"The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune's spite; revive from ashes and rise."
-Miquel de Cervantes Saavedra
"Conner?" John stepped forward as his former father-n-law removed his sunglasses and started around the front of the car. The dark voice residing in John's mind whispered nightmarish things-all the fears of a normal parent along with the ones of a man such as himself. "What's wrong? Is Sam okay?"
The hunter had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when the rear passenger door swung open and his seven-year-old son bounded out.
"Daddy!" Sam barreled towards his father, as if it had been weeks not merely hours since their last encounter. "I'm home!"
John caught him, unsure of what to make of the situation. "Hey, Sport." He breathed into the boy's ear, gave him a hard squeeze. He caught the scent of baby shampoo and soap and held tighter. "I missed you."
"Me too." Sam pulled back, flashing Jim and Bobby a wide grin. He wiggled in his father's arms until John put him down. "Hey Pastor Jim. Guess what? I'm home."
Jim knelt by the child, running a hand over his hair. "So I hear, my boy. It's about time. Things were not the same without you."
"Where's Dean? I can't wait to tell him the news. And I have a present for him."
"Whoa. Whoa." John kept a firm grasp on the wriggling child as he tried to dash towards the house. "What news? Tell me first, Sammy."
Sam looked at his father and Charles, still standing near the car with a guarded look on his serious face. "Mr. Conner says I should stay with you and Dean. He thinks I'm like Mom, and Mom belonged with us."
John frowned. "Is that true?"
"It is." Charles moved cautiously forward. "Sam seems to require a special amount of attention. I'm afraid at this point in my life I am not equipped to deal with that, nor do I have the resources on hand. I do however have this."
He held out a large briefcase which he handed to Jim. "The information I had gathered on your organization, Mr. Murphy," he explained. "Although interesting reading, I have no further use of it. Nor do I have a desire to have my name associated with the things you are involved with."
Sam was growing tired of the adult conversation and he tugged on his father's hand. "Can I go see Dean now, Daddy?"
Sam's impatient voice had John glancing at him once more, still unable to believe his youngest son was being returned to him. John smiled at the child. "Go on." His grin faded as he returned his gaze to Conner once the boy was gone. "You son of a bitch."
"Johnathan." Jim cautioned, slowly standing. "This is what we hoped for."
"No." Winchester shook his head angrily. "This is Charles doing exactly what he did to Mary." John took a step towards his wife's father. "What? Sam a disappointment to you already? You decide he was too much like his old man? Not worthy of being a Conner?"
"On the contrary." Charles huffed. "I realized he was a great deal like his mother."
John's brow drew up in puzzlement. "And that's a bad thing?"
"I'm not going to discuss my daughter with you." His past sins were his own. But he was determined not to repeat them. "I'm just saying that Sam has already become adapted to your way of life. We walk in two different worlds as you proved by murdering my assistant last evening. And I have yet to hear from my body guards. They've seemingly dropped from the face of the planet."
"Your assistant who killed and raped little children." John jabbed a finger towards the businessman's chest. "Your assistant who took your grandson, Mary's firstborn, and planned on adding him to his sick body count." His mouth twitched as he thought about the two apes who had worked Caleb over. "And your muscle will need to find new careers for a while. At least until they get back full use of their limbs."
Charles seemed to consider the information, a myriad of emotions crossing his lined face. He shrugged. "I have no problem with the death penalty for such heinous acts as those Peter committed. After all, I'm a Republican for Christ's sake."
"Figures." Bobby snorted. "The privileged are all for throwing the switch as long as someone else gets blood on their hands."
"I didn't come here to debate politics, Mr. Singer. I came to return Sam."
John clenched his fists. It was what he hoped for, but now it was almost anti-climactic. It pissed him off. He was itching for a fight. "So you ride in here disrupt my children's lives, hurt people we care about, and then walk away like it never happened."
"Would you rather the alternative? As Mr. Murphy pointed out…I thought this is what you wanted."
What John wanted was to strangle the sonofabitch. "You made me sign my son over to you! I had to break his brother's heart. For what? For you to exert some kind of control over the situation…for you to prove you could get your way?" John bit his lip, looked down at the ground. "Mary would be disgusted with you."
"I'm not so sure she would be overjoyed with you, either, John." Conner's voice rose and his face flared crimson. "You've corrupted her children, raised them in the company of heretics and mercenaries."
"I've given them a family." John roared. "That's all Mary ever wanted for herself. And for her boys."
The man shrank in the presence of Winchester's anger. He took a few faltering steps away from the livid hunter. These men were capable of violence and Conner suddenly felt very alone and outnumbered.
"Johnathan." Jim Murphy's voice was strong, soothing. Like a stout shot of whiskey. "The past is unchangeable."
Charles glanced towards the minister, his eyes misting over. He cleared his throat. "Maybe my daughter and I have more in common than I imagined. I only wanted my family back."
"Right." John snorted, unable to empathize with the man. Jim had told him more than once since the entire mess had started that he and Charles had a great deal in common-a love for Mary and the devastating loss of her life. But hurt blinded him to that elusive mutual ground. He took another step towards Conner, even as he felt Jim's eyes on him. "You wanted a family? That's a good one Charles. You wanted a legacy. Those are two very different things."
This time Pastor Jim's gaze went to Conner and his words held a hint of pity. "There are better ways to gain affection than manipulation." As much as the minister understood John's anger, he was always one who saw an opportunity for healing and took it. "The expanse of a child's heart is wondrous, Mr. Conner. Especially when the child is as caring as your grandson. Both of them are quite remarkable."
Charles looked a way for a moment to stare at the skyline and regain his focus. "I would like to keep in touch with you." He swallowed his pride nearly choking on the lump in his throat, met John's gaze. "Maybe even visit the boys from time to time. Or better yet, have them visit me."
"That would have been a good place to start." Bobby interrupted. He still wasn't so sure they shouldn't have buried the man in the back forty days ago. " I mean instead of the whole black mail route. Don't you think?"
Conner frosted over again. "This really isn't any of your concern. I was speaking to John."
"I would have felt like talking a whole hell of a lot more before you took Sam." Winchester declared.
"Are you forgetting you also took my child?" Conner demanded, his level of patience deteriorating further. "With much more severe consequence I might add. She's dead!"
"So this was about revenge?" John threw his hands up. "You blame me for Mary's death, so you wait six years to cut my heart out. Is that it?"
"No." Charles ran a shaky hand over his mouth. The situation was spiraling out of control and he was not a man that handled chaos well. "I only hoped…" He paused, rubbing at his forehead. "I don't know what I hoped for. But I see now that this is impossible. You are impossible." Conner reached in his pocket, withdrew a folded paper. "Here." He thrust the document in John's direction.
Winchester took it, staring at the familiar legal forms. "You're really walking away?" He wasn't use to Fate cutting him a break. There had to be a hitch. "Why are you giving in?"
Conner licked his lips, thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his light jacket. "This morning I asked Samuel what he wanted to be when he grew up." The businessman eyed each of the men in front of him. "He told me he wanted to be a dragon. I'm not sure what that means, but I imagine that taking over my business is not included under that parachute." Charles sighed. "I only hope you know what you're doing."
John tore the custody paper down the middle, folded it and ripped it again. "I'm doing the best I can, Conner. That's all I can tell you."
"Mary would have expected more."
John nodded, throwing the bits of confetti at the businessman's feet. Finally they agreed on something. "Yeah. She would have."
"Tell Samuel I'll be in touch."
John snorted. "And Dean?" Mary had two sons, after all.
"If he's as much like you as I imagine, I'd say that would be a moot point."
Again, they understood one another. "You'd be right." John turned to look at Jim. He was finished talking. "I'm going to check on the boys."
Once Winchester was gone, Jim cleared his throat. Things had not gone the best they could have, but Sam was home safe. The minister would take what he could get. "I take it you will be leaving Kentucky shortly." Murphy glanced to Manuela, who remained at a distance, bearing silent witness to the exchange. "I will have Manuela escort you to the airport and make sure you are safely on your way."
"I don't need…"
The pastor held up his hand, effectively silencing Conner's protest. "Oh, I insist." He met the man's gaze. "I also find it necessary to tell you that if you so much as ever try anything like this in the future, I will be forced to consider you a threat to everything I have spent the last twenty years of my life protecting." Jim smiled. "I'm sure as a businessman you can understand that."
Conner's Adam's apple bobbed up and down as he tried to swallow to bring moisture to his suddenly dry mouth. "I think I understand you perfectly."
"Good." Jim smiled, and looked up at Manuela who nodded. "Now if you will excuse me, I need to start dinner. It seems I have a house full of hungry boys and we have much to celebrate."
Charles watched him go and then started for his car. Bobby Singer's voice stopped him.
"You put your money on the wrong horse, Conner."
"Excuse me?" Charles stepped back slightly as Singer was suddenly in his personal space.
"The boys." Bobby scratched his whiskers, shook his head in puzzlement. "You see I've been thinking about where you screwed up for the last few days. And I've come to the conclusion you really should have taken Dean."
The businessman frowned. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm talking about the fact that the boy would do anything for his family. Anything. Including being your personal puppet, if it meant his brother was safe. He would have done what you asked. Sammy, on the other hand, is his daddy made over." Bobby shrugged. "Of course Caleb would have probably slit your throat in your sleep or something, but I guess we'll never know."
Conner's face reddened more. "Does this little insight of yours have a point, Singer?"
"Not really." Bobby grinned. "I just wanted to rub your face in it."
"Idiot," Charles muttered under his breath before turning his back on the other man. He stormed away, Bobby's laughter echoing in his wake.
"Why were they acting like idiots?" Dean asked, fitting the next piece of the puzzle he and Caleb were working on in place. "You'd think they've never seen a girl before."
Reaves leaned in conspiratorially, trying to lighten the sullen mood that had descended like a dark thundercloud during breakfast. "In Bobby's case I think it's the fact the girl had all her teeth and didn't have axle grease under her nails."
"And it's not like the farm is a hot bed for the female persuasion." Joshua commented from behind his paper. He was sitting across the table from Reaves, glancing to the puzzle occasionally to instruct Caleb in the placement of a piece, much to the psychic's displeasure. "I'm sure it was a novelty."
Caleb snorted, shoving Sawyer's hand away when he tried to point out where the piece of blue sky would fit. "Jim has a secret life we don't know about. Why do you think all those widows bring him food?"
"Why?" Dean asked.
"Yes, do tell, Damien." Joshua lowered the newsprint.
Reaves opened his mouth, looked at Dean who was sill staring at him, but then turned his gaze to Sawyer. "Why are you in here?" Caleb gestured to the puzzle. "I thought you hated these things?"
Joshua leaned on the table, obviously enjoying himself. "No redirecting, Reaves. Dean asked you a question. Aren't you going to answer it. It seems like one of those big brother teachable moments I love to see you blunder your way through."
"Are you saying Pastor Jim has sex with lots of women? Because isn't that against the rules?"
Caleb cut his eyes back to Dean. "I didn't say that. And what do you know about sex?"
The kid shrugged. "Not much, but I know you. And you had that goofy grin on your face." Dean plucked the piece of puzzle from Caleb's hand and put it where Joshua had pointed. "Do you think Dad wants to do it with Dr. McCroy?"
"What?" Caleb was completely caught off guard. "It?"
"I think he means sex." Joshua offered, helpfully.
Reaves glared at him. "You're not allowed to join in this conversation." He turned back to Dean. "Dude, why would you say that?" Suddenly the kid's sour mood and his lack of appetite at breakfast made sense. It wasn't just about Sam.
Dean threw down the puzzle piece he was holding. "He was talking to her.They were laughing."
Caleb chuckled lightly. "Yeah. So? That doesn't mean anything. Dr. McCroy was talking to Joshua, too. Trust me, he's not getting lucky."
Dean wasn't amused. "I don't like her."
"Kid, she was here as a favor to Jim-to check everyone over."
"Well, she was checking out Dad."
Caleb glanced at the kid again, unsure where all of this was coming from. "How do you know?"
"I've been around."
That was true. Dean had been in situations that most kids his age wouldn't experience until they were years older, maybe never. "Johnny was just being nice, Deuce. Let it go."
"Like I let Sammy go?" The twelve-year-old snapped. "Maybe Dad's going to start looking for a new wife now? Forget about my mom like he did my brother. Forget about our family."
"Dean…" Caleb shook his head. "That's not going to happen."
"Why? Because you said so?" Dean scoffed. "Yeah because you've been right about so much here lately."
Reaves felt blind-sided, his annoyance at the attitude and undeserved below the belt sucker punch overriding his patience. Hurt Dean equaled pissed off Dean, but still. He started to open his mouth, probably to say something he would regret, but Joshua saved him.
"I believe Caleb was referring to the fact that it is quite obvious your father is still very much in love with your mother." When Dean and Caleb both looked at him in stunned surprise, Joshua shrugged. "I mean, it appears John and Mary had that rare thing that most fairytales are spun around. You told me yourself your father loved your mother more than anything. Correct?"
Dean swallowed thickly, glancing away as his eyes watered. "Yeah," he softly answered.
"Then I assume that would not change whether it be ten years or ten thousand. Don't take my word for it but my mother says true love is the only real magic in this world and she is the smartest person I know."
"Esme knows her stuff, Deuce." Reaves agreed, shooting Joshua a thankful glance. Sometimes Sawyer could surprise him. "Give your old man some credit. Have a little faith."
"And if that doesn't work look at it from Dr. McCroy's perspective. She is a beautiful, intelligent, successful physician. Your father is approaching middle age. He has a military-based pseudo education, no steady employment, no retirement plan, nor does he own property. And he has baggage in the form of two rather spoiled, petulant, ill-behaved at best, children." Joshua straightened his paper and resumed reading. "The man is no catch by any means especially for a woman of her caliber."
Caleb snorted. And then there were the moments when he remembered why he and Sawyer were not friends. "Yeah, Deuce, John is just a step above Bobby, and you know he's not getting hitched anytime soon."
"Singer has a college degree and owns his own home and business. He has an impressive portfolio of stocks and bonds. Then there is the fact that dogs have a shorter life-span and are less expensive than children." Joshua pointed out. "Despite the issue of fleas and grooming, he's much more marketable."
"Thanks for that PR profile," Caleb growled. "I think I can take it from here."
Reaves reached out and squeezed Dean's shoulder. "You listening to me, Deuce? Stop borrowing trouble. It finds you easy enough as it is."
Dean finally looked up at him, a hint of a grin playing on his lips. "Maybe we could tell Bobby she was checking out his ass just to be on the safe side."
Caleb laughed. "Okay. But I've got you one better. We could get Josh to forge us some stationary from the hospital and write him a really spicey love letter."
Sawyer peered at them from over top of his paper again. "Do not include me in your childish pranks. I'll be taking my leave very soon. This job is over and some of us are not schoolboys on summer break. I have important responsibilities to return to."
"Jealous much?" Dean picked up the puzzle piece he had discarded and snapped it into place. He looked at Caleb. "It must suck to be old."
"Tell me about it." Reaves grinned. "Jim's making apple pie and homemade ice cream tonight." He sighed, rubbing his hands together in mock anticipation. "More for us kids."
Joshua stood, preparing his dramatic exit. "I should really know better than try to help either of you."
Caleb watched the other hunter leave. "He really should know better you know."
The twelve-year-old nodded. "Yeah, but who would we make fun of then?"
"True." Reaves studied another piece of the puzzle. "Look, Deuce, about what you said…about me screwing up lately."
"I didn't mean it."
"Yeah, you did. And it's okay to be pissed at me. Hell, Mac says it's normal."
Dean gave him a side-long glance. "Are you calling me normal?"
Reaves shoved him. "I'm trying to have a serious talk here."
That had Dean grinning. "Like the sex talk?"
"Not happening." Caleb shook his head. "At least not for a couple of years. You just got out of that stage where you thought all girls had cooties."
Dean seemed to think about it for a moment and then agreed. "Okay."
Caleb regained his serious expression. "I just don't want you to think this is the end. We're going to get Sammy back. You have to have some faith in Jim and Mac and your Dad."
The twelve-year-old's brow arched. "You saying I should believe in the dragons?"
"I'm saying you can't give up on the people who love you. Josh is an idiot, but what he said about all that magic shit…I think he was right on the money. Dragons might not be real, but the idea behind them is important. We all need heroes."
"Like the Musketeers?" Dean toyed with a piece of blue sky. He glanced up at Caleb. "I was awake when you were reading it last night." The kid explained.
Reaves shifted in his seat, pretending to study the puzzle again. "Mac use to read it to me when he came to the hospital where we first met." He smirked at Dean. "I told him it sucked."
Dean smiled, feeling the usual kinship with the older boy. "You wanted to be d'Artagnan. Didn't you?"
"Yeah." Caleb rolled his eyes. "And like you don't."
"I kind of like being a dragon."
" Yeah. Me too."
"But what if Sammy…what if the prince doesn't come back?"
Reaves winced, rubbing at his forehead where a sudden twinge had him fearing the return of a colossal headache. "He'll be back, Deuce." Caleb tilted his head and the frown lines marring his forehead softened. His mouth twitched. "You have to have hope."
"Now you sound like Jim."
"Well, Jim's pretty damn smart."
"What makes you so sure?"
Reaves reached out and took the boy by the shoulders, spinning him around so he was facing the door. "That does."
Dean's brow wrinkled in confusion but then as the door to The Hunter's Tomb was pulled open and the visitor Caleb had sensed only moments before appeared, Dean's eyes lit up. "Sammy!"
"Hey, Dean. I'm home!"
Dean stood up just in time for his brother to barrel into him. He grunted from the impact and Caleb reached out a hand to steady both boys. Dean still didn't have full use of his hurt leg and Sam's exuberance threatened to send them to the floor.
"Easy there, Tiger." Caleb ruffled Sam's hair. "Your brother's looking a little like WooBee these days."
"Sorry." Sam grinned, pulling back slightly. He slid out of his back pack and dropped it on the floor. "Are you okay?"
"What are you doing here?" Dean asked, ignoring the concern. "I thought…"
"Mr. Conner stopped being a dick head."
Caleb laughed. "I doubt that."
"It's true." Sam turned innocent eyes on the older hunter. "He wants me to be with my family."
Considering the twin looks plastered on both Winchester's faces, Reaves didn't really care why Conner had done what he did. He was just damn grateful the kid was back home where he belonged. "He's smarter than I thought."
Sam nodded, his face twisting in thoughtful consideration. "I think he might have been afraid of the dragons, too."
Caleb grinned. "Damn straight." Still, the reason didn't matter. He reached out and pulled the boy in for a quick hug. "Dragons kick ass."
The seven-year-old laughed. "Yeah. That's what I told him."
Reaves stood up, giving Dean's shoulder a firm squeeze. He had a feeling the boys needed some time alone. "I'm going to check on your Dad. Make sure O'Nathan Jay doesn't toast the repentant St. George."
The eldest Winchester nodded. "Thanks, Belac."
"No problem, Athewm."
Sam reached up and touched one of the bruises on his big brother's face. "Does that hurt?"
Dean rolled his eyes and snorted. "I'm good, Sammy. What about you?"
"I'm fine, Dean."
"Did Conner really say you could stay?"
The little boy nodded. "For good."
Dean felt his eyes start to sting. He blinked. "That's good, little brother. Really good."
Sam's eyes lit up. "I have something else you'll like too."
Dean cleared his throat, sitting back down in the chair. "Really?"
Sam's head bobbed as he reached down and started digging through the back pack. He pulled out several dragons, handing them to Dean to hold. "Wait to you see," he said, pulling what looked like another miniature from the bag.
He quickly stood, presenting the toy to his brother. "Here." It wasn't a dragon, but instead a winged white horse, with a silver horn. "Isn't she pretty?"
Dean took the horse and studied it. "Yeah, Bro. I like it."
Sam leaned in closer, voice lowered conspiratorially. "It was Mommy's."
Dean's head jerked up in surprise. His gaze raked over the horse again, taking in the details in a new light. "What?"
The seven-year-old nodded enthusiastically. "Mommy liked stories, too. Just like me. But instead of dragons, she had horses-magical horses."
Dean turned the toy over in his hands, and he smiled. "She had one in her bedroom. I remember now." He looked at his brother. "Where did you get this, Sammy?"
"Mr. Conner gave it to me."
The oldest Winchester sibling tried to hand the horse back to Sam. "You should keep it."
"No." Sam shook his head fiercely. "I have the dragons…and you. Mommy would want you to have this to watch over you." He smiled at his brother. "I want you to have it, too. In case I have to ever go away again."
Finally, Dean nodded. "Can it live in the castle?"
"Sure," Sam agreed. "But she needs a name."
Dean sighed. He was twelve for crying out loud. "Sam…"
There was the look. "Okay." The twelve-year-old thought for a moment. He raised his gaze to his brother's and couldn't help the rush of affection that overcame him. Sam's words echoed in his thoughts. 'I want you to have it, in case I have to go away again.' "How about Hope?"
Sam nodded. "I like that name."
Dean glanced down at the horse again, tracing his finger along one silver-tipped wing. "Hope will come to live in the castle." He looked up. Reaching out, he pulled his little brother against him. "But nothing or no one is going to take you away ever again."
"Promise?" Sam whispered.
Dean tightened his grip, squeezing his eyes shut. "I promise."
"Stop feeding that pup chicken under the table, Samuel," John said, with a half-hearted glare in his youngest son's direction.
"But she's hungry." Sam glanced to the pastor. "And Jim says we should share."
Murphy laughed. "I did say that, but too many table scraps won't be good for Scout, I'm afraid."
"Caleb gave her his broccoli."
"Hey." Reaves frowned. "What happened to the love, Runt?"
"You know the rule, Damien." Dean cast a snide look at the older hunter. "No vegetables, no dessert."
"More for us." Joshua helped himself to another serving of mashed potatoes. "I'm looking forward to the homemade ice cream myself."
"I thought you were leaving?" Reaves grumbled. "Don't you have a pretend life to get back to?"
"Marsha, Marsha, Marsha." Bobby chided. "Stop picking on your sister."
"Fuck you, Bobby."
"Caleb!" Mackland and Jim said in unison. "Language."
"Sorry." Reaves muttered contritely. "He started it."
"Here you go, kiddo. Doctor Liz said you needed all the vitamins you could get." John shoveled his pile of broccoli to Reaves's plate. "I'll share."
"You're all heart, man," Caleb growled.
"Someone's got to look out for you." John smirked.
Dean and Sam laughed, earning them both a heated glare from Reaves. "Freakin' brats."
"And what did the good doctor say you needed, Johnathan?" Mackland queried. "I hear it had something to do with dinner and a night of sparkling conversation?"
"I think she wanted to check his reflexes?" Bobby bobbed his eyebrows. "Maybe give him a free proctology exam."
"Bobby," Jim sighed, exasperatedly. "Not at the dinner table."
"Are you going to have sex with her?" Dean asked, looking at his father, effectively bringing all eyes to him.
A hush fell over the table. "What?" John choked on his tea, and Caleb groaned as Winchester's dark gaze flickered from his eldest son to the psychic.
"What's sex?" Sam asked, looking around at the older men.
"Caleb!" John snapped, glaring at his protégé.
"Why are you looking at me?" Reaves defended. "I told him you weren't in her league."
"Thanks." John replied sarcastically. "You're all heart."
"Yes, then I suggested Bobby was much more suitable." Joshua informed them, with a helpful smile.
"Finally someone with some sense." Singer crowed. "Good call, Slick. I knew there was a reason I liked you best."
"I mean at least on paper."
"On paper?" Bobby's brow shot up. "What the hell does that mean?"
"I think it means that as long as Liz doesn't have to look at you or smell you, then you two may have a chance." Mackland grinned, taking another bite of chicken.
"Better than the one you've got with Esme."
"Would you please leave my mother out of this!" Joshua pleaded. "She wouldn't give you heathens a second glance."
"Boys," Jim interrupted. "Let's please try to finish out dinner in peace and..."
"Are you saying my Dad's not good enough?" Caleb challenged.
Jim raised his eyes heavenward and took a deep breath, praying for patience. "Boys!"
"Josh said my dad had bratty kids and was stupid." Dean informed them.
"What?" John turned a glare on Sawyer. "You said what?"
"I was trying to help." Joshua defended.
Sam looked at Caleb. "What's sex?" He asked again around a huge mouthful of mashed potatoes.
Dean looked at his little brother. "Caleb said…"
"I didn't say anything…" Reaves cut the twelve-year-old off.
"That's enough!" Jim banged his cup down on the table. "All of you be quiet!"
"Whoa there, Jim." Caleb smirked. "That's Miss Emma's good china you're throwing around."
Another hushed silence fell.
Sam raised his hand, wiggling in his chair. "I'm done. Can Scout and I take a bath now?"
John shot a look to his youngest son who was now holding the squirming puppy. His face was covered in an array of gravy and macaroni and cheese and Scout wasn't fairing much better, her black coat stained with a variety of vegetables. He couldn't help himself.
John started laughing. Mackland was the next to crumble, with Bobby trailing quickly. Finally, Jim's face split with a smile. "Just this once, I think she would give me her blessing."
"But how would she feel about you having sex with Widow Hensen?" Dean asked.
Caleb reached out and put a hand over Dean's mouth. "What about that pie?"
A/N: Wow! I can't believe it's over. When I started Dragons and then continued with Phoenix, I wanted to tell a story about grief and loss-as that is an area I have always been interested in.
It began with the physical loss of Sam in Dragons-and that story was very much about him and perhaps the first piece of innocence he lost because of the life the Winchester's lead. Not to mention watching the other hunters deal with their own loss of power and control. Illusions us humans depend on. I meant for it not to be a supernatural phenomena that shook their foundation, but one grounded in every day life, so we could all empathize.
Phoenix was more about Dean and how he had to come to terms with being without his brother and hopefully find the elusive faith that would allow him to go on. Dean's heart is his most amazing quality. One that I think draws the television viewer and reader to him. I also think it's why he is so fragile, despite his fierce strength. Caleb represents my belief that we all yearn for someone to be in our corner-to be our biggest fan. To protect and love us no matter what. The kind of love Dean has for Sam. I believe Dean deserves that , too. Not that Sammy doesn't love his big brother just as much, only that it is his role to be protected by Dean, and a reversal of that is almost impossible for Dean to accept.
The serial killer represented that fear I think we all have of the unknown lurking in the darkness-waiting to steal our happiness. And it afforded some moments for hurt comfort(grin). After all, this was a work of fan fiction.
One of my favorite quotes I found was that 'hope begins in the dark'. That seemed to sum up what I wanted to illustrate. Because in the end I wished for it to be a tale about Magic and Hope and their place in everyone's lives. Tidia and I joke about those elusive concepts a lot.
But working with clients I find that grief is the number one issue. Whether it's a loss of a loved one, a loss of a sense of one's self, loss of independence or in the worst cases a loss of one's way in the world. Grief is insidious. But it's necessary.
Suffering makes us who we are. It gives us a chance to reinvent ourselves and find out how incredibly strong and resilient the human spirit is. A phoenix was the perfect symbol to embody that, as was the dragon for magic.
I'm not saying either of these stories accomplished what I hoped, nor could they ever touch on the true wonder of the magnificent capacity we all have inside us to carry on. But I think in the end, I kind of painted a picture of what I tell clients. Hope isn't some mystery beyond our grasp, it's alive everywhere. Especially in those little everyday miracles like sitting down to dinner with one's family, a bubble bath, a child's innocent wonder, the sweet smell of puppy breath, and a piece of homemade apple pie. Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing both these stories, and for your kind comments and suggestions. I couldn't have done it without you. Or without Tidia. She's awesome! -Ridley.
Now for that spoiler I promised….
Prologue for To The Victor Goes the Spoils
Dr. Mackland Ames was exhausted. He had just returned on a midnight flight from Boston, and was ready for nothing more heralding than a stiff drink and the recap of the Yankees game he had missed while gone on yet another impromptu trip.
Heading up the current Triad without any back-up was beginning to take a toll, not only on his work, but his personal life also. He hadn't spent a full week in New York in more than a month. Peace and quiet were beckoning to him.
Yet, as most things these days, Mackland's desires were discounted. He smelled the strong aroma of cigar smoke as soon as he opened the door to his apartment. The main lights of the home were off, but a faint glow from the living room caught his attention. Someone was there.
Caleb crossed his mind. His son didn't smoke and was currently with the Winchesters sorting out their latest deadly run in with the demon. He removed the gun from his briefcase. There was no luxury of taking chances. Battle lines had been drawn; shots were being fired from all sides. Ames sighed. He never imagined living the cloak and dagger lifestyle. Yet, here he was.
Mackland quietly sat his bags at the door, holding his weapon at the ready. All he really needed now was a flower-print Hawaiian shirt and a Ferrari. Dean would have been amused.
Ames peered around the corner, allowing him a view of the living room and the entrance to the hallway. A tall figure was standing in front of the large glass windows overlooking the Manhattan sky-line. Mackland raised his gun, aiming at the back of the intruder's head.
"You should be careful where you point that thing, Mackland. Someone could get hurt." The man's voice was deep and held an amused timbre that grated on Ames's nerves. The fact he hadn't been able to see or hear Mackland's silent approach yet knew he was there confirmed the doctor's suspicions. His visitor was a psychic.
The dark man turned, a smile lighting his refined features. "I hope you don't mind that I helped myself to some brandy." He held up the crystal tumbler. "You have exquisite taste." Griffin nodded to their surroundings. "In many things."
It had been years since Mackland had seen the man in person. Almost eighteen to be exact, but Griffin Porter hadn't changed much. His dark hair had turned mostly silver as had his slight beard, but the dark eyes still held a smug air of intelligence and challenge.
Mackland lowered his gun slightly. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I was in the city." Griffin gestured towards the window. "I recalled you lived here and thought I might drop in for a short visit. Especially in light of all that has happened."
Ames shook his head. "You were in the neighborhood?"
"So to speak." Griffin smiled. "How are you?"
"In light of all that has happened, I'm doing well."
Porter sighed heavily, staring into the glass of amber liquid. "We've had several losses as of late."
"Jim died almost a year ago."
Griffin looked up and his smile faltered. "So he did. Life is not as interesting with The Guardian gone."
"You mean you're able to go about your treachery much more freely?"
"Treachery?" Porter moved to the intricate mantle, the center piece of the Ames home. He picked up a framed photo and studied it. "I figured you to have more important matters than keeping up with my comings and goings."
"Jim made it a point to keep his eyes on potential trouble for The Brotherhood."
"I am no threat to The Brotherhood."
"Then you didn't send Ian Hastings and Silas Fox to attack my son and the Winchesters?"
Griffin lifted the picture he was holding. "They've grown into men since the last time I saw them," he replied, not answering the doctor's question.
Mackland strode forward and took the frame from the other hunter. It was of the boys and Jim, taken at the farm, not long after Sam graduated high school. One of the last times they were all together before Sam left for Stanford, and John went off on his lone crusade. "They're no longer boys." He held Griffin's gaze. "I'm sure that's disappointing for a the schoolyard bully."
"Can't we let bygones be bygones, Mackland? Perhaps find a way to work together? After all a war is coming. In fact, it has already begun."
"You kidnapped and tortured my son and my best friend's children. They nearly died on that mountain." Ames stepped closer to the older man. "And you have the nerve to come here and ask for some type of forgiveness. You were lucky to keep your life."
"I did what I had to do."
"You committed mutiny and you didn't care who you hurt to get what you wanted. Jim only let you live because you inaverdently saved the boys' lives."
"You know nothing of that time or what I was trying to accomplish!" Griffin's face twisted in anger. "You could never understand the ramifications of what I was attempting to do. Even now we are all feeling the after effect of my failure."
"You're right. I could never understand how or why you would do such a thing." The man had been like a brother to Jim. Murphy had relied on him, trusted his confidence. That all changed one chilling week in December 1989. Mackland would never forget the fateful phone call. Perhaps Griffin was correct when he said the past was alive in the present. The fear of those days was a bitter memory-one that would never allow him to trust anything Griffin Porter said or did.
"Dr. Ames?" Naomi stuck her head in the door of Mackland Ames's office. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but you have an urgent phone call on line two."
The doctor glanced at the two detectives and the distraught mother and father they had brought with them and frowned. "I'm so sorry." He shot his research assistant a questioning glance. "Could it possibly wait, Naomi?"
The Morgan's little girl had disappeared from a mall yesterday. Karen Morgan had turned around for only a moment in the crowded shopping center and Bethany had been taken.
Naomi shrugged apologetically. She had been Dr. Ames's research assistant for only a few months, but even she could read the look of frustration on his handsome face "The man on the line seemed quite distressed."
Mac sighed. Distressed could describe anyone from a former patient to one of his closest friends. "I promise this will only take a moment," he explained to his visitors, stepping to the relative privacy of his desk. "This is Mackland Ames."
"Are the boys with you?"
The voice was undeniable. Mac frowned when he easily picked up on the uncharacteristic panic. "John, what's wrong?"
"The boys…are they with you?"
"John, I haven't spoken with the boys."
"Could Jim have picked them up?"
"Where are you?"
"John, I talked to Jim yesterday. He was in Kentucky, where he was expecting you in the next few days."
"John, what's going on?"
"Damn it, Mackland. Could Caleb have picked up the boys? He's out of school for Christmas break, isn't he? He was planning to come to Jim's?"
"Caleb's hunting, John." Mac lowered his voice. "Joshua is in Europe and Bobby needed some assistance with something in Georgia. I told Caleb he could help him as long as he was at the farm before Christmas Eve."
"But if Dean called him…"
"Caleb wouldn't have taken the boys without asking you John. Talk to me."
"They're not here, Mackland. I've just been gone a few days. God…I talked to them last night."
"What do you mean they're not there?"
"We've been staying at my grandfather's old place in Virginia..."
Mac had been to the rundown farmhouse once. It wasn't the best place to be in the warmer months, let along Winter. But it was free, and John usually headed in that direction when hustling and the credit card schemes were insufficient.
"They had supplies and a phone. I ordered them to stay in the house. It snowed here last night…"
Dean and Sam were boys and expecting them to stay cooped up inside when a wintry wonderland lay just beyond the window was expecting much.
"John, have you checked the barn, anywhere they might like to play?"
"I'm not an idiot, Mac! I've been looking for hours. It'll be dark soon, and their coats are here. Besides, they've both had colds. There's no way Dean would wander off."
Mackland ran a hand over his mouth. "Just take it easy, John. I'll be on the next flight. You stay there in case the boys show up. We'll fix this."
"God, Mac, what if something took them…What if that thing that got Mary…"
"John." Ames cut his friend off, not able to bear the pain and fear clinging to each breathy word. "We'll find them."
Mackland placed the phone back in it's carriage and stood on less than steady legs. He looked at Bethany's parents. Gone was the wall between them and the good doctor- the distance painfully bridged by instant empathy. "I'm sorry. We'll have to speed things along." He took a deep breath and moved towards the couple who were looking at him as if he were a miracle worker. "I'm afraid I have a family crisis of my own."