a/n: Sorry this is late you all, but computer issues are still with me, and if I explained the Herculean effort it took to get the conclusion to you on this day, I would rival Santa's feat. It is extremely long, however, and I hope not too boring. Tidia deserves a big thank you, although, I promised I would put this disclaimer in: Tidia, the lovely Beta that she is, did NOT have a chance to beta the last few sections of this. So all mistakes after a certain point are mine. I don't like to post without her perusal and stamp of approval, but it wouldn't have been to you before Christmas, nor could we start the Christmas stories before Christmas…so, please be kind. And please let me know what you think. I was very insecure about this little story. I'm not sure why, maybe it is the Holidays messing with my Mojo. Speaking of which…Merry Christmas and may whatever day you are celebrating bring you joy. It is a time of miracles…this post is proof of that. Bg. I should also offer a tribute to Cafe Mojo, where I spent hours working on this and drinking coffee...and more coffee, while using their free wi-fi.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim-the rocks-the motion of the waves-
The ships with men in them.
What stranger miracles are there?
"Sammy wants to go to college," Dean kept his eyes closed, knowing Caleb was watching him. He was struggling to stay awake and honestly the idea of drifting off was so damn tempting…
"Really," Reaves replied casually, although the punch of anxiety that came with that simple statement sent a knife-like sensation through his head. He wasn't sure if it was entirely sure if it was all Dean's feelings or also a mixture of his. "He's still got a year of high school left."
Winchester turned his head, but didn't lift it from the back of the seat. He was shivering hard now, but he was pretty much numb so the pain wasn't as bad. "What's a year, man?"
Three-hundred and sixty-five chances to change his mind. "He may decide to wait."
"Only prolonging the inevitable."
"Damn, morbid much?" Reaves pinched the bridge of his nose, wishing like hell the bright flashes of light would stop. "Sammy ain't going anywhere."
"You haven't heard him…talk about it."
Actually Caleb had. Sam had asked him about his time at Auburn. The kid couldn't keep the awe out of his voice as he inquired about classes, ball games and campus life. "It's normal to be curious. His friends are probably in to it…all of them talking about it."
"My friends were into a lot of shit, you didn't seem to think it was normal to be curious then."
Caleb rolled his eyes. "Curious is fine. Stupid is not." Reaves had not handled the situation with the drugs very well. Still, he probably did a lot better than John would have. At least he hadn't killed anyone.
"You gave me my first joint."
Reaves wondered when that would come back to haunt him. "Yeah, well, that was a rite of passage. I also told you experimentation had a line that you didn't step across unless you wanted me to kick your ass. Anything not brewed, fermented or grown on the far edge of Jim's garden was off limits."
"I don't remember you telling me anything…but I kind of got the picture when you nearly busted that Testerman kid's jaw."
"Two-bit druggie is lucky I didn't bust his skull." Caleb blinked and worked to focus on the younger man. "I'm a man of action, not words."
"And here I was thinking you really liked that poetry shit."
"Shut up, Deuce."
"I thought you wanted me to talk." Dean closed his eyes again, wishing they could both just be quiet and take a nice, long nap. "Make up your mind."
Caleb sighed. "Tell me more about Sammy's big plans."
"What's there to say?" Dean winced as a sharp pain knifed through his side. Maybe he wasn't quite as numb as he thought. "He thinks college is his ticket out. He thinks he can escape the whole hunting life." Escape his family, was the silent thought screaming in his head.
"Remember when all he wanted to do was go on a hunt with us?"
"Yeah. Now he just wants to go anywhere to get away from Dad."
Reaves snorted. "That's a baffling mystery. Johnny's so damn sweet."
They shared a look, both of them managing weak, knowing grins. "You know he means well. He wants to keep Sam safe."
"Yeah. I've been on the receiving end of his 'good intentions', Deuce. I've suffered through his protection. It sucks."
"But you keep coming back."
Caleb sighed. He knew he was meant to be a hunter the first time Mac told him about the Brotherhood, about his abilities, and the theories about his family's connection to demonic forces. And when he met John Winchester, well, it was a little like meeting a superhero. "The Brotherhood is all I have, Dean." It was everything Reaves wanted.
"But you did the whole college thing. You had a normal life for a while." God Dean hated that word, 'normal'. It had become worse than Jim's four-letter forbidden list. "You made it into the real world."
Reaves held Dean's gaze, trying to figure out what the kid was after…what he wanted him to say. He wasn't sure if Dean wanted to know if Sam had a chance of making it on the outside, of if he wanted to be reassured by the idea it was impossible. Either way, he was going to give him the truth. "Kid , I never fit in out there. I may have been forced into that world by the ever persistent Mackland Ames; but I never walked among those people. I skirted the perimeter. If Mac knew half the shit I did while I was there, he'd kill me."
"Hell no. We already covered that. Tequila is as hard as it gets for me, Deuce."
The kid frowned. "Then what were you doing while we all thought you were off playing Joe College like a good little trust fund boy."
"Alone?" Dean favored him with a baffled look. "Forget Mac, Dad would so kick your ass."
"I didn't hunt our typical baddies."
Caleb thought back to that time. "Paintings."
"Come again? First poetry and now paintings? Dude, I'm so disillusioned."
Reaves frowned. "My mom's paintings, you idiot."
Dean's grin faded. Caleb had told him a little about Amelia Reaves. "Right. Mac has some of her work."
Caleb nodded, thinking about his adopted father. A pang of regret swept through him as he entertained the idea he might not see the man again. Forcing down the lump that had sprung to his throat he explained. "Dad started it by buying me one for my bedroom when I came to live with him. Then another for my birthday. He was just being Mac…you know. But it drove me crazy that there were others out there. Pieces of her that strangers with enough money could merely lay down some cash and buy."
Dean looked at him. They were bound by their mothers' tragedies as much as anything else. "How many?"
"At least a hundred."
"What'd you do with them?"
"I bought most of them." Caleb grimaced as he watched Dean continue to shiver, wishing like hell he could move enough to offer some body heat, despite the embarrassment it would cause them. "I have them in the spare bedroom in my apartment." Mac would call it a shrine. He might even suggest his son seek therapy.
"Most of them?" Dean raised a brow, choking back the pain still very much present. Caleb was looking as bad as he felt. He hadn't missed the way the other man kept touching his head, how he continued to look away, thinking he was hiding his own misery.
Caleb rubbed at his head again, trying to focus. "Some I stole, when the price was too high, or the owners were partial. I got pretty damn good at the whole 'cat burglar' thing." He cut his eyes to the younger hunter again. Hunting those paintings had given him a whole new way to exorcise his demons. It was definitely not the Renaissance period of his life, more like the dark, Dark Ages. "A few I extorted, and a couple took extreme measures."
"Extreme measures?" Dean was almost afraid to ask as he saw something dangerous flash in the gold eyes of his friend. He'd seen that look before, usually just before Reaves killed something.
The psychic held his gaze, not fearing any judgments. He and Dean understood one another on a level that protected against such recriminations. "They were mine to begin with-my mother's anyway," he justified. "That bitch of an art agent sold them off one piece of a time, padding her nest egg with my family's gory history."
Dean knew Amelia Reaves had become a rare collector's dream after she was murdered by her husband. Morbidity and violence bred interest. "Art becomes more valuable if the artist is dead."
"Even better if they die in some tragic way."
"But you got them all back?"
Caleb shrugged, but Winchester knew him well enough to know he didn't take it as lightly as he was trying to project. "There are still a few floating around I haven't tracked down."
"What about the agent? Could she track them down for you?"
"She's not in the business anymore."
The coldness in the words kept Dean from asking any more on the subject. He really didn't want to know. Like that box Jim had warned them about. "So, you didn't like anything about school?"
Reaves favored him with a look far too close to sympathy. "I don't know, man. It had its points. Girls, booze…and I'll kill you if you tell Mac this but I liked the classes. I liked learning about the history of architecture, seeing the greats. And sometimes its to the benefit of my hunting to have the illusion of a normal life." It was an excellent cover, a perfect mask.
There was that word again. Normal. Dean licked his lips, his voice broke slightly. "Sometimes I think Sam should go."
Caleb frowned. "Why?"
"So he'll be safe. He deserves better than this…"
"Better than you, you mean?" Anger sparked, fueled by frustration and helplessness. "That's a load of shit, kid."
"No it's not. He doesn't get to stay in any place for too long… he doesn't get to make or keep any friends. Do you know this is the first Thanksgiving in years that we actually have plans to celebrate. And the last Christmas Dad even remembered…was probably the one in New York with you and Mac about four years ago. That's not fair to him."
He has you, Caleb wanted to say, but held back. Dean didn't realize what that meant: maybe it took an outsider to see. "Life ain't fair, Deuce. You know that as well as I do. You've done a hell of a job protecting Sam from that fact, but he'll have to deal with it, just like us."
"He didn't ask for any of this." Dean would do anything for his brother, to protect him from the hand that they had been dealt. It was his goal in life.
"And you did?" Caleb growled. "Did you ask to lose your Mom? Or have your Dad go all Van Helsing on you? I sure the hell didn't ask my Dad's possessed ass to kill my mom and then ventilate himself, or for me to be some kind of freak. Shit happens." It would happen to Sam, too. He wouldn't be able to deny what he was when the time came. John wouldn't be able to protect him forever.
Dean stared at him unblinking for a long moment, before his mouth twitched slightly. "We should so get a tattoo of that…Japanese symbol for it, at least."
Caleb laughed despite himself, the backlash of pain forgotten for a moment. Dean could turn his emotions off and on like a freakin' faucet. "You are so fucked up, Kid." Maybe they both needed some therapy.
"Yeah. You got yourself to blame for part of that."
Reaves swallowed thickly, "Damn straight. And for the record, Sammy could have done a whole hell of lot worse."
"Maybe." Dean was finding it harder and harder to keep his eyes open. "I just want him to be happy…to be safe. Maybe college is the right thing…maybe he can get away from it."
"You can't run from yourself, Dean. Sammy is what he is." Caleb was so close to telling Dean exactly what that was, that Sam was as much of an anomaly as Reaves himself. His promise to John seemed inconsequential in the dire moment. "So are we." And for good or bad, Caleb was a man of his word. He couldn't share John's secret, not even with Dean.
"We're screwed is what we are, Damien." Dean cut his eyes towards the other man, a look of complete remorse and resignation on his bruised face. "I'm sorry."
"I don't think I can do this much longer. Tell Sammy…"
Caleb felt his eyes sting. He blinked quickly, not willing to give in yet. "It's okay, I'm not doing so hot myself."
"No shit." Dean still had enough energy to smirk. "I figured you for gone when you started in on that whole poetry stuff."
"You're mocking me? I was sharing my soul with you, man."
"Not exactly the last thing I want to hear."
Caleb laughed, feeling almost hysterical. "I could put some Yanni on if you like or Enya…that one they've been playing since 9-11."
Dean snorted. "I'll be in hell soon enough."
"I'll be right behind you and according to the cults so will everyone else."
"They're such happy groups." Dean coughed and choked down the bitter taste of copper and regret. "Maybe with your contacts we'll get V.I.P. seating." He hoped Sammy would forgive him.
"Maybe," Caleb gasped as a sudden knifing pain tore through his skull. "Damnit!" he hissed, and was surprised when he felt Dean's icy fingers on his wrist.
"Just breathe, man."
Reaves lowered his hands from his face. "Yeah. You too, kid."
Dean let him go, offering a weak smile. "So…what do you think that thing is?"
Caleb frowned, his breath hitching as he battled to get his shattered mind around what his friend was saying. "What…thing?"
Winchester nodded towards the floorboard where the ornately carved case they had gone to get for Jim was now open. He could barely make its secret contents out amongst the empty coffee cups and McDonald's wrappers. It looked like a statue of some sort. "Jim's mysterious antique. I hate to die…not knowing."
"Unless it's a long distance communication device or some sort of magic space heater I could give a shit."
"Right." Dean goaded. "It was killing you not knowing. I know for a fact you're the kid that unwrapped presents under the tree at Christmas and wrapped them back."
"Was not," Caleb lied. "I'm psychic remember?"
"Not that kind of psychic."
"No…that's Mac's specialty."
"He's going to hate himself for this, you know."
"No, Dude. Jim."
"Shit," Caleb rubbed a shaky hand over his face. The kindly priest would never let go of the idea he had sent both him and Dean to their deaths. "You're right."
"And Dad told him to send us." Dean pointed out, remembering his father had backed out of going after Bobby called with the demon-related hunt. He wondered how his father would handle losing another part of his family and where that would leave his little brother. Would John step up to the plate once he was gone?
Caleb glanced at Dean, recognizing the look on his stricken face. He wasn't above playing dirty if it meant giving Dean a little motivation. "Sammy will feel guilt, too. He was being a pain in the ass."
Winchester rolled his eyes. "Sammy feels guilty for the small pox infected blankets the white man gave the Indians and to hear him go on about World War II, you'd think he was Hitler in a past life."
Okay, so Dean had him there. "True." His head hurt so damn bad, and Dean was shivering so he could feel the vibrations through the bench seat they shared. "That's why he needs you around…to set him straight."
"I'm tired," Dean admitted, and Caleb wasn't sure if he was just talking about his current state. "I can't…"
"Yes you can, kid." Reaves snapped as he watched Dean's chin start to drop towards his chest. Panic was building inside him again, pushing at the creeping numbness that had started to spread across his body like the red stained snow in the seat around Dean. "Deuce!"
The kid lifted his head, but his gaze was distant, unfocused. "Caleb…"
"Damn it." Reaves reached out, hoping his body didn't betray him and shut down from the agony he was inflicting. He grabbed Dean's cold, clammy face, forcing him to look at him. "Sam needs you, Dean. You hear me? You aren't finished yet."
"Are you kidding me? Have you gotten him drunk? Has he worshipped the porcelain god with the mandatory tequila offering yet? Have you taught him how to pick up a woman-given him the black bra and strappy sandals speech? I know for a fact you haven't taken him to the Red Caboose, kid. You really going to leave it to Bobby to get him laid. Or God, even worse…Joshua. Kid'll be a virgin forever."
Dean blinked, wishing he could make sense of all the words the other hunter was saying. "You take him."
Caleb felt like screaming or at least killing something real slow and painful like. Maybe if he just shook the idiot really hard. "No way. That's a job for a brother. Do you hear me? He needs his big brother."
Dean didn't answer him, instead his eyes closed and he went limp, his head lolling in Reaves' grasp. "Fuck, Deuce," the psychic choked, easing the kid's head back against the seat before letting his fingers slide down the boy's neck.
He held his breath; not knowing he was mimicking the same thing Dean had done for him only a couple of hours earlier. It took a moment for his near-frozen fingers to feel the faint rhythm, but the younger hunter's pulse was still there.
"Come on, man. Don't run out on me." Caleb slid his fingers through the boy's hair. "John and Sammy will kill me."
"I'm going to kill him," John growled as the phone at the farm continued to ring.
"Who?" Bobby shifted his gaze from the snowy road to the other hunter. "Jim? Because that doesn't sound very Lancelot-like of you."
"Sam." John snarled, ending the call. "He's not there."
"Maybe he's out at the barn, checking on dinner."
Winchester didn't even bother with a response as he punched in his son's cell number.
"I should have made him come with us."
Singer snorted. "Or you could have just pulled that cob out of your ass and let him go with Caleb and Dean."
Bobby was spared John's reply as Sam's voice mail beeped. "Samuel, when you get this message you better damn well call me back. And you better hope you're not out in this fucking storm."
"Or what?" Singer asked, when John tossed the cell back onto the seat.
Winchester frowned. "Or what, what?"
"What if the kid is out here, what are you going to do about it?"
"That's none of your damn business."
The mechanic shook his head. "See, that's your problem right there."
"And that is?"
"You won't do a damn thing and you know it. Just a bunch of yelling, might as well scream a blue streak at old Clemens for all the good it will do. The two of you are like a couple of rams battling it out. All you're going to accomplish is giving yourself one hell of a headache. Not to mention the rest of us who have to watch."
"I'll handle Sam."
"Uh huh," Bobby nodded. "You going to bust his rank or put him in the stockade, Corporal?"
"How about I just bust your face, Bobby?"
"It's that attitude that puts you on everyone's shit list, Winchester."
Singer laughed. "See there. I bet Slim is thinking the same damn thing about being on your bad side, my friend." He turned his gaze back to the road. "That apple didn't even make it off the tree."
"Fucking tree limb," Sam swore as he tried again to get the Jeep to budge from the ditch. So much for four wheel drive. He'd had to swerve to avoid two huge branches that had given way under the weight of the newly fallen snow, and had managed to mar the Wrangler in a mess of mud and slush. Caleb was going to kill him. Reaves might not have had nearly an attachment to vehicles his brother did, but the old beat up Jeep had been a constant in his life since Bobby had given it to him after a successful hunt when he was sixteen.
The back tires spun again. He jerked the stick back into reverse and then surged into first rocking the vehicle, hoping to finally get some traction. It didn't move, only dug deeper and Sam pounded his hand on the steering wheel, eliciting a whimper from Scout. He sighed, raking a gloved hand through his hair. "Sorry, girl."
The teen picked up his cell phone, punching in his brother's number again. Sam needed to hear Dean's voice, as much as he needed his help now. The teen wasn't used to arguing with his brother. That honor he reserved for his father. If this was some kind of silent treatment tactic, the youngest Winchester would let Dean have it after he apologized of course, for being such a dick.
Dean was usually the buffer, getting caught in the crossfire. The barbs weren't usually directed at him. But if Sam were honest, he'd taken his frustrations out more and more frequently on the one person who would actually listen to him, as his father shut himself off.
"I deserve a freezing walk back to Jim's girl." He sighed as he hung up. "I hope you're up for it."
Scout barked, actually appearing anxious to get out in the white stuff. Of course she liked to swim in the frigid pond water in December, too. The teen sighed, grabbing his flashlight and cell phone.
"Let's get moving. We'll comb the side of the road as we go." A shiver raced along his body as the cold air rushed in, and Sam pulled his jacket around him tighter, cursing the fickle southern weather. It had been a sunny sixty-five just two days before.
A coldness seemed to seep through his layers of clothing and Sam thought of his brother. He hadn't worn a heavy coat and if they were out in this..."Come on, Sammy," he chided himself. "Don't go there." Still, he put the phone to his ear. It wouldn't hurt to try his brother just one more time.
"Come on, Sammy," Caleb swore as he once again tried to reach the ringing cell. "How about some help here." He knew it was Sam, and it had nothing to do with any precognitive ability. His head was too scrambled to try and access any talents he possessed. Dean's phone had been ringing since the twenty-year-old hunter had passed out. Caleb knew instinctively wherever the youngest Winchester was, he had sensed the change. Even if Sam didn't realize why, he was desperate to get a hold of his brother.
But sometimes desperation wasn't enough. Reaves pushed himself to try to get closer to Dean and collapsed across the seat. "Fuck, Dean, open your damn eyes and tell me what a fucking pussy I am," he breathed.
"I know you want to so bust my chops for the whole deer in the headlights thing. Who's going to be a pain in my ass if you're not around?" Caleb turned his head, watching the faint rise and fall of Dean's chest. "Because you are you know…have been since I met you."
Reaves thought back to the first time he'd met the Winchesters. He'd only been with Mac for about six months then, still trying to figure everything out. Honestly, he was on a huge self-pity trip, all piss and vinegar as his grandmother would say. "You know I thought you were such a freak. You wouldn't say anything, just latched onto Sammy like he was some kind of security blanket, and Mac said I had to keep you entertained…meaning I was suppose to play with you. Shit I was thirteen and thought I should have been playing with the big boys, not some weirdo five-year-old kid and his real-life Buddy doll."
Caleb swallowed thickly, feeling another tug of unconsciousness on his overtaxed body. He wasn't even shivering anymore. That was a bad sign his body had given up on trying to warm itself. He blinked hard, trying not to follow suit trying to keep his thoughts together. "But when I was a kid, I always wanted a little brother…" The psychic could almost hear Dean's scoffing voice. 'Be careful what you wish for, Damien.'
Reaves grinned. "Right. I gotta tell you, after watching you and Sammy all these years, I'm not sure I would have been cut out for it. Too much work…I'm too damn selfish. I'd never be as good at it as you, Deuce…but if I did have…I mean…if things had been different, I would have…" Caleb pounded his fist on the steering wheel, struggling futilely to free himself, as the phone rang yet again. "I would have sucked at it!" He yelled. "I can't even get you out of this fucking truck."
"Some fucking Knight I'm going to be…I can't even keep the Guardian safe from a car wreck." He continued to push and pull, but the only thing it did was increase the pain in his head, bringing tears to his eyes and a huge lump to his throat. "Goddamn it!" Reaves reached out, focusing the last reserve of energy he had on the phone, pushing through the blinding pain, not caring if his skull followed through on its threat to fracture into a million pieces. He was determined to answer it one way or another. "Sam…help!"
"Sam…help!" Sam Winchester winced as a sharp pain sliced through his skull. He pulled the cell phone from his ear as if the offending object had been the source, nearly dropping the flashlight he was holding in his other hand. He focused on the pale blue screen, realizing it hadn't changed. It was still ringing. No one had answered on his brother's end. "But…" he looked at Scout, who had also stopped beside of him, leaning into his leg slightly. "I know I heard…."
"Caleb." Sam winced, as more words pushed themselves into his thoughts. He lifted his head, peered around them as if Reaves might suddenly materialize from the dark night. Scout whined, shaking her head too. She barked then, the echo of her greeting piercing and clear in their muffled universe of blinding white. The teen glanced down at the dog, who pawed at her head, scattering the flakes of snow that had landed on her fur. "Oh, God. It was Caleb."
Sam took a deep breath, trying to control his racing thoughts. Reaves had tried to contact him, like he did when they were kids, like he connected with Atticus when they were lost in the woods at Jim's cabin all those years ago. "He has to be close, girl." The teen shook his head as he thought of the Lassie comments his brother would have let loose with, but if he found him, Dean could torment him all he wanted. He would be Timmy for the next six months if it meant Sam found him and Caleb.
"Come on, Scout. Just like when we use to play hide and seek." The Lab barked again, and Sam felt it too. He pinched at the bridge of his nose, the niggling feeling not as strong. "Find Caleb, girl. Find him." He didn't let himself concentrate on what that meant, as Scout took off scampering through the snow on the side of the road. Sam stumbled to keep up with her, the light of the flashlight reflecting off her black coat.
It wasn't long before they came to a curve in the road, and Scout's intermittent barking became continuous as she barreled off the side of the road, disappearing from the teen's view through the tree-line. Sam stopped where the freshly fallen snow had not covered the deep wounds in the ground where something had torn into the leaf-covered, earth. "Oh no."
He willed his legs to move, following Scout's trail and barking. The Lab had made it to the crashed vehicle, now dashing around it in circles, yipping the way she often would when she had cornered a helpless yard rabbit or one of Jim's chickens. Sam's heart sped up, the fresh pumping of blood almost painful in his cold-restricted vascular system. "Dean," he whispered, seeing how the old Ford was smashed against the trees, the entire hood and engine seeming to fold in towards the bed of the truck. "DEAN!"
Sam half-stumbled, half-ran, down the embankment his long legs lacking Scout's maneuverability or gracefulness. "Caleb!" The teen yelled, reaching the passenger's side where he could barely make out the outline of his brother's face. He was hoping for a reply, any sign that things weren't as bad as he had feared. But only silence and Scout's intermittent whines greeted him.
Sam steeled himself and reached his hand through the shattered window, reaching his brother with relative ease. Dean's skin was like ice to the touch, but he was breathing, and at the moment that was all that mattered. "Dean?" Sam tried again, not liking the pale, bluish tint to the older Winchester's skin. "Can you hear me?"
Scout put her paws up on the side of the truck and barked, startling Sam just as his brother's distinctive ring tone chirped from somewhere between the smashed passenger door and the seat. "Damn it," he swore, raking a hand through his hair as he let his gaze slide to Caleb, who was slumped against the steering wheel, looking just as broken and bloodied as Dean. "This can't be happening."
Again Scout barked, letting Sam know that it was indeed happening and that he better damn well do something to fix it. Dean's cell stopped ringing, only to be replaced by the distant ringing of another one somewhere off to Sam's left. Caleb's.
"Caleb!" Sam called. The psychic didn't move, and there was no silent, telepathic reply either.
No more than a second passed after Reaves' phone silenced that Sam felt his own vibrate. He growled deep in his throat and pulled the lifeline out of his pocket, absolutely sure of who it was.
"I told you something was wrong, Dad!"
"I told you not to leave that fucking farm, Samuel!" John Winchester yelled over the words his son was shouting at him.
Bobby gave him a hard look, hearing Sam's voice over the phone and shook his head. "A couple of stubborn rams."
"DAD! Listen to me!"
"No, goddamnit. You listen to me for a change." He didn't even have to see his son to know that Sam was rolling his eyes, an action that had nearly gotten him his first throttling by John on several occasions over the last year. John was just about to launch into interrogation mode and find out exactly where his son was when the boy's next words sucked all the oxygen from his would be inferno.
"Dean and Caleb are hurt. They wrecked off of Silver Creek Road. Dad…are you there?"
"What? What the hell do you mean they're hurt?" John had tried to call both his eldest son and Reaves. He'd convinced himself they were drawing out the hunt as long as possible, using any excuse they could to hang out at one of the local bars near New Haven. "Sam!"
Bobby slowed the Impala to a crawl so he could concentrate on what John was saying. The man's demeanor had changed instantly, going from infuriated father to a scared shitless daddy. "Son, where's your brother? Is Caleb with you?"
"They wrecked the truck, Dad. It's bad."
John could hear the slight panic in his son's voice. "Calm down, Sammy. Are you with them?"
"Yes. Scout and I found them. They ran the truck off the road about ten miles out of New Haven."
"South or North, son?"
There was a moment of silence, then, "South, going towards the farm. They're not responding, Dad. I don't even know if Caleb's breathing."
John closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose as he fought back the fear that seized his heart. "Just take it easy, kiddo. They'll be okay." Winchester glanced to Bobby. "Call 9-1-1. Tell them there's been an accident off Silver Creek, about ten miles out."
"Dad, they'll need to cut them out."
"Shit," John growled, looking to Singer again. "Tell them they'll need the cutting crew."
"Damn," Bobby swore.
John took a deep breath. "Sam, you just hold tight, we're not too far out."
"Dad, I'm sorry…"
"No, Sammy, I'm the one who's sorry. We'll be there. Just hold on. And watch out for your brother and Caleb."
"You know I will."
"You know I will never forgive you if you die and leave me alone with Dad, Dean. The man is impossible," Sam said to his brother as he struggled out of his jacket and draped it across the older boy. "Same goes for you," he called out to Caleb, who had yet to move. "Dragons aren't allowed to quit their charges."
At least the teen had found the psychic's pulse after a few heart-stopping seconds. It was as slow and thready as Dean's. But its presence was the most Sam could hope for, considering.
"You two are going to be in so much trouble when Jim sees his truck. He loves Betsey. She's been around longer than we've been alive. We all learned to drive in her, remember?"
Sam hadn't been able to find a way to open either door, but he had made his way back to the jeep and retrieved some blankets and a first aide kit that hadn't given him much to work with, considering he could barely reach either of the hunters. But at least he could provide some meager warmth until help arrived. And he could talk to them, which made him feel better. "Dean backed her into the barn trying to impress Mr. Hensen's daughters that time when you were suppose to be watching us," Sam said to Caleb. "And Jim made you help Dad repaint the whole body."
Scout whined loudly and Sam hoped she could hear something he couldn't. Like sirens.
He was searching the darkened distance, wondering if he should go up to the road to flag the ambulance down so it wouldn't accidentally pass them by when a muffled groan drew all his attention to his brother. "Dean? Hey, can you hear me? Dean?"
"Sam…my?" Dean felt something warm brush against his face and he blinked, trying to focus in on the familiar touch. "Sam?"
"It's me, Dean. I'm here, just take it easy."
"What…what's going on? Why…are we outside?"
"You had a wreck, but help's on the way."
"We wrecked the Impala?"
Sam frowned at his brother's confusion. "No, Dean. You and Caleb…you wrecked Jim's truck. Remember?"
Dean opened his eyes, a mixture of fear and pain paling the bright green irises. "Caleb?"
Dean tried to turn his head to look towards the other man, but ended up coughing instead, blood splattering the white snow of the dashboard. "Oh, God," he groaned, and Sam felt his own chest tighten in agony.
"Dean, take it easy. Just breathe, okay. The ambulance will be here any minute."
"He…hit his head." Dean gasped. "Tell them no drugs…Sammy."
"I got it covered, big brother. Just relax." Sam let his hand rest on his brother's head. "You both are going to be fine. A few stitches, some Tylenol, and you'll be home in no time, bitching about the Ham we're having for Thanksgiving dinner."
"You're such…a bad liar, little brother." Dean licked his lips, tasted blood. "What are you doing here?"
"Where else would I be on a snowy night?"
Dean started at him. "Home," he breathed.
Sam ran his fingers through his brother's wet hair, forcing a smirk. "I am home, you idiot. You're the only home I have."
Dean rolled his eyes. "God…do you have a concussion, too? Because you're sounding awful poetic, bro."
Sam frowned. "I'm fine. And you're going to be fine, too. That's an order. Understand?"
"Damn…now you sound like Dad.'
"No. It's just me, Dean. Sammy."
Dean blinked. "I miss Sammy, Dude."
Sam's hand stilled as he was taken aback by the hurt lacing his brother's words. "I didn't go anywhere, man." The overwhelming guilt eating at his heart told him that wasn't exactly true. He faltered…"At least, I didn't mean to."
"It's okay to go…just come back…okay?"
Sam frowned and watched his brother's eyes slide shut again. "Dean! Come on, stay with me. It's not okay for you to go. Do you hear me? Dean!"
Scout suddenly barked and took off towards the road as Sam heard the sirens echoing off the hills around them. "Stay with me, man." The teen tightened his hold on his brother. "Stay with me."
"Stay with me, son." Doctor Robert Montoya shone the pen light in his patient's eyes again, trying to get the young man to answer his questions.
"Get that fucking…light away from me," the patient yelled, obviously causing himself more pain as he fought against the restraints holding him down.
"His pupils are not reacting evenly," the physician stated calmly, ignoring the boy. "I want a full battery of scans from Radiology before we proceed. He needs stitches but if we have to go in…"
"Where's Dean?" The kid struggled, pulling his head away from the doctor's painful grip. "Tell me what is going on!"
"You're at Baptist East Hospital in Louisville. You were in an accident," Montoya repeated the same thing he had already explained to his obviously distraught and delusional head trauma patient.
"Get these things off me!" The feeling of being tied down was not an experience that brought back fond memories for Caleb Reaves. Neither was awakening in a starkly white room with unknown doctors and nurses in crisp, white uniforms. "Let me go!"
"Son, we are trying to…"
"I'm not your son!" Caleb yelled. "My father is Doctor Mackland Ames," he growled. "If you don't know him…you will. He eats fucking family practitioners like you for breakfast."
The doctor looked at his nurse. "Did he come in with anyone? "
"His brother signed the insurance forms."
"John?" Caleb asked through the haziness trying to surround him once again. "Was it…"
"Please stop moving, sir." The nurse was trying to hold his head still again, and Caleb squeezed his eyes shut as the doctor went back to his torture routine. "John!" Reaves yelled this time and was rewarded with the angry, booming voice heralding the arrival of the calvary.
"What the hell is going on in here?"
"Sir, you can't be back here." One of the ER techs tried to reroute the two disheveled men who had just barreled into the examination ward, but failed as the taller of the two shoved right past him.
"John," Bobby warned as he recognized the 'bull in the china shop' mentality that had slipped over Winchester from the moment they had heard Caleb's distress from the waiting room.
His friend ignored him and continued on in. "Caleb?"
"John?" Reaves nearly choked on the name as a wave of relief crashed over him and the physician released his face.
"You need to return to the waiting room, sir." Montoya informed a red-faced John Winchester. "We will call security if necessary."
"What are you doing to him?" John barked at the man. "Why is he strapped down?" He demanded without giving the man a chance to answer his first question.
"He is suffering from an acute head wound and the delirium that comes with it as well as the irrationality from hypothermia. We couldn't keep him from trying to evade treatment."
"Hell doc if we tied the boy down every time he was irrational or wouldn't do what we said he'd stay hog-tied," Bobby spoke up from beside John and Winchester frowned at him.
"His name is Caleb and remove the damn restraints. He won't be going anywhere."
"John?" Caleb called again and John side-stepped the doctor, reaching for the bindings on Caleb's right wrist. "Bobby." He jutted his chin to the other side of the bed and Singer moved in that direction with a quiet nod.
"Excuse me, Mam." The mechanic nudged the baffled nurse out of the way, undoing the padded straps around Caleb's arm. "Any other time the boy might take to you tying him up, but he's not exactly in a romantic mood and I'm not sure if you could follow through seeing as how you're on duty and all."
"The hospital will not be responsible…"
"I'll be responsible," John snapped, cutting the doctor off. He glanced at Caleb, who was pale and still shivering despite the warm saline drip and heated blankets. "You with me, kid?"
Reaves opened his eyes and nodded. "Just get me loose."
"And who exactly are you?" Montoya demanded.
John cut his eyes towards the physician. "I'm his brother. Read the paperwork."
"So the infamous Mackland Ames is your father also?"
Winchester looked at Caleb and sighed.
Bobby laughed, attempting to salvage the cover story in his own way. "They have the same mother. Mackland had one of those May-December flings." He glanced up once he had freed Reaves. "Lovely woman named Missouri, heart and hips as big as the state she was named after. The good doctor couldn't help himself," he added, winking at Caleb, who was rubbing his bruised wrist and still looking rather out of it.
"Where's Dean?" the psychic asked John. "Is he okay?"
Winchester squeezed his shoulder. "He's here. Up in surgery."
"Surgery?" Reaves swallowed. "Shit. I'm sorry, man…"
"Hey," John moved his hand to rest on the kid's hair. "Take it easy. Dean's going to be okay. They're just patching him up. Sammy will let us know when they're done."
"Sammy?" Caleb frowned as a faint memory of Sam's voice tickled his mind. "He found us?"
"Yeah." John grinned. "Hot-wired your jeep."
"Sounds…like a Winchester."
"Look." Montoya stepped towards the bed, demanding John's attention. "I don't really care who you are. But you need to leave this examination ward."
"Talk to Doctor Elizabeth McCoy," John told him, gruffly. "She's Chief of Staff here, if I'm not mistaken. She'll vouch for us." Mackland's old nemesis had made quite the name for herself, moving from the small town clinic in New Haven to one of the large, prestigious hospitals in Louisville.
"Or have us hauled off to jail," Bobby muttered under his breath only to receive another scathing Winchester glare.
"Let me guess, Doctor McCoy is also a friend of yours?" The young doctor looked John up and down, obviously doubting any connection to the refined surgeon in question.
"As a matter of fact he his." Elizabeth McCoy had been paged to trauma bay twelve with a code red expecting the worst. After talking to Sam Winchester up in the surgery wing she should not have been surprised. The doctor shook her head at Winchester. "Why am I not surprised to find you in the middle of my ER security risk?"
"Liz." John nodded, and the woman's frown turned into a warm smile.
"Doctor Montoya have you been giving Mister Winchester a difficult time?"
"I'm trying to treat his brother, Doctor." Montoya gestured to the young man in question. "He's suffered a severe head trauma and was brought in from a car wreck borderline hypothermic."
"Brother?" Liz raised a defined brow, taking the clipboard from Caleb's nurse. "You have issues with the treatment we're providing, John?" She gave the weary hunter an appraising glance. He hadn't changed much in the five years since she had seen him last. "This isn't the New Haven clinic. We're state of the art here."
"I have issues with them restraining him."
McCoy frowned as her eyes went to the patient in question. "Caleb?" She pulled her own pen light out and lifted each of Reaves' eyelids. "Are you purposely trying to get our hospital sued by your father? Because, if that man bullies his way into this ER, I may not be able to keep up my professional courtesy."
"No, mam," Caleb swallowed thickly, pulling away from the ministrations. "Mac's not here."
"He's on his way."
"Great," Both Caleb and Liz replied with twin glances of irritation in John's direction.
"Then we should definitely get you down to Radiology, young man."
"No," Reaves shook his head. "I'm good. I want to wait on Dean."
"I wasn't asking your permission," Liz smiled to take the sting out of her words. She then lifted her gaze to John. "But perhaps your brother could stress the importance of making sure you're okay."
"You're going, Caleb."
"That's an order."
"I'll go with you, kid. I want to see proof that there's really a living organ inside that cement skull of yours."
"Johnny," Reaves implored, ignoring Bobby and shooting another pleading look in his mentor's direction. "I can sign an AMA."
"And have Mac climb up my ass? I don't think so, kiddo. Let them do their tests and get you stitched up." Winchester looked at Singer. "Make sure he's on his best behavior, Bobby."
"You come to see if I was behaving myself?" Sam asked his father, without looking up from the magazine he was reading. He could recognize the man's footfalls anywhere, and the disappointment-laced sigh was always a dead giveaway.
"I thought they told you the dog couldn't stay." John rubbed at his tired eyes. Scout was curled up on Sam's jacket on the floor. "You want to get us thrown out?"
Sam glanced up at him. "If you're bad temper hasn't landed us on the sidewalk, I think we're good." The teen went back to his magazine. " Besides, Liz said she could stay. It's cold outside and if she said if they let Bobby in, they couldn't exactly deny Scout. Both of them have fleas and scratch their privates in public."
"And you gave her the eyes?" John took the seat next to his boy.
The kid glared at him. "What eyes?"
"Never mind," John stifled a yawn. "Any word on your brother yet?"
"I said I would come get you," Sam snapped. "He's still in surgery."
"Okay," John bit back on the angry retort, telling himself that it was past midnight and Sam was coming off an adrenaline rush.
"How's Caleb?" The teen asked, quietly, sounding more like the kid that John missed.
"They were going to take him down for some tests. He wasn't too happy about it."
"He's awake?" Sam sat up, the magazine forgotten.
"Yeah," John nodded, with a weak smile. "He was giving the staff hell as usual."
Sam swallowed thickly. "Thank God. I thought…" He frowned then, his eyes going to the silver bay doors separating him from his brother. He shook his head. "I'm glad he's going to be okay."
"Dean's going to be okay, too, Sammy," John said softly, reading his son's thoughts. They might not have been getting along lately, but he was still the boy's father. He knew his every expression, every mannerism. "He's tough."
"Yeah." Sam nodded, looking up at his father. He wanted to believe him…have that undying faith like he use to have. Of course that was before he realized his father didn't always know everything, wasn't always right. "He's not going anywhere."
John smiled. "Of course not. He's our family. Families stick together, Sammy. All for one and one for all."
Sam's mouth twitched. "That's the Musketeer's, Dad."
John laughed, reaching out and ruffling Sam's hair. "Same difference, kiddo. Just without the swords and horses."
"Mac, I'm not sure I'm the whole 'all for one, one for all' kind of guy."
Mackland Ames laughed. "That's good, Samuel, because I'm not giving you a sword and proclaiming you a loyal member of the King's royal guard. This is The Brotherhood, not the Musketeers."
Sam grinned, thinking about the conversation he had shared with his father the night before. "Same difference, Mac."
"You've been listening to too many of Jim Murphy's stories. The Brotherhood is not quite so glamorous, I'm afraid."
"But I'm only sixteen. Isn't there some kind of rule about being eighteen before you get a ring?"
"There is no such age requirement. One gets one's ring when it is the right time. When the person has proved themselves worthy of the honor and capable of bearing the responsibility."
Sam looked at the silver ring that Mac was holding. It was the same type that his brother and Caleb wore. The same as the one he knew his father kept locked in a wooden box that had once belonged to his mother, one of the only things of hers to survive the fire that took her life and their home. Bobby, Jim, and Mac also wore them. It was indeed a privilege to be included among such great men.
At one time, Sam had dreamed of the day he would get his. But things had changed. Hunting no longer seemed mysterious or fun. It only seemed to bring pain. "I don't know if I want to be in The Brotherhood, Mac."
The doctor frowned, scratched his head. "Sam did I ever tell you about why I became a doctor?"
The teen shook his head, and Mac smiled. He nodded to the wall of framed certificates and degrees decorating Elizabeth McCoy's office. "I wanted all that."
"Fortune and glory?"
Ames nodded. "Oh yes, and much, much more." The doctor stood, going to the window where he could see the first traces of a magnificent sun set. "But what started me on that path to medical notoriety was my mother."
"Your mother?" Sam frowned, not sure if he had ever heard Mackland or Caleb mention a Mrs. Ames.
"I don't remember her, although from pictures, she was quite the beauty." He turned to face Sam once more, leaning against the window ledge. "She died when I was a baby, during childbirth actually." Mac tapped his head. "Embolism."
"I'm not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me, Sam. I want you to understand that you and I are not so different." When Sam only continued to stare at him, Mac continued. "You see, after my mother's death, my father became a very driven man. Not that he wasn't so before her passing, but afterwards he become slightly obsessed. He buried a large piece of himself with my mother, and without her, I believe he didn't know quite how to be a father." He raised a brow. "Sound familiar?"
Sam exhaled loudly, shoving stands of his too-long hair behind an ear. "Yeah."
"Albeit, Cullen Ames was hunting down the almighty dollar and not ghosts and poltergeists; he was rather distracted from his duties of a father. And I didn't have a Dean, but I did have an Arthur?"
"Yes, like Bruce Wayne's butler."
Sam grinned. "Is this where you tell me you're a superhero?"
Mac sighed. "You have been hanging around my son and your brother entirely too much."
"Sorry, go on."
"Anyway, I went to boarding schools mostly, where I excelled in academia and polo. And then on to college, where my competitive nature and lack of people skills pushed me towards the medical field."
"Did you think about your mom?"
"You mean did I want to avenge her death by becoming the best damn doctor the world had ever seen?"
When Sam nodded Mac rubbed a hand over his mustache. "That was part of it, I suppose. But I must tell you Sam, that I also liked the attention it got me, and the fact that my father never wanted me to become a doctor didn't hurt my ambition, either."
"Why not? Most normal families love the idea of having a doctor in the family."
"Or a lawyer?" Mac raised a brow, and Sam shrugged.
"They are both worthy and honorable vocations, although my reasons to be a doctor weren't so noble in the beginning. I loved the thrill of reaching every summit before me, and soon I was baffling teachers and veteran physicians with my talents and bold and brazen, cutting-edge techniques." Mac grinned. "Arrogant is what I was and damn lucky."
The doctor sighed, running his finger over his eyebrow. "Then in one blinding moment of oncoming headlights and blaring horns, I lost it all." He glanced at Sam. "Drunk drivers and unsuspecting deer can do a lot of damage."
Sam swallowed thickly, realizing that things could have gone so much worse. After all, he was spending Thanksgiving with his intact and only slightly damaged family, albeit in a hospital ward. "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "You were in a coma for a long time. Right?"
Ames nodded. "Three months. And when I did awake, it was to a different world." The doctor held the boy's gaze. "I had to make a choice Sam. I could take one path or another. One would lead me to my destiny, the other would have been easier, but not the true one for who I had become."
"I don't know what my destiny is, Mac."
Mac smiled. "No one does, Sam, until they find themselves face to face with it. Then there is no time for hesitation. There is only time to take up arms and charge forward. For me, it was meeting Missouri Mosley, who then led me to Jim Murphy, who sent me to save a young boy on the verge of disaster."
"Caleb," Sam said, softly.
Mac nodded. "Caleb." He cleared his throat, glancing away for a moment under the guise of searching the glowing city sky line. "Then, Jim sent me to meet the stubborn bastard we know as your father." The psychic turned back to the teen, squeezing Sam's shoulder. "Who in turn brought you and your brother into my life. Makes that car wreck and all that came with it almost seem worth it."
"So you think I should take the ring?" Sam stared at the silver band in Mac's hand.
Mac held the band out. "I think you should take some time to decide if The Brotherhood is where you belong." He waited for Sam to take it. "The ring is yours no matter."
Sam frowned, looking at the ring with wariness. "I have no choice?"
"There is always a choice, son. But if you're not careful, life chooses you." Mac tapped his head. "Like with my abilities."
"But I'm not psychic, Mac." The teen sighed and Ames looked away again, although Sam didn't recognize the emotions in his eyes this time . "And I'm not a great hunter like Dean and Dad."
Ames turned his gaze on him once more. "No, you are a great hunter like Samuel Winchester. Each person brings their own gifts to this world." He made sure Sam was hearing him. "And you have brought many."
Sam smiled, closing his fingers around the ring. "Sometimes I just feel like an outsider."
Mac laughed. "And you think I feel like I belong to John and Bobby's good 'ol boy club?" He shook his head. "Sometimes, Sam, I wonder if those two and myself are even in the same species, let alone brothers in a common cause."
"But Dad's your best friend?"
Ames nodded fiercely. "Of course he is, and I love the bastard. He would die for me, Sam. In a heartbeat." He snapped his finger. "And he would die for my son, as I would his." Mac winked at the boy. "Whether he was a hunter or a famous lawyer."
"I'll think about it." Sam held the other man's gaze. "And thank you for the ring."
Mac waved off the sentiment. "Thank, Jim. He's the man with all the magical silver."
Sam frowned. "Why did you give me the ring?"
Ames sighed. The boy was sharp. "Remember that destiny thing I was talking about?"
"Same deal, son. It will all be revealed in due time."
Sam grinned. "You really like all this cloak and dagger stuff, don't you?"
"Are you kidding?" Mac threw an arm over the boy's shoulder. "I always wanted to be a Musketeer."
Caleb watched the nurse check Dean's vitals, giving her a winning smile before he sat down in the chair beside the hospital bed. "How's he doing?"
"Your nephew is doing much better," she told him, and Reaves caught the kid's smirk out of the corner of his eye.
He read the nametag that proclaimed the cute redhead as Millie. "He comes from tough stock. It's hard to keep a good man down, Millie."
"I'm sure." Millie's green eyes went from Reaves to Winchester, and she blushed slightly. "But let me know if there's anything I can do for either of you."
"Oh, we will." Reaves watched her go with a low whistle. "Maybe I shouldn't have checked my self out AMA."
"What? No poetry? No quoting Whitman or Wright?" Dean snorted. "You could have offered to draw her a picture, showed her your brooding artistic side."
"Shut up." Caleb kicked his feet up on the bed, leaning back in the chair. "Or I won't tell you the big secret."
"The big secret?" Dean sighed. "Did you get boobs and grow a uterus while I was out of it?"
Caleb shuddered. "Deuce, hearing you say the word uterus is as twilight zone as you talking to me about Frank Lloyd Wright."
Dean ignored him. "So, Reava, give me the juicy gossip."
"Sammy's getting his ring."
"What?" Dean sat up in the bed, wincing slightly as the stitches in his side pulled. "No way."
"Oh yeah." Reaves took his feet down, leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. "Mac's doing the honors as we speak."
"Should I even ask how you know this?"
Caleb shrugged, grinning evilly. "Sometimes I just can't block out all the external stimuli …especially with this concussion fucking up my abilities."
"Right, like Jim's going to buy that." Dean frowned. "Are you sure? I mean…what the fuck? Sam's still a kid. He's sixteen."
"Ouch, right." Caleb nodded in commiseration. "I was eighteen, you were eighteen. The only thing sweet about it will be rubbing it in Sawyer's face. I mean, if Sam's on the gifted path, Joshua is so locked on the special education track."
"Is this all because he saved our asses?" Dean relaxed back into the pillows, his stitches twinging his side mercilessly.
"Technically, he didn't save our asses." Reaves crossed his arms. "I mean, I made contact with him."
"What did you tell me about sometimes you're the hero, and sometimes you're the sidekick?" Winchester raised his arm up, tucking his hand under his head.
Caleb snorted. "I meant you…not me. I'm not sidekick material."
Dean's frown deepened. "And why is it that every freakin' time somebody gets a ring, I end up almost dying?"
The psychic looked at him. "You weren't the only one who's suffered for the cause. I was right there every time, Dude."
"Oh, yeah, let's see the scars?" Winchester lifted his head up and glared at the other hunter.
"They're all on the inside," Reaves replied, a mocking hand covering his heart. "I've had to watch you almost die three times now."
Dean glared at him. "Watch being the key word there, Damien."
Reaves shook his head. "Seriously, Deuce, it's not easy being on the sidelines." Helpless to stop someone from hurting, from slipping away. "Trust me. Watching someone…" he sighed, faltering for words that would ensnare the right sentiment. "It's a bitch."
The younger hunter's lip twitched. "So much for thinking you were poetic."
"My men Whitman and Frost didn't ever pen anything to accurately describe the way I feel about you, kiddo."
"Shelley might have," Bobby said, walking into the room with all the stealth of an Apache warrior. "Or maybe Poe."
"God, I hate it when you do that," Caleb snapped, shooting the older man an annoyed glare.
"I can't for the life of me understand why." The mechanic shrugged, rubbing at his scraggly whiskers.
"Could be because of the time you drew one of your little demon-torture circles around me while I was sleeping."
Singer laughed. "Ahh, that was a good one. Proved it would work, now didn't I."
"Proved Mac could kick your ass, too," Dean spoke up. "Who knew he could throw a punch like that."
Bobby snorted, hitching a hip on the end of Winchester's bed. "Hell, I could tell you stories about both your daddies that would leave you slacked-jawed and praying for daylight."
Dean and Caleb exchanged looks. "Kind of the same effect that staying at your place has always had on us."
"And you wonder why I had to put a pork chop in your pocket to get the dogs to play with you, kid," Bobby smiled at Reaves. "Damn good thing you've got money and looks, because your personality sucks."
"'least I got two out of the three."
The mechanic nodded. "Yeah, I just got the looks."
Bobby's reply was cut off by a flurry of activity that brought Jim Murphy through the door bearing all sorts of bags and containers. John was following closely behind, his own arms full of supplies. "Damn, you two knock over the local Wal-mart?"
"Are you kidding?" John snorted. "This was Mac's idea. The last time he went into Wal-mart we had to hear a thirty minute lecture on what Sam Walton's insidious monopolizing was doing to the economy of the small businessman."
Caleb nodded. "I use to buy my clothes there to piss him off."
"Not much has changed," Dean remarked with a pointed look at Reaves' destroyed jeans and ragged blue Senators T-shirt.
"Said the Salvation Army bargain shopper."
"Boys." Jim cleared his throat. "It's Thanksgiving."
"Come on, Jim. What's a Holiday without a little boyish blood shed?" Bobby said with a gleeful gleam in his eyes. "The smell of stuffing always brings back fond memories of the time Dean broke Joshua's nose at the Christmas dinner table."
The pastor glared at him. He did not want to be reminded of the one and only time Joshua had shared a holiday with them. Sawyer had the unfortunate problem of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. "Mackland has gone to a lot of trouble to salvage the day. I expect the rest of you to be on your best behavior."
Bobby rolled his eyes at the Pastor's praise of Ames. John grumbled something under his breath, which had Murphy turning on him. "Why don't you two go see if the lovely Doctor McCoy would like to join us? I understand that she is working today."
John looked at Singer, an evil glint lighting his dark gaze. "Mac would probably hate that."
Bobby stood up and crossed the room. "Sounds good to me. We'll ask that geeky intern that kept following him around last night like he was afraid Mackland was going to steal some tongue depressors, too. A whole damn Doctor Mackland Ames anti-fan club."
"Please tell me Dad sprung for a turkey and not some kind of weird Sea Bass or Cornish Game hen crap?" Caleb asked once the other men were gone.
"I would think that you two would be grateful for the chance to even eat a meal on this fine day, no matter what it might consist of."
"Oh, we're thankful, Jim." Dean assured him. "We'd just be even more so if we could actually pronounce what we're eating."
"Or if you could name it." Sam entered the room, a sheepish grin on his face.
It was obvious he was trying to be casual as he took Bobby's vacated seat on his brother's bed. He had both his hands tucked into his jacket pockets.
"Don't think your newly acquired status is going to keep me from taking that turkey out of your hide, kid," Caleb promised with a hard look. "There's a twenty-four hour window before the protection clause kicks in."
"Oh yeah," Dean spoke up. "It's in The Brotherhood handbook, fine print in the back."
"Jim?" Sam turned a baleful glance to the pastor, who was pointedly ignoring the exchange by arranging items on the sparse counter space.
"Don't worry, Sam. Mackland ordered a huge turkey with the trimmings. No one will be taking anything out of anyone's hide this year." Jim flashed the Henry and David box to the young hunters.
"Damn," Caleb sighed. "This is going to be a boring day."
Murphy turned his gaze to Dean. "And my parish provided the desserts." Jim planted a covered dish next to Dean. "Ms. Hankins' pumpkin pie rivals mine."
"Awesome," Dean reached for the lid only to have his hand smacked. "Ow!"
"Dessert implies that it is consumed after dinner, my boy."
"No buts," Jim shook his head. Caleb laughed and Murphy cut his blue eyes back to the older hunter. "I have need of assistance in bringing in the rest of the items from my truck…wait, I don't have a truck anymore."
"Yeah," Reaves sobered, "about that…"
The pastor rocked back on his heels, his glasses balanced precariously on his nose as he peered down at Caleb still leaning back in the chair. "I'm driving the church van."
"Gotcha'." Reaves pushed himself up and held out his hand for the keys. "Me and the Boy Wonder will do your bidding."
Jim handed the keys to Sam. "Make sure he doesn't carry too much. He just got out of the hospital.
The youngest Winchester smiled and jingled the keys in front of Caleb.
"Don't look so smug, runt. What about my Jeep?"
Sam grew red and flustered and the psychic tossed an arm around his shoulder as they walked out. "We'll discuss the wash and wax job after dinner."
Dean watched them leave. He was glad for a moment alone with the pastor.
"Jim...are you sure Sam's ready for this?"
"You're referring to his ring?"
The pastor leaned his hip against the bed, frowning down at the younger man. "I ponder that same question before giving each one. It is such a huge responsibility."
"But he's not even eighteen." Dean twisted his ring. The band had special meaning for him, and he wondered if his brother shared the same devotion. "He's just a kid."
Jim glanced down at his own ring. "This work has room for both saints and martyrs, Dean. But it holds a special calling for innocents. And, as you and I know, your brother is a unique individual because of that quality we have all conspired to protect in him."
"And you're not sure he'll be here when he's eighteen."
Murphy's frown deepened. "If you are insinuating that I am using The Brotherhood to ensure Sam's place with us, then you don't know me as well as I thought you did."
"No," Dean picked at the blanket. "I just don't want him to feel like he has to stay."
"You want him to choose this life."
"He's not like you Dean, or like Caleb or even Joshua. But some of the most honorable hunters I have known have found themselves in the midst of this strange circle by mere circumstance, plucked out of everyday life by the hands of fate."
"Yes, and Mackland. Neither of them sought to be in the Brotherhood."
Jim smiled. "I was rather like you, my boy."
Dean smiled. "I didn't ask for this life either, Jim."
"No one really does." The pastor patted the boy's leg. "But some are born to it."
"Why now then?"
"Sam trusted his instincts. He rebelled against your father's orders, and followed his own path. That's his gift." Jim explained, keeping his hand on the younger man's leg.
Dean rolled his eyes. "Not following orders is definitely Sam's talent...I don't know about a gift."
Jim laughed. "Trust me. It will work for him." He sobered some. "Although it's not always easy on those closest to him."
Winchester stared at him, licked his lips as if he wasn't sure he should ask what was obviously on his mind. "What's my gift?"
Jim felt a familiar lump spring to his throat as the image of an eight-year-old Dean asking him if he would ever be real sprang to his mind. He swallowed thickly. "Your gift is that you care too much."
"You, my dear boy, are ruled by your heart above all else. It affects every one of your decisions. It makes you selfless in a rare way that few individuals ever are." The pastor grinned.
Dean exhaled loudly. "You make me sound like a girl, Jim."
"It takes the strongest of men to do what you do, Dean Mathew Winchester. Don't ever think it doesn't. Someday you will understand how special you are."
"Right," Dean rolled his eyes, then glanced to the covered dish by his bed. "Special enough to rate an appetizer."
Jim sighed, wrapped his hand around the younger man's wrist. "Hear me, Dean."
Dean glanced back to Murphy as the room seemed to grow colder. He shivered as the fingers wrapped around his wrist, suddenly burned with intensity. "Jim?" He swallowed, his gaze going from the pastor's pale hand to the pale blue eyes looking at him. Surely he was still unconscious, maybe freezing to death in the truck alongside Caleb.
Winchester jerked back as the image of the pastor continued to shimmer and change. No longer was Jim dressed in his favorite, oversized red sweater and barn coat like he remembered from that long ago day. Instead, he was wearing his priest attire, a collar saturated in blood from the deathly gash gaping across his throat. "No!" Dean tried to jerk his hand free. "Jim!"
The pastor held his gaze, his grip tightening. "Listen to your heart, Dean. Don't let this happen again. Hear me, my boy. Use your gift. Help the Knight."
Fayetville, West Virginia, December 2006
Dean awoke with a gasp, and found his brother's concerned face above him, instead of Jim Murphy's ghostly form. "Sammy," he breathed, raking his hand through his hair. "What the hell..."
"I was going to ask you the same thing." Sam set down the brown, grease-stained bag he was holding. "I heard you yell from the parking lot."
Dean looked around the motel room, then back to his brother, who was still dressed in his jacket and gloves. They were in West Virginia. Sam had gone for food. Right. "I...it must have been a dream."
"Nightmare is more like it." Sam knew it was useless but he had to ask. "Want to talk about it?"
As expected, the other hunter shook his head. "No."
Sam sighed. "Then you better eat your burger before it gets cold. We need to get some sleep if we're going to make it to Virginia by tomorrow evening."
Dean frowned, rubbed at his head as Jim's voice echoed through his skull. 'Trust your heart, my boy.'
"Hey?" Sam's hand was warm on his wrist. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah." The oldest Winchester glanced up at his brother. "But we're not going to Virginia."
Sam's frown deepened. "We're not?"
"No." Dean shook his head. "We're going to North Carolina."
A/N: This story will be continued in two Christmas stories. The first being Charge Their Doings by Tidia. Chapter one will be posted on December 24, 2006. The other story is The Best and Worst of Times by me, Ridley. Chapter one of it will be posted on December 26, 2006. These stories are unique in that they tell one story in two different settings. They run parallel with one another, but never actually intersect until the end, although they are the same story. bg. It is a first, and hard to explain, so you'll just have to trust me and read them.
Also, the web page with pictures of Caleb and Joshua is up, thanks to Will, who has this disclaimer: It is a work in progress, people, construction underway, please ignore the mess. Bg. Here is the addy spelled out seeing as how we can't post such things on fanfic. www(dot)hunterstomb(dot)com.
Merry Christmas everyone. -Ridley