It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
for your, uh, partner?” The jeweler asked, cocking
an eyebrow knowingly.
flinched back slightly at the suggestion. He hadn’t
really considered what it would look like when an twenty-two-year-old
boy brought a ring in for resizing, a ring that just
happened to match one that he was wearing himself. “Nooo,
no, no, no,” Dean protested, then buttoned his
lips. Methinks I do protest too much.
“It’s for my kid brother,” he stated,
then rushed to explain, as that line didn't seem to
alter the jeweler's mental image. “We got matching
ones when I graduated high school, but, well, he outgrew
his. Anyway, now he’s graduating, and I wanted
to get it resized so he could wear it again. You know,
kind of a symbol of brotherhood.”
looked away, blushing slightly. God, could he possibly
sound anymore girlie? He tried to remind himself that
he was doing it for Sam. Sam had a way of making him
do things he normally wouldn't. It had been Sam and
his puppy dog eyes that had originally arranged the
purchase of the matching rings, and at the time, it
had just seemed kinda cool. After all, Sam didn’t
wear his hair like Dean, didn’t dress like Dean,
didn’t enjoy the same subjects in school as his
brother. The fact that Sam had wanted to express that
attachment between them had meant a lot. Though Dean
had teased him about it relentlessly, the older brother
had never once taken his off, save hospital stays in
which he'd been given no choice.
they were men’s rings… Said so right on
the sign at the mall kiosk where they'd bought them.
take a couple of weeks,” the jeweler said, sliding
the ring into an envelope. “It’s our busiest
time of year, with graduations and weddings. We’ve
got quite a backlog.” Dean knew the man really
meant he had higher paying customers that would automatically
trump Dean's little brother and his cheap silver ring,
whether they were actually on the log or not, but he
let it slide. He could take the patronizing of one snobbish
rich bastard for Sam.
long, huh?” Dean frowned. He knew his Dad already
had a place lined up for them two states over as soon
as Sam was out of school for the summer. “Well,
if I pay now, can you just send it to my P.O. Box?”
He asked. “We’re going out of town. I don’t
know when I’ll be back this way.”
Dean laid his money out on the counter. He took the
bills from the special clip inside his wallet that held
legit money. He’d earned it working at a car wash
downtown. Sam didn't always say so, but Dean knew he
hated when they used scammed money, and Dean didn't
want this gift to be tarnished in any way. Funny, Sam
had never complained when Dean bought his Spaghetti-O’s
with scammed credit cards. But then, Sam hadn’t
eaten Spaghetti-O’s in years. Dean didn't want
to be another one of the things that Sam just made up
his mind about and quit based on principle. Dad and
Sam were impossible when they made up their minds about
something. “Thanks,” he said and left the
the time Dean made it back around to check the P.O.
Box, nearly two months later, he’d forgotten about
the ring. In fact, he'd only stopped to pick up new
credit cards before he and John headed out on the next
hunt. When he opened the box and saw the tiny package
with the familiar logo stamped on it, the scabs of some
very fresh wounds peeled back with a tearing, blood-welling
was gone. And if Dean knew anything about his father
and brother, Sam was going to stay gone. It was the
principle of the thing, and Dean had never won out over
Dad or Sam's ideas of principle.
waited until he got out to the car before he opened
the box and, even then, stood behind the opened lid
of the Impala's trunk to block prying eyes as he wondered
how such a plain, cold thing had come to resemble goodbye.
All he had left of his brother was that stupid ring
and a whole lot of memories that hadn’t meant
enough to Sam to keep him there.
picked up the circle of silver, twirled it around in
his hand with a faraway look in his glassy eyes, and
tossed it into the trunk. Blinking slowly, he set his
jaw and slammed the trunk shut.
the time he started the engine and pulled away, the
blaring strains of AC/DC drowned out the memories playing
in his head.
The motel room door opened just enough for Dean to slide
in. Breath billowed in a white cloud around him as he
scooched through, rubbing his hands together and stomping
his stocking clad feet.
I cannot believe you puked on my shoes,” he accused
as he slammed the door shut. He couldn’t really
get mad at his brother for being sick, but still, they
were his only shoes.
man,” Sam said, laughing half-heartedly. He let
his head fall weakly against the headboard of the bed
he was propped up on, throat working around a knot that
Dean hoped wasn't a second performance of the great
shoe painting fiasco. “At least I got the car
door open and spared your upholstery.”
God for small miracles,” Dean huffed, eyeing Sam
worriedly as he put on his laughter-is-the-best-medicine
front. “Anyway, gack can’t be much different
than most of the monster goo we’ve stepped in
over the years. Dad’s trick of freezing it and
scraping it off in the morning should work, I hope.
It’s plenty cold enough to freeze out there tonight.
I just left 'em outisde the door. If someone steals
'em, they're in for a surprise.”
laughed weakly, just a lopsided curl of his lips and
a barely visible hitch in his chest. It was pathetic
enough to make Dean want to tickle his brother senseless,
the way he had when they were kids and Sam was in a
mood, but he really didn't want to have to freeze everything
else he was wearing, too. Sam nodded toward the television
set playing low in the background. “They’re
predicting a snowstorm. Looks like we’re gonna
be stuck here for a few days, at least.”
and from the looks of you, we’re not gonna get
back on the road for another week. Not risking the upholstery
until I know for sure your insides ain't coming outside
again. Just do me a favor and give me some kinda warning
next time. Catching half-digested food that your body
rejects is not in my big brother job description.”
to get a chuckle in response, Dean took off his jacket
and sat on the bed across from Sam, trying to assess
the situation without getting into the mother henning
mode that Sam seemed to relish when the tables were
turned. He noted the sickly grey pallor that had crept
into his brother’s complexion over the past couple
of hours and the slight forward hunch that Sam had adopted.
Though he’d yet to complain aloud about anything
at all, projectile vomiting was apparently Sam’s
Benedict Arnold. Yeah, he looked like total crap and
no doubt felt it. They were in for a long couple of
days, at least.
Dean said, clearing his throat uncomfortably, “if
you think you need a doctor or something, you better
say so, cuz I don’t know if we’re gonna
be able to get out of here in an emergency.”
shook his head but raised it off the headboard more
slowly than Dean would have liked. “No, I think
it’s just a mild case of food poisoning. That
chicken smelled a little off. I shouldn’t have
eaten it,” Sam dismissed with an airy chuckle.
you about eating that low-fat crap,” Dean teased
as though one or the other of them hadn't gotten food
poisoning from the dives they ate in on a fairly regular
basis. “Salmonella is the healthy eater’s
E.coli.” In fact, if life was fair, then it probably
was Sam's turn to make his tithes to the great porcelain
goddess of undercooked, poorly prepared, and overpriced
fast food. He just hoped that was all it was.
call me crazy, but I’d rather die of dehydration
with clean arteries than to drop from a heart attack
before I hit fifty.”
laughed bemusedly as he leaned back on his own bed to
watch the TV, remote in hand. “Like either one
of us is gonna live to see fifty.”
turned to look at him. “Hey, not funny. Is that
any way to talk on Christmas Eve?
sat up with a start. “Christmas?” He looked
around the room hastily as though he expected to find
a digital display with the time and date to be hanging
from the ceiling. He hit the menu button on the television
remote, noted the date in the corner of the screen,
and fell back with a thud against the head rest once
more. “Sam, I’m sorry, man, I completely
forgot.” It wasn't like spooks cared about the
holidays. Why should Winchesters?
raised a hand in protest. “Don’t worry about
it. I forgot, too, 'til I turned on the news. Too bad,
cuz I was gonna get you new boots,” Sam teased.
cuz I was gonna get you barf bags, so now we’ve
both missed the boat, and we’re stuck on the pier
together.” Dean sat for a second in contemplative
silence. “Well, could be worse. Could be stuck
turned to his brother, eyes glassy with more than just
pain and sickness. Dean had always been the one to make
sure Sam had a Merry Christmas growing up. Even if they'd
had only peanut butter sandwiches and exchanged ratty
newspaper wrapped gifts, they'd been happy. Christmas
with Jess had been happy, too, but different, and somewhat
lacking in peanut butter and newspaper. A part of it,
even surrounded by Jess' family and friends had still
seemed lonely, without Dean, and Sam supposed that loneliness
had gone both ways. “I missed you, too, bitch.”
tried to duck away, but stupid Sammy and his big, wet
friggin’ eyes always sucked him in like whirlpools.
“Jerk,” he said, jumping up suddenly. “Anyway,
let’s get you settled in.” He pulled out
the duffel that held all their miscellaneous supplies
and rummaged around for their med kit. He pulled out
the battered box and popped it open. “Let’s
see, we got Pepto and ibuprofen.” Thinking twice,
he put the ibuprofen back. “I dunno, ibuprofen’s
kinda hard on your stomach, princess. We got Tylenol
instead.” He looked over to find Sam’s gaze
following him appreciatively. “Don’t look
at me like that. I ain’t gonna wait on you hand
and foot. You’re gonna get your own ass undressed
and into bed. In fact, you can do that while I get you
a glass of water.”
palmed the Tylenol and went into the bathroom to get
water and give his brother some privacy. He could hear
Sam rustling and groaning weakly in counterpoint to
the squeaking of the box spring in the main room as
he turned on the faucet. As was frequently the case,
however, the water came out piss yellow, and he changed
his mind. No way was his brother drinking that. He was
pretty sure there were still some bottles of water under
the backseat of the car that would probably work better.
in hand, he was on his way out the door when two hundred
pounds of Sam nearly mowed him down. Grimacing, Dean
turned to see Sam kneeling beside the commode rather
ungracefully at the exact moment that his whole body
convulsed and the rest of his chicken salad made its
at least you didn’t get any on my socks,”
he sighed, glad that he hadn’t gotten the Tylenol
into his brother before the big exit. He set the glass
down, wet a towel, rolled it, and draped it over the
back of Sam’s neck. “Hold that thought,
kid. I gotta go out to the car. 'S water’s not
fit for human consumption. Not fit for whatever species
you are either.”
raised his hand in a gesture of, ‘dude, not right
this minute, 'k?’ Dean let him finish in peace.
halfway through the night, or approximately somewhere
between the fifth mad dash to the bathroom and the twentieth
groaned “I’ll be fine in the morning,”
Dean realized that the four bottles of water he’d
managed to scrounge up wouldn’t be enough to keep
his brother hydrated until whatever bug this was worked
its way out of his system.
morning rolled around and kids all over the country
were already creeping down the stairs to see what treasures
Santa had brought, Dean tiptoed out to the vending machines
to see if there was any more water to be found. Finding
none, he got the last bottle of tropical punch flavored
Gatorade, and made his way back to the room, checking
the skies and wondering if he could make a trip into
town before the storm hit. He decided he had to try,
and paused at the door to pick up his shoes before ducking
found Sam sitting up and looking at him, long strands
of sweat-streaked hair matted to his forehead and t-shirt
plastered to his chest. At least he was awake and coherent,
a sign that the fever wasn’t as high as Dean feared.
He wished, not for the first time that night, that they’d
replaced the digital thermometer they’d tossed
after an unfortunate fall into the brown-stained toilet
of that Motel Hell in Arkansas last summer.
ho, ho!” Dean teased, tossing the drink onto the
foot of Sam’s bed. “Here ya go. Don’t
shoot your eye out, kid.”
tired to whip up a comeback, Sam rolled his eyes and
picked up the bottle, hands shaking noticeably as he
forced open the top. The first swallow of fruity liquid
was already halfway down his throat when he was startled
by a squeak from his brother who jerked and dropped
his shoes with a clatter, clutching his hand as though
he’d been bitten.
sick, Sam couldn’t help but laugh. Big, brave
ghost hunter, my ass. The Gatorade sprayed out
in a red mist onto the comforter, just one more mysterious
stain on the questionable patchwork of the quilt. “You
scream like a girl!” He smirked, wiping his mouth
with the back of his hand.
do not,” Dean said defensively, swallowing hard
to lower his voice back to its normal octave. “And
you’d scream, too." He pointed a wavering
finger accusingly at the fallen footwear. "Something’s
in my shoe.”
Scholl?” Sam asked, eyes alight, the perfect reflection
of the sickly sheen that highlighted his drawn features.
funny, puking boy. I’m serious. I felt claws,"
Dean stammered, backing away from the soiled boots slowly.
"I’m talking needle-sharp. Gremlin? You didn't
go all Gift of the Mogwai on me, did you?” Dean
slunk over to his own bed, keeping his eyes fixed on
the offensive objects.
raised his eyebrows in astonishment as the right shoe
actually started to wobble. "What the hellll?"
slow, precise movements, Dean reached under his pillow
for the hunting knife he kept hidden there and withdrew
it. The lamplight glistened off the blade as he held
it out in front of him, placing his own body between
the mysterious entity and his brother’s bed.
in slow motion, Dean crouched down and raised the knife,
prepared to deliver a killing blow to whatever vile
creature emerged. The air seemed almost to crackle with
anticipation as both brothers held their breath and
They jerked back simultaneously, screaming in unison
as a tiny, white kitten poked its head from the top
of the shoe and let them know in no uncertain terms
that it was hungry.
Dean exhaled with a whimpering laugh. He slumped back
against the bed and rubbed a hand over his hair in disbelief.
“I think we’ve been punk'd.” As his
heart settled back into a more normal rhythm, he glanced
over his shoulder at his brother and studied the smile
that lit up his face. Dean could hardly even remember
the last time Sam had smiled like that, let alone the
last time he'd smiled while sick. He turned from his
brother to the now squalling kitten, wondering at the
effect such a tiny animal could have on a man who'd
seen as much as Sam had.
kitten was white with long hair that all but covered
its face. Dean picked it up and set it on the bed with
his ailing brother. “Better check to make sure
it doesn’t have black eyes,” he warned.
“Cases of demons possessing small animals are
rare, but they're not unheard of,” he joked.
picked up the kitty and petted its fur back away from
its face. “Nope, not black,” he laughed.
He turned an evil grin on his brother. “They’re
“Christo!” Dean jibed. “Nope, I think
it’s good." He reached up and stroked the
kitty under its chin thoughtfully. "The little
booger musta climbed in my shoe to get outta the wind.
The chill’s gotta be twenty below out there.”
placed the kitten on his chest and looked down into
its tiny face as he stroked its fur in an attempt to
quell its pitiful cries. “Aww, 'ts alright cutie.”
bet you say that to all the girls, little brother,”
Dean teased, glad that Sam had gotten something to take
his mind off how miserable he felt.
a few minutes, the kitten curled up into a contented
ball and went to sleep.
know, some people believe that cats sit on your chest
and suck the life outta you while you sleep,”
Dean suggested. “You want me to paint a sigil
on your ass to protect you from the demon spawn?”
laughed but stopped when a searing pain tore through
his stomach, causing him to wrap his right arm around
himself protectively. Taking shallow breaths, he waited
for the muscles to relax before he chanced opening his
eyes. When the wave passed, he met Dean’s worried
gaze, swallowed, and forced himself to sit up straighter,
presenting a posture of strength he knew he didn’t
have. When that failed to divert Dean’s eagle-eyed,
big brother gaze from his sickly, baby brother self,
Sam resorted to another diversionary tactic, intellectual
spam. “You know,” he said, “this reminds
me of that old Christmas story. You know the one, right?”
shook his head, still eyeing his brother keenly.
Sam said, “kids used to put their shoes outside
the door on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill with toys
and candy. Probably the precursor to the modern day
stockings, I guess. One little girl always woke up to
empty shoes, because her parents were too poor to put
anything in them. But she always believed Santa would
remember, so she put her shoes out anyway. Then, one
Christmas morning, she went out to get her shoes and
found a kitten sleeping inside. If she hadn't left her
shoes, the kitten would probably have died.”
you’re saying that by puking on my boots, you
inadvertently saved this innocent little kitty from
freezing to death on Christmas Eve? Next I suppose you'll
try to tell me that you forgetting to take your Bean-o
and forcing us to air out the car in Missouri that time
miraculously saved someone’s pooch from becoming
road pizza,” Dean sneered.
started to laugh, then went ghost white and bolted up,
dropping the kitten in Dean’s lap as he stumbled
into the bathroom. Dean stroked the kitten’s fur
absently and grimaced as the sounds of Sam dry heaving
into the toilet filled the room. “Guess I shouldn’t
have mentioned the pizza,” he said to the kitty,
guilt painting his features. As the sounds of puking
died down, Dean tilted the critter’s chin up to
look into his face. “All right, gremlin, duty
calls. A big brother’s work is never done, you
stood, expecting the animal to jump gracefully off of
his lap onto the floor. Instead, it hung, suspended
over the crotch of his jeans, as Dean gazed down at
it bemusedly. He heard a scuffling in the doorway and
turned to find Sam leaning heavily against the doorframe
with a weak grin on his face, despite the vomit-induced
tear streaks on his cheeks.
see you found the fur bikini I ordered you from the
Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog,” Sam joked.
“I knew it’d look hot on you.”
glad that me being fondled by a hairy chick against
my consent gives you the jollies, little brother. Gives
new meaning to the expression, Ho, Ho, Ho.”
moved away from the doorframe, stooping with a hand
clenched over his stomach until he found the edge of
his bed and settled with a sigh. “FYI, kittens
have no control over their claws. And you’re only
assuming it’s a chick,” he pointed out.
“Did you even check? Could be a Rainbow Alliance
pried the kitten off his jeans, each tiny claw leaving
a loop in the fabric of the denim. “I am not looking
up some cat’s skirt.”
settled slowly back into the bed. “How’re
we gonna name it if we don’t know which team it’s
set the kitty down beside Sam and watched as it curled
back up on his chest, not missing the twinges of pain
that crossed his brother’s features as the tiny
feet traversed his stomach. “We can’t name
it, Sam. That would only confuse it when it finds a
Sam agreed, face darkening with disappointment.
man,” Dean said. “You know we can’t
keep it. Life on the road isn’t fair to us, let
alone a helpless animal.”
know…it’s just," Sam sighed reluctantly,
rubbing the back of his neck as he stared at his feet,
"well, it almost seems kinda like we’re meant
to have it, don’t you think? I mean, it showed
up in your shoe on Christmas morning. It's just like
that Christmas story. And truck drivers keep pets all
looked away, hating that he had to play Dad when he’d
given his father the very same argument more than a
dozen times when they were kids, only to be shot down
every time. “Truck drivers also have air-conditioned
sleeper cabins, Sam, not leather-upholstered metal ovens.”
you’re right, I guess,” Sam finally conceded.
“But we can keep it 'til we leave town, right?
Drop it by the animal shelter on our way out? So, it
needs a name 'til then.”
then let’s call her It. You know, with all that
hair, it kinda reminds me of that freaky cousin from
The Addams Family.”
a real sentimentalist, Dean,” Sam chuckled. “All
right, then, It it is.”
we coulda called it Ralph after the paint on my shoes,”
Dean jabbed, picking up the boots and carrying them
into the bathroom before they could melt. He cleaned
them up as best he could, put them back on, and emerged,
reaching for his coat and keys.
gonna be all right here by yourself for awhile?”
He asked. “I need to go get some more water before
you dry up and blow away. The way that wind’s
picking up, I think the storm’s gonna hit any
time now. That little bit of sleet last night was just
sure,” Sam agreed. He stroked the kitty’s
fur tenderly and let his eyes slide shut, shivering
slightly. “Me and It will hold down the fort,”
he slurred, already half-asleep.
sure?” Dean asked, suddenly skeptical. A feeling
of dread unexpectedly washed over him, clenching in
his stomach like a frozen fist. For a second, he almost
changed his mind, but the half-empty bottle of Gatorade
on the end table brought him back to reality. “I’ll
be back as soon as I can,” he promised.
soon as I can,” was nearly four hours later. The
only thing open on Christmas morning in the town they
were in was the local stop 'n rob convenience store.
While it had plenty of water, it had very little in
the way of cat food and other kitten-sitting supplies,
and Dean had to drive twenty miles over to the next
town, where the Wal-Mart was still open.
snow began coming down in a blinding sheet of white
at about the exact moment he pulled into the parking
lot. He looked up at the sky, “Yeah, Merry frickin’
Christmas to you too, Jackass,” he swore, figuring
the only respect he needed to pay was to mentally put
a capital ‘J’ on the word to make sure there
was no confusion as to whom he was addressing. At any
rate, he was already out of the car, point of no return,
so to speak, so he hurried into the store.
wasted five minutes in the pet supplies aisle staring
at bags of kitten food and twenty different varieties
of litter. Any sliver of inkling he might have felt
to keep little It, if just to keep that dorky grin on
Sammy's face, vanished the second he realized what a
cat box would contribute to the Eau du Winchester aroma
of their tiny living quarters. Very few things made
Dean Winchester’s stomach flip, but he was pretty
sure it did cartwheels at the notion of having a kitty
toilet in the backseat of the Impala.
I help you?” A sales associate asked. Poor kid
looked to be barely eighteen, just rookie enough, Dean
knew, to get stuck with Christmas day duty by default.
yeah, we found a stray kitten, and we’re kinda
stuck with it until after the holidays,” Dean
said, scratching at the back of his neck. “I haven’t
got a clue what I’m even looking for.” He
pointed to the umpteen bags of litter. “I mean,
we got clay, we got clumping, we got crystals, beads,
baby powder scented. The cat’s still gonna crap
in it, right?”
girl, a petite brunette with freckles and a stupid elf
cap pinned to her head laughed. “Preaching to
the choir, man,” she agreed. “I taught my
cat to use the toilet. Makes life much simpler.”
can do that?” Dean asked.
she shrugged. “It’s not really even hard.
You still gotta have a box for the initial training
period, but you’d be surprised how fast they pick
it up. I’ve never been able to get mine to flush,
but yeah, no cat box makes me a happy kitty owner.”
brow furrowed thoughtfully. No cat box. That was one
major check mark erased from the cons side of the Keep
Kitty-Don’t Keep Kitty list in the back of his
mind. Sam really liked the kitty. Big Plus. Dean didn’t
hate It. Another big Plus. Truck drivers kept pets all
the time. Not a Minus. Dean had completely forgotten
Christmas... Aw, hell. Merry Christmas Sammy.
ten minutes, Dean had his cart filled with everything
from cat nip to feathers on strings and was making his
way to the checkout counter before he could change his
mind. The bottom of the cart held the largest bag of
clay litter they had in the store, because the clerk
had assured him that, for odor control in small spaces,
nothing beat clay litter, and the giant bag should be
plenty to get them through It’s toilet training
Dean pulled back into the motel parking lot, crawling
at a snail’s pace over the ice-covered snow pack
that had already covered the entire world for fifty
miles in every direction, he had lost most of his Christmas
spirit again. Driving at five miles an hour for twenty
miles did that to a guy. This storm was really one for
the record books.
off the engine, he gazed into the backseat at the pile
of shopping bags. He clenched his jaw with a scowl and
decided to leave them for the time being, taking just
a six pack of water bottles and a couple cans of cat
food to tide them over.
dove through the room door and slammed it shut behind
him before the wind could catch it and blow it in, although
the hole in the plaster behind the door knob suggested
it wouldn’t have been the first time that had
happened. Sam was still asleep, It curled up on his
chest, just the way Dean had left them.
set the water down on the nightstand and blew into his
fists to warm up his fingers before laying the back
of his hand against Sam’s cheek. The younger brother
was burning up and still shivering, but he opened his
eyes at the touch and greeted Dean with a weak smile.
“Took you long enough,” he whispered. “Was
getting ready to send out the posse," he rasped,
pointing at the sleeping kitty.
opened one of the bottles of water. “Yeah, the
weather’s really taken a turn. Here,” he
said, holding out the water bottle and helping Sam lift
his head to sip from it. After a few small swallows,
Sam choked, and Dean took the bottle away. That inkling
of dread was back in Dean’s stomach, but one look
out the window at the white wall of snow, and he knew
he was beyond the point of being able to do much more
than pray that Sam didn’t get worse before the
storm passed. He wasn’t a praying man, but Sam
had a way of making him do things he normally wouldn’t.
Sam had a way of making him do anything.
that It might be making it hard for Sam to breathe by
sleeping on his chest, Dean tried to lift the kitten
off, but the tiny claws latched into his t-shirt stubbornly,
and Sam groaned weakly in protest, putting one of his
giant hands in the fur and stroking in a placating motion.
Dean conceded and settled the kitty back into place.
but if it sucks the breath outta you while you’re
sleeping, don’t say I didn’t warn you,”
Dean whispered, knowing Sam was already asleep. He pulled
up a chair, put his feet up on his own bed and took
up watch at his brother’s sickbed.
Dean awoke with a start, uncertain how long he'd been
asleep, with his heart racing as horrendous screams
filled the air. He almost fell off his chair as he lunged
for the drawer where his .45 was tucked safely away,
his head still swimming with disorientation. The cool
metal of the gun sent a shiver up his arm that cleared
his head enough for him to realize that the screaming
was coming from It.
kitten had attached itself to the front of his shirt,
halfway up his chest, and had its head turned up, yowling
like it was on fire. “Geez!” Dean said,
snatching at the cat and ripping it off the cotton of
his t-shirt, "shoulda named you Velcro." As
It continued to wail, Dean's first irrational thought
was that the cat was possessed and really was trying
to suck the life from him. When It continued to meowl
and yell after he dropped her on the floor, Dean thought
desperately for a way to quiet the ruckus before it
was when he realized that Sam hadn’t moved at
all, despite the uproar that was taking place only inches
from his head. Panic clenched in his chest as Dean dropped
to his knees beside the bed and reached a shaking hand
up to touch his brother’s dripping brow. Sam didn’t
move even as Dean lifted his eyelids one at a time,
but he flinched involuntarily, curling in on himself
the moment the older Winchester reached a hand beneath
the comforter and probed across his stomach gently.
shit, shit!” Dean said, heart pounding in his
throat. “That’s it! We’re going to
the hospital now!” Barely pausing to throw on
his coat, Dean rushed out into the storm. Hands trembling,
but not from the cold, he brushed as much snow off the
windshield of the car as he could and reached in to
turn the key and crank up the heater before heading
back into the room.
wasting time to fumble with Sam’s clothes, Dean
scooped up his brother’s limp body, blankets and
all, flung him over his shoulder in a fireman’s
carry, and tried his best to ignore the sobbed choke
of pain that his brother made as he dashed out of the
room. He stumbled across the parking lot, squinting
into the blowing snow with just one arm thrown across
his eyes to shield them. He managed to get Sam arranged
in the backseat, pushing most of the cat supplies onto
the floor and tossing the rest in the trunk. “No
peeking at your presents, there, bro,” he said
absently, more to hear his voice as opposed to the thudding
of his heart in his chest, and slammed the door, barely
missing Sam's feet.
jumped into the front seat and took a deep breath as
he put the car in gear. He eased his foot down on the
gas pedal slowly, clenching his jaw as if he could will
the car to move, but the tires spun ineffectually on
the ice, and they moved all of about six inches, sideways.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” Dean chanted under
his breath. “Uh, I take it back. You’re
not a jackass, all right. Just, please…”
jumped out of the car, knees trembling with anxiety.
There had to be something…
ran to the back of the car and popped the trunk. Rock
salt was good for melting ice, right? He picked up the
nearly empty bag and remembered that they had been planning
to buy more in the next town. He berated himself for
not remembering to get it at Wal-Mart. Spent all his
cash on cat toys, dammit. Scrabbling to keep
his head in the game, his eyes fell on the bag of kitty
litter. He shrugged, pushing out his bottom lip. Hell,
it was worth a try.
ripped into the bag with his frozen fingers and cradled
it under his arm, using his free hand to scatter the
clay gravel under the tires and around the car and praying
silently under his breath.
the bag empty, he jumped back in the car, closed his
eyes, and put the car into gear once more. His face
lit up with relief as the car inched backward, fishtailing
only slightly on the slick surface. He made it to the
road frontage just as a snowplow roared by on the feeder,
clearing the path ahead of it and dropping sand behind
to add traction.
paused momentarily to let the swirling snow clear enough
to give him some visibility and glanced up at the street
sign on the corner: 34th street. Dean didn't put much
stock in miracles, but irony he could appreciate. Winchesters
had pretty much cornered the market on that. With one
long glance into the rearview mirror at his too-silent,
shivering baby brother, he shook his head and pulled
slowly out onto the road, following the plow and the
blue Highway signs to the nearest hospital.
brother’s going to be just fine,” the young
doctor assured. “He came through the surgery with
flying colors, and we got that hot appendix out without
any complications. It was good you got him here when
you did, though. Appendicitis is nothing to play around
with. A few more minutes, and who knows?”
Dean said, his voice thickly painted with relief. “I
can’t thank you enough. Can I go see him?”
give us a few more minutes to get him settled in Recovery,
then we’ll come get you,” the surgeon said,
shaking his hand and turning to leave.
slouched back into his chair in the surgical waiting
room. He only managed to sit for a few minutes more
with his head in his hands before he felt the need to
just get up and move, somewhere, anywhere. His nerve
endings were still firing at the speed of light, and
his knees jerked up and down as his toes pressed into
the floor. He jumped up and decided to take a walking
tour of the Emergency Room while he waited.
only made one lap around the front desk when he heard
a sniffling sob coming from the corner of the room.
Dean looked over and saw a man, a woman, and a little
girl, all smudged with soot and wrapped in emergency
blankets huddled in the chairs. The nurse at the reception
desk followed his gaze.
lucky,” she said. “House fire. They just
made it out in the nick of time. Apparently the family
cat alerted them to the fire and made sure they all
got out. Sad, though, the cat didn’t make it.”
half a second, Dean was tempted to turn away and pretend
he hadn’t heard the story. After all, he didn’t
know these people from Adam, and they probably didn’t
want to be bothered by a complete stranger in light
of their recent loss. Still, he was Dean Winchester,
dammit, and he’d never been able to turn his back
on anyone in need. Especially not a kid. He had plenty
to be thankful for this Christmas. He supposed he had
a little Christmas spirit left to share. Sorry Sammy.
don’t know how much this means,” Mr. Johnson,
the patriarch of the family who’d lost their house
in the fire, said as Dean handed him the last of the
kitten supplies he had stashed in the car. The final
few bags came out of the trunk, and Dean failed to notice
the tiny clink of metal on the packed snow as something,
long lost and nearly forgotten, hooked on the plastic
and fell to the ground.
Johnson stooped and picked up the tiny object. “Oops,
you dropped something,” he said, holding it out
held out his hand, slightly confused, then grinned from
ear to ear. He knew exactly what it was the second the
cold silver hit his palm. Years of Sammyless Christmases
and forgotten bonds of broken trust and tested brotherhood
suddenly melted away, despite the freezing temperature.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Johnson. I’ll bring the kitten
by in the morning,” he laughed, clapping the older
gentleman on the back. “I know she’ll have
a great home with you.”
was still a few minutes before midnight when Sam opened
his eyes in the recovery room, groggy, but obviously
in less pain than he had been when he came in.
you feeling?” Dean asked, unable to resist the
urge to push the bangs away from Sam’s eyes.
a cat sat on my chest and sucked the life outta me,”
Sam chuckled tiredly.
about that, uh, Sam,” Dean stammered. He hesitated,
hating that he felt like such a Scrooge for saying it,
but not wanting to postpone the inevitable. “I
kinda gave the cat to someone while you were...indisposed.”
He looked away guiltily and cleared his throat. “She’s
got a real good home, though, or at least she will have
once they rebuild it,” he snickered half-heartedly.
okay,” Sam said, but Dean caught the shadow that
darkened his glass-bright eyes. Luckily, he hadn't come
unprepared to deal with his brother's inevitable disappointment.
I know your Christmas sucked and all,” Dean said,
“and I hate that I forgot to get you anything,
so, uh, here…” He held out his hand, dropping
a tiny, tissue-wrapped object into Sam’s. “Consider
this an IOU.”
Dean you didn’t need to get me anything. It’s
not like I’m gonna be hitting the gift shop anytime
soon, myself. You’ll make me feel guilty.”
Dude, just open it,” Dean insisted.
trembling fingers, Sam worked at the tissue, and halted
suddenly when a silver ring fell out onto the blanket.
He gazed at it in amazement, his face simultaneously
twisting in joy and disbelief. “Dean, isn’t
I mean, you don’t have to wear it, if you don’t
want, but I thought you’d like to have it back.”
picked up the ring and rolled it between his fingers.
He couldn’t even count the number of times he’d
wondered what had happened to that ring. After he’d
gotten to Stanford, he’d gone through every pocket
of his duffel bag a hundred times, certain he’d
stashed it in there for safe-keeping the day he could
no longer slide it over his knuckle. During the four
years he and Dean had been apart, Sam must have repeated
that fruitless search a thousand times more. It was
just a cheap ring, but it felt like the frame of a hole
in his heart that never healed.
I don’t know what to say…” Sam said,
eyes glassy again, though this time not with fever or
rumpled Sam’s hair, something Sam hadn’t
allowed him to do since he’d graduated elementary
school. “Merry Christmas, little brother.”
Christmas, Dean," Sam returned, shifting his gaze
to the ring for a few more seconds as his brow furrowed
in wonder. "So, if this is an IOU, what exactly
is it that you owe me?" He asked.
super-duper, never gonna forget your birthday, never
gonna forget Christmas, never ever gonna let you forget
about puking on my shoes, bestest big brother ever,"
Dean smirked, eyes atwinkle.
in that case," Sam shrugged stiffly, laying the
ring down on the nightstand, "I can't accept this."
He leaned back, eyes drooping with exhaustion and satisfaction.
face fell, and Sam could have sworn he actually pouted,
just a little. "What? But Sam..." His voice
trailed off, lips working around a silent argument his
brain failed to form.
met his gaze solidly, unblinking for all of about three
seconds before his chin dimpled tellingly, and he snatched
the ring back up off the table. "I'll wear the
ring, Dean," Sam relinquished, unable to follow-through
with his planned fraternal torture. He pushed the band
onto his finger and looked at the way it glinted, shiny
and new again after years spent tarnishing and forgotten.
At that moment, he felt closer to his brother than he
had since he graduated high school and cast a wet gaze
up at Dean. "I just wanna keep the brother I have,
if that's all right with you."
sighed audibly with relief, chest deflating about three
sizes as his held breath escaped. He didn't do sentimental,
and this was a prime example of why. A guy could get
killed with his heart hanging on his sleeve like that.
"That depends," he said. "You got another
brother I don't know about?"
big brother, just you...dumbass."
well, that's probably wise," Dean bolstered. "Can't
improve on perfection."
I never said you were perfect," Sam snickered,
"just that I like you the way you are."
straight," Dean agreed. "But you puke on my
shoes again, I'm gonna make sure there's a gremlin in
'em when I make you clean 'em off...with your tongue."
help it," Sam mumbled, nearly asleep again. "One
look at your grubby old boots, and my stomach just leapt.
I must have a friggin' foot fetish."
chuckled and pushed Sam's hair off his forehead once
more, noting the much cooler temperature of the skin
beneath. "Merry Christmas...you kinky little freak."
He cocked an eyebrow appraisingly at the ring on Sam's
hand, just like his own, and settled into a chair to
wait for those eyes to open again. As his chin settled
onto his chest, he wondered if it was such a bad thing
that the Winchesters seemed to have cornered the market
on irony. Something about this whole ironic, twisted
Christmas felt less like tragic irony and more like
was a word Dean didn't use, but Sam had a way of making
him do anything. "God, I'm such a girl."
the story here!