For jennytork, whose fault it is, and for eschatologies and riama82, who joined En in requesting deaf!Dean for the hoodie_time Holiday Wish List Party last year. This story picks up immediately after "The Sounds of Silence." Some spoilers for Season 6, and a few lines of dialogue borrowed from "Weekend at Bobby's" and from a moment that was in a Season 6 promo but didn't make it into "Exile on Main Street" as aired.

A/N: For this AU, Sam came back whole; whether he's got a wall or whether his shorter stay Downstairs means he doesn't need one remains to be seen. The comment about Dean's singing voice is based on Show's portrayal and is not at all a comment on Jensen's voice (which is, from what I hear, quite good). The title is from a German Christmas carol; the Mini is a nod to kroki_refur's hilarious "Winchester, Like the Bishopric", and there are probably nods to other deaf!boys fics that I have known and loved (there's at least one deaf!Sam fic that mentions his feeling Dean's music, but I'm afraid I don't have a link for it). Also, a disclaimer on the weather descriptions: I wasn't been able to find much Primary World precipitation or wind info for the UK locations I mention, so I'm claiming AU post-apocalyptic conditions as my out if what I've written isn't accurate. (Fortunately, temperature data is easy to find.)

Still, Still, Still

"How long you been back, Sam?" Dean finally asks.

Sam hopes he has the grace to look as guilty as he feels. "Four months."

"And you just now decide to show up here?"

"You looked happy! You and Lisa have something, you're building something! I thought if I let you know I was back, you'd ditch all that and come right back to hunting. And I didn't want that for you. After everything, you deserve a normal life." Sam sighs and switches to Sign. I didn't know you're deaf. Sorry sorry. Bobby didn't tell me.

Dean blinks. "Bobby knew you were back?"

"Yeah. Cas, too, I think—I mean, he never answered my prayers, but I'm guessing he heard 'em."

Dean snarls something incoherent and drags Sam inside to the computer, pulls up Skype and calls Bobby. The older hunter's smile vanishes when he takes in Dean's scowl and Sam's presence.

"Boys," he says simply.

"What the hell, Bobby?" growls Dean. "You didn't think maybe I would want to know that Sam was topside?"

"You were out, Dean. I figured if you knew, you'd find some way to keep hunting even without your ears."

"Like what?"

"I dunno, one o' those... implant deals?"

Dean rolls his eyes. "Yeah, a cochlear implant's gonna work real well around ghosts and demons."

Sam's about to ask why it wouldn't when he realizes that a cochlear implant is an electronic device. Even Cas, as well as he's learned to control his EMF around the Winchesters, could potentially blow it out. And Sam really doesn't want to contemplate what kind of damage that would do to Dean.

Bobby sighs. "I'm sorry, son. Guess I been too wrapped up in my own problems to think straight about yours."

That gets both brothers' attention. "Problems?" they ask at the same time.

"Crowley welshed. I got ten years."

"How can we help?"

It's funny, Sam reflects in mid-December as he races a snowstorm away from Sioux Falls, how much better he feels just doing research with Dean than he had during four whole months hunting with the Campbells. It hadn't been like the six months that never were, hunting alone to track down the Trickster, or the four months Dean had been in Hell; he'd felt more like he had at Stanford, missing Dean's presence but not wanting to disrupt the status quo for either of them. But now that Lisa's over the shock of his being back, she and Ben have made him feel at home, and he's remembered that it was never the job that attracted him. It was doing it with Dean.

Dean is deaf now, so Dean can't hunt, at least not the way Dad trained them. None of them are currently anxious to figure out another way other than letting Dean do the research and maybe helping with salt-n-burns; he's more at ease with retirement now that Sam's back, and Bobby and Sam still want him to be able to stay out. But Bobby, bless him, has realized that many hands make short work, and between the three of them, they've managed to catch a crossroads demon, get its real name, get its bones, and get it to spill Crowley's real name, all in the space of two weeks. Sam's reasonably sure Dean wouldn't approve of Bobby's methods of interrogation, but the demon's host was probably already dead, so Sam isn't losing sleep over it. And he's also reasonably sure that Dean, armed with the name Fergus McLeod and the brand of whisky that Crowley prefers, will have found Crowley's burial place by the time Sam gets back to Cicero.

No sooner does he think that than he gets a text from Dean: google worthless u up 4 xmas in scotland?

Hunting hasn't been this much fun since they were kids, if ever.

Neither Bobby nor Rufus knows of a forger who can get them passports that will stand up to any kind of scrutiny within the time frame they have to get to the UK. So Sam suggests trying the Campbells. Dean doesn't see why the Campbells would ride to their rescue now, after remaining AWOL for the last 27 years and not even offering to help with the Apocalypse-that-wasn't, but Sam convinces him to give it a try.

So they head down there on the 19th, and of course, since he knows where they're going and the family knows the Charger, Sam drives. Besides, Dean's been okay to drive around Cicero, but he hasn't succumbed to the necessity of even a disability placard, and Sam doesn't want to find out the hard way that deafness is more of a driving hazard than Dean's willing to admit—not that he'd insult Dean's driving skills by saying so.

It isn't until they're on the outskirts of Greenville, twenty minutes from the compound, that Sam remembers that he hasn't told Dean about Samuel yet. But he can't exactly sign and drive at the same time, and Dean is too busy memorizing the scenery to read Sam's lips if he spoke, and there won't be time to explain once they arrive. So Sam hopes uneasily that the first meeting will go well.

It doesn't.

Sam has been chalking up his sense of DEMONS EVERYWHERE RUN KILL HIDE EXORCISAMUS TE! when in the Campbell compound to some kind of post-apocalyptic PTSD, even though whoever pulled him out did a good job of hiding or dulling his memories of the Cage. But Dean goes on alert half a mile from the compound, is barely civil to everyone they pass (though Mark and Gwen seem to stay on Dean's good side, despite their apparent condescension toward the retiree), and really bristles at Christian's apparently casual question regarding Sam's whereabouts since Thanksgiving. Sam knows that Dean doesn't react this way to people in Cicero or to Bobby... he really, really hopes they're both just being paranoid.

The other odd thing is that Dean's doing a really good job of faking being able to hear. Granted, the conversation thus far has made it easy for him to anticipate who'll speak next, but it wouldn't be obvious to anyone else that he's reading lips. Sam just has to hope that Samuel won't make his entrance from behind the brothers.

Naturally, he does. But Dean catches a shift in Gwen's line of sight and turns just in time to be hugged.

"I never thought I'd see you again," says Samuel over Dean's shoulder.

"That makes two of us," replies Dean, and Sam doesn't have the luxury of marveling that Dean's managed to learn how to match the vibrations of a person speaking mid-hug with actual words. Dean's posture screams that he's not nearly as happy to see Samuel as Samuel is to see him.

Samuel backs away. "I know it's a lot to adjust to. Take your time."

Dean snorts. "Y'know, I've had nightmares about this, but you've got a lot of nerve to come back wearing that face."

Samuel frowns. "Dean? What are you talking about?"


But it isn't Samuel's eyes that turn yellow, as Dean apparently expects. It's Christian, in Sam's peripheral vision but not Dean's, whose eyes click black for a split second and whose bones light up with hellfire seconds later when the demon-killing knife leaves Sam's hand and finds its mark.

Dean's eyes don't leave Samuel at Gwen's horrified gasp or Mark's wide-eyed stare, and he doesn't turn to look when Samuel reacts to Christian's death, but he relaxes a fraction, sensing that the demon is gone. And so does Sam as he retrieves the knife... a very small fraction.

He hates finding out that he's not paranoid. And his spidey sense is still going haywire.

"Knew I smelled sulfur," Dean explains when a speechless Samuel turns back to him. "Didn't think Sammy was rusty enough to miss the signs if you were Azazel, but a demon like Brady... could be hiding in anyone."

In other circumstances, Sam might consider that a cheap shot. But it's a fair enough comparison in this case, and Sam's currently too busy trying to figure out how Dean can smell the sulfur and no one else has.

"Sam?" Samuel asks quietly, and Sam's sure he doesn't imagine the edge of accusation in his grandfather's tone. "Is this why you brought him here?"

"No, sir," Sam answers. "We had a favor to ask. But now's not the time."

Samuel shakes his head. "No. It isn't. I'd suggest you get out of here—some of the more distant cousins might not understand."

Sam nods and looks at Dean, whose cover hasn't blown yet. "Let's go."

"Yeah," Dean nods back. "Nice to meet you guys. Samuel."

They pause to look at each other over the roof of the Charger once they're outside, and Sam sighs.


C was the forger, Sam signs.

Dean sighs. Sorry, Sammy.

They neither speak nor sign until they get back to Cicero.

Ben wakes the next morning to find an envelope marked "Special Delivery" stuffed in his shoe. He doesn't touch it, but Sam comes running at his yelp of surprise and carefully carries it downstairs to Dean, who's helping Lisa cook breakfast. Together, the brothers extract the envelope and read the note scrawled on the front in handwriting they never thought they'd see again:

Sorry I missed Nick's first run, hope these get to you in time—Merry Christmas—Ash

P.S. Cas is busy and doesn't know who busted Sam out or why Samuel's back but sends his regards.

Inside the envelope are four practically authentic passports, one for each of them, all with the surname Bonham (except for Lisa Bonham-Carter).

Dean swallows hard and sniffles and promptly blames it on a cold that he probably doesn't have. Sam and Lisa share a knowing smile, but Sam's eyes are kind of misty anyway.

Ben catches Dean's eye and signs, Who is Ash?

Dean chuckles and launches into a description of their late mulleted genius friend that Sam is sure would make Ash laugh.

Lisa makes all the travel arrangements while Sam and Dean are on Skype making hunt plans with Bobby and Rufus, who's sending letters of recommendation to the Scottish hunters he knows. And she gets them on the first flight from O'Hare to Gatwick that they can safely make (Heathrow's closed due to snow), so Dean doesn't have time to really freak out about the flight until they're well on their way to Chicago in Lisa's car. Not that Sam can blame him this time around—the last plane they were on did crash, and it was indirectly Sam's fault.

"Hey, maybe we can stop for pizza," says Ben, by way of an attempted distraction. He's never flown before and is too excited about the whole thing to be put off by Dean's ill-concealed panic.

Sam turns enough that Dean can read his lips when he replies, "I don't think pizza's a good idea, buddy."

"No," Dean snaps, turning to face Ben himself. "Definitely not a good idea."

"Why not?" Ben frowns.

"Two reasons. One, you don't want somethin' that heavy in your stomach in case there's turbulence. You don't want to find out the hard way that you get airsick. And two, the last time I ate Chicago-style pizza, I was sittin' across the table from Death in a restaurant full of corpses."

Ben blanches, and Sam wonders just what else about that trip Dean never told anyone.

Lisa pats Ben's hand. "We don't have time this trip anyway, sweetheart. But there's probably a restaurant at the airport that'll have something that won't upset your stomach."

Dean sighs. "Sorry, Ben. Guess I'm kinda wound up about this whole thing, too."

The radio's on a classic rock station at Ben's request, and "Smoke on the Water" comes on, so Sam turns up the volume so Dean can at least feel the bass. Dean shoots him a grateful grin and starts singing along, more or less on key. And for the first time Sam wonders if Dean just knows the music that well or whether, despite his less-than-stellar singing voice, Dean's actually got perfect pitch.

They can't all sit together, though they are all on one row, so for the sake of everyone's sanity, Dean and Sam take one side of the aisle while Ben and Lisa sit on the other with a Middle Eastern man who takes care to sit next to the window and to meet Dean's eyes and smile. Lisa has loaded Dean up with non-drowsy Dramamine and candied ginger, and Dean's quiet "Christo" has no affect on the guy, so Sam covers with an apologetic smile and a mouthed "Nervous flyer." The guy's smile widens as he nods in understanding.

He gets up once in the middle of the nine-hour flight to use the bathroom, but Dean's in the middle of using his second barf bag, so he doesn't notice.

Even Sam has to admit that the turbulence on this flight is terrible. Not as bad as hitting the shockwave from Lucifer's release, mind, but plenty rough, and it doesn't let up for very long at a time. Ben's white-knuckling it, too, from the looks of things, but Dean's worse. The beating that left him deaf must have messed up his inner ear as well because even two doses of Dramamine, two cans of ginger ale, and half of the tin of candied ginger aren't enough to keep the nausea under control. The people in front of them occasionally shoot dirty looks at him until they catch Sam in the middle of finger-spelling a question into Dean's leg while Dean's eyes are closed after one particularly bad spell.

"Head injury," Sam explains quietly, and it's a good thing Dean's eyes are closed, because the dirty looks turn to pitying ones that almost make Sam vomit.

Even so, Dean's on high alert and doesn't drink anything but ginger ale for the entire trip, signing to Sam that he has to stay awake and sober precisely because he can't hear anything sneaking up on them. Sam can't help thinking that Bobby will be amused.

But apart from the turbulence, the flight is uneventful. Landing requires barf bag #2 for Ben and #4 for Dean, and since Sam and Lisa have their hands full helping the sickies off the plane, Lisa's seat mate very kindly helps with the carry-ons until they get to the passport check line. He then takes his leave by shaking hands with all of them, starting with Lisa, and wishing them a "Happy Christmas."

Dean quirks an eyebrow at Lisa when the guy leaves, and she signs, Lebanese pastor, guest-teaches at Wheaton, family here.

"Huh," is Dean's only response, and Sam can't tell if he's impressed, relieved, or feeling at all guilty for even briefly considering the man a threat.

The wait for the passport check is long enough that Dean's well enough to be the family spokesman again once they get to the counter. But that plus the trek down to get their bags and go through Customs and everything takes enough out of him that Sam's secretly glad that Lisa's got them tickets for the fast train to Edinburgh. He can't quite tell about Ben, but Dean's definitely in no fit state for a 7-hour drive, and Sam's not sure either he or Lisa is up to facing interstate-equivalent traffic that's on the wrong side of the road, especially with the snow and with the sun going down as early as it does this far north. Instead, all they have to worry about is the short trip to Euston Station and a four-and-a-half hour ride to Edinburgh, during which everybody but Sam can sleep because somebody has to keep an eye out for pickpockets.

It's a pretty smooth ride, though, and Dean succumbs to jet lag and his third dose of Dramamine before they even clear London. Ben drifts off soon after, and so does Lisa. Even Sam nods off somewhere around Huntingdon, but apparently thieves know better than to risk waking a sleeping giant, so they arrive in Edinburgh with all the luggage intact.

Good food and a good night's sleep at a decent hotel leave Sam and Dean refreshed and ready to meet up with Rufus' contacts at a pub while Ben and Lisa explore the town. The Scottish hunters are highly amused by the Led Zep aliases the brothers give them, but they don't pry (or give their own names).

"Always glad to help our cousins across the Pond," one says with a wink, and Sam can't help wondering exactly how literally the comment is meant.

Somehow, while the Winchesters and Braedens were in transit, Bobby managed to confirm that, as the Scots had suspected, Fergus McLeod is buried in Canisbay, which is way up on the tip of the northern coast where the trains and buses don't run. The hunters have brought everything Sam and Dean need for a standard salt-n-burn except a rental car, which Lisa brings them an hour or so later.

It's a Mini Cooper. The Scots crow over the time Sam and Dean are going to have cramming themselves into it and laugh even harder at the faces the boys are pulling and harder still when Dean turns his scowl on them.

"'Tis a classic, the Mini," says one while Dean's looking at him.

"So's my '67 Chevy," Dean grumbles. "How are we gonna fit everything in that trunk, Sammy?"

It's a feat of Scottish engineering, but they manage it. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave room for Ben and Lisa in the back seat.

"We'll wait here," Lisa replies, "take the early train and meet you guys in Inverness tomorrow morning. You don't need our help with whatever this hunt is, and you do need some time together after... after everything."

Dean casts another baleful look at the car and says, "Yeah. Okay."

It's bitterly cold in Canisbay, between the wind coming in from the sea and the fact that they've spent six of the six-and-a-half hours of daylight on the road. The temperature's been well below freezing all day, and Dean's been shivering and sniffling off and on despite the Mini's heater's best efforts to keep them warm. And there's not a tree in sight as they drive up to the kirk, nothing but the church and the church hall to provide any kind of windbreak. But there's no snow on the ground, which will make the disturbance to the gravesite less noticeable.

They find Crowley's lone grave in the unconsecrated ground outside the walls of the churchyard; his wife must have received the Christian burial he didn't get. "Figures," mutters Dean as he tosses down the equipment bag and starts digging.

Sam joins him, suddenly glad Dean's deaf because there's no reason for them to talk to each other while they dig. Instead, they can keep their noses and mouths covered with the scarves Lisa insisted that they wear, and Dean can keep his ears covered with the knit hat she sent for him, not even have to pretend to be listening to the wind howling. Sure, they've dug up bones in worse weather, and he's reasonably sure the Cage was much colder, but if Dean's getting a cold or the flu, he doesn't need to be breathing heavily in sub-freezing sea air and giving himself bronchial spasms to boot.

The going's rough, though, and it takes a lot longer than Sam had hoped for them to reach what remains of the coffin and expose Crowley's remains. Up? Sam signs, since they'd talked about pulling the bones out for better leverage against the demon.

No, Dean signs back. Too cold. He wants them, he can get them himself.

Sam nods, and they climb out of the grave, pour in the salt and kerosene just in case, and text Bobby the okay. Dean then calls back and puts the phone on speaker; the plan is that he'll do the talking and Sam will sign Crowley's responses.

Bobby doesn't have his phone on speaker, however, so once he sets it down, Sam can't hear much of the conversation on the other end, apart from what may be EVP, until there's the distinct sound of the phone being thrown and caught. Sam cues Dean.

"Hiya, Crowley," Dean says with a smirk that's bound to be audible in Sioux Falls.

"Dean!" the demon replies, surprised. "It's been a while. We should get together."

"Sure, we'll have to do that when I get back."


"Yeah, me and Sam, we've gone international. In fact, we're in your neck of the woods. Did you really used to wear a skirt?"

Sam doesn't interpret more of Crowley's response than finger-spelling "kilt." He figures Dean doesn't need the mental image beyond that. "What's the game?"

"Dominoes. In fact, we just dug yours up."

Crowley says something to Bobby that Sam can't catch, so he signs Talking to Bobby and Dean nods, waits a moment, and starts playing with the cheap lighter he'd bought at Asda, bringing it close enough to the phone to be heard. Sam nods when there's an audible pause in the conversation.

"You hear that, Crowley?" Dean asks. "That's me flickin' my Bic for you."

There's no sound for a moment, and then it sounds like Crowley has thrown down the phone. After another pause, Sam can just hear Crowley ask, "Now, if you don't mind?"

Sam gives Dean a thumbs-up. And Dean looks away, drops his lighter into the grave, and hangs up the phone just as Crowley begins to scream.

That hadn't been the plan. Sam panics, wondering if he'd given the wrong signal or if Dean hadn't actually understood what the signal was supposed to be... at least until Dean slips the phone back into his pocket and looks back at Sam with that innocent face that means he knows exactly what he's doing.

Hands cold, Dean signs. Lighter slick. Must have slipped.

And Sam thinks back to this time last year, when they were still grieving heavily over the Carthage disaster, a plan they wouldn't even have attempted had they known the Colt wouldn't work on Lucifer... and he doesn't quite manage to keep a straight face when he signs back, Oops.

To escape the wind, they wait in the kirk while the fire burns out, then make short work of re-filling the grave, stop at the pub for supper and a post-hunt beer, and make tracks for Inverness.

The point of stopping in Inverness, of course, is to go to Loch Ness. They wouldn't be hunters if they didn't try to at least catch a glimpse of Nessie, and their hotel's only 15 miles from the info center at Drumnadrochit. It's also roughly halfway between Canisbay and Inveraray, the seat of Clan Campbell, which is where they're going next. But Dean's sniffles get more frequent on the drive down from Canisbay, and he coughs once or twice while Sam's checking in with Bobby, so Sam's not terribly surprised when they get to the hotel and Dean tells Sam to go looking for Nessie without him.

We can go in the morning, Sam signs.

Dean shakes his head. "Nah, dude. You're wired—had all that coffee on the way down here. But I don't think I'm quite over the jet lag yet. You go ahead and go tonight."

Sam sighs. Okay.

There's a mix-up with the reservation, unfortunately, and all the rooms with two beds are taken, which leaves the brothers with one double bed. Dean grumbles, but Sam gets him settled in bed with a mug of tea and the remote, lays the salt lines, and calls Lisa.

"Don't come up tomorrow," he tells her. "Meet us in Inveraray for lunch."

"Are you guys okay?" she asks.

"Yeah, we're fine, but I think Dean's coming down with something, and I want to let him sleep in. And it's gonna be too cold to take Ben to Loch Ness."

"It is cold, isn't it? Okay. We'll see you in Inveraray."

"D'you call Lisa?" Dean asks as Sam hangs up.

Yes. They meet us at lunch.

Dean nods and turns his attention back to the muted TV, where he's found some car show to watch with the closed captioning on. "Have fun. Don't get frostbite."

Sam wants to retort that the Cage was colder, but Dean's not looking at him, so he just leaves, wondering how in the world they're both going to fit on the bed when he gets back because it's almost too short even for Dean.

He's halfway to Drumnadrochit when he decides to just pull over and spend a few minutes looking at the loch and the stars. The Mini's hood is too small to lie on comfortably, and the temperature has to be well into the teens and still dropping, but Sam still wishes Dean were up to coming with him. It's a gorgeous night, apart from the cold, and the Highlands seem to be one of the few places in Britain where Sam doesn't feel claustrophobic, so... it's the kind of night he'd like to share, is all. So he takes out his phone and snaps a few pictures of the loch and the stars and the moonlit landscape with the thought that he can either send a few to Dean now or let him see the whole batch when he gets back to Inverness.

And that's how he happens to be looking in exactly the right spot when the water begins to ripple like something big is about to surface.

Dude, it's *her*, he texts Dean, and no sooner does he hit Send than Nessie pokes her head up... and up... and up. Sam can't suppress the gasp of awe, but the monster doesn't seem to hear him, just lifts her head up out of the loch on that serpentine neck and looks at the just-past-full moon for a moment. Sam snaps several pictures in quick succession and then stares in wonder until Nessie dives back into the loch again.

When he looks back at his phone, Dean has replied: pics or it didnt happen

Incoming, jerk, Sam texts back and follows it with the best shot of Nessie silhouetted against the moon. It's actually quite a good photo for having been shot with a phone.

Dean's usual retort comes while the picture is sending, followed by another one-word response to the picture itself: DUDE :)

:) Back in 15.

bring me some pie

Sam snorts, amused. If I can find any, yeah. Make it 30 in that case.

awesome thx sammy

Sam's smile turns wistful as he puts the phone away. He's missed talking to Dean on the phone, and while texting is better than nothing, it's still bittersweet. They can never go back to the way life was before Cold Oak. But then again... that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

His chief regret, as he pulls back onto the road and heads back toward Inverness, is that it took him four months to tell Dean he was back in the first place.

There's a pub in Lochend that's still open when he drives past, and his picture of Nessie gets him a free apple pie. So it takes him only 20 minutes to get back to the hotel in Inverness. But Dean's barely awake when Sam gets there, so they decide to save the pie for breakfast, and Sam sets about squeezing himself into the bed. They end up spooned, despite Dean's half-hearted grumbling about cuddling—and Sam knows Dean's feeling bad because he doesn't grumble more.

Sam's almost asleep when Dean mumbles, "'D make a good movie, y'know."

"What would?" Sam asks, forgetting briefly that Dean can't hear him.

"Sasquatch vs. the Loch Ness Monster. Better'n Boa vs. Python, anyway. 'S got that Abbot and Costello vibe to it."

Sam laughs so hard the whole bed shakes, and Dean shoots him a grin over his shoulder before settling back down to sleep.

Damn, they've missed this.

"Think I like this place better'n Greenville," a much-improved Dean informs Ben over fish and chips the next day.

Inveraray's a nice little fishing town, completely rebuilt in the 18th century because the Duke of Argyll had decided the place needed renovating. And despite his current antipathy toward certain members of their mother's family and his long-standing antipathy toward authorities, feudal and otherwise, Dean's already found enough quirks about the place to find the ancestral hometown appealing. Greenville, unfortunately, has neither freshly-caught fish nor award-winning distilleries nor elephant polo (!), but it did once have a zombie that broke Sam's wrist, not far from the marker erected for Mary Winchester by a family that didn't care enough about her husband and sons to make contact ionce/i before Sam woke up in Stull Cemetery back in July. And that's not counting the mysteriously resurrected grandfather who somehow didn't realize that he was surrounded by demons until Dean proved it to him, nor counting the demon-possessed cousins themselves.

—When he looks at it that way, Sam prefers Inveraray, too, and he hopes Mark and Gwen are okay. He's not sure what to make of Samuel anymore.

"Do we get to go to the castle?" Ben asks Lisa. "I hear it's haunted."

"Most castles are haunted," Dean remarks. "Hazard of bein' around so long."

"'Fraid not, honey," Lisa replies. "It's closed for the winter. But I bet there's lots of other cool stuff to do."

And that gives Sam an idea. "Hey, Ben, why don't you and I go to the Maritime Museum while your mom drags Dean to the souvenir shops?"

Ben laughs and Dean objects, but Lisa thinks it's a plan, so that's what they do. They meet back at the hotel hours later with Ben carrying loads of useless information about ships (in case he's asked to write a report once school starts again) and Dean carrying loads of not-quite-useless souvenirs of the sort they can easily get past Customs, including Campbell tartan scarves for Gwen and Mark and a mug with the Campbell coat of arms for Samuel. Lisa waits until Dean's head is turned to whisper to Sam that she's bought him a Black Watch kilt, and Sam just manages not to laugh.

The hotel has only double-occupancy rooms, so Dean and Lisa are taking one with a double while Sam and Ben take one with two twins. But when Dean wonders over supper how they're going to do Christmas-y stuff in rooms that small, Sam and Lisa share a knowing smile—it's time to spring their big surprise.

Dean looks warily from his brother to his girlfriend. "What?"

"We're not staying beyond tonight," Lisa says with both voice and hands, since this is news to Ben as well. "We're driving to Glasgow in the morning to return the car and the hunting gear, and then we're taking the train south."

"South? South where?"

Lisa's smile grows. "How does midnight Mass at Winchester Cathedral sound?"

"Doesn't sound like anyth—" Dean breaks off mid-retort as his eyes catch up with his mouth. "Wai- whu- Winchester Cathedral?"

Merry Christmas, Dean, Sam signs with a grin.

It's been a long time since Sam's seen Dean this overwhelmed by a pleasant surprise. He's speechless, but his eyes are shining.

"You're named after a cathedral?" Ben frowns, confused. "I thought you were named after a rifle."

That gets all three adults to laugh. "Nah, dude," Dean recovers enough to reply. "The rifle's named after a man, whose family was named after the town where the cathedral is."

"Oh." Then the significance of the trip dawns on him. "OHHHHH! Cool!"

"Yeah. Yeah, it is cool." Dean's smile turns wistful, and Sam knows exactly what he's thinking.

I wish Dad were here, too, he finger-spells into Dean's leg.

Dean squeezes Sam's hand before slapping it away and goes back to eating, and Sam gets that, too. No chick-flick moments. Not in front of Ben, anyway, and definitely not in a hotel dining room.

But it's not really a surprise when, after they get back to their rooms and Ben has gone in to shower, Sam hears a knock and answers the door to find Dean standing there looking sheepish.

"Hey, Sammy. I, uh..."

Sam pulls him inside, closes the door, and hugs Dean within an inch of his life. And Dean hugs back just as hard, and Sam's sure he doesn't imagine the I love you sign Dean's pressing into his back or the few tears that soak into his shirt, tears that he answers with a few of his own.

They've had far too little time to grieve together over everything they've lost or to rejoice over everything they've saved.

All too soon, Dean's slapping Sam's back and breaking the embrace. "Yeah. That."

Okay? Sam signs.

Dean nods. "Guess there's one thing we owe Crowley for, for real."


"I got to take my family on the most awesome vacation ever."

Sam manages to laugh, knowing Dean can see it even if he can't hear it.

Thank you, Sammy.

You're welcome. Sam pauses, then adds, You two keep the noise down, okay?

Dean grins and waggles his eyebrows, which makes Sam laugh again. "Night, Sammy. Night, Ben," he calls.

"Night, Dean," Ben calls back, which Sam signs with Ben's sign for Dean's name before continuing with Good night, John Boy.

Now it's Dean's turn to laugh, and Sam can hear him still laughing as he goes down the hall to his and Lisa's room.

There are only two other things Sam can think of that would be the cherry on the icing of tomorrow's cake. Dad's return is beyond his power, but the other might not be.

"Blessed Castiel, Angel of Thursday," he whispers, hoping the noise of the shower will prevent Ben from hearing him. "Hey, I know Ash said you're busy, but... tomorrow's Christmas Eve, and Dean would love to see you—so would I, for that matter..."

Winchester's a bigger town than Sam had imagined, and the cathedral is nothing short of spectacular. Dean's a little nervous about actually setting foot inside, though, and so is Sam, to be absolutely honest. Given their history, some angel's liable to bring the entire thousand-year-old building down on their heads just for spite. They both admit as much once they're settled at the bed and breakfast where they're spending the next two nights.

But Ben's still a little sore over not getting to go to the castle yesterday, and he and Lisa both think midnight Mass (which is apparently at 11:30 and doesn't include the Eucharist) is a great idea, if only because it's an English Christmas and the Christmas Eve service will be, to use Sam the Eagle's favorite phrase, a cultural experience. Lisa also argues that a cathedral's probably the last place either Heaven or Hell will look for the boys if anyone does come looking to settle a grudge.

Sacred ground won't stop Meg, says the look Dean shoots Sam.

Nor Raphael, for that matter, assuming the archangel survived. Sam grimaces his agreement but signs, Lisa does have a point. Because she does. Assuming the sigils on their ribs are still in place, Cas can find out their location from Bobby if he doesn't trace Ben and Lisa, but the one demon who knew they were in the UK is now dead, and they haven't run into any others that they know of.

Dean sighs. "All right, we sit at the back, and we don't go in until 11:30 sharp. And we don't sing or pray or do anything to attract attention from anything supernatural. Got it?"

Ben and Lisa nod their acceptance.

"Okay. We've got the rest of the day to kill, so let's hit some museums."

Lisa smiles and slides an arm around Dean's waist, and Dean shoots Sam one of those I can't believe I'm doing this looks and kisses her.

Dean looks as surprised as Sam feels when 11:00 rolls around and Ben is still wired. He, like Sam, was probably hoping that Ben would conk out early and that would give them an excuse not to go to the midnight service. But he hasn't, so the brothers fortify themselves with coffee and escort Ben and Lisa to the cathedral.

As agreed, they sit in the back pew with Dean next to an outside aisle, Lisa next to him, Ben next to her, and Sam next to Ben, the better for making a quick exit if necessary. The cathedral's even more gorgeous inside than it is outside, though Sam's not sure Dean quite appreciates the Gothic art and architecture. But Sam's too nervous to relax and enjoy the service, which involves (it must be said) some really wonderful music. And he feels guilty for enjoying the music at all, because Dean can't even if classical music were his thing.

At some point during the service, Sam becomes aware that Cas is standing in the aisle next to Dean and has his hand on Dean's shoulder. Cool. Sam can relax a little; not much gets past Cas.

But the next time Sam glances across at Dean, during a particularly beautiful song, Dean's got his hand on Cas's, and there are tears streaming down his face. And suddenly Sam realizes that Cas is giving Dean a Christmas present of his own.

For the moment, at least, Dean can hear.

Sam manages not to sob audibly, but he can't stop crying until the end of the service, when Cas transports the whole family outside ahead of the rush. Then he swipes hurriedly at his face with his handkerchief while Dean lets go of Cas and does the same.

"Uh, Ben, Lisa," Dean says, his voice rough, "this is Castiel."

"Hello," Cas nods to Ben and Lisa with the barest of smiles. "You may call me Cas if you wish. Hello, Sam."

"Hey, Cas," Sam replies, his own voice kind of rough, as he shakes the angel's hand. "Thanks for coming."

"I'm glad I was able to."

"So, Cas," Lisa says slowly, clearly uncomfortable using a nickname for an angel. "Would you like to come back to the guest house with us?"

"I can't. I'm sorry. I need to speak with Sam and Dean for a moment, if I may."

"It's okay, babe," Dean says, kissing her cheek. "You guys go ahead. We'll catch up."

Lisa shoots a skeptical look at Sam, who nods, and sighs. "Okay. Don't stay out in the cold too long."

Dean kisses her again, and she kisses him back, takes Ben's hand, and takes her leave.

Cas then transports the Winchesters to the back table of a tea room that's along the path back to the B&B and orders coffee for all three of them.

"Dude," says Dean. "We couldn't do this at a pub?"

"Coffee should keep you warmer as you return," Cas observes. "And I'm afraid I can't stay long."

"What's goin' on?" both brothers ask at the same time.

Cas sighs. "Being the new sheriff is not going as well as I had hoped. Without Michael, Heaven is in chaos, and I fear a civil war is brewing between the angels who agree with me and those who follow Raphael. If Raphael wins, he will try to restart the Apocalypse."


"He's a traditionalist." The coffee arrives then, and Cas chugs half of his before continuing. "And it's not just the conflict. A number of Heaven's weapons have been stolen. If they fell into the wrong hands..." He doesn't have to finish the thought.

"How can we help?" Dean asks.

Cas smiles, a smile full of affection and regret. "I'm sorry, Dean. I can restore your hearing only until midnight tomorrow night. It would be unwise for you to try to search for the weapons without it."

"Dean doesn't have to be the one to hunt," Sam notes. "I mean, he can do research and I can hunt, or something like that. But you've done so much for us... can't we do somethin' for you?"

Dean nods. "Seriously, dude, this is what friends do for each other. And nobody has to tell us how bad loose nukes are."

Cas tilts his head as he considers the offer. "It would not be safe for me to tell you which weapons are missing. But if you come across anything that you think might be an angelic weapon, you can call me."

"Cas... don't think you need a reason to come see us. Just be sure you knock."

Cas smiles again. "I know. Merry Christmas." And he's gone.

Sam and Dean drink their coffee in silence for a while until Dean sighs. "It ain't over 'til it's over, huh?"


He snorts. "Nah, man, I'm out. You do what you want. Wish you could go back to school, but that's kind of hard for a dead man."

Sam huffs. "Yeah."

"And I don't mind helpin' with research if you need it. But anymore, the only things I'm huntin' myself are things that are after our family. Cas does count as family, and so does Bobby. But it doesn't matter if I can hear or not; that's the line."

Sam meets his eyes and nods. "Okay."

Dean nods back, then grins. "Damn, it's good to hear your voice, Sammy."

Sam grins back and raises his mug. "Merry Christmas, Dean."

"Merry Christmas, dude."

They clink their mugs and drain them, and then they head back to the B&B.

Sam works out at breakfast that Dean doesn't plan to tell Ben or Lisa that he has his ears back for the day. He probably doesn't want to let them get at all out of the habit of signing for him, and Sam also suspects that he wants to do a little harmless eavesdropping. And that's okay by Sam.

They haven't brought many gifts, simply because of the hassle of trying to get them through airport security, but they exchange the few they do have with them after breakfast. Dean is mortified by the kilt but recovers slightly when Lisa finger-spells something into his hand—Sam won't even guess what, but he knows how Dean's mind works—and gets his own back when it turns out that Lisa's bought one for Sam, too. Dean presents Lisa with a silver brooch and Ben with a money clip engraved with a Trinity knot, but he claims he can't find Sam's gift and will give it to him when he does. Ben found each of the adults a very nice pen set in Inveraray, and Sam feels kind of silly giving the others Winchester College sweatshirts, but Ben and Lisa love theirs and Dean's just happy it isn't wrapped in newspaper for a change.

"Seriously, though," Dean whispers to him later, "hearing you laugh? I mean, really laugh? Best present I've had in years."

Sam gives him the briefest of hugs and tries not to cry.

They spend the rest of the day out on the town, seeing sights and playing in the snow and laughing at and with each other, and after they send Ben to bed, the adults drink just enough eggnog for Lisa to convince Sam and Dean to put on their kilts and get a few pictures together by the Christmas tree. Sam vows to send one to Bobby, and Dean pretends not to have heard until Lisa goes up to bed, at which point he threatens Sam with grievous reprisal and Sam retorts that it might be worth it.

But as the minutes tick down to midnight, the brothers open a bottle of single-malt they'd bought in Inveraray and drink to everyone they've lost, and then they go to a window and drink some more and stare out at the snow and the town of their forefathers and all the things they never thought they'd see.

"We saved all this, Sammy," Dean finally whispers around 11:59. "All the Whos down in Whoville an' Christmas an'... we saved it."

"Yeah, we did, Dean," Sam whispers and gives him a side hug.

And then the chimes strike midnight, and the side hug turns into a full hug as the silence descends again and Dean's too drunk to hold back the tears.

They drink one more toast with the last of the Scotch: to Dean's ears.

Sam tries not to let Ben see that he's hungover the next morning, but he's not sure he succeeds. He has had worse, though, and he's sure Dean has, too.

Ben doesn't say anything about it, though. Instead he says, "Dean found your present. Mom's gone to pick up part of it."

Part of it?

"It's kind of a treasure hunt," Dean explains over breakfast and hands him a folded sheet of paper. "You're driving, and those are the directions."

I thought we were leaving today, Sam signs.

"Leaving Winchester, yeah. But I hear the snow's supposed to get bad again later, so it's just as well that we're not leaving the country until Wednesday."

Sam shrugs and glances down the list of directions until Lisa returns with a Range Rover. At least it isn't a Mini, she signs when Dean objects that it isn't what he had in mind. And we'll need it if the weather gets bad.

The directions lead north, and for most of the drive, Sam thinks they must be heading back to London in some roundabout way. It isn't until he takes the turnoff onto the A420 that he begins to suspect otherwise, and he's still rather puzzled when the last turns take them into the driveway of a guest house in the middle of Oxford.


Dean's eyes are sparkling. "What do you get for the geek who has everything?"

Oh. Oh, he can't mean...

"'Fraid the Bodleian's closed, but..." Dean hands him a gift card from Blackwells and another from the Oxford University Press bookshop. "Annnd we're going to the Kilns, after we eat lunch at the Eagle and Child. Merry Christmas, Sammy."

Sam doesn't care that Ben's watching. The only appropriate response to a gift like this is a bear hug.

"Now it is a strange thing," says J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbit, "but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway."

Sam wakes on the 28th feeling like the same can be said of the two days they've just spent in Oxford, going to museums and wandering around town and soaking in Inklings lore and atmosphere and all that stuff—in fact, it kind of applies to their whole trip after the hunt in Canisbay. He wishes they could stay longer, since he knows they haven't seen more than a tiny fraction of everything there is to see in Oxford. But the weather's lousy, and Ben's not the Tolkien-and-Lewis nerd that Sam is and that Dean is revealing himself to be, and Lisa's only along for the ride until they get back to London and can do the Beatles tour. And Dean's cold is coming back with a vengeance and is trying to settle into his chest.

So Sam pulls on the new sweatshirt he bought at the Varsity Shop and packs up the books he couldn't order online and loads the car quickly before Dean can object to Sam making him stay inside.

The hotel in London is much nicer than the snow-hampered drive to it, and by the time they get there, Dean's cough has gotten worse. Sam ignores his protests and loads him up with cold meds and tea once they're in the room. But Ben still wants to go on the Beatles tour, so Lisa calls the bus company and determines that yes, they will be able to sit inside the bus rather than on top.

"Do you think Dean will mind?" she asks Sam.

Dean's half-asleep sitting up, Sam sees, and the main reason he's not completely asleep is that he keeps coughing.

"No," Sam tells Lisa. "He'll be sorry that he can't come with you, but he won't want you to miss your chance."

"If you're sure..."

"Yeah. You've been a good sport about all this, Lisa. You deserve to have some fun of your own."

Lisa smiles and hugs him.

"Dude," Dean wheezes. "Quit tryin' to steal my girlfriend."

Payback, jerk, Sam replies. How many of mine did you steal?

Dean ignores him. "Goin' on that tour, Lis?"

Yes, Dean, she signs. You okay?

He nods. "Have fun."

Goodbye, Ben signs, and they're off.

Bed, Sam signs when Dean looks at him. Now.

Dean's grumbling reply is cut off by a racking cough. Sam just raises his eyebrows and points once Dean catches his breath, and Dean heaves a heavy sigh and goes to bed. "Can I at least watch Top Gear?" he croaks.

Sam tosses him the remote.

"It's funny, dude. Seriously. Even you would laugh."

Sam smiles and flops down on the other bed to watch with him, as if they were in Podunk, Georgia, and not London, England. Dean grins back at him and starts flipping channels.

It's been a Christmas they were never supposed to live to see, and Sam's grateful for every minute of it. But he can't help wondering what he ought to do with himself once they get back. Part of him wants to go back to hunting, since it's what he knows and since they did all but promise Cas they'd help him find the loose nukes, but really... did he have to live on the road? Could he move in with Bobby or even find a place in Cicero to rent, stay closer to Dean? The longer he's away from Greenville, the less inclined he is to go back to working with the Campbells, though he doesn't want to lose touch with Mark and Gwen. But Dean... Dean can get Sam out of himself. And Sam hasn't forgotten what Dean said the last time he took Sam back: We keep each other human.

He can hunt alone. He can live without Dean, just like Dean, now that he has Lisa and Ben, can live without Sam. But Sam's not sure he wants to.

Dean's coughing gets Sam's attention, and by the time Sam's gotten him a mug of tea, he's found the stupid car show and turned on both the sound and the closed captioning. He's right, though, it is funny.

And when it's over, Sam suddenly realizes that he shouldn't be worrying about the future yet. He's still got to get Mr. Bronchitis over there through a nine-hour flight back home.

He starts fervently wishing for another blizzard.