“Come on, Baby. Come on,” Dean begged, rocking back and forth in his seat as if the motion would persuade his classic Impala to spring back into life and continue down the long hilly roads of backwoods Iowa. But instead, she sputtered twice and died feebly. Hand over hand, Dean cranked the powerless steering wheel until the car rolled to a stop along the snow-covered gravel shoulder.
“Son of a bitch!” For one quick moment, Dean stamped his feet like a child and flailed in his seat, punching the air around him; his curse reverberating loudly around the inside of the car.
In the back seat, Sam jerked out of his sleep in alarm, stammering and smacking his long arms against the black vinyl both to ward off the threat and pull himself up. “Whazzit? We stop for?” Sam’s brow furled, his eyebrows pulling high in confusion when he looked out the window at their tree-lined surroundings. “Dean?”
Dean’s shoulders pulled up tight around his ears; frustration and tension stretching across his back and then he moved. Putting his shoulder into the door, Dean burst out of the car and slammed the door behind him angrily.
“Goddammit!” He yelled into the trees, his back arching with the force of the primal scream. He flailed again, his fists flying through the air ineffectively before spinning around to glare at the cause of his outburst only to find his brother staring in wide-eyed disbelief through the window.
The corner of Dean’s lip lifted in a growl; not at Sam specifically – because Dean knew this wasn’t Sam’s fault – but at the situation in general.
That’s what they were; stranded. Out here— in the middle of nowhere—on a quiet highway, surrounded by snow-covered hills so high Dean’s ears popped and valleys so low that he felt the need to ride the brake on the way down; and not a town within twenty minutes big enough to provide both food and shelter. They were screwed blue and tattooed and for the first time in a long time, Dean was mad at his Baby.
Without a second glance, without saying a word, he turned – pivoting one boot in the frozen gravel – and stomped off up the road, back the way they’d come.
In the back seat, Sam’s eyes got even wider, his jaw dropping in shock. Scrambling for the handle, Sam clambered out of the car and raced to catch up with his brother; who, although he was travelling on road-weary legs, was moving at a really fast clip.
“So,” Sam began, jogging up alongside Dean. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and shrugged off the chill of the crisp December air. “Where we goin’?”
“I’m walkin’,” Dean answered tersely.
“I can see that. Where are you walkin’ to?”
“This way,” he said, flinging an arm in a general westerly direction.
Sam placed a hand out – palm open wide so as not to appear aggressive – across Dean’s chest and although his brother looked down at the offending hand with dark, stormy eyes, he did at least stop. Sam took a long deep breath, releasing it slowly and bowed his head.
“Dean,” he soothed, “it’s too cold for us to play twenty questions. Can we just skip to the part where you tell me what’s wrong and we fix it?”
Dean’s jaw clenched; his mouth circling around as if he was chewing over the answer, but when he turned to bark his displeasure at his brother, Sam was waiting for him with big, soft eyes that always managed to pull at Dean’s heart and Dean knew instantly that he was sunk; all the fight draining out of him.
“My fuckin’ car broke down,” Dean whined, inwardly cringing at the sound of his own voice. “It’s winter. We’re in the middle of nowhere, right before a holiday weekend, about an hour before the sun starts to set. We ain’t gonna be able to get anyone out here,” he whined again, his arms flapping uselessly at his side, “and I’m cold and I’m tired and my fuckin’ car broke down, Sammy.”
“No,” Dean sagged, all of his energy spent.
Sam’s lips pinched tightly and he drew them into his mouth, biting down from the inside; anything to keep himself from smirking or laughing or giving Dean any reason to slug him. It wasn’t funny. They were legitimately fucked, but Dean’s melodramatic reaction to their situation was…entertaining? Try as he might, though, Dean’s eyes still locked on Sam—specifically Sam’s dimples.
“You’re laughing at me,” Dean pouted.
“I’m not,” Sam promised earnestly, “I swear I’m not laughing. Come on,” Sam carefully took hold of Dean’s shoulder and steered him back around toward the Impala. “We’ll go back, you can take a look at her. I’ll try and get a wrecker on the phone. We’ll get this figured out. Just…don’t spaz out on me and step off one of these damn hills, alright?”
“Yeah, alright. But,” Dean pointed a sharp finger at Sam, “I’m not a spaz.”
“No, of course not,” Sam agreed firmly before he turned his head to hide his smile.
“Two weeks? You’re out of your damn mind.”
Dean seethed quietly, clutching his phone in one hand and the edge of the table in the other, pushing shaky breathes through his nose while the man on the other end of the phone line tried to explain to him how the holidays were making it particularly difficult to get the parts; the parts needed to get his Baby up and running.
Sam slid into the booth just in time to hear Dean make some disparaging remark to the man about making the baby Jesus cry, to which Sam let out a humorless laugh and let his head drop into his hand – elbow braced against the table top – and gripped his throbbing temples.
“Yeah, well, Merry freakin’ Christmas to you too,” Dean growled, slapping his phone shut. “Dick.”
“New best friend?”
“Shut up, Sam.” Dean dropped his phone onto the table and slid down into his seat, raking his hands up through the short spikes of hair, his fingers crossing and locking together there. His head dropped back and his frown deepened when he looked at his little brother who had dropped his own head down onto crossed arms atop the table. “Headache?” he asked.
Sam groaned a muffled answer, but lifted his head when he heard the familiar rattle of the Tylenol bottle. Dean had already poured four of the little red caplets out into his hand and was waiting for Sam to get with the program.
Chasing them down with a gulp of Dean’s milk, Sam wiped the back of his hand over his mouth and mumbled his thanks.
“The parts won’t be here ‘til the third,” Dean said quietly.
“I know,” Dean raised his hands in a ‘don’t kill the messenger’ offering. “S’what I said too. Something about the distribution center being on shut down until the 27th and then shipping time and all that other bullshit. S’not like I’ve got another choice. I could find a used distributor at a salvage, but how the Hell am I gonna get there? And everything else I had to order anyway. This fuckin’ blows and I don’t even get to enjoy it.”
“That’s not our only problem.”
Dean arched a brow as if to say, ‘what else could go wrong?’
“The tow company just called…my card was declined.”
“What?” Dean sat up fully, his eyes narrowing, suspicious. “You just got that card. You can’t have maxed it out already. What th’hell you charge to it?”
“Nothing, man. Honest.”
“We’ll just have to use mine, I guess,” Dean submitted.
Sam cringed, ducking his head a bit. “I tried that already.”
“Declined?!” Dean gaped in disbelief.
Several people in the diner turned to look in their direction, scowling their disapproval and the boys bowed their heads together in the booth.
“What do you mean it was declined?” Dean whispered harshly, leaning aggressively across the table.
“Don’t get pissed off at me, Dean.”
“I’m not,” he growled and then leveled his tone of voice, breathing deep and sagging back into his seat once again, “I’m not. I just…God. Whose dog did we kick for Karma to bite us in the ass this hard? No car, no cards, I’ve got $40 cash to my name and there’s no place to stay in…in…Bumfuck, Nowhere.”
“Boxholm,” Sam interjected.
“What?” Dean asked, looking befuddled.
“Boxholm. That’s the name of the town.”
Sam couldn’t help but chuckle as he rolled his eyes at his brother.
Sam had learned of a room for rent in town from some cutesy little high school girl at the local grocery store. She’d batted her eyes and adjusted herself until all he could see was cleavage and a jail cell in his future. He’d thanked her for the info and had run like Hell.
The Kirchmann residence was a two bedroom, one and a half story gingerbread cottage lying on the outskirts of town and its owner, Mrs. Anne Kirchmann, was a walking stereotype; an elderly woman, widowed for many years and lonely as the day was long. A tiny little thing in a tiny little house, she was grateful for the company although a little wary and suspicious of the two towering young men on her doorstep. Teetering on frail legs, she carefully led them up and around the narrow stairs to the guest room; Sam with his hand held up behind her back waiting to catch her if she toppled over on them.
The room was par for the course – tiny. A long, narrow room with a slanted ceiling that Dean bumped his head on and under which, Sam was unable to stand up straight at all. On the long wall sat the only bed; a full sized brass number – too large to be a single, much too small to contain both their lanky bodies – dressed in peaches-n-cream frills and lace and twenty pillows too many. It was a bed and breakfast nightmare, but the only bed available in town and so both boys jumped to claim it.
“I call dibs,” Dean said immediately.
“Bullshit,” Sam answered under his breath, shoving his older, yet shorter brother out of the way.
With a place to stay all lined up and a couple of beers into each of them, Sam and Dean settled down in the one and only tavern and began laying the ground work for a tried and true pool hustle. A small town like this – with an even smaller bar – didn’t lend itself well towards scraping together much, but Dean hoped it would be enough to cover the parts, the tow and the too tiny room at Mrs. Kirchmann’s.
They played a sloppy first game, bantering and making a few brash statements to each other about how badly one was about to kick the other’s ass; all of which was for show and to gain the interest of any onlookers. But beneath the pool talk, an entirely different conversation was taking place in tones only the two of them could hear.
“I don’t know,” Dean shrugged, leaning his hip back against the table and crossing his arms over his chest, “Maybe I can find me a sugar mama while we’re here, or some rich debutant in need of a boy toy. I’d be perfect for that, man. A little arm candy for the days out, someone to keep her warm and well kissed – among other things – at night.” Dean flashed a cocky smile at his brother and threw him a wink.
Sam leaned over the green felt and lined up his shot. “There’s only one problem with that idea, Dean. There is no way in Hell you’re gonna find that here. Not in Bumfuck, Nowhere.” Sam glanced around the room at the few denim and plaid clad patrons who were gathered in the small bar and then smirked; an ornery look flashing in his eyes. He rounded the table, hipping into his brother to move him out of the way of his next shot. “That mouth of yours ain’t for kissing pretty girls here, man. I can tell you that much.”
Scowling, Dean turned and laid a hand over the cue ball, blocking Sam’s shot.
“What are you insinuating, little brother?”
“Ohhh…” Sam laughed and took a deep, exaggerated breath. “You know exactly what I’m insinuating. Let’s don’t pretend you’ve never been propositioned before.”
With a wicked grin, Sam made a crude tongue-in-cheek gesture and Dean couldn’t help but throw his head back and laugh loudly. It was true. He had been propositioned; multiple times throughout the years, by men and women alike, but times had never been that tough and Dean had never been without better options. He might be an easy lay, but he wasn’t actually a fuck-for-hire; just a guy who really enjoyed sex.
He lifted his own hand in gesture and barked, “Fuck you,” his words rolling with laughter.
Sam quickly smacked a hand over Dean’s, knocking it away and said as seriously as he could muster with a shit-eating grin stretched across his face, “You can’t be offering that up for free, Dean.”
“You’re such a dick,” Dean snorted, throwing his hands up and stepping away from Sam. “This conversation…is over.”
“All’s I’m saying is: if some guy offers you a hundred for a blow job, you better get with the program.”
“Take your fuckin’ shot already, asshole. We ain’t got all night.” Dean gave Sam a playful shove before moving around to the other side of the table.
Two hours later, Sam had moved on to his first mark and then right on to his second. He was up about $300 and well on his way to pulling in another $50. Dean had hung around for a while, shooting the shit with Sam’s marks, pointing out Sam’s faults, making fun of Sam’s ‘slop shots’ and generally aiding the camaraderie within the group, which could only help Sam’s chances – a tried and true method.
Once the scene had been set, he’d scooted off towards the bar and the pretty little redhead who was perched at one corner. They chatted casually, flirted heavily, but come the end of her night she’d gotten up and left; returning home to her husband and four kids.
“I used to be better at calling those,” Dean joked to the bartender. He turned on the stool, leaning his back against the bar, watching his brother work and feeling much better overall about their situation. He did the calculations in his head and figured if they could pull in a few hundred a night, they’d be able to hole up here until the parts arrived in two weeks.
A roof over their heads, a bar to pick up cash and the little diner down the street that served up a mean Denver omelet…it really couldn’t get much better than that.
“I know what you’re doing,” the bartender said quietly behind him and hearing the danger in those words, Dean looked cautiously over his shoulder, checking to see if there would be a firearm brought into play. “Your partner and you…I’ve been around the block one too many times not to recognize your scam.”
“Mister, I don’t –”
“Turn around here, boy and let’s talk like grown-ups.”
Maybe it was the man’s tone of voice, maybe it was just something ingrained in Dean since childhood, but Dean found himself jumping to fall in line. He did as instructed, raising his hands slightly, so as to prove that he had no intentions of causing more problems, but there was no gun in sight.
Looking inconspicuous, the bartender lifted Dean’s glass and topped off the beer draft, replacing it in front of him and then used the white bar towel over his shoulder to wipe away any drips from the surface.
“I don’t go for these games you’re playing in my bar. There’s good people in this town; people who work too damned hard for their money to have to lose it to a couple of screwball drifters like you two. So, we’re gonna strike a deal, you and I. I’m gonna let you off easy. You walk away…with half your winnings.”
“You’re lucky. The only reason I’m letting you walk away with that much is because those two nimrods have it coming. Plus they owe me a sizable tab. But make no mistake…if I see either of you in here for anything other than a beer, I’ll call the cops. Do we have an understanding?”
The man was no nonsense; straight to the point, level-headed and more than fair, considering the circumstances. Dean had no choice but to agree. There was no way they could risk a county lock-up and a court hearing; couldn’t risk any news of them finding its way back to the FBI. Things were bad enough as it was, without making it worse, so Dean bowed his head obediently and nodded, answering with a low, ‘yessir’.
“You boys do this often, I take it; hustle pool?”
“S’better than the alternative, I guess. So what, you haven’t got jobs?”
Dean didn’t answer; just continued to stare, fascinated by the water ring stained into the bar’s wooden top.
“Sam’s my family,” Dean answered abruptly, raising his head and meeting the bartender’s concerned gaze. “My brother,” he added when the bartender gave him a raised eyebrow. He’d seen that look way too many times not to understand what the man was thinking.
And then just like that, the dam broke and Dean found himself inexplicably pouring all of his problems out to the stranger behind the bar.
“My car broke down this afternoon – up on the highway – and we’re stuck here ‘til I can get the parts to fix’er up. But with Christmas in a few days, I was told I wouldn’t get the parts ‘til after New Year’s. We’ve got an uncle who runs a salvage yard in Sioux Falls. Normally, I’d call him, but he’s not there or at least we can’t get ahold of him. And now there’s something wrong with my credit card, so…”
“So you’re here, hustlin’ pool. I get it kid, but –”
“Dean. My name’s Dean.”
“Dean,” the bartender repeated, trying the name out, “you can’t keep doing this here; not in my bar, not in my town. Alright?”
Dean was back to staring at the water ring, wondering how in the Hell he was gonna tell Sammy that he’d just cost them half of his night’s winnings. Wondering how they were gonna make it two weeks on just a couple hundred dollars and an assload of problems to deal with. His freight train of thought was stalled by a hand splayed over top of his, stilling his fingers as they traced the dark circle.
“It’s 2am. I’m closin’ up shop. You go fetch your brother and wait for me around back. I’ll come get you in ten minutes or so and we’ll settle up.”
Dean nodded in agreement and made to rise, but his wrist was caught in the bartender’s firm grip and the older man caught his eye.
“Don’t skip out on me, now. We’ve made a deal and I expect you to uphold your end of it.”
Dean was sitting on the table top of a rickety looking picnic table situated out back of the bar; the place where the patrons who smoked came to congregate. His hands were shoved down deep inside the pockets of his coat; its buttons snapped up to his chin and collar pulled high around the back of his neck to ward off the late December cold. He experimented with the cold, moist air, sucking it into his mouth to warm before releasing it and feeling his breath curl up and around his face like cigarette smoke. But all the while, his eyes were trained on Sam, who was agitated and pacing across the stamped down snow that lined the alley behind the bar.
“How are you just sitting there?” Sam grumped.
“It’s mental toughness,” Dean explained, looking up to meet his brother’s intense stare, “I refuse to let the cold get to me.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean this,” Sam waved his hand up and down, indicating Dean’s relaxed demeanor. “Why are you so damn calm about this?”
When all Dean did was shrug, Sam huffed in frustration, tearing a hand up through his hair.
“We worked all night for that money and you’re just gonna let him take half?”
“I know, just –”
“We need that money, Dean,” Sam interrupted, crossing his arms angrily over his chest. “It’s bad enough that we’re stuck here…carless, but in case you’ve forgotten, we’ve got places to be. We do have responsibilities, Dean. And this little pit stop isn’t going to stop my visions or the demon. It’s not gonna gank itself, ya know?”
“Who are you tellin’?” Dean jumped down from the table and stepped up into Sam’s space, making his younger brother square his shoulders and prepare for the right hook he felt coming. “I know what the Hell our situation is, Sam,” Dean growled, poking a blunt finger into Sam’s chest, “I don’t need you to remind me. But when the choice is this…or—or jail…” Dean backed off, rubbing a hand roughly over his face and down his neck, “we can’t afford to get hauled in…even in Bumfuck, Nowhere. Not with that Henricksen guy all hot and heavy for us. So yeah, I’ve fucked us out of half the take. I’m sorry. I don’t know what you want me to do here? I had to make a choice and I chose to keep us out of jail. So fuckin’ sue me for looking out for our best interests.”
“If you girls are done catfightin’, you can come in out of the cold.”
“Shit,” Dean groaned as he and Sam turned as one towards the voice, finding the bartender standing within a few yards from them; most certainly within range of hearing their entire conversation.
“Come on,” he invited, holding the door open for them. “It’s too cold to be dancing around out here.”
Dean glanced at his brother, only to find him staring hard back at him and waiting to see what his move would be. Dean rolled his eyes, ducking his head to the side and trudged up the stairs, back into the bar; Sam following suit immediately.
The man circled around the bar and with a flick of his hand, indicated that they should pull up a seat. He took three bottles from the cooler and twisted the caps free before pressing a bottle into each of the boys’ hands. He kept his eyes sharp, glancing back and forth between them as they all took that first tentative drink in silence.
“Alright then, let’s get down to it. I assume…Sam,” he said, pausing to acknowledge his awareness of Sam’s name, “that Dean has already filled you in on our little ‘deal’?”
“Not much of a deal,” Sam grumbled and received a swift kick from his brother for his trouble.
Dean clenched his jaw and gave Sam a dark look, “Act right.” He put his hand out and made a grabbing ‘gimme’ gesture to his brother. Reluctantly, Sam pulled the roll of bills from his pocket, slapped them into Dean’s hand and sniffed his displeasure. They shared a pointed glare and then Dean was handing the cash off to the man before them.
The money was laid out and counted across the bar; $350 in total. Then just as quickly as it had been received, the man was handing the money back, minus $100. Dean looked at bills, confused.
“Those guys owed me $100. I don’t see any reason for me to take any more than what’s owed. The name’s Paul, by the way. And if you’re willing, I’d like to help you boys…if I can.”
He took a long pull from his bottle while Sam and Dean just stared at him in open-mouthed shock.
“Hey, sweetheart. How are you doing this bright, shiny morning?” Dean leaned across the checkout counter, leering at the blonde who stood behind the cash register, twirling her hair and popping her gum.
“I’m here,” she offered with an insincere smile. “Paper or plastic?”
“Paper,” Sam announced. Coming up behind Dean, he set a six pack and a bag of chips down on the counter and then pushed past him to grab a local paper.
“Oh hey,” she brightened upon seeing Sam, “it’s you.”
Dean turned wide, unbelieving eyes on his brother, who blushed a pale shade of pink and stuttered, “Uh, yeah…it’s me.” Sam dropped the paper on the counter with the rest of their provisions and danced nervously at Dean’s side, feeling the heat of the young girl’s gaze on him.
“I get off work at six if you wanna swing by,” she offered brazenly. “Maybe we could hang out or something?”
Sam turned abruptly and headed for the door. “I’m gonna go wait outside,” he tossed over his shoulder at Dean.
Dean grinned at the teenage cashier and gave her a slow, deliberate wink, “He gets nervous around pretty girls.” He gathered up their bagged groceries and followed after his brother.
“Here’s your paper, Romeo,” Dean said, slapping the folder newspaper across Sam’s chest as he walked passed.
“That’s not funny, Dean,” Sam spit out, rushing to catch up. “She’s jailbait with a capital ‘Hell No’.”
“All’s I’m saying, Sam, is,” Dean grinned wickedly, “if she pulls out a hundred, you better get with the program.”
“Wa? Wha w’ough?”
Dean’s words were muffled by the bite of Pastrami sub and the handful of chips he’d managed to wedge into his mouth – all in one go.
Sitting on the bed, with his back up against the headboard, Sam looked up from the newspaper and grimaced, turning up his lip in distaste and leaning away from the spray of potato chips that escaped his brother’s mouth.
“That’s disgusting. Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
Dean rolled his eyes and made a grand show of chewing his food and washing it down with a quarter of a beer. When done, he let his tongue roll out of his mouth with an ‘ahh’, just to prove that he’d swallowed it all. The whole display earned him a flash of ‘Sammy Dimples’ and made Dean smile in return. There would never be a time in his life, in which making his little brother smile or laugh, didn’t fill Dean up with pride and make his world 100% brighter.
“I said: Well? What d’we got?”
“Well…” Sam echoed. He folded the paper inside out and laid it out on their shared bed, running a hand across it to flatten the seams, “there’s not much to pick from in here and nothing at all for you.”
“Nothing for me? That’s just…not possible.” Looking positively snooty, Dean polished his nails against the tumbled cotton of the years-old t-shirt covering his chest and then admired the sheen on his immaculate nails. “I’m very marketable.”
Sam’s shoulders shook with laughter. He directed Dean’s attention back to the paper, “Okay, marketable, here’s what I got for ya, then.”
Dean joined Sam on the narrow bed, their too large bodies connecting at the shoulders and again along their thighs. Neither of them really noticed the close proximity in the small space; they’d grown up in each other’s pockets and there was a natural serenity to their being together. Whether they were in the car, sitting quietly at breakfast or working in perfect synchronization to take out the monster of the week, they just seemed to always find a grove when they were with each other; and likewise, there was a nervous energy when they were apart. It was odd – their relationship – everyone seemed to think so. Everyone, except them. To them it was normal, comfortable and necessary.
“Mailroom Clerk,” Sam offered up first.
“Oh that’d be good,” Dean huffed out a laugh, “me in a federal job while we’re on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.”
“We’re not on the 10 Most Wanted, Dean; the top 100 at best. Okay, so I’ve got: Aviation Technician.”
“Avia – you mean planes?!” Dean gulped audibly making Sam duck his head to hide his grin.
“Have you seen me type?”
“Daycare Teacher,” Sam spouted, sounding hopeful.
“I am being serious, Dean, there’s just not a lot here, locally.”
“Duh. I mean, look’it the size of this town. You know half of these people are probably inbred.”
“Dean,” Sam admonished.
“This town is so small, I bet I could spit from here and hit our buddy Paul’s bar on the other side of –” Dean stopped, catching sight of a look; a pull at the corner of Sam’s mouth that left Dean with a peculiar need to protect himself. “What?”
Schooling his features Sam, looked up from beneath his curtain of bangs to find Dean with a puzzled look on his face.
“What what?” Sam asked innocently.
“I saw that,” Dean accused, pointing at Sam with a casual flick of his fingers.
“Saw what? I didn’t –”
“You smiled…not the ‘I’m amused’ smile, but the ‘I’m judging you’ smile. Why are you judging me, Sammy?” Dean rushed to ask.
“I’m not judging you…well, yeah. Okay, maybe I am a little, but it’s just…our buddy, Paul? Really?”
“What do you mean: Really?”
“Dean…we’ve only been in town a few hours and you’ve already found one.”
Dean was utterly confused now. For a guy who liked to talk his feelings out, Sam had an awful time expressing himself.
“Found one, what, Sam? A buddy? Look, he’s not really my –”
It took a moment for what Sam had said to sink in, but when it did, Dean shook his head, vehemently, the ‘no’ filling his throat, but never finding foundation on his tongue. It wasn’t true. He hadn’t gone looking for Paul; Paul had just kind of popped up. But he wasn’t like their father and Dean didn’t need someone to ‘play’ Dad. He was a grown man after all.
“Someone,” Sam continued, “who’s gonna give you orders so you can ‘hop-to’ like the good soldier.”
“He’s a good guy,” Dean defended, “and I don’t ‘hop-to’ for anyone.”
“You don’t even know him, Dean.”
“I don’t need to. He saved our butts, Sam, when he could have just as easily turned us over to the cops. He knew what we were doing and he wasn’t even a dick about it. That makes him a good guy in my book,” Dean pushed off the bed, angrily and snatched up his overshirt & coat, throwing them both on in one fluid motion. “But that doesn’t make him a replacement for Dad.”
“Dean, where are you go –”
“Out, dammit. I gotta go find myself a job, right?”
He didn’t wait for an answer; just stormed out of the room and down the stairs, leaving Sam to stare in disbelief.
“I musta struck a nerve, huh Dean?” he shouted at the empty stairwell. “Dammit.”
Downtown was quaint; a little one square block of brick-front shops and small-town businesses, wrapped around a town park, complete with a gazebo and a picnic area, and every square inch of it dressed to the nines with festive ribbons and garland and lights. And because downtown was boxed in, the sound of the Christmas music that was piped into the streets reverberated off of the building faces, filling Dean’s ears and drowning out the crunch of snow beneath his feet and the stream of thoughts racing through his head.
It was everything he could do, not to find the nearest brick wall and smash his head repeatedly against it until the bliss of unconsciousness took over. It was bad enough that he’d already caught himself singing out loud to Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Worse still had been finding himself dancing along to Jingle Bell Rock as he walked down one side of the square. There were too many happy people for his liking; all of them milling around, diving in and falling out of the shops, with arms full of bags and red and gold packages; too many choir voices pouring out of speakers and the overwhelming stench of fresh cut pine from the Christmas tree vendor in the park…. “God, please. Kill me now.”
And the kids. There were so many of the little bastards running around. Everywhere he looked, there were kids giggling and singing and throwing snow balls, and chasing each other up and down the sidewalks and out into the snow covered streets. Didn’t they know not to run out into traffic? Where were their parents for Christ’s sake?
He narrowly dodged out of the way of two boys – brothers? – who barreled down the sidewalk; the older boy nailing the younger hard in the back w/ a snowball and knocking the little one face first into a pile of snow pushed up along the street. Dean growled and took two large steps to clear the distance, grabbing the younger boy up out of the snow and brushing him off. He turned hard eyes on the older boy.
“Is this your brother?” he demanded, taking the older boy by the shoulder. The boy just nodded, too scared to speak out against the stranger or pull free of his grasp.
“You’re supposed to watch out for him, not knock him down the first chance you get,” Dean growled and then he knelt in front of the younger brother, wiping the snow and ice from his face and hair. “You okay?”
“We were just playin’, Mister,” the younger boy said. He couldn’t have been much older than five, judging by his size, but he was confident and unwavering in his brother’s defense; crossing his arms tightly over his narrow chest, puffy coat and all. “He didn’t mean nothin’ by it.”
Angry Mother Bear – Dean did an immediate hand count to make sure he was no longer touching either of the woman’s children and stood up slowly, raising his hands, palms out.
“We’re okay, Momma,” the younger boy stated, his cheerful disposition vanishing in the face of his mother’s anger. Momma Bear snatched her children away from Dean, dragging them by their hands and scolding them, even as she scowled darkly over her shoulder at the man who had dared lay a hand on her cubs.
Dean shivered watching them go, his fingers laced up through his hair, tugging none-too-gently on the short strands until his eyes began to water.
“I need a drink.” He turned in a circle, getting his bearings and then walked at a clip out of the downtown area and towards where he now knew the bar sat.
“Yes, ma’am. I attended Stanford for pre-law. I’m also well versed in –”
“Let me stop you there.”
Sam had walked into six different business offices in downtown Boxholm, hoping to be able to put his college resume to use since he had nothing else to offer in way of experience. Unless of course you counted marksmanship, fluency in Latin, knife throwing and grave digging, which of course most people didn’t. And in every place he’d stopped he’d heard the same thing: “You’re over qualified.”
“You seem like a nice enough young man, but I just can’t afford to pay you what you’re so obviously worth, even if there was a position open, which there’s not. I’m sorry.”
Sam’s posture sagged; his confidence waning as a direct result of all the sympathetic let-downs he’d been given already that day. He was to the point of desperation and on the verge of begging. What the Hell, he thought.
“Look, it doesn’t have to be office work. I’m young and strong; I can scoop snow if that’s what you want. I just…we’re in a bad way, my brother and I. Our car broke down and we’re out of money. I just need to find something to keep a roof over our heads until we can get the car fixed. It doesn’t have to be much, just…something.”
He raised his head from where eyes had been locked on the floor and poured every ounce of soul he had into the look that he gave the middle-aged woman in front of him. Dean called it his puppy-dog look and although Sam took offense to that, he knew sure-as-shit that it worked almost every time and today was no exception.
“Alright, jeez. Put those away,” the woman said, wilting beneath his gaze. “I think I know of an opening, but…I don’t think you’re gonna be interested. It’s not exactly man’s work.”
Sam couldn’t help the upswing of his heartbeat and he nodded, enthusiastically hopeful. “At this point, I’ll take anything,” Sam promised.
“Okay.” The woman walked around the desk and withdrew a pen and notepad from her drawer, scribbling out a name and an address. “Take this,” she said, recapping the pen and tearing the note free from the pad, “down to this address. Ask for Celia & tell her Doris sent you.” She handed the note over to him, clasped a warm hand over top of his, squeezing. “Good luck, sweetheart. I hope everything works out for you and your brother.”
Sam smiled, blushing pink over his ears. “Thank you…Doris. Really.”
He rushed out the door and made an immediate right; his long legs carrying him in the direction of the address that he’d been given, throwing an excited wave back at Doris through the large picture window of her office. He unfolded the paper completely to find a short message written in Doris’s loopy scrawl.
Hire this man!
Dean stepped inside the dark establishment and let his eyes adjust for a moment, before making his way to the bar and plopping down with a grunt on a stool. There was no one in sight – slow in the afternoons he expected – and he was just about to reach over the bar for a draft glass, when Paul popped his head around the corner.
“Oh. Didn’t hear you come in.” Stepping out of the kitchen, he wiped his sudsy hands on a white bar towel and at first, smiled warmly at Dean. But upon further inspection of the young man, Paul’s chin jutted forward and his brow furled in contemplation. The kid had ‘bad mood’ written all over his face.
“Job hunt going that good, huh?”
“Can I just get a beer, man? Better yet, make it a Scotch.”
“Oh yeah, that good,” Paul decided. He took a beer mug out of the cooler and poured a Bud Light draw, sliding it across the bar on a promotional coaster.
Dean took it; eyeing the bartender petulantly and after his first sip, remarked, “Funny, this doesn’t taste like Scotch.”
“When it’s free, it’ll taste like anything your mind can dream up, so drink it and shut up about it.” He flipped the towel over his shoulder and leaned on his arms into the bar. “So you struck out. It’s only your first day.”
“I didn’t strike out, man. I never stepped up to the plate.”
Paul’s head tilted to the side, trying to get a good look into Dean’s eyes as if they might hold all the secrets into the young man before him.
Dean glanced up, feeling the other man’s gaze. His lips twisted, attempting to hold back the verbal vomit that was aching to be released. After a deep breath, followed by a forceful gulp of his beer, Dean felt like he had a bit more control over his words.
“I tried. I went downtown; thought to scrounge something up, but I got down there and I just couldn’t do it – couldn’t be around all of that.”
“All of what?”
“All those people and the music and the lights and…just all of it.”
“You mean Whoville.” It wasn’t a question. Dean looked up and saw with certainty that Paul knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Whoville,” Dean snapped his fingers, the square peg finding the square hole in his head. “I knew it was something. That’s it exactly,” he said, excitedly. “It’s like Whoville. Chaotic and noisy and waaayy too happy for me.” He reached across the bar, slapping a hand over Paul’s arm where it rested, propping him up. “Does that make me the Grinch?”
Paul laughed. “It doesn’t make you the Grinch…” he stood up straight, and fluttered his hand beneath his chin, saying, “You’re not quite green enough.” Paul grabbed another frosty mug and poured himself a tap before topping Dean’s off. “You know…” he paused to take a drink and grinned around the lip of his glass, “at the end of that movie, the Grinch is one of them. He’s down in that town center singing, Fahoo Foraze with the rest of them Whos…just like you will be.”
“You’re a funny guy, Paul." A strange look came over Dean then and he snatched up his beer and sucked it all up in one breath, smacking the empty glass down on the oak bar top and rising from his stool. He unfolded a couple bills from his pocket, but Paul waved him off.
“Forget it kid. You’re money’s no good here…it’s dirty.” He gave Dean a wink and refused to take the cash.
Dean shrugged and then stuffed the bills into the fishbowl marked ‘Tips” at the far end of the counter.
“Thanks for the beer,” he said, making for the door.
“So you want a job or not?”
Dean stopped and stood stock still, not even bothering to breathe, just in case he’d heard Paul wrong and then ever so slowly, turned back around.
“Why? Do you know of one?”
“Sure I do. I told you that I was gonna help you boys out and I meant it. V’been keeping my ear to the ground and I think I’ve found something suitable for you.”
“Okay.” Dean made his way back to the bar, sliding back into his seat, listening intently. “What do I gotta do? Who do I need to talk to?”
“You’re talking to him.”
“You. You’re gonna give me a job?” Dean looked around at the empty establishment; his eyebrows raised high in disbelief.
“It don’t look like much now, but believe me, we’ve got breakfast and lunch rushes that’ll knock the wind outta ya, and this place gets hopping at night. Especially on weekends and holidays. I can’t pay you much and the hours aren’t the greatest, but you can earn tips and that’ll go a long way toward keeping you in the black.”
Dean was already nodding, enthusiastically.
“Don’t get too excited. There’s a catch.”
“Okay, sure. What’s the catch?”
“I was supposed to be at a volunteer thing tomorrow evening, but something’s come up and now I’ve gotta be here. I need you to step in and take my place. You do that, and I’ll give you four days a week at minimum wage and all the tips you can make. Plus, I’ll pay you under the table, cuz I know you’re not giving up your social.”
Dean stopped his non-verbal agreement to think about the conditions Paul had just laid out; one evening as a volunteer to gain a position with a guaranteed paycheck. Dean just didn’t see how this could possibly go wrong.
“Okay. Yes. Absolutely. What do I gotta do?”
Paul raised a finger to pause the conversation. He walked to the darkened the supply room and came back carrying a garment bag and suddenly Dean felt a twinge of anxiety; his Spidey senses flaring up.
“Wh-what’s in the bag, Paul?” Dean asked, cautiously leaning forward; nervous at what was going to come bursting out of the bag as Paul unzipped it.
“It’s a uniform, kinda; a suit, really.”
“It’s…green.” Dean frowned. “Uh, Paul? Why’s it green?”
“Cuz, dummy.” Paul pulled the garment out of the bag; bells jingling noisily as they cleared the zipper. “You’re Santa’s Little Helper.”
Sam clomped up the stairs to the small shared bedroom and was surprised to find Dean there, seated on the bed with his elbows resting on his knees and head in his hands. He looked...well, Sam couldn’t quite get a read on how his brother looked even when Dean raised his head and gave him a small smile.
Dropping his backpack onto the ground, Sam leaned back against the wall, bending at the knees to accommodate for the short ceiling. His own day hadn’t gone spectacularly well. He’d spent the entire time, pounding the pavement and knocking on doors only to finally attract an ounce of empathy and be dropped on the doorstep of Celia.
Celia Martin was a nice enough woman; warm and charming if a bit exuberant as she had bound across the room, wrapping him up in a tight hug and chattering excitedly about how much fun they were gonna have together and don’t worry his pretty head, the ladies would love him. He’d agreed to the terms of the arrangement, because…really, what choice did he have? They needed the cash and a job was a job, but just how the Hell was he gonna explain this to his brother? Sam sagged further into the wall, his back molding into the arch of low ceiling and a nervous feeling welling in his stomach.
“So…any luck?” Sam asked cautiously; hoping to be able to put off opening up about his own findings.
Dean chuckled and shook his head, “Oh, I had luck. Same kinda luck we always have.”
But where Sam couldn’t read Dean, Dean could definitely read Sam and seeing the concern bright in Sam’s eyes, he knew something was up with his baby brother.
“But I wanna hear about your day,” Dean said knowingly, his lips twisting into a near-predatory grin before adding, “honey.” And then his smile broke wide and genuine and Dean batted his long dark eyelashes at Sam.
“Crap,” Sam groaned, sliding down the wall until he puddled his long legs on the floor. He took a deep breath, hoping to buy himself some time, to come up with an alternative story, but Dean wasn’t having it.
“Come on, already. What happened? What’d you find?”
“I’m working for a…shop…” Sam stalled; failing to come up with anything, “a shop, downtown.”
“It’s nothing, really,” Sam pressed on, “It’s service…related: cleaning up, taking care of customers, nothing big or fancy and the boss seems nice. It’s minimum wage, but she seems to think I could make some pretty good tips and –”
“–other than Christmas, they’re open every day all the way through New Year’s Eve.”
“Wait wait wait,” Dean held a hand up to stall Sam’s rambling. “What is this? Either you’re a busboy or you really did become a hooker. Sammy?” Dean’s voice dropped into an accusing tone with just a hint of amusement, “Are you selling your body?”
“Shut up, Dean. I am not selling my body.” Sam’s head bounced back and forth on his neck as he came to the conclusion on whether to come clean.
“Then what?” Dean asked, losing his patience just a little. He looked like a kid, eyes shining with glee as he watched Sam squirm anxiously beneath his steady gaze.
“A salon, okay?” Sam blurted suddenly, “I’m working in a salon.”
Dean clapped a hand over his mouth to cover up the giddy giggle that was threatening to escape. “Like a beauty salon?” he asked, his voice muffled behind his fingers.
“Yeah. Yeah. Go ahead. You can make fun of me now.”
“No no,” Dean raised his hands in surrender, his face lit up like Sam hadn’t seen in days, “I’m not gonna make fun of you. I just gotta know, though, what exactly it is that they’ve got you doing?”
Sam released the breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He didn’t exactly trust that his brother wasn’t going to rip into him, but he relaxed enough to divulge the details.
“Like I said, I’ll be cleaning up, sweeping, refilling product…washing hair,” he rushed through, blushing, “you know that kind of stuff.”
Dean did laugh out loud this time. He laughed so hard that he slid off the edge of the bed and landed hard on his ass on the hardwood floor, scraping his back on the bed rail. “Ow,” he laughed, rubbing at the red mark.
“Are you done?” Sam asked, once Dean had settled down a bit. He stretched his forever-long legs out across the expanse between the wall where he was sitting and the floor in front of the bed where Dean was and knocked one of his booted feet into those of his brother.
“I think I’ve got ya beat, Sammy.”
“Really? How’s that even possible?”
Dean clambered to his feet and flopped belly down on the bed, reaching behind it to where he’d thrown the garment bag in disgust, and pulled it from the floor. A funny feeling fell over Sam; his stomach rolling in nervous anticipation and he eyed the bag warily.
“What’s in the bag?” he echoed Dean’s earlier concerns and Dean could only nod in that ‘oh yeah, it’s that bad’ manner. He bounced up off of the bed, crossed to where Sam was sitting and slid down the wall until they were seated together, shoulder to shoulder, then he unzipped the bag and pulled the Bright green and red costume free.
“What the Hell is that?” Sam asked in horror. He reached out to touch the stiff, synthetic material, but thought better of it and pulled his hand back into the safety of his chest.
“I’m gonna be an elf.”
“Excuse me? Did you just say…?” Sam’s cheeks puffed out and he coughed, trying to cover up the laugh that was bubbling up in his chest.
“Yeah, yeah. Shut the Hell up, I told you –”
“Oh, yeah,” Sam nodded his absolute agreement, working to maintain a straight face. “You win, dude. No doubt about it.”
A warm, sunny heat flared over Dean’s shoulder and he rolled, with a muffled groan and a yawn, turning over in bed only to find that he had it all to himself; Sam’s side being already empty. He squinted into the bright, winter sun, brought a hand up to shield himself from its intensity and waited for his eyes to adjust.
“Sorry,” Sam whispered, “I didn’t mean to wake you up. Go back to sleep.”
Sam moved quietly through the room. He pulled a pair of jeans up over his narrow hips, tucking a black t-shirt into the waistband and then sat down on the edge of the bed to slip into his boots. Dean propped himself up on an elbow and through his sleep-muddled mind, tried to work out what was going on.
“What are you doin’?”
“I’ve got work, remember?”
“Oh yeah…selling your body, right?”
“Goodbye, Dean,” Sam answered, huffing in mock-annoyance and smacked the socked foot that poked out from beneath the covers.
“Wait.” Dean sat up; scooting up the bed until he was upright with the peach quilt pooled around his waist. “You know I’ve gotta work at Paul’s today, right?”
The night before, Dean had explained how the elf costume had been a stipulation to his and Paul’s work arrangement and that he would be working the next three afternoons and the last night leading up to Christmas. It was a good opportunity to put some money in their pockets, but for Sam and Dean, it also meant a few days of seeing each other very little. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn’t be a big deal, but Sam and Dean had never really lived under normal circumstances, and even in small Midwestern towns, things could happen.
“I’ll be fine, Dean,” Sam assured, reading the concern in his brother’s eyes. He rolled up his left sleeve and presented his arm so that Dean could see the pig-sticker iron blade sheathed and strapped to Sam’s bicep. “And don’t worry, I’ll be home long before you have to meet up with Santa.” Sam smiled wide; his dimples sinking deep into his cheeks, and grabbing up his backpack, he slung it over one shoulder and made a hasty exit for the stairs, before adding, “I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”
Dean whipped a pillow out from behind him and threw it with all his might, shouting at his brother as he thundered down the stairs, “S’not funny, Sam.”
“It’s a little bit funny,” Sam hollered back from the bottom of the stairwell.
From a hook on the wall the Santa’s Elf costume taunted him, with its bright Christmas green material, silky red stockings and white faux fur trim around the cuffs and the collar. It was something straight out of a Will Farrell movie, and although Dean had always enjoyed that movie very much, he now found if quite difficult to hold back the bile at the thought of having to slip into a similar costume and… “Jesus Christ. Kill me now.”
Dean slumped against the foot of the bed and stared up at the offending garment looking bewildered beyond hope.
His shift at Paul’s had gone much too fast. They’d been steady, and at times busy, with what Paul had said were ‘more customers than usual’ stopping in for a midday meal, as Paul didn’t just serve alcohol, he also had a small kitchen in the back from which he served an array of fried pub food. And although they had been busy, Dean had found the work easy to pick up, having been in enough bars throughout his life. He’d moved like a pro, hefting a new keg into place, balancing multiple plates in one hand and even managing to finagle 10 open bottles in his two hands and deliver them to a large, round table of rowdy, just-off-of-work guys who had strolled in from the local co-op with just enough time for a beer or six before heading home to their wives. The men had been very impressed with Dean’s delivery skills, showing their approval with whooping and hollering and several too-friendly, too-hard whacks on the back. All too soon, they’d made a game of it, throwing back the beers as fast as they could swallow them down just so they could watch Dean carefully balance the next round in his fingers. They’d been loud and obnoxious, sure, but they’d pulled Dean down into their circle and made him drink one last bottle with them and at the end of it, had left him what ended up being a $40 dollar tip – the drunk bastards.
The only downfall of the day had been the one thing that seemed to happen over and over.
Each time a customer had entered, ‘Merry Christmas’. Every time they’d paid their bill, ‘Merry Christmas’. Hell, even those drunk bastards had come to toasting each round with a hearty ‘Merry fuckin’ Christmas!’ And each and every time he heard it, Dean cringed. In six hours, he’d spent so much energy shielding himself from all the people and their endless Christmas cheer that he was practically aching from it and like engine grease, it had seeped into every pore, driving him mad with its stain until he was willing to scrub his entire body bloody with a Brillo pad, just to get the merriment off of him. And of course it hadn’t gone unnoticed.
At 5 o’clock, Paul had invited him to sit down at the bar and have an end-of-shift beer, on the house, while he settled up on Dean’s wages for the day. He’d counted the cash out across the bar and had been just about to gather up the money & hand it over to Dean, when he pulled up short.
“So, Ebenezer,” Paul had said, “what’s with all the bah-humbug?”
“I’m not a humbug,” Dean had tried to deny, but the unblinking look he’d received from Paul told him he hadn’t been fooling anyone.
“You better mull it over, kid, cuz nobody wants a surly elf standing next to Santa.”
And so Dean was doing just that. He’d gone back to the little room he and Sam were renting and was now mulling things over. This was why when Sam came creeping up the stairs, he found Dean sitting on the floor, staring at that God-awful green costume and trying to rectify his Grinch-like attitude.
“What are you –”
“Holy –” Dean jumped in surprise, falling over on his side and pulling his .45 free of his waistband in one seamless lightning-fast motion. Dean had the gun trained on Sam before he could even register who it was before him, but as soon as he did realize, he let the muzzle fall and his head thud loudly against the hardwood floor.
“Dammit, Sam. I almost shot you,” Dean scolded. “What are you doin’ sneaking up on me?”
“First of all,” coming fully into the room, Sam reached down and turned the gun in Dean’s hand, “you couldn’t have shot me, Dean. The safety’s still on.”
“Details,” Dean groused and then accepted a hand up when Sam offered it to him; his younger brother pulling him to his feet like he weighed nothing.
“And second,” Sam continued, “I was sneaking up here, cuz I wanted to catch you in that suit.” He raised a hand to indicate the green disaster hanging on the wall and frowned. “Why’s it still hanging on the wall? Aren’t you supposed to be there,” Sam checked his watch, “in like…thirty minutes?”
“Yeah yeah, don’t rush me Sammy.”
Sam watched his brother, letting his head tilt to the side to really study him.
“What’s the matter with you? You’ve been acting funny all week.”
“Well yeah, my friggin’ car’s jacked up and we’re stuck here, in-in…”
“Bumfuck, Nowhere. Yeah, I got it, but this started before that even, so what’s goin’ on? Why’ve you suddenly got a hate on for Christmas?”
“It’s not about Christmas,” Dean snapped unexpectedly, “and you know it. Jesus, Sam. I don’t like being here – in this town. It’s a small town and small town people are nosey; they talk. And they’re gonna talk about us, if they’re not already.”
“You’re afraid someone’s gonna recognize us from the news.”
With a strangled cry of exasperation, Dean threw his hands out wide. “We’re not exactly on the other side of the country you know; Wisconsin’s only a few hours away. And it’s not even just all about that FBI dick lookin’ for us. I mean, what happens if you have one of your vision things in the middle of washing some poor woman’s hair? What happens then, huh? One minute you’re in the middle of a lather and then next you’re lying on the floor with half of Betty Sue’s hair in your hands and Betty Sue screamin’ bloody murder.”
“You need to calm down –”
“You calm down.”
Dean realized how childish he sounded. He even recognized the tantrum for what it was, but he couldn’t seem to rein in all the tension and anxiety that was humming through him. That was until Sam clamped down on his shoulder with one of his massive paws. His not-so-little brother muscled him around until he was standing with his back to Sam and then with one hand on each shoulder, Sam began working at the knots of tension in Dean’s back.
“Just relax, will ya?”
Dean tried to fight him off, but Sam’s grip was too much like their father’s – rock solid. Plus he had an easy four inches on Dean. With that kind of leverage, Sam could move Dean across the room with little effort and there wasn’t much he could do or say about it.
Dean gasped and then melted into the touch, when Sam’s thumb found a particular troublesome knot.
“I know we’re up shit creek,” Sam said, his words moving with the motion of his hands, “but you can’t force it, Dean. Things will either work out or they won’t.”
“Yeah? Well, when have things ever worked out for us?” This time when Dean pulled away, he did manage to shake Sam off.
“It’ll work out,” Sam said, letting his hands slap against his thighs, “if you quit with the attitude, relax and be yourself. You’re a fairly reasonable looking guy –”
“Screw you, I’m gorgeous.”
“–and you can be charming, when you want to be,” Sam continued, ignoring Dean’s comment completely, “and truth be told, you’re not awful with kids.”
“Take that back!”
“So suck it up man; go make the kids happy, schmooze the moms and do the job, cuz if not…you are gonna draw the wrong person’s attention and then we will be in trouble.”
“Aright-alright, fine.” He gave a final glare and then turned back to the Elf costume. “So this outfit…”
For what seemed like forever, the brothers stood side by side, transfixed by the garment before them. Sam had his hands shoved down into his pockets and his shoulders shrugged up and around his neck as if he was shutting out the cold. But while Sam looked relatively calm, Dean appeared completely beside himself and in a constant state of motion, rocking his weight back and forth between his feet, crossing and uncrossing his arms, restlessly. He tilted his head, rotating until he was almost looking at the costume upside-down.
“I’m at a loss, man,” he finally said after several long minutes of quiet. “How do I even go about putting this thing on?”
“Well…” Sam stepped towards the costume, pulling the tunic open to peer down at the red leggings that lay beneath, “I think you start with these.” He pulled them free of the hanger and handed them over his shoulder to a panicked Dean, who held them up at the waist to inspect them.
“They’re so small. Man…” Dean groaned, “everything’s gonna show.”
“No no, the tunic’s gonna cover it. See?” Sam took the velvet green tunic down from the wire hanger and held it up in front of Dean’s torso, matching shoulder to shoulder and the tunic did indeed meet the length requirements.
In the blink of an eye, Dean had shucked out of his clothes until his was standing in the center of the room in nothing but his boxer briefs and a pair of socks. He turned the leggings around and around in his hands, looking confused.
“This is the front,” Sam said, coming to the rescue. “See, there’s this extra bit of material here to…uh…give you more room?”
Dean’s face sobered and he couldn’t withhold the glare he directed out of the corner of his eye at Sam. He snatched the leggings back from his brother’s hands and stepped into them; his bare legs sliding easily into the thick, silky stockings.
“Whoa! You’re not gonna be able to wear those.”
Dean turned – hopping with one foot half in and out of the leggings – to give his brother the evil eye, but Sam was standing there with a hand out, indicating Dean’s shorts. Dean looked down and then back up, bewildered.
“Your boxers; they’re gonna have to go, Dean. The tunic can cover a lot, but it won’t hide the ‘panty line’.”
“Dude! Don’t use your…your chick speak on me. An-an-and I’m not free ballin’. No. No way in Hell. I’m very particular about my boys. I’m not just gonna let them hang out where…where other boys have hung out. No. ”
“Who’s being the girl now? I’m sure it’s been washed, Dean.”
“Are you friggin’ kidding me with this shit?”
Sam gave Dean a stern look and tapped at the face of his watch with an index finger, “Time’s a wastin’.”
“Yeah. Okay. Alright. I’m goin’, but just back off a little, will ya? You’re too close and I’m too naked.”
“Whatever, dude.” Sam turned and walked away; going to his bag and rummaging around inside of it, while Dean turned his own back to Sam and quickly stripped down, jumping into the bright red leggings. If he hadn’t turned his back, Dean might have noticed the telltale snick-snick of a camera phone as well as the stifled giggle when Sam forwarded the picture of Dean in nothing but bright red stockings on to Bobby’s email.
The Boxholm Public Library was a small, one story building set just off of downtown. Newly built, it had a modern feel and an open floor plan that divided the library sections up by the space that lay between them. Nestled in the adult section was a cozy, little reading area with a gas fireplace, comfortable seating, a beautiful cherry wood chess set and a large ornate chair covered in plush red velvet and holding none other than Santa Claus himself; or in this case, Ernie Stanley dressed as Santa Claus. And to Santa’s left was Dean; greeting kids with an animated smile and prepping them for their visit with the ‘Big Guy’ as he kept referring to him. He was doing a good job, no matter how nervous he had first appeared when walking into the library.
Sprawled out in a reading chair on the other side of the room, Sam hid his amusement behind a well-worn copy of The Pillars of the Earth. Try as he might, though, Sam had been completely unable to stay focused on his book; not with Dean the Elf providing free entertainment just a few feet away. Every time Dean caught Sam smirking in his direction he would throw him a very dirty look and Sam would make a show of refocusing on the perils of gothic architecture and medieval drama. As soon as Dean was preoccupied again, Sam would sneakily return his eyes to Dean’s performance, all the while wondering how he could get his cell phone out and take pictures without Dean going for his throat in front of the children. Sam was so distracted, that he didn’t notice someone standing beside him until a light shadow fell over his book and a warm hand fell on his shoulder.
“Oh,” said a familiar, girlish voice “it’s you again.”
Like Pavlov’s dog, Sam’s reaction was instant; his shoulders jumping up around his neck like someone was trying to drop ice down his shirt. Never in his life, had a feminine voice put Sam on higher alert; not the way this girl’s voice did. And it was a shame actually, because really, she was a very pretty young thing; young being the operative word. If he had been ten years younger, Sam knew he would’ve been falling all over himself for even the slightest chance to hold her attention but as it was, he wasn’t ten years younger and she was far, far too young.
“How is it that we keep running into each other?”
“It’s either a very small town,” Sam said flatly, “or you’re stalking me.”
“Maybe both,” she laughed, the tittering sound doing more to set his nerves on edge than her voice did. She moved around him and slid into the chair next to him without warning. “I’m Carrie, by the way. Carrie Schmidt.”
“S-Sam,” he offered automatically, internally smacking himself for giving her his ‘real’ name.
“You’re waiting for your…um…”
Sam followed her line of sight straight to Dean, who was busy entertaining a line of a dozen or more kids, far, far away from Carrie’s unwanted attention; lucky bastard. His brother had all the luck – Oh!
“Oh! No...my brother,” Sam chuckled nervously, “That’s my brother, Dean.”
“Oooh,” she stretched the word out, teetering somewhere between realization and disbelief. “I’m waiting for my brothers too; Ryan and Timmy.”
With a soft smile, Carrie raised her chin, pointing back up towards Dean, where there were indeed two young boys next in line to see Santa. Dean was bent over, looking and listening intently to the older boy and nodding his head in approval, before offering up his hand to the young man’s smaller handshake. Dean really was good with kids, Sam thought, smiling.
“That’s awfully nice of you to bring your brothers out to see Santa.” Sam said. He turned to smile at the young girl but upon seeing her, Sam realized something was very wrong. Where Carrie had been smiling fondly, now she looked concerned; worried even. “Everything alright? Hey-hey-hey…”
No sooner had the question come out, than Carrie was leaning forward in her chair and burying her face in her hands, her body wracked with overwhelming sobs.
“Carrie, what’s wrong?” Sam asked gently; concern flooding his quiet voice. He laid a soothing hand on her back and turned in to her so they could speak without others overhearing. “Hey, you can talk to me, okay? Tell me what’s going on.”
“It’s my mom. She has cancer.” She looked up into his face, her own eyes brimming with unshed tears. When she saw the sympathy in Sam’s eyes she shook her head to stop him before he could interrupt. “She’s had it for a while; been in and out of treatments and lately she’d been doing really good. But the other morning, when we all got up, she was different. Something…had changed; was just…wrong. The doctors warned us there could be side effects to some of the drugs, but…”
Carrie stopped, swallowed around the lump in her throat and struggled to continue. “You can’t tell anyone I told you this,” she whispered harshly; clamping a hand down over his arm and squeezing with an iron grip. She was clearly scared, so Sam did what he did best. He pried her hand gently from his arm and captured it between his own hands and then, in his most sincere, ‘you can trust me’ voice, he assured her that he would keep her secret.
“I don’t know how to explain this,” Carrie said hesitantly, “and…I feel crazy for even saying it out loud…but…she’s not my mother.”
Dean had always claimed to have had a sixth sense when it came to the weird and not-so-normal. He called it his Spidey Sense. And if Sam had never believed in Dean’s ability before, he sure as Hell did now, because as soon as Carrie had made the statement, all the hairs on the back of his neck and arms stood up.
“We’ve got a situation,” Sam whispered into Dean’s elfin ear. The visit from Santa was winding down; the kids and their families had begun to disperse and Dean had finally felt as if some of the tension had eased out of him. That was, at least, until Sam showed up with the news. “Meet me at Paul’s,” Sam said, “as soon as you’re done.”
Twenty minutes later, Dean blew in the front door of Paul’s, his coat pulled tight around the too-thin costume to shield off the gust of snowy wind that followed him in. He let his eyes adjust to the dark room and then found his brother sitting at a corner table, but he wasn’t alone. The surprise on his face must have shown, because a second later, Sam was up and crossing the room to meet him.
Dean took hold of Sam at the elbow and steered him out of hearing.
“What the Hell is this? You brought kids to the bar?”
“Dean, let me explain. They’re –”
“Is that…Jailbait from the grocery store? And what’s with the two boys? I ran into them downtown, you know. They’ve got a scary Momma Bear. Sam –”
“They’re in trouble, Dean. Our kind of trouble.”
Dean’s eyes narrowed, studying his brother suspiciously, “How do you know?”
“Call it…Spidey Sense.”
There was no way that Dean could argue with that. He nodded and moved towards the table.
“Paul?” Sam called up to the bartender, “could we get another round of hot chocolate?”
Sam sat down at the table, across from Dean who was already questioning Carrie. She sat between them to Sam’s left with little Tim – Timmy, they called him – in her lap and the older boy, Ryan sat to Sam’s right looking scared and yet somehow in awe, transfixed on Dean. As if Dean could feel the boy’s gaze, he reached up and swiped the Elvin tips from his ears and stuffed them into his pocket, casting a quick grin in the kid’s direction.
“It started yesterday morning,” Carrie was saying. “She had a treatment just the other day; her last one, and the doctors told her that she would still feel kinda tired and whatnot for a month or so, but yesterday she bounced up out of bed like she’d never been sick at all.”
“Christmas Miracle?” Dean asked hopefully.
“Hardly,” Carrie scoffed.
“She was real mean,” Tim offered up from his sister’s lap.
“Mean? How so, Tim?” Sam asked, leaning down to put a hand on the boy’s arm.
“She said all kinds of bad things –”
“He means she was cussing at us,” Ryan interjected. “My mom doesn’t cuss,” he said shaking his head adamantly.
“Wait,” Dean stopped them. “Is this the same woman I saw you with downtown, yesterday?”
Ryan nodded, swallowing heavily.
“She’s sick? She looked fine, better than fine even. She practically threw you both over her shoulders and carried you off caveman style.”
“S’what we’re trying to tell you,” Carrie cried, her voice breaking as she fought to maintain control. “I want her to be okay, more than anything. It’s just her and us, so all this time she’s been taking the treatments, it’s been on me to keep this family going. Do you know hard that is?”
“Yeah,” Dean answered, glancing up at Sam, “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”
Sam took the cue he saw in Dean’s eyes and leapt into action.
“You guys hungry? I bet you haven’t eaten yet, have you?”
The two boys looked to their sister. She gave them a watery smile and nodded, “Go ahead. I know you’re hungry.”
Dean watched his brother take Tim by the hand and Ryan followed them up to the bar where they ordered chicken strips and fries enough for everyone to share.
“Okay,” he said, turning back and meeting Carrie eye to eye, “you need to level with me. What’s really going on?”
Carrie swallowed and after a moment’s consideration, nodded. She turned in her seat and pulled the back of her blouse up revealing a large purple and red bruise all up and down her entire left side.
He didn’t touch, but Dean leaned in to get a good view. It looked so painful and she winced a bit, her muscles straining when she pulled her shirt back down into place.
“She do this to you?” Dean asked.
Carrie nodded again. She’d expected to see judgment in his eyes when she looked up, but instead all she saw was real concern and understanding.
“She threw me,” she said quietly. “I came home from work last night and could hear her from outside. She was screaming at the boys; had Timmy trapped in a corner and Ryan pinned against the wall, with her hand around his throat. I thought she was going to kill him.”
She released a ragged breath and tried to gain back some composure before driving on, “I was so scared, but I couldn’t let her hurt my brothers. I couldn’t. So I grabbed the only thing I could find and I hit her.
“You did the right thing,” Dean assured her.
“But it didn’t stop anything. It only made her madder. She dropped Ryan and turned on me; grabbed me by my hair and threw me like I was a rag doll across the room. I fell into an end table; that’s why my back looks like this. She was raging; tearing the house apart, screaming about someone messing everything up. I didn’t stick around to find out what. I grabbed the boys and we ran.”
“Where did you go?”
“To the store. I used my key to get in and then we camped in the dry storage room. I thought…maybe…we could go back home tonight. You know, after things had blown over, but…I’m too scared. I don’t want to risk taking my brothers back into that.”
“No-no…you need to keep them out of there; at least for now.” Dean sat back in his seat and scrubbed his hands up over his face, chewing over this information and considering how best to approach this. He still couldn’t be sure what he was looking at, but knew that first and foremost, the kids’ safety was the priority.
“Carrie, is there anything else you can think of? Anything else that you saw, or…smelled, or heard? Anything that will help us figure out what’s going on with your mom?”
“There…maybe? Ryan said something, but he’s just a kid, so you can’t really go on what he says.”
“You’d be surprised. In my line of work, it’s the kids that seem to notice the important things. What did Ryan say?”
“That her eyes were funny. He said they were dark; like her pupils were really dilated or something? But it scared the shit out of him.”
With that final bit of information, all the pieces fell into place. He’d want to talk to Ryan about this; make sure of what he’d really seen, but Dean was 99% positive that they were dealing with a demon.
“Okay,” Dean said, nodding, feeling more like himself than he had in the last three days. “We’re gonna help you out, okay, Carrie?”
“How are you gonna help me, Dean? You’re practically kids yourselves.”
“I may look young, but I’ve been around…a lot. Trust me. Sam and I…we’re the best hope your mom’s got.”
Dean circled around to the trunk of Carrie’s car where Sam was filling the plastic canteens they used to hold Holy Water.
While Dean had gotten the Schmidt kids settled into the boys’ rented room and had changed his clothes, Sam - using Carrie’s car - had run across town and raided the Impala’s trunk for a few of the things that they didn’t already have on them and was now arranging them in the back end of Carrie’s Honda.
“You get everything taken care of?” Sam asked, looking up from his work.
“Yep. Kids are in bed and the house is locked up safer than Fort Knox. S’no way a demon’s worming its way in there tonight.”
“And Mrs. Kirchmann? What did you tell her about the kids?”
Dean shrugged his shoulder and smirked, “She is none the wiser; snoring away in her recliner like usual. I snuck the kids upstairs and left a few rations to hold them over ‘til morning.”
Sam nodded his head in approval while loading salt rounds into both his and Dean’s shotguns. The nature of the case required they go in with minimal firepower; not that salt rounds would do much more than piss a demon off. They just couldn’t risk killing the mother of three young kids; couldn’t risk drawing attention to themselves when they were already in the limelight with no means of escape.
“I drove past the house on the way back here,” Sam said, “and it looks pretty dark, Dean. So, what’s the plan if we get there and she’s nowhere to be found?”
“I guess we’ll have to figure that out when we come to it.” Dean closed the lid of the trunk and the two men climbed into the sedan and sped off.
“Clear,” Sam said, entering the living room after having searched the entire main level. Behind him, Dean tromped down the stairs, ducking last second to avoid smacking his head on the door frame.
“Upstairs is clear too, but I found sulfur residue at the bedroom window.”
“Point of entry, maybe?”
“Yeah, but why here? Why now?”
“Because, she was sick,” Sam rationalized. “The treatments made her weak and vulnerable to attack. The question is: what does it want?”
“And how are we gonna find it? First things first though, we need to secure this house; can’t bring anybody home without protection laid out.” Dean took two small gunnysacks out of their large weapons duffle and tossed one to Sam. “And then we gotta turn this place upside down. S’gotta be something here that’ll give us a hint at what it’s up to.”
Sam bounced the bag of salt, feeling the weight shift in his hand.
“Dean, do you really think it’s a good idea to bring those kids back in here? What if it comes back and we’re not here?”
Dean turned from the window where he was laying salt lines and shrugged, “I guess we’ll just have to make sure there’s one of us with them at all times. It’s not rocket science, Sammy. Toss me that paint pen, will ya?”
The brothers worked their way around the house, salting all openings and laying devils traps in several vulnerable locations; paying special attention to what they had determined were the kids’ rooms as well as one centralized room on the main level they deemed a safe room.
“Hey, Dean!” Sam called through the house, “I think I found something.”
Dean found his brother in the kitchen. He made a quip about there being a time and place for a snack break and then sidled up alongside his brother to see what he’d found. Sam was staring pointedly at a large butcher block knife stabbed firmly through yesterday’s newspaper and into the laminate countertop beneath it. He looked at Dean with a raised eyebrow and then took a hold of the handle and rocked the knife back and forth until sprang loose from the counter and freed the paper.
“Local hero saves nine-year-old from school bus accident,” Dean read, holding the paper beneath the light over the kitchen sink. “Twenty-three-year-old, ISU student, Mark Heiser, is being touted as a hero after Wednesday’s daring rescue of elementary student, Jill Wilcox, who narrowly avoided being struck down by her own bus as she stepped off the curb. Of the incident, Heiser could only say, ‘I just knew something very bad was about to happen; chalk it up to right time, right place.’ –”
“Right, like how often does that really happen?” Sam interjected.
“Heiser, son of Joseph & Renee Heiser of Boxholm, is home for the holidays, and will receive a special commendation for bravery from the mayor during a brief ceremony Thursday morning, December 28th.”
Dean ran his hand over the quarter page photograph of Heiser, his finger tracing the X’s scratched out through the young man’s eyes. “Looks like somebody’s got a thing against heroes. So what, you think Momzilla’s after this Heiser kid?”
“Kinda looks that way,” Sam said, showing Dean the phone book he’d found lying on the kitchen floor when he’d come in. “Part of the page’s been ripped out, the part that would contain the Heisers.”
“Only one way to find out…we gotta find where Marky Mark and the Heiser Bunch live.”
In the corner of the kitchen sat a small, built-in desk that looked to be where Mrs. Schmidt took care of the household business. Dean went to the desk and cleared off the mess of paperwork and mail to uncover a buried laptop.
“Yahtzee!” He pulled the chair out from the desk, patted the seat as an invite to Sam. “Okay, my little research geek, hack this bitch and find us an address.”
It took Sam less than five minutes to crack the password and whitepage the address for J. Heiser, Boxholm, IA, and less than two minutes for them to be packed up and out the door.
They could see the lights from several blocks away; the tell-tale red and blue swirling strobe of multiple emergency vehicles, and when Dean pulled around the corner and to a stop, he whistled low and long.
“This can’t be good,” Sam whispered.
Surrounded by a congregation of red firetrucks and police cars, the house was ablaze; fully engulfed in tall reaching flames and billowing smoke that sank heavy in the cold winter air. The firemen worked hard to keep some measure of control over the fire, if for no other reason than to save the surrounding homes, but it was too late for this house.
“What happened?” Sam asked one of the neighbor ladies who was standing outside in silent vigil around the home.
“I’m not sure. It happened about fifteen minutes ago. I was folding laundry when I felt the whole ground shake like it was some kind of explosion, and then the house went up.”
“Isn’t that where the Heisers live?” Dean asked, surveying the house numbers on either side of the blaze. “Was anyone home?”
“Oh, no. They moved out about three weeks ago; built a house in the new addition; real nice place, too. Thank God for small miracles.”
“Yeah,” Dean answered dryly. “Miracles.” He caught his brother’s attention and signaled for him to circle the growing crowd. With a nod, Sam went to the right and Dean to the left, looking for anything out of the norm and specifically for Mrs. Schmidt, but a few minutes later, they came together with nothing.
“If it was here, it’s gone now. Maybe it circled back to the house,” Sam suggested.
“Okay, we’ll beat our way back there, see if there’s anything more we can dig up, but then we head back to the kids. I don’t wanna leave them alone too long.”
“Always the consummate big brother.”
“You’d know better than most,” Dean answered back, and then tapped Sam squarely in the arm; not enough to bruise, but just enough to knock his kid brother off kilter.
Since the phonebooks had not yet been updated, Sam had devised an ingenious plan to use the county assessor’s website to locate the Heisers’ new home, but that was also out of date.
Frustrated and tired after a long day, they made their way across town to the Impala and retrieved their bedrolls from the trunk. A tad bit musty and in need of a good cleaning, they would have to work since their bed was currently occupied by the three Schmidt children.
Sam crept up the stairs after Dean and collided with his back on the landing.
“Dean!” he whispered harshly, giving his brother a light shove, but then he followed Dean’s line of sight to the sleeping forms of the three Schmidt children. “What’s the matter?”
Carrie lay on her side, nearest to and facing the stairwell, a defensive tactic Sam recognized as one that Dean had first adopted when they were still children themselves and John had felt them old enough to stay on their own for a few days at a time. Behind her, the boys, Tim and Ryan were curled around each other; Tim’s head pillowed on Ryan’s arm, while the older boy’s other arm was draped protectively over Tim’s narrow chest. In the pale, golden light from an outside, street lamp, they looked angelic and so like Sam and Dean at that age, that Dean was shaken by the sight.
“It’s nothing,” Dean said finally. He moved into the room and shook his bedroll out alongside of the bed; the position closest to the stairwell, just like Carrie. Sam did the same at the foot of the bed, so when they were settled in, they lay head to head, forming a barrier around the sleeping kids.
“Hey Sammy?” Dean whispered up towards the ceiling. “You think things might have been different if we’d had a big sis like these boys do?”
“Different how? You mean better? No.”
“Why not? We’d have had somebody to look out for us, raise us right, like Mom should have been able to do.”
“We did have somebody to look after us…you. And believe it or not, Dean, I think you did just fine raising me.”
“Yeah, but –”
“Go to sleep Dean.”
Dean turned to look over his shoulder at the large, dark form that was his brother. Sometimes it still surprised him how big and tall his kid brother had gotten in the four years they were separated, but he’d never really considered the idea that he’d had any part in making that happen. He’d always been just doing his job, what he was made for – taking care of Sammy. To know that Sam thought he’d done a decent job at it, made Dean smile, and he drifted to sleep on that warm feeling.
“Brefvrest,” Sam greeted cheerily when he reached the top step with two Styrofoam cups of coffee balanced precariously in one hand, a grocery bag in the other and a bakery bag clenched between his teeth. He spit the bag out into Ryan’s waiting hands. The older Schmidt boy quickly opened the bag, stuck his nose in, took a deep breath and reemerged looking like he was in pastry heaven.
“Breakfast,” Sam repeated with a smile. “I’ve got coffee and chocolate milk to drink,” He handed the coffee off to Dean, then reached into the paper grocery bag and pulled out a half gallon of chocolate milk and cups. “I’ve got rolls and Cookie Crisp cereal.” Grinning wide, he presented the box of cereal to Tim, but it was quickly swiped away by Dean.
“Cookie Crisp?! Oh my God, I haven’t had Cookie Crisp since…I can’t even remember how long.”
Dean tore into the box and brought a handful of the cereal to his mouth, crunching and groaning loudly around the mouthful. Sam snatched the box back from his brother and handed it off to Carrie.
“Use the extra cups like bowls. You’ll have to eat it dry cuz I wasn’t thinking and forgot to grab any spoons or white milk.”
“That’s okay, we eat dry cereal all the time,” Carrie assured. “Mom’s on disability and milk’s expensive.” She poured a cup of cereal and a cup of milk for each boy and directed them to sit on the large braided floor rug which they did without argument. She joined them a moment later with her own breakfast, and the family-minus-one ate in tension-filled silence.
Dean was perched on the corner of the bed, making his way through first one, and then a second, glazed donut. He brought his coffee cup to his lips and took tentative sips, stopping when he recognized the pensive look on his brother’s features.
“I’ve been doing some thinking,” Sam answered under his breath, “about Mark Heiser.”
“What about him?” Dean asked, equally as quiet, because there was no use getting the kids more involved than they already were.
“He’s twenty-three– my age – with a demon on his tail.”
“Yeah, well, bad shit happens to good people all the time, Sammy. You know that.”
“I know, but I just can’t help but wonder: what if he’s like me? What if he’s another one of Yellow Eyes’s Special Children, like Max or Andy?”
Dean took a bite of his donut and chewed thoughtfully before saying, “I’m listening.”
“It’s something he said in that article, he just knew something bad was going to happen. Neither one of us believe in coincidences, so the fact that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time to save that kid…it doesn’t sit well with me.”
“Me neither, but if this is about Yellow Eyes, why aren’t you bent in half with one of your visions?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because it sent a second-rate demon to do its work?” Sam offered.
“Shyeah,” Dean scoffed, “did a bang-up job on this one, didn’t it? Burned down the wrong damn house, I’m surprised it didn’t go after the wrong Heiser.”
The boys turned to find Carrie standing nearly on top of them, looking pale and shaken.
“Keep your voice down,” Dean instructed, snagging her by the elbow and pulling her in to complete their circle. She sat down on the bed with her hand clasped over her mouth to hide her trembling.
Dean leaned into her, placing a comforting hand upon her shoulder and asked, “Joe and Renee Heiser; do you know them?”
Carried nodded, her bobbing head picking up speed as the information settled in. “It’s a small town, Dean. Everybody knows everybody. Mrs. Heiser was Ryan’s teacher last year in school.”
“Duh,” Sam said smacking his forehead, “Why didn’t we think of that? Carrie? Do you know where the Heisers moved to?”
“Of course.” Her eyes bounced back and forth from one Winchester to the other as they and shared a brief but significant look between them.
“We’re gonna need that address,” Dean announced a second later.
It was Saturday, the day before Christmas Eve, and Dean had his hands full with two boys and a bar full of customers.
He’d sent Sam and Carrie off at nine, giving her strict instructions to drop Sam off and then go directly to work for her scheduled shift.
“Whatever you do, don’t give anyone the impression that there’s anything wrong, okay? You do your job and then you hightail it to Pauley’s afterward, you understand? Don’t stop to talk to any of your friends; don’t answer any phone calls unless it’s from Sammy or me. Am I clear?”
“Yessir,” she’d responded automatically, and he smiled fondly at her.
Since Dean had the lunch shift at the bar, the brothers had decided that Sam would go to the Heisers’ under the guise of being an insurance adjuster. So, he’d suited up and Carrie had driven him to the new house, letting him off half a block away, and then she’d continued to the grocery store for work.
Dean meanwhile bundled up Ryan and Tim and together they made their way to the bar. Under normal circumstances, the half mile to Paul’s would be a piece of cake; flat terrain and well-laid sidewalks to lead the way, but that day a cold, moist wind had settled in, blowing uncharacteristically from the north and bringing with it, thick, wet flurries that stung the skin like ice.
Dean’s leather jacket was little protection against this kind of weather, and when they were about two blocks away yet, he gave in. He grabbed Tim up into his arms, snatched Ryan by the hand, and they sprinted the rest of the way.
“Wowza!” he exclaimed, bursting through the front door. Paul looked up from the bar where he was filling out a purchase order, and raised an eyebrow as the crew bustled into the building. Dean shook off the snow and peeled out of his jacket, hanging it up on a wall hook, and then turned to help Tim out of his coat and snow pants. The boys tromped in their snow boots across the room and clambered up into the bar stools beside Paul and leaned in to see what he was up to.
“Uh, yeah. I’m gonna need to talk to you about that,” Dean flicked his eyes to the back room, indicating that he didn’t want to talk in front of the kids.
Paul nodded his understanding. “You boys eat breakfast yet?” he asked.
“Yup,” Tim answered happily. “Sammy got us chocolate milk and cookies!”
“Cookie Crisp,” Dean corrected.
Paul reached under the counter and produced a paper cup of crayons of all colors, lengths and conditions, as well as a Hot Wheels coloring book that looked to be about twenty years old. Ryan was quick to grab onto the book; pouring through it until he found two pages side-by-side on which he and Tim could both color at the same time. Kid sure had his big brother duty down pat, Dean noted with a smile.
“Will you boys be okay here? I need to talk to Paul for a second.”
“Sure,” they replied in unison.
Dean followed Paul into the kitchen where the bartender turned on the pot-filler faucet and filled the sink for dishes.
“Grab me those dirty pans over there, will ya kid?” he asked. Dean gathered the morning skillets and brought them to the sink, letting them slide beneath the soapy water. Then he turned and leaned back against the wall, watching out of the corner of his eye as Paul scoured away the cooked on egg and sausage left after the morning’s breakfast. “Well?” Paul said, rinsing the suds off of the first pan. “You wanted to talk, so let’s talk. What’s going on? What’s got you playing mommy all of a sudden to two boys who’ve already got one?”
“They’re in trouble, Paul,” Dean answered soberly, “their mom and sister too.” He looked up from beneath his long, dark lashes; watching closely for the bartender’ response.
“What kind of trouble? Bad trouble?”
“Okay, so we take this to the authorities.”
Dean shook his head. “The cops can’t help them.”
“But you can?” Paul looked him up and down, skeptically, and beneath his gaze, Dean shifted uncomfortably. Then, as if to erase any doubt, Dean stood up a little straighter, raised his chin, and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Yes,” he answered, “Sam and I are the only ones who can help.”
Concern washed over Paul’s face and he shook his head in disappointment. “Just what the Hell are you wrapped up in, Dean?”
“More than you want to know.”
“Thank you.” Sam smiled, graciously accepting the cup of coffee Renee Heiser poured for him. She topped off her own cup as well as her husband’s, and then took a seat at the table beside him.
The Heisers were the typical Midwestern family. Two kids; Mark was in college, his sister, Jenna, was still in high school, and both of them honor students. Two working parents: Jim was the manager of the local Co-op, and Renee, they had already learned, was a school teacher in the elementary. Jim and Renee had been high school sweethearts and had recently celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. One dog: Fiercely protective but very lovable, Eddie, their 8-year-old Black Lab was seated beside Sam with his head resting heavily on Sam’s thigh. He nosed at Sam’s hand until Sam continued his rhythmic petting of the dog’s broad head.
“So you really think this might have been arson?” Renee asked, her shaking fingers causing the cup to jitter nervously against the saucer.
“It’s too early to tell, ma’am. The state investigators are running the tests, but all leading indicators are pointing towards it.”
Sam was talking out his ass, of course, but he did it so very well. He had one of those faces – albeit a young one – that made people fall all over themselves to trust and believe him. Dean often rolled his eyes and made fun of Sam for the kicked puppy look he did so well, but Sam knew that Dean genuinely appreciated the fact that his younger brother was so good with people. Dean was a man of action, and when he opened his mouth, he tended to be brutally honest and a tad bit scary.
Jim laid his hand over his wife’s; stilling her movement and helping to calm her nerves. “Are we suspects?” he asked, upfront.
“Truthfully? I don’t want to scare you; however, we suspect that this may have been a professional job. It appears as though your house may have been targeted.”
“Who would want to target us?”
“No, Mrs. Heiser, not you. Your son.”
“Mark?” Renee chirped; growing even more frightened. “Why?”
“I told you! I told you and you wouldn’t listen.”
All three turned to see Mark Heiser standing in the doorway.
“Mark,” his father hissed, “now is not the time.” Jim rose from the table. He crossed to his son and tugged him into the room, but Mark, who was taller and stronger than his father, pulled out of his grasp. He folded his hands over the back of the chair at the head of the table and glowered down the people sitting there.
“If not now, when?” Mark’s voice was low, even and deadly serious, and he held everyone’s complete attention. “Our home, Dad – the house that Jenna and I grew up in – is gone. Maybe now you’ll believe me when I say something bad is coming.”
“Wait,” Sam interrupted, “You knew this was going to happen? How exactly?”
“I know a lot of things,” Mark said, turning accusing eyes on Sam, “for example, I know you’re not who you say you are.”
He straightened, crossed his arms triumphantly and waited for Sam to deny it, but Sam didn’t plan to.
“You’re right,” Sam said, sitting back and crossing his arms as well, “but if you already know that, then you also know that I’m here to help.”
Mark frowned. “How? How can you help me? You don’t know what I’ve been going through. You don’t know –”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Mark. I do know. Because I’m just like you.”
It took a few seconds, but Sam’s words slowly sank into Mark and he slumped into the seat in a haze of relief and disbelief.
“You are?” Mark closed his hands around his mouth, steepling his fingers like prayer hands, and then he took a long, raged breath and fixed his eyes on Sam. “So, I’m not crazy?”
Sam smiled and shook his head.
“‘Just like you?’” Jim Heiser piped up, looking from one to the other, “What does he mean by that? What do you mean by that?”
“But it doesn’t matter,” Mark continued, ignoring his father’s questions, “I’ve seen what he’s capable of doing, and you can’t stop him.”
“Who?” his father asked, “What are you talking about?”
“The man with the yellow eyes, Dad,” Mark snapped, “I told you, and you wouldn’t believe me, but he’s real.”
“Have you seen him?” Sam asked. “Like, in the flesh?”
Mark shook his head, answering no.
“Well I have.” Sam looked from one member of the family to the next, finally landing on a very pale, nervous looking Renee Heiser. “And I’m guessing you have too, Mrs. Heiser,” he said when her hands flew up to cover the squeak that left her mouth.
“Have you been drinking?” Paul asked sternly.
Dean rolled his eyes and his jaw clenched in irritation. He’d broken the Winchester cardinal rule and opened up to Paul about everything; their life as hunters, the ghosts and demons and all the things that go bump in the night. He’d told Paul about the kids’ situation and what their plan was to help them get their mother back from the demon’s grasp, and all he’d gotten in return was: Have you been drinking?
“Should’ve known better,” Dean grumbled. He pushed passed Paul and went to leave the privacy of the kitchen, but was pulled up short when Paul’s hand wrapped around Dean’s arm.
“What are you gettin’ so upset about?”
“Because…” Dean whirled around on the bartender, “because, you’re making some big fuckin’ joke out of this, when I’m being dead serious. I should’ve known better than to go involving a…a civilian,” he hissed.
“Why are you involving me?”
“Because, I trust you,” Dean blurted out before he’d had a chance to truly think it over, “I don’t know why, but I do. I trust you. Hell, maybe Sam was right?” Dean deflated thinking about how, only two days ago, Sam had accused him of finding a ‘pseudo-Dad’ in Paul, and maybe to some degree, Sam was right, but it wasn’t just about being a soldier and taking orders. Dean looked through the doorway into the main room of the bar where the boys were still happily coloring.
Ryan had an arm wrapped protectively around the shoulders of his little brother. He leaned in, pointed at something on the coloring page, smiled and said something encouraging to Tim which made the little boy’s face light up with glee. Then, as if he felt Dean’s gaze upon him, Ryan looked up and his smile melted away. Left in its place was a look that mirror Dean’s own; apprehension and the need for reassurance; the same look Dean had been giving Paul since they’d first met.
The corner of Dean’s mouth quirked up and he gave Ryan a subtle wink. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to have Ryan sitting up a little straighter, and pasting a confident smile across his young face.
“Maybe Sam was right about what, Dean?”
“Nothing.” Dean shook his head and stepped back into the kitchen. “Look, believe me, don’t believe me; that’s you’re prerogative, but these kids are in real danger, and Sam and I could use an extra hand.”
Searching Dean’s face for answers, Paul took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Fine,” he said with a shake of his head. “What do you need me to do?”
“I need to know what you remember,” Sam had encouraged.
Mrs. Heiser had become greatly agitated by the mere mention of a ‘yellow-eyed man’, so Sam had suggested that they move the conversation into the living room where she might feel more at ease. It hadn’t helped much.
Once she was faced with both her husband and their son, she’d broken down; her eyes welling with tears and her breath becoming ragged with grief and guilt.
Sam pulled a small ottoman over to the sofa where she sat, and took a seat there in front of her, shielding her from the prying eyes of her family. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket – something he’d become quite used to carrying specifically for this reason – and pressed it into her hand.
“Mrs. Heiser…Renee, look at me,” he said, “I know this is hard, but it’s very important that you tell me everything. If I’m going to help your family, I need to know.”
Mrs. Heiser dabbed at her reddening eyes, composed herself and nodded.
“It happened so long ago,” she said, “when Mark was still a baby. He was upstairs in his crib, sleeping, and I was busy doing laundry, and…he just wanted to see the baby. Everyone wanted to see the baby, so I didn’t think anything of it.”
“You let some stranger into our house?” Joe exclaimed, “Into our son’s bedroom?”
“No, of course not. It was Jerry.”
“Jerry? You mean my brother, Jerry?”
“What are you – are you saying you think Jerry burned our house down?”
While his parents shouted back and forth at one another, Mark rocked up and out of the recliner and began nervously pacing the narrow end of the room, and just like that, the picture perfect family dissolved into chaos. Sam was quickly losing control over the situation.
“Stop.” He interjected firmly. “Save the family therapy session for a time when you’re all not in mortal danger, okay? That thing…wasn’t your brother.”
“He’s right,” Renee added, shakily. “I thought it was Jerry, but I was wrong,” she looked up at her husband, who had also risen to his feet. He stopped his pacing and looked to her hopefully. “It looked just like him, Joe; sounded just like him. He’d stopped over real late one night; it was harvest, I remember, because you were working nights at the scales. I was surprised to see him, but it was Jerry, you know? He’s always had a habit of showing up at weird hours unannounced, so I let him in. He went upstairs and I went back to folding clothes and nothing seemed out of place until he came back down and went to leave. I came out of the laundry room just as he was heading for the door, and I noticed these spots on the floor; like a trail of dark red paint on our tan carpet. I remember being upset because we’d just had that carpet installed that summer, but then I realized that it wasn’t paint, it was blood.”
There was a soft gasp, and Renee paused to glance over at her son, who was standing at the back of the room, listening to her, with his hand wrapped around his mouth; his eyes wide and fearful.
“I asked him then,” she continued, “‘Jerry, are you bleeding?’ and he turned around and I nearly screamed. His eyes were this gold color; lit up from the inside like sun through amber, and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t move. He had pinned me against the wall, except that he wasn’t touching me; never laid a hand on me. I tried to look away, but he wouldn’t let me. I tried to scream, but nothing came out. He just held a finger up to his lips and shushed me, and then he left, and I could move again. I ran upstairs to check on you, Mark, but you were fine; sleeping and perfect and not a hair out of place. I thought maybe I imagined the whole thing, except that there were still these spots of blood on the carpet.”
“Jesus, Renee,” Joe breathed. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this?”
“What was I supposed to say? ‘Don’t think I’m crazy or anything, but I think your brother is Satan.’ Oh yeah, that would have gone over real well.”
“It’s not Satan, but it might as well be. What you saw, Mrs. Heiser, was a demon; a very powerful demon, possessing the body of your brother-in-law. Although, honestly, it could have been anyone,” he added as an afterthought.
“There’s no such thing,” Joe Heiser argued.
“Dad, be quiet.” Mark came back into the center of the room and turned to Sam. “This yellow-eyed man, this demon…he takes control over people?”
“Their bodies, yes.”
“Why is he targeting our family?”
“It’s not targeting your family…it’s targeting you.”
Mark turned on the ball of his foot and fled from the room.
“Whoa whoa whoa. Mark, stop!”
The front door banged open as Mark stormed out of the house, taking the front steps in one and tearing down the snowy driveway in a panic.
Both his father and Sam were out the door and hot on his heels a beat later, and although he had a head start on them, it didn’t take much effort for Sam’s long legs to cut the distance and catch up with Mark. He stepped in front of him and placed an open hand firmly against the other man’s chest.
“Where are you going?” he asked Mark, tilting his head so that he could make eye contact with the very upset man.
“Away,” Mark answered, dodging away from Sam, but Sam was quick and caught him around the chest and hauled him to a stop. “Le’go,” Mark demanded, but Sam held firm.
“You need to come back inside and quit drawing attention to yourself.”
“No, what I need to do is get the fuck outta Dodge before this thing comes looking for me. You heard her,” he said pointed to the house and his mother who stood just inside the doorway, “she said it came for me…in my Uncle’s skin. And you tell me it’s coming for me now? That it could be anyone? For all I know, it could be you!”
Sam rolled his eyes and blew out a frustrated breath. “It’s not me. Look, you have every right to be scared, okay? But you running away…” Sam shook his head, “it’s not going to prevent them from getting hurt. It’s still gonna come and it’s going to use your family as leverage to get to you.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Don’t I? It killed my mother. Twenty-two years later, it killed my girlfriend. It burned them both alive on the ceiling. Six months ago, I lost my father to it. Tell me again that I don’t know what I’m talking about. So…you’re gonna suck it up, walk back inside and we’re gonna figure out our next move, alright?”
It was a quarter past two in the afternoon and Dean was bent over the grill, scrubbing away at the hot cook plate, when Carrie walked into the kitchen of Paul’s bar and directly up to his side. She stabbed a sharp finger into the meat of his shoulder causing him to rear up in surprise, banging the back of his head against the range hood.
“Ow, shit!” His grease covered hand flew up to the source of flaring pain and rubbed, coating his hair with the thick black grime. “What?”
“Why do y–” Carrie’s voice cut off sharply; her jaw falling slack at the sight of him. Dean frowned at her and then followed her line of sight down to his chest. He was dressed in a plain white v-neck – probably one that belonged to Sam as it seemed a bit on the small side – and sweating profusely. His lips quirked and he looked up at her from beneath long dark eyelashes; eyes twinkling with mischief.
“My eyes are up here sweetheart,” he teased.
Carrie blushed, and then squared her shoulders, regaining her composure. “Why is my little brother bussing tables?”
Ryan chose that moment to come around the corner with a short stack of dishes. He dropped them into the dish water, smiled brightly at Dean, and held up two dollar bills.
“He’s staying busy,” Dean offered. “The kid was bored, so we put him to work. It’s not gonna hurt him none to help out, besides, I’m splitting my tips with him, so it’s not like slave labor or anything.”
“And Timmy? What do you got him doing, serving beer?”
“No.” Dean rolled his eyes and shook his head. “He’s in the cooler with Paul doing inventory.”
Dean grinned behind Carrie’s back as she made a beeline for the cooler and pulled on the handle, swinging the door open wide. Inside, Tim stood on a step stool, wrapped up tight in his winter coat and hat and mittens, counting out the beer bottles, one at a time, while Paul did his own counting, scratching figures down on a clipboard as he went. Carrie couldn’t help but smile at the amusing scene.
“How’s it going in here?” she asked.
Tim looked up and beamed at his sister. “Carrie! Look, I’m helpin’. I counted all these bottles. There’s…um…oh man! I forgot where I was! Carrie!” he cried, accusingly.
“Is he helping or hurting?” she asked Paul.
“No, Timmy’s doing a great job, aren’t ya buddy?” Tim nodded enthusiastically and went back to counting. “Although his counting out loud tends to throw off my own count,” Paul answered with a laugh.
“See,” Dean spoke quietly over her shoulder, “everybody’s good.”
Carrie turned and followed Dean back out of the cooler. He stopped at the sink and scrubbed down with a bar of Lava Soap, but watched her out of the corner of his eye.
“Relax,” Dean whispered just loud enough for her to hear, “We’ve got everything under control.”
“Sorry.” She sagged against the wall, letting her head thump back against the paneling. “I’m just…”
“Yeah, I know. Come on,” he tilted his head toward the front room, “we need to pow wow.”
Dean led Carrie into the main room of the bar and pulled a chair out for her at the head table. “You want a soda?”
“Soda?” she asked, taking a seat. She cocked an eyebrow in mocking judgment. “Where are you from?”
“I…am a man of the world,” he remarked. “Do you want one or not?”
“Yeah, I’ll take one or your sodas.”
Dean poured Pepsi from the tap into two glasses and before joining her at the table, checked on Ryan to be sure he was staying busy with the dishes and out of earshot.
“Sammy called a couple hours ago and –”
“Are the Heisers okay?” Carrie interrupted.
The girl had a good head on her shoulders, Dean thought, smiling. Not many not-quite-seventeen-year-olds would put someone else’s wellbeing before the thoughts of their own family. “They’re safe,” he answered, “for now. I wanted to talk to you about tonight and what’s gonna go down.”
“You and the boys are gonna stay here with Paul tonight,” he started.
“Because I want you to be with someone I trust; someone who can keep you safe…just in case.”
“Just in case, what? Are you going after my mom?”
Dean could hear the tension building in her voice; could see it etched across her face and beginning to shimmer in her eyes.
“Yeah Carrie, we are.” In an attempt to be comforting, Dean reached across the table and placed his hand over hers, but she quickly pulled her hand free and laid both hands clenched in her lap.
“What’s wrong with her, Dean? What’s wrong with my mom?”
Dean swallowed uncomfortably and steeled himself for the conversation he’d been dreading since the day before.
“It’s bad; I know it is, because you and Sam shut up real fast when any of us come around, but you don’t have to bullshit me, okay? I’m old enough for the truth.”
“Age has got nothin’ to do with it, Carrie. I just don’t–”
“If this was your mother, you’d want to know.”
“Yes, I would.”
There was no doubt about it; no hesitation what-so-ever. If their situations were reversed, Dean would fight tooth and nail to know the truth, but a 16-year-old Dean and a 16-year-old Carrie were two completely different animals and Dean couldn’t bring himself to hurt the young girl in front of him; couldn’t strip away her innocence, like his had been taken from him.
He took a long deep breath that filled his lungs to the top, and then blew it out through pursed lips and ran a hand over his face, feeling a thin layer of lunch grease painted across his forehead.
“But, there’s just some things in this world you shouldn’t have to know about and this is one of them. And you can be pissed at me if you want, but you can’t blame me for wanting to shield you kids from this.”
Carrie’s eyes grew stormy and moist, but she didn’t say a word. Instead she brought a hand up to her mouth and pressed the backs of her fingers to her lips in a subconscious measure to stay quiet and stop her from saying the wrong thing.
“Whatever it takes, Carrie, I’m going to bring her back.”
Dean reached out again, but Carrie was quickly on her feet, knocking the chair over in the process and moving away from Dean.
“Where are you going?” he called after her; concerned that she might make a run for it.
“To stay busy,” she shouted angrily, pushing her way past a frightened Ryan and into the kitchen.
“What do you have in your hair?”
Dean smacked Sam’s hand away and scowled at him. “It’s grease from cleaning the grill, okay? I worked today, man. What’d you do?”
“It’s gross. Looks like caked on ecto or somethin’.” Sam pulled a face and forced down his gag reflex, having made the mistake of smelling the black grit clinging to his fingers. “Oh, that’s so gross,” Sam groaned, and before his brother knew what Sam was doing, he’d wiped his fingers on the back of Dean’s jacket.
“Dude!” Dean growled, “Don’t wipe that crap off on me. Get away from me. Go…check the windows and doors again or something.”
But the windows and doors had been checked and rechecked multiple times throughout the day. While Sam and the Heisers had waited for Dean to arrive, Sam had busied himself with the task of laying strategic devil’s traps and salting all of the windows and doors; save the front door. Their agreed upon plan was to use Mark to lure the demon in through the only opening available and then spring their trap. Of course Winchester plans had a way of going awry, so Sam had taken the time to devise plans B and C; although plan C was sketchy at best.
Joe, Renee & Mark Heiser – daughter, Jenna was on a skiing trip with a friend – were seated once again at the dining room table, and although Joe had suggested they vamoose before the big production took place, Sam had quickly shot that idea down. It was far too risky to let them walk out of the house. Out from beneath his or Dean’s protection they would become easy targets and valuable pawns to be used against Mark. No, it was definitely safer for the family to remain, even if that meant putting them directly in the line of fire. The Winchester opinion held fast when Dean arrived at the house shortly after three.
Before joining Sam, Dean had made sure the Schmidt kids were settled with Paul, and had taken the proper precautions to make certain they were as protected as they could be. Paul had balked at the idea of closing up shop early, but Dean had insisted; instructing him on what to do and what not to do in case the worst should happen.
But now, set up at the Heisers’ and standing guard at the front window, Dean was having reservations about leaving those kids and his friend alone. Worse yet was the family, sitting anxious and vulnerable in the very next room. He had to wonder how effective he and his brother could possibly be protecting all these innocent people against a demon, who, on a mission to get at the Heiser kid, had already destroyed one home in the attempt. While he and Sam were eighty percent sure that the demon would make another run at Mark, eighty percent was still a long ways from absolute, and their decisions were weighing heavily on Dean’s mind. So much so, that it drew Sam’s attention.
Sam nudged him gently, rousing Dean from his thoughts. “Hey, where’d you go?”
“Yeah, sorry, I’m here.”
“I know you’re worried about them, Dean, but you gotta put those kids out of your head and concentrate on this. There’s more than one family at stake here.”
“Shut up, Sammy.”
“No really, Dean.”
“No really, Sam, shut up and look.” He tugged his brother into place and carefully pushed the vertical blinds aside. “It’s go time.”
Several blocks away, a street lamp flickered, and then one sputtered outside a house fifty yards closer. One by one, the lights of the street flickered off and then back on, coming closer and closer until there was only one street lamp left. The light went out, and when it flashed back on, the corner was flooded with light and a lone figure stood in the center of the street.
Dean recognized her immediately – the Momma Bear from downtown – and pushed his brother into action. Sam fled into the dining room, forcing Mr. & Mrs. Heiser up out of their chairs and further into the house for their own protection.
“No no, no, Mark! Mark, come with us,” Renee shouted, clawing over Sam to get to her son.
“Mom, go. It’s okay. It’s gonna be okay,” Mark assured her. He squeezed his mom’s hand, and then let Sam take her into the next room. He turned to his father and was pulled into a fierce hug.
“You don’t have to do this, Mark.”
“Yeah, I do. Sam is right, Dad; if I don’t stand up to it now, it’ll find another way to get to me, and I can’t risk it using you guys as leverage. Please, Dad, just go.”
“Mr. Heiser…you have to go now.”
With a reluctant nod, Joe followed his wife through the next room and down into the basement. Sam quickly locked and salted the door before returning to the front room.
“D’you know much about guns?” Dean was asking Mark, who nodded and assured Dean that he could manage well enough. “Alright, well these aren’t your typical rounds,” He withdrew one of the red shells from his pocket and held it up in the light for Mark to see. “They’re salt rounds.” Dean loaded the shell into the 12 gauge pump action, and with a push and pull of the fore-arm, had the cartridge chambered and ready to go. “They won’t kill it, but they’ll burn like a bitch, but…we’re not taking a shot unless it is absolutely necessary. We’re bringing this one down alive…no matter what. Capiche?”
“Yeah, got it.” Mark held his hand out expecting Dean to hand the weapon off to him, but received a loud guffaw instead.
“Hell no!” Dean laughed, “What do you take me for? No, you get this.” Dean slapped a canteen of Holy Water into Mark’s hand with a smile, clapping his hand roughly against Mark’s back. He tossed the loaded shotgun to Sam as he came around the corner. “Sammy and I will handle the guns. Your job is to stay in front of the demon, draw its attention, but stay out of the fight. Think you can handle that college boy?”
Mark’s lip curled. Frowning, he turned to Sam and asked, “Is he for real?” To which Sam could only shrug in response.
“Oh, and if you got any other psychic freak powers in that arsenal of yours, now would be the time to pull them out.”
“Other powers?” Mark squeaked.
“Now’s not the time, Dean,” Sam warned with a scowl.
“I’m just saying, the power to freeze time would be really friggin’ sweet right now.”
Sam went to the window and peeked through the blinds.
“What’s it doin’ out there, Sammy?” Dean asked.
“I dunno. It’s just standing there, looking–”
“I know you’re in there.” The voice of the hijacked mother of three cut Sam off; the sound reverberating through the house as though it were standing in the room with them. “Come out, come out, wherever you are…Winchesters.”
“Dammit,” Dean swore. “Can’t even throw a good surprise party anymore.”
Dean approached the door, glancing out its window. The demon wearing Mrs. Schmidt was strolling up the walk as though it had not a care in the world; confident and sure, with its shoulders back and its chin held high. Mrs. Schmidt – Michelle was her name – was a slight woman; petite in stature and frail-looking after her long illness, but there was an unmistakable and unnatural strength coursing through her.
As if it could feel Dean’s eyes upon it, the demon tilted its head in his direction and narrowed its eyes. Dean turned his back into the wall beside the front door and braced for the attack.
“Here we go,” he called out to no one in particular. On the other side of the door, came the soft trustworthy voice of a mother.
“Little pig, little pig, let me come in.”
Frowning, Sam and Dean looked to each other; Sam shrugging his shoulders in reply to Dean’s unasked question. Dean cleared his throat and in a falsetto voice, responded, “Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.” He turned his head to grin proudly at Sam, but found his brother slack-jawed and rolling his eyes.
Sam was about to lecture Dean on the pros and cons of antagonizing demons, when the door was blasted open. Knocked off its hinges, the solid oak door danced on one corner before twisting, turning, and crashing down, narrowly missing Sam, who dove out of its way just in time. He scrambled to his feet, and then backed up to stand in front of Mark protectively.
Dean took a step back, but then held his ground, with his shotgun resting against his hip and his finger on the trigger, as the demon stepped over the threshold and into the house; its eyes flashing inky black. “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll tear you to shreds as an afterthought.”
“Now see, that doesn’t even rhyme,” Dean quipped.
“No. It doesn’t,” it turned to him and sneered, “but your entrails splattered around the room will be poetic; artistic even.” Then it bent down and slid the area rug back, exposing the first of several devil’s traps throughout the home. Dean watched tensely, swallowing down the thick lump of apprehension as the demon ran its finger over a deep scratch in the hardwood floor caused by the crashing door. The trap was broken.
Dean brought the barrel of his shotgun up fast, but he wasn’t quick enough. The demon snatched the weapon in one hand and with a flick of its other, sent Dean flying, ass over elbows into a recliner, tumbling him to the hardwood below and up-ending the chair on top of him. Dean knocked his head hard against the floor, and then slumped down, unmoving.
The demon ejected the shells from Dean’s weapon, tossing it aside and turned to stalk after Sam, who was pushing Mark through to the kitchen. Sam whipped around with his arm extended, canteen in hand, dousing the demon in Holy Water. It screamed; an earsplitting sound that vibrated through Sam’s inner ear, making him cringe and want to cover his ears. And in that split second of distraction, the demon was on him; sweeping his legs and pinning him to the floor.
It straddled Sam’s chest and wrapped its hands around his throat. Sam tried to use his shotgun to way-lay the demon, but it was too fast and too strong, ripping the weapon from his hands and using the butt of the gun to smack him hard across the face before tossing the gun away.
“I’m going to enjoy this.”
The demon leaned down and licked a broad stroke up the side of Sam’s face where a welt was quickly rising to the surface. Sam groaned; half in pain, half in disgust, but was unable to do more as the demon retightened its hands, pressing down on his windpipe and cutting off all air to his lungs until Sam’s vision was going black around the edges.
“Get off of him!” Mark Heiser was there in the blink of an eye, swinging a stainless steel skillet like a baseball bat; connecting squarely with the demon’s head and knocking it off of Sam and onto the floor.
The hit, however, did nothing but anger the demon. It spun around and zeroed in on Mark, rising up from the floor. It stepped over Sam, who lay coughing and sputtering and dragging raged breaths into his oxygen starved lungs. Mark backpedaled, grabbing his canteen of Holy Water from the counter as he went. He opened the lid and held the plastic bottle in front of him as though it alone could protect him.
“Now, Mark…is that anyway to treat a friend?”
“You were going to kill him!”
“Well, yeah,” it responded as if that should have been painfully obvious, “that’s what I was trying to do until you so rudely hit me. What did I ever do to you?”
The demon followed Mark around the kitchen counter, backing him into a corner.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Mark. I told you, we’re friends.”
Its voice was soft and genuine and under normal circumstances, Mark might have been persuaded to believe it, except for the dark look of hunger in its eyes. It stalked closer, closing the distance between them until he was trapped with its arms on either side of him, pinning him against the counter.
“What do you want from me?” he asked, his voice betraying the fear that was vibrating through him.
“We’re just going to go for a little ride, and if no one gets in our way, then no one needs to get hurt. Okay?”
“What about Mrs. Schmidt?”
The demon shook its head in confusion. “Who?”
“The woman you’re possessing,” Mark answered, “Michelle Schmidt. Is she okay?”
“Oh, is that her name? Yes, she’s perfectly fine. In fact, she’s better than ever. Better with me; stronger with me. She’s in here, you know…with me. Such a feisty little thing for having been so sick; kicking and screaming and fighting against me.”
“That’s all I needed to hear.”
Mark flicked the open canteen away from him, sending a spray of Holy Water into the face of the demon, and then he dove under one arm, throwing himself away from the screeching evil spirit as it swung out blindly at him. He scrambled across the floor, finally gaining his feet and racing for the back door.
“I’m gonna tear you apart!”
The demon chased after him, cussing and crashing through the door, stumbling unsteadily down the steps into the attached garage, where Mark was once again trapped. It slowed, stalking him like prey, circling around, and ready to pounce on him.
“I’m not going to let you hurt her,” Mark shouted defiantly.
“If I were you, I’d be more worried about myself. Because when I get a hold of you, I’m gonna string your intestines on the tree like a garland.”
It screamed a warrior’s cry and Mark couldn’t help but squeeze his eyes shut when it lunged for him, but the impact didn’t come. He opened his eyes slowly to find the demon on the floor, looking stunned. It had barreled across the room and slammed hard into the invisible barrier that surrounded the hidden devil’s trap, knocking it to the ground.
Mark’s lips lifted into a crooked grin and he pointed up toward the ceiling, where a very obvious devil’s trap had been painted.
“What?! No!” The demon raged inside the circle, promising a pain worse than death when it escaped.
“I don’t think that’ll be happening anytime soon,” Sam croaked from the doorway.
“I did it.” Mark looked up and beamed proudly at the Winchester brothers as they hobbled their way down the steps.
“Yeah, you did,” Dean returned Mark’s smile. “You did good, kid.”
Once Sam and Dean had seen the Heisers safely away from their home on an extended vacation, they returned to the garage where they had the demon bound to a dining chair and restrained within the devil’s trap. It had been given a good long while to stew in its juices and was good and ornery by the time they’d come back for it.
“You done throwing your little tantrum?” Dean asked. He pulled a chair around, straddled it backwards and sat down, just inches from the invisible border of the devil’s trap; just inches away from the demon, itself.
“Sam and Dean,” it crooned, “lemme get a good look at you boys.” As it took its time looking them up and down, Dean continued to lean into its line of vision, subconsciously blocking his brother from its view. Never the less, the demon saw all that it needed to see, its eyes growing steadily darker until they flicked completely black.
“Sammy Winchester. I’d heard you were yummy, but you have exceeded my expectations. Hmmm,” It ran its tongue over its lips, smiling eagerly at Sam who watched it, indifferent to the show the demon was putting on. “Why don’t you…mmm…come a little closer and gimme a taste.”
“Sam,” Dean warned, raising a hand to stay his brother, as though the warning was needed. Sam’s only movement was to cross his arms and roll his eyes.
“Just a little nibble,” the demon directed at Dean. Clearly Sam wasn’t to be swayed, but his older brother was proving an interesting challenge. It leaned closer, brushing against the unseen wall between them. “He might even like it,” the demon purred, and immediately knew that it had pressed the right button.
Dean leaned far over his chair, coming nose to nose with the demon; the muscle of his jaw straining beneath the skin and his nostrils flaring as he growled, “You ain’t touchin’ my brother, bitch.”
“Oh,” the demon puffed out its lower lip, pouting. “Don’t be jealous, baby. We can share.”
The sad face melted into a smug satisfied grin and its laugh rolled around the garage when Dean shoved his chair aside, knocking it to the floor with a loud bang.
He planted his hands firmly on the arms of the dining chair that the demon was tied to and leaned over, getting right up in the demon’s face and giving it his own brand of menacing smile.
“D’you know what happened to the last little Hell bitch that got smart with me?” he asked.
“No.” The demon’s eyes grew wide with giddy excitement. “Did you spank her real good?” It closed its eyes, leaned further into him and moaned deeply, “Mmmm, Dean, you’re turnin’ me on. If I promise to be real bad, will you spank me too?”
Sam stepped forward then, pulling Dean away and warning him to quit provoking the demon. “Let’s get this over with so we can get Michelle Schmidt back to her kids. Dean, you hear me?”
Dean knew only too well how much it hurt to lose your mom to a demon, and much as he would love to give free rein to his hatred for the creature sitting before him, that creature was wearing somebody’s mom. He sheathed his anger and stepped back with a sigh, giving in to his little brother’s request. “Alright then, crank it up Sammy.”
Sam opened their father’s journal and began the Latin recitation. “Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus”
The demon grew restless under the Rituale Romanum and began panting and thrashing around within the confines of its restraints, but Sam did not stop.
“omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursion infernalis adversarii, omnis legio”
“I know someone,” the demon laughed while gasping for air. “Someone who can’t wait to get a piece of your fine ass,” she directed at Sam, all the while shaking and straining against the power of the Rite. Sam couldn’t help but pause and glance up at her.
“You can tell ole Yellow Eyes to shove it where the sun does shine,” Dean spat at the demon, “cuz he’s not laying one hand on Sam. Keep going, Sammy.”
“omnis congregatio et secta diabolica.”
“N-not Yellow Eyes,” it groaned, writhing in pain, and again Sam stopped, curious to hear what the demon had to say. “Don-don’t get me wrong…he’s comin’ and when he does…” it stopped to catch its breath, panting hard, yet smiling; a dark and sinister sneer. “But there’s a special someone who’s got a hardcore jones for you, Sammy. And she’s gonna ride you hard…” its eyes ticked to Dean; a slight move, but one which Dean caught, “and put you away…bloody.”
“Alright, enough with the foreplay. Sammy, get this over with. I’m tired of hearing this bitch flap its lips.”
“Is she alive?”
No sooner had the demon smoked out of Michelle Schmidt’s body, than Sam was crossing into the devil’s trap and kneeling beside her. He ran his hand up her neck, seeking out the pulse point and quieted; waiting for the telltale thrumming against the pads of his fingers. It was there, and he sighed in relief; his brother, behind him, sighing simultaneously. Sam carefully lifted first one and then the other eyelid.
“She’s got a concussion.”
“She got her bell rung pretty good, dude,” Dean offered, “of course she’s got a concussion. The question is, how bad?”
Loss of consciousness was a pretty good indicator under normal circumstances, however, demon possession was never a normal circumstance and most victims seemed to lose consciousness at least briefly when the demon was exorcized.
“Michelle? Can you hear me?”
Mrs. Schmidt stirred then to the sound of Sam calling her name quietly. Groaning, she leaned away from the soft press of his hand as he probed her scalp for open wounds she might have sustained in the hit.
“Dean, help me with these ropes.”
Dean dropped to his knees beside his brother and together they began tearing away at the knots they’d made to restrain the woman’s body during the exorcism; her arms first and then her legs, until she was free and slumping forward into Dean’s chest.
“I gotcha, sweetheart.” Rising to his feet, Dean gathered the petite woman into his arms. She seemed to weigh next to nothing, so he was easily able to carry her into the house; Sam opening doors and clearing the path before him. Dean laid her gently onto the sofa, smoothing the hair from her face and holding her motionless as she opened her eyes and tried to say something to him.
“Don’t move, okay? Try not to speak. Sammy, get a glass of water or somethin’.”
Sam disappeared into the kitchen, and then returned a short minute later with a glass of water. Dean eased the woman up and helped her to take a few careful sips, and when he asked if it had helped, she nodded yes.
“Kids?” She grasped one of his hands, clinging to it as though he was a lifeline.
“Safe,” Dean answered, giving her hand a comforting squeeze, “and so are you.”
“Yes ma’am.” Sam leaned over his brother’s shoulder and into her line of vision. “Once you’re up for it, we’re gonna get you home; make sure you’re okay.”
Thick wet snow fell in Boxholm, insulating the town in a blanket of silence so eerie and foreboding that it was almost deafening. Inside the Schmidt home, it was the same; a home full of tension and people; not a one of them saying a word; all of them afraid of jinxing the results from the next room where Michelle Schmidt was being examined by a physician. The closest clinic was eight miles away in Ogden, but the storm that had blown in had made travel outside of town, ‘not recommended’ and travel in town, precarious at best. But Paul, being the local barman, knew everything there was to know about everyone in town. One phone call and he had made arrangements for a doctor from one of the Ogden clinics who lived locally to make a house call. And so they waited – Paul, the three Schmidt children, Sam and Dean – outside the downstairs bedroom, filling up the living room with their uneasy silence.
Carrie sat on one end of the sofa – which was little more than a love seat – with younger brother, Ryan leaning heavily into her side; his head resting on her shoulder. Sam was crammed into the other corner of the sofa with the youngest Schimidt cuddled up in his lap. As still as he was sitting, Timmy could have been sound asleep, but every time Sam leaned his head down to check, the little boy’s blue-gray eyes tilted up to look back at him. Paul was seated in a recliner, rocking a slow and steady rhythm all the while watching Dean nervously pace the floor like an expectant father.
“This is taking forever,” Dean groaned. “Why’s this taking so long?”
“He’s just being thorough, Dean,” Sam offered.
“Light somewhere, will ya kid?” Paul said finally, having grown slightly dizzy from Dean’s back and forth. “You’re making us all nervous.”
Dean did stop then, giving both Paul and Sam dark and stormy looks before promptly sitting down with a huff on the arm of the sofa next to Sam. A moment later, he looked down when Sam suddenly clamped a firm hand over his knee to stop it from bouncing. Dean hadn’t even realized he’d been doing it. So many thoughts running through his head kept him from noticing much; except how long the doctor was taking with Michelle Schmidt.
People got hurt all the time in their line of work. Sometimes they were hunters, but more often they were innocent civilians – victims to whatever heinous evil they had chasing after them. But this was different, somehow, and casting his eyes around the room at all the morose faces, he realized that this time was more…personal. He checked his watch for the third time in ten minutes, and puffed his cheeks, exhaling noisily.
As if on cue, the doctor appeared in the doorway, surprising Dean and causing him to nearly fall over himself in his scramble to stand.
Paul too was on his feet. He stepped around Dean and in a quiet, yet commanding voice, said to him: “Sit down before you hurt yourself.”
Dean frowned, but did as he was told, sliding into Paul’s relinquished chair and ignoring Sam’s pointed look. They watched as Paul met the doctor midway across the room, shook the man’s hand and exchanged a few quiet words before the doctor turned to address the room.
The doctor rounded the sofa and took a seat on the sturdy coffee table in front of them and placed a comforting hand on Ryan’s knee. “Your mother will be fine. She’s got a pretty good bump on her head; right here,” he touched his fingers to a place on his head up and to the back of his right ear, and then said to Carrie, “I’ll show you how to take care of it, okay? I don’t want you giving her any Ibuprofen right now, because she has a minor concussion, but she’s thinking clearly, and that’s a good sign. You can use ice packs for any swelling or pain too. What she needs most is a lot of rest, so you children be good for her, alright?” The doctor glanced across at Dean and Sam. “I want her to be seen again in a few days; either by her own doctor if she can get into Ames or by me if this weather still hasn’t cleared up.” He turned back to Carrie. “Do you have any questions?”
Wide-eyed and looking a bit intimidated, Carrie shook her head.
“You can go in and see her, but just for a few minutes. She really does need her rest.”
Carrie rose, and like he was magnetized to her side, Ryan immediately followed her. Tim, however, buried himself further into Sam’s chest, clinging to him.
“Timmy,” Carrie called, holding her hand out to him, but her little brother vehemently shook his head ‘no’, clutching at Sam’s over shirt.
“It’s alright,” Sam assured her. “He can stay with me. You two go on.”
Carrie hesitated for a second, but then nodded and took Ryan by the hand instead and together they walked into their mother’s bedroom.
“S’okay bud, I gotcha.” Sam wrapped his arms around the little boy, tucking him under his chin and rocking him gently. He glanced up and was surprised to find Dean watching them; his eyes, heavy with something that Sam couldn’t place.
“So…” Dean averted his eyes and turned his attention back to the doctor. “She’s really gonna be okay…Michelle?”
“Yes, well, like I said, I want her to be checked out in a clinic once this storm is passed, but it does appear to be just a low grade concussion; nothing some rest won’t fix.” He gave them a genuine, yet reserved smile, and then changed the subject. “Paul tells me you and the Schmidtz are family?”
Sam was the first to speak, rolling naturally into one of many backstories they had used in the past: Cousins from out of town, visiting for the holidays. “We’re staying with Mrs. Kirchmann, cuz Shelly doesn’t have a lot of room,” he said, using the nickname as though it were second nature.
“And because we kinda sprung this on her last minute,” Dean added. “Surprise!” he held his hands up with a big cheesy smile. Sam rolled his eyes, hid his amused smirk in Timmy’s hair.
“Well, it’s a very good thing you are here,” the doctor affirmed. “The head injury isn’t serious, but it’s most certainly not something these children should have to deal with alone. I feel better knowing they have family around to help them.”
“Family first, right Sammy?” Dean answered, locking eyes with his brother.
“Sam? Dean?” Carrie appeared in the doorway. “Mom’s asking for you.”
Dean was the first to stand, offering a hand out to his brother, who had the added weight of a five-year-old to contend with. He pulled Sam up, gave his brother’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze, and then leaned into Tim’s line of sight.
“You wanna go in with us to see your mom, little man?”
Tim wrapped his long skinny legs around Sam’s narrow waist, clinging to him tighter, but did finally nod his head into Sam’s chest.
“Good boy,” Dean soothed, rubbing the young man’s back calmingly.
“You gonna tell me what’s going on with you?”
As a measure of protection, Sam and Dean had bedded down for the night in the Schmidts’ living room; Dean on the floor and Sam on the sofa because his brother had insisted. Sam had tried to argue that it hadn’t been him to take the header into the hardwood floors and certainly Dean needed the couch more than himself, but his brother’s response had been a snide: Yeah, well, I’m tougher than you are and you need your beauty sleep for those cougars down at the salon.
So Sam had taken the sofa which was much too short to fit his lanky body, and Dean had made a quilt-lined bed for himself on the floor, where he laid with his hands tucked casually under the back of his head. At the sound of his little brother’s quiet voice, Dean looked up at Sam from his place on the floor and tried to get a read on Sam’s mood.
Sam had rolled on to his side and was looking back at his brother from over the edge of the sofa. Even in the low light, Dean could make out the tell-tale signs of a man wanting to ‘talk it out’; the drawn brows, the corner of Sam’s lower lip pulled in between his teeth, the dark depth of his eyes as they attempted to seek the truth in Dean’s.
Sorry Sammy, Dean thought, it’s been way too long of a day – Hell…week – for that garbage. He shrugged, nonchalantly and turned over onto his belly, saying, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about.”
“I’m talkin’ about how quiet you’ve been tonight and all the looks you’ve been–”
“Go to sleep Sam,” Dean interrupted, his voice muffled by the SpongeBob pillow he’d borrowed from Timmy. He closed his eyes, buried his face into the pillow, and did his best to shut out the nagging weight of his brother’s eyes on him.
There was an exaggerated sigh of frustration, as well as the sound of Sam punching his pillow and trying to get comfortable on the too small sofa, and then a moment later, the long steady breaths of sleep. Dean turned his ear and let the soft sounds of his brother lull him until the world faded away.
Christmas Eve arrived on a bright crisp Sunday morning and Sam had left shortly after first light to work in the salon. A large, local Christmas party that evening promised a busy day and the opportunity for decent tips and Sam was not about to turn that down. Dean, however, had the day free and spent the morning faking his way through breakfast.
“I know what I’m doin’” he scolded Carrie, when she peeked over his shoulder and suspiciously eyed the gelatinous yellow lump in the skillet. She raised her hands in surrender and smiled dubiously before snatching up a slice of butter toast and walking away. Dean made a face behind her back and delighted when the boys voted unanimously that Dean’s eggs were: ‘Not so bad.’ He would take that as a win.
Afterwards, Dean did his best to fade into the background as the Schmidt family seemed to quickly resume their business as usual. The boys roamed the house, playing, until eventually they were told by their sister to go outdoors, and Carrie saw to her mother as well as the household, which had been neglected for two days. Dean took advantage of the quiet to pay Michelle a visit in her room.
He found her propped up against the headboard, awake, but resting quietly in the darkened room.
“How are you feeling?” he asked, carefully sitting down on the end of her bed.
“Oh,” she smiled weakly at him, “about a well as can be expected after being possessed by a demon.”
“You remember that, do you?”
“Not so much, no. But I picked up on little things…from within. It’s a bit like waking up from a dream, you know. You can almost remember what it was about, and then it just…drifts away from you?”
Dean nodded his understanding, although he couldn’t help but feel disappointed. He’d had so many questions he wanted to ask her: Why it’d gone after Mark Heiser? What exactly did Yellow Eyes have in store for his ‘Special Children’? And what had it meant when it had said there was another demon set on getting its hands on Sammy? Too many unknown variables and nowhere to get the answers.
“Carrie tells me I have you and your brother to thank for bringing me home to my kids. My own, personal heroes.”
“We were just doing our job, ma’am,” Dean said, his ears tipping the palest shade of pink.
“Your job involves fighting demons?”
“You saved my life, and you protected my kids…that makes you heroes in my book. I’ll never be able to truly repay you, but I can at least make sure you and your brother have some place to go for Christmas.”
“Oh. No, really…”Dean shook his head, “we don’t–”
“It wasn’t a suggestion. We want you here – the kids and I – and I won’t take no for an answer.”
“Sammy and I…we just don’t…uh…”
They were interrupted by a swell of sound; thundering feet and rolling, little boy giggles, layered over top of Sam’s deep tenor. Sammy was back from his shift and by the sounds of things, already had the boys in a frenzy of excitement.
Saved by the bell. Dean breathed a sigh of relief and smiled sheepishly. “Better go see what all the commotion is about.” He stood up, but not before Michelle could catch hold of his hand. He glanced first at where their hands were connected and then back to her tired eyes.
“We’re not done talking about this.”
Sam had been ambushed in the driveway by two miniature abominable snowmen. Ryan and Timmy – both dressed in full snowsuits – had come barreling out of the snow cave they had spent the entire day digging. They chattered excitedly at Sam, jumping and clambering all over him and trying to pull him into their ‘Fortress of Snowitude’. With two boys physically attached to his legs, Sam lumbered up the snow-covered walk and burst through the door. The three of them tumbled into a snow-laden heap on the floor, laughing and giggling.
Alarmed by the ruckus, Carrie ran to the entry. “What is going on out here?” she exclaimed, but her worry melted away when three smiling faced turned up to her from the dog pile. “What are you guys doing to him? Get up.”
“It’s alright. They’re not bothering me,” Sam promised. Ryan clambered off of the floor and then threw himself over Sam’s back, wrapping his long, skinny arms around Sam’s neck in what was intended to be a choke hold. Sam reached up and snagged the boy by the back of his winter coat and hauled up and over his shoulder, laying him out on his back and pancaking him to the floor. Timmy scrambled to his feet and came to his big brother’s aid, but was quickly subdued as well when Sam wrapped a long arm around him and pulling him into his grip. Both boys squealed and giggled as the fought to win their freedom, to no avail.
“See, I got it all under control,” Sam said, grinning broadly. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Dean, arms crossed casually, leaning up against the doorframe with a soft smile.
“Under control or not,” Carrie piped up, “Mom’s trying to rest, so if y’all’re gonna be that noisy, you’re gonna have to take it back outside.”
“Yay!” the boys cheered from beneath Sam. In a flash, they had kicked and squirmed out of his hold, and were pulling him to his feet, intent on the goal of dragging Sam back outside with then.
“Wait, wait, wait…what about Dean?” Sam argued with them. “Dean wants to go too.” Sam couldn’t help grinning at his brother, knowing full well that he sounded like the six-year-old who had once been the center of Dean’s universe. Back then his brother would have bent over backwards to give in to any whim that Sam had. Then again, it appeared that not much had changed, because next thing Sam knew, Dean was rolling his eyes in mock exasperation and pushing off the wall to join them.
“Alright,” Dean conceded. “Let’s go.”
Following the steady hum of voices, Dean wandered slowly down the hallway, his socked feet padding silently on the carpet. He stopped in the doorway and took in the beehive of activity that was the kitchen. Ryan and Tim bustled around the room, pulling dishes from the cupboard and food and drink from the fridge, and preparing the table for supper. Carrie was standing over the stove. She slapped at Sam’s hand, warning him to keep his grubby hands out of the food. Grinning mischievously, Sam reached around to tap her far shoulder, and in that split moment in which she was distracted, he snagged her spoon, stuck it in his mouth and scampered away before she could retaliate.
It was the perfect family portrait and Dean’s stomach rolled with a feeling that was most certainly not hunger – no matter how good supper smelled. He backed away from the kitchen without being seen and went in search of his boots.
With the demon sent back to Hell, Dean figured that both the Heiser and Schmidt families should be safe for some time. Nothing could change the fact that Mark Heiser was a Special Kid and, yeah, who knew what messed up shit would come his way in the future, but Dean figured they'd done everything they could for him. The Heiser residence was protected by several devil's traps and the family were wised up to the ways of the things that went bump in the night. They knew how to protect themselves better than most people and if they needed extra help down the track, they now had the Winchesters on speed dial.
As for the Schmidts, they had always been immaterial to the demon, Michelle's weakened body a means to an end, nothing more. Sam and Dean had made sure their house was as demon-proof as possible anyway, just in case, but now that Michelle was out of the woods, Dean didn't see that he and Sammy had any reason to hang around. Only Michelle seemed to have decided that her 'cousins from out of town' were not going to be staying at a boarding house over Christmas. And that youngest Schmidt boy, he had puppy dog eyes that could rival Sam's. In fact, Dean wasn't entirely sure Sam wasn't coaching him in how to use them, because Sam was pushing hard for them to stay too. He was trying to use the 'free accommodation' angle to persuade Dean, but Dean knew that Sammy just wanted a chance at a normal family Christmas. Dean shook his head. When was his little brother ever going to learn that Winchesters just didn't get normal? Anything normal they tried to touch turned to crap, and the last thing Dean wanted to do was mess up Carrie and her brothers.
And yet, he had allowed Sammy to pull him outside that afternoon. He and Sam had helped Ryan and Timmy to build a proper snow fort with an armory stocked full of snowballs, because ‘Be Prepared’ wasn’t just a motto for Boy Scouts. After which, the four boys – two Winchesters and two Schmidts – had launched a preemptive strike on the boy next door, who, according to Ryan, was notorious for his unwarranted snow ball attacks. Now, if Dean was being truly honest with himself, he would admit that he had rather enjoyed a bit of ‘normal’ that afternoon with his brother and Schmidt boys.
But afternoon had turned to evening, and the Schmidt household had settled into its well-known suppertime routine and Dean suddenly felt very claustrophobic. He took advantage of the distraction that supper had caused to slip out the back door, leaving his brother behind. He’d let Sam have his brief taste of normal if it meant he could escape it.
Mac ‘n Cheese. Sam couldn’t remember the last time he’d had real Mac ‘n Cheese, but any memory he did have, paled in comparison to this reality. He dug his fork into the bowl, spearing the plump macaroni noodles and brought the cheesy forkful to his mouth, closing his lips around it. He let his eyes drift closed and groaned appreciatively.
“S’good,” he mumbled through a mouthful, praising Carrie for a job well done. He pounced on the tall glass of milk as she set it on the table in front of him, taking several noisy gulps of the frothy white drink.
“Don’t they ever feed you?” she asked, giggling.
Sam shook his head, taking another large bite of macaroni, and letting his eyes roll in pleasure. “Not like this,” he answered. “Not homemade. Dean used to make it from the box when we were kids, but that was a lifetime ago.”
“Where is Dean?”
Sam glanced up from his bowl, frowning. He had seen Dean in the doorway of the kitchen, watching everyone prepare the meal. Sam had even caught a glimpse of Dean as he had left the room. He hadn't thought too much about it at the time, but for Dean to miss a free meal…such a thing was practically unheard of. Sam shoveled the rest of the macaroni into his mouth and rose from the table, taking his bowl and glass with him. He tipped the glass back, drinking the rest of the milk, set both dishes in the sink, and then left the kitchen in search of his brother.
He went quietly from room to room, looking for, but not finding any sign of Dean. He took his phone from his pocket and for the first time noticed a message alert.
Needed some fresh air. D
“Dammit Dean,” Sam said under his breath. Muttering to himself, he tucked the phone back into his pocket and was startled when Michelle Schmidt’s soft voice cut through Sam’s colorful inner monologue.
“Everything okay?” she asked, stepping into the room. She crossed to the sofa and carefully lowered herself down, and Sam found himself sliding in next to her.
He turned his face to her and for the first time since meeting her, really looked at her. She was young for a mom with a sixteen-year-old. If Sam had to guess, he’d say early thirties, which really wasn’t too much older than Dean, but there was something about her that made Sam want to open up to her. Something that made him want to put his head on her shoulder and spill all the ups and downs of his day and let her chase away all of his worries. Something that Sam could only attribute to her being a mother.
“He doesn’t like being here very much, does he? Being cooped up with us?”
Sam didn’t have to guess to know that she was aware of Dean’s disappearance, and it made his stomach drop.
“It’s not that,” he answered remorsefully. “He’s got nothing personal against you, I promise. It’s just…” Sam searched for the right thing to say, but hesitated, speechless. How could he possibly explain a person like Dean to someone who could never hope to understand their lives?
“Complicated?” Michelle filled in.
“Yeah,” Sam chuckled humorlessly. He leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and combed a hand up through the long fringe of hair that framed his face, pushing it out of his eyes and to the side. He knew that the bangs made him appear years younger, and he was trying to grow them out; trying to not look so young; trying to outgrow being Dean Winchester’s kid brother. Trying and failing. ‘Can’t fight what you are, Sammy’, he could hear his brother saying to him.
“I’ve been Dean’s shadow almost my whole life,” Sam accepted, dropping his gaze into his lap, “but there’s times, like this week especially, when even I don’t know what’s going on in his head.”
“It’s alright, Sam. We’re all entitled to our privacy.” Michelle placed a hand over Sam’s forearm and gave him a soothing pat. “And if you boys don’t want to do Christmas with us, that’s fine too.” She held up one cupped hand, “Two young guys…” She held up the second hand, mimicking the first, “a bunch of kids…” Raising and lowering her hands like a scale, she laughed and said, “Truth be told, if I were you, I’d be trying to escape too, but…”
She carefully turned in her seat so that she was facing Sam more directly, and stooping down, to capture his complete attention, she took his hand in hers. “But…I am going to repay you both. What you’ve done for my family…words just aren’t enough. So, if there’s anything you need; anything at all, you be sure to let me know. Okay?”
“You haven’t got a distributor for a ’67 Impala lying around, have you?” Sam half-joked.
Michelle frowned, bemused. “A what?”
“Nothing,” Sam laughed, smiling sheepishly.
“Carrie.” Although not loud, Michelle’s voice rang clear and all too quickly, Carrie was standing in the doorway.
“Honey, could you fix up a bowl for Sam to take for him and his brother to share?”
“Sure.” Carrie turned on her heal and walked straight back into the kitchen.
“Michelle, you don’t have to.”
“Shush. What did I say? Anything you need. Now, I know he hasn’t eaten anything since breakfast. And since I don’t expect you’ll be back around for Christmas dinner, it is completely within my rights to make sure you’ve got something to hold you both over. Now, you better get going, before the boys realize you’re leaving. Timmy’s got those same powerful puppy dog eyes that you’ve got. You don’t wanna fall under his power.”
Carrie appeared at his side with two containers. Sam opened his hands to accept them and she placed them one at a time into his hands. “Macaroni,” she said, handing him a recycled Cool Whip container. “The boys are all done eating, so I just gave you the rest of it.” Then she handed in the second container, a butter tub that looked as though it had been used over and over again for leftovers. “I packed up some smoked ham for you. It’s supposed to be for dinner tomorrow, but you didn’t eat much and Dean hasn’t eaten at all, so…”
Sam looked up at the girl in awe. She blushed and looked away from his searching gaze. Was this the same girl – the one they’d labeled jailbait - who only days before had done everything in her power to gain his attention? She seemed different somehow; older…sadder. He recognized the same haunted look in his brother; the look that said there was nothing she could do that would ever be enough to protect her family from what’s out there. It hurt Sam’s heart to see the effect that his world could have on a vibrant young girl; to know that she was just another person touched and forever changed by the evil that he and his brother hunted daily.
“Thank you,” he said to Carrie, and then turned to Michelle. “Thank you.”
What he meant to say was, ‘I’m sorry.’
“There’s no use sneakin’,” Dean’s voice rang out into the darkness. “You were never any good at it, Sammy. I could always hear you comin’ from a mile away with your size 13 heavy-ass feet.” Sam rolled his eyes and let go of the breath he’d been holding since the bottom of the staircase. Dean was right: no use sneakin’. Sam trotted up the remaining stairs, stepping onto the landing and ducking his head at precisely the right moment. He stopped and took in the mess Dean had spread out over the surface of their shared bed.
“What are you doing?”
Lifting the ‘eyebrow of judgment’, Dean scowled at Sam. “I’m cleaning our weapons. What the Hell does it look like I’m doing?”
Great, Sam thought. It was gonna be one of those nights. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. I mean, why are you here?”
“Honestly? Because I got cold keeping m’Baby company.”
Sam bit down hard on the inside of his cheek; biting off the urge to tell Dean that the Impala had been the first place he’d gone looking for his wayward brother. Instead he just shook his head and offered Dean the food Carrie had prepared. His brother stared at the containers dubiously and then set them aside.
“It’s real good,” Sam assured him. “They sent us enough for tomorrow too, if we make it stretch.”
“Tomorrow?” Dean turned wide, nervous eyes on his brother, and Sam could see the wheels turning there. It was a look that spelled out guilt at having been caught out, but all too soon, the look changed. Dean narrowed his eyes. “I thought you were all for ‘playing house’ with the Schmidt kids.”
“I wasn’t playing house, Dean. I just thought it’d be nice to have…no, you know what? Don’t turn this around on me. I’m not the one who ran out on a very nice family who was just trying to show you their gratitude.”
Dean rolled his eyes and picked up his Colt. “I don’t need their gratitude, Sam, and I don’t want it.” Pointing the gun down and away, he removed the magazine, then pulled the slide and checked that there wasn’t a round in the chamber. Sam watched his careful movements, knowing that Dean could disassemble and reassemble this particular weapon with his eyes closed. But he never did. He was always meticulously careful and thorough. Even as a child, Sam had always enjoyed watching his brother work. There was a fluid beauty to Dean’s process; his hands moving quickly and efficiently as he removed the barrel bushing and then the slide lock; step by step, laying each piece out on a red cloth in front of him, until Dean’s .45 lay completely disassembled and ready for cleaning. He paused then to glance up, startling Sam back into awareness.
“What?” Dean huffed in annoyance.
“So what, you’re just gonna sit here? All by yourself? All Christmas Day?”
“That’s the plan, Sammy. Look, if you wanna go spend Christmas as a member of the Partridge family, be my guest. Maybe you can even go out caroling,” he added with mock enthusiasm.
Sam glared at him, crossing his arms tightly over his thin chest.
“But I’m not up for it, okay?”
“Because I’m not,” Dean growled. “You’re not my shrink, Sam, so stop pushing for answers. Go back if you wanna go back. I’m not gonna stop you. But otherwise, shut up about it.”
Dean picked up his cleaning brush and started in on the next stage of his work; pointedly ignoring Sam. It wasn’t as if Sam didn’t already know what was really going on with Dean. He had, after all, spent nearly his entire life doing his best to keep pace with his brother. But it’d be nice if just once in a while Dean would open up to him; let him help to bear some of the weight that Dean had put upon his shoulders. The anger and the grief of losing their father had been killing Dean slowly; anyone could see it. Add to that the discovery of other ‘Special Children’ and the realization that he had been shackled with the responsibility of either having to save or kill his own brother; no one should have to go through that alone. But Dean wasn’t the sharing and caring type.
“You can’t stand there and will me into opening up with your mind, Sam. You haven’t got those kinda powers.” Dean eyed him sideways. “Do you?”
Sam rolled his eyes and tried to force down the smile that touched his lips. “You know I don’t…Jerk. Scoot over you bed hog.” Sam hipped into his brother’s shoulder and took a seat beside him along the headboard. The bed heaved under his weight, threatening to scatter all the bits and pieces important to the reassembly of Dean’s Colt.
“Bitch, you lose something and I’m gonna knock you senseless.”
“Shut up and hand me the food. I’m still hungry.”
Dean did, and when Sam opened the container of macaroni, Dean couldn’t help but lean in, following the aroma of the still warm noodles.
“Is that…Mac ‘n Cheese?”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Christmas came and the day was spent relatively quietly. They finished the remainder of the food sent home by the Schmidts. They loaded A Christmas Story on Sam’s laptop and laughed openly when Flick’s tongue becomes stuck tight to a frozen flagpole. They found the local Laundromat, where Sam washed clothes while Dean read excerpts aloud from a copy of The National Enquirer someone had left behind. All in all, it was a typical Christmas for the Winchesters.
Dean was lying on the bed; his eyes sleepily following a crack in the peach-colored paint, when the recognizable chords of Smoke on the Water rang from his shirt pocket. He pulled the phone free and checked the caller ID before answering.
“Hey Paul. What’s up?”
Sam looked up from his laptop at the mention of Paul’s name and frowned, trying to read his brother’s face. Dean met his gaze and shrugged his shoulders in response to Sam’s inquiring look.
“Yeah, sure. We’ll see you in a few.”
Dean disconnected the call and rolled up and onto his feet.
“Everything okay?” Sam asked.
“I don’t know. He sounded…funny.” Dean grabbed up and slipped into his leather coat, tucking his Colt into the back of his jeans. He looked at Sam, who was still sitting there, staring back at him. “Come on, princess. Put the computer away. You can talk to your little online boyfriends later.”
Sam scowled at Dean, but closed the lid anyway, rising to his feet and following Dean’s example.
Cautiously, Dean pushed the door open. It creaked, resisting Dean’s hand, and then opened to reveal an empty room. Inside, it was cool and dark, except for one light which hung above the bar warming the wood with its golden glow. A shiver ran up the length of Dean’s back and instinctively he reached beneath his coat, gripping the pearl handle of his .45. Sam edged up behind him, his Taurus drawn and safety unlocked.
They entered, splitting up and silently sweeping the room. Nothing. Sam shook his head, concern setting his brow in his trademark frown. Dean too was growing increasingly alarmed. It was too quiet and every cell in Dean’s body told him something was wrong. His lips thinned and he clamped down on his teeth making the muscle in his jaw jump to attention.
He turned his ear toward the kitchen and frowned. There was something; a faint, hiss and pop that carried through the silence. Dean indicated to Sam and they fell in line; the older and then the younger, as always.
The kitchen – just like the rest of the building – was dark and empty. There were no lights, no hum of electricity from any of the appliances, just a deep sense of foreboding that made the hair on Dean’s arms stand up.
He rounded the corner, heading into the back and stopped suddenly, hissing angrily when Sam crashed into him. Dean held a finger to his lips and together they listened, once again hearing the indistinct sound Dean had first heard in the main room. It was louder now; sort of a strange gurgling sound, and it was coming from somewhere beyond the back door.
They crept further into the storage/office area that separated the kitchen from the back door, and that’s when they heard it.
“No. No. No stop!” It was Paul and to Dean’s ears, he sounded panicked. Sam too must have come to the same conclusion, because he reached out and snatched hold of Dean’s arm just as Dean was lunging for the doorway.
“Dude!” Dean hissed.
“Don’t run out there half-cocked, when you don’t know what you’re dealing with,” Sam lectured. “We need a plan of a–” Sam’s voiced was sliced through by agonizing cry.
“No-Ahhh…Shhit!” Paul swore painfully. Sam and Dean glanced briefly at each other, their eyes wide and frightened.
“Screw the plan,” Dean growled. “Paul!” He pulled out of Sam’s grasp and barreled through door and out into the cold with Sam right behind him. “Paul?” The bang of the backdoor startled Paul, making him jump and turn to face his attackers just as they skid to a stop a few feet from him; weapons drawn and looking scary as Hell.
“Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa!” Paul held up his hands in surrender; his right arm wrapped in a not-so-clean bar towel and his left arm dripping from the ball of snow he held in that hand. “Ease off the throttle there, boys, ‘fore you shoot someone.”
Sam and Dean were instantly confused, lowering their guns ever-so-slightly and casting sharp glances at each other.
“What the Hell is going on out here?” Dean demanded. He looked around for the impending danger and found none, which only deepened his confusion. “Paul?”
“I burnt myself,” Paul answered, lowering his hands, but presenting his wrapped arm for visual inspection. He pressed the snow against the thin towel, using it to cool the burn. “Jesus. What did you think was going on, that I was being attacked by some monster of the week?”
“Yes!” Dean retorted, wild-eyed and vibrating with pent-up energy. “You scared the shit out of me, dammit. You call, acting all weird and crap on the phone, and tell us to come over, but you’re nowhere to be found. And when we do find you, you’re screamin’ bloody friggin’ murder in the alley outside the bar!”
“Don’t shout at me!” Paul shouted back, “I burnt myself. I’m injured.”
“For Christ sakes, Paul, I could have shot you!”
“Dean,” Sam warned quietly. He stepped between them, going to Paul’s side to have a look at his arm. He looked past Paul and frowned at the cylindrical contraption behind him. “Is that what you burnt yourself on?” Sam asked.
“Yeah, piece-a-shit thing. I got it from an auction and there weren’t any instructions, so I’m just kind of wingin’ it…which is why I got burned.”
“What is it?” Sam circled around the offending gadget, his curiosity getting the better of him.
“It’s a deep fryer. Have you ever had deep fried turkey? They say it’s awesome.” Paul checked his watch, and then pointed at Sam. “Here, it should be done. Grab ahold of that thing right there and pull it straight out.”
Sam did as instructed.
“Careful,” Paul warned. “Don’t let it slosh around or that sumbitch will burn you too.
Dean perked up at the sight of that golden bird being pulled from the vat of fryer grease. Following his nose, he stepped closer to get a better view. Paul glanced at him and saw that he still had a firm hold on his gun; locked and loaded at his side.
“Don’t you ever get tired being ‘on duty’ 24/7?”
“Yes,” Dean sagged. “All the time.” He dropped the magazine out of his weapon, and then pulled back the slide and ejected the live round, catching it mid-fall. Once the chamber was empty, he pointed the gun down and away, and pulled the trigger.
“Come on,” Paul smiled, cuffing him on the shoulder, “I fixed you Christmas dinner; turkey and beer.”
Neither Dean nor Sam had ever worked what most would consider a nine-to-five job. Sam of course had taken work-study every semester at Stanford. It had been necessary in order to make ends meet, as scholarships could only be budgeted out so far. Before that, however, he’d never had to work a day in his life. Dean had seen to that.
When they were younger and John had gone out on a hunt and wasn’t expected back for an extended period of time, money had a way of running thin. It wasn’t that John had intended for his sons to run short on funds, or that Dean had meant to go over his allotted budget, but growing boys needed food, and Dean had never been able to deny his little brother anything.
Dean had only done what had been needed. Over the years, he had picked up spare jobs, here and there, whenever he could; he wasn’t picky. Washing dishes or bagging groceries when they’d stayed in town; doing farm work when they hadn’t. He’s spent one entire summer detasseling corn and made a couple thousand dollars doing it. They had lived high off the hog that summer.
Dean’s favorite jobs, however, had always centered on cars. He'd worked on sales lots doing detailing, and when he’d been old enough to drive, he’d been a parts runner. But the best job he’d ever procured had been doing oil changes in a shop in Northern Missouri. The owner of the small shop hadn’t seemed concerned by his age – which at the time had been seventeen – only that he could do the work and do it well. The money had been inconsequential because Dean had just thoroughly enjoyed the work; much like he enjoyed working at the bar with Paul.
He spent the days following Christmas racking up as many hours at the bar as possible. The more time he spent in the place, the better people came to know him. The better people came to know him, the better they tipped. A busy ten hour shift could net him $100. Add that to the wages Paul was paying him and Dean was sitting fairly well off on Thursday afternoon.
Sam too had been having good luck at the salon. The ladies of Boxholm had taken quiet a shine to him. In fact, one client – a Mrs. Weber – had taken three style appointments in less than two weeks. When questioned about it, Mrs. Weber had claimed that she’d pulled a muscle in her shoulder and hadn’t able to lift her hand above her head all week. Sam’s boss, Celia, had raised a speculative eyebrow, but hadn’t said another word about it. Who was she to deny anyone the service of a wash and rinse a la Sam Winchester? She made money and Mrs. Weber had been sure to compensate Sam well.
So when Sam returned to their shared bedroom Thursday evening, before the end of his scheduled shift, Dean knew something was off. He eyed his brother’s nervous behavior and guarded movements. Something was definitely off.
“Hi honey,” Dean joked, going for casual to lure Sam in. “How was your day?”
“S’alright,” Sam shrugged, ignoring Dean’s jab. He dug into one of the duffle bags and pulled out a change of clothes. “I’m gonna go take a shower,” he said and left the room without looking directly at his brother.
Not one to let things lie, Dean hopped out of bed and followed him down the stairs. Sam had already entered Mrs. Kirchmann’s bathroom, shutting the door, but not securing it. “Rookie mistake,” Dean said when turning the door handle to find it unlocked.
Pushing the door open, he announced himself, “Sammy, you know I’m not one for this touchy feely crap, but – Holy Mother of God! What the Hell is that?!”
Sam whipped around, swinging out defensively at his brother, which Dean was able to block easily. “Dammit, Dean. Are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“What. Are. You. Wearing?”
Sam looked down at himself, going pink around the ears and neck, although after consideration, Dean decided that maybe the color wasn’t so much a blush of embarrassment as it was a reflection of color off of Sam’s shirt.
“It’s a-uh…shirt from the shop.”
“I can see that.”
“There’s a good explanation for this,” Sam said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable under Dean’s bemused gaze.
Lost somewhere between amusement and abject horror, Dean leaned back so that he could better take in the full picture, his eyes roaming the entire expanse of his brother’s upper body. His lip twisted in distaste and he directed a high-lifted eyebrow at his brother.
Stretched tightly over Sam’s frame was a much-too-tight hot pink woman’s t-shirt with capped sleeves that did more than hug Sam’s arms, they practically cut off his circulation. Running up the length of Sam’s right rib cage was a very provocative silhouette of a woman, bent over at the waist and running her hands through her long hair. And across his chest, in scrawling letters was one word: Celia’s. Seeing as it was a woman’s shirt, the hem of it barely scraped Sam’s middle, and when he raised his hands, the cotton rose up, exposing the soft swell of his belly. Dean shivered imagining the responses he’d received from all those sex-hungry cougars.
He shook his head and his lips split into a low, ornery smile. “Oh, I can’t wait to hear this.”
Sam took a deep breath and frowned; a look that said ‘Dean’s not gonna make this easy’. “I had an accident at work, Dean; a chemical spill. I was mixing this bottle of something or other, and this one lady bumped into me, and it went all over my shirt. It got ruined and this was the only shirt Ce had available for me to wear.”
“That thing? That’s not a shirt, it’s an armband.” Dean said, stepping fully into the bathroom. His eyes were fully lit with amusement and Sam backed away from him warily. “She’d have better off painting you with body paint,” Dean laughed. “Can you even breathe in that thing?”
“Not really,” Sam said with a pout. Then the corner of his mouth lifted into a painful grimace; his eyebrows rising high on his forehead. “I can’t get it off, either. I think I might have to…cut it off.”
Dean laughed and a small smile crept across Sam’s face. “Shut up, it’s not funny.” Which only made Dean laugh harder, until he was bent over, propping himself up on his knees.
“There’s one good thing that came out of this,” Sam said, smiling shyly.
“Oh really?” Dean asked, his laughter tapering off. “What’s that?”
“Mrs. Weber gave me a $50 tip when I took off my shirt.”
Dean yawned; his lungs filling to capacity before he turned and flopped over onto his back, stretching out across the bed. Sam had awoken early, gotten ready quietly and left for work without waking his brother, leaving Dean with a bed all to himself. And since Dean had the morning off, he’d stayed up late into the night, using Sam’s laptop to dig up internet porn and cruise for hookups in online chatrooms, even though he was sure to hear about it the next time Sam used his computer. It never seemed to matter whether Dean deleted his history or not, Sammy just always seemed to know what he’d been up to.
Opening his eyes, Dean adjusted his sleep pants to accommodate his morning wood. Carefully weighing his decision between ‘piss it off’ and ‘jack it off’, he craned his head around to look longingly at Sam’s laptop and the treasure trove of wank material it provided. But no sooner had he made up his mind and was climbing out of bed, than there was a soft rap on the door at the bottom of the stairs. He groaned painfully and grabbed up a pair of jeans from the floor. “Just a minute,” he called over the railing. He dropped his flannel pants and pulled the jeans on, hissing at the scrape of rough denim over bare ass, and then he snatched up a shirt. Sniffing it for cleanliness, he tilted his head from side to side in judgment and threw it on anyway.
There was a second knock as Dean was trotting down the steps, to which Dean answered, “I said ‘Just a min–” He opened the door and ran smack-dab into, “Michelle. What are you doing here?”
“Took you long enough.” Michelle Schmidt stood in front of him with her hands planted on her slender hips, exuding ‘Mom authority’ and Dean was very much reminded of the ‘Momma Bear’ he’d seen the first day he’d met her boys. Dean shivered involuntarily in response to the memory. “I want you dressed and in the car in five minutes,” she said sternly.
“Yes ma’am” he answered automatically.
She nodded in satisfaction and turned to wait for him in the car, but stopped and looked over her shoulder. “And Dean…change that shirt. It stinks like the bar.”
A few minutes later, Dean knocked on the passenger side window where Michelle was sitting.
“You’re driving,” she said through the glass. He shrugged and jogged his way around the car, dropping into the driver’s seat.
“Where are we going?”
“We’re going to the salvage yard in Ames. I talked–”
“Shush. Sam dropped a hint–”
“Of course he did.” Dean rolled his eyes.
“And then I talked to Paul yesterday, and he confirmed it; saying that you’re waiting for a part to get your car up and running. He gave me the information and I made a few calls and found a place in Ames that didn’t have one, but they had a delivery scheduled for this morning out of Des Moines and could arrange to have one added to their truck. So, you’re all set. We just need to go and pick it up.”
“You didn’t need to do this. I told you, you don’t need to repay us.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. This isn’t just about repaying you. I understand that this is your ‘job’. I get it…now. I also get that it’s very important work and that by you boys being stuck here, the work isn’t getting done. I’m not just doing this for me, Dean. I’m doing this for the other families out there that you could be helping. Please…say you’ll accept.”
Dean chewed on his lower lip, considering her more than generous offer. After a long moment, he blew out the breath he’d been holding and asked, “Which way do I go?”
“Okay, Sammy, fire her up!”
Sam turned over the ignition and the car stuttered once, twice, and then roared to life. Dean leaned out from beneath the hood, wiping his hands on a rag and smiling proudly.
“That’s m’girl,” he said, petting her fender fondly.
It was New Year’s Day and although they were tempted to spend the afternoon with Paul, watching football, somehow getting on the road seemed more pressing. Bobby had returned home – from wherever it was he’d been hiding out – and had called to tell them about some possible Demon signs he’d discovered in Kansas.
Dean had started work on his car almost the moment he had the parts in his hands, calling upon his brother for the work he couldn’t do alone. And when Sam hadn’t been available, he had found Paul by his side all day Sunday. When Sam had come home from work that night, the three men had brought in the New Year with engine work, Busch Light and Led Zeppelin.
Goodbyes had been brief and awkward, but necessary. And where Sam had welcomed the open affection from the Schmidts, Dean had never been hugged so much in his life, and that had made him feel even more uncomfortable. Paul had been much easier; a few gruff words of encouragement, a firm handshake and a rough pat on the back, and they were off. They pulled out of town and onto the blacktop, heading south on their way to their next job.
“Goodbye Bumfuck, Nowhere,” Sam said, giving a funny little wave out his window as if someone might actually be watching.
“The name of the town, Sammy,” Dean corrected, “is Boxholm.”
Smiling, Sam laughed openly and then settled back into his seat, preparing for the long drive. “Wake me when we get to Kansas and I’ll drive.”
Dean smiled and let his body move with the motion of the car, relishing in the feel of how she moved over the rolling hills. “The road’s never felt so good, has it Sammy?”
Sam sank further down into the buttery comfort of the leather bench seat. He leaned over, finding the spot in the door which fit his head perfectly, let his eyes drift shut, and sighed happily. “Feels like home to me.”
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