|They That Love Thy Name Shall Exult In Thee
Twelfth in the Second Sight Universe
Dean/Sam, PG13, future-fic.
This is the SLASH version of part twelve. The GEN version is over [[here]].
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
Many thanks to girlguidejones and sunrize83 for the beta help. All remaining errors are mine.
§And all that trust in thee shall rejoice: for ever shall they shout joyously, and thou wilt protect them; and they that love thy name shall exult in thee.§ Psalm 5:11
"A tree?" Dean asked over his shoulder. Sam was still sitting at the table, fingers wrapped around a coffee mug. Dean was running hot water in the sink. They had a dishwasher, but they'd gotten into the rhythm of this; Dean washing and Sam drying and putting away. Sam could wash too but Dean can't quite get past the fear of Sam slicing a hand open on a knife hidden by sudsy water. Sam pointing out that Dean couldn't see the blades beneath the suds either was not so persuasive an argument as Sam would have thought.
"Yeah, for Christmas."
Dean started slipping pots and pans into the water. "We could do that, I guess. You mean, with like ornaments and things?"
"Yeah. Lights. Ornaments. Presents underneath…"
Presents? Dean looked at his brother but couldn't see anything but idle contemplation on his face.
A tree. With lights and ornaments. Which Sam couldn't see.
"You can buy them decorated, you know," Dean said casually and watched Sam's nose scrunch up. "They come already decorated in pieces in the box."
"That's no fun," Sam said and finished his coffee, then got up to start carefully feeling for the rest of the dishes. He found his water glass and the silverware from his plate, reaching for what should be on Dean's.
"I already got my silver," Dean said, watching him. Sam found the plates and stacked them bowls on top, gathering it all in one place, including the serving dishes. Sam counted everything, then gathered it up -- Dean still amazed at how well Sam had adapted to all of this. The dishes made it to the counter without Sam dropping anything. The pots and pans were already done and Sam started drying them while Dean put the leftovers away, hunting for the Braille-labeled lids.
"Since I'm the one who'd have to decorate it, I think fun is relative," Dean said.
"Uh-huh. Like you help with the yard."
Sam grinned. "Hey, I pulled the weeds on the sidewalk. I raked leaves," he pointed out.
True, he had. Sometimes more brown grass than leaves and Dean had to be his eyes, but he'd done the work earlier that fall, all red-cheeked and laughing in the cold air. And he'd managed to cram two large handfuls of cold, wet leaves down Dean's shirt before Dean took full advantage of Sam's blindness and stuffed his jacket and shirt until he looked like a scarecrow.
Funny how he could think that now, with no bad associations to other scarecrows or small Indiana towns. Sam had been laughing so hard he couldn't catch his breath and Dean had ended up re-raking part of the yard because the two of them had managed to scatter half the pile during their horsing around.
Dean stuck his hands back into the hot water. "Did you get me presents, Sam?" he asked.
"Where's the lid for this?"
Dean slipped the wet dishrag down his shirt instead.
Winchesters didn't do Christmas. Or holidays for that matter. Birthdays were pretty hit or miss.
Okay, not entirely true, Dean thought while draining the oil from Mrs. Norwell's late-model sedan. Three-thousand miles on the dot--although these days, with the synthetic blends and more durable parts on the new cars, five to ten thousand miles was all it needed. But the older folk, he'd noticed, were stuck in the patterns of their youth. Three thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand miles.
Mrs. Norwell had tubes of holiday wrapping paper in the back of her car. No gift cards for her, he guessed.
Their Dad had done that one year, probably the last year they actually did anything to mark Christmas, the year before Sam left for school. Target gift cards, fifty bucks each, for clothes or music or whatever. He and Sam had mutually agreed to cash out half their cards. They'd pooled the money to buy Dad a really good bottle of scotch and found a Leatherman in a pawn shop to replace the one he'd lost to a pyromaniac poltergeist in Illinois a few months earlier.
Dean had wondered why Sam had spent his money on a nice but inexpensive dress shirt instead of books or new tennis shoes. He was pretty sure it was the same shirt Sam had worn to Jessica's funeral. It had looked a little tight across the shoulders by then, one of the few items of clothing Sam had managed to salvage from the fire. But maybe not. He might have borrowed it.
Last year he and Sam hadn't done anything in particular on Christmas. Exchanged a few gifts, talked to their Dad on the phone, been glad for the relative quiet and privacy. Things were new and a little different between them and while Dean had no regrets, he was still adjusting to the idea of thinking of Sam in terms different than brother. They'd always been partners -- at least since Sam had left school , but Dean hadn't really thought of him in terms of partner as much as sidekick.
John had been on the road, chasing down a lead on a series of spells that kept popping up from a single grimoire. More annoying than lethal. Sam had suggested Dean go with him, but even with nothing planned Dean hadn't felt right leaving Sam alone on a holiday when most stores and business were closed and emergency staffs would be thinly manned if something happened
The year before that Sam had caught bronchitis -- but the meds they'd given him had shoved him into some horrific dreams, and neither Dean nor Sam had been clear if they were visions, nightmares or just…well, hallucinations. It had scared Dean more than he thought he could be scared, because Sam was rarely sick.
Before that, he thought they'd driven up to Blue Earth -- which was probably closer to a traditional Christmas even if they'd really gone up there to help Jim when his church and congregation came up in a rotation for a local toy drive. If Dean never saw a tricycle again it would be too soon.
Anytime before that blurred, holidays overlooked. There'd been the year Sam couldn’t seem to go a week without some horrible death vision playing out behind his eyes, and when they'd finally eased off, Dean had had a hard enough time just coaxing Sam back to eating regular meals and sleeping regular hours.
It had just never been a big deal for them; there wasn't much use for traditions when you never knew where you'd be or what you'd be doing on Christmas or a birthday, the Fourth of July. You took advantage of what was out there, but you didn't plan for it, like you would a hunt.
Sam, apparently, had other ideas this year.
"Hey, Chuck?" he asked the bay manager. "Where the best place in town to get a Christmas tree?
"St. Luke's. They've got wreaths too. Wife says they're made by some convent near Wichita Falls. Usually the church gets 'em pretty fresh cut, though."
They'd been in Wichita Falls around Sam's fourteenth birthday. Sam had liked the school and the house they'd rented, even if it was kind of far out. Dean didn't remember the convent. He'd found his first garage job there. Mostly he'd changed tires and oil, but for a few months at least, he had a pretty steady paycheck. Not a lot, but enough to help Dad, to keep Sam in clothes he seemed to be constantly growing out of every couple of months.
He remembered long nights of Sam stoically suffering through leg cramps and growing pains, of his face breaking out. The first time Sam's reach started to catch up to his skill in hand-to-hand, Dean had to change his own style of sparring.
Sam had taken up running then, he thought, to help with the cramps.
He'd considered getting an artificial tree, especially if this was going to become a thing. He discarded the idea almost as fast. If Sam couldn't see it, at least he could smell it.
There were lots of things now. Sam would be thirty-two on his next birthday and Dean was moving closer to forty with every breath.
Never thought he'd see it. He wiped his hands down and went to get the oil. They had things now, routines. Just a couple of weeks ago, they'd sat down to an actual, honest-to-God Thanksgiving dinner with Dad. Third year running. Dad had brought the desert. They'd watched football, lazy and sated, and caught up on the news from the hunter circuit their Dad was spending more time connecting with than he ever had before. He was making money like Dean was, working in somebody else's garage, picking up a bit here or there making specialized ammo--silver shot and blessed bullets. He was still on the road more than Sam liked, but Dean understood the pull, the desire to get out.
They'd offered more than once -- "Come here, Dad…make this home base."
Dean had, anyway. Sam had asked a couple of times, and it took Dean a while to realize that John's refusal had less to do with his life's work then how it had ended up affecting Sam. He'd known it -- been angered that John had a hard time being around Sam now that he was blind. It took him longer to realize that it wasn't disgust or the liability Sam represented as much as it was a sense of guilt and failure. If he could just get John to see how well Sam was doing…
But it wasn't that. John had failed to protect his wife and then failed to protect his younger son. All the forgiveness in the world wouldn't change that view of himself.
But John dropped by, for a day or a weekend. Sometimes they headed his way, although not for long. Sam wasn't familiar enough with the layout of his father's apartment to be able to move comfortably. He never said anything, though, not even when he had to ask one of them to bring him something because John's cabinets weren't labeled and ordered.
They usually only stayed a few hours, rarely overnight.
When he visited, John always seemed surprised that Sam could make coffee or a meal, could easily find spare towels or pick a specific book off a shelf. Could walk by himself to the corner store, where Mrs. Xiao was happy to help him find what he needed.
Dean did the sweeping and vacuuming, but Sam dusted, did the laundry. Most of their neighbors knew them by name, had long since gotten used to the blind man on their block, knew Dean from the garage.
They ate at Allston's diner at least a couple of times a month. Sam liked the meatloaf. Dean liked the fried chicken. Both of them liked the cherry cobbler.
Sometimes the routine of it all made Dean feel as if he were living someone else's life. He'd joined his dad on a couple of hunts, two or three a year, using vacation time or long weekends. Sam either stayed on his own, with the neighbors on alert,or once or twice Jim had come up for a visit. Sam had stayed with Jim too. He was better about keeping things orderly than John was.
Someone else's or not, Dean couldn’t picture his life without Sam. It wasn't even so much that Sam needed him -- he suspected Sam would do fine on his own. He'd adapt. Nightmares and his weird and deadly prescience aside, Sam was steadier and more grounded than Dean could ever remember.
That Dean felt the same was kind of a surprise. He'd never thought to settle. Imagined he'd be bored out of his mind, and sometimes he was. Dean got fidgety, and Sam suggested something -- a movie, get out in the car and just go. It was Sam who convinced Dean to join the town's softball league, which had lead Dean to coaching the kids' games.
And sometimes laying in bed at night, Sam asleep beside him, quiet and still, arm flung over Dean's chest, Dean can’t imagine himself anywhere else, living any other kind of life. If he got restless, Sam was the first one to kick his ass out the door. "See if Dad's got anything going."
Sometimes he did. But by the end of it -- ghost, vampire, werewolf, imps, or possessions--all Dean wanted to do was go home, tell Sam about it. He wanted to know what Sam had done, what he'd eaten, if he'd finished his current assignment, did he go to the library to read to the kids.
He wanted to see Sam and touch him, and be able to show him he was glad to be home.
He had everything.
Maybe a little celebration of that fact was a long time coming, regardless of the season.
So, he'd get a tree and maybe a wreath.
He had no idea what to get Sam for Christmas.
He managed to not go overboard. The tree was maybe seven feet, seven and a half once they got it in the stand. He'd forgotten about the stand. And then the nice lady at the tree sale (a con artist if ever Dean had met one) talked him into a tree skirt. A simple cloth one, made by the lady's sewing circle at the church.
"You got a wreath too?"
"Can't have a tree without a wreath. Handmade by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in Wichita Falls."
"Huh. I didn't know there was a convent in Wichita Falls."
They had to rearrange the living room a little. The tree, Sam insisted, had to go in front of the window.
"But there's nothing in the corner by the kitchen."
"You're putting lights on it, right?"
Dean had four strands in the truck --plenty for a tree this size, the guy at the church said. "Well, yeah."
"All right. But don't start bitching when you trip over shit 'cause the furniture's been moved."
Sam had only grinned at him and gone to find a hammer and nail to hang the wreath on the door. It was only slightly off center. Dean didn't say anything, because really? Sam had done pretty well for a blind guy.
The lights, on the other hand -- Dean had exorcised spirits that had given him fewer problems than the damn lights, and it was dark by the time he finished.
Sam insisted they go outside and look.
They were a week or so behind in their decorating from the rest of their neighbors. Dean had never really paid attention to how much darker their house looked on a street where pretty much everyone had some kind of multi-colored nod to the season on their windows or doors. "You can't even see it, Sam," he'd said quietly, staring at the soft glow through their front window.
"Yeah, I can," Sam said with a grin.
Dean thwapped the back of his head. "I could put lights on those two big bushes on either side of the stairs."
"Wrap 'em around the columns."
"I can't believe I'm decorating for Christmas. Don't you want to know what I want?"
"Nope. You'll just have to trust me."
Okay, so he did, but Dean was annoyed that he'd lost the opportunity to ask Sam what he wanted. If Sam could guess so could he.
"Tree needs ornaments."
"I'm working on it," Sam answered, but wouldn't say anything else.
Ten days until Christmas, and on his lunch hour Dean found himself looking at Target's music selection for the third time. Sam had a broader taste in music than he did, everything from the classic rock-and-roll and metal Dean liked, to indie groups, to the great balladeers of the 30's and 40's. He liked opera, for God's sake. Sometimes Dean wondered if they were really related at all.
But music was an easy way out, and Dean knew it. He had no idea what Sam had planned for him. He hadn't seen anything hidden in closets or under beds. Sam read all the time, so books were out, even if Dean could find something in the catalog of books for the blind that Sam hadn't read or recorded. Clothes were too easy and unfair, because anything outrageous Dean once might have bought for laughs now would be less funny and more cruel. He'd thought about a new Braille watch, but they were pricey, and the one Sam had still worked, numbers raised and a chirpy little voice telling him the time at the push of a button. He hardly ever wore it.
One of the small bands Sam liked was playing a gig in a bar a couple of towns over the weekend after New Year's, and Dean had already made plans to take him to that. But that wasn't Christmas.
The thing was, Sam didn’t really need anything, or even want anything that Dean could ferret out. Okay, the tree, but that hardly counted since Sam couldn't see the damn thing. Though Dean had caught him a couple of times brushing the pine needles with his hands to release the scent, fingers carefully exploring the ornaments that just appeared a couple of days after Dean put the tree up.
It was a pretty eclectic mix, some of which came from the boxes of supplies that no longer occupied the trunk of the Impala: dream catchers and ribbon-tied bundles of herbs that Dean was pretty sure Ruth Hanson helped him with. She was pretty much housebound these days after her heart attack. Friends, including he and Sam, had rallied to help her get groceries, and there was a bunch of ladies from Ruth's garden club who came over during the spring and summer to plant her flower beds. Dean mowed her lawn when he did theirs. Sam, he knew, went over pretty much every day after Dean left for work, called her when it was raining. When the weather was nice she'd walk with Sam. Sam hadn't said anything lately about her death, but it was coming up soon, Dean knew. Slightly different from the first time Sam had seen it.
There were a couple dozen other handmade ornaments on the tree. Gifts from the kids at the library and the librarians. A box full of others that Ruth had given Sam -- glass and fragile and probably old. Maybe a little girly, what with the angels and birds. Ruth had a small table set by her front window that held a miniature tree, a wreath on her door and red ribbons on the posts of her porch. Dean and Sam had gotten a couple of Christmas cards, a few more than last year, and wasn't that weird too? People they knew could find them without having to leave voice mails, and while that wasn't bad, it was strange.
He could go with the practical and probably would -- usually did. It wasn't as if they never exchanged gifts, but mostly it was things like new boots or new (used) winter clothes. Last year Sam had given him a new ball mitt, and he'd spent the winter breaking it in for the spring season. He supposed they weren't really different from everyone else; they just weren't the most sentimental of families.
Somehow the tree made it feel different. Dean saw it every night when he pulled up. Sam never forgot to turn it on when it got toward dusk -- probably had the alarm set on his watch. It was ridiculous how much Dean liked seeing it, how he half wished for snow even though he hated driving in it.
He'd ended up buying a boxed set of classic rock, some flannel shirts and socks for his dad. Might get him a pair of new winter gloves too. He'd tried thinking of gifts for Sam other than books and weapons and clothes and music. Walking out of the store, he decided he was being ridiculous and making a big something out of nothing. He'd get Sam some music from some of the more obscure bands he liked, check his dresser to see what he needed clothes-wise in socks or underwear. Buy him a new pair of running shoes.
He didn't know why that felt inadequate when he sat in front of the house again, staring at the lights.
No gift could ever make up for Sam's lack of sight, could make his visions or his nightmares any easier. There was no way to replace the life Sam might have led. Any and all of those would take a miracle, and Dean was fresh out of them.
But it still felt like one when he came home, because Sam set his hours to Dean's most days, unless he was against a deadline. Days and nights really had no meaning for Sam any longer except in relationship to Dean.
"We had sauce left from the other night," Sam said when he heard him come in. "Spaghetti okay?"
"Yeah, it's fine," Dean said coming up behind Sam in the kitchen. The frozen sauce was already in a pan, and there was water ready to boil. Sam could work the stove and the oven -- the dials were marked like pretty much everything else, but it made Dean nervous even though logically he knew Sam could smell something burning.
There was a loaf of French bread on the counter and Sam was carefully buttering each piece and laying them on a cookie sheet. He had a goodly amount of butter on his fingers but mostly they looked good -- except for the ones that had landed upside down. Dean would fix them later.
The only limitations Sam was willing to accept because of his blindness most of the times were ones that Dean put on him -- not as much for Sam's sake as his own.
Dean crowded him up against the counter, found himself responding when Sam grinned and pushed back. "You hungry right now?" Dean asked him.
Dean caught his hand and licked the butter from his fingers. "Yeah, me too."
Being out of miracles didn't mean Dean was out of ideas.
If the tree and the lights on the house made Dean smile, the sight of actual presents made him want to laugh out loud. "I think we have achieved Hallmark-card status, Sammy," he said the day before. He was off, the garage closed.
"Yeah, but is it a glitter-and-poetry card, or a goofy-cartoon-characters-and-Santa-making-rude-jokes kind of card?"
"A little of both, I think," Dean said, watching Sam put the last of his presents under the tree.
Ruth, bless her, had offered to help wrap presents for both of them separately. Dean tried not to think of how much he was going to miss her when she was gone. She was a good friend to them, a good neighbor. She'd made them Christmas cookies. She was another one who didn't need for much that they could give, but Dean had seen the flowers and bulbs in the coffee shop in town, heady scents enough to make his nose twitch.
Ruth would love them: forced bulbs of hyacinths and paperwhites. He'd gotten one for Sam, too, without saying anything, because honestly, who gave their brother flowers? But the single pot of blooming paperwhites gave off enough of an aroma to make Sam smile when he walked in the door.
Jeez. He'd be putting out potpourri next.
"We need to go to the store," Sam said when he'd set down the last gift.
"No. I ordered dinner, like we did for Thanksgiving." Sam was already moving toward the door, feeling along the rack for his coat -- second hook from the end. Dean's went on the third.
It didn't take long, but Dean was a little wide-eyed at the size of the box. "Plan on eating leftovers into the new year?" There was a turkey and a ham, a half-dozen side dishes, three kinds of dessert. A jug of cider, eggnog, and the kind of spices that went into warmed wine. Sam made him pick up a sleeve of cups too.
"Never hurts to have extra," Sam said with a shrug and took Dean's arm carefully as they made their way back to the car. "Clear or overcast?"
Dean tipped his head back but caught only wisps of clouds. "Pretty clear."
"No snow then."
Dean still thought snow (a little) would be nice, but he kept silent.
Once home and the food put away, Sam insisted on making the cider. All of it.
"What are you doing?"
"It's almost seven right?" Sam asked, opening the paper coffee cups.
"Bring that -- and the ladle," he said, and was already walking toward the door.
Sam got their coats again, and Dean was halfway to asking what the hell-- when Sam opened the door. Dean followed and felt ridiculous standing on his porch with a stewpot of cider in his hands. He set it down and pulled on his coat.
Sam was at the edge of the steps, leaning against the column.
It took Dean a moment. They were halfway down the street, maybe on the cross street.
They got louder and clearer, a group of about twelve people, kids to older folks. "You are kidding me," Dean said, listening to the carolers as they stopped in front of Ruth's house to sing. She came out with a plate of cookies. The carolers were not entirely on tune, and more than one set of lyrics was bungled with laughter.
He was surprised at how many of the songs he knew, when he'd never sung any of them as far as he could remember.
He sang along anyway as they came up the walk.
Sam hummed and then clapped as the last note of "Winter Wonderland" faded out. "We've got cider."
Dean knew most of them, and the ones he didn't, he met. "You should come with us," Jack Harold from two doors down said.
Sam shouldered him.
Dean locked the house up.
They didn't stay out late, although a few people stopped back by and Sam made coffee while Dean got Ruth. He wasn't used to having company, and Sam kind of avoided getting too close to anyone, but no one stayed long and most of the talk centered around the town, the schools, things Dean rarely paid attention to. The town was small and unremarkable in most ways, getting a little bigger each year but still too far out for suburban sprawl to be a problem. Last of a dying breed Jack remarked on some tangent.
Cleaning up afterward, Dean watched his brother. Sam looked a little tired, but he was smiling. "You had a good time?"
"Yeah. It was fun," Sam said. He'd taken off his glasses, something he usually did around Dean alone, sometimes Ruth. Dean missed being able to read Sam's moods in his eyes, but his body told a similar story: relaxed, comfortable. "Don’t worry. I'm not planning to host the weekly coffee klatch," he said.
"You could if you wanted."
"Naw. This is good. Special," Sam said. "Thanks."
"Just…all of this. The tree…the …everything."
"You're welcome," Dean said, confused, but Sam seemed satisfied.
In bed later, with Sam sleeping beside him like he didn't have a care in the world, Dean found himself wide awake while he traced light patterns on Sam's back. Sam had made his thanks a little more up close and personal -- although Dean wasn't sure that's what it was. He stared at the ceiling, not sure what to do with Sam's gratitude or his own restlessness. It wasn't as if he were expecting Santa.
But maybe still waiting for a miracle. Only he didn't know what kind of miracle he was waiting for.
Sam was an early riser. Had been for as long as Dean could remember. When he'd first started working regular hours, it had been Sam who made sure he was never late, who waited to take his shower so Dean could grab his own. Who made the coffee. Dean had gotten used to Sam getting up before him, so much so that Sam could ease out of bed and Dean only barely acknowledge it, falling back asleep, with the feel of Sam's hand ruffling through his hair or dropping a light kiss on his mouth. Sometimes Dean would pull him back to bed. Sometimes Sam would pull him out of bed and make him take a shower with him.
Early on Dean decided that Sam would have made someone the perfect wife. Maybe mother. He kept both thoughts to himself because blind or not, Sam could be unerringly accurate with a rolled up magazine, ice cube, or book. And barring that, Sam knew how to bide his time. And was perfectly capable, if provoked, of swapping out Dean's shampoo for some incredibly strong gardenia-scented petroleum-based lotion that took three showers and four days before Dean was sure the smell was gone.. Even now, if he annoyed Chuck at the garage enough he would hear "flower-boy" for the whole damn day.
Sam's cooking skills left something to be desired for obvious reasons, although he could make a decent sandwich, and better than decent chili in the crock pot as long as Dean measured out the spices beforehand.
So, waking up to freshly made coffee wasn't unusual. Waking up to the scent of eggs and bacon and what had to be biscuits was. As was the realization that he could hear voices and it wasn't the television or Sam talking to himself.
Once downstairs, he noticed there were a few more presents under the tree, and a glance outside showed their father's truck parked on the street.
If John had shown up unexpectedly, Sam would have woken him, so it stood to reason that Sam had been expecting him even though he hadn't said anything to Dean. Still half asleep, he pulled on clothes instead of wandering downstairs in his boxers.
John had to have left before the crack of dawn to get here this early -- it wasn't even 7 a.m. "What? Did you catch a ride with Santa?" Dean asked blearily on entering the kitchen. Sam was leaning against the counter, fully dressed, coffee in hand, and it was John at the stove turning out the last of a plate of pancakes.
"Yeah. He's not such a bad guy," John said and fished out the last of the bacon and set it aside to drain before turning. "Merry Christmas, son."
"Merry Christmas, Dad," Dean said and made the first move to give his father a hug. They'd only seen him a few weeks ago, talked to him at least once a week, but as he was hugging his father, Dean realized this was the first time he could remember since childhood where Christmas wasn't an afterthought.
Sam didn't say anything, but he had a smile on his face just the same as they got the table set up and John loaded their plates. The conversation was less awkward than it usually was too. Sam had grabbed a couple of new contracts for entire series of works, including some of the children's books he'd been reading to the kids. Between Sam's disability and his voice contracts and the money Dean brought in, they were more than comfortable, and John seemed proud of that fact.
After breakfast Dean was more eager to open presents than he had been in years. There was nothing surprising in the gifts either Sam or his father gave him -- sensible stuff mostly: shirts, new work boots, socks. Sam had been steadily replacing all his old cassettes with CDs of his favorites. The truck he drove now didn't have a cassette player and he got crappy sound out of the portable he'd been able to scavenge from a junk shop.
But there was a box from his boss that Dean hadn't seen before. "When did Joe drop this off?"
"A couple of days ago," Sam said. "You were taking Ruth to the grocery store."
The box was small, heavy for its size. Dean opened it to find business cards. Dean Winchester, General Manager, Howard's Full Auto and Fleet Service.
Dean stared at them for a moment. He and Joe had talked about this. Joe Howard was getting up in years, was eager to spend less time in the shop. He wasn't ready to give up the business, but he was ready to let somebody else handle the day to day. He'd talked to Dean, and Dean was pretty sure he'd talked to a couple of the other guys too. "I didn't think he was going to decide until after the first of the year."
Sam cleared his throat. "Apparently there's a cruise in January his wife wants to go on."
"Congratulations, son," John said, and he was grinning, teeth gleaming in his graying beard.
"Yeah. Thanks." Dean fingered one of the cards, then tucked one in his pocket before he closed the box. He started gathering up wrapping paper and shoving it into a discarded plastic bag. "I'm going to take this out to the cans. There's probably a movie or something on."
He didn't look at his father or Sam as he headed outside. The trash cans were around the side of the house. The air was cold and clear and sharp--too cold, really, for shirtsleeves--but Dean hardly noticed.
When Joe had talked to him about the job a month ago, Dean had been flattered and kind of proud of himself. He was good with cars, even the new ones, hybrids and hydros, but that wasn't enough to run a shop the size of Howard's. Small town or no, they serviced a fleet of cross-country semis and another of local tri-state delivery trucks. Dean had managed to relearn most of what he knew about cars and electrical systems. He'd taken certification courses twice. They could pretty much guarantee him a job anyway.
But he still got paid by the hour. He got his hands dirty. He dealt with a minimal amount of paperwork, but that part didn't bother him. He'd done more paperwork to keep Sam's disability and assistance checks coming in over the years than the garage could generate. He got along with most of the guys in the shop, liked their customers. This would be a salaried position, and he'd have to take some kind of accounting class. That didn't scare him either. He was good at math, and he certainly understood balancing the books.
It didn't really change anything. Except it did.
He'd known he was in this with Sam for the long haul. He couldn’t see himself being anywhere without Sam there. Didn't really want to.
But this would mean no more last-minute hunts with his father just because he got itchy feet. This was a whole other level of people depending on him. This was shedding a part of his life that he'd left behind but hadn't really let go of yet.
And Sam had known for a few days, at least.
But not before he'd asked for the tree, or invited and planned for their father to come up for Christmas Day.
He wondered if Sam had known anyway, had seen something. Sam's foresight didn't usually include the good things, so it was unlikely. But Sam had always been good at reading Dean, and Dean had talked to him about the position when it came up.
He heard the front door open and close. He half expected Sam, but wasn't surprised it was his father. John carried another bag of trash and held out his coat. Dean took it. "You have the same look on your face I think I did when your mother told me she was pregnant with you," John said with a half grin.
Dean snorted. "I doubt it. It's just a job, Dad."
"It's more than a job, and you and I -- and your brother -- know it," he said, stuffing the trash into the can. "You keeping the Impala tuned up?"
Yes," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "Don't drive it much except on Sundays. To church," he added and his father grinned at him. "Cost of gas nowadays, but yeah, she cranks right up. I've got her covered with a tarp right now. Take her out to the classic car shows around here. You feeling nostalgic? Want to take her for a spin?"
John rocked back on his heels. "I might. Got you something else for Christmas," he said and started walking to his truck.
Like Dean, John had finally traded in his old truck for a hybrid when gas hit about eight dollars a gallon. They really didn't look any different, but they were lighter, electrical engines charging off the ethanol and synthetic engine as needed. Dean usually filled his tank at the first of the month and sometimes didn't need even need to totally fill it again the next month. John's was little sturdier, more hauling capacity, but he didn't drive much anymore unless he was visiting them or out on a hunt.
A black tarp covered the short bed, and John unfastened it. In the bed of the truck were three twenty-gallon fuel containers and a case of half-and-half motor oil. Only thing anyone bought it for was classic cars.
"Is that…is that gas?" Dean asked.
John nodded. "Sixty gallons of low octane."
The Impala would run on the new fuel blends, but not well, burning them faster than she would regular gas. Plus, they played holy hell with her engine and wore out her parts, none of which were cheap to replace or easy find any longer. Steel was another commodity that had skyrocketed in just the last few years. There was more money per pound in the old junked cars than there was in parts any longer.
Dean kept about ten gallons of gasoline on hand, kept the engine flushed, splurging on it the way other people splurged on dinners out or food or electronics. He had a special permit for the car, had registered it as a classic so he wouldn't get ticketed every time he pulled it out of the garage.
Like the gun he still kept in his nightstand, the Impala was something he held onto from a whole other life.
"That's a lot of nostalgia," Dean said.
John nodded. "I was kind of stuck on the same old, same old, so I called Sam…see if you'd mentioned anything. He came up with this…pitched in on half. Said you'd like to drive her more than you do. That's not it though, is it?"
Dean stared at the gas and thumped one of the containers before glancing at the house. They'd lit the tree again, but it was pale and washed out in the daylight. Sam's off-center wreath offered more color.
It wasn't the present -- not the gas or the tree that made Dean's chest tighten or his eyes burn. "I don't remember, Dad. Was it like this -- with Mom? Before Sam? Before any of it?"
John wiped at his nose and nodded. "Yeah, pretty much. More toys, though," he said on a chuff of laughter. "You know, I think Sam would be okay."
Dean nodded. "Yeah. He probably would. I wouldn't, though. You know that, right?" he asked.
John reached out and gripped his shoulder. "I know. No choices here, Dean. You make your life what you want of it, now. Your mother would have wanted that for you. I do too. So does Sam."
"Yeah. I know. So…sixty gallons. Jim's having an evening service too, isn't he? You know, if you feel like making a cross-country trek for old time's sake."
"I could be persuaded. Although I think Sam's got lunch plans."
"That's what coolers are for. There should be just enough to get us there and back again, you think?"
"About that," John said covering the gas up again. "Use it all in one shot?"
Dean shrugged. "Why not? Visit a friend, annoy the hell out of you guys for a day or so, come home. I got nowhere else I want to be. It could be the start of a new Winchester family tradition. Christmas day road trip. "
It could be. Being on the road was part of their family history.
Leave it to Sam to make coming home a whole new chapter.
They made the drive in time for the late service -- just slipping into the back of the church as the choir finished the opening hymn. Jim didn't look up or acknowledge them but Dean was pretty sure he saw him smile as the three Winchesters slid into the last pew.
Sam had offered to sit in back of the Impala but John reminded them he'd gotten an early start and with a pillow and blanket had stretched out in the back seat and slept most of the way. They'd packed light -- the extra gas loaded in the trunk and the three of them already dragging the Impala's not impressive mileage down a bit, but otherwise Dean thought it could have been ten years ago or even twenty. The Chevy was still the sweetest ride he'd ever had, and with Sam and his father along, he was halfway ready to believe in miracles after all.
The whole trip was a lark. Jim was glad to see them and of course he could put them up for the night. Long after the services were done and they'd made a good dent into Sam's Christmas dinner, they sat up and talked like Dean could never remember them doing before -- just for the sheer pleasure of each other's company. Dean sat back with a good glass of whiskey and listened to Sam and Jim amicably argue about relative theology and organic mythology and took bets with John on who would be the first to demand and cite references.
Sam and he didn't share a bed that night but it didn't matter. Sam liked Jim, always had and Dean forgot sometimes there were people who already knew about Sam's dire prophetic visions that Sam would probably like to keep in touch with better, but he really didn't ask very often. Like it was too much. He'd call Dean on bullshit when he needed to, would still pick fights just to make Dean defend his opinion, but there was less of an edge to it than there used to be.
They weren't making life and death decision about the best way to kill or hunt something any longer. All the decisions they made now were a lot more personal. A lot closer to home.
On the drive back, it struck Dean that he'd been thinking of this as having to start all over. But it wasn't really -- it was just a different kind of fight, a different kind of hunt, one that put Sam on point where neither Dean nor John had ever wanted him to be.
Sam had never wanted to be there either, but he'd adjusted to it as well as he'd adjusted to his blindness. That Sam would stumble now and again was less metaphor for both those situations than an inevitable consequence. If you couldn't get out of the way, you learned to stand your ground.
They hadn't stopped fighting any of it: not the evil that they'd hunted most of Dean's and all of Sam's life, not the curve balls fate or destiny or just sheer bad luck had tossed them. They'd just changed the battlefield.
They were defending their turf and that… that wasn't really that different at all.
John opted not to stay over. He had to be to work in the morning as did Dean. They saw him off from the street and then headed back. Dean stopped Sam on the sidewalk. "I hate to admit it, but I'm going to hate taking these lights down," he said.
"I'll help," Sam said. "I think I can wrap a few lights."
"That's not what I mean," Dean said and hooked his arm through Sam's as they walked into the house. "I never wanted any of this, you know," he said as they mounted the steps and Dean pulled open the door. "House. Picket fence…and yeah. I know we don’t have a picket fence. Settling down."
"I know," Sam said quietly when they were inside. He pulled his arm free carefully, found the door and closed it, putting his back to it. "I asked you once, what you did want, if things were different. They're pretty different."
Dean blew out a breath. "I wanted you…me…dad. Us. A family. I've got that, Sam. The you and me part is a little different than I ever thought," he added with a smile. "But it works. It all works, Sam. I guess I should call Joe tomorrow, tell him I'll take the job."
"That'll be another change."
Dean stepped in close. Sam still had his glasses on and Dean reached up and pulled them off carefully. Sam blinked from the movement but the pale white gaze didn't shift. Folding the wire frames up carefully, Dean set them on the table by the door. "I can handle change as long as not everything does. So any plans you had about running off to Tahiti? You'd better cancel them."
Sam's smile was slow but got broader when Dean rested his hands on Sam's hips and squeezed out the last space between them. Briefly Dean closed his own eyes when Sam's hands skated over his face, smoothed along his forehead and cheeks; he didn't need to see to know when Sam bent his head, or need any encouragement to open his mouth to Sam's.
He only barely remembered to turn off the outside lights off when they stumbled toward the stairs, pulling off clothes, while trying to maintain contact.
Sam didn't need Dean to guide up the stairs. He knew this house as well as he knew Dean: every step, ever corner to turn, every place that held something fragile, or where he walls were sturdiest.
And Dean knew Sam as well as he knew this house, this home. The home Sam had always wanted and Dean had never looked for outside of his brother and his father.
He had them both, if not altogether, all the time. But he'd meant it when he said he could handle change as long as not everything changed.
Dean had what he wanted, what he'd always wanted, and so did Sam.
Dean had been looking for some kind of miracle.
It had been right in front of him all the time.