If anyone had asked, Ash would've said he was pretty pleased with himself. The structure of his creation was magnificent. The intricate layers of interlacing levels of independent individual's realities were dazzling. The balance he had achieved between the time-space continuum and the very fabric of the soul was elaborate in the application yet so simple in appearance. Mathematically speaking, what Ash had achieved was genius. Beyond genius.
But no one asked; so he kept the explanation of his triumph to himself.
"Hey Ash! You wanna give me a hand here?"
Although this was technically Ash's heaven, the template of the community vision was the Roadhouse and as far as Ellen was concerned, heaven or not, she was still in charge.
Ash ambled over toward the bar. "What can I do ya for?"
Ellen looked just as at home as she ever did behind the bar and gave him a look that indicated that although he might be the host of the event, she had certain standards of cleanliness and decoration that were going to be met. "You can finish wiping down those tables, and when Jo comes up with the boxes, help her with the lights."
There was no sarcasm hidden in Ash's "Yes, ma'am!" just a genuine willingness to help. Ellen smiled at his mock salute as he grabbed a rag and gave the tables the attention they sorely needed.
Ash pondered as he swished the rag back and forth – why was it that his baseline Roadhouse was comfortably messy, somewhat dusty and smelled of old beer when he could've made it just as pristine as Ellen could ever have wanted? On the other hand, if he'd created a sparklingly clean Roadhouse, there'd be nothing for Ellen to do and they'd all end up cleaning already clean things twice just to make her happy.
It was unusual for Ash to be the host of a gathering, at least not one that didn't involve beer and a particle accelerator. He never really had much of a place to call his own until he was dead. Ironic. However, he was very much looking forward to this particular get-together. Although Ash made inter-Heaven transit appear effortless, he was the only one who could actually make the journey with ease. He tried to explain worm holes and the physics of the situation to the others, but they just feigned headaches and generally stayed happily within their own bubbles. But in this case, they all agreed to be ready to make the trip, and the plan was met with increasing anticipation and excitement.
In spite of being dead, they had a lot to celebrate. Number one on the list was the fact that Sam and Dean weren't dead and hadn't (permanently) joined their little crew. Again…ironic. As much as most of them missed Sam and Dean, it was a little miracle that the two youngest Winchesters were not able to RSVP in person – that was a reason to celebrate in itself.
It didn't take long for Ash to clean the tables, and Jo arrived in short order with two boxes of decorations and Christmas lights. Ash made a mental note to find the formula to mathematically untangle the lights before they started decorating next year. As it was, Jo had more patience than he, and deftly straightened out the knotty mess. Jo was just as much at home in Ash's Roadhouse-themed slice of heaven as Ellen was, but in her death had gained a peace that soothed the restlessness Ash had always seen in her in life. Third time…ironic
Other guests started to arrive before Ash and Jo had finished hanging the lights, but Ellen played hostess while Ash was busy. Rufus was the first to make an appearance, menorah in hand. He made no bones about the gathering being "interfaith" and insisted that he would make Bobby sit down with him and play dreidel. Rufus tried to make himself at home behind the bar, but Ellen would have none of that. Luckily, Bobby arrived before the argument got too heated.
Being the newest member of the "Heavenly Hunter's Club" ©, Bobby was still a little leery and didn't quite have his sea legs as far as inter-dimensional travel went. Ash did his best to make transportation as effortless for folks as possible, put part of it had to do with the individual's belief in how the method worked, and Bobby wasn't an easy sell as far as quantum mechanics went. Rufus took pity on him, but instead of an arm around the shoulder and a quiet explanation, Rufus called him a 'stubborn old coot who never did have the imagination God gave a goat' and told him it was his own damn fault for making the trip so hard.
Bobby's single finger salute in response was eloquent in its simplicity.
Ellen set the bickering hunters up at a round table closer to the pool table and away from door. But as she headed back to the bar to get their drinks she smiled with indulgent fondness. Meanwhile Jo busied herself with final touches of tinsel and mistletoe. She also found a plant stand to use to place the menorah in a prominent spot by the window and lighted the candles. Rufus raised his glass in approval.
The door to the Roadhouse opened and a cold breeze from the "simulated winter solstice" outside heralded the entrance of Bill Harvelle and Pastor Jim Murphy. Upon entering Bill went immediately behind the bar to greet Ellen; Jim approached the table where Rufus and Bobby had risen to their feet. Warm hugs of welcome were exchanged but before anyone was resettled, the last of the guests arrived together – the Winchesters.
Ash smiled at the two in the doorway. He was awfully proud of himself for managing to get them to attend. Even in heaven tracking down John Winchester was a bear of a job.
Ash was pretty sure that if he was on his own, John would've put up more of a fight or flat out refused to attend, but Mary was inclined to be social. Ash didn't get involved in the family debate as he was fairly confident that Mary would win.
The Winchester parental units paused in the doorway. Mary smiled at all assembled, but John looked cautious. A gust of wind from behind encouraged the newcomers to enter. With their first steps into the room, everyone crowded around to welcome them. Ash never had much personal experience with John Winchester so he hung back a little while greetings were exchanged.
Jo was the first to approach. Uninhibited, she threw her arms around both John and Mary who automatically hugged her back. John spoke gruffly into her hair. "Look at you, kid…you're such a young lady!" That was one of the weird things about this bubble of heaven; because this was a "new" reality and not a replayed memory, each participant knew that every other person was real. As sweet as it was for John to see Jo, her everlasting youth and beauty made him for sad for all that she would miss.
Ellen was the next to step in, first hugging John and then introducing herself to Mary and hugging her as well. Ellen liked to give the impression of being a hard-ass, but deep down she was a hard-ass…who liked to hug.
Bill was the next to offer his hand which surprised Ash a little. Apparently it surprised John too. Of all of the members in their group, Bill had spent the longest time in heaven aside from Mary, and whatever hard feelings he had toward John in life (or regarding the events of his death, as the case may be) had long been smoothed away. A hunter's life wasn't easy, and with Rufus and Bobby as the exceptions to the rule, it was usually short lived. The afterlife wasn't meant for harping on or rehashing unfulfilled experiences; rather, it was meant to be spent reliving joyous times – and if Ash was successful, creating a few new ones.
The warmth of the Harvelles' welcome really helped John relax and John smiled easily when greeting Pastor Jim and Rufus. Then, like the parting of the sea, John was left facing Bobby with the others ranged around them in semi-circles on either side. John was quick to extend his hand, and Bobby was quick to grasp it. They stood frozen for a moment; neither one of them had as much time in heaven as Bill did under their belts and years of disagreement hung between them.
Bobby was the first to step closer. Without releasing John's hand, he pulled him closer in a tight hug and slapped him on the back with his free hand. "It's good to see you, John."
John pulled his hand free and engulfed Bobby in a two-armed hug. "Thank you, Bobby." There wasn't anyone in the room who didn't know what that thank you meant and how heartfelt it was.
When John released Bobby he leaned back and gestured toward Mary who stepped right up to the pair. "This is my Mary." he said by way of introduction, as if it wasn't perfectly clear.
A lifetime of long ingrained habits was hard to shake, even in heaven. Bobby nodded in acknowledgement and said, "Ma'am".
Mary slid in to stand closer to Bobby. She laid her right hand on his chest over his heart. "Thank you for looking out for my boys, Bobby." Ash was a standing apart from the group but could feel the warmth of her smile across the distance. Bobby, as the target of Mary's affection must've been bowled over.
Mary opened her arms and Bobby embraced her warmly. John, feeling the love, didn't hang back but instead jumped on in and made it a group hug. Ellen and Jo were close enough to their orbit to join in as well.
It was Rufus who broke things up saying, "If you expect me to be your partridge in a pear tree, you've got another thing coming." With laughter, the group broke up. Then Ellen placed a hand on Mary's shoulder and steered her toward the bar. "What can I get y'all to drink?"
Conversation began to flow freely between those gathered; Ash listened with half an ear, but was more focused on setting up the entertainment for the rest of the evening. While he worked, Ash noticed that pairs of people found to move away from the main group to talk. John and Bill were the first to disappear for a short time; Ellen took advantage of their husbands' absences to pull Mary aside for a chat. John and Bobby disappeared for a long stretch, and if they looked a little teary-eyed when they returned, no one commented on it. Jo traveled between the main table and the bar until Rufus insisted she sit down and play dreidel with him since Bobby was being such a pain in the ass about it.
Ash climbed on and around the pool table that used to be his favorite napping place, setting up the HD TV screen. To everyone else it looked like an elaborate entertainment system; only Ash knew that the cables running every which way were merely physical representations of the time fluctuations and energy portals through which to channel the inter-dimensional display that he was trying to produce. If anyone had chosen to examine the setup closely, they would see that the cables and wires weren't plugged into any outlets; they just vanished into the floor. But just like their understanding of how they came to the Roadhouse, no one was interested in the theory behind it, just the results.
Ash tweaked and adjusted the receivers and satellite. For now the display was on the default "Yule Log" setting which emitted a fire-like glow and faux crackling sounds. Internally he was fretting like a holiday traveler watching the "Departures" board at a major airport. Any little quirk in the weather below could cause a disruption in the transmission and spoil all of his planning and hard work. Ellen seemed to understand his agitation, if not the details that caused it. As she walked by she patted him on the shoulder and used her chin to point to the crowd that was beginning to gather, ready to eat.
"You've already worked something of a Christmas miracle, Ash. Gettin' all these folks together is such a gift. Anything else you manage to do would just be gravy."
Ash had his eye on a whole boatload of gravy.
Eventually the group gathered at the table where Ellen originally seated Bobby and Rufus. It was too small to accommodate everyone, but other tables and chairs were dragged over until everyone had a place to sit. Jim obliged when Ellen asked him to say a brief blessing over the food and assembled guests.
"I'm a little out of practice, so bear with me," Jim apologized as he rose to his feet.
"Just don't do it in Latin," Bobby prompted.
"Keep it simple, Stupid!" Rufus chimed in simultaneously.
Ellen glared and silenced the hecklers. Jo traded glances with Ash and then chuckled into her napkin. She'd been on the receiving end of that glare too many times not to appreciate it being leveled at someone else.
"Although we are not all of the same faith, we are the same in our gratitude for the blessings we have." Jim gestured to those gathered around the table. "We give thanks for this company and the opportunity to be together. We particularly thank the young man who brought us here."
"Here, here!" Bill raised his glass in salute to Ash.
"We are grateful for the food that has been prepared and the opportunity to share it," Jim continued.
Then he reached out to hold hands with Mary and Bobby who were seated on either side of him. Hands were grasped all around the table until the circle was complete. "But before we begin our meal, I would ask each one of you to pray in your own way for the safety of those who are not here with us. We have left friends and family behind who continue to do important work day after day, and we would ask for their continued good health and safety. Pray for their perseverance so they may continue to be a light in the face of unrelenting darkness."
Rufus was the first to respond with a solemn "Amen."
When Jim was reseated, the food was passed around family style and the alcohol was free flowing; though, in heaven, no one got drunk or needed to worry about a hangover. Most of those gathered had some experience with each other, Mary being the exception. So it was natural that she was the focus of great interest. Talk turned to her life growing up – everyone was shocked to find out that she'd been a hunter long before the rest of them – and pretty soon humorous hunting stories were being swapped back and forth. Ash was glad that in life he was a tech guy; the yarns Bobby, Rufus, Jim, Bill, John and even Mary could spin were funny in retrospect, but Ash wouldn't have wanted to live through any of them.
When there was a lull in the conversation Jo changed the topic by asking about something that was on her mind. She wanted to hear the story of how Mary and John came to be a couple. It was another surprise to hear that they hadn't initially gotten along until, out of the blue, something clicked and love bloomed. Ash was a little suspicious of the circumstances having listened to enough angel chatter to know better, but as they say, ignorance is bliss and since neither John nor Mary was inclined to press the issue, who was he to mar their memories?
After everyone had been fed, Ellen asked her clan to help clear the table before coffee and dessert came out, but got a whole lot of helping hands to make the chore get done even faster. Ash went back to tweaking his equipment; timing was going to be an issue – time didn't pass the same way in heaven as it did on earth and the differential had been tricky to figure out.
While he was working, Bobby and Rufus drifted over to inspect his work. The resemblance between the two of them and those two old Muppets who sat in the balcony heckling Kermit the Frog was not lost on Ash. "The boy's workin' pretty hard on that TV considering all it shows is the Yule Log." Rufus commented.
Ash was under the pool table fiddling with the connections, so he heard Bobby take a swig of his beer before answering. "If he gets it to work I hope we get something worth watching…what I wouldn't give for a live –"
"Porno?" Rufus interrupted.
"Football game, you ass!" Bobby retorted.
"That's not heavenly language," Jim admonished as he joined them. Rufus grumbled something about not believing in heaven anyway so his language didn't count. Before Bobby had an opportunity to start up again with Rufus, Ash's wristwatch began to beep loudly. It startled him so badly that he smacked his head on the underside of the pool table. Then his phone went off. And the old-fashioned alarm clock on the bar started to shake, rattle and roll.
"It's time!" Ash yelled.
Ellen silenced the clock on the bar. "Ash! What on earth?"
Ash fiddled and pulled. He was close, he knew it. The window of opportunity was very small…if he could just get all the components to connect…SNAP!
A spark of electricity pulsed between the wires in Ash's hands. The lights in the Roadhouse dimmed and flickered, but then the power came back up and the lights became steady. "That's it!" Ash yelled from beneath the pool table. He could hear that the faux-crackle of the Yule log had been replaced by static.
"How's the picture? How's the picture?!" Ash demanded from below the table.
He could see the feet of those who had gathered in front of the TV. Mary gasped, but no one answered his question. Ash rolled forward until he was free of the table and then bounced to his feet. He turned and could see the picture for himself. And there they were, in high definition – Sam and Dean. He was awfully proud of himself.
Ash waved his arms in a wide "voila" gesture. "Winchester TV…the next generation of Angel Radio!"
The scene itself was mundane; the boys were in the car going from point A to point B – Dean was driving. But Mary, John and Bobby were rapt, drawn like moths to the flickering light of the TV screen. Mary had her left arm threaded around John's right and cheek pressed against his bicep. Her eyes were wide with delight drinking in the scene.
"They're okay?" Bobby asked, not looking away from the television. "They're doing okay?"
"I don't have all the details," Ash explained. "And time runs differently down there than it does here. But, it is Christmas, and they're together." He shrugged. "I thought y'all would like to see."
For a minute or two, the Roadhouse guests watched in silence. Mary, John and Bobby particularly seemed to be drinking it all in. Then Rufus asked, "Ain't there any volume on this damn thing?"
As he reached out toward the equipment, Ash intervened. "Don't touch anything! I got it!" Ash made a quick adjustment and then suddenly there was music from the Impala's radio and the sound of rolling tires on wet pavement.
Rufus' interruption broke the hold the TV had on most of the group. Ash brought out some comfortable armchairs and a love seat that never had a home in the Roadhouse down below, but were perfect for television viewing in heaven. Jim and Bill helped Ash move the furniture and got the Winchesters and Bobby settled in front of the TV. Rufus appointed himself barman and got another round of drinks while Ellen and Jo brought out dessert and coffee.
"Ash, what did you do?" Ellen questioned softly when he circled around closer to the bar.
Ash shrugged self-deprecatingly. "You know… just a little holiday cheer."
By the time everyone had gathered back around the television, the boys had found a place to stay for the night; they'd been very close to their destination by the time the Roadhouse had tuned in. Sam went into the motel office to arrange a room, and Dean got out in order to organize some things in the trunk.
"Didja see that? What did he put in his pocket?" Bobby pointed at the screen. Dean allowed himself a small smile which he quickly hid as Sam returned.
"Sneaky!" John chuckled. "I know that look. He's got something planned."
Sam got back in the car and Dean drove it to a spot closer to their room. Dean was the first to grab a duffel from the back and haul it into the room leaving Sam alone outside long enough to hide something of his own in his jacket. Mary laughed. "Sam did it too!" She turned and looked over at Ash. "Is it Christmas down there too, right?"
Speculation soon began. What could the boys have for one another that was small enough for them to hide in pockets and jackets? That started John, Bobby and Jim rolling on stories of Christmases past that had the group laughing and "aww-ing" at the antics of the young Winchesters. As tales were shared above, the boys moved through their familiar routines below with occasional commentary from the heavenly hosts.
John noted with pride Dean's efficiency at salting the windows and doors. Jim applauded Sam's Latin pronunciation as he carved a sigil into the doorframe and placed a spell of protection on the room. Mary voiced some motherly concern about Dean's food choices while Ellen nodded sympathetically.
They boys made themselves a "special" dinner (which for Dean involved more pie than anything else) and watched a football game. By mutual, unspoken agreement it was a real night off – Sam wasn't surfing the web doing research and Dean wasn't perusing the newspaper looking for a job. They talked about the game, the commercials and the movies Dean flipped around too when the commercials no longer held his attention. Sam laughed at his ADD with the remote control and Dean explained it away by declaring he was broadening his horizons.
On a return trip from the fridge to get more beer, Dean paused and offered Sam the second beer in his hand. When Sam reached up to accept the drink, Dean dropped what he had hidden away in his pocket into Sam's lap. When he came around to the other end of the couch and dropped himself back into his seat Dean looked over and said, "Merry Christmas, Sammy."
Sam hunched forward on the couch and placed the unopened beer on the edge of the table. He turned the unopened box over in his hands. Then he rolled his eyes at himself, reached into his pocket and tossed the present he had squirreled away over toward Dean. Dean couldn't help grinning like a kid.
"Merry Christmas, Dean."
Jo leaned forward on the couch she shared with her parents and squinted. "What did they get? Is it the same thing?"
Apparently Dean was thinking the same thing and looked at his box speculatively. Sam came to the conclusion at the same time. "No way," Dean stated.
Sam shook the box in his hand slightly. "I'm thinking…way."
At the same time the boys unwrapped the small boxes and opened them. Dean dumped the contents into his open palm; Sam plucked the gift out more cautiously and held it up in the light. Each Winchester had a mutely glowing silver ring.
"Great minds and all that," Dean mused.
"The silversmith at that haunted Ren Faire in San Francisco?" Sam asked.
Dean shrugged. "The guy had some skills…and apparently he was a pretty good salesman too."
Jim leaned forward like Jo had before. "That's some nice craftsmanship," he commented. "Do you see the sigils and protections he worked in there?"
"You always did have a good eye for metalwork, Jim," Bobby noted.
Dean slipped the ring on his right hand. "'s been a while since I wore a ring." He looked down at his hand appreciatively. "Looks good. Thanks Sammy."
Sam slid his ring on as well. "Good fit. That guy knew what he was doing."
What the younger Winchesters couldn't see, that their heavenly watchers could, was how the glow from the rings increased in intensity when both of the brothers put on their rings. It was clear to the viewers that white magic was involved and there was a strong protective element to the jewelry. It was a good thing for that silversmith too; otherwise he would've found his ass to be seriously haunted.
A silence that wasn't entirely comfortable settled on the motel room. Sam picked up his beer bottle and rolled it between his hands. Bobby frowned, knowing that tell for what it was. John knew too and rubbed his hand down his face in a gesture that was reminiscent of Dean.
Sam sighed and spoke. "Dean?"
"Not tonight Sam." Dean glanced over to take the sting out of his words. "We're taking the night off…from everything." Dean waited until Sam looked up and caught his eye. "We're here, nothing's trying to kill us…right now," he amended. "And it's Christmas. Peace on Earth and all that."
"Peace on Earth…" Sam repeated.
Dean nodded, and then Sam did as well. Sam picked up his beer and tipped it in Dean's direction. Dean raised his as well. They both turned their attention back to the TV. There was a world of unspoken weight between them, but for the moment it they could put it down.
As the boys grew silent, so too did the Roadhouse. Heavenly chatter subsided as each person was lost in his or her own thoughts. Ash looked around at the assembled guests and wondered if he'd made a mistake; suddenly everyone looked so sad. Then, between one moment and the next, Pastor Jim was gone. Ash blinked and sat straight up in his chair; had the light started to fade too? No one else seemed to notice.
Ash looked over to confer with the Harvelles. The three of them had taken up residence on a couch. Jo had her feet tucked up under her as she leaned into Ellen, but the hand on her free side was holding Bill's. Bill had an arm around Jo's shoulders reaching across with his hand on Ellen's neck. Ellen wasn't watching the TV as much as she was watching Mary and John. As she turned her face to turn and kiss Jo's blonde head, the entire Harvelle family faded away as well.
Huh. This was not how Ash expected the evening to end, but it wasn't entirely outside the realm of possibility. Any slice of heaven that was "man made" like the bubble Ash had created as opposed to the creation of the divine had its limits. It was difficult to calculate the weight of a soul, let alone nine souls, particularly when they carried heavy emotions. It looked like this particular portion of paradise had reached its limit and as people's thoughts turned away from Sam and Dean, they were transported back to their own heavenly acre.
Rufus tuned in to what was going on when the Harvelles vanished. He levered himself out of the armchair he occupied and hastened over to the bar. He grabbed a bottle of liquor and headed for the door. "You throw a good party, son. You keep me on the invite list for next year."
Then Rufus changed his course and returned to the viewing area. He clasped Bobby on the shoulder and raised the bottle in a "you coming with me?" gesture.
Bobby rubbed his eyes and pushed himself out of his chair. He took a long last look at the TV. "Still acting like idjits." he whispered to no one in particular. Then Bobby walked over to where Ash was seated and held out his hand. "Thanks for this, Ash."
Ash shook the proffered hand and nodded. Bobby walked over to where Rufus was waiting. He pointed to the bottle in Rufus' hand. "You drivin'? 'Cause I'm drinkin." They faded out of Ash's heaven before Rufus could respond.
By the time the majority of the heavenly guests had departed leaving only their parents behind, the Winchester boys were settling in for the night; time was funny that way. The lack of action of the screen didn't cause Mary or John to lose interest at all. Mary was tucked up on the couch with John similar to the way Jo had been sitting with Ellen. Together they spoke in low voices about their sons as they watched them fall asleep.
The lights all around the Roadhouse had dimmed, and those who were left sat in the glow of the television. But unlike the harsh shine of an ordinary television, the diffuse light made it look like John and Mary really were sitting in front of a dying fire. Or maybe it was a glow that the two of them generated; it was hard to tell.
Ash was finding it increasingly difficult to stay focused and remain awake; and he wanted to in order to keep the moment going for Mary and John. The execution of his Christmas plan had been far more successful than he imagined it could. He was already full of ideas for future gatherings; maybe he could figure out a way it wouldn't take so much out of him next time.
From somewhere in the Roadhouse-that-was a jukebox began to softly play Perry Como singing a Christmas tune. Oh there's no place like home for the holidays ~ for no matter how far away you roam ~ when you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze ~ for the holidays you can't beat home sweet home.
Ash sighed contentedly as he drifted to sleep. Next year…fireworks.