Cold sunlight was poking determined fingers around the gaps in the thick grey curtains and rudely prodded the sleeper reluctantly awake.
For a moment he just lay straight in the bed and squinted at the ceiling fixtures until the birdsong outside his window began to seriously grate on his nerves and he pulled the blankets over his head, jamming the pillow in his ears.
"Go away." He murmured. It was almost as if everything and everyone went out of their way to annoy him. I am so gonna be having me some pigeon pie today if they don't shut the hell up.
"Oh, screw this." Finally he could take no more of their cheeriness and kicked back the blankets. Come out and enjoy Christmas Day, Mister Scrooge!
"Bah humbug." He said aloud, running his hands through his short hair. "God, that was one hell of a nightmare."
He felt like hitting something. Alive wasn't necessary but sure added a perk. Dean reached for his clothes. His watch read 5.45.
"In the afternoon?" The last time he had slept in was when he was maybe nine. Even when he was kind-of dating Cassie, he always rose at the same time each day, which she thought was pretty obnoxious. You hunted at night and researched at day. If you got time to sleep at all you were pretty damn lucky. Time wasted in sleep could be time used saving lives. "Jeez."
The landing was deserted. Oh no, not this again, he thought for a moment, until the most alluring smell wafted toward his nose. He hadn't actually eaten it for so long that he had to think for a moment about what it was.
Someone was cooking turkey? Here? Seriously? I expected a peanut butter sandwich and a can of beer like last Christmas. One hand on the banister, he cautiously journeyed down into Harvelle territory, half expecting to be attacked at any moment.
All the Bar's holiday lodgers seemed to have congregated downstairs, drinking, smoking, smiling and laughing. Dean was aware of his jaw dropping at the sight of hard-bitten hunters actually enjoying themselves. He'd grown up thinking that to be admitted into the club, you had to be as emotionless as possible.
"They don't have anywhere else to go." A voice behind him. He turned and met the eyes of the Bar's most eligible bachelorette.
He was still feeling a little light-headed. Either he was still coming down from being possessed by the screwed-up spirit of Alice Summers, or not all the hunters congregated in the bar area were strictly tobacco smokers "What?"
Jo motioned with her towel. "They don't have anywhere else to go." She said. "No family, no friends. So they come here for Christmas."
"Ah. Gotcha. Sort of like a pyjama party with guns thing." Dean sat at the bottom of the stairs. Jo perched beside him. "Do we have a Secret Santa too?" He asked half-seriously.
"Only if they're trying to score." Jo gave a small smile. "How are you feeling?" She asked.
Ah. So it wasn't a dream.
"Like someone's hit me in the head several times with a baseball bat." He replied. "So. What's cooking?"
"Christmas dinner." She said matter-of-factly. "Mom does one every year for everyone staying with us, ever since Dad died. Funny, 'cause she used to be a horrible cook when she started out. Just watch out for her eggnog."
"More nog than your egg?"
"Yeah." She gave him a look then, a long, searching one from under hooded eyes that made Dean feel ever so slightly uncomfortable.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Jo blurted. "You still look a little green around the gills."
"The only think hacking me off is people asking me if I'm fine." Dean said. "Do you know where Sam is?"
"Where else? On his computer."
"Tell him to drag his sorry corpse over here a sec."
"I'm not your maid." But there was a smile in her voice as she said it. "Oi, Sam! Get out here a sec!"
"Jeez, I could have done that."
Jo flipped her hair up over her shoulder before getting up to continue her various jobs. Dean watched her walk away a Sam came out of the kitchen, once again stooping to clear the doorway without scraping his head.
"Look in the mirror." Sam sniffed.
"Hey, man, are you pissed off with me? What the hell gives you the right to be pissed off with me this time?" Puzzlement switched to annoyance in a flash. "I was the one in the firing line. I was the one that took the bullet."
"That's just it! You always put yourself in the firing line, you always take the bullet. Dammit Dean, how long do you reckon you can keep this up until you wont be coming back?"
"Dude, can we for once not do the whole family drama?"
The fledging argument shuddered to a grinding halt.
"Maybe that was outta line." Sam said finally.
"…But you're my big brother. This'll probably sound as corny as hell, but you're the only thing I have left."
"Dear God, I told you to stay out of the Mills & Boon."
That cracked a smile, but it was gone in a flash as Sam endeavoured to stay serious. "For a while there," He confessed. "For a while there… I thought that this time you were really going to die."
Dean glanced sideways at his little brother, his straight nose and thin face and always earnest eyes. "You know," He said, and Sam looked up.
"For a while there so did I."
And lo, another Winchester Christmas came and went, only this time it was spent companionably among friends, both new and old.
Sam had never come to understand why Dad had been that anti-Christmas on that long ago day. He had his suspicions, but was never able to gather enough evidence to say for sure one thing or another. Only much later did he find out that Dad's friend Bill Harvelle died on Christmas Eve, though not the same one. Only much later did he find out that was when John was cast out of among the hunters.
The brothers never found out about the photo in the Journal. The secret of who the other man had been Dad had taken to his grave.
And in the end, Sam shrugged his shoulders and gave up trying to solve another mystery on top of all the other things he had been trying to analyse over the years: the Yellow-eyed Demon, the psychics, Mary Winchester, his brother, and even himself.
Some secrets were best kept buried.
The door burst open once again, a flurry of snow sending a chill through the bar. Mac the Knife hobbled in, only his eyes visible through a slit in his balaclava. From the sparkle in them, Sam could tell he was the bearer of bad news.
"There's a job not far east from here. Some archaeologist was possessed on his last dig, and it looks like he's gunning for some dude from the FBI."
Sam tried, he really did, but despite himself a small bubble of excitement formed in his chest. But before he could say anything, Dean jumped in.
"We'll take it. No prob." He shrugged.
"No way." Jo cut in.
"Why should you have all the fun? This one's mine." She turned to her mother. "What do you say, Mom? Fancy one last spin around the block?"
Ellen raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "Hell, why not?"
"Oh, one more thing, Dean: You're not the boss of me."
A merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Maybe some good did come out of it in the end. Being held captive and all.
That night Uncle Jude invited Mary and her foster parents around for Christmas dinner, and about fifteen minutes ago now, Dad had stood and announced that he and Mom were going to give their marriage another shot.
Mary was now confronted with the choice of going to Australia in the New Year, or staying here with Uncle Jude and his girlfriend Lisa. Neither choice sounded particularly appealing, but Mary wasn't about to say that in earshot of the adults or Lisa's son, a long, lanky boy with a taste for teasing her mercilessly.
So she smiled and nodded politely and pretended she was interested in their inane conversation as more guests began to arrive. Maybe she had been too premature in insisting that she was well enough to leave the hospital. She needed some air.
The final straw came when Lisa asked her whether she'd like to sit at the baby table with the other snot-nosed brats, and Mary knew she had enough. She'd declined politely before gravely informing her parents that she was going outside, maybe walk around the block.
Tony and Alex objected at once. Going for a walk was what had started this chain of events. Surely they would be neglecting their child by refusing her an escort for her short excursion?
That was when her soon-to-be cousin stepped in. "I'll go with her." He said brightly. "No problem."
Mary glowered at her as he grinned back, all wide-eyed and innocent; seemingly unaware of the animosity she was giving off in waves.
"If you're sure." Dad said uncertainly, teetering between not wanting to let Mary out without supervision and not wanting to get up from his comfortable chair by the fire to go out with her.
"Yeah, Uncle Tony. It'll be fine."
Mary glared at him furiously, annoyed beyond reason that he would even have the gall to call Dad Uncle Tony. She pasted a smile onto her face. "Yeah. That'd be great."
The door closed heavily behind them.
"What's your deal?" Mary asked sharply, her breath coming out in a cloud of steam.
"What? Can't I spend a little time with my cousin?"
"I'm not your cousin. Even if your mom marries Uncle Jude I'll never be your cousin."
"Oh, that's right. You're a fugly little orphan, aren't you?"
"Bite me, jerk." She snapped back. He laughed.
"Alright." He said. "I'm off to see the boys for fifteen. Wait for me at Benny's. Don't go anywhere until I show up. You have your phone, right?"
"Yes, Dad." Mary rolled her eyes as he jogged off up the street.
Benny's was an ice cream parlour a bit further up the block, although the current owner was a nice redheaded woman named Sybil. Mary sighed, shoving her mittened hands into a too-big cracked leather jacket that Tony said used to belong to her real mom.
Sighing, she took a step toward the door. Christmas. What was it about, really? Turkey and ham and trees and presents. Mary had those. Family?
A big, fat nope to that one. She loved Dad and Mom, and she knew they tried their best, but she still would have loved to at least know her real family. But whenever she broached the subject, suddenly all the adults got extremely cagey.
"You going in, or not?"
She spun, scattering snow about her in a wide arc. "Oh my God!" She squealed, then clapped her hands to her mouth in embarrassment at her girlish glee.
He grinned, hands on his hips. He was rakishly good-looking and he knew it. "Call me Dean."
Mary smiled, and kicked him sharply in the shin.
"Hey, ow! What did I do this time?" Dean demanded with a hurt expression.
"I thought you were dead! I thought you were dead and you let me believe that for God knows how long! You absolute sadist!"
"I have to say," Sam said solemnly. "The kid knows you well." As Mary swung around to face him, two angry red splotches in her cheeks, he backed away, hands outstretched in front of him.
"And you!" The girl raged, spinning around to the tall, gangly man that could only be Dean's brother. "You got me to tell you everything and then just hung up on me! You don't even tell me what you're going to try to do!"
"You hung up on her?" Dean pursed his lips. "Man, what a burn."
"I told you we should have phoned. It's safer, long distance."
"Were you following me?" Mary demanded. "Tailing a ten year old girl down the street? You dudes, you do know that that's just sick, right?"
For a minute second, both adults almost looked guilty. Almost.
"I was. I'm not sure about him." Dean said unabashedly. "Problem?"
She stopped and thought for a moment. "Strangely enough, even though that confession should be cause for alarm, no."
"Bloody hell." Sam said softly. "She's like a little you."
"I shall take that as a complement."
"Really? I find it deeply offensive." Mary countered, and the duo grinned. Sam put a hand to his forehead in exasperation.
"Who was the caped crusader?" Dean asked when the three of them were seated. The waitress had given him a dazzling smile before asking him what he and his niece would like, almost virtually ignoring Sam. Dean asked for a sundae for Mary before ordering such an extravagant bowl of ice cream for himself that Mary's mouth fell open.
"It's a surprise you still have teeth left in your head."
"I only get this sort of stuff about every five years or so. The rest of the time I'm living off roadhouse dinners that taste like old shoes." He said, before shovelling a spoonful into his mouth.
Sam nodded his assent.
"Sounds rough." Mary said. "Okay, you really want to know who the jerk I was with earlier is? His mom is going to marry my uncle next summer. Then there's no way I can get him out of my hair now."
"Maybe you'll end up liking him." Sam said helpfully.
Dean frowned. "Just don't like him too much. It would be entirely too weird for you to start dating your foster-step-cousin, or whatever the hell he is." Sam noticed the protective note in his brother's voice and felt for a moment an irrational twang of jealousy.
Mary pulled a face, looking and sounding, for the first time since Sam had met her face to face, like a little girl.
"Ew! You've gotta be kidding me. He's like, like Jar-Jar Binks annoying little brother the family disowned because he was too much of a spaz. He's king of the dorks."
"Yes, you can just feel the love tonight."
"Shove a banana in it, college boy. Has the mister has been giving you a hard time? Give me his name and address and I'll go beat him up for you."
She grinned. "No, really, Ben's not that bad, I guess. He's got a lot of quirks that take a lot of getting used to."
"Tell me about it."
"His name's Ben?"
"Yeah. Him and his mom came over here from Indiana a while back. Her and Mrs Sims own a studio downtown. She does yoga and alternative dance. I can't see the logic behind twisting my body into a pretzel, myself. B-uuut I guess some guys get a kick out of it. Well, seeing a woman do it."
Dean's jaw didn't drop like Sam half expected it to, but he certainly got a dazed, stunned expression on his face like he'd just been slapped with something cold and slimy. Kids. Best shock-jocks in the world. Best thing is, they don't even know they're doing it.
It's unbelievable how small this world really is.
"Dean? You okay?"
"Yeah. Sure. Why wouldn't I be?"
""It's just… you're looking…" She chewed her lip, searching for the word. "Shellshocked."
"Really, it's cool." Dean glanced at his watch before scanning outside the shop. "Fifteen's almost up. Me and Sammy better hit the road."
Dean hit Sam's shoulder. "Gimme a pen." He reached over and took her hand, scrawling a series of numbers across her palm. "My number." He said. "You get in trouble, or you hear about any… bad things happening, give me a ring. Just-"
"Don't tell anyone I met you, I ever saw you, or that I even know you exist. Yeah, I know, I've been briefed. Be invisible, right?"
Mary looked uncomfortably down at the table, and Sam suddenly felt like an eavesdropper in the conversation. "I know I can't ask you to stay safe, 'cause you probably wont. I'd like to say I feel better now I know that there are people like you and your brother out there, but that would be a lie." She sighed.
"The world just got a whole lot scarier."
24 December 1993:
The phone rang. He didn't recognise the number that flashed up briefly on the caller ID. "Hello?"
There was a long pause. He was about to slam the receiver down and curl up beside his wife once more when the caller said two words in a hoarse and cracked voice.
"That isn't funny Screw you, pal." He felt anger rising, pissed off that someone still had the gall to prank the family. After the fire and all those weird questions that followed, there had been nothing but young punks phoning both houses and claiming to be the Devil, or assorted demons.
It was ruthless, the way the vultures had descended. John's eccentricity had come back to plague them all. Especially after he packed up Dean and little Sammy and vamoosed.
"Drew. How are the kids?"
Slowly Drew sat up. Alison mumbled something as her arm slipped from about his waist. "It is you." Then an uncomfortable thought occurred to him. "Are you alright? You aren't in any trouble, are you?"
"No, no… I'm… fine." He seemed surprised that someone would genuinely enquire about his health.
"God, there's nothing wrong with the boys, is there?" An even more disturbing possibility.
"No, I… they…" His voice shook, and for a moment Drew thought the line must have dropped out. Then he returned, his voice more rough and husky than ever. "You're in danger. They're coming back. You have to get out of the house right now."
"What the hell are you talking about, you dork?" Drew's voice grew frosty. "I could be putting myself in danger because I'm talking to you right now." Beside him, he was aware of Alison beginning to stir.
"What in the name of all that's holy have you been doing, kid? Dammit, you're a suspect in the Beaumont murder case." He took a terse breath and held it, hating to even think of the possibility. "Just tell me you didn't really do it."
"Tell me!" He hissed
"I wish I could say I wasn't involved."
That was all the answer he needed. Drew's hands clenched around the receiver as if he wished it had been John's neck. "I'm hanging up now." He said coldly.
His voice hardly shook at all.
"Goodbye, John. I don't want to see you again. I don't want you to call this house again. Don't call my work, and leave Alison's friends alone." A deep breath. "And if you ever come near my children, I swear I'll hunt you down wherever this little crusade of yours is taking you and I'll kill you."
It was no idle threat. Drew had been in the Marines for four years before John had even thought of enlisting.
"When did this happen?" John asked plaintively. "When were we reduced to this?"
"Probably the same time you fell off the wagon. Damn, Mary was like a little sister to me. I loved the girl to bits, but do you think she would have wanted to see what you're doing to yourself? What you're doing to her boys?"
"You have no idea what I'm doing."
"Running from town to town, acting like fugitives? Aliases, credit scams, hustling? Turning your boys into some sort of super soldiers?"
"How did you-?"
"I got the same training you did. Sport."
"What I'm doing is to protect them!" John burst out over the phone.
"Protect them from what, Johnny? Answer me that."
"Demons! Demons, Drew. They're real and they're out there and they're dangerous and for some reason they killed my Mary! And I'm gonna find the son of a bitch who did it and make him pay!" He took a ragged breath. "Whatever it is tried to hunt us, to kill us. But we weren't where they expected us to be. So instead they're coming to kill you! To hurt me!"
"Oh my God. Are you even listening to yourself?" A strange stillness settled over him.
"Please. Drew. Get Alison and the kids out of there right now. Hide. No, go to Missouri Moseley, she'll keep you safe."
"Are you absolutely INSANE?"
"If you don't want to do it for me, do it for your kids." He sounded almost desperate.
"See you around, Johnny. Or not."
Drew hung up.
25 December 1993:
The fire had started in the master bedroom and spread quickly to the rest of the house. The police said that the homeowner Andrew Winchester and his wife Alison had asphyxiated due to smoke inhalation and didn't suffer when they began to burn.
John had doubts about that one.
Thirteen-year-old Cameron had smelled the smoke and ran to rouse his twelve-year-old brother Jack and nine-year-old sister Anne. They made it all the way to the front door, before realising that all the doors and windows were locked fast.
When their screams for help heralded nothing, Jack and Cam made the most important decision of their short lives. Together they smashed a window and managed to lift Anne through, where she dropped into the snow as the rest of the house began to burn.
As least that's what the fireman that had gingerly picked her up out of the way managed to get out of her, so garbled and shocked by what she had seen that she was hardly comprehensible. And then she began to cry, huge wrenching sobs that tore at John's heart as he watched from the shadows. This little girl he had heard about, but never actually seen.
Over the years he tracked her progress like she was an animal for his observation, never getting close enough for her to spot him and never letting on to Dean that he had a quarry that wasn't otherwise dangerous or monstrous. Finally, when she was nineteen, he got up the courage to knock on her door.
She told him to get away from her or she'd call the police. As he left, convinced she could now look after herself, he heard Anne's boyfriend say she shouldn't go working herself up like that. Especially in her condition.
It took two months until he heard through a friend of a friend about the blaze. The boyfriend had fled; some said he had been terrified for his life, should he stay. Some had said that he was afraid that the 'monsters' would come back. Anne had died in the fire.
The only thing left was the baby.
John tried to find the child, he really did, but in the end death came just too quickly.
All he had was a name…
The Christmas carols and other Christmas songs I have referenced as chapter titles belong to their writers and whoever else responsible for them. I don't own Supernatural or anything associated.
Mary Morgan is proudly mine and seems to be my best-received female character in a fanfic so far.
A Kallicantzaros is of Greek origin and is thought to be a mischievous goblin of some kind, though depictions vary. According to myth, a child born on 25 December stands a strong chance of becoming one. Legend dictates that the only ways to cure and/or repel one is to bind it in hay or threaten it with garlic. Sometimes they appear animalistic.
A Reaper (as we all probably know) is responsible for gathering the souls of the dead. They can (mythologically speaking) hold back death or kill without warning. The Grim Reaper, with his scythe and his cape is at the centre of Reaper lore. I would be very surprised if the logic followed in this story had any real substance to it. It's based on a lot of guessing and what would be possibly entertaining.
Many thanks to all readers and reviewers.