** UPDATED 11/29/13. See ENDING NOTES **
Notes: Thanks so much for reading. If you like my writing, please consider checking out my original novel (available in paperback and ebook versions). Links for the novel (Amazon and Barnes & Noble) are on my profile page. My second novel will be released in December 2013. Links for it will also be on my profile page.
Thanks again to all those who reviewed!
Mary's next check in with the house let her know a lot was going on. Bobby had slipped into the hospital file room at some point and lifted Dean's x-rays. He also let her know, without providing any specifics, that the bill got taken care of as well. Hunters were an unlawful bunch for certain, but the services they provided free of charge offset any expenses they sidestepped. While Dean's surgery was not connected to hunting in anyway, Mary felt no remorse about someone getting into the computer system and erasing their bill. She and her parents had done more than enough to earn this reprieve. She'd find some way to explain it to John when he questioned why they never got billed for emergency surgery and a hospital stay. She thought this time he might not even gripe about not having to pay their debt. After all, they were in the process of pulling together the means to set up a home again.
As for her discussion with John (after reporting Dean's status as anxious but improving), her husband let her know his fears that if Sam was kept from his brother much longer, their youngest would become a flight risk. Bobby caught the kid measuring the length of bed sheets and doing calculations. The hunter suspected the boy was creating an escape kit to include a homemade rope to rappelle out of his window. Therefore, Mary's report that Dean was awake and ready for visitors was a tremendous relief.
Just after the lunch hour, the sound of feet pounding on the tiles filled the hallway, and a skinny boy with floppy, brown hair skidded into view in the doorway of Dean's room. Sam raced inside and prepared to launch himself at Dean's bed but was halted by Mary, who stood up quickly and blocked his tackle.
"Okay, a few rules you have to obey if you want to see Dean," she said, as Sam peeked around her and waved manically at Dean while sporting a grin worthy of a toothpaste commercial. "No pushing, no wrestling, no poking, no hard contact of any kind. Your brother has a lot of stitches and he's sore, no matter what he says. So be very, very gentle, okay?"
Sam nodded then very precisely, almost comically slow, climbed into the bed and put his arms gingerly around his brother and rested his head on Dean's shoulder.
"I'm glad you're getting better," Sam said in small, shaking voice. "I missed you."
"Missed you too, Sammy, now stop being such a girl," Dean said returning the hug with one arm. "Hey, I didn't make you sick, did I?"
"Nope," Sam shook his head. "They said I'm not sick at all so that's why I could come see you. Does it hurt a lot where they cut your guts open?"
Mary hung her head at the discussion but said nothing. Boys, she reminded herself, liked gross things. Dean, as a toddler, had marveled at and had often handed her worms that died and dried up after crawling on the sidewalk at their house. Dead and desiccated things did not bother her, but she still knew it was considered bad form to find them entertaining. The Winchesters would simply need to take lessons in appropriate conversation topics, yet another task for the summer.
"Nah," Dean lied and winced horribly as he stifled a cough. "Barely felt it at all."
"Dean, are you okay?" Mary asked, seeing the tears in his eyes.
He nodded, but Sam was on the job quickly.
"I can help," Sam insisted and reached forward to the small cup of water on the tray table.
Dean looked mortified as Sam held the cup to his lips and tipped it slightly so Dean could drink from it. Mary watched the act, touched by Sam's compassion and gentleness, but she also spotted in Dean's face an expression of rebellion against his obvious vulnerability. As he took a mouthful of water, Mary caught the hint of a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Dean, do not spit that at Sam," Mary said sternly pointing. Sam looked shocked then turned a sour face to his brother. "I said no messing around just yet. You heard me tell Sam he can't roughhouse and that goes for you, too."
Dean swallowed loudly and rolled his eyes, making Sam laugh. As the boys sat sedately on the bed, Sam told Dean everything he had missed, which seemed like a lot to Mary considering their world had been on pause since Dean went to the hospital. Sam, however, was full of details involving maps and distances and some strategy he developed. This, she realized, was part of his elusive 'plan.' What the plan precisely was for was still unclear, but Dean seemed to understand and nodded approvingly as he fought to keep his eyes open to listen to his brother.
John arrived with Bobby in tow a few seconds later explaining Sam sprinted away from them as soon as they got off the elevator. Dean spotted them. He nodded at John hesitantly, mostly out of confused feelings of regret and an urge not to seem weak, then smiled at Bobby beckoning him forward. Mary waved John into the hall.
"How's he doing?" John asked in a low voice.
"Still pretty weak and very tired, which is to be expected, but he just attempted to use himself as a supersoaker on Sam," Mary sighed, her fatigue wearing her patience thin. "I'm thinking we'll need a straight jacket or tranquilizers to keep him still while he heals."
John chuckled, knowing she wasn't kidding but figuring if that was their greatest worry then he would take it without complaint.
"Well, not to add to your worries, but on the way here Sam let me know Dean was scamming some high school girl in Chicago, so that's where he probably picked up mono," John shook his head.
Mary nodded and dismissed that as old news.
"Yeah, he was proud to tell me about it:16-year-old in a Catholic school girl cheerleading uniform," she said then soured as her husband grinned. "Stop being proud, John. He's like this at 14. We need to patrol and monitor our junior Lothario in there from now on. I was a 16-year-old girl once. Let me remind of you something: They have fathers."
John grimaced then nodded, recalling that fact from his own experience. He ran his hand carelessly over his face and told himself to get used to more gray hair appearing shortly. Again, it was a sacrifice he was more than happy to make.
"So he's girl crazy?" he wondered.
"No, he's… girl-educated," Mary sighed running her hands through her hair. "I get the feeling they chase him, not the other way around. He seems to know it and, maybe, expect it. Again, John, stop smirking. In two years, he's going to want a car and be strutting down the halls of the high school without either of us there to restrict his number of admirers or what he does with them."
"Rough life for him," John surmised. "Now, when you say 'we', am I to take it that this means you're looking favorably on my suggestion?"
Mary looked over her shoulder at her two boys sitting in the bed, talking to Bobby as though they had known him their entire lives. They were certainly comfortable around him, and he seemed to understand them as though he had been around kids forever.
"I think the universe gave us a second chance, and I would be a damned fool to let it pass," she said. "You and I, though, we have to…"
"Figure out what 'you and I' actually means now, yeah," he nodded. "One upheaval at a time, right? First, objective, get him well enough to leave the hospital."
"Second, find a place to live," she sighed. "They might like it there, but we can't stay at Bobby's forever."
"He got a line on a house a mile down the road from him," John said. "Says it was originally a small Catholic church that never had much of a parish so it closed, but it's still technically on hallowed ground. I figured that would meet with your approval—and Bobby said the county records show no burials on the property either. I took a look at the place, and as a dwelling, it's not too bad. It needs a little work, and we don't exactly have a line of credit, but Bobby knows the owner, a Mr. Smith, since their properties abut each other. He introduced me to the guy."
"And?" Mary asked.
"Well, I don't like him much as a person," John shrugged. "Short guy with little man's disease, I guess. He sort struts acts like he's god's gift or something. Laughs at his own jokes, that kind of blowhard."
Mary rolled her eyes. In her experience, the only men who had an issue with that kind of behavior were those who felt it was infringing on their own territory. But she said nothing. John certainly didn't suffer in the height category, and joking wasn't something that came naturally to him, but if Mr. Smith wasn't going to be living with them, they didn't need to like him.
"But he's willing to help us out," John relented. "He's offered a rent-to-own deal if we agree to fix the place up. It's not huge, but it's got two floors, three bedrooms—all a little small—but it's quiet there, and Bobby says it's a safe place. Kitchen's pretty outdated and the roof needs replacing this summer, but I can take care of that. Bobby said he'll watch Sam if you want to go take a look while I stay with Dean this evening."
Mary shook her head stating she didn't need reassurance; she was sold. If Bobby said it was safe, that was good enough for her. Considering the hovels she'd lived in during recent years, any place with running water or something you could say resembled a kitchen was a huge step up.
"Good," John smiled guiltily, "because I already signed papers, and Sam went with me to look at it again this morning. He's placed dibs on a room, which apparently he wants to paint orange."
Mary blinked at the color choice. She was not going to argue. If orange made the boy happy, then he could have a citrus room.
"He's also picked out a spot for a garden," John informed her with a dry chuckle. "He said he's never had a yard, and he wants to grow a Christmas tree—but we can't cut it down, ever; it just has to grow in the yard. He also wants to grow a tomato. Just one, apparently, but he's very interested in planting it."
Mary smiled and shook her head. A garden? That was something she did not have in Lawrence. She didn't have time. Her boys were too young and took up too much time to tend a garden. Well, she decided, if Sammy wanted to grow a forest and have a garden then that would be her project with him. They'd plant a wall of pine trees and grow him the biggest heirloom tomato possible. What she knew so far of her eldest, she couldn't see Dean working on a green thumb, but she would find something to do with him, maybe build on his martial arts training (she had a few moves of her own) and workout with him. Learning Kenpo Karate from his mother would certainly leave him speechless. John, she knew, had plans for his own projects with his sons. He had mentioned rebuilding his Impala to its 'proper' condition and hoped one (or both) of the boys would be interested in helping him.
"So?" John asked expectantly.
"So it sounds like Sammy gets a garden," she said and offered her husband an uncomplicated smile.
As she did, she noticed, for the first time since the boys dropped back into their lives, that John was looking at her in a way she had not seen in years—since their earliest days of dating, in fact. Again, the question of how she and John were going to proceed with each other hung on the air. Before either could remark on it further, they were summoned back into the room with a more urgent need.
"Hey, Mom," Sam called. "Dean and I need, uh, cheeseburgers and strawberry milkshakes."
"Sam," Dean groaned and glared.
"What?" Sam turned and shrugged. "That's what you said to say." Dean grumbled and spoke under his breath. "Oh, I mean, since Dean can't have anything but crappy hospital food, I want a cheeseburger and a strawberry milkshake. And I want to eat it here."
Dean dropped his head back on his pillows and shook his head as he closed his eyes.
"Sam, you and me," Dean grumbled, "we need to work on our communication. Dude, we really should be better at this by now."
* EPILOGUE *
"Enough," Mary said firmly as she stopped the car. "Sam, show Dean where you planted your garden. Dean, you've been out of the hospital for two weeks. You are more than capable of standing up and walking around during the day. The doctor did not order you to remain in bed or on the couch all day, every day. And he certainly never said you needed a hammock to heal properly. I'm certain I would remember him saying that."
Dean scoffed and shook his head in a definite and calculated fashion.
"Spoken like someone who has the benefit of not missing a major organ," he replied in a forcefully beleaguered voice.
"You're doing fine," she told him flatly. "Of course, if you truly are suffering, we can go back to the hospital and get you hooked up to IVs and have a catheter put back in."
He scowled and climbed out of the car, moving slower than he would like but certainly not at the death's door pace he had opted for earlier that morning. Sam raced around the car to meet him and start dragging him to the backyard. Dean, however, paused and leaned back into the car to speak to her.
"Hey Mom," he said, "you know if this whole mother/housewife thing you've got going ever gets boring, you've got potential as a prison warden. I've seen 'Cool Hand Luke' three times. You could run a southern chain gang."
He smirked and tapped the top of the car then turned his back on her, leaning on the vehicle while Sam tugged on his arm trying to pull him forward. Mary took a deep breath; it was already nearly 87 degrees and it was barely 8 a.m. Temperatures were going to soar through the day and she did not want to add tempers to that. She climbed out of the car and walked to her oldest son's side. She placed her arm around his shoulders and offered him frank smile.
"Then as you've seen the movie so many times, you'll understand this," she said. "What we've got here is failure to communicate." Dean bit his lip to keep from laughing as she nudged him off the car in the direction of his brother. "Now, I told you go to see your brother's garden."
"Yeah, hurry up," Sam grinned and pulled Dean forward like a sled dog hauling its rig.
"Okay," Dean said over his shoulder toward Mary. "I'll be in the back with the Jolly Green Giant here, but if I suddenly get…"
"Dean," Mary commanded. "Go."
Dean plodded around the house with Sam, beginning a slew of movie quotes—Mary considered it a victory that none that she heard needed a censor.
She entered the house to note the smell of fresh paint. John had been at the house late the night before and out the door of Bobby's at dawn to finish several projects at the new house. Bobby wasn't in any rush for them to leave, but John felt the sooner they were living under their own roof the sooner they could get on with their lives. Mary had made her peace with the idea that Dean would likely make himself a regular visitor at the salvage yard. She had Bobby's promise he would not let the boy know about his side business of putting down monsters and ghosts or helping other hunters to do so.
"Hello?" Mary called as she made her way toward the kitchen—the main project as John had been upgrading the plumbing.
"In here," he called from that room.
Mary crossed the threshold and was impressed by the changes a little paint and a few repairs could make. John was crawling out from under the sink and wiping the pipe grease from his hands. He tested the faucet and raised his hands in victory as he flipped a switch on the wall and a soft grinding noise filled the air.
"Congratulations, Mary Winchester," he said proudly. "You are the proud owner of a working garbage disposal. Where are the boys?"
"Sam's in the garden," she said pointing out the window where both could be seen in the back. "Dean is in prison."
John shook his head and chuckled. Sam was showing his brother, in a very animated fashion, the progress of his plants. Dean looked on with a puzzled but engaged expression nodding as he listened to the little boy talk.
"They packed for the big move?" John asked.
Packing was a bit of a joke. They owned about a bag of stuff each and could both pack and move in about 15 minutes time. Less, John suspected, if Dean chose to pack his bag without bitching or complaining about 'phantom spleen pain'—a new ailment he had invented earlier in the week to get out of doing anything that resembled work or anything else that he wanted to avoid.
"I think so, but before we move in, Sam wants to know some history about the place," Mary announced. "Oh, and Dean thinks he should be excused from enrolling in school next month."
"Okay, Sam I get," John nodded. "New home, old building, that's simple curiosity. What's Dean's gripe about school have to do with the house?"
John paused, patiently awaiting what was sure to be a convoluted and spectacularly creative excuse devised by his oldest. The teenager's guile seemed to know no bounds.
"I'm not sure I follow his logic either, but according to Dean, the important thing is that he does," Mary smirked. "He also let me know on the way over here that after much consideration, he feels that he should get special consideration when he does go to school. I believe his exact words were 'expecting me to get up at the same time as a spleen-a-fied person is unfair.' Then there was a bit of a rant about discrimination or oppression. I was complimented on my skills as a prison guard, and then I think he was about to break into a verse of 'let my people go' so I made Sam drag him out back to see how the garden is coming along."
"Wait, spleen-a-fied?" John repeated then pinched the space between his eyebrows. "He's inventing words now?"
"Brace yourself, Johnny," Mary nodded and squeezed his arm. "You should have expected this with the whole syndrome/debilitating condition that he's cooking up."
John groaned then rubbed the knot that quickly formed in his neck.
"I thought the loss of his spleen was something 'deeply personal' that he didn't want to discuss because he was grieving and needed a new mountain bike to recover properly," John remarked. "That's the speech I got the other day anyway."
"Oh, that's still out there, too," she agreed and nodded vigorously. "He also claims to have done some research—without going to a library or opening at a single book mind you—and feels he is an expert in the lingering effects experienced by the 'traumatically de-spleened.'"
John mouthed the words 'de-spleened' and 'expert.' He raked his hand through his hair as he nodded and sighed wearily.
His patience level with his oldest had grown immensely; part of the boy's charm, John learned, were his over the top ideas and antics. The difficult thing for John was figuring out where to draw the line with Dean on his nonstop attempts to cajole, coax, and talk his way into or out of everything from follow up doctor appointments to making his bed. John and Mary were in agreement (as was Bobby) that Dean's goal was still to push their buttons, but phase two of this parental boot camp the teen was running was more to figure out how much he could get away with before there were consequences. Setting his bookends, Bobby called it (often while grinning either his approval at the boy's cheek or at John and Mary's exasperation).
These tactics were easier to swallow than his previous attempts to sabotage their efforts to put their family back together, but it could still be tiring. Dealing with a teenager, they learned, was more exhausting than either recalled a toddler or an infant ever being. It didn't help that the teen often found an ally in his little brother, who seemed to know Dean was full of it most of the time but supported his older brother all the same. Sam seemed to enjoy his brother's ploys as though they were his own private form of entertainment. It certainly did seem sometimes as if Dean was doing half of it just to make Sam smile. Which, given their closeness, might have been partially true. In fact, John suspected the two actually cooked up some of the ideas together. His mind flashed back to all those years ago when his oldest adopted his baby brother as a sidekick. Thoughts of Batman and Robin filled John's mind.
"When are we going to put the spleen to rest?" John wondered as he sighed wearily.
He did not belittle his son's injury or recovery, but there was no reason to grieve the organ like it was a beloved family member. Not that he or Mary could get Dean to agree.
"Not soon enough," Mary consoled as she continued to convey her oldest son's latest philosophy with the proper level of melodrama in her tone. "Dean claims the spleen is sort of a super organ that gives those of us with one an edge, like having special powers. Now that he doesn't have one, he believes he should be afforded certain privileges due to his 'handicap' and should get to use some special rules to help level this unfair playing field."
She nodded with a forced and exasperated grin to show John she shared her husband's frustrated feelings, but they were agreed they would outlast their determined teenager on this one.
"Okay, but has he explained yet how not having a spleen prevents him from eating green beans?" John wondered, citing one of the kid's recent objections.
"I asked that last night," Mary offered, her flat and phony smile continuing. "The response was, 'If you have to ask, obviously you'll never understand, Mom.' So, tag, you're it. He's yours for the rest of the day, Daddy. Good luck."
John groaned at the thought, not because he did not want to spend time with his son, but because it was going to be one of those afternoons. For being a kid who barely spoke 10 words when they first met him again, Dean was proving to be a very loud young man. He liked to play the radio loud; he sang along with it equally loud; he would shout over the volume to talk with you rather than turn it down to a reasonable level. Typical teenage behavior it seemed, but still a huge adjustment for two people who had led quiet and lonely lives until a month earlier.
John shook his head. In general, Dean's madcap days were oddly difficult for John because as a parent he needed to keep order and control with the boy; as a person who happened to think the kid was sometimes nearly as funny as Dean thought he was, it was tricky to maintain a mantel of authority. John also now fully understood what all Dean's past teachers meant when they reported that he was capable and creative but did not apply himself appropriately. It was, John realized, going to be a long school year.
"So these special rules, he's going to write them himself no doubt," John ventured. Mary nodded. John paused and shook his head. "Wait. Isn't this the same argument he gave us the Easter before Sam was born, when he knocked out that baby tooth after he fell on the steps?"
Mary cocked her head to the side and strained her memory. She pressed a hand to her mouth as she began to laugh as the incident in question came back to her.
"That's right," she chuckled. "He should be able to eat more Easter candy…"
"Because having less teeth meant he would eat slower," John finished then groaned. "I don't care what career he chooses, but dodges like this make he think he'll become a lawyer."
"Too many rules for him to follow," Mary shook her head. "I'm worried about him being a politician. Anything goes with them. Of course, if you ask him, as I foolishly did this morning, he'll tell you he wants to take over the Playboy Mansion. Frankly, that worries me, too, so have a talk with him about women not being objects please."
Both looked at each other with stern expressions that quickly crumbled into a round of chuckles. As John looked at her, he noted that so much of the hardness in her eyes had faded. She smiled again and appeared much younger than she had in years. John, too, felt more at ease. While he could never forget the years they lost and the pain he felt during them, he did not feel guilty or any sense of apprehension with simply enjoying what they had now. They were a family again. Granted, things were still a little unsettled between he and Mary.
They had been living under the same roof at Bobby's since early June. They now were moving into their new home. There were just three bedrooms in it, and while John did offer to remain on the couch, Mary said there was no need. Precisely what sharing the same sleeping quarters meant, he did not know.
Unfortunately, Sam overheard that discussion and did what he still did so often: Ran to Dean about it.
Dean, feeling even more comfortable in his blossoming relationship with his parents, made it a point to let John and Mary know that he had no issue with their proposed sleeping arrangements. However, he wanted them to keep in a few things in mind: The house was small; the walls were thin; he liked quiet when he slept; Sam was used to being the baby of the family; and Dean had no interest in another little brother or a little sister. If they could keep from reproducing again, he did not have any issue with them having whatever level of physical contact they desired.
That cheeky comment earned the boy a several week long grounding, but what could you do to a kid who was already on orders for bed rest and couldn't be given any strenuous chores because of it?
Mary found something: She ordered him to read.
She went to the library and pulled several classics she wanted him to finish before the end of the summer. He grumbled and bitched anytime he was reminded of the assignment, but Sam told John in confidence that Dean had already finished two of the three books and was simply going slow thru the third (Moby Dick) because he kind of liked it but would never admit it.
As John mused about the obtuse evolution of the relationship between he and Mary and their sons (and the boys with each other), he felt certain they had come light-years since Dean's stint in the hospital. The boys were as close as ever, but there was less of a resistance to anyone else infringing on their world. Sam was able to leave Dean's eyesight without there being a meltdown from either boy. Dean had begun asking to accompany Mary on her trips into town. At first, John thought it was sweet that Dean wanted to spend more time with her. Mary dashed that theory when she found out there was a pretty girl about their son's age who hung out at a coffee shop on Main Street during the day.
"You ready for this?" John asked her. "I mean settling in here? I know that whatever Bobby's been looking into about… how all this happened is on your mind."
"It's a case, John," she admitted. "What happened to our sons is definitely a case, but the facts of it, the center of it, seems to be the boys. So wherever they are is where I need to be. So far, Bobby hasn't turned up anything demonic in what we know. Even those sigils in Dean's ribs…"
"Sam's too," John reminded her.
They had Sam x-rayed as well—a fun night escapade with Bobby and a radiology tech with a half-truth to Sam that they needed the picture to help understand Dean's special marks. Dean was oddly quiet about the whole thing. He grew withdrawn whenever discussion of their disappearance came up. Both John and Mary wondered if his memory was churning up things long forgotten, but so far he wasn't saying. Both parents felt it best to let that go for now.
"Bobby thinks the symbols might be in a language called Enochian," she revealed. "There's nearly no information on them except in some ancient Hebrew texts. They seem to be associated with protection from demons and pretty much anything magical or supernatural. That explains why we could never find the boys with spells or scrying. I'm not ready to let this drop, but it's as if someone did this to protect them."
John opened his mouth to object. How leaving them a thousand miles from their home and possibly wiping out Dean's memory of his last name, address and phone number was protecting the boys he could not understand. He was prepared to state this when there was an unexpected knock on the door.
"Well, hidey-ho, neighbors," the voice of Mr. Smith, the home's current owner, called as he entered. He made his way down the hall to the kitchen. "Say, the old place is looking good. Careful now, fix it up too much and I'll think I'm not charging you enough."
Smith laughed at his own joke confidently as John bit his tongue. He had a visceral reaction to the short, blond man whenever they met. There was an odd, radiating arrogance around him. He wasn't the only one who felt it. John suspected Dean wasn't all that keen on the guy either. John had noticed the way his son stared at the man and fell suspiciously silent around him. When John questioned his son about it, Dean merely shrugged and said the guy just 'seemed like a dick.' While John was inclined to agree, he did scold Dean for phrasing his opinion in that way.
Mary, however, took no issue with the man. Bobby vouched for him, having known him for years as a neighboring property owner. The man was gone much of the time and not at all nosy about any of the odd things that might be occurring at the salvage yard. That was enough to make John a little leery, but Bobby swore he had checked the man out completely. The guy was a little smug but otherwise harmless.
"We already have deal," Mary reminded him with a smile, a flirty type of grin that Smith always responded to, John noted. He silently thanked his wife for her vastly more advanced people skills.
"The weather looks clear for the rest of the week so we're gonna get a new coat of paint on it next," John offered, joining the conversation.
"That's a lot of work," Smith remarked with a chuckle. "Which is something I try to avoid."
His loud laugh grated on John, but he again kept his cool. The guy was doing them a huge favor letting them rent the place at a reasonable price and giving them the option to buy if they could turn their finances around enough to secure a loan. John had just landed a job at a garage in town. Mary was hired part-time at a private library in town, which came with the benefit of getting Sam into all of their enrichment programs for free. It was a small perk, but it would keep Sam under watchful eyes after school and leave Dean free to behave more like a normal high school freshman (something both John and Mary were dreading on some level) rather than a caretaker for his little brother.
"The boys are going to help with the painting," Mary added. "Well, that's the plan anyway. Our youngest is excited and thinks it sounds fun."
"What about your other boy?" Smith asked knowingly.
"He's convinced he's being used as slave labor," John offered. "And he's right. Not that he'll be doing much still."
"Right, he's still getting back on his feet, isn't he," Smith chuckled. "That's good to hear. Bobby was worried about him. Well, I don't want to hold you up any, and I need to get going. I was just stopping by to see how you were getting on. I am heading out of town again, but if you run into any trouble with the old place, just give that number I gave you a call. I'll be here in a flash."
He chuckled and winked. Mary smiled but John gave him an odd and painful expression that was his best attempt at a smile.
"Oh, one more thing before you go," Mary stopped him. "My son, Sam, had a question. Back when this was an operating church, what was it called? What was the name of the parish?"
"Sam, huh, well that figures," Smith paused and nodded. "It was called St. Gabriel's."
"Gabriel?" John repeated and cast his eyes at his wife.
"Yes," Smith continued with a wide, almost smarmy or self-satisfied grin. "Fascinating character, Gabriel—handsome, too. If you believe in that kind of stuff, anyway. The books are a little vague on whether the Gabe'ster is an archangel or not, but considering his acts, it seems pretty clear to most scholars that he is. Nice gig, Messenger of God, huh? Makes sense the Big Guy wouldn't send some slouch to deliver His word, right? He'd send the one archangel who seemed to like mankind the most. In the texts, Gabriel doesn't show the righteousness of other angels and asks only to never be prayed to because he is but an angel and servant of the Lord. Now, Lucifer, he spoiled the soup for everyone. And, of course, Michael and Raphael get better billing—prima donnas, if you ask me. Any who, that's the skinny on the old namesake here."
Crickets hummed in the meadow and swallows and finches swooped through the air. Sam pointed excitedly toward a shrub swearing he saw humming birds in it. Dean swore they were mosquitoes on steroids. They started their argument as they crossed the yard then stopped as Dean paused, seeing their landlord stepping out of the house.
"Oh crap," Dean groaned as he saw the short man exiting the house. "Dickhead alert."
Sam nudged his brother forward and begged him with his eyes to be nice and behave.
"Well, if it isn't the gruesome twosome," Smith crowed. "Bonnie and Clyde, Frick and Frack, Heckle and Jeckle, Wang and Chung.…"
"Oh my god is he still talking," Dean muttered under his breath and winced slightly as Sam stomped hard on his toe. He then spoke more loudly. "Hi."
"So, settling in boys?" Smith asked. "Sounds like you've got a busy schedule for the rest of your vacation."
"Yeah," Dean scoffed. "Chain gang summer camp with Attila the Marine. Awesome."
"Trust me kid, life could be worse for you—way worse," Smith assured him with a firm nod emphasizing his words. "You got it pretty good here. Not a bad spot, neighbors are pretty nice, and you got your family. Never underestimate that. Your mom and dad aren't so bad. Me, I grew up without a mom and talk about a demanding father. Wow. My brothers and I had to be perfect—no room for mistakes. Dad wasn't what you'd call big on praise or affection for his sons, but I learned something after years of being frustrated and angry about all the orders and the family politics: He had reasons and was right about a lot of stuff. Now, I'm not saying that's always the case, but you might what to keep that in mind. Well boys, hate to break your hearts, but I gotta go."
Sam and Dean nodded politely and turned back toward the house. Sam quickly returned to his claim that they had a horde of humming birds and wondered if they could catch one so he could keep it as a pet.
"We don't need a pet, Sammy," Dean chided, ruffling his hair. "We've got you."
Sam stepped away, reminding himself he couldn't shove Dean yet (even thought he deserved it). Instead, he turned again to look at his humming bird enclave then looked curiously around the yard. It was empty.
"Hey, Dean," Sam called, making his brother turn around. "Where did Mr. Smith go?"
"Washington?" Dean quipped but his brother offered him a blank expression. "It's a movie, Sam. I was making a joke. Never mind."
He turned and looked down the driveway toward the road then across the meadow that led to the stream that ran between the salvage yard and the old church property. No car was visible, and no one was on foot in either direction.
"I don't know," he shrugged unconcerned as he draped an arm over his brother's shoulders. "Maybe he fell in a ditch. Forget about him. Come on. We got work to do."
Sam scrunched up his face and swept the area with his eyes one last time. Then shook his head as he turned his attention back to his brother and the plan they discussed in the garden.
"You really think Mom and Dad will let us camp in the backyard?" Sam asked bouncing eagerly beside his brother.
"Sure," Dean nodded.
"You sure your lack of a spleen won't make you incapable or too weak to sleep on the ground?" Sam teased. "If you keep complaining today, Mom said she would send you back to the hospital."
"Not a chance," Dean shook his head confidently as they approached the front door. "Just stick to the plan. We're just gonna annoy them enough that they want us out of the house but not so much that they get pissed and ground us. It'll work. Trust me, Sammy."
Sam laughed as he trotted up the stairs. Dean was getting good at figuring out what their parents would let them do without making them mad. Sam figured some of it was the adults getting used to being around kids again; some of it was due to Dean letting them act like parents without grumbling too much. Sam knew another part of that was also because Dean was still getting better from his operation. Sam didn't know how much longer his brother could milk his 'lost spleen' campaign (as Dean referred to it), but Sam was enjoying it while it lasted and wondered what Dean would use next on their parents once he was fully healed.
"You said you wanted to go camping, so we're going camping," Dean continued. "Just don't crawl in my sleeping bag if you get scared by a moth. After all, you're the one with the spleen to fight it off, not me."
In the front yard, invisible to the Winchesters, stood the image of "Mr. Smith", his wings invisible but the aura of his grace making even the grass stand up straighter and appear more vibrant. The Archangel Gabriel smiled and looked skyward.
"I know you're not mad at me," Gabriel said penitently yet confidently. "You could have swatted me down long ago to stop me, but You haven't. You knew I took them and that I hid those boys and why. You never once let Michael or his minions find them—same goes for any of Luci's pets. I ran away from home long ago, but when I did, I came here because I had listened to You. I walked among them and saw the potential in these creatures. I saw what You love about them—that thing that makes them better than us: their ability to choose and to try again after they make mistakes. But I also saw what could have happened to that family and so many other families. You created this place so their kind could flourish, so they could love and hate and live and die because of their own choices. Well, that family's destiny was never going to give them any real choice and that is contrary to Your will, to Your orders for all of my brothers. This was test for us. My brothers failed. I didn't. I just did what You ordered us to do, worship mankind. Because I did, I knew this family shouldn't have to pay the price just because our family needs a session with a shrink. Smite me now if I was wrong." He paused as tree frogs sang in the distance and butterflies floated on the air, then he grinned. "Thought so."
The long meadow grass was suddenly ruffled by a sudden warm breeze, and the Archangel Gabriel disappeared in the wind.
A/N:"IN THE WOODS" the sequel to "In The Wind" has now been published. Follow me as an author for updates.