Rating: PG (a bit of cussin')
Characters: Sam, Dean
Genre: Gen, curtain!fic-ish with a touch of h/c, angst, schmoop, case!fic and Christmas!
Length: 9,085 words
Disclaimer: If I owned SPN, I'd hold a big party and let y'all come. As long as you brought beer. Thank you, Eric, for creating these lovelies and allowing us to play with them.
Summary: A blown-out knee grounds the Winchester boys in Moon Gulch, Idaho. They get a dog. They discover what a Wishpoosh is. And maybe, just maybe, they become 'people'...
Warnings: Very slight spoilers for Season 7. A few 4-letter words.
Notes: This is my gift for gretazreta at spn_j2_xmas. I hope I gave you a little of what you like! Based on your prompts "Dean's drinking too much", "Sam can't sleep", and "They get a really ugly dog." Kind of a mishmash but I had fun writing it. Happy holidays! :D
Notes, Part Deux: Abundant love and gratitude to my betas tesserae_ and puchuupoet. Generous to a fault and wise beyond belief. Any residual mistakes are all mine. I love you, ladies.
Final Note, I promise: Comments will be received as wonderful little nuggets of joy! And please feel encouraged to leave concrit; I'm hella thick-skinned and many a great lesson has been learned from my gorgeous readers so have at it!
Okay, I lied: There's another fic that takes place in this sort-of 'verse, after 'Good Things': Prayer Bundles
It's a tad long, so if you want to download it, I crossposted over at AO3: HERE.
Doc was easily the butt-ugliest dog Dean had ever set eyes upon, if you didn’t count hell hounds, werewolves, you know…monsters. He was told the mutt had coonhound blood, which might’ve explained the ears with the wingspan of a turkey vulture, but nothing could justify the high-pitched yip that emitted from a beast roughly the size of a SmartCar. And currently, Doc was yipping for all he was worth, leaping to plunk his nose against the glass upper-half of the front door, leaving great strings of saliva everywhere that nose led.
The timer on the stove droned and Dean grabbed a potholder, slapping open the oven.
“Oh, man…” he purred. Mincemeat bubbled through the lattice on top of the pie, all shiny and gloopy and pungent with spices and dried fruit. It’d taken Dean a good half-hour to get the weave just right without cracking the dough, but damn, it looked pretty. He even egg-washed the whole shebang to give it a sheen. Millie at the diner would be proud. So what if over-spill was burning all down the racks and onto the bottom of the oven? That’s what brothers with OCD were for.
Doc kept up the graceless flinging until Dean was certain the dog was going to blow out a knee. Dean was all too familiar with blown-out knees and wouldn’t wish them on his worst enemy. Well, okay, maybe his worst enemy; God knew he’d made enough enemies in his lifetime to blow out a dozen knees.
“Doc,” he boomed. “Shut your cakehole. SIT.” Was like talking to a stump, for all the good it did. Dean sighed, shook his head, and focused on sliding the pie to a waiting cooling rack. His knuckle brushed the glass pie plate and he winced, shaking off the sting. The pie continued to bubble and hiss, dribbling tarry black glaze over the edge and onto the countertop.
“Hey, look, Doc. Leviathan spooge.” The dog paid Dean no never-mind.
He tossed aside the potholder and leaned a hip against the counter. Six months ago, the dog’s hysterics would’ve sent Dean diving for the sawed-off behind the breadbox. Tonight, he simply glanced at his watch. 8:27 pm. Doc, with his superstar hearing, was likely responding to Sam’s Jeep crawling down the drive, returning home from work.
What with Jesus’ big birthday hoopla right around the corner, Sam’s shift at the tree farm began as the sun climbed over the mountains and didn’t end again until it had long since disappeared. The work was hard labor year ‘round—pruning and felling evergreens, tending the acres of wannabe Yuletide specimens, weed and pest control of the grounds—but even harder work tending persnickety customers who wanted the post-card perfect Christmas tree. Dean would’ve put money on Sam quitting for a more ‘thinky’ job but as usual, Sam defied his brother’s expectations. The first few weeks he came home covered in fine scrapes, hands raw and entire body visibly kaput. But Sammy stuck with it. The money was good, better than good actually, and his freakishly long limbs and equally freakish facility with a machete made the work if not easy, at least easier.
Boots stomped the front porch and Doc ran circles, tail end wagging the whole damned dog. Dean would’ve unlocked the dead bolt, save Sam the trouble of fumbling in gloves, if not for 130 lbs. of over-excited hound.
When Sam finally got the door open, he was little more than a pair of eyes visible in a gap between yards of knit and a massive parka.
Doc whimpered in overt glee and jumped, front paws to shoulders, before Sam could even get through the door. Sammy adored the stupid dog, though, and didn’t seem to mind the sloppy tonguing and hound stink and shedding and walkies when the weather was sub-zero. Dean appreciated the live-in burglar alarm but that was where most of his fondness for the cur ended.
“Busy day at the office, honey?” Dean stripped out of his apron—a birthday gift from Sam that read “Burnt to Perfection”—and slung the dirty thing over a nicked ladder-back chair.
Sam pulled his chin free from the scarf and made kissy noises at the dog before answering. “I saw Mrs. Walters and that woman from the credit union, you know the one with the wart, almost come to blows over a Norway spruce. ‘Tis the season, right? I had to drag ‘em apart.”
“Did you cop a feel?”
“Gross, Dean.” Sam’s expression curdled.
“Hey, you’re the one kissing the dog.”
Sam bumped Doc down and uncoiled his scarf. And uncoiled and uncoiled. It must’ve been seven feet long. Dean wasn’t sure where Sam had gotten it, probably hand-knitted by the farm owner’s wife. According to townsfolk, she was legendary for taking pity on orphans and sad-eyed sorts, like Sam. Probably how he scored the job in the first place.
“Did you eat?” Dean asked, grabbing a beer from the ‘fridge.
Sam shrugged. “Someone brought in Chex Mix. And kolachki.”
“Yikes. Sounds like…a disease. ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Longabaugh; you’ve got the kolachki and you only have six months to live.’” They hadn’t used Winchester once, publicly, since they’d gotten to Moon Gulch.
“Your loss. More for me.” Sam pulled a plastic zip-lock from his pocket and waved it at Dean. Looked like cookies, miniature turnovers that left powdered sugar and jelly smeared all over the inside of the bag. Dean instantly regretted his smart-assed comment.
Sam tossed the sweets onto the tiny table by the front door where their mail collected and continued de-winterizing. He tugged off his parka and gave it a good shake before hanging it on the hook next to Dean’s. Hopping one-legged like a lumbering stork, he took off his boots and set them neatly on the mat to dry. If Dean thought Sam’s hair looked girly before, it was downright laughable now, fluffed by static electricity yet still hanging well past his shoulders. Most days he kept it secured in a ponytail and Dean had long since abandoned trying to get him to cut it. Dean figured it was Sam’s security blanket; could’ve been worse, all things considered.
And hell, Sammy knew full well what it did to the girls at Millie’s diner. Dean heard them talk, all right, twittering like starlings over silverware rolls while he was prepping for the day’s lunch. They were clearly hoping he would go home and tell his brother all about the cute chicks who thought his hair was glorious. And Dean did, of course, to which Sam had just mumbled “Duly noted,” but his ears had turned a raging shade of pink. Totally worth it. The Longabaughs were quickly becoming the town’s Most Eligible Bachelors.
“Dude, that smells awesome.” Sam padded sock-footed to the kitchen, Doc trailing. “Gonna bring it to the party?”
Dean’s mouth worked a few wordless starts that ended in “Ummm.”
“You didn’t forget about the party, did you? You did.”
“Aw, man, Sam. I don’t wanna-”
“No way. You’re not backing out. What are you…chicken?” Sam shoved Dean’s shoulder, almost hard enough to knock him off his feet, and feigned a scowl behind a week’s worth of beard. His nose was still red from the cold. The heater in his Jeep didn’t work for shit; Dean made a note to look at it when the days stopped being so stinkin’ frigid. Which probably meant spring, especially if the yeti kept shoving him around like this.
Dean shoved back and slid a wistful glance to his pie and beer.
“Come on, Dean,” Sam wheedled. “I promised Arlene we’d show up for at least a little while. She’s been so good to us. We owe her.”
Doc had plopped a sit at Sam’s feet and was busy drooling at the mincemeat. A ten-inch drip of spittle hung from the dog’s jowls.
“Sam, my knee aches and-”
“I’ll carry you, princess.”
Dean flipped him the bird. “Well maybe I just wanna eat pie and drink beer and watch porn in the peace and quiet of my own home, huh? Without all that, that good cheer and smiling-‘til-your-cheeks-hurt shit.”
“Bring the pie. Designated driver, right here—” Sam hooked his thumbs at his own chest, at his own pilly old sweater with evergreen needles stuck in the weave “—and dude, April and June are gonna be there.”
Dean’s resolved slipped a fraction. “The…the twins?”
The twins, he mouthed. Sammy always did have the market cornered on stubborn.
“Man, you’re a nag.”
“Look, I’m gonna take a shower. You put on a clean shirt and let’s go for, what, an hour? I promise we’ll leave before the Christmas carols start, okay?”
Dean was blatantly telegraphing his desire to stay put, and Sam narrowed his eyes, lifting a finger in warning. “Twenty minutes. Grow some jingle-balls,” he said, sidestepping Doc on his way to their one shared bath.
It was a nice enough house, lone bathroom notwithstanding. They were certainly accustomed to sharing a toilet. The property had been theirs, or at least Dean and Sam Longabaugh’s, for almost a year now.
Dean’s first good look at Moon Gulch, Idaho, made him curl his lip and want to keep on going. The old snow on the ground was sucking the color out of everything, draining life from the air, making the buildings look dead and dingy. Two bars, a handful of churches, one grocery with a gas station attached, a credit union, and a town hall/police station combo…that was the main drag. All bleached of warmth and quaintness. Not even a strip club to put a hopeful spin on things. Boy howdy, Sammy could pick ‘em.
Sam steered the Impala through the slushy streets at a guarded pace, slowing even further when they passed an unlucky pedestrian, mummified in cold-weather clothing. Dean had his forehead pressed against the freezing glass, pissed at not driving, pissed at his exquisitely blown-out knee, pissed at the notion they’d be staying in this armpit of a town for more than a day.
“Longabaugh, Sam? We have to be Longabaughs? I can’t even spell that.”
Sam grinned, unfazed. “Yes you can. Besides, we’ve done Cassidy to death. Thought it was time the Sundance Kid got his fair shake.”
“Says you.” In this moment, Dean missed Bobby’s junkyard more than ever.
“Oh come on. It’s not so bad.”
“They don’t even have a Hooters here.”
“No, but they’ve got a – ” Sam craned his neck as they passed a flickering neon sign “ – Millie’s Eat-n-Greet. And a physical therapist. That’s gotta count for something.”
“Whatever.” Dean threw a glare at his bandaged and braced knee—piece of shit ghoul in Coeur d’Alene saw fit to snap it like a pretzel stick—before glancing over at his brother. Despite a vague smile, Sam looked worn clean out. He sported considerable, sleep-deprived shadows under his eyes and his forehead creased with a migraine he wouldn’t admit to. Older than his thirty-four years. Clearly, they were due for a little R ‘n R, forced or otherwise, so Dean shut up. He flicked on the radio and listened to Hank Williams because that’s all their old radio could catch and the tape deck had died on Christmas Eve. Merry fucking Xmas.
They continued out of town a few miles, hard to tell exactly how far since it had started snowing again and travel had become slow and tricksy. Sam managed to coax the car, with considerable fishtailing, to the rental property. Glorified hunting shack, was more like it. By the time they slid to a halt at the end of the drive, Dean’s knuckles were as white as mothballs. Thankfully the path from the drive to the front door had been recently cleared, shovel still propped on the porch next to a new bag of rock salt.
“Hovel, sweet hovel,” Sam chirruped, jumping out of the car and rounding the hood. Dean pried his fingers from the panic bar and squinted, almost snow-blind, at the cottage.
Okay, not completely shitty, he had to admit. They’d certainly squatted in worse dives. The house was barely two stories, some might’ve called it snug, shingled in well-weathered cedar and capped by steeply sloping red tin. A brick chimney, sorely in need of tuckpointing, stuck to one side and huge evergreens closed in tight, nearly obscuring what appeared to be an aging single-car garage out back. A cheap plastic wreath with a tiny American flag stuck in its boughs hung on the front door, which had been painted red in a failed attempt to match the roof. The previous tenant must’ve owned a big dog because even from here, Dean could see the finish was scratched all to hell.
Sam opened the shotgun door and hovered as Dean oh-so-carefully eased his braced knee free of the footwell. By the time they wobbled and skidded to the front porch—Dean’s arm slung over Sam’s shoulder and Sam’s arm curled around Dean’s waist, free arms on either side flopped wide to shoot for balance—they were both snowed on, sweating like stuck pigs, and half-laughing. It wasn’t funny, per se, what with Dean’s knee sending jags of pain radiating both north and south, but they knew they looked like graceless dumb-asses. Luckily, the nearest neighbor was three miles down the road and the crow that watched from the roof wasn’t likely to gossip.
Sam propped Dean against the porch as he dug in a pocket. He produced the house key with a flourish, spinning the rubber daisy-shaped fob ‘round one finger. The lock was obstinate but Sam was more so, and he finally got the door open and gave it a shove.
Dean’s brows shot towards his hairline.
The curtains were floral, the furniture was overstuffed and upholstered in more florals, and plastic flowers bloomed from coffee cans on the windowsills and tabletops. Every single wall was paneled in knotty pine and the carpet was the utilitarian, indoor-outdoor polyester sort last popular around the mid 70’s. The place smelled faintly of dog and the cloying stink of overly-sweet floral air freshener. Then again, Dean told himself, it wasn’t as bad as some of the no-tell motels they’d visited in their travels.
“Jesus, Sam. I think someone’s grandmother exploded in here.”
“Hey. It’s furnished, there’s a garage for the car and a first-floor bedroom for you, gimpy. Designer décor wasn’t exactly on my wishlist. But yeah, I did count twenty-seven doilies. I mean, even the doilies have doilies.” He gave Dean a light nudge, coaxing him inside. “Age before beauty…”
Bit by bit, the boys replaced the floral with plaid. Mr. Quackenbush was more than happy to trade rent for home improvements in the months when funds were skinny. He seemed to like the Longabaughs as long as they kept their noses clean and took care of the place, which suited the Longabaughs just fine.
Old Man Winter hung on like Thanksgiving Day leftovers.
The afternoons were brighter and the sky was shifting more blue than gray, but the air was still bitingly cold. It made Dean’s daily outing to the mailbox, which logged by small bits the slow improvement of his knee, a real pain in the ass. He’d far rather stay put in his nice, warm living room, watching from a near distance as the eaves thawed and the stupidly cheerful purple flowers pushed their way through stale globs of snow. But his physical therapist, a warhorse of a woman with steel wool for hair and hands like vices, made him swear to increase his activity and Sam tattled every time the mail sat, uncollected, for more than a day.
Dean found himself mastering the art of puttering. Thanks to a birding book, borrowed from the Quackenbushes, he knew the exact moment when the eagles returned to Idaho to start their yearly mating games. He would run a load of laundry if it was Tuesday or Thursday, and most days around noonish, decided it was the perfect time to begin drinking his lunch.
His life, it seemed, was growing a sort of gravity. Until it didn’t any more.
Dean woke himself that evening by dropping a half-empty bottle of Jack on his bare foot. And not into a solidly wakeful state either, more of a muzzy, boozy, dull crawl to sentience. The first thing he was aware of was the mush where his brain should’ve been. The unsurprising ache in his knee was the second thing, and that sent him pawing about for his pills. The third thing was a rattling at the front door, and that froze him, mid-search. He didn’t know what time it was except that the sun had set and he was shivering. And the door knob was rattling and it wasn’t the wind.
“Shit. Shit shit shit.” Dean blinked hard. By the dim glow of a reading lamp on Sam’s desk, he could just barely see the salt line, still solid by the door. He knew there were strategically placed herb bundles tucked between the folds of the drapes and sigils carved discreetly into the woodwork at every portal, but that didn’t stop his heart from trying to climb up his windpipe.
He couldn’t will away the whiskey stain from his eyes. He realized, in a panicked flash of clarity, the synergy between booze and Percocet wasn’t doing him any favors right now, despite how lovely it had felt somewhere around lunchtime. His reflexes were betraying him, crippled just like his fucking knee, and that was freaking him out more than the thing at the door. Dean forced his hand between the seat cushions and curled his fingers around something smooth. He prayed it was the handle of a knife or a gun because there were weapons all over the damned place but when Dean pulled his hand free, it was clutching the TV remote. The door stuck because it always stuck when it got cold and Dean dropped the remote to grab the bottle at his feet.
The door jerked open and the bottle flew.
A huge shadow flinched, flattening back immediately as glass struck the edge of the door and blew in every direction. And then the shadow swore.
Dean sat up taller, stifling a cringe. “Sam?”
The door creaked back open. Sam’s keys were still in his hand, his duffel slung over one shoulder and a paper bag caught in his teeth. He gaped, and the bag hit the floor. “No shit, Dirty Harry, who the fuck else would it be?!”
Dean tried to stand but thumped back down when his weight hit the bad knee. “I, um. Shit, man. You freaked me out, is all. I fell asleep and…” He trailed off into something resembling a half-assed apology.
Sam brushed glass from his shoulders and shut the door. His expression was carefully shuttered, which said as much to Dean as any tirade.
“I called,” he said, and Dean felt the burn of indignity pull his heart back down where it should’ve been, in the pit of his stomach. Sam stooped and picked the bag back up. His boots gritted on the glass bits as he walked to their so-called dining room, which was really just the spot between the kitchen and the couch. Whatever was in the duffle thudded heavily when he set it on the thick wooden table. “Here. Dinner.” He threw the paper bag at Dean, making him fumble for a catch.
“Thanks.” Dean wasn’t the least bit hungry, his gut still knotted and limbs quivery, but if he didn’t attempt to appreciate Sam’s effort, he’d be in far deeper guano. He remembered now: Sam had driven to Latshaw to help Dylan Whitecrow figure out what was eating his alpacas. Yep, alpacas. Dean suspected it was simply a bobcat or wild dog but Dylan swore he saw the thing and “it weren’t no dog, no how.” Sam was getting antsy for a hunt—Dean too, for that matter—but only Sam had the legs to be of any use to Dylan.
Sam grabbed a broom and wordlessly began cleaning up Dean’s mess. Which made Dean feel so much better. (Not.)
“So what’d you find?” he asked around a mouthful of burger.
Sam emptied the dustpan into the trash. “Go see.”
Dean rolled his eyes because, hello, bum knee. But obviously Sam wanted Dean up and moving and Dean wasn’t really in a place to bitch; he’d just thrown a bottle of Jack at his brother in a fit of stupid. He limped over to the table, toughing out the pain, burger still in hand. A distinctly animal funk hit his nose. “Holy shit. Giant skunk?”
Sam just shook his head but he was starting to grin. They hadn’t grabbed a case in so long both of them were likely feeling that old familiar buzz of discovery.
Dean was, that was for damned sure. He set his burger aside and pulled the chain to the overhead light. Made the place look like a back-alley surgery. Fresh dark stains indicated whatever was stuffed in the sack did a fair amount of bleeding before it wound up on their kitchen table. He unzipped the zipper and –“What the hell?”
The creature was roughly the size of a goat, had similar freaky eyes with those figure-eight-shaped pupils, but that was where similarities stopped. The body, stocky and well-muscled, was furred in wiry quill-like barbs, the maw gaping to reveal several rows of arrowhead-shaped teeth. It had a blunt snout, a flat meaty tail and six legs built for leaping, not to mention claws on the ends of those legs, perfect for rending flesh. And son of a bitch, it stunk.
“Mutant tailypo?” Dean guessed, swallowing hard as his stomach complained.
“Too far west.” Sam sidled up, shoulder to shoulder, and pulled at one of the tufted ears to get a better look at the thing’s ugly mug. “Dylan mentioned something about Wishpoosh.”
“Ha ha. Wishpoosh, according to Chinook legend, is a demon beaver. I kid you not. But forget the silver; doesn’t work for shit. Pepper spray, on the other hand? Like a charm.”
“Clearly, we do not know enough about Native American folklore.” Dean canted back and folded his arms over his chest, turning to look at Sam. His heart decided to shift positions again as he caught sight of red smeared down the side of Sam’s neck, soaking his coat, drying his hair into stiff, dark dreads. How the hell he missed it before he couldn’t say, but now that he noticed, it made his mouth run dry. “Please tell me that’s Wishpoosh’s blood you’re wearing.”
Sam shrugged noncommittally. “I don’t do jewelry; it’s not like I need an earlobe.”
Dean made a terse, unhappy sound and roughly angled Sam under the light. The blood pissed him off. “That could’ve been your throat, you lucky little shit.”
“It wasn’t, okay? No big.”
“No big? Sit your ass down; lemme get the suture kit. It’s grossing me out.”
Sam huffed and gave Dean a long, annoyed stare. But he sat, peeling off the ruined jacket. The blood wasn’t limited just to Sam’s ear; apparently, the beast had striped Sam’s shoulder in three different spots, one of which was going to need stitches as well. Butterfly bandages would do for the rest.
As Dean got Sam a beer and put his brother back together again like he’d done a million times before, his gut churned, watery and weak. Had the monster struck two inches to the right, he’d be burning Sam’s bones instead of sewing up a fucking earlobe. Or worse yet, never find him at all, the body having been dragged off into the woods by wolves or cougars or demon beavers…whatever the hell else lived in the wilds by the Whitecrow property.
Sam winced when Dean tugged too hard at a thread. But Dean was mad at himself, not Sam. There was no way he was going to let Sam go off on his own again, grown man or no. This wasn’t how he wanted his life to spin out, bird watching and boozing while his baby brother got shredded. Enough already. Fact was, there’d never be a time when they weren’t stitching each other up. Ever. And he’d better get his sorry head, and heart, back in the game.
The following day, Dean scheduled extra appointments with his physical therapist. He stopped by the Eat-n-Greet and took Millie up on her offer of employment. And he swore to himself the next time Sam decided to stalk a God damned Wishpoosh, it wouldn’t be without him.
The house had come with a washer/dryer set, circa 1998, so it wasn’t really a surprise when the old Whirlpool simply ceased to whirl. After a cursory examination from Dean and a “Job well done, old girl,” from Sam, the Longabaughs, née Winchesters, pronounced her dead at 7:45 pm, July 2nd, 2018. Mr. Quackenbush assured them he could find a used motor somewhere and install it himself. The boys were fairly convinced it was time to salt ‘n burn the machine but ah, well.
The following day, Dean found himself at the laundromat. Honestly? He didn’t mind it. He rather liked the bleach smell, softened by the powdery, perfume-y whiff of detergent. It didn’t even bother him that this was supposed to be his day off. It felt familiar, a funny sort of comfortable, standing around in a laundromat with a pocket full of quarters and a box of dryer sheets, sorting dirty clothes. Whites to the left, colors to the right—two towering piles of laundry because he and Sam generated a lot of dirties. The building’s glass door stood propped open by a brick, allowing some of the heat to escape and a mild breeze to enter. Summer hadn’t hit yet, not in its full glory. Dean’s knee felt stiff and a touch achy but that was his sort of normal. By summer’s end, if he played his cards right and kept up with the therapy, he might be running in the mornings with Sam again. That was the plan, anyway. He’d put on a few pounds at the diner and was eager to get back into fighting shape. Just in case, you know, a rogue skinwalker blew into Moon Gulch.
Dean pulled the last shirt from his big canvas laundry sack and held it up for examination. No stains to be treated. He set it on the whites, hmphing thoughtfully. Not a single drop of blood between the piles. No fresh rends, no fang holes, no graveyard dirt ground into the knees of their jeans. Pinesap and whatever Millie’s Blue Plate Special was on any given day replaced the smell of gun oil and lighter fluid. Dean stared at the clothes in mild awe. How the hell did they get here anyway? Six months. Six months in one place. This was some kind of record, had to be.
A dryer buzzed from the wall behind him, rousing Dean from his reverie, his ‘domestic bliss’. He loaded up the washers, pumping them full of coins and Cheer, and grabbed a seat by the front door to take advantage of the fresh air. He’d snagged Sam’s e-reader on the way out of the house because it was handy, hoping Sam had something loaded onto the thing that wasn’t all high-brow or Encyclopedia Macabre or worst of all, poetry. Dean was pleased to find Vonnegut, Palahniuk, and the latest Stephen King, which was cool and all but to his own amazement, ended up reading Kerouac and actually liking it. Who knew? There was something relatable about Kerouac’s prose that Dean just got. It was cool and scary and crazy and if Sammy knew he was digging this stuff, Dean would never live it down.
After a while, he switched his wash to the dryers, sacrificed more quarters, and resumed On the Road. A vague niggle of wanderlust itched at the base of Dean’s brain but it just didn’t have the momentum to be anything more than a low-grade hum. It happened every now and then, along with memories of Lisa and Ben. He didn’t think he’d recognize Ben if he saw him again, and that made him feel vaguely unsettled. Not that he could, or should, do a damned thing about it. Still.
As the sun slanted low and long into the laundromat, Dean piled fresh, clean clothes on the folding table and set about sorting. Someone came into the building behind him, brushing by, and Dean caught a glimpse of long hair, black as oil, straight as the highway. One of Dylan Whitecrow’s sisters, the twins. June, from the looks of it. April had the same dark hair and strong, Native American cheekbones but where April was all big curves and wide smiles, June held herself with quiet poise and an economy of movement. Sam worked with Dylan so he knew the girls marginally better than Dean. June was supposedly the serious one, the proverbial tough nut to crack.
Dean watched from the corner of his eye as she settled in at a station three tables down. She overturned her basket and began organizing, hands working in a flurry, quick and precise, itemizing the clothes into four piles: whites, darks, light colors and reds. Dean bet she ironed her sheets too. She held up a t-shirt, mirroring Dean’s own practice of stain assessment. The tee had a faded Led Zeppelin logo on the front and Dean found himself staring outright.
June stared back.
Nailed, Dean scrambled through his laundry and fished out a similar Led Zeppelin shirt, displaying it to her like a game show spokesmodel. June didn’t exactly grin, but he got the sense she was amused. Something about the way her eyes narrowed, kinda crinkling at the edges.
She tossed her t-shirt into the correct pile and continued sorting, searching through jeans pockets to make certain they were empty before going into the machine. Dean dragged his own jeans from the heap and folded them with great fanfare, archly peering down his nose. June noticed, rolled her eyes. Again, Dean caught her trying very hard not to smile.
So he pulled out the big guns. He made a show of brandishing a pair of Sam’s boxer-briefs, flagging them dramatically in the air, pinkies out. When he slid a gaze at her, conspicuously cunning, she had her own panties stretched between her fingers. And they were not grandma panties, either. No, sir. They were black with a discreet edging of lace, the sides narrowed to mere threads like licorice strings and damn, Dean liked licorice. He liked it a lot.
Their eyes caught for a fraction of a blink and this time, June did, indeed, smile. It was a quiet expression. Subtle. The strong bones of her face softened into a surprising level of pretty. Dean felt himself melt just a little.
But then her glance shifted slightly left, over his shoulder, out the door of the laundromat.
“Is that your brother?” she said, brows pulling tight.
He followed her stare and turned around, glare off a passing car shocking him blind for a moment. When it cleared, there was Sam across the street, stepping into traffic. His thumb was stabbing into his left palm, brutal, deliberate, gray t-shirt soaked with sweat, and he didn’t look like he knew where the fuck he was. Or how he got there. Or any other number of stupid, dangerous notions that occurred to Sam when reality took a hard left. It hadn’t happened in so long, Dean forgot it was possible. He had had the nerve to assume, after all these years, the Devil was finally sick of them, moving on to something more fascinating, such as causing earthquakes in third world countries or crashing Wall Street again. But this was Winchester luck, despite whatever name was printed on the drivers license.
Dean dropped what he was holding and bolted out the door.
Sam was supposed to be at work; did he even make it there? Did he just wander off and never go back? Why the fuck hadn’t they called him?! Dean stopped traffic with outward-stretched palms, barking commands. A few passers-by gawked at them, probably clucked their tongues and murmured “Poor guy, little touched in the head” because Dean had heard the pitying, well-meaning comments the last time this had happened, around Easter. Of course, no one knew the boys’ truth, except maybe Dylan Whitecrow, and he wasn’t exactly sure of anything except they hunted weird shit. Folks assumed the Longabaughs had seen war and really, that wasn’t far off the mark.
“Sam. Sammy.” Dean got his arms around his brother, who was soaked and overly warm to the touch.
Sam’s eyes were darting, scattershot, landing on nothing and everything, chest rising and falling so fast Dean was afraid Sam would drop like a rock at any second. He steered Sam out of the road and into the shade of a poplar tree.
“Sit,” he ordered. Sam obeyed without objection and Dean joined him on the sidewalk, stifling a groan as his knee crunched.
He should’ve seen this coming but shit, when things are going good, you don’t look for the other shoe to drop! Not if you’re a normal person. And hadn’t they earned the right to be normal for five fucking minutes? Yeah, Sam had been especially restless in his sleep the past month but this was nothing new. Since the day they’d moved in, Dean had heard the ceiling creak at night, back to front, as Sam paced in his attic bedroom, forced to walk right down the center because of the steeply sloped roof. But by dawn, all was quiet. Dean would laboriously limp upstairs after his alarm sounded and find Sam twitching and mumbling, but asleep. Chasing rabbits, Dean had joked dryly to himself. The only recent indication that Sam wasn’t sleeping as heavily as Dean might’ve guessed was the fact Sam had started waking before him, insisting it was because he wanted to jog in the mornings. Dean thought it a bit gung-ho, given how hard Sam labored during the day but hey, it meant no more schlepping up the rickety stairs and it seemed to make Sam happy. In fact, it seemed to be bringing back the nerdy, even-keeled, classic Sam. The normal Sam, even if he looked a bit bruised around the eyes.
Right. That was a crock of shit. ‘Normal’ just didn’t happen to them. He should’ve known.
“Hey. You with me? Come on, Sammy, snap to.” Dean shoved the wet hair off Sam’s temple so he could see his eyes, set a firm palm to his back. The muscles were twitchy and taut. Sam was still clenching his hands hard, the tendons stretched tight enough to snap. “Think, Sam. Listen to my voice, feel my hand on your back; it’s real. See that parking meter over there? Real. The Clean-o-Rama? Totally real.” Dean pulled Sam’s hands apart with difficulty, the skin all slick, fingers resistant to untangling. “Stop. You don’t need the pain anymore. No pain, Sam. No pain.”
Sam’s face drifted up, lip tugging between his teeth. His eyes were frantic, pooling full and wet, skipping over his surroundings without landing to focus. Dean felt his gut twist with dread, with hope; although Sam wasn’t exactly attentive, he sure as hell was trying. They sat in the shade of the poplar tree for a good ten minutes before Sam calmed enough to manage words.
“Yeah, what, Sammy?” Dean rubbed his knuckles lightly over Sam’s spine.
“He…he was peeling him like an orange.” The unspilt tears receded as Sam drew a sharp inhale, pulling himself together in tiny increments.
Dean swallowed hard, wished he’d brought a bottle of water. “Who, Sammy?”
The following day, Dean was sitting on the front porch when Dylan Whitecrow pulled up the drive in his old truck. Sam was out back, tying up tomato plants; he was always quiet and a bit solitary after an episode.
“Hey, Dean.” Dylan carried a big cardboard box, and something inside it was clearly moving around.
Dean gave the guy a nod but didn’t get up. He eyed the box with suspicion. “Whatcha got there, Dylan?”
The box thumped again, and Dylan set it on the edge of the porch. “Junie says you need a dog.”
“What? Why the hell -?”
“To keep an eye on Sam when you’re not around? I dunno. S’what she said.”
Dean set down the beer and leaned forward, flipping open the box. It contained one incredibly hideous animal and if he were to trust Dylan—and there was no reason not to—it was, apparently, canine. The pup looked up at Dean with droopy hound eyes, pink tongue lolling and dripping, tail thrashing every which way. Something, slobber or worse, saturated the inside of the box. God, let it be slobber. “She did, did she?”
Dean felt a pained expression bundle his brow. Pets had never fared well in the Winchester household but maybe the Longabaughs possessed better luck. Given yesterday’s drama, Dean rather doubted it. The pup tried to leap out of the box but got hung up on its ungainly ears and massive paws; Dean didn’t know dogs but he was pretty sure both qualities indicated this thing was gonna get effin’ huge. He retrieved his bottle and drained it in one long swallow. “Well, ain’t that great. Want a beer, Dylan?”
Sam named the mutt Dr. Badass.
Sam bounded down the steps from the attic like a giant mountain goat, head tilting to avoid the low-hanging ceiling at the bottom of the staircase. It had taken him a good month of whacking his melon before he remembered to duck. There was a shirt in either hand, a blue plaid button-down and some sort of maroon-colored sweater. Dean hadn’t moved from his chair except to crack another beer.
“Which one?” Sam asked, slapping first one garment to his chest, then the other. His hair was still wet, slicked from his forehead and dripping down the back of his t-shirt. His arms were getting all corded and veiny again; would it kill the kid to eat a bacon double-cheeseburger once in a freakin’ while? Dean half-smiled to himself. The kid. Sam never stopped being the kid, no matter how many gray hairs Dean spotted in his mop. God damn, Dean would be forty at the end of January. He never in his wildest fantasies imagined he’d see forty, and he had some pretty fucking wild fantasies.
But they weren’t there yet; a month was a long time. Life had a funny way of twisting in on itself, just when the world got too quiet.
“Um. The red one. Matches your eyes.”
“Great.” Sam lobbed the sweater at Dean and slipped into the blue shirt. “Get dressed.”
As much as Dean knew this was a no-win situation, he sat there with the sweater in his lap, staring at some middle ground between the well-worn coffee table and his brother. And Sam stood there too, hands dangling, plying his patented ‘worrisome brow cant’ to elicit a response. Which was why Dean made a point not to look at his face. Those moony eyes could sucker a field mouse from a barn cat.
When facial expression alone didn’t cut it, Sam resorted to placating words, as though Dean was an anguished housewife who’d just lost her husband to a siren and needed coddling. “What is it? Rough day at work? Knee really giving you grief?”
“Nah.” He gave a gruff sigh, rolling the beer between his palms. “Knee’s fine. It’s all fine.”
Dean felt the swell of a chick-flick moment coming on and he couldn’t stem the damned tide. There’d been a sticky layer of melancholy sitting on his mood since he woke up this morning, and it was still there. He wanted to blame the sentimentality on the holidays but knew that was malarkey. Best to just come out with it. “You know back in 2011, right before Bobby got shot? He said we weren’t people.”
Sam wandered to the kitchen table, sat his ass on the edge of it. “Okay, kinda odd.”
“Yeah, well. He meant we were the job. Living, breathing incarnations of hunting bad shit, and we couldn’t have lives like real people.”
“But Dean, that was ages ago -”
“Tried with Lisa and Ben; that went over like a turd in the punchbowl. You and Stanford? Another swell exercise in futility.”
“Where’s this heading?”
“Going to Christmas parties? That’s what people do, Sammy. Not us. We get about a year then -” Dean whistled, dodging his hand down like a bomb, ending in a blast of breath mimicking an explosion. “It’s almost a year since we’ve been here in Moon Gulch. Almost a year.”
Sam pressed his lips together. He was winding up to something, and Dean could almost see the words bumping into each other behind his eyes, jockeying for position at the starting gate. “First off, Stanford was nearly four years. So your One Year Curse is crappola, right from the get-go. Secondly, I hate to break it to you, but somewhere down the line, we turned into people.”
Dean shot a sidelong and skeptical glare at his brother.
Seemingly oblivious, Sam kept going. “Yeah, I know; strange but true. We’ve got jobs. Pay rent. We do dishes and take out the trash and swear at the mailbox at the end of the driveway that keeps falling over. Hell, we’ve got a pet.” A pet that was busy snoring by the Christmas tree, occasionally passing gas in its sleep. Sam had insisted upon a Christmas tree; yesterday, he’d brought home a ratty, unsaleable fir that was still naked of ornaments and would probably never get them. “Face it, Dean. Like it or not, we’re people.”
“Really? You think?” Dean winced, scowling at his beer. “Why now?”
Sam leaned forward and grinned, all toothy and earnest and certain. “Because good things do happen, Dean.”
The last time Dean had heard that phrase was the first time he’d met an angel. How had he remembered that? He couldn’t fathom. But he felt something inside, right in the middle of his chest, slip loose. And grow warm. And get soft.
“All right, you pain in my ass. Let’s party.”
Arlene was a widow who lived on a bucolic chunk of land just outside of town. She’d lost her husband to a hunting accident almost twenty years ago. There was talk the accident wasn’t so much an accident as Arlene stumbling on proof Harvey had been bumping uglies with cheap little Tiffany-Jane Napier. But that was just talk.
No moss grew on Arlene. And when the boys pulled up to her homestead, it was clear no moss grew on her property, either. The house beamed like a beacon of holiday flamboyance in the somber arms of the mountains. More than two dozen cars and trucks lined the drive, parked around every manner of lit animatronics. Electric reindeer and elves danced and blinked and hummed. Luminarias pointed the way to a front door sporting an enormous gold bow, and glowing icicles competed with the real ones for a spot on the eaves. Just the right amount of snow colored the whole scene idyllic without making it a driving hazard, and the party was in full swing.
She set upon the Longabaugh boys the second they crossed her threshold and hugged them both to her ample, Christmas-sweatered bosom. She dragged away their coats and pushed wassail into their hands. They didn’t dare not have a good time under her hospitality.
Vittles crowded the enormous dining room table, desserts and finger-food of every conceivable stripe, from fancy, fragile pastries to wieners wrapped in Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. Arlene’s cocker spaniel hid under the table and darted out like a piranha every time a crumb hit the hardwood floor.
The kitchen crew from the Eat-n-Greet was there. They promptly pulled Dean into a heated discussion regarding the best way to field dress a deer, which somehow segued into Bambi and hey, that new waitress, Barbie’s her name, you think she’s a natural blonde? So, Dean, you think the rug matches the curtains? I’ll betcha I can find out—oh no you can’t, Wilson, she is waaaay out of your league, man—are you kidding? I’m as smooth as butter on a bald monkey, you just watch me, how much you wanna bet?
Dean kept half an eye on Sam, who’d found Dylan Whitecrow and his sister April over by the make-shift bar. Arlene was paying a college student to play barkeep and Sam had apparently finished his wassail and was working on whiskey, a double by the looks of it. And April Whitecrow was apparently working on Sam. Her brightly painted fingernails brushed over his arm as she regaled the guys with some sort of adventure. At one point, her robust hip checked Sam in the thigh, which made his eyes shoot wide and Dean nearly shoot wassail out his nose. Dylan didn’t seem to notice but Sam rocketed a wild glance around the room until it landed on Dean. Help me! he mimed when April was distracted by something shiny. Dean just winked and lifted his glass and went back to discussing Wilson’s relative success with the opposite sex, or lack thereof.
In spite of himself, good will and a suspiciously benign cheer slid into Dean, in a way he couldn’t have anticipated. Something new was here, something he’d never felt before. It was, at once, distracting and desperately wonderful. He let his gaze drift around the room and watched his friends, his neighbors, people he didn’t even know, laugh and relax and sometimes doze in one of Arlene’s recliners. When was the last time they had actual neighbors? He watched the fire dancing in the hearth, and it struck him that it had been lit purely to look cozy, not for heat or to chase away phantoms. He saw Sam getting drunk because he was celebrating, not because he’d just had a bullet dug out of his shoulder and needed to be numb.
For the first time in his life, Dean thought: This might be what they call peace. He looked down at his punch glass and smiled.
Eventually, he got himself a plate of food and sat by the fire, slipping morsels to the dog. He watched Sam polish off the whiskey, only to have April fill and refill his hand with bottles of beer. Oh, man, the kid was in trouble tonight: so much for the ol’ designated driver routine. But all told, that was just fine. Dean was surprisingly clear-headed and his knee didn’t even consider aching. He felt better than he had in ten years, maybe longer.
Good things do happen, Dean.
He almost didn’t mind when Arlene sat at an old upright piano and began caterwauling ‘Santa Baby’, but Dean’s tolerance for holiday spirit only went so far. Besides, April was trying to coerce Sam to dance and as entertaining as that might’ve been to watch, Sam’s eyes were half-masting and Dean didn’t feel like lugging his brother’s ridiculous self through the snow to the car. He thanked Arlene, found their coats, and steered Sam to the Impala with the stern warning not to puke on the upholstery or he’d tie his hair to the bumper and keelhaul him home.
The cold air had snapped Sam awake and he decided to be a happy drunk, tunelessly singing yet more fucking Christmas carols. There was no escape. Dean just bit the inside of his cheek because he was fairly certain, despite the booze, Sam was pushing his buttons on purpose.
It started to snow again, fat slabs of clustered flakes as big as quarters, but they made it home without incident. Sam spilled out of the car before Dean got the Impala into the garage. Dean’s first thought was that Sam was gonna hurl but no, Sam was grinning, an enormous, stupid, dimpled grin that nearly split his face in half. He threw his arms wide and tilted his head back towards the heavens, and let the snow hit his face and catch in his hair, breathing the frigid air in deep gulps.
“You giant girl…” Dean mumbled, without any real meanness. He got out and slammed the car door, tucking his hands under his armpits. “Sam. SAM. Come on, dude, it’s cold.”
Sam didn’t quit his snow-gazing and when he spoke, the words smeared into each other. “DamnDean, who’re you, Ezenbeener Scrooge’ersumthin’? God, is pretty, thesnow.”
Dean stood there for a beat or three, staring, marveling at his brother’s raging lunacy. When it became clear Sam meant to continue acting the fool, Dean turned and trudged off to the house. He could hear Doc leaping and yipping and when he opened the door, the dog sprung free, bullet-fast. “Go get ‘im, Badass.” There was a laugh, a dull thud, a howl—from man or hound, Dean couldn’t tell which—and he stepped inside to start a pot of coffee. No amount of caffeine was going to keep either of them awake tonight, so what the hell.
After ten, fifteen minutes, Sam and the dog stomped inside, still chortling and barking, respectively. Sam’s cheeks were beet red as he plopped on the couch to pull off his boots, fingers mishandling the laces. Snow spilled out and Sam stripped off his socks, throwing them down the hall in soggy wads. Doc took off after them and Sam flopped back, still grinning like a half-lit Cheshire Cat.
“You done?” Dean returned with two coffees, both black and strong enough to strip tooth enamel.
Sam looked thoughtful for a moment, then took a breath. “Oh come, all ye faaaaaithfulllll- ”
“Oh no no no, you don’t.” Dean set the mugs on an end-table and manhandled Sam out of his coat. “I will end you if you keep up that noise. You are not the Next American Idol.”
“Izzat even on TV anymore? I don’think so, Dean. Yer old.”
“And you’re shit-faced. I should smother you in your sleep.”
“But you won’t cuz…you won’t.”
Dean narrowed his eyes at Sammy—who slouched across the whole span of the couch, limbs akimbo—and shoved a mug of hot coffee at him. “You sure about that, bitch?”
“Suck it, jerkface.”
And that settled the both of them into a comfortable quiet, so quiet they could hear the snow pelting on the windowpanes and the dog drinking from the toilet, so comfortable they didn’t need to fill the air with further smacktalk. Dean eased into his favorite, over-stuffed chair and stretched his bum knee, out of habit. He watched as Sam’s eyes slid closed and his mouth grew slack, breath coming in soft, easy whispers. His coffee cup sat precariously balanced between his thighs, and Dean debated just leaving the spillage to fate. Would serve Sam right, passing out and getting his balls scalded.
Dean was just sort of snickering to himself at the mental image when Doc ripped from the bathroom to the front door, hackles bristling and a startling growl rumbling deep in his throat.
Icy fingers fisted around Dean’s spine. This is the other shoe dropping, this is why we don’t get good things, good things don’t happen to us, why was I so stupid to believe –
A knock sounded on the door. What? Okay, if this was something bad, it wouldn’t be knocking. Monsters don’t knock. Dean cleared his throat to loosen the panic and stepped around Doc, who had stopped growling and was tapdancing on the pads of his feet. Dean was still death-gripping his coffee mug when he peeked around the curtain. With a puzzled grunt, he opened the door.
It was June Whitecrow. “Hi, Dean.”
“June?” They’d had that one brush at the laundromat last summer but since then…
“Is it too late?” Her breath plumed vapors and she smiled as if the gesture was fragile and would break if she weren’t careful.
Dean didn’t look at his watch, didn’t need to, just moved and gestured her inside. “You okay? Nothing’s wrong, is it?”
June rolled a shoulder and brushed by, holding something that looked like a Saran-wrapped brick. She didn’t wear a hat and her inky hair caught in the collar of her coat. “I missed you at the party. Had a minor alpaca emergency. Sunny got her head stuck in the fence. Again. Folks who say those critters are smart’d be lying.”
Dean chuckled and swept over to rescue Sam’s coffee mug before it up-ended and embarrassed them both. Sam was still lost in the Land of Nod, showing no signs of returning.
“And Arlene said you forgot your fruitcake.” She hefted the brick, and now Dean could see it was speckled with bright bits of those disgusting shards of candied fruit. Doc might eat it, though.
“Nah, I’m pretty sure my fruitcake is passed out on the couch here.”
June smiled, her teeth even and white against tan skin. And Dean smiled bigger.
That evening, Sammy slept on the couch, tipped over with his naked toes hanging off the end because the quilt wasn’t long enough. June left sometime after midnight. They just talked, she and Dean, sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee, but she was returning tomorrow, with April and ornaments for the bare tree, to have lunch with the boys. And Dean slept in his favorite chair because that’s where he fell asleep, the television humming static and Doc curled on the carpet under Dean’s dangling hand.
Come morning, they’d both be achy with cricks in their backs and necks and Sam would be hung-over but not so much that Dean would have to hold his hair as he hugged the toilet. And Doc would eat a roll of toilet paper left accidentally laying around and What the fuck, you defective animal?! but when all was said and done? Good things did happen, and the Winchesters became ‘people’ the winter of 2018, in Moon Gulch, Idaho.