Angels at Christmas
Disclaimer: The Winchesters and the Metallicar belong to Kripke and the CW. Lucky Ducks.
Beta'd: By the incredibly talented Wysawyg who can beta, write, IM and watch reruns of Bones and McCallum all at the same time. Now that's multi-tasking!
I played after she beta'd (mainly because she had a lot of little suggestions!) so as usual all remaining errors are mine and mine alone.
AN: Unrequited666 left a review for Envy (a shouting review! BG) asking if the three times Sam had been lost would ever show up in later stories. I had not really planned to flesh those out, but it did get my mind thinking (always a dangerous endeavor). This is what came of it.
Time Line: Dean is eleven, Sam is seven.
Warning: Winchester Christmas sap – simply 'cause I wanted some. :D
In fact, I wanted Christmas schmoop so much I pushed this ahead of Envy or my Secret Santa story so I could post before December 13th and the "A Very Supernatural Christmas" episode. At which point, I have no doubt my copy will be Kripke'd and all notions of an innocent and sappy Christmas will be salted and burned out of existence. BG.
Jim Murphy watched as seven-year-old Sammy Winchester sat playing on a blue and gold oriental rug in front of the fireplace. The fire crackled merrily as Sammy pushed a MacGyver-style jeep along the gold road patterns on the rug. He made car noises before he crashed it into a fiery pit of Cheetos.
"Sammy?" Pastor Jim called from the doorway.
"Is Dean okay?" Sam asked, looking up from his play and pushing unruly brown bangs out of his eyes.
"He's sleeping," Jim stated. Sammy picked up the paint-chipped jeep and trotted over to the fatherly minister.
"I want to see him," Sammy stated, his expressive blue-green eyes conveying his seriousness. "Dean needs me."
"What he needs, is sleep," Pastor Jim cautioned, placing a hand on the Sammy's shoulder to steady the child when he stood on one foot to pull his big toe out of the hole in his other sock.
"I can be quiet," Sammy insisted. "I know how to be so quiet that not even Dean can hear me. That's how I found his Batman comic books. I was really careful though, so he didn't care."
"Mmm," Jim replied, only partially listening to Sammy's story. His concern at the moment was for the older Winchester child.
When John had dropped his children off a week ago Dean had a bad cold, but it quickly morphed into bronchitis. Jim had taken Dean to the free clinic yesterday and they had come home, much to Dean's chagrin, with children's liquid amoxicillin which he seemed to take as a personal insult.
He had promptly declared the pink medicine as vile, girly-colored demon torture until Jim had reminded him that he needed to set an example for his brother. At which point, Dean had remarked, "But it's okay, Sammy. We Winchesters are tough enough to handle it." Sammy had nodded knowingly and Jim turned his head to hide a smirk.
His thoughts were interrupted when he realized Sammy no longer stood in front of him. The child was right, he could be quiet. Pastor Jim walked over to the stairway expecting to find Sammy sneaking up to visit his brother, but the stairway was empty minus a foraging dust bunny or two.
Jim trudged up the stairs for the umpteenth time this morning. He did not see how young Sam could have made it past him and up the stairs to his brother so quickly, but certainly that must be where he was. Sure enough, when Jim poked his head into the room, he found Sammy snuggled under the covers next to Dean. Sammy was tucked underneath Dean's arm and the youngest Winchester held a finger to his lips when he spotted Jim in the doorway.
He nodded his grudging approval and left the boys to make lunch. A little hot soup and cider would help clear Dean's sinuses and warm both boys' bellies. The forecast was for snow and, while Jim relished the idea of a potentially white versus currently brown Christmas, the temperature would plummet along with the falling of the promised snow.
The clock in the entryway dinged twelve times on his way to the kitchen. He only had an hour until the choir members would arrive for warm up practice before Christmas Eve services began. That left him just enough time to prepare lunch and touch up his sermon beforehand.
As Jim poured the cider into the kettle to warm it, he reflected on the phone call he had just received from John. John had called him not more than thirty minutes ago stating he would be back from the hunt tonight because he wanted to be with his sons for Christmas. Jim had not mentioned anything to either of the boys. A surprise was always better than a disappointment.
Sammy felt Dean's arm tighten around him and he flipped on his other side to face his brother. Sparkling green eyes greeted him and the corners of Dean's lips curled slightly in greeting. "Hey, Sammy," he whispered.
He reached out to hold Dean's face in hands and leaned in closer until their foreheads touched. "You're supposed to be sleeping," he whispered back.
Dean made a face, his throat sore from coughing. "And you're supposed to be helping Pastor Jim."
"I am helping," Sammy insisted. "I'm watching you." He removed one hand from Dean's cheek and placed it on his forehead. Sam frowned. "You're still hot." It was said in such a tone as to imply Dean could be cooler if only he'd put his mind to it.
"I'm the oldest, it's my job to watch you, Sammy," Dean croaked. "It's your job to be the little brother."
"What does the little brother do?" Sammy asked. Sammy removed his hands Dean's face. He used one arm to prop his head up and the other hand to pick at the smooth satin edge of the blue blanket.
"He lets the big brother do his job," Dean replied, the frog in his throat catching every other word or so, "Even when he doesn't want to."
Sammy thought about that for a minute and returned Dean's green gaze with his hazel. He could see the love in his brother's eyes and he thought maybe he understood what Dean meant, but he wasn't really sure. "When do I get to be the big brother?"
Dean laughed. A belly laugh that caused Sammy to laugh right along with him even though he did not know what was so funny. "You don't ever get to be the big brother," Dean said before his laughing caused a fresh bout of coughing and Sammy lightly patted him on the back.
The coughing finally subsided and Dean winced when he swallowed to soothe his raw throat. He ruffled Sammy's floppy brown hair affectionately. "You'll always be the little brother even when we're really old like Pastor Jim and Dad."
Sammy nodded, but his brows knitted in confusion. "What if the big brother needs someone to watch out for him?"
"He doesn't," Dean replied. "And if he did, there's always Dad. Dads watch out for their sons."
"But he's not here. I mean, but what if he's not here?" Sam asked, persistently. Things happen, with Dean, things always happened. He had to know what his job was just in case. "What if it's just the big brother and the little brother and the big brother needs help? What then, Dean? Can I be the big brother then?"
Dean's eyes sparkled with amusement. "Sorry, Sammy. Nope, you can't be the big brother."
Sam's gaze fell, abashed. There had to be a way to take care of his big brother if he needed it. "I'll just find the little brother way to help," Sammy declared after a moment.
Dean smiled and nodded. "There you go."
Sammy returned the nod. "I'm going to go help Pastor Jim with your lunch." He slid out from under the blankets. "I'll be back." He carefully pulled the blankets back up around his big brother and smoothed them out.
Dean frowned at Sammy's fussing. "You do that," he replied, closing his eyes again. "But stay out of his way, Sammy. If he's cooking at the stove, you let him do that himself."
"I know." Sammy's tone suggested he had heard this speech a thousand times and he tired of it.
A smile tugged at Dean's lips as he drifted back to sleep and Sammy silently padded down the stairs in search of Pastor Jim. He found the minister dishing up a bowl of soup and placing it on the kitchen table next a tall glass of milk.
"Samuel," Pastor Jim acknowledged. "Just in time to eat your lunch."
"I wanted to help you with Dean's lunch." Disappointment hung off each word.
"You need to stay here and eat your soup," Jim explained. "So you stay healthy." He picked up a tray containing soup, sandwich and tea for Dean. "I'll be back shortly. I'm taking a tray to your brother."
"No, buts," Jim interrupted. He looked down at Sammy and his gaze softened. "Tell you what, you can help me take Dean his medicine later and collect the tray."
"Yes, sir." Sammy nodded, happy with the compromise. He climbed up into the wooden, hard-backed chair and sat swinging his legs back and forth to the beat as he hummed several bars of Dazed and Confused. He dipped the grilled cheese sandwich into his tomato soup before taking a bite. While he ate he continued to think about what exactly the little brother way might be. Dean always stayed with him when he was sick and Sammy's determination to find a way to help his brother grew.
His thoughts drifted to the afternoon they had arrived and Dean showing him the kittens in the barn loft.
"See, Sammy?" Dean said. "The mommy cat is feeding them right now."
"Except those two," Sammy replied, pointing at an orange kitten and a tawny kitten who were wrestling in the corner. The larger, tawny kitten had the smaller orange kitten by the scruff of the neck and was dragging it back towards the rest of the litter. "That one must be the big brother." He pointed to the tawny kitten.
Dean laughed. "I bet you're right." Dean stood up. "You stay here and don't try to get out of the loft by yourself. I'm going to finish the chores Pastor Jim asked me to do and I'll be back."
Sammy nodded. "I'll stay here." He watched as Dean swung his legs out the trap door in the floor and slowly disappeared from sight.
He turned his attention back to the kittens. He watched for nearly an hour as they finished eating, played and finally settled in for a nap. The orange kitten curled into a tight ball and the tawny kitten stretched out beside it, blinking sleeping, but obviously keeping watch.
The trap door creaked open and Sammy turned away from the kittens long enough to see Dean gracefully pull himself up and swing his legs into the loft. "Why doesn't the Dean kitty go to sleep too?" Sam asked when his brother sat down next to him.
Dean chuckled and pulled Sammy's knit hat further down on his head. "He will. Once he knows it's safe. Come on, Sammy, let's go back inside. Your face is cold."
As they moved away, the tawny kitten blinked at them sleepily and finally rested its head on the orange kitten. "Look, Dean! The kitty fell asleep. You were right."
"I'm the oldest, I'm always right," Dean shot back, his voice slightly muffled by Sammy whose body was only halfway through the trap door. Sammy could feel Dean guiding his feet to the ladder.
Sammy climbed down the ladder, unafraid, knowing his big brother would catch him if he fell. Once his feet were firmly planted back on the barn floor he asked, "Why does the Dean kitty take care of the Sam kitty? They have a mommy."
"Because…" Dean hesitated. "Because the big brother kitten knows the mommy cat has five other kittens. He knows that if he wants to keep his little brother safe, he has to help their mommy take care of him."
Sam nodded. That made sense. They had a daddy, but Dean often helped take care of him when Daddy was busy. One question plagued him. "What does the Sammy kitty do?"
Dean thought about it for a minute. "He lets him."
The answer had confused Sammy, but Dean would not explain and he still could not figure out what Dean had meant. It was the same answer Dean had given him upstairs about his own job as the little brother. He decided that he would go outside and think at the church. Pastor Jim always said that people should be quiet and listen and God would speak to them. Sammy thought that would be a good place to start.
He pulled on his boots and put on his coat. It was still a little big because it had once belonged to Dean. He put on mittens, but he left the hat. Pastor Jim didn't like anyone to wear hats in church and it seemed like a waste of time to put one on just to take it off again in a few minutes. Slipping out the front door, Sammy headed down the muddy path towards the church.
Dean frowned as the hot soup hit his raw throat. "Where's Sammy?"
Pastor Jim cast kindly blue eyes on Dean. "He's eating downstairs. He'll be fine for a couple a minutes."
"He doesn't really like eating by himself," Dean croaked. "Maybe he should come up here and eat with me."
Jim nodded, clearly able to read Dean's true motivation. He wanted his brother. "I'll go fetch him. In the meantime, you eat."
"Yes, sir," Dean replied, taking another very deliberate sip of soup as a show of good faith.
Jim smiled fondly at the young man in front of him. John was raising two very special young boys. They were respectful, smart and caring. They showed it in different ways and had different strengths, but one very similar weakness. Although to Jim, it was their strongest gift from John of all.
He walked down the stairs and entered the kitchen only to find Sammy was no longer sitting at the table. In fact, it looked as if he had eaten very little. The congealing soup served as testament to how long Sammy had been gone. Exiting the kitchen, Jim checked the bathroom, the master bedroom and even the dumb waiter. No Sammy.
Pastor Jim headed for the entryway with growing trepidation. Two sets of Winchester shoes stood in the small entry, but only one set of boots. Dean's old coat was missing too. Jim sighed. Sammy had gone outside. The youngest Winchester was both blessed and cursed with a fierce independent streak, but he was rarely willfully disobedient. Something had drawn him outside.
Jim slid his feet into boots and pulled on a coat before heading outside. A sharp wind had picked up and he wrapped his coat tighter around him. He strode quickly towards the barn knowing the boys were both attracted to the few animals Jim kept on the farm. Two cows, a cat with assorted kittens, three chickens and one rooster lived in the barn and they kept the boys occupied for hours.
He scanned the yard as he walked to the barn. The landscape was brown and barren almost melancholy instead of the bright white snow he associated with Christmas in Minnesota. The wind blew darkening clouds across the sky, filling the empty blue spaces until only gray remained. Jim frowned, his wish for snow would be arriving soon.
Opening the large, wooden double doors to the barn, Jim stepped inside and searched for Sammy. He was not in the loft or hiding in any of the stalls. Sammy was not in the barn. A growing unease rose in Jim's gut and traveled up towards his throat. John had entrusted him with his sons and it was not something John did with many. Jim could count on fewer than the fingers on one hand how many people John permitted to watch his sons and keep them safe. Jim could not let him down.
He strode back towards the house, wracking his brain for anywhere else Sammy may have gone and hoping when he stepped inside he would find Sammy back at the table. What he found was Dean, standing in the doorway with the blue blanket from the upstairs bedroom wrapped around him the wind whipping it around his ankles. The look in Dean's concerned green eyes instantly conveying to Jim that Sammy had not returned.
"He's not in the house," Dean stated. No words were needed beyond that simple statement. Jim could hear the slight accusatory tone to Dean's voice. He would never outwardly accuse the minister of being negligent with his little brother, but the weight behind the words drove the point home.
"He's not in the barn either," Jim replied. There was no need for hedging and Dean would see right through it anyway. "You need to go back to bed. It is cold out here and I don't want you getting sicker."
"Sammy's not in the house and he's not in the barn," Dean reiterated as if Jim had somehow forgotten. "I have to find him."
Jim cast an appraising gaze on the older boy. His cheeks blushed pink with fever and his eyes glassy with internal heat did nothing to ease the minister's mind. "No, son, you don't. You need to stay in bed and get better. I'm sure young Samuel is probably at the church. The choir is arriving now for practice, so I'll go get them started and then bring Sammy home."
"I'm going with you." It wasn't a question it was a statement of fact. Dean may just as well have said the 'sky is blue' or 'rock salt repels ghosts' as the feeling behind the words was the same.
"You need to stay here. I can't have you off gallivanting around when you are sick. Besides, if Sammy returns to the house before I find him and you aren't here, he'll leave again to find you," Jim replied sternly. He shooed Dean inside by flapping his hands at him, certain his argument had won Dean over to his way of thinking.
Dean did turn and go back inside and for one, brief, shining moment Jim thought he had actually won that round. However, he soon discovered it was only so Dean could slip boots on over heavy socks, pull on his coat, shove shaking hands into padded gloves, wrap a scarf around his neck and pull a hat over his head.
Dean's gloved hand hovered over Sammy's hat and scarf before he stuffed them into his coat pockets. Jim swallowed a lump in his throat. He could no more ask Dean to leave the care of his little brother up to him than he could ask Dean to stop breathing. It wasn't possible for him to do it.
Pastor Jim nodded his approval. He stopped to pick up the discarded blanket and toss it over a coat peg before following Dean out the door. "You check the storm cellar and I'll check the church," Jim instructed.
Dean turned towards the cellar doors without a backwards glance. Jim added, "Wait for me, Dean, I mean it. I'm just going to get the choir started and then I'll be back. Go back in the house and when I return I'm sure I'll have Sammy with me. If I don't we'll start out together then." Dean waved a hand at him in acknowledgement and Jim continued down the muddy path to the church.
Dean struggled against the wind to lift the doors on the storm cellar. He did not think his little brother had the strength to get the doors open, but Sammy had surprised him in the past. He carefully made his way down the creaky old stairs before pulling the chain on the light.
A single dim bulb lit the interior of the cellar. Rows of canned preserves, vegetables and fruit lined the dusty shelves. A box simply labeled, 'Sarah's things' sat in the corner and cobwebs hung from the exposed ceiling like sticky gauze curtains.
Dean wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his gloved hand and pushed his hat up. Sammy had not been here. No one had been in here for weeks at least. He yanked the chain harder than necessary and a piece of it broke off in his hand. He shoved the chain into his coat pocket and ran up the stairs.
The wind whistled over the open doors and flakes of white zipped past. It was snowing. No way would he sit around in the house waiting for Pastor Jim to maybe return with his little brother. He would go to the church and if Sammy wasn't there, he would head into the woods. It was the only place left to look.
The cellar doors slammed back into place, pushed none too gently by an increasing wind, and he latched them closed. The wind dried the perspiration off his body, cooling him even as the fever heated him from the inside. The chill ran deep into Dean's bones and he shivered in his thick coat.
The trip to the church took two agonizingly long minutes while Dean's heart was torn equally between fear and hope. He stepped into the narthex of the church and the warm air buffeted him, causing him to cough at the sudden change of temperature. Once his breathing was under control, Dean opened the door to the nave and listened as the choir members started assembling.
"I'd like to have everyone's attention," Jim's deceptively strong voice boomed. The choir members fell silent and looked at Pastor Jim expectantly. "Some of you may remember young Samuel Winchester from his previous visits…"
A general murmur of approval and smiling faces confirmed Jim's words. Dean shook his head. His little brother certainly seemed to attract the attention of old ladies. Dean hoped that luck would hold true for him with girls closer to his own age. That is, when Sammy started liking girls as more than just friends, but Dean figured that was still a long way off for his little brother.
One of Sammy's best friends this past year had been a girl named Jill. A rough and tumble girl who could keep up with Sammy during their soccer meets. He had enjoyed playing with Jill, but he thought of her as one of the boys, not as a girl.
Now Jill's older sister, Tamara, she was something else.
Dean's thoughts were interrupted when Pastor Jim's voice cut through the din, "Has anyone seen him here tonight?"
Murmurs of no rippled through the crowd of mostly women until one older lady with blue hair spoke up. "He was here earlier," she said, her quaking voice rising above the din. "He said something about needing to find his little brother way."
Pastor Jim had a puzzled look on his face, but Dean understood. Sammy searched for his own way to help Dean. Sammy had left the house and the church in search of a way to make Dean feel better. His face fell along with his spirits. His teasing remarks had sent his little brother on a quest out in the newly falling snow.
He caught the look of disapproval Pastor Jim shot him when spotted Dean by the doorway. He spun on his heels to leave only to have his shoulder snagged, holding him in place. "Aren't you Sammy's big brother?" Dean looked up into the eyes of a woman with flashing brown eyes and silver hair. She smelled vaguely of cats and moth balls.
"Yeah," Dean replied, his hoarse voice cutting in and out. "I need to find him."
"I'm sure you will," she replied. "Betty said he was just here."
"Thanks," Dean murmured though his voice did not convey sincerity. He squirmed out of her grasp and headed for the door only to be stopped by an elderly gentleman in the narthex.
"Merry Christmas, Dean," Mr. Swensen said with a smile. He reached out to shake Dean's hand vigorously.
"Merry Christmas, sir," Dean responded reflexively. He just wanted out of the church so he could find Sammy before Pastor Jim extricated himself from the choir ladies and tried to stop him.
"That little brother of yours was just in here," Stanley continued. "Did he find what he was searching for?"
"You talked to Sammy?" Dean asked, his attention fully swinging to the gray-haired man in front of him for the first time.
"Yep," Stanley replied. "We talked for a spell about finding God in quiet places. You can't have missed him by much. That was only…" Stanley paused to check his watch. "Oh…seems it was about twenty minutes ago."
"Thanks," Dean replied. He started to leave before turning on his heel and going back to Stanley. "He didn't happen to mention where he was going, did he?"
"Nope, sorry," Stanley replied, his watery eyes sparked with concern. "Is he lost?"
Dean hesitated for a moment trying to decide what to tell Mr. Swensen that would pacify him and allow Dean to escape from the church. He opened his mouth to answer when a booming voice from the nave interrupted, "Stanley Swensen, you get in here now! We're starting!"
Stanley smiled apologetically at Dean. "Sorry, son, Meredith's calling."
Dean nodded in acknowledgment and beat it out the door before he could get stopped again. He took the path that lead straight from the church door to the edge of the woods. Half-way down the path, a small cluster of defiant wild roses still bloomed in a valiant, but doomed, effort to hold back winter. He noticed a set of depressions near the bush that were exactly Sammy-sized footprints.
The smudged toe and deep heel impression told Dean that Sammy had stood there, looking at the blossoms before twisting on his heels and continuing towards the woods. Near the entrance to the wooded glade, Dean spotted a flash of red on the ground near a naked bush. Closer inspection revealed it was one of Sammy's mittens. Dean shoved it into his jeans' pocket and continued into the woods.
His search for Sammy continued in earnest. Dean zipped down the trail following evidence that was quickly disappearing under a fine layer of fresh snow. Visibility started to drop considerably as the snow continued to fall and the sun dipped closer to the horizon. Dean knew he only had a few minutes left before it would be dark. Already he did not have enough time to turn around and make it back out before it was too dark to see.
Panic rose in Dean's throat escaping as a husky cry. Sammy had to be close by, he had to be. Lengthening shadows stretched until darkness overtook the ground and Dean could no longer make out the faint signs of Sammy's presence. He was cut off from his little brother.
He stood in the path trying to ascertain how far into the woods he had come now that he had to navigate back in the dark. Although the wind had died down, the air had cooled by several degrees, and Dean hugged himself for added warmth and security. Silent snow fell in large, white flakes covering the barren ground, the tree branches and a fallen log.
A fallen log. Dean squinted into the darkness and he thought maybe his eyes were playing tricks on him, allowing him to see something that was not there. He rushed towards the log, his feet sliding on wet leaves covered by fresh snow. He practically slid next to the small, huddled lump taking shelter next to the natural wind break. Sammy.
Sammy felt warm fingers on his cheek and he blinked open blurry eyes. He could make out a dark shape sitting next to him, but his sluggish mind could not figure out who it was. Something warm was placed on his head and around his neck. The icy fingers of his right hand were warmed inside the larger hands of the figure sitting next to him until sharp pins and needles of awakening nerves caused him to whimper.
When the person before him, pulled Sammy into a warm embrace, he could tell who it was. The smell, the touch, the very presence was his big brother. Sammy continued to cry silently. It could not be Dean because his brother was at Pastor Jim's, sick in bed. He allowed himself to take comfort from the arms encircling him anyway. Maybe God had sent his guardian angel.
Sammy relaxed into the warmth and fell asleep, thinking about his recent trip to the church. He had gone to find his little brother way to help Dean. The church was quiet and a little cold, but Sammy had stuck it out. He was sure this would be the way to find the answer he needed.
When the church ladies arrived, they had broken the spell with laughter and loud voices and Sammy knew he would have to leave to find his answer. Disheartened, he had quietly left the church, but not before bumping into Betty with the blue hair.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" she asked him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"My brother is sick and I'm trying to find the little brother way to help him," Sammy replied. "He won't let me be the big brother."
Betty eased herself carefully onto the wooden pew to look Sammy in the eyes. "He can't sweetie," she replied with a smile. "Take it from the big sister. Only he can be the big brother. That's just the way it is. He doesn't know how to be any different. But don't worry. Little brothers and sisters have their own role to play and it is different, that true, but equally important. It's the one thing that makes being the big brother or sister so rewarding."
Sammy did not understand her words, not really, but he nodded and she smiled. When her attention was diverted by another choir member, Sammy took advantage of the opportunity to slip away from the pew.
On his way down the aisle a strong, gnarled hand grabbed his arm and Sammy looked at the owner in shock. It was Mr. Swensen. They had talked for quite awhile after church last Sunday about fishing. Sammy had never been fishing, but it sounded interesting. "Why are you running off? The old biddies scare you too?"
Sammy smiled, recognizing Mr. Swensen's oft touted complaint regarding the older ladies that went to the church. "No, I wanted to talk to God and find my little brother way, but it's too noisy in here now."
Stanley looked up to the front of the church at the growing assembly of women discussing which songs they would be signing and then back to Sam. "That's true enough. You know, I've always found it's best to look for God in the places he created."
Sammy crinkled his face in confusion. "I thought God created everything?"
Swensen nodded, his glasses falling down his nose before he pushed them back into place. "True. But take this church for instance. A man built this church, but God supplied the trees for the walls and the sand for the glass."
That made sense to him. "So where do you go to find God?"
"Right here," Stanley replied, placing a hand to his chest. "You can find him inside your heart."
This puzzled Sammy and he asked, "Then why do I have to go anywhere?"
"You don't, that's the beauty of it. It's just easier to hear him when other people and things aren't distracting you," Mr. Swensen explained with a smile. "Go outside or into your own room and you'll be able to hear him."
A smile spread across Sammy's face until dimples appeared. "Thank you!"
"Any time, Sammy," Stanley replied.
He ran from the church and headed out to find somewhere quiet. His first thought was the barn loft, but he knew the kittens would want to play and he doubted he would be able to hear God if he was playing with the kittens. Blooming roses caught his eye and Sammy stood for a moment wondering if flowers would cheer up Dean.
Sammy shook his head. Dean would think that flowers were for girls. He started to head for the house when he noticed a rabbit underneath a leafless bush. He knelt down beside the bush and tried to touch the white fur. The previously still rabbit bounded out of the bush and hopped into the woods.
He watched it go and a thought occurred to him. The woods would definitely be a place God had made and they would be quiet. It was the perfect place to listen to his heart. He knew he should not go into the woods by himself, he'd been told as much by his dad, his brother and Pastor Jim, but he would not go far.
The leaf strewn trail meandered through the trees and Sammy kept looking for a special place to sit down and listen. The woods were quiet, unlike when he, Dean and Daddy had picnicked here last summer. Birds had been chirping, squirrels running up and down the trees and Sammy had even seen a deer. That is, until Daddy let Dean practice shooting a shot gun at their soda cans. All the animals had disappeared after that.
Cold drove Sammy's thoughts back to his current situation and realization of how far he had traveled, and how dark it had become, sank in. He spun around to go back, but falling snow had covered the trail. He followed his footprints back through the snow until they disappeared. Either his footprints had been covered by a white blanket or he had somehow fallen off the trail. Sammy shivered.
Dean and Dad had drilled it into him many times that if he were to ever become separated from them or lost to sit down and wait. People who wandered only got themselves well and truly lost. Sammy spotted the fallen log and recognized it as a good place to take shelter from the biting wind.
He hunkered down behind the log, curling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around his legs to stay warm. He shivered violently and his teeth chattered. 'I'm sorry, Dean,' he thought. 'I tried.'
Sammy did not remember much between that moment and now other than being increasingly cold and tired. He shivered again and this time the person holding him shivered too. He blinked his heavily lidded eyes open and saw green, the same color green as Dean's pajamas. His eyes traveled upwards and into the face of his big brother.
"Dean," Sammy whispered, feeling coming back into frozen lips. His eyes focused on his brother and he crinkled his brow in disapproval. Dean should not be out here in the cold. He was sick.
Sam wrapped his arms tighter around his brother and snuggled deeper into his chest listening to the raspy breaths. He felt Dean pull his coat tighter around both of them and blinked back tears of shame even as he took comfort from his brother. He was supposed to be finding his little brother way to help Dean and now his big brother was out in the cold when he shouldn't be, rescuing him.
"Sa-Sammy," Dean stuttered back. "We need to get moving. Do you think you can walk now?"
Sammy frowned. Had Dean asked him that before? He did not think so. He nodded, feeling the tight cords in his neck protest. He felt Dean lift him up and away from his chest and watched as Dean tried to stand. It took his brother three times to get to his feet. Dean struggled with his zipper for a moment before flapping his arms once in frustration and leaving it unzipped. Sammy shook his head. Dean could not leave his coat unzipped. It was too cold.
He removed his mittens, confused for a moment because he thought he had lost one. Shrugging, he bent down and deftly zipped Dean's coat before slipping his mittens back on. "Dean, how are we going to get back?" Sammy asked, his teeth chattering. "I can't see see the trail or anything."
"You'll have to trust me, Sammy," Dean replied, wrapping an arm around Sammy's shoulders. "I'll take care of you."
Sammy smiled and latched on to the hem of Dean's coat. If that was all he had to do then this would be easy. He had faith in his brother. As they walked back through the woods, the temperature continued to drop and Sammy could no longer feel his feet against the ground. He knew they were still there because he could still walk, but it was a strange sensation to not be able to tell where his feet were.
Dean and Sammy both nearly fell several times, the cold and tiredness resulting in clumsiness and disorientation. Sammy leaned heavily against Dean when his brother stopped, his head tilted, listening. When Dean spoke next, the smile on his face made it into his voice. "We're almost there, Sammy."
And Dean was right. Moments later, they stumbled out of the woods near the church. The stained glass windows sparkled with warmth and the angelic sounds of the choir filled the frosty air. Sammy fell, his legs finally giving out with less than thirty yards to go.
"Come on, little brother," Dean urged, pulling at his arm. "You're so close." Sammy shook his head and shivers danced down his spine. He could not. He was too tired and cold. "Sammy, now!" Dean barked. Sammy struggled on the slippery snow, but he could not make it back to his feet, not even with Dean's strong arm helping.
"Dean!" Sammy heard his father shout.
"Dad, over here!" Dean shouted back, his hoarse voice cracking until it precipitated a coughing fit that left Dean gasping for air.
Strong arms lifted Sammy off the ground and he breathed in the scent of his father. Instantly, he stopped fighting against whoever was taking him away from Dean and settled against his father's shoulder. "Daddy," Sammy sighed. Everything would be okay now. Dad was strong enough to take care of both him and his big brother.
Bright sunlight streamed through the window, waking John. He stretched his neck, stiff from sleeping in a chair next to his boys instead of in a proper bed. It cracked several times and John moved on to his shoulders and back. He smiled at the sight of both his boys sleeping peacefully.
When he had arrived last night with the intent of surprising his boys by arriving home early, the surprise had been his when he found out from Jim that they were missing. Sammy had disappeared earlier in the afternoon and Dean had left in search of him.
John had felt his fear rise exponentially as Jim filled him in on the day's events. Ordinarily, knowing Dean was watching Sam made John feel at ease. However, finding out Dean was sick; the boys were in the woods, it was dark and snowing left John with growing anxiety. His oldest son was just that. His son. Flesh and blood, not some superhero no matter what Dean encouraged his little brother to believe.
"I've already asked a lay minister to conduct the services tonight," Jim stated, ushering John back out into the narthex. "And I packed emergency supplies and flashlights so we can leave right now to search for your boys."
John nodded mutely too stunned to even offer up a complaint or fire off a retort. His boys were missing. He needed to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. "Let's get going," he replied gruffly. Time was of the essence. The weather would make finding the boys that much more difficult and they had to get to the boys before the cold did.
He stepped out of the church and started down the path towards the woods. The boys could have entered the woods from any starting point and traveled in any direction. The task before them seemed daunting and he picked up his pace. 'Please let me find them before it's too late,' he thought.
A dark shape near the woods caught his attention and he shone his flashlight in the general direction of the shadow hoping to identify it. He shouted once recognition registered. "Dean!"
"Dad, over here!" Dean's voice cracked and John could hear the hacking cough echo through the trees.
He sprinted to Dean relieved, but not surprised, to find Sammy in a miserable lump at Dean's feet. Dean had found his brother. He made eye contact with his oldest son conveying his own relief at their safety and his gratitude. Dean nodded and blinked the tears out of his eyes before they could fall. John reached down and scooped up his baby, leaving Jim to help Dean.
Warm baths, electric blankets and thick quilts warmed his sons. John sat by the bed all night, dozing only when exhaustion claimed him and waking after only minutes passed. It was his greatest fear that one day he would not be able to keep his sons away from the evil of the world and one or both of them would be lost to the war.
John's mind returned to the present. Having his sons ripped from him prematurely simply because his youngest had wandered off and his oldest had followed to keep him safe and bring him home caused a stab of fear to pierce John's heart. It served to remind him that as much danger as his sons were in because he hunted, because of the evil that lurked on just the other side of salt-lined window panes, they were also in danger from normal, non-supernatural tragedies.
It made his job all that much bigger and all the more important. His sons needed to be tough and defend themselves. The time for sheltering his youngest needed to end no matter how much Dean insisted otherwise, but not today. Today was Christmas and he wanted to enjoy one last Christmas through the innocent eyes of his youngest son before it was lost to them forever.
John's eyes refocused and he noted with some amusement that his oldest son was now watching him. Large, jade eyes questioned his father's presence at their bedside and asked an unspoken question. "Sammy's fine. You'll both be okay." In truth, the wheezing sound Dean's lungs made when he exhaled gave John some reason to be concerned, but he hoped the antibiotics would clear it up.
"Did you get the poltergeist?" Dean whispered, his hoarse voice cracking.
"Yeah," John replied, his lips curling amusement. "Had a hairy moment when it decided to start flinging Lego building bricks at me. Those little pieces actually sting when they come at you at high speed."
"My Dad, the mighty hunter, was bested by building bricks?" Dean laughed quietly, his lungs wheezing in an excellent impersonation of Snidely Whiplash.
"Not a chance, son," John joined in the quiet laughter. "I used an over-grown, stuffed teddy bear as a shield."
Dean's wheezing laugh intensified to a minor coughing jag. The movement jostled Sammy who scrunched up his face in protest and opened his eyes.
A wide smile spread across Sammy's face deepening the dimples in his cheeks. "Daddy!" he shouted enthusiastically and jumped in one motion from supine to John's arms.
John hugged his youngest son, breathing in the scent of his shampoo and taking delight in the love his youngest shared so openly while all the while his heart was breaking, knowing the times when Sammy would unabashedly show affection were drawing to a close. After today, he needed to open his son's eyes, show him the dangers around him and after that, Sammy would never be quite this innocent again.
John could feel the tears welling in his eyes and he willed them away with hardly an effort. He gazed at Dean from over the top of Sammy's mop of brown and caught the understanding in his eyes. John inwardly sighed with relief. He did not deserve his sons, but he thanked whoever may be listening that they were his.
"Stay in bed for awhile and rest," John instructed, peeling Sammy away from him. Sammy snuggled back into the blankets and his brother's embrace without hesitation. "Jim's making breakfast and after that there is still time for presents before Christmas services."
Sammy's face broke out into another dimpled grin and even Dean could not stop his own smile from appearing. John stood up to leave, but his youngest son's voice called him back. "Love you, Daddy."
John's heart clenched in his chest as the hurt of future loss struck home. "I love you boys too," he replied, turning around and giving his sons a smile of their own in return. "Now sleep."
"Yes, sir," came the dual responses.
John's smile faded to a grin and he left the boys alone in the room to help Jim with breakfast preparations. It would probably consist of Jim telling him emphatically not to touch anything, but at least he could say he offered. He made his way down the stairs listening to the hushed whispers of his sons before turning the corner and heading to the kitchen.
"Sammy, you're supposed to be sleeping," Dean chastised, half-heartedly.
"I know," Sammy replied, patting Dean's face with sleep-chilled fingers. He seemed to consider something for a moment before he said, "I'm sorry you had to come and find me. I just wanted to find the little brother way to help."
"You never have to apologize for me coming to find you or helping you, ever," Dean replied. "I'll always be there to keep you safe, Sammy."
"But you're sick." Sammy frowned and Dean could see the beginnings of tears even though he knew Sammy would never let them fall. "You shouldn't have been helping me. I wanted to take care of you."
"You do," Dean insisted. "Trust me, Sammy. You do."
"I don't see how," Sammy replied somewhat crossly. His tilted his head in thought for a moment and then stated, "When I was lost, I thought maybe my guardian angel had come to find me."
"Sammy…" Dean started, not quite sure where to go from there. If Sammy wanted to believe in angels, Dean would let him for now.
"I know it was you," Sammy continued, flipping onto his side and snuggling up to his big brother.
"I'm sorry, I know you want to believe in angels," Dean apologized, wrapping his arm tightly around his little brother.
"I do believe," Sammy continued. He yawned and added sleepily, "But the truth is, having you for a big brother is better than a guardian angel any day. I just wish I'd found the little brother way to take care of you."
Dean listened while Sammy's breathing evened out as he fell asleep. He smiled as the warm feeling inside from his brother's trust and love grew. Sammy had found the little brother way after all.
AN: Thanks as always for reading! Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Notation: We never really are told what denomination of church Pastor Jim Murphy leads. However, since he is a Pastor and he is from Minnesota (originally from MN myself) I went with Lutheran. Lutherans are very prevalent in Minnesota and are only a step away from Catholic (the collar he wore is worn by Pastors in Lutheran churches).
So, if my description of his church doesn't match your idea of what it should be – that's probably why. :)