A Christmas Carol
Twenty years ago, Mary Winchester — the beloved Wife of John Winchester and adored Mother of Samuel and Deane Winchester — was cruelly lost within a fire that claimed the Winchester family's home.
This tale takes place within the Supernatural By Gaslight universe (AKA, the DeaneVerse), and is the prequel to the main storyline in By Gaslight.
Disclaimer: The Winchesters, even within this incarnation, are regrettably not my creation. However, I will take full and knowledgeable blame for impinging upon your senses with this entirely silly romp through a very different Victorian England.
Characters: Deane Winchester, John Winchester, Robert Cratchit, Mrs. Cratchit, Martha Cratchit
Pairings (Overall): None
Rating (Overall): PG-13
Rating: PG-13 (Mild Gore)
Summary: The Winchesters return to London for the Holidays after John receives a letter from his college chum, Robert Cratchit. Deane is visited by a very disturbing apparition.
Feedback: I would consider you most kind if you would do so.
Miscellaneous: This lovely little homage to Romance and Adventure owes its sparkle to the ever-radiant wenchpixie.
Stave One: Mary's Ghost
Mary Winchester was dead to begin with – there was no doubt about that. Deane Winchester had never doubted his father's accounting of the story. One need only look in Father's eyes to know that such an accounting was truth, or listen to the inevitable digression to the night their lives devolved into what they had become whenever John Winchester was deep within the throes of absinthe.
In truth, if someone had asked Deane whether or not his mother was dead as a doornail, he might have offered to take the offending party outside for a pugilism lesson – but it did not change the sad fact that such an appellation could be applied to his mother. This story, even sadder to say, relies much upon the incontrovertible fact that Mary Winchester was as a dead as a doornail.
It was not, however, the underlying reason for the Winchesters' return to London nor did this inevitable fact explain why they were spending Christmas Eve dining with Father's old school friend, Robert Cratchit.
In point of fact, Deane blamed the letter. It was an infringement upon a long-standing Winchester tradition – to never set foot upon British soil during Christmas week. Father had received it the week prior, when the Winchesters were happily ensconced in Florence. Deane had spent quite the night carousing through the streets, hoping to find like-minded young women with whom to while away the hours. Well sated by his exploits, Deane had returned to the room he shared with his father – only to find him packing.
It was vexing, to say the least – and Deane Winchester was not a man easily vexed. Christmas was the most ill-conceived holiday known to Man, based on superstitions and beliefs in creatures that cared not for the well-being of others. Peace on earth would never occur while demons walked its roads, and men like the Winchesters would always be needed to fight them.
Deane had read the letter on the first coach out of Florence. There was no task his father would not perform for a fellow alumnus from Oxford – even if that meant returning to England to assist Robert Cratchit. To be fair, the problem did fall within the scope of the Winchesters' chosen profession, replete with hauntings and the undeniably evil magus – by name of Ebeneezer Scrooge – who controlled the evil spirits rifling through Mr. Cratchit's memories; spirits finding tiny little secrets that Scrooge was then using to blackmail Father's old friend.
It was not the Winchesters' first visit to the Cratchit family. They had attended the family some ten years earlier, when the youngest son – Timothy by name – was replaced with a changeling. It was a nasty little bugger that spent an inordinate amount of time spitting up a ghastly green substance on the ill-fated soul with the misfortune of carrying it; a task Deane unerringly, and with great pleasure, always assigned to Samuel in Father's absence. Changelings were, by and large, mischievous creatures and the experience would serve his brother well as a training exercise.
Perhaps it was simply the blasted holiday, but Deane felt the loss of Samuel's presence most keenly – the last time he sat at the Cratchit's table for dinner, he and Samuel had engaged in an offense with their peas. Even Father had flicked a pea or two when Mrs. Cratchit's attention was otherwise occupied by the newly returned Timothy – a squalling, red-faced child with a voice that could rattle the rafters. The changeling was the better behaved of the two, despite its green spew.
There were diversions to be found during dinner, if one was clever enough to seek them out – and Deane Winchester was, for all his faults, a clever man. Martha, the eldest Cratchit daughter, was scarcely eighteen; a sly little minx with dancing brown eyes and red hair that curled pleasingly about her face. She was, truth be told, too young and untried for more enthusiastic pursuits but she flirted exceedingly well all the same, managing innuendo that women twice her age could not achieve – all within the observant presence of her mother.
In fact, it was with great resolve that Deane turned his attentions from their conversation on trifles to the more appropriate topic at hand. His father was already deeply involved in the initial phase of the investigation – it was at times such as this, when his father was skillfully interrogating a victim, that Deane realized he had learned his profession at the hands of an undeniable Master. He would consider himself lucky to be half the Hunter his father had become.
If only the research was not so boring.
Deane sighed. His father had been asking questions since they had met Cratchit at his place of employment – Ebeneezer Scrooge's lending house. The villain himself had come to the door to meet them, a gaunt man with a fringe of white hair about his bare scalp. Scrooge's clothes were old-fashioned in cut, assiduously patched in order to remain functional. The moneylender looked more like an asylum resident than a business man and, had Deane not been aware of his ability to control demons, Scrooge would still have raised a Winchester's suspicion. When he sat back down at his desk, Scrooge rested his chin on crossed fingers so skeletal, they appeared to be claws – and his beady eyes followed the Winchesters as they moved towards Robert Cratchit.
The appearance of Scrooge alone was something to make one feel sorry for Mr. Cratchit's circumstances. The son of a lord reduced to working for a moneylender due to the vagaries of his father's will; according to Father, the estate went to the oldest son from the first marriage. His widowed mother barely had enough money to send him to Oxford, but it was important to her that Robert Cratchit attend the college. Deane secretly believed that his father wished both of his sons followed in his footsteps in that regard, despite the education Deane had otherwise received through his experience.
"He seems to have an amazing control over the spirits he has called," John Winchester said, breaking into Deane's thoughts. Deane turned his full attention on his father. "Directing them towards specific memories. But why Christmas?" It was a rhetorical question; neither Deane nor his father expected Robert Cratchit to know the answer. "What significance does Christmas hold?"
"Perhaps it is a mockery of the holiday itself," Mr. Cratchit replied, pushing a pair of spectacles atop his nose.
Father frowned. "Perhaps." He dabbed at his mouth with a napkin. "But it seems a strange way to gather blackmail material on someone," his father added. His eyes lightened suddenly. "Do you remember that Christmas we spent together back at Oxford?"
Robert Cratchit's eyes clouded. "Yes. And that is a memory that the blasted little child spirit seemed to find most astonishing."
His father shared a frown with his old friend, shaking his head. "I do not possibly remember anything we could have done during that holiday which would warrant an opportunity for blackmail."
Mr. Cratchit's eyes twinkled at the memory. "Excellent times, old friend." He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief. "Our youthful assignations are stories we must relay some day."
There were, however, assignations of an entirely different sort that Deane was positive Robert Cratchit would not wish discussed in the presence of his wife and children – exploits with other friends during holidays through the years, including an excursion the previous year that was discussed at great length when they walked from the moneylender's to the Cratchit's modest home. In point of fact, Robert Cratchit was an adulterer, consorting with all manner of women. Deane was not a man intended for commitment – the means had been taken from him when a demon killed his mother – but Mr. Cratchit's secret life had lent itself to blackmail, no matter how modestly he played his role as upstanding father and dutiful husband.
Deane frowned suddenly, distaste overwhelming his desire to eat – even his wish to continue flirting with the pretty little redhead sliding a piece of trifle in his direction. At least his assignations were honest, and only Deane himself was the one with the potential for lasting harm.
"I believe I shall take my leave, Mrs. Cratchit." Deane smiled at the woman, and her eyes positively beamed in response. "Dinner was excellent, but I am required to assist my father with research – and research waits for no man."
"Do we call it research, son?" His father hid a smirk.
Deane raised his eyebrows. "When one reads your journals looking for potential foes, what else am I to call it?" His voice was mild. Bugger! He couldn't fool his father; there was a comely young maid back at the tavern next to the inn where they were staying – a brunette girl around Samuel's age. For all that the Winchesters had a predilection for women of the blonde persuasion, Deane always pursued their darker haired cousins when given the opportunity.
"Do not tire yourself out, Deane," Father admonished. "We will continue our investigations in the morning."
"On Christmas?" Martha gasped.
"Christmas is just another day on the Winchester calendar," Deane said shortly. "Good evening to you all."
Martha followed him to the hallway – an act of impropriety, save that her mother had accompanied her to the coat stand. "Surely you do not mean such words, Mr. Winchester?" The young woman's voice was anxious. "Christmas is a joyous time of year, full of celebrations." She lowered her brown eyes. "Do you know, I've always wanted to be mar – "
"Good evening, Mrs. Cratchit." Deane buttoned his overcoat furiously. Damn Father for making me wear it. His old pea coat was back in the room. There was much he would not give to be wearing it at that moment, perhaps for a stroll along the docks to clear his thoughts. "Until we meet again, Miss Cratchit," he added, with a smile that probably appeared as a grimace if the girl's expression was an appropriate judge.
Blast and damn! It had begun to snow, and the short walk to the tavern was the closest substitute. There were carolers standing on the street corner, singing a melancholy rendition of Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming. That had been his mother's favorite Christmas carol, if Father was to be believed. Deane caught his scowling reflection in one of the nearby store windows – no wonder there were two children tagging his heels, taunting him about his lack of seasonal spirit.
Seasonal spirit be damned. Deane Winchester was off to the tavern for some whisky and a tryst with a dark-haired barmaid.
The barmaid, unfortunately, had other plans for the evening. She was sitting on the lap of a rough-looking man, dressed in shabby clothes and sporting the most ridiculous moustache Deane had seen in years. Deane never understood Society's approval of them, for he preferred his hair short and his face with just a bit of stubble upon his chin – he looked more like a boy than a man when he was clean-shaven, and there was the Winchester mystique to consider in such matters.
The idea of wooing the woman regardless was overturned by a shot of whisky. Deane decided he would rather pursue the eventuality of a good wallow in his cups versus the potential of a round of fisticuffs – and an evening of wallowing seemed to be in order. A hang-over would not be unforeseen, and added nothing to the horror that was the pending holiday, whereas a fight could cause bruising in tender places that interfered with other time-proven methods for muddling through Christmas.
He picked up his bottle of whisky, stopped with its cork, and proceeded next door. The chill of the wind was bracing, and the falling snow's gentle touch reminded him of the girl who used to kiss his freckles. Blast! How can I be maudlin when I am sober?
It was time to rectify that situation.
Deane grunted towards the innkeeper on his way up the stairs, and trudged towards the Winchesters' room. It was a nice inn – nicer than the usual hostels in which the Winchesters found themselves, if a trifle colder than most. Yet it was close to the Cratchit residence and boasted a tavern right next door, making it a perfect base of operations from his father's point of view. Deane was fortunate to discover a stack of wood near the fireplace.
Once the fire was underway, Deane slipped out of his overcoat – throwing it on his bed – and then divested himself of the waistcoat he wore underneath. How can Samuel wear such a contrivance every day of his life? It was a question for which he did not expect an answer, given that Samuel was at Oxford. It had been several months – perhaps a little more than a year – since they last received a letter from Samuel. Deane hoped his younger brothers studies were going well, despite Samuel's disbelief in the assertion.
He rummaged through his father's satchel, and pulled out a sheaf of papers. Quill in one hand and his tumbler of whisky in the other, Deane managed to pen a missive to his younger brother that – in his estimable opinion – manfully berated Samuel for his lack of contact during the last fourteen months. Hazel eyes perused the letter before searching for an envelope. Those spots must be from when I spilled the whisky on the table. If Samuel chose not to respond to the letter, Deane would attend Samuel at Oxford to continue his little brother's pugilism lessons.
It was a woman's voice.
He was in the midst of heating up wax for the seal. "Blast!" Deane blurted out as hot wax landed between his thumb and index finger. He set the seal down onto the table, bleary eyes turning towards the sound.
There was a woman floating three feet off the floor in front of the roaring fireplace. Deane blinked. It was not just any woman – it was a woman with flowing blonde hair, falling gently down to her waist but billowing around her in a gentle breeze of its own making. Her white nightdress likewise flowed in the light zephyr, and there was a tender look within the woman's eyes as she smiled at him.
It was his mother.
Deane glared at the bottle of whisky. This is the last time I choose to drink a label against which I am not already well-informed! His eyes unfocused, and Deane began removing the wax from his hand.
"Do you know who I am, Deane?" the apparition asked.
He did not respond. Speaking to a phantom built solely from the zealous consumption of alcohol was not, by anyone's judgment, the act of a gentleman.
The remnant of his drunken exploits, however, was insistent. "Deane." There was urgency within the soft voice, and a sad look within the creature's eyes. "Do you know who I am?" she asked for a second time.
Deane sighed. "Although you appear to be the spirit of my mother, you are nothing more than the vestige of the three glasses of claret from dinner, or perhaps the spot of port I drank within Mr. Cratchit's study." He shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose you could even be the result of a studious exploration of whisky, although I doubt that very much."
The woman smiled sadly. "I am none of those things." The hair billowed back behind her, and Deane's eyes widened. There was a bloodstained gash against her stomach, and he could see the entrails deep within the fold of the cut flesh. "I am, in truth, your mother." The thing had tears in its eyes.
"Ah. So nice of you to stop by and wish me a Happy Christmas, Mother." Deane snorted. A thought occurred, and he faced the thing with a grin. "Christo," he said softly.
"You have your father's stubbornness," the creature replied, staring at Deane with his mother's eyes. He felt a coldness sinking within his stomach, as his heart clenched within his chest. Is it possible? Deane shook his head sharply. It is not. "And my time has grown short, for you also have your father's fondness for whisky," the apparition added, a sharper tone its voice.
"You are not a demon, and since I do not know of any friendly ghosts, I must once again reiterate that you are nothing but a figment of my intoxicated imagination." Deane folded his arms in front of his chest, and leaned back in his chair – tapping the ground expectantly with one booted foot while staring the specter in her tear-filled eyes. "Why are you not disappearing?" he asked, with a frown.
The breeze in which the creature floated grew brisk, and blonde hair whipped around the face he so long remembered – a face now staring at him with the gravest of expressions. "Enough, Deane!" Whatever it was, the creature engendered a fair approximation of his mother's annoyance whenever Deane had misbehaved as a child. "I am not disappearing for I have a task to fulfill."
"And that is?" Deane's voice was soft.
"You are in danger, son." The thing tilted its head. "Most profound and sincere danger!"
"Now I know you are nothing but a creation of my overactive mind," Deane retorted. "Father and I are fighting a magus who can summon spirits." He narrowed his eyes. "How do I know that you are not one of his spirits?" Deane demanded.
"I did not think it was possible for another man to be as stubborn as John Patrick Winchester!" the creature snapped. "I am not, nor have I ever been, the lackey of a magus. I was sent by those who consider your worth, and the worth of your family, to be of importance in the upcoming storms ahead." The body was outlined by curling licks of a bright yellow fire, almost as though the fireplace was sparking around it. "Tonight, the Monster puts a plan into fruition, and you are its target."
"What the devil do you mean by that?" Deane cried.
"I can say no more than this," the thing replied, fire growing more brilliant around her. "You will be haunted by three spirits and they have no other purpose than to break you, to find that which cuts you and use it against your very soul. Expect – " The fire had started to burn the edges of the nightgown, the billowing edges of her hair, and the smell of burning flesh filled the room. "Expect the first at midnight," the woman said. She opened her mouth to say more, holding out one hand before her, and the fire became so luminous – and the smell of burned clothing and flesh so overwhelming – that Deane could do nothing but stare. The slash upon her abdomen looked newly cut, and blood glistened in the fire's glow.
"Goodbye, Mother," he said softly when the fire flared and she disappeared completely. You will be haunted by three spirits and they have no other purpose than to break you, to find that which cuts you and use it against your very soul. What greater wound could the proffered spirits confer than the vision of his mother's death?
Deane Winchester picked up the whisky bottle with one shaking hand, and poured another tumbler. He swallowed quickly, glaring at the fireplace.
This story is the prequel to the main storyline in Supernatural by Gaslight (AKA, the DeaneVerse) – a frothy little confection that started life as a simple one-shot corset-ripper. A one-shot that spawned multi-fic sequels – and, apparently, this prequel. Such is the brain of elanurel when encouraged by the ever-radiant wenchpixie.
The original version of A Christmas Carol was published in 1843. In order to fit into the existing storyline, I moved the story to 1883.
Morality was an important component of the Middle class in Victorian culture. ("Family Values" as defined today owes a great debt to the Victorian Middle Class, and its desire to differentiate itself from a 'corrupt' Upper Class through "morals.") To be considered immoral was a particularly untenable position. While the rules are much stricter for women, men were expected to always appear seemly and the threat held over Robert Cratchit is one that would impact both his social and business standing were the truth of his activities known. Even the Upper Class attempted to appear moral.
The decision to use 'Deane' instead of the more familiar 'Dean' was my attempt to provide a more period-appropriate version of the name. I was able to date its use as a first name to 1623. Go, inner research geek.
Deane does, sad to say, have a "tragic romance" in his past – just like any other hero in a Victorian melodrama. Even Ebeneezer Scrooge had a chick he left behind, and he is no Deane Winchester. ;-P