A/N: For the hoodie_time holiday h/c meme, from a prompt by bellatemple. Warnings for alt-timeline character death and general Season 7 spoilers. Title and opening quote are from an actual '80s Christmas musical.
The Fifth-Grade Grinch
By San Antonio Rose
December 24, 1989
Bah humbug, is that all you can say?
Bah humbug, on such a glorious day!
Dean was in a Mood.
Dad had promised they could go to Blue Earth for Christmas with Pastor Jim. The gifts were already under Pastor Jim's tree, he'd said. He'd promised faithfully that he'd be home by now. It was just a werewolf hunt; he'd be done by the 14th, back by the 15th, and they'd put this stupid town in the rearview mirror on the 16th and get to spend a nice long time with Pastor Jim before they had to go back to school again (stupid school—seemed like fifth grade was all review of stuff he'd learned years ago).
But then there'd been a poltergeist. Dean understood that one, truly—it was killing people and needed to be stopped, and Dad and Caleb were the closest hunters—but it still disappointed him, even though Dad made sure Pastor Jim wired them enough money to get by. And then Caleb had called to say they were putting Dad in the hospital with double pneumonia that he'd been hiding for who knew how long and that Caleb had discovered only when the stupid poltergeist threw Dad into a wall and broke one of Dad's ribs. Dean kept that one from Sammy because he didn't want Sammy to worry; there was nothing the boys could do for Dad anyway. And then there was an ice storm followed by a blizzard, which meant that as much as Pastor Jim and Bobby both wanted to come get the boys, the roads simply weren't passable.
And of course all of Dean's friends, what few he'd bothered to make, were already out of town. And so were Sammy's.
And of course Sammy was determined to be as cheerful as possible. Singing Christmas carols, watching Christmas specials and movies like Miracle on 34th Street, not caring a whit if Dean had a headache or a cold or if he didn't want to watch something because the last time he'd watched it was with Mom.
Dean loved Sammy, he really did, but he was just about down to his last nerve. And Sammy was about to get on it.
Many dryads slept through the winter, just as their trees did. Most of the evergreens hid themselves during Christmastide rather than face the humans' ignorant slaughter of their kind. But on this particular Christmas Eve, a gentle fir-woman made her way to the local motel to repay a kindness.
Mary Campbell had spared her life some years before. She had seen Mary Campbell's children around town, marked that their father was away and that they wanted for gifts. She wished to do them a good turn, though she wasn't sure what gift they might most need. Her intent was to watch the children until they fell asleep and glean what ideas she could in that way.
This dryad, however, was blessed not only with insight but also with the occasional flash of foresight. And when she peered through the window at Mary Campbell's sons, with the younger trying so hard to cheer the older and the older trying so hard not to lose his temper over it, she received a sudden flash of another Christmas, many years hence (over twenty? Over sixty? Two hundred or more?). The older, badly wounded from a battle, knelt keening in the snow over the broken body of the younger, heedless of the weather, until the cold and his own injuries carried him away as well—he'd suffered one loss too many.
The dryad stifled a sob and decided on her gift. These shadows had to change. Mary Campbell had spared her life; the least she could do was at least try to spare her sons.
So determined, she chanted quietly in the trees' most ancient tongue and reached into the future.
The snowstorm was practically a whiteout blizzard; the cold white stuff kept blinding Dean as he staggered back toward the place he and Sam had gotten separated. It just figured they'd run into a gang of leviathans ten miles from anywhere on Christmas Eve in this kind of weather.
He tried to ignore the sinking feeling he got every time his shouts for Sam went unanswered.
One particularly strong gust of wind kicked up and almost knocked Dean off his feet. He was totally disoriented when the wind died down again. And then the veil of snow parted, and he found himself... in an empty motel parking lot. The only room he could see that had lights on was the one right in front of him.
Frowning, he dragged himself closer... close enough to hear a crazy rendition of "Jingle Bells" being sung loudly by a voice he'd know anywhere.
He remembered this Christmas. He just didn't remember it from this angle. Which meant...
"Hey, Dean! Let's write a letter to Santa!"
Dean's heart shattered. Yeah. Not Memorex. This was real.
—But maybe that meant he had another chance to fix everything.
He pulled himself together and started for the door.
Dean looked at Sammy incredulously. "You want to what?"
"Write a letter to Santa!"
"How the heck do you think Santa's going to find us in this weather?"
"It's magic, Dean! C'mon, you write better than me, pleeeeeease..."
That was it. Last nerve? Gone. "I swear, Sammy, you can be so stupid and selfish sometimes. I don't want to write some dumb letter to Santa because he never comes anyway. I don't want to wish for stuff we can't afford and Dad would never let us have anyway. We live in our car. We can't haul around lots of toys like everyone else has. I do not want to hear any more about Christmas! Would you just. Shut. Up. And leave. Me. Alone?"
Sammy's face had fallen rapidly once Dean began ranting, and now his lower lip was quivering as he wavered on the point of tears. Dean didn't know whether to feel guilty or even more annoyed than he already was.
Before either of them could do or say anything else, though, there was a double knock on the door, a beat, four quick knocks, and two long.
"Dad?" Sammy breathed in a wobbly voice.
Dean frowned and opened the door, gun in hand, to see a tall stranger—almost as tall as Dad—leaning against the doorframe. And he was bleeding.
"Semper Fi," the man said. "The Jayhawks will never be 0-12."
Those were Dad's codes... but nobody had called... but...
"C'mon, kid, lemme in. 'S freezin' out here."
Sammy tugged on his sleeve. "Dean, he's hurt."
Dean swallowed hard and put down his gun. "Okay. You can come in, Mister..."
The stranger smiled sadly and stepped over the salt line. "Adam. You can call me Adam."
Sammy ran to the bathroom for the first aid kit while Adam stumbled toward the beds. Dean gently steered him to Dad's bed. He smelled like booze and blood and some kind of cleanser.
"Was it a hunt?" Dean whispered as Adam sat down with a grunt.
Adam barely nodded, and Dean could barely hear his reply. "You're safe."
Sammy ran back in then with the first aid kit. "Here, Dean."
Adam held out his hand for it. "I can patch myself up," he said, but his words were starting to slur a little.
"I can do it," Dean replied, taking the kit.
Adam looked at him sadly for a moment. "You shouldn't have to."
"Adam, you're about to pass out. Let me take care of it."
Adam bit his lip and looked like he was trying not to cry. Then he swayed a little, even though he was sitting down, and that made him sigh. "Okay... Dean. You win."
Sammy crawled up on the bed behind Adam and helped him out of his jacket and one of his shirts. "I'm Sammy. Want me to make you some coffee?"
"Yeah... yeah, that'd be good." Adam shivered. "Thanks, Sammy."
But there was something funny about the way he said that... almost like he was talking to somebody else, someone he'd been talking to like that all his life... somebody who wasn't there. Dean shivered a little, too, and wondered again why Adam was there.
Then the heater turned on, covering for both of them, and Dean got busy bandaging the wound on Adam's head and stitching up the gash in his side. Adam's back was bruised, too, and he and Dean agreed that he probably had a couple of cracked ribs. By the time Dean finished and went looking for any spare shirts Dad might have left, the coffee was ready, and Sammy very carefully poured some into a mug and took it to Adam.
Adam took a sip, smiled, and ruffled Sammy's hair. "Thanks, dude."
Dean was Not Amused.
Sammy, on the other hand, beamed. "Need anything else?"
"Would you get me some Advil? And some paper, too—a notebook or something like that, and something to write with. I, um... I need to write John a note."
Sammy nodded and hurried to get them.
Dean found Dad's old USMC sweatshirt then, but he was feeling significantly less helpful when he brought it to Adam at about the same time Sammy put the Advil bottle on the nightstand. "Here," he said as he handed over the sweatshirt.
Adam took it—and caught Dean's hand. "Hey." When Dean finally looked at him, he looked Dean straight in the eye the way almost nobody but Bobby and Pastor Jim, and sometimes Dad, would do. "Thank you."
And he looked so, so sad and hurt, and Dean knew it didn't have much to do with his own attitude. Something bad had happened to Adam.
"You're welcome," he replied quietly. "Um... do you need..."
"I'll get it." Adam unfolded the sweatshirt and carefully pulled it on, hissing a little when he moved wrong. Then he took his Advil and washed it down with coffee.
Sammy returned with Dean's Trapper Keeper and a pencil. "Anything else?"
"I don't think so. Thanks." Adam smiled, but it was still a very sad smile.
Sammy shifted a little, like he was trying to think of how to phrase something. "You got a family, M... uh, Adam?"
Adam looked even sadder. "Not anymore. I, um... I'm divorced. She had a kid... little older than Dean. But they live a long way from here."
"Oh," Sammy said quietly. "I'm sorry."
Dean didn't know what to say.
Adam looked at them both for a moment, then put the Trapper Keeper on the nightstand, drained his mug, pulled back the covers, and scooted to lie in the middle of the bed. Then he patted the bed on either side of him. "C'mere."
Dean and Sammy looked at each other warily.
Adam rolled his eyes. "I'm not gonna do anything, geez. Not only do I not treat kids that way, I'm not gonna be awake that long. And even if that were my thing, I know your dad would kill me. Look—" He pulled the sheet and one of the blankets up. "Lie on top here. Just..."
Sammy climbed up and burrowed into Adam's side, gently wrapping his arms around Adam's chest in a way that avoided the worst of the bruises.
Adam kind of seemed to melt. "Aw, Sammy..." He sniffled a little and put his arm around Sammy, resting his hand on his own chest. Then he looked at Dean. "Hey, head injury. I need you to wake me up." And he held out his other arm.
As much as he debated whether or not this was a good idea, Dean still found himself walking around the bed and climbing in beside Adam. He kept a little distance between them, though. Adam gave him an understanding but disappointed smile, reached over to turn out the light, and pulled the comforter up over everyone.
"Merry Christmas, Adam," Sammy whispered.
Adam sniffled again and put his other hand on Sammy's back. "Merry Christmas."
Dean stayed awake, watching warily, until Adam fell deeply asleep. It didn't take long—in fact, Adam was asleep before Sammy was. Then Dean let himself doze, trying not to sleep too deeply so he could wake Adam up after a couple of hours. He tried not to worry about Dad, too, but it didn't work too well.
A little over an hour passed before Dean heard a soft whimper. He sat up, prepared to crawl over Adam and shake Sammy awake... but then he saw the look on Adam's face. And then Adam whimpered again.
No, he mouthed. No, please... Bobby! BOBBY! No—no, Cas, help—CAS! CAS! SAM!
Alarmed for Adam and afraid he was going to start screaming and scare Sammy, Dean crawled over and took hold of Adam's shoulders. Then his eyes went even wider as he felt something on Adam's left shoulder, even through the fabric of the sweatshirt.
A scar, like Dad's old shrapnel wound. Shaped like a big handprint.
Adam's head was starting to twitch back and forth as he dreamed, so Dean pulled himself together and shook him gently. "Adam. Hey, Adam. Wake up!"
Adam woke with a ragged gasp and stared at Dean like he'd seen a ghost. "What—"
"You had a nightmare."
Adam looked around the room and down at Sammy, who was still sound asleep. Then he drew in a shaky breath, let it out again, and rubbed Sammy's back a little as he looked Dean in the eye again. "Thanks. Sorry."
"Can I get you anything?"
Adam shook his head. "No. Thanks. Just... stay close, okay? I don't want..." And his hand moved up protectively to the back of Sammy's head. "He shouldn't have to know."
Dean nodded and lay back down.
"Dad's gonna make it," Adam whispered.
Dean blinked. "What?"
Adam turned his head to Dean. "Your dad. The pneumonia. He'll be fine."
"How do you know?"
Adam chuckled a little. "Guess you could say I'm psychic." Then he turned his head back toward Sammy and dozed off again.
But Dean had a really funny feeling that it wasn't that simple at all.
So the night went, with Dean waking Adam every hour if he had a nightmare or every two hours if he didn't. Most of the time they didn't talk much, just enough that Dean knew Adam was alert.
After one check, though, while Dean was still sitting up, Adam looked down at Sammy and said, "He wasn't being selfish."
"Sammy. With the whole letter to Santa thing and the carols and the specials and all. He was trying to cheer you up." Adam carded his fingers through Sammy's hair. "I know why you wouldn't tell him about... about John, but all he sees is a grumpy big brother who needs some Christmas spirit. He hasn't figured out yet that sometimes it's better not to try so hard." He paused. "He loves you. Hell, he'd die for you."
Dean didn't know what to say to that, but he felt really, really guilty for having snapped at Sammy earlier.
Adam looked over at him. "Hey. Just apologize in the morning; he'll forgive you."
Adam looked at him a moment longer, then moved his arm in another silent invitation to snuggle. This time Dean took it. And when Adam gently rubbed his arm, Dean didn't sense anything but affection in it.
He suddenly really missed Dad, and a tear slipped out.
"It's okay," Adam whispered. "It's gonna be okay."
Dean let himself rest his head against Adam's shoulder, and Adam rested his cheek against the top of Dean's head. They fell asleep like that.
It helped somehow, sleeping cuddled up next to Adam. Part of it was being able to tell sooner if he was having a nightmare, but Dean hadn't realized just how much he'd missed being able to cuddle with Dad. How lonely he really was with Dad sick in the hospital so far away. Adam was a lot like Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim—a nice friend who cared about both brothers, and it seemed like he got Dean. There weren't that many people Dean could say that about.
After the check around 5 in the morning, which included another round of pain relievers, Adam eased himself out of Sammy's grasp and got up to use the bathroom. Dean waited near the door in case Adam needed help, and it was a good thing he did, because when Adam came out, he was pretty unsteady on his feet. Dean couldn't bear his weight, obviously, but he could help steady him and keep him from falling on the way back to bed. And he pretended he couldn't hear Adam swearing under his breath.
"Sorry, Dean," Adam sighed as Dean helped him back into bed. "I was... hoping I'd be up to going for breakfast, but..."
"Yeah, I don't think that's happening," Dean replied. "You feel a little feverish to me, too." He checked the visible wounds quickly and found no signs of infection, but the thermometer showed that Adam's temperature was 100.4°.
"I have had two little furnaces next to me," Adam grumbled, pointing down at Sammy.
Dean crossed his arms. "You're staying in bed, Adam."
Adam made a noise that was something between a snort and a cough. "Fine."
Satisfied, Dean lay down next to him again.
A moment later, Adam spoke so quietly Dean could barely hear him. "Listen, Dean... I need you to keep Sammy occupied today. I don't want him to read this information I'm writing down, not until you and John both think he's ready."
Dean frowned. "Why not? Just 'cause it's about hunting?"
"No." When Adam looked him in the eye this time, it was almost scary, especially given what he said next. "I know what killed your mom."
Dean gasped quietly and felt himself go pale.
"There's... there's a lot that I need to write down. What it was, what it's planning, why it was in Sammy's room. It's too much and too scary for a six-year-old. I'm not even sure I should let you read it, but you already know more about hunting than I wish you did."
Dean bit his lip and tried not to think about the shtriga incident.
"And besides... I need to do two things for me."
"The last couple of times I've tried to warn your dad, something has interfered. He's been made to forget. So I need you to memorize as much of what I write down as you can. And then I need you to do whatever it takes to get that information to John. I'll give you some sigils to draw on the walls that will help, but even they may not be enough. So after I leave, no one comes through that door but Caleb and John."
"What about when we leave?"
Adam though for a moment. "You can make an envelope, right? A big one?"
"We'll make three. And we'll make copies. One for John, one for Caleb, one to send to Bobby. But we'll put those sigils on the inside of the paper, and we'll put some salt in the glue."
"How will we make copies?"
"The old-fashioned way—by hand. I know," Adam continued quickly before Dean could object. "It's boring and it'll make your hand hurt. But it's the only way to be sure it won't disappear as soon as we leave the room. We'll do it together, so it'll go faster. And you'll remember it better."
"Dad's gonna be mad about us wasting paper."
"Well, he can just be mad. Paper's cheaper than lives. And a lot of people could die in the twenty years it would take him to dig up all this stuff on his own."
"... Twenty years?"
"Give or take."
Dean bit his lip again. Twenty years was a really long time. He didn't want to think about how many people the thing that killed Mom could kill in that amount of time. If they could stop it sooner... maybe that wouldn't make up for the shtriga, but it would help.
Finally, Dean nodded. "Okay. It's a deal."
Adam blew out a relieved breath and pulled Dean close again.
The dryad had been keeping watch, but with sunrise approaching, she needed to leave. Yet she lingered, puzzling over that last conversation, especially the talk of sigils. What could possibly—
A man came into the room where the grown brothers were. "Hey, we've got a problem. Those blood things, the sigils, they're gone."
A moment later, Mary Campbell knelt to touch the floor. "There's no more holy oil."
Holy oil. That meant angels.
Not sure why angels would want to meddle with these children but determined not to let her plan go awry, the dryad put her hand to the door and chanted quietly. The wards that swiftly grew up around the room would not be visible to the mortal eye... except where they had etched themselves in the frost on the windows, but that was no great concern. Better for the children to have some sign that they were protected. And, as an afterthought, she placed a charm upon the table so that it would bear good meals at the proper times for that day.
She could do no more for Mary Campbell's children this night, but she left knowing that they would be safe and well fed in that place. That was enough for now.
Something smelled really good when Dean felt Sammy shaking him awake. "Dean. Dean! Wake up! Look what Santa brought!"
"Whu?" Dean mumbled groggily, peeling his eyes open. "Whuzzup, Sammy?"
"Wake up. Santa's been here. He brought breakfast!"
Dean blinked and frowned—he'd only been asleep for two hours, and Adam hadn't moved. He hadn't heard anyone else come in, either, and there was no sign of Dad or Caleb or Pastor Jim or Bobby in the room. But sure enough, when Dean sat up, he could see that someone had brought them hot drinks and a batch of piping hot cinnamon rolls.
And a tablecloth and place settings for three.
Dean grabbed Adam's shoulder and shook it. "Adam."
"Adam, wake up."
"Santa brought breakfast."
Adam frowned without opening his eyes. "Wha'th'ell're you—" Then apparently he smelled it, because his eyes opened wide and he sat bolt upright. "The hell..."
Sammy giggled. "You said a bad word!"
"Not as bad as you'll hear from your dad one of these days," Adam shot back absently as he threw off the covers. He eased himself out of bed and walked slowly to the table, staring at it the whole time. He touched it gently, then picked up the mug of what Dean assumed was coffee and sniffed it cautiously, as if making sure it was really real. Then he put down the coffee mug and went to look out the window, checked the salt line, and paused as he looked at the frosty part of the window. "Dean."
Dean padded over to him, and Adam pointed carefully to patterns in the frost—patterns that looked like drawings, like... like sigils. Wide-eyed, he looked back up at Adam, who nodded once: those were some of the sigils he'd wanted Dean to draw.
"Are there reindeer prints?" Sammy asked behind them.
Adam huffed rather than laughing, but he smiled as he turned back to Sammy. "Nah, no reindeer tracks out there—can't even see my footprints from last night. Bet if there are tracks, they're on the roof."
Sammy frowned. "But there's not a chimbly... didn't Santa leave footprints?"
"Nope. Sorry, Sport."
"And it's chimney," Dean corrected under his breath.
"He'll get it," Adam whispered back. Louder, he said, "C'mon. Let's eat."
Sammy cheered, and Dean smiled in spite of himself. He really did like seeing Sammy happy like this, even if he forgot sometimes when Sammy was being obnoxiously cheerful.
They sat down at the table, and Adam ran a hand over the tablecloth like he still wasn't sure it was real. Then he closed his eyes and said quietly, "Santa—or... whoever you are... thanks. For everything."
"'Men," said Sammy quietly, even though it hadn't really been a prayer.
Adam's smile started out sad when he looked over at Sammy, but then it turned into a grin as he started piling cinnamon rolls onto their plates.
After breakfast, Dean and Sammy got Adam bundled back into bed despite his good-natured growling at their fussing over him. But when they turned around to go do the dishes... the table was empty!
The boys gasped, and Sammy turned back to Adam. "How'd you do that?" he demanded.
"Wasn't me," Adam replied in all seriousness. "It's Christmas magic. Don't you read fairy tales?"
Sammy's already wide eyes went wider still. "Y'mean that's real?"
"'Course. Not all fairy tales are true, but some of 'em are, partly. I've met some myself—not the good kind, unfortunately, but I got away."
"Is that—" Dean gestured toward his own head, so Sammy would think he was talking about the injuries but Adam would know he was talking about being psychic.
"Hm? Nah." And Dean didn't get the sense Adam was lying in answer to either question.
Sammy was super close to crawling back up on the bed. "So how do you know the good ones from the bad ones?"
Adam leaned forward a little to look him in the eye. "You read lots of fairy tales."
"What about dragons?"
Adam chuckled a little and leaned back against the headboard. "You don't have to worry about dragons until after the world tries to end."
Dean's eyes went wide at that, and he suspected Sammy's widened more, too. "Seriously?" they chorused, but probably for completely different reasons.
"Seriously. They're all but extinct, and the ones that are left are in, like, Russia."
"What else is real?" Sammy demanded.
Adam put a hand on Sammy's head. "This is a conversation you need to have with your dad," he said gently.
"But Dad never tells me anything."
"Because you're six. You deserve to get to be a kid for a while longer."
They stared at each other for a long moment, and Dean could hardly breathe because he just knew Sammy was going to ask about monsters.
But no: "Is Santa real?"
Adam threw back his head and laughed. "What do you think, dude?"
"I think he is!"
"All right, then. Listen, I need to write this note to your dad, and it's pretty personal. So why don't you go watch TV for a while? Or you could help Dean with something I asked him to do."
"I'll help Dean," came the immediate answer.
"Now, part of it he'll have to do himself, and part of it I'll have to help him with. But first I need you to help him find paper to make envelopes from, okay?"
Sammy nodded so hard and fast, Dean was afraid he was going to give himself a headache.
Sammy scampered away, and Adam winked at Dean before grabbing the Trapper Keeper and the motel's pen off the nightstand. Dean smiled and went after Sammy.
By the time they had, by some miracle, located manila folders, newspaper, and one roll each of masking and packing tape among the supplies Dad had left behind, Adam had finished the page of sigils Dean needed to copy onto the newsprint. He showed Dean the order while Sammy was in the bathroom. Dean's plan for each envelope was to glue together two folders with salt between them, draw the sigils on one side of the newsprint, and glue the wrong side to the folders so that the sigils would be facing the papers. Then they'd put the papers in and fold the folders closed, and he'd tape the edges shut.
Adam nodded slowly as Dean outlined his plan. "That should work," he finally said. "Be nice if you could add iron filings to the glue, too, but John doesn't have any, does he?"
Dean shook his head. "No, sir, not that I know of."
"Maybe, to be doubly safe, put a line of salt at the crease and another around the outside edges between layers of tape."
"I think I can make that work, yes, sir."
Adam nodded again. "Should probably work on the floor, too... just in case breakfast isn't the only meal that's going to show up unannounced."
Dean grinned. "Yes, sir."
Then Sammy came out of the bathroom, and Dean had him man the glue bottle for the first glue step.
Sammy was happy Dean was finally cheering up a little. He didn't understand why Adam had asked them to make envelopes or why Dean was carefully sprinkling salt all over the glue and along the fold of the first folder, but it gave them something to do together, so Sammy wasn't going to complain. Dean had even apologized to him at breakfast for getting mad about the letter to Santa, and Sammy had forgiven him and meant it.
That still smarted a little, though. All he'd planned to ask for was for Dad to come back safe.
As he carefully put glue on the last folder, he thought about Dean's comment that he was selfish. He didn't want to be. He knew sometimes he'd ask for something and not think about it meaning that Dean wouldn't get anything, but he was trying to do better, to not think only about what he wanted. And Christmas this year was different because he knew they were going to get presents when they finally got to Pastor Jim's. There wasn't anything they could do about being stuck because of the snow; wherever Dad was, he couldn't get through, so it wasn't like he meant to break his promise (this time).
Sammy just wanted Dean to be happy.
Having Adam there was helping. Adam was really nice, and he gave Dean something to do other than looking after Sammy, and he still acted like Dean was in charge, which was something their other babysitters never did. Uncle Bobby and Pastor Jim might if they showed up unexpectedly, but that was different because they already knew Sam and Dean. Adam just... understood. Really well.
Too well, maybe.
Sammy was still pondering these things when the scent of turkey and dressing grabbed his attention. He gasped and looked over at the table, which was loaded again. "Dean! Adam! Lookit!"
Dean looked at the table, gasped, and looked over at Adam.
Adam just grinned and put down his notebook. "Awesome. You guys hungry?"
"Yeah!" Sammy and Dean said at the same time.
"All right, then. Let's eat!"
It took Adam a minute to get over to the table, but he insisted on filling Sammy and Dean's plates for them. And the food was really good—real turkey like it had been sliced off the bone, not the processed stuff they'd gotten at school, and mashed potatoes and gravy and green bean casserole and soooo much more. Sammy ate and ate until he couldn't eat anymore, and so did Dean and Adam, and they still barely finished everything. And just like at breakfast, the dishes disappeared as soon as they left the table.
Sammy kind of wished they could have this kind of magic every day.
They'd just gotten Adam back to bed, however, when Mrs. Marinov, the motel owner's wife, knocked on the door. She was kind of startled to see Adam. "I came by to see whether you boys wanted to join us for Christmas dinner," she said, "but I wasn't expecting... your..."
"Distant cousin," Adam supplied. "The boys' dad had to take care of some business out of town and got stranded, so he asked me to come watch them while he was gone. Shoulda put chains on my tires, though—wrecked my car a few miles from here, had to walk the rest of the way."
Mrs. Marinov gasped. "Are you all right? Do you need to go to the hospital?"
"Nah, I'll be fine. Nothing they could do for me that the boys haven't already done."
"We're fine, thanks."
She sighed. "All right. Well, if you do need anything..."
"We'll let you know. Thank you."
Dean made sure she left and checked the salt line before he went into the bathroom.
But Sammy stared at Adam in confusion. Dean hadn't acted like he'd known Adam was coming, and Adam hadn't said anything about Dad knowing he was there or a wreck or anything like that.
"What?" Adam finally asked him.
"Dad doesn't know you're here, does he?" Sammy returned quietly.
"You're not really our cousin."
Adam just looked at him.
"Why did you lie?"
"Because sometimes people don't want to know the truth."
Sammy's breath caught. He'd heard that before. And suddenly it all clicked—the eyes, the freckles, the bowed legs, the mouth—"Your name's not Adam," he whispered. "You're Dean all growed up!"
'Adam' put a finger to his lips. "Our secret, okay? Dean's gonna be a lot happier if he doesn't know."
Sammy bit his lip. Adam-Dean looked so sad and hurt, even when he smiled, and Sammy wanted to know why—but he didn't, either, not if it meant knowing something bad was going to happen that they couldn't avoid or fix. But people from the future didn't just show up for no reason...
The toilet flushed.
"Is Dad okay?" Sammy asked.
"He will be," Adam-Dean replied.
Sammy bit his lip again and then nodded. "Okay. Our secret."
Adam-Dean gave him a wink of thanks and went back to writing his really long note to Dad that probably had all kinds of warnings in it that Sammy really wanted to read but really didn't at the same time.
Dean came out of the bathroom at that point. "C'mon, Squirt, help me cut up this paper."
Sammy nodded and went to help Dean, his mind still buzzing with a million questions he both did and did not want to ask.
Supper showed up the same way breakfast and lunch had—a ham dinner, this time. Dean knew he shouldn't get used to it, but it was still kind of fun in an unexpected way. And it was really nice to be able to eat his fill without worrying about Sammy not getting enough or having enough supplies to last until Dad got back.
It took all afternoon and evening, but with Sammy's help, Dean did manage to get the three envelopes warded, completed, addressed, and labeled "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY." Adam looked them over carefully and approved, and then he wrote something in Latin on the front of Bobby's envelope—instructions, Dean guessed, for keeping the papers in the envelope and not opening it unless the room was well warded. Then he had the boys go to the other bed to watch TV while he finished his letter.
Half an hour later, Dean looked over to see Adam just kind of staring at his work. His face looked kind of flushed and feverish.
"Hate writing conclusions," Adam mumbled. "Hardest part. Don't... don't know how to end it..." Then, after a moment more of staring, he wrote something short and scribbled a signature before letting the pen fall out of his hand.
Dean jumped up and ran over to collect the writing materials, which he set on the table; then he took Adam's temperature while checking his wounds. There was still no sign of infection, but Adam's temperature had climbed above 101°. Shaking his head, Dean gave Adam some more Advil and told him to lie down.
"'M not sick," Adam objected. "'S just hot in here."
"No, dude, you're sick. Lie down. C'mon, Sammy, lights out."
Dean had expected Sammy to complain, but Sammy looked as worried as Dean was as he turned off the TV and hurried back to Adam's side. "Adam, if you don't sleep, you won't get better."
Adam shook his head. "No... 's just hot..."
"Well, I'm cold. Can I sleep with you again?" Sammy shivered a little for emphasis.
Adam blinked and looked at Dean. "Uh?"
Dean understood what Sammy was up to and thought it was brilliant. So he started shivering a little himself. "No, you... you guys g-go ahead... I s-should start making c-c-copies..."
Adam made a sad noise and threw back the covers. "C'mere."
Sammy winked at Dean and turned out the lamp, and they both crawled into bed with Adam.
Outside, where she had been watching through the window since shortly after nightfall, the dryad smiled to herself. The children were as clever and caring as their mother had been, and although they didn't realize it, they were taking every precaution they knew to ensure the success of her plan. There were only a few pieces missing that she alone could provide.
The charm on the table she renewed to last until the children left. Then she placed two charms on the notebook. One would produce as many copies of the letter as needed; the other warded the paper against erasure by any means, natural or supernatural. So long as the humans kept the papers in the warded envelopes and read them only in warded rooms, neither Heaven nor Hell should be able to steal this knowledge from them.
There was little else she could do now. The trees knew little of the healing arts where humans were concerned, and she couldn't tell what was wrong with the future-eldest. So she breathed a quiet blessing and left.
Adam wasn't any better in the morning—a little more coherent, but his fever hadn't come down at all. Dean moved his Trapper Keeper off the table just in time for breakfast to show up, but Sammy insisted on bringing Adam's plate and mug of coffee to him in bed, and Dean threatened to tie him up if he even thought about going anywhere but the bathroom that day.
"'M not sick," Adam grumbled, but he stayed put.
After breakfast, Dean took the Trapper Keeper back to the table and got ready to start copying Adam's letter. It was really long, and Dean decided to take the whole thing out of the rings to make it easier to keep things straight. He didn't really pay attention to the words as he flipped through to find the end; there would be time enough for that later. Once he'd gotten all of the pages taken out, straightened and set to the side, he picked up his pen and looked down at the first blank page.
Which wasn't blank anymore.
Dean looked to his left. Yes, the letter was sitting right there. But there was another one still in the rings.
"What the heck..." he breathed and took the new one out, setting it in the middle of the table. He looked back down—and there was another one! So he took that one out and set it crosswise over the second one—and there was another one when he looked back down!
Dean drummed his fingers on the table for a moment, then turned around. "Hey, Adam? Who else could we trust with a copy of this?"
Adam frowned, coughed, and said, "Gimme somethin' to write on."
Sammy was closer, and he snagged the pad of motel stationery and a crayon. Adam thought for a moment, then started making a list. And when he finished that one, he started a second one.
"What's that for?" Dean asked, taking the first list.
"People who should absolutely not see it," Adam replied.
"Oh." Dean looked over the list he held and saw a few names he knew—Pastor Jim, Travis, Martin Creaser, Joshua—along with a couple that were vaguely familiar—Missouri Mosely and Ellen Harvelle—and some others that he didn't know at all, although he thought maybe he'd heard Uncle Bobby mention Rufus Turner once. There were nine names in all.
"Do we need more envelopes?" Sammy asked.
Dean nodded. "Yeah, a bunch more. Get the stuff, would you, Sammy?"
While Sammy got more materials together, Dean put the first three copies into the envelopes they'd already made and then carefully took out nine more copies, stacking them at right angles to each other. Each one he took out was replaced by another, even the last. Then he closed up the notebook and carried it and the stack of paper to set beside the TV until the envelopes were ready.
Making the envelopes went faster this time because they knew what they were doing, but it still took most of the day, what with letting the glue dry and stopping for meals and all. Dean decided not to try to read in between steps, since it sounded like something that was going to need his full attention. That meant he spent a fair amount of the downtime keeping an eye on Adam.
And Adam, quite frankly, was getting worse. Even with a steady regimen of Advil, his fever kept inching upward, and he couldn't stop shaking. Dean couldn't help worrying about what would happen if the fever got high enough that Adam became delirious, what he might say that would freak Sammy out.
Oddly enough, Sammy seemed to be worrying about the same thing, only with regard to Dean. He saw Sammy and Adam whispering a couple of times when he came out of the bathroom and figured Adam must have confided something to Sammy, but he didn't know what it could be or why Adam would tell Sammy rather than Dean. But he guessed it was only fair, since there were things Adam had told him and not Sammy.
Adam kept getting worse the next day, too. Dean was beginning to wonder whether they were going to have to take him to the hospital, and if so, what story to tell the doctors. He and Sammy were too worried to do more than finish stuffing the envelopes and watch TV.
But Dean's attention was drawn away from the slow dying of twilight through the frosted windows when the phone finally rang, making everyone jump. He scrambled to the nightstand and answered.
"Dean?" The voice on the other end was hoarse, but Dean would know it anywhere.
"Hey, Champ." Dean could almost hear Dad smiling tiredly.
"Dad, where are you?"
"Well, we didn't want to call until we were sure we could get through. But we're stopped for gas about half an hour out."
"Okay. We'll take care of supper."
"Yeah. We, um... really need to talk to you. About... stuff."
Dad sounded confused and concerned. "Sammy behaving for you?"
"As good as gold and better," Dean found himself saying with a fond smile at the little brother who'd just appeared at his side.
Sammy smiled back and hugged him.
Dad still sounded confused. "Is it a hunt?"
"Yes, sir. Might be. We're okay, though," he added quickly. "We're not in trouble or anything. It's just—there's a letter for you."
"Have you read it?"
"No, sir, not yet."
"All right. Caleb's following me. We'll be there in 30."
"Where is he?" Sammy asked as soon as Dean hung up.
"He's thirty minutes out, he said. Hey, Ad—" Dean broke off as he turned to find Adam's bed empty and Dad's sweatshirt lying on top. Then he looked up to see Adam pulling on his own bloodied overshirt and coat. He looked horrible—pale apart from the fever flush on his cheeks, eyes glassy and barely focused.
"Adam?" Sammy squeaked.
"Gotta go," Adam replied. "Can't stay. Can't... can't let him see me. Not like this."
"No, Adam, don't," Dean pleaded. "You're still sick, and it's still freezing outside. You could die."
Adam shook his head. "I'll take my chances. Entropic cascade failure, 'm prob'ly a goner anyway."
"Huh?" both brothers chorused.
"Look." Adam reached into his back waistband and pulled out a pretty pearl-handled gun and a long horn-handled knife. The gun he gave to Dean; the knife he gave to Sammy. "Nobody comes through that door but Dad and Caleb. Got it?"
"Thirty minutes. You'll be okay." Then Adam put a fever-hot hand on each boy's head and smiled fondly, shakily, like he was about to cry.
Sammy hugged him. "Don't go, Adam."
"I have to," Adam whispered. "I'm sorry, Sammy." And a single tear rolled down his cheek.
Dean tucked the gun into his own pants and hugged Adam, too. "Be careful, Adam."
"You, too, Batman." Adam moved his hand down to rub Dean's back. "Keep it secret. Keep it safe. And both of you... look after your brother." Then he pulled away from them, paused at the door for one last very sad smile, and left.
Sammy burst into tears. Dean pulled him into a hug and tried not to cry himself. Outside, the wind howled mournfully.
John sighed in relief as he shut off the Impala's engine and waited for Caleb to park beside him. The windswept snow in the parking lot had looked like it hadn't been disturbed in days before they drove into it. The boys had been stuck here alone, apparently.
Damn poltergeist. Damn pneumonia. He should have skipped this hunt altogether, taken the boys straight to Blue Earth like he'd planned. He'd wanted to give them a halfway normal Christmas for once, especially knowing that Dean was still beating himself up over the shtriga. In hindsight, he realized he shouldn't have put that kind of duty on a ten-year-old—not that he'd wanted a lecture from Bobby about letting the kids be kids. It was just that... he didn't have anyone else. And most of the time Dean was a good sentry.
He snorted. This was how he repaid that 90% good behavior—leaving the boys alone over Christmas, snowed in with no presents and almost no food. John Winchester, Father of the Year.
Well, he was back now, and they'd leave for Blue Earth tomorrow. In the meantime, he'd deal with this letter that had Dean so concerned.
Caleb knocked on his window. "You all right in there, old man?"
"Shut up," John grumbled, unable to keep a straight face, and got out. Then he pulled his duffle out of the back seat, walked up to the door of the room, and gave his coded knock.
The door opened a crack to reveal part of Dean's wary, tear-streaked face, looking first at John, then at Caleb, then beyond as if making sure they hadn't been followed. Then it flew all the way open, and John was almost tackled by a teary-eyed Sammy.
"Dad, where've you been?" Sammy wailed. "Dean's been so worried, and I tried to cheer him up, but that just made things worse."
John scooped him up and looked down at Dean, who was standing more or less at attention and held a handgun that wasn't the one John had left for him. This one was a pearl-handled M1911. Dean tried to smile when John made eye contact with him, but he didn't quite succeed.
"I've been sick, buddy," John confessed to Sammy. "Just got out of the hospital yesterday. Woulda been here sooner, but the roads were too bad."
"You're okay, though, right?"
"Well, I'm still gonna need a couple of weeks at Pastor Jim's to get all better, but yeah, I'll be okay."
"Okay." Sammy's arms tightened around John's neck. "I wasn't worried. Adam said you'd be okay."
John blinked. "Adam? Who's Adam?"
Dean's reply was quiet but solemn. "We should discuss this inside... sir."
John looked at Caleb, who shrugged, and carried Sammy into the room. Caleb followed. Dean scanned the parking lot one last time, closed the door, locked it, and reset the salt line. Then, and only then, did he set the gun down beside a stack of what looked like manila folders with the edges sealed in masking tape. He picked up two of these and handed one to Caleb and the other to John, looking for all the world like each one contained a copy of the nuclear football or something equally deadly.
John decided to start small. "Where'd you get the gun, Dean?"
"Adam gave it to me, sir," Dean reported quietly.
"That's the only name he gave. He showed up on Christmas Eve. He knew the password, and he was hurt, so I let him in. He's the one who wrote that letter," Dean added, pointing to the folder in John's hand. "It's important. And it's really important to keep it in that envelope and to try not to read it except in a room that's really well warded, like this one. The envelopes are warded, and we've got copies for friends we can trust so they won't all disappear. He said the last time he tried to warn you, something made you forget."
John frowned. "Warn me? About what?"
Dean looked him in the eye. "About Mom."
As John's frown deepened, Sammy whispered in his ear, "He said his name was Adam, but it wasn't. He was Dean all growed up." John pulled back and looked at him, and he continued louder, "He was really sick, Dad. He said he'd been in a bad wreck when Mrs. Marinov came by, but he had a fever, too, and he said it was en... entrop..." He looked at Dean for help.
"Entropic cascade failure," Dean supplied. "Whatever that means."
"We tried to get him to stay 'cause it's so cold and he was so sick, but he wouldn't. He said he didn't want you to see him like that. And he gave Dean his gun and he gave me his knife, and he said nobody should come through the door but you and Caleb."
"Knife?" John asked.
Sammy pointed to where he'd left it on the nightstand, and Dean brought it over—a narrow Bowie-style knife, from the shape of the sheath, with a blade that was probably eight inches long. John was glad Sammy had had sense enough not to try to carry it unsheathed; this was a hunter's weapon.
"When did he leave?"
"Right after you called," Dean replied.
Caleb, who was standing by the table, frowned. "Dean, there aren't any footprints or tire tracks out there. Just ours."
"That's what happened, sir," Dean stated emphatically, not breaking eye contact with John. "And it's not like that's the only weird thing that's happened the last couple of days."
John sighed. "You said you'd have supper ready."
"Where is it?"
Dean shifted his gaze to the wall clock. "Five, four, three, two, one—"
And Caleb jumped away from the table with a curse. John looked over and swallowed a curse of his own. That table, which had been bare and empty five seconds earlier, was now covered with a tablecloth, a chicken dinner, and place settings for four.
"It's Christmas magic," said Sammy. "Adam said so."
John looked at Dean, who nodded. "It's been doing that since Christmas morning. I think it'll keep doing that until we leave. There were wards in the frost, too, on the windows. Adam was as surprised as we were."
Dean ran over to his Trapper Keeper and returned with a page of sigils that John had never seen before. "I couldn't see all of them, but they were on this list. These are the sigils we used on the envelopes. He was gonna have me draw 'em on the walls before he started writing the letter, but it turned out we didn't have to."
John shook his head in confusion. "Caleb?"
Caleb came over and looked at the page but shook his head as he handed it back to Dean. "Don't recognize 'em. Couple could be Enochian, but I can't be sure."
"Supposed to be the language of the angels."
"There's no such thing."
Caleb jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the table. "More things in heaven and earth, Horatio."
Sammy leaned into John's side again. "Can we eat now, Dad? Please?"
Feeling totally at sea, John sighed and nodded. While Sammy pulled him to the table, Dean carefully put his page of sigils back in his Trapper Keeper. Then they all sat down together and ate, though John and Caleb were more cautious at first than the boys were.
Even so, it was the best meal John had had in months. There was enough for everyone to eat his fill, and afterward the dishes simply disappeared. No cleanup, no bones, only the lingering scent and the pleasant fullness in his stomach to prove that anything had ever been on the table.
After everything he'd seen and done, it was hard to believe anything supernatural could be friendly, never mind looking out for his boys this way. Yet evidently something had done and was. He still didn't know what to make of this wild story about 'Adam,' especially Sammy's whispered addition that was clearly not meant for Dean's ears, but he couldn't just brush it off as a story the boys had made up. Something out of the ordinary had happened; there would be time to sort it out with Dean after Sammy was asleep.
And that, it turned out, didn't take long. After supper Caleb left to get his own room and John went in to shower, and when he came out, a sad-faced Dean was tucking a sniffling Sammy into bed. "He's worried about Adam," Dean confessed quietly when John approached. "Cried himself to sleep."
"How sick was he?"
"Last check, his fever was over 102°, and he had the shakes. Advil wasn't helping. Probably lost a fair amount of blood, too—head injury, laceration on his side, cracked ribs, bad bruising on his back. No infection, though; I checked."
John nodded and sighed.
"He's dead, isn't he?"
"I don't know, son."
"He was psychic, and he said he was probably a goner anyway. I think that's why he left—so we wouldn't..."
John sighed again and pulled Dean into a brief hug. "Good man?"
"I thought so. Kinda like Uncle Bobby. He was nice to Sammy."
"And to you?"
"Yes, sir." Dean bit his lip. "He trusted me."
And that told John a lot. "Who all did he have you make copies for?"
Dean walked over to the stack of folders and came back with two lists. "We were gonna make copies just for Caleb and Bobby, but then... well, it started making copies of itself, so he gave me more names. And the second list is people who should never see it."
John looked over the first list and nodded; most of these were people he could trust to at least keep their copy warded and hidden, though there were a few names, like Ellen Harvelle, that surprised him. Then he looked at the other list and was startled to see it headed, in all caps and triple underline, by the name Gordon Walker. A few of the other names, like Creedy and Kubrick, he knew by reputation to be cuckoo; others he'd worked with a time or two, and still others he'd never heard of at all. And though the list was in crayon, the same hand had later added in pencil, Keep Sammy out of Garber, OK.
Oddly enough, the handwriting kind of looked like Dean's. But it differed the way a person's handwriting might change over, say... twenty years.
"Dean," John asked quietly, "what did Adam look like?"
"Tall," came the immediate reply. "About 6'1", light brown hair, green eyes, fair skin, freckles. Kind of built like a baseball player. His legs were kind of bowed, and his beard grew in kind of reddish-brown—he didn't shave." Dean paused. "And he had some kind of scar or something on his left shoulder, shaped like a handprint. I didn't see it, but I felt it through his shirt when I had to wake him up."
"Early thirties, maybe."
Dean all growed up, Sammy had said, and some snatches of memory tried to claw their way back to the surface—This is the one you want; Sorry, it's just—for a minute there, you kind of reminded me of my dad...
John shook his head to clear it. "Sorry, son. That... sounds familiar; I just can't place it. He said something made me forget him?"
"Did he say why?"
"No, sir. He just wanted me to make absolutely sure you got the information in the letter because it's about the thing that killed Mom and it would take you twenty years to find it all on your own. He wanted me to memorize it, too, just in case, but I haven't had a chance to read it yet. And he said Sammy shouldn't read it until you and I both think he's old enough."
John looked over the lists again, especially that note about Garber. "All right. Let's read it together, then."
Dean nodded and went back to his notebook. "I've got an extra copy, so we don't have to open the warded one." He brought the whole Trapper Keeper to John.
John took it and led him to the couch, wondering briefly when the last time was that they had read anything together. It had been too long, whatever the answer was. And as Dean settled next to him, John found himself putting an arm around Dean's shoulders before spreading the notebook across both their laps. He wasn't quite sure why he did so, but Dean didn't shy away from the contact even though he'd be eleven in a little under a month.
John didn't let himself wonder at it. They had to get this letter read now.
I don't quite know how to begin, so I'll just drop all the bombshells in one sentence. Azazel killed Mary because she walked in while he was feeding Sam demon blood because he was instructed by Lucifer to find a special child and taint him for the purpose of becoming Lucifer's vessel and starting the Apocalypse.
Dean gasped quietly, and John pulled him a little closer. "Keep reading, son."
You can't undo what's been done, and you can't bring Mary back (more on that later). But you can save Sam and the rest of the world at the same time. Love and support is important (more on that later, too), but ganking Azazel will help, too. Azazel doesn't know for sure that Sam's the right kid, so he's tainted a number of children his age and will be starting to make deals for the next generation no later than 1996. By then, there will be more tools for tracking him, like a computer network called the Internet. Sam's powers won't come online until he's 22; if you can kill Azazel before then, they might not ever show up at all.
Daniel Elkins has the Colt—it's been in his family since 1861. Do whatever it takes to get it from him, and don't hesitate to shoot the demon. There are five bullets left. If you run out, there's also a knife I'll leave for you that could kill even Lilith (but use the gun first).
Now that I've said that, here's the rest of the story. I don't expect you to believe me without checking out the details first—at least the ones you can verify now.
And the details... oh, the details. Down to how Azazel came to notice Mary and force her into a deal, names and locations of the children like Sammy that 'Adam' knew of, the fact that Mary's soul was still trapped in the house in Lawrence and needed a chance to say goodbye. And the details about the future—Sammy leaving for college in spite of an ultimatum from John, people being murdered to force Sam back into the life and to force the boys into a corner. John selling his soul to save Dean, Dean selling his soul to save Sam, Sam giving his life to stop the Apocalypse he'd started without intending to. Sam coming back without his soul. Dean making deals with Death. Rogue angels. Manipulative demons. Monsters from Purgatory. Everybody dying.
Dean kept burrowing closer into John's side as he read and sniffling. And John didn't realize he was tearing up himself until one large hot tear rolled down his cheek, dropped onto the page, and beaded up and rolled away as if the paper were Scotchguarded.
I'm probably committing some kind of paradox by writing all of this down, 'Adam' concluded. But I think I must be here for a reason, and you really need to know so you can stop it. That paragraph was followed by a vague Hope this helps, and a signature that John sincerely hoped Dean wouldn't be able to read.
Dean sniffled and looked up at John. "What do we do, Dad?" he whispered.
John swallowed a couple of times before he was able to whisper back, "Only thing we can do. We stop it."
On Christmas Eve of 1999, the Impala pulled up to S&W Salvage in Sioux Falls and Dean got out of it. "Anybody home?" he yelled.
Sam barreled out of the house and into Dean's arms. "You made it! I was afraid you'd be snowed in!"
Dean laughed. "Damn, you've gotten tall!"
"Well, maybe if you came home more often..."
"Dude, gas ain't cheap. I can't just drive all the way out here every weekend. Besides, I have a real job now."
"Yeah, there's a garage there that needed some part-time help. They're willing to let me work around my class schedule."
"You didn't lose your scholarship, did you?"
Dean snorted and let Sam lead him into the house. "No. But I've gotta have something to do other than study, and it's not like there's that much to do around Butte, even with a girlfriend. And maybe this way I can afford to call more than once a month. How's your school going?"
"Good. Got a 1400 on my PSAT."
"Says the guy going to Montana Tech."
"Hey, at least engineering's practical."
They continued to banter while Sam got Dean a snack and showed off the decorations that were new to the tree they'd shared with Bobby for the last three years. Dad had semi-retired after he'd caught up with Azazel in Salvation, Iowa, in May of '96, choosing to move in with Bobby, form a business partnership, and give the boys a home base instead of continuing to drag them all over the country. Sam was happier having a semi-normal life for a change, and Dean had taken the chance it seemed he hadn't had in 'Adam's' experience to actually pursue a few dreams of his own—with Dad's blessing.
They never talked much about Christmas of '89, or the warded envelope in Bobby's safe or the one downstairs in the panic room Bobby'd built after talking with Dad in '90 or the Trapper Keeper Dean still kept in the trunk of the Impala in a warded box Rufus had made for him. But Dean had caught an episode or two of Stargate SG-1 while he was at college, and he had a pretty good idea now of what 'Adam' had meant by "entropic cascade failure." He didn't understand the whys and wherefores; he was just glad that awful future seemed to have been thwarted so far, for his own sake and for Sam's.
"Where's Dad?" he finally asked.
"He and Bobby had a case in Cedar Rapids. They were at the Roadhouse this morning, should get here in time for supper."
"Good. Who all's coming?"
"Just Ellen and Jo, I think—oh, and the new guy she's got working for her. His name is Ash, and supposedly he got kicked out of MIT for fighting. Jo says he's a redneck with a mullet."
Dean's eyebrows shot up. "Think I like him already."
Sam chuckled. "Hey, is Angela..."
Dean's face fell. "No. She transferred."
Dean sighed and shrugged. "Um... what about..."
The letter had mentioned the rebel archangel as a potential ally and described him well enough that Dad had managed to locate him not long after killing Azazel—on a Trickster case, no less. The boys were still a little nervous around him, both because of who he was and because of his... offbeat sense of humor, but he seemed to actually like them and had even showed up uninvited at Dean's graduation to put sigils on the boys' ribs that would hide them from both angels and demons. Since then he had an unofficial standing invitation to family gatherings.
Sam grimaced. "He stopped in earlier, said he'd bring a goose this year. But he left, said he had something to do first."
"Huh. Well, at least he's bringing something you'll eat this year, Samantha."
"Shut up, jerk," Sam laughed.
Hundreds of miles away, the dryad looked into a magic mirror and watched Mary Campbell's children laugh and joke with none of the darkness hanging over them that there had been ten years before. Tears of joy rained down unheeded.
"That future is gone," said the bright figure who held the mirror for her. "Hell's plan has failed, and most of the world will never be any the wiser. You did it."
She sniffled and looked at him. "You didn't have to show me this."
"Yeah, well. Saved my life, too. Figured I owed you something for that."
"Will you tell them?"
"Nah. They figured out most of it, and I don't think they really want to know the rest."
"Yes. Perhaps that's best." She sniffled again. "Thank you."
He brushed a kiss on her forehead and left. And when she turned back to her tree, she found the boughs hung thickly with candy canes.