have picked up on it anyway because his twitching mouth widened into a full fledged smile, and he said, "Nothing."
Nothing. Right. Nothing caused Dean to rub one hand over his mouth to try to smother his shit-eating grin. Nothing caused his shoulders to shake in silent laughter, caused him to look at Sam like he was a mildly amusing pet, like he was one step up from a fucking poodle, all small and yappy with no bite just bark, about as intimidating as a cotton ball.
Sam scowled and Dean laughed harder, which caused Sam to scowl some more. "What the hell is your problem?"
"You are, man. You're like fucking Eeyore. Always got to be moping about something."
"I wasn't moping."
"Yeah. Right. Like you weren't just thinking about how you ruined Christmas like you ruin everything else. You probably think you're responsible for global warming and El Nino or some shit like that, don't you?"
"El Nino, yes. Global warming, no. I'm usually too busy contemplating my part in the fall of the Holy Roman Empire to think about how I caused the greenhouse effect."
"See bitchy and prissy, I can handle. Depressed and moping, not so much."
"I'll remember that next Christmas when I don't worry about your safety. Wouldn't want to stress you out too much with my concern for your well-being."
"This is why I bought you beer for Christmas, Sam. You need to chill out. Seriously. Or else you'll drive yourself crazy and me along with you, and I don't want to be crazy. Do you want to be crazy, Sam?"
Sam shot Dean a look that said Dean already was crazy, he just didn't know it yet, and Dean replied with a, "Didn't think so," which solidified Sam's stance on the probable mental state of his brother.
Dean clapped a hand on his shoulder and pulled him away from the wall. "Now, come on, Eeyore. I bought a pack of cards along with the beer, and I'm feeling the need to kick some major ass today, namely yours, in poker."
Dean sauntered off to the table and pulled a pack of cards out of his pocket, waving them at Sam as he waited for Sam to join him. Sam knew he could stop and question the how and the what and the why of all this, question why his brother tried to do the whole Christmas thing when he hated it as much as their father did, when Sam just tried to kill him a week ago and anyone, especially his brother, had just cause not to feel celebratory after that.
But he didn't. He couldn't. It was his brother's first Christmas in ten years, and Sam owed it to him to make it a happy one.
At least for the first few rounds.