Okay folks, one more short chapter after this, and we'll finally get past the worlds longest introduction and into the story. Yikes. Angst, here we come…
Thank you again to all those of you who take the time to review. It brightens up my day immeasurably. Plus super kisses to Rowan for the read through. She insisted on the scene at the end.
The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost.
John had always said that Dean's talent lay in patterns. Sam was the detail orientated one, the planner, but Dean could spot a pattern in just about anything, and he was damn good at using what he saw to his own advantage. The older Winchester was like a Renaissance alchemist, working in mental codes and diagrams that few could interpret. Sam could recognise the genius in his brother, even if he might never acknowledge it aloud. That element was what made them such a good pair. Sam's knowledge of the occult was damn near peerless, his logical, analytical mind weaving together the strands of a plan with all the intricacy of the Bayeux Tapestry. Dean factored in the human element and bam, Danny Ocean, eat your heart out.
That wasn't to say he was incapable of masterminding his own nefarious schemes without his brother breathing down his neck, he'd managed four years at Stanford after all, but he did miss Dean. Sam had the propensity for getting caught up in things, agonising over what his mind couldn't organise and getting frustrated when he failed to understand or compute what was happening. Dean, in his own kooky way, could cut through it all with a single glance. He'd wind Sam up, tease him, prod him, drive him around the bend. He'd get his brother so worked up that by the time Sam had stopped telling Dean what a jerk he was, he'd have forgotten what was causing the mental roadblock and the answers would be as clear as day.
Now there was no one whistling in his ear as he tried to cover the variables in his mind. The new car he has stolen once belonged to someone with a worse taste in music than Bobby, and the radio was shot. The hours of silence were almost too much even for Sam. There was no smug voice cutting though his thoughts with the infinitely childish comment of 'I spy with my little eye,' or a disturbingly amused observation of 'ooh, road kill!'
In the silence, all he could do was think. And there was plenty on his mind to keep him occupied. The events prior to his trip to the Twilight Zone played over in his mind, every detail crystal clear, from the drive into town and the motel with the Egyptian themed wallpaper. The planning, the tracking, he remembered it all, then he and Dean were running, chasing after the shifter who had been damned fast for such a short guy. He remembered wrapping his hands around a bicep, spinning the shifter around, his fingers closing around the bronze chain around his neck. Dean shouted his name, then nothing.
And Dean, god, Dean. The brother he'd grown up with was probably close to a nervous breakdown. Dean had been almost clingy since the possession incident. He had always wanted to know where Sam was going, when he would be back, but he'd started to resemble an over-protective father with a pretty daughter going on her first date. If Sam were going to be honest, he'd admit he actually resented it. Of course he understood where Dean was coming from, the fears behind his actions. That didn't change the fact that every time Dean looked at him, every silent question and observation was a painfully sharp reminder of the trust that had been fractured between them.
It had taken months for Sam to earn back the confidence he had forfeit when leaving for college. Dean hadn't trusted him to take care of himself, to watch both their backs. It had been hard, but he'd gradually won back his brother's trust, his respect as an equal. Now Dean once again saw Sam as someone who needed constant supervision and protection. Dean didn't trust Sam to have his back anymore, because Sam couldn't even save himself.
The status-quo had been shifted back to a big brother out to protect his younger sibling from the evil things in the dark. The vanishing act, the third such event in as many months…
Screw destiny. Dean would kill him first.
Unconsciously Sam grimaced. Probably not the best line of thought to follow through on.
Instead he turned his mind to his father. The recent encounter hadn't shifted the way he had seen his father, but they had certainly magnified what Sam had always subconsciously known. John and Dean were startlingly similar in many ways, just as Sam and his father were in others. Both older Winchester's masked their pain with a cause, with a game face that was almost impenetrable.
He'd been on the road for close to five days now, spoken to Missouri three times since dropping John at her house. Dean and Sammy were happily ensconced in the psychic's care, Peanut the kitten having adopted the two children as her new favourite humans. John divided his time between a bar and playing the role of inquisitor. He needed a stern woman like Missouri to keep him in line in the turbulent few days that had followed her revelation of all things dark and creepy.
"You know I don't approve." She had said sternly during their last conversation. "Daniel is going to blow a fuse when he finds out who stole that damn gun."
"I don't exist, remember." Sam had reminded her. The colt was wrapped in a brown paper bag from a convenience store.
"That is besides the point Samuel Winchester."
"I'm not taking the chance. If things aren't going to play out the way they did for me, then there is no way I'm risking their lives on a technicality. Elkins will just have to live with that."
"That doesn't change the fact that you are driving over a thousand miles out of your way to face the thing that killed your mom." Missouri scolded. Sam could hear the concern in her voice and it warmed his heart somewhat.
"I'm not going to face it. I'm going to save a boy's life. There is a subtle difference."
"Don't you play at semantics with me, boy!"
Shamed, he apologised. "I'm sorry, Missouri. But I have to do this. You don't know what happens to this kid. If I can stop it…"
"And what happens if it kills you?" She refused to let the point drop. "Hmm? What then? John is already itching to have you back, he wants answers, he wants a comrade in arms. I can't give him that, and I won't be the one to take away whatever hope you might have given him by telling the poor bastard that you got yourself killed on some crazy crusade!"
Quietly, Sam simply said, "Please. Just trust me on this. I'll be back in a few days. Keep him away from the rum."
"Too late." She scoffed.
Sam winced. His father was a morose drunk, but he only ever got violent after drinking dark rum. To the best of Sam's knowledge, John steered clear of it, and it was the only thing Dean actively refused to let their father drink.
"Then keep him away from the boys." If he could spare Dean the pain of losing another parent, even if it was only a temporary loss, he would.
Missouri had promised to do so, and threatened him with various painful deaths if he didn't get his ass in gear and get home soon. Home. It was a strange idea for someone who had never had a home in the traditional sense of the word. He did want to get back to them.
The street he pulled into hadn't changed much in the past two decades. Christmas decorations were up, and Sam realised that tomorrow would be Christmas Eve. Twice as determined to make it back to Lawrence in time to spend the holiday with the boys, Sam climbed from the car. The glittering fairy lights were the main source of lighting in the street, but one house was bare, devoid of Christmas cheer. Even if Sam hadn't been there before, he would have know that he'd found his destination. He entered the house next door to it on the right.
Lock pick in hand, Sam entered the Miller residence silently and quickly located the room where six-month-old Max slept. Using the same psychic trick he had used on Dean, he quieted the little boy, noticing sadly the beginning signs of abuse the child would grow up with.
"Okay, kiddo. Let's go meet your new family."
Fifteen exhausting hours later, and several reminders that he really had no idea how to care for an infant, and Sam arrived outside the parish of Pastor Jim Murphy. Huddled against the cold, holding the child protectively against his chest, Sam stumbled wearily into the church. It was early, and the pastor was the only one present, preparing for the evening sermons.
Kind face, gentle eyes, hair that had yet to turn silver. Sam took one look at the man who had been almost a surrogate father to him and Dean. Wordlessly, he passed Max to the confused cleric before day's worth of exhaustion and worry pounced. Dizzily he heard Jim call out in surprise before the twinkling lights overhead blinked once, twice, and everything faded from sight.
The presence of a stranger overhead brought Sam back into consciousness with a vicious jolt. His head pounded, but that aside, he felt much better than he had when his head had met the church floor.
"Easy." A soothing voice called out from above. A large hand pressed against his chest and eased him back into the sheets. "You've been unconscious for three days now, you've had us worried, young one."
Young one. That had always been Dean's nickname from the pastor. Sam had been little one, even when he grew taller than Dean, his father, and James Murphy.
Sam opened his eyes. Jim sat besides his bed, a kind, comforting smile on his face, and no hint of the questions that must have been running through the man's head. Two men stood in the apex of the doorway. One, Jefferson Guerin, Sam recognised. Jefferson was one hunter who had escaped Meg's rampage and continued to call both Sam and Dean kiddo. A tall man stood slightly behind him, a man Sam didn't recognise.
"You're lucky Missouri called ahead to let us know you were coming. It would have been difficult to explain to my congregation why I had an unconscious young man slumped in the front pew. William and Jefferson arrived shortly after you did. They had the pleasure of carrying you back to my home."
"Damn psychic." Sam muttered. Jefferson let out a harsh bark of laughter that hurt Sam's head.
"Well she remained rather vague with the details." William said pointedly. "Woman likes to make us work for a living. You got a name, kid?"
Sam cleared his throat.
"Sam," Jefferson echoed, waiting for a surname.
"Sam." Repeated firmly, not offering one. Jim held up a hand to stem any further questions, respecting Sam's desire for some anonymity, if not understanding the reasons. "As I said. You were unconscious for some time. The injuries to your arm and back had become infected. You should take better care of yourself, young hunter."
Sam snorted and sat up awkwardly, not liking his vulnerable position, even if it was with men he knew. Sort of. He could barely meet Jim's eyes. It was strange, painful, to have back two of the men he had loved and lost, and know that they would never see him as Sammy, the boy they had loved, but as Sam, a stranger.
"The child?" Jim asked.
Sam nodded and took a sip of the water Jefferson passed him. Through the window, he could see the street below, lights twinkled there as well. He'd missed Christmas, and knew that John would have forgotten it all together.
"He's with Alice, a woman in my parish. She's quite dotting on the boy."
Sam nodded again. Good. Max deserved a family that loved him. "His parents were killed by a demon."
Instantly, the air bristled with tension. Jim straightened. Jefferson shifted in a way that Sam had seen a hundred times. William, and Sam knew him to be Ellen's husband, William Harvelle, jerked as if electrocuted.
"He has no one that will take care of him. I hoped you might be able to help him."
Jim nodded thoughtfully. Harvelle frowned and moved closer to the bed. "You're a little young to be hunting demons, boy."
Used to the derision that his age had earned him, and equally used to the grudging respect that came with his name, Sam let the insult slide. "I've been hunting since I was twelve. I'm not exactly new to this."
"Your folks were hunters?"
"They're dead now. Job doesn't exactly come with a retirement plan."
"William," Jim stepped in, sensing Sam's reluctance to elaborate and directing the gruff hunter's attention away from the injured young man. "Perhaps you could call Missouri and let her know Sam has awoken."
"Wait, please tell her I want to talk to Dean."
Jefferson nodded. "Use the cordless." He suggested to his friend.
In the time it took for William to deliver his message to the psychic woman, Jim busied himself with checking the various bandages adorning Sam's body. In the chaos of the past week, Sam had hardly stopped to sleep, and his injuries had been pushed aside, first to save Dean, then to complete his tasks in time to return to the boys for their first Christmas without their mother. His first Christmas without Jessica had only recently passed, he knew how much it hurt.
He didn't expect Dean to talk to him, but he needed to hear the little boy's voice, just to know he was okay. Jefferson handed over the phone, and the three hunters left Sam in peace.
Silence filled the line, then a quiet "Hi." It was so meek, so unlike his brother, who would have been marinating in whiskey, and balancing a girl in each arm as a way of celebrating.
"You okay, kiddo?" Do you hurt? Physically? Emotionally? Can I kill anything to make you feel better?
"How's Sammy?" He'd hopefully get more of an answer out of the kid if his brother was the topic of discussion. He was right.
"He's playing with Peanut."
Sam sighed sadly. "I'll be back soon, okay?" He said, knowing that the boy probably didn't care either way.
Jim returned to take the phone back to the hall. As he left, he gave Sam a compassionate smile. "A friend?"
"You miss him, I understand. It is hard to be separated from loved ones, especially during the holidays." The pastor's quiet words of wisdom brought Sam back to a time when he was young, and Jim was demonstrating his newest shadow puppets on the walls of the den.
"He just lost his mom." Sam said, the sadly added, "It's like I don't know him anymore."
"Grief does strange things to us all. Give him time. He will come back to you, I'm sure."
Sam nodded. Grief was a strange beast. Sam knew that better than most.