Disclaimer: Dean and Sam Winchester (and what parts of their backstories we know) don't belong to me, and neither does their car. They all belong to Kripke Enterprises and The CW, along with various other folks along the way, I'm sure. I just borrowed them to give them a little holiday fluff, because goodness knows they need it.
A/N: Not alphaed or betaed, so there might be a few more typos than usual. I do beg pardon. This idea just came to me on Saturday, and it's tough to find editors with free time on Christmas. :) Also, I don't usually write kids (or read them, if I'm honest, because they're difficult to get right) in stories, but this one kind of called for one. I hope she sounds her age. :)
(alt title – Kings of Leon)
He didn't mind snow that much, except for the fact Baby didn't do well with it. She wasn't made to deal with salt and gravel and other barbaric, chassis-damaging, rust-inducing methods used to keep the roads clean and slick free. Good and frequent washings helped, but Dean hated the thought of exposing her to potential damage. Rust did not look good on black.
"This will be a quick job, Dean, and we'll be out of here soon," Sam said, like he was reading his mind. "Besides it's kind of nice that we'll get a white Christmas this year."
Yes, because nothing said happy holidays quite like fighting a poltergeist in the middle of wintery Iowa. They hadn't even intended on stopping. Sam had had to piss, and since they were already sidetracked with that a carwash for Baby and food for them had seemed like good ideas. If only he hadn't heard that little girl rambling on about the weird things going on in her house. Just because it was the most wonderful time of the year for everyone else didn't mean that evil shit didn't still happen. Dean probably wouldn't have cared, though, if it had come from anyone but a kid. Damn his soft spot, anyway.
"Yeah. Right," Dean grumbled. "It's all about the tidings of comfort and joy for us right now. A poltergeist wrapped up in a nice, silver, holiday bow."
"Every day's like Christmas, man."
He kind of wanted to kill Sam just a little, or at least wipe the grin off his face. Dean settled for delivering a death glare, which had no effect at all. He shouldn't really be annoyed with Sam. It was his stupid soft spot that had kept them here. He stared back toward the house, had no idea what they were going to do. The family had all seen them at the diner, so at least he didn't have to endure one of Sam's 'brilliant disguise' ideas. It left them operating with a handicap, though.
"Any thoughts on how we're getting access to the house?"
The heater wasn't working well. Baby needed some TLC, ASAP. She should be working just fine, what with the whole rebuild. Dean lifted is hands to his mouth and blew on his fingers. Damnit, it was starting to snow. Their next gig was waiting them in warm, dry, car-safe Arizona. He couldn't wait.
"Tonight's Christmas Eve," Sam said, totally unhelpful.
"Okay, Mr. State-the-obvious. How's that help, exactly?"
"When you hit the bathroom at the diner I looked pitiful and introduced myself to Mrs. and Mr. Wittwer. Nice people, very friendly and charitable." Sam still had that annoying little grin on his face. It was amazing how much a person could hate someone they loved so much. "They didn't like the idea of us being all alone tonight, with our family all the way back in New York."
The trip to the liquor store for frigging white wine made sense now, and so did the chocolate marshmallow Santa Sam insisted on buying. Great. Dinner with the Cleavers. Exactly how he didn't want to spend the night. Dean glared some more, at the house, at Sam, at the snow, both for the annoying plan and the annoying brother who hadn't clued him in. He might have been suckered by the kid (and without even talking to her directly), but that didn't mean he wanted to spend an entire evening making small talk. What did people in towns the size of Leon talk about? The weather? Next year's crop of soybeans? Pork bellies?
"I hate you, Sam."
"Merry Christmas, Dean," Sam said, and handed him a couple of cloth bundles, neatly tied with nothing other than silver ribbon.
For a second, Dean looked at them and actually thought they were gifts. Then he smelled the crossroad dirt. He had no idea how Sam had found the time to get all of this shit ready, without knowing about it himself. Sam grabbed the wine and got out of the car. Dean had to admit grudging admiration – his brother was several steps ahead of him, which meant all he had to do was survive dinner and hope the Wittwers didn't mind when he and Sam busted through their drywall. He shut off the engine and joined Sam on the front porch of a very old house. That was something, at least. Unless the family had made major renovations, kicking through the walls shouldn't be a challenge.
Sam rang the doorbell. The chime was programmed to play "Ding Dong Merrily On High." Dean threw up a little in his mouth. All this normal and holiday spirit were going to kill him, he just knew it. He glanced back toward the Impala. Damn, the snow had already dumped a blanket on her, and damn if it didn't look all picturesque in true cheesy holiday movie style out there. He heard the rapid thud of small feet racing for the door. It opened, and there she was. The reason for this mess. She had a Santa hat on her head, a huge grin and an eggnog mustache. She didn't look particularly frightened of the weird things in her house.
"Hi!" she said cheerfully, and then it didn't even matter that she wasn't scared. For not wanting normal, Dean was embarrassingly easily taken in by kids. "Come in."
"Hi, Sophie," Sam said. Now Dean had a name to go with the sucker-punching little face, and it was cute and suited her and he was just plain screwed. "I brought you this."
Sam reached in his pocket and handed Sophie the candy Santa.
"Mooooom, Sam and that other guy are here and they brought me candy! Can I eat it, can I, can I?" Sophie bellowed and ran off, leaving them standing with the door open.
Dean shut the door hastily, and pocketed the bundle of poltergeist-buster before it was mistaken for a gift. Technically it was a gift, but they didn't need to know the specifics. If he and Sam were lucky, the family would never really know what was causing the strange flickering lights and disappearing objects in their home. Those things would just stop happening suddenly. He straightened as Mrs. Wittwer approached the entryway. He hadn't paid attention to her in the diner, or her husband. She was young, his age or maybe younger. Petite, brunette. Pretty in a wholesome, girl next door kind of way.
"Hello, Sam, and you must be Dean?"
"Yes, ma'am," Dean said and gave her a charming smile. Mrs. Wittwer might be married with children, but she wasn't bad to look at, and a smile could go a long way with just about everyone. "Very nice to meet you."
"It's our pleasure to have you here, really," she said. "And please call me Gwen. I can take your coats, and you can leave your shoes by the door."
"Yes, ma'am," Sam said this time.
"No, seriously, call me Gwen." She laughed, a light, happy, not-scared-out-of-her-wits sound. Dean was starting to think the rumors of spirits in this house were exaggerated. "The ma'am thing kind of freaks me out."
Sam's elbow bumped into him as his brother wriggled out of his coat, struggling to maintain his grip on the wine bottle. Dean snatched it from him until the guy had successfully peeled off his outermost layer of clothing, then handed it back so he could do the same. Gwen took both coats and disappeared. Dean leaned down and started untying his boots. It took too damn much effort just to go from outside to inside in this damned climate. Sam mimicked him.
"Huh," Sam said. Dean looked over, couldn't see his brother's face because his mop of hair obscured it. "They don't seem scared or anything."
"Noticed that." Dean finished unlacing his boots and slid them off. "It's possible we're kind of jumping the gun a little."
"What does that mean?" A heart-shaped face appeared right in front of his, Sophie squatting down and contorting in a way only a child could manage. Dean lurched up and back, heart pounding. He had to try really hard to avoid swearing up a storm. "Why would you jump over a gun?"
"It's just a way of saying you've gone too fast, Sophie," Sam said, using the soft voice that always worked on people in general, soothing.
"You shouldn't drive fast, it's dangerous," Sophie said, very serious and big-eyed, leaping to tangential conclusions.
"You're right." Dean relaxed now that his heart wasn't beating about a million times per minute. He glanced toward Sam again, who appeared to be holding back a smile. He wanted to kill his brother just a little again. "I'll keep that in mind."
"Is she bothering you?" Gwen appeared again, giving her daughter a gently exasperated look. "She's very excited for Santa to come."
Dean felt a pang. He didn't really remember much from his early childhood, but now the scents of cinnamon and pine and the exuberance of a five-year-old little girl hearkened vague memories of twinkling Christmas tree lights and his mom looking very happy. A different happy than his other memories, and if he thought about it, it was probably because she'd been pregnant with Sam that last year. Dad had been bursting at the seams, too. Dean smiled, mostly to keep from letting his true, heartbreaking emotions show.
"I'll bet. She's not bothering us at all." Sam laughed softly as the girl bounced around. He handed the wine to Gwen awkwardly. "Merry Christmas."
"Oh, you didn't have to bring anything."
"It was the least we could do, ma…Gwen," Dean said. "You opened your home to perfect strangers."
"'Tis the season," she said. "And you'll have to forgive this place. It's old and starting to show it. We've been having some strange light flickering lately, so that might happen tonight."
"Really?" Sam said. "The wiring in old houses can be tricky sometimes, I guess."
"That's what Daddy says, too, but that's not true," Sophie said.
"Soph, hush now. Don't start with that talk." Sophie pouted, but obediently didn't say anything more. Okay, though, they'd at least established something was actually happening. That made him feel a little bit better about getting diverted to stay here. "Won't you two come in? Make yourselves comfortable in the family room. Dinner will be ready in about half an hour."
With any luck, they'd manage to surreptitiously deposit their weapons and the problem would be solved without any kind of mess. A little ho-ho-ho, a little free home cooking and they'd be on their merry way. Dean was no longer as annoyed as he'd been before, but he'd still rather be on the road. He looked at Sam, who was staring at the brightly decorated home with a slightly sloppy smile on his face that didn't quite make it to his eyes. Sam had wanted this once, had it and lost it. Dean forgot about that sometimes, because Sam had become good at masking it since…he had to avert his gaze, focused his attention on the back of Gwen's head. He couldn't fix what had happened to his family. He had to concentrate on not letting this family suffer under evil influences.
"Can we do anything to help?"
"No, I've got…actually, wait. Ross had to run out – he's a volunteer EMT. I wouldn't turn down someone taking the garbage out."
"That one's all you, Sammy." Dean wanted to talk with Sophie alone, find out more about what was going on in the house. "I'm going to stay nice and warm inside."
"I'm sorry, it's rude of me to ask," Gwen said. "I can handle it, really. It's no problem."
"Oh, no. Just least the way," Sam said. "I don't mind."
Gwen gave him a smile and led him away. Dean watched them disappear deeper into the house, but place was small and old and he could still hear them talking. Sam was busily doing his endearing little boy lost routine, something that came very naturally. It always worked, probably because it wasn't a routine so much as it was just Sam. He wondered if his little project would notice if he pulled out his EMF detector. Better safe than sorry. He was no stranger to destruction, but he really didn't have the heart to destroy someone's house at Christmastime if it wasn't necessary. Something tugged at his shirt. He looked down.
"Hey, other guy, want to see our tree?"
"My name's Dean, sweetheart, and I'd love to," he said. She was the spitting image of little Cindy Lou Who, he swore.
"I did allllll the decorating," she said proudly. The announcement wasn't necessary. As soon as they made it to the family room, he saw the tree in all its glory. Decorated from the bottom third down with lots of ornaments and clumps of those silver icicles, except the angel perched on top. "Daddy lifted me way up high for the angel. Hey, you're taller than Daddy, and Sam's taller than you. Do old people like you shrink when you get even older?"
"Sometimes, yeah, old people shrink. But I'm not that old."
"Amy's my babysitter sometimes. She's really old – seventeen. Are you older than that?"
"Can we not talk about this anymore?"
"Sure," Sophie said, shrugging. "Let's play tiddlywinks instead. It's fun."
She was cute as a button. Dean wished most sincerely that he had taken the garbage gig. He was starting to feel something more than heartache and numbness. He nodded and Sophie scampered away to find the game. He took the opportunity to scan the room, almost disappointed that the EMF lit up like the Christmas lights on the tree. He wandered around the room, looking for a spot that might be hotter than another.
"That's pretty cool." Dean jerked, lost his balance and ended up sprawled on the sofa. Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, Sophie could sneak up on him more successfully than a frigging ghost. "I want to play with that instead."
"It's not a toy," Dean said. "And you need to wear a bell or something."
"That's what Mommy says, and it is true."
"So, what did you mean when you said it wasn't the wiring that makes the lights flicker?"
Dean shoved the EMF in his back pocket, which made sitting damned uncomfortable but Sophie kept eyeing it. She'd proven her deftness a couple of times now, he didn't want to risk losing it to her hot little hands somehow. She might not be a human child. She could pass for an elf, or maybe a sprite.
"I just don't think it's that. Mommy said not to talk about it."
"Can you tell me how much it happens?"
"Only at night. They're only around at night."
The sound of the front door opening, a cold blast of air and Sophie was off like a rocket. Dean sighed. That had got him nothing but an age complex and a vague reference to a "they" involved in the Wittwers' strange happenings. Maybe Sam had a better time of it with the grown up. He stood up as who he supposed was Ross entered the room, swinging Sophie around like she was a jungle monkey. She sounded like one. Dean felt one of those awful pangs inside again. He rose to his feet.
"And Sam and Dean are here and Mommy made special Christmas brownies with red and green sprinkles on top and…"
She would have kept going on forever, except Ross, broad, definitely shorter and slightly older than Dean Ross, gently set her down and shushed her. Sophie did as asked and stopped chattering. Okay, so she couldn't be a sprite or elf. She was mischievous and sweet and hyper as hell, but damned if she wasn't the most obedient child he'd ever seen. Not that he was Dr. Spock or anything. Ross stepped forward, hand outstretched. Dean took it, and barely survived the crushing handshake.
"You must be Dean. Sam told us all about you." In the two minutes Dean had been pissing, and yet had managed to keep him in the dark. Unbelievable. "Nice kid, that Sam."
"Yeah, he's that all right." Real exceptional. "I hope we're not too much of an imposition."
"Not at all. Gwennie always makes enough food for an army. I hope you like lasagna. Get you a beer?"
Dean nodded. Thank fuck, he thought he was going to have to drink the wine Sam had brought. Ross motioned for him to sit down again and moved toward the sound of Gwen and Sam's voices. Sophie stared at him, unblinking and thoughtful, for so long he started to get weirded out. She narrowed her eyes…just as the lights flickered. It was more like they shut completely off, then turned back on again.
"Maybe tiddlywinks after dinner," he said. She smiled brightly and nodded, completely unfazed by the light show. That did not bode well. "Special brownies, huh?"
"I helped with the sprinkles," she said, like it was a secret. "And Mommy let me break one of the eggs."
And here he thought special brownies meant the same thing everywhere. The night would sure go a lot faster if they were special in the way he thought. He looked around the room again, hoping to find any easy spot to casually drop one of his packets. It couldn't hurt. There were, of course, no read-made holes in the wall. If there was a poltergeist, though, the most that would happen was that the Wittwers would have small patch jobs to complete.
"That's nice, sweetie, I'll bet you did a great job," Dean said absently.
"There's nothing bad here."
Dean sat up straighter, but once again didn't have the chance to gain clarity about Sophie's frank comment. Ross came back with Sam in tow and beers in hand. Peering up from the sofa, Dean had to admit Sophie's theory about age and height made sense given her limited information. Sam was a giant from this angle. He always wondered how that had happened. He wasn't that much shorter, but Dad was…had been even shorter than him, and Mom had been fairly average. He thought he might know now, and it had nothing to do with shrinking. What Dad had told him before…he took the beer Ross dangled in front of him and pulled a swallow. Happy fucking holidays, he thought, catching Sam's serious expression and slight nod.
"So you're an EMT, Ross?"
"That's right. For Leon and several surrounding communities. We're not much, but better than nothing."
"What do you do otherwise?"
"Sell tires. Well, sell 'em and work on tractor repairs, but the second part isn't always profitable."
Exciting. God, Dean hated small talk.
"What about you boys?" Dean clenched his jaw at the term boys coming from someone not that much older. Coming from someone who wasn't Dad. "Sam said you're on the road a lot. I didn't think there were many traveling salesmen around these days."
Dean looked up, startled. He scowled at Sam, who shrugged and looked sheepish. Sam always had sucked at the cover stories. It just wasn't in him, the whole deceive, inveigle and obfuscate thing. He supposed there were worse failings. He was living proof of that, after all. He slammed down another swallow of beer.
"Life insurance doesn't sell itself," Dean said. "Besides, we like the mobility."
"Hey, Ross? Sorry to interrupt, but I don't suppose I could use your bathroom?" Sam said suddenly.
Great. Sam was ditching him again. He scowled some more, and Sam just kind of jutted his head toward the north and south walls. Oh, right. Lay the traps, be done with it and set off the paranormal blast that would expel the poltergeist and would be the last weird thing the Wittwers had to experience. Ross didn't charm yet disarm him like his daughter did, and the beer helped. He could small talk alone for a while. It wasn't like Sam had been helping much at all anyway.
"Sure. Soph, show Sam where the upstairs bathroom is, would you, pumpkin?"
There went that idea. Sam looked momentarily annoyed, but then smiled quickly at Sophie as she tugged at his hand. The Jolly Sam Giant and Sprout. It was actually kind of cute. He gave his brother a broad smile. Sam rolled his eyes and let Sophie drag him out of the room. Dean chatted with Ross for a few more minutes, then spent his time desperately trying to think of an excuse to get out. Gwen saved the day, calling to her husband from the kitchen for something or other. Dean was left alone, and he didn't waste time. He had no idea how long he'd have without one of the Wittwers hovering around him. He hoped his sense of direction was right, and that Sam had meant to tell him he was going to tag the north and south walls, leaving the east/west for Dean.
Dean picked a spot right behind the Christmas tree, which was probably pretty low, but at least it would cover up the hole for a while. He didn't have as much luck finding a good spot on the west, though. He kept his ears tuned into the activity in the kitchen – Gwen was complaining that she'd misplaced her favorite spatula again, and Ross was complaining about why he had to be the one to find it. Normal people were boring. God, he was starting to want to be a normal person. He glanced down a short hallway, discovered the best access he'd have to a west wall was in the Wittwers' bedroom. He took a deep breath, hoped he wouldn't get caught (people always jumped to the erroneous conclusion a guy was a pervert if he was caught with his hands in an underwear drawer), and went in.
It was the easiest task he'd ever done on a hunt. Slid under the bed, used his pocketknife to carve a hole, deposited the bundle and scooted out again. Simple. Not a sign of displeasure from the 'geist. Dean was back to his beer in the family room by the time Ross left the kitchen. A minute later Sam and Sophie were back, and there should have been something, some kind of sign because Sam nodded that he'd accomplished his mission.
But there wasn't. Nothing flared, sparked or blew in any sign that a poltergeist had just been banished.
He really needed to get Sam alone, talk shop. He didn't see that happening anytime soon. Ross got him another beer, but Sophie lingered; Sophie raced away to the kitchen, but Ross was all gung ho about stupid tractor tires. Dean thought they spent at least six hours waiting for dinner, but a glance at the tinsel-laden clock on the wall said only ten minutes passed. When they were finally ushered to dinner, Dean's head was kind of spinning from all the normal, which he now no longer really wanted. Sam, though, thought ahead and walked closely next to him.
"Nothing happened," Sam said, whispering. "Why didn't anything happen?"
"Dunno." Dean wondered why Sam always, always insisted on stating things he already knew. "Sophie told me there's nothing bad here."
"She might be right, but what about the lights, the missing kitchen implements? Gwen said her drawers are always being straightened, but she swears she doesn't remember doing it."
"I don't know, Sam, it's not like I've had a lot of time to sort through this shit."
They had to stop talking as soon as they reached the kitchen table. Sophie directed them where they were supposed to sit, and Dean made him self blankly follow along with dinner. Shit, they even started it off with a prayer. He was surprised they didn't go around the table and yammer on about why Christmas was special to them. What would he have said to that? He'd had three presumably happy Christmases he couldn't remember in his whole life, and Sam hadn't even experienced one at all until he'd left his family at eighteen. He wondered if Sam had enjoyed his belated holiday celebrations. He watched Sam carefully throughout dinner. He didn't think Sam had. Dinner went off without a hitch or a light flicker, though.
It happened when Sophie, who'd insisted on bringing in the special brownies, came back into the room.