Lost Christmas Eve

By Tracer


John ran his worn hands across his face, jaw clenched in search of that parental self-control that usually all but dissipated in situations such as these. What Dean lacked in the talkative aspect of life, the seven year old made up for greatly in defiance. The former Marine had beaten down men three times his son’s age after days of basic training, but those soldiers’ stubborn streaks didn’t even begin to shadow the edge of Dean’s.

“Dean, out of the car,” the father ordered, opening the passenger door and waiting impatiently for his son to obey. It was freezing in Minnesota and any minute wasted in the bitter cold was one too many.

“Out!” Sam echoed, the barely recognizable three year old was bundled in a puffy red coat and securely buckled into the back seat, legs kicking furiously at the front bench. A smirk ghosted across John’s face at his youngest son’s vibrating energy and excitement. And who could blame the child? Their host had certainly gone all out this year. He could see the Christmas extravaganza from down the drive.

Dean turned to his father, hands gripping the bucket seat in rebellion. “No.”

John wrapped a hand around the open door, leaning into the car, face inches from his son’s. “Come again?”

“No.” Sam shrieked with a laugh. “No, no, no, no, no.”

“Sammy.” The tightly spoken word served its purpose as the mop-headed boy clamped his mouth shut, little hands covering a giggling mouth. John wearily turned his attention back to Dean, his tone firm. “Son, I’m not asking here. I’m telling. Get out of the car.”

Dean huffed a breath and refused to meet his father’s gaze as he unbuckled the seat belt and squirmed under his father’s bowed body, racing around to the trunk begrudgingly obedient; a sight John was more than used to seeing around this time of year. Straightening up, John tossed his oldest son the keys before finally cracking the back door open and allowing Sammy to escape the confines of the back seat.

“Want go inside, Daddy!” Sam exclaimed, squirming in his father’s hold, nearly crawling over John’s back.

“Alright, kiddo, hang on,” John bargained uselessly, but the pleased smile faded fast when his eyes fell on Dean’s sullen expression, the boy looking as if he was about to face a firing squad instead of Christmas break at Pastor Jim’s House of Christmas; or Lighting Nightmare as John liked to call it. “Dean, you got your stuff?”

Dean nodded in response, shouldering his bag and handing his father Sam’s back pack. “Mine!” the brown haired boy declared when the tattered Salvation Army material came into view, reaching out from his father’s hold, hand grasping air as he begged for the ratted strap.

“Yep,” John muttered, snatching the pack and giving it to his son as he maneuvered Sam onto his other hip. The kid could walk, just preferred not to. Something he was going to have to work on seeing as Sam got heavier by the day. “Alright, you boys remember what I told you right?”

“Eat ebyting!” Sam answered cheerfully, quite pleased with the fact that he had remembered.

“That’s right.” John commended. “No matter how bad it looks.” He turned, watching Dean expectantly. “What else?”

The sandy-haired boy was taking an extreme interest in how, with the right amount of pressure, the toe of his shoe could kick up a nice sized clod of dirt snow mush. John cleared his throat loudly, a crystal clear warning that he expected an answer. “Watch out for Sammy,” Dean murmured, eyes turned downward.

“Good,” John breathed, placing Sammy down and grabbing the boy’s hand, only to find it sticky from the M&Ms two hours back. Wonderful. “Move ‘em out.”

The family made their way up the long gravel drive, John stopping every so often to remind Sam that the rocks didn’t like to be kicked especially into Daddy’s already soaked pant legs and Dean pausing just for the sake of it.

“P’sr Jim!” Sam yelled when the family friend waiting patiently on the porch came within eye shot. John released his hold on Sam’s hand and the little boy raced across the yard, nearly taking out the nativity Baby Jesus as he ran to envelop the awaiting graying man in a fierce hug, eyes bright with excitement. “You have lights!”

“Always,” Jim chuckled, ruffling Sam’s hair, rising from his crouch and greeting his friend. “Hello, John.”

“Hey there, Jim. How’s that God of yours treating you?” John inquired, shaking his friend’s hand.

“He gives and takes away, John,” Jim replied in that pastoral tone John loved to hate. A smile crept onto the host’s face as he looked past his friend to the boy staring off into the white-laced forested area surrounding his home. “I think you lost one there, John boy.”

“Dean’s not lost,” Sam argued firmly, as if his own three year old intelligence surpassed that of the older men. “He’s thinkin’, huh, Daddy?”

“Sorry, Jim,” the hunter apologized, scratching the back of his head as he turned to take in the sight of his son. “He just…he gets like this around the holidays. You know?”

“He’s not the only one,” the minister muttered, clearing his throat when John’s brow rose in threat, “He’s lost a lot, you all have,” he stated, understanding and sympathy clouding his voice. “You want a minute?”

“Yeah,” John nodded, face revealing his gratitude at his friend’s quiet patience, yet another reason why he couldn’t find a way to separate his family from the minister. Kindness seemed to flow in the man’s blood.

The worry lines faded from the God-fearing hunter’s face and he placed a supportive hand on John’s shoulder, before turning back and kneeling down to Sam’s eye level, grabbing the youngster’s pack, “Now, who wants to go see the tree?”

Sam’s eyes got bigger than the banged up skillet compliments of the last deteriorating kitchen from the past Motel 6 stay. “ME!”

“Alright, then,” Jim laughed, the young boy’s enthusiasm catching. “Let’s go.”

Sam bounced happily as the older man jerked the door open, missing how Jim tossed a concerned look over his shoulder at his father, who mouthed a silent “thank you” in return before Pastor Jim shut the door behind them.

* * * *

John couldn’t quite get his feet to move. He knew where he needed to go, but dealing with Dean could be worse than dealing with land mines sometimes. Finally, his Semper Fi mentality kicked in, and heaving a sigh, the father trudged his way over to his son.

Dean’s hunter instincts were top notch even for a child, and he sensed his Dad approaching before John reached arm’s length. “Why do we have to stay here?”

The anguish in his son’s raw question forced John’s feet to cover the remaining distance as quickly as humanly possible. Placing a hand on Dean’s shoulder, John used his light grip to turn the boy to face him. He certainly hadn’t expected liquid emotion glassing his son’s eyes and was internally grateful the dreaded tears dared not fall. “Because I have to see about that job in Derring.” While I figure out how the hell I can deal without your mother another year in the really nice bar there.

“We could go with you,” Dean proposed, eyes wide with hope and a sense of impending disappointment.

“Dean,” John murmured, dropping his head as he considered the right way to continue. “It’s just better if you stay here.” Because then you won’t have to watch…

And if Dad didn’t know better he’d swear that panic had etched its way onto his eldest son’s face. “Who’s going to back you up? What if something happens?”

“Nothing’s going to happen, kiddo,” That you could even begin to help with anyway. John consoled, brow creased in fatherly concern as he clenched Dean’s shoulder reassuringly.

“You don’t know that!” Dean snapped, yanking back from his father’s touch, face livid with anger and a fear of the unknown-made-known far too heavy for a child’s shoulders. “This is stupid!”

“Dean,” the father spoke sharply although desperately, rising to full height and looking down authoritatively. “You’re staying here with your brother, is that understood?” Please, just listen.

“But Dad,” Dean broke in, his voice near trembling as he looked up at his father. “I’m—I can help. I won’t be bad. I’ll do whatever you say, promise. Me and Sammy—we can sit in the car if we have to. The whole time.”

The fatherly heart broke beneath his son’s begging, but the fall back of Marine training he’d clung to for survival the past three years clawed its way to the surface as he stared into Dean’s soulful jade. “It’s just a few days, son. I’ll be back before Jim dips into his homemade eggnog. Which you are not to drink by the way.” One alcoholic in this family is enough.

“Yes sir,” Dean grumbled, eyes studying the gravel covered ground. “You promise?”

“Promise what, Dean?” John questioned incredulously. These kinds of things usually got him stern looks from Jim and disappointed ones from his son.

“You’ll be back in a few days--for eggnog?” Dean repeated, the hope encircling the words hard to miss.

John nodded, knowing full well “eggnog” had now become code word for “Christmas” and all the holiday entailed. “Yeah, son, I promise. Now, let’s get inside before Jim thinks we ran away.” Not a bad idea really…

“From his cooking maybe,” Dean quipped, and John laughed openly at the witty remark from his child.

“Ain’t that the truth.” That’s my boy.

* * * *

Dean cracked the front door to Pastor Jim’s cabin open, removing his snow crusted boots to the sounds of Sam’s gushing over the fake pine tree pounding in his ears alongside his father’s heavy footfalls behind him. Sam’s short attention span quickly turned to the new additions to the room and he rushed over, pawing at John’s pant leg.

“That was more than a munut, Daddy,” the little boy chided, yanking on the damp denim until John acquiesced to his plea to be hoisted up and held.

“Minute,” Dean corrected, dropping his bag and opening his own arms to Sam, an offer the little brother did not refuse—neither did John. Dean grunted under Sam’s weight but managed a good carry as he shuffled over to the couch leaving the experienced hunters to chat. “Cool tree.”

“Yea!” Sam cried happily, curling out of Dean’s arms and running over to the green homage to faux forestry everywhere. “And guess what?”

“What?” Dean asked playfully, sinking down onto the worn tan sofa and watching the flames flicker in the fireplace.

“It lights up like the house!” Dean smirked at his younger brother’s Christmas cheer as Sam crawled his way up onto the sofa and plopped down right next to Dean’s sprawled legs, eyes studying his older brother. “Are you sad?”

“What?” Dean shifted, his focus falling on his brother. “No.”

“You look sad,” Sam stated, leaning in and knocking foreheads with his brother. “Are you sad?”

“Ow,” Dean grumbled, lightly pushing Sam back. “No, leave me alone.”

“Dean?” Sam whimpered, frowning as his older brother, hero even, pushed off the sofa, stomping to the back room they always shared without sparing him a second glance. The little brother jerked back along with everyone else in the small living room when the harsh sound of the door slamming finalized Dean’s exit.

John shot Sam a confused look, but when his youngest’s eyes filled quickly with tears and his bottom lip started quivering, the father somehow found himself curled up on the couch, Sam in his arms. “What happened, buddy?”

“D-Dean,” Sam sobbed, digging his head into his father’s shoulder. John pursed his lips, jaw clenching as he worked to control his temper. He was pretty sure he told that boy to watch his younger brother, not usher him to tears for Dad to wipe away.

“Your brother’s just upset at me, Sammy. It has nothing to do with you,” John assured, stroking Sam’s baby fine hair. I can’t do this…

“Really?” Sam’s head popped up, his deep brown eyes searching his father’s face for truth.

“Yeah, really,” the father repeated, hand encircling his son’s chin. “I got to head out now, okay? So mind Pastor Jim and your brother.”

“Are you gonna kill monsers?” Sam’s eyes bugged wide, and all evidence that he had been crying moments before had vanished as he contemplated another of his father’s superhero missions.

“Gonna do my best,” John replied, picking Sam up and setting the little boy on the sofa as he rose to a stand. “I’ll be back soon, son.” Relatively anyways.

Sam scooted off the couch, grabbing his dad in a hug. “Promise?”

John’s eyes flicked to his watching friend, Jim’s face bearing a pinched expression. “Yeah, son, I promise.”

“Did you tell Dean bye?” Sam questioned, releasing his hold on his father’s leg and starting to pad his way down the hall. “I get him.”

“Leave your brother, Sammy,” John ordered gruffly, ignoring Jim’s look of disdain at his actions. “I already spoke with him.”

Pastor Jim shifted his weight, clearly unable to remain silent. “John, I really think that if Dean--”

“I’ll see you in a couple days, Jim,” John dismissed the man, stalking over to the door, before throwing a backwards glance at his youngest, who was watching the exchange with wide eyes. “You too, Sammy.”

As the father turned to leave, Jim stalked forward, grabbing his stubborn friend’s arms and leaning toward the man, his voice low and covered by Sam’s hesitant stopping on the wooden floor. “You really should stay. Don’t do something stupid, because those boys expect you back and I’m not explaining to them how their father went out because he downed three bottles of Jack instead of fighting some monster.”

John grit his teeth, his jaw flexing tightly, “Don’t. You don’t know. Don’t you dare pretend you do.”

The pastor jerked bad at the malice choking the words, watching in sympathizing fear as the fellow hunter barreled onto the porch.

“Bye!” Sammy yelled out with a wave, but his goodbye was muffled by the slamming of the front door and the youngest of the Winchesters ran to the wide bay window, face pressed against the cool glass as he watched what Daddy referred to as ‘the coolest car on the planet’ disappear down the drive.

* * * *

Pastor Jim rested his elbows on the worn carved wooden table, his hands wrapping around the hot mug filled with cider, finding the slow wafting steam rising from the cup easier to stare at than of the two children he’d been privileged to serve this particular holiday. He was supposed to be at the church introducing the Pageant, but duty called in other ways and what were Associate Ministers for if you couldn’t call in a favor every now and again?

And since every nerve in his body was frazzled after he’d only been cabin-bound with John’s spawn for a little over two days, the elder minister thought he deserved the break. A rambunctious Sammy had been fairly easy to entertain at first; a couple picture books and a tour of the outside lawn decorations seemed to do the trick for a while. Until the last bout of fallen snow and weather warnings put an end to any further outside excursions.

The afterglow had faded too quickly, however, and now the younger child was running around the living room, tiny hand curled into a fist, his thumb jutting straight up and index finger pointing outward in mock gun formation and a ‘coon skin hat on his head as he circled around the couch claiming the sulking persona sitting there as his captive.

That captive had refused to move from that position or a sullen one at the window since Jim had decided to drag his ass out of the bedroom every day for no other reason than the boy could help him with his little brother. Attaching Sam to Dean, however, hadn’t worked and Jim was met with a knee-weakening glare and clenched jaw anytime he spoke to or looked at the older brother in a pleading manner.

At this point in the game, the minister was convinced that if it had been a real gun Sammy had and the cap that of a police chief it wouldn’t make a difference. He really couldn’t blame the kid. It was Christmas Eve, and still no word or sight from the boys’ father. If anyone deserved a swift kick to the ass it was John Winchester, in Jim’s mind. Even if it were only for the immense amount of worry the man had caused to befall upon the minister.

Jim had been to Derring before, and had seen what happened to men who chose to drown their problems. He guessed a part of him should be thankful John had the decency to do it without the boys suffering, but looking at Dean, Jim had to reconsider that idea.

“Bang!” Sam screeched, jerking his little body back as he acted out the recoil from the gun. The exuberant sound effect was returned with a roll of the eyes as Dean sunk lower into the couch pillows, feet kicking idly. Sam was not pleased. If he was giving an Oscar performance, big brother should be giving one too. “Dean! I said Bang! P’sr Jim, I said Bang.”

“I heard you, Sammy,” the hunter replied, sighing heavily and pushing the warm mug aside as he rose from his chair, shaking his head as he checked his watch. Bed Time. Hallelujah. “But I think Dean’s tired. Like you should be.”

“Ain’t tired,” the little boy protested, shaking his head, “Daddy doesn’t make me go to bed!”

“Lying isn’t a very good habit to develop, Sammy,” Jim chided, scooping up the little boy in his arms. “But sleep is always a good thing.”

“Hunters lie almost every day.”

The snide remark got the minister’s attention, not just because it was the only thing Dean had said since his forced exile from the back room, but also because the boy was right. He couldn’t argue, especially when Sammy and Dean were watching him expectantly for an answer. “You have a point there. But it’s kind of like when a policemen or agent assumes an identity to catch the bad guy.”

“Whatever,” Dean muttered, sliding off the sofa and shuffling over to Jim and his brother. “C’mon, Sammy, you can wear Spiderman tonight.”

“You wear yours,” Sam stated with finality as he squirmed from Jim’s hold, reaching out a hand for his older brother to take.

“Sure,” Dean agreed, his voice considerably lighter as he addressed his younger brother. Although his Spiderman gear consisted only of a red and blue colored T-shirt, but whatever worked. “Did you already brush your teeth?”

Jim smiled at Sam’s reply of “maybe” and moved to follow the two down the hallway, but Dean’s glare stopped him. “I got it.”

“Alright,” Jim surrendered, used to being excluded from the familiar bedtime ritual. It didn’t stop the man from trying to break through the Great Wall that Dean had built anyway. “But after you get changed and all ready, let me know. I got a bedtime story for you.”

“I’ll tell him one,” Dean protested, giving Sam’s arm a little tug when the younger boy stopped.

“I wanna hear P’sr Jim’s,” Sam whined, unleashing a set of puppy dog eyes on his brother that would bring the nastiest demons to repentance. “Please, Dean.”

“Fine,” Dean mumbled, practically dragging Sam to the bedroom with him.

“You not being very nice, Dean,” Sam admitted, wriggling out of his T-shirt and grabbing the long john PJs decorated with webs and the Marvel superhero Dean had tossed his way. “And you didn’t eat all your dinner. Daddy’s not gonna be happy.”

“Dad can’t say anything about it if he ain’t here, can he?” Dean spat, pulling his sleep shirt on and then moving to help Sam with his bottoms as the little boy shook his head in agreement. “Good. I won’t tell if you won’t. All set?”

“Yep,” Sam answered hastily, jumping on the bed and settling in under the covers, waiting until Dean had crawled under his own before calling their story teller. “P’SR JIM!”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” the preacher laughed, hastening his footsteps as he sauntered down the hall, clutching the worn leather book to his chest as he entered the room to find both boys propped against their pillows, waiting. “Had to put out the cookies for the big guy. Okay, are we ready?”

Sam nodded eagerly, patting his covers—a command for Jim to rest on his bed--and the older gentlemen looked over at Dean: the young man’s eyebrows were raised skeptically and his arms were crossed over his chest.

Pastor Jim nudged Sam playfully. “Tough crowd, huh?” Sam giggled at the small attempt at humor, but Dean was not amused. Jim cleared his throat nervously. “Okay, so um…Let’s get this started, huh?”

Cracking open the faded leather book, the pastor slowly turned the worn pages until he arrived at the bookmarked story and began to read.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed………

* * * *

“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger,” The minister whispered, closing his Bible and setting the book aside before tugging the sheets tighter around Sam’s sleeping form. Casting a glance at his other listener, Jim smiled. “What’d you think?”

“That’s the first Christmas Eve?” Dean asked disbelievingly, seemingly unimpressed.

“To those who believe, yes,” the minister answered, not bothered in the least as his job constantly revealed new areas of skepticism and questioning of faith.

“It was okay,” Dean shrugged, adjusting himself in the bed and doing his best to stifle a yawn. “Must’ve been a big deal if those people went looking for him.”

“Oh, it was,” Jim stated reverently. “A very big deal. They needed him more than they knew at the time. He was special to them, to Israel, and you search out people that are special to you. And sometimes you take risks, brave deserts and evil kings to get there.”

Dean nodded in understanding, lower lip curled under his teeth as he mulled over the minister’s statement. “I’d hear it again…maybe.”

“I can live with that,” Jim responded quietly, rising off the bed and studying the way Dean’s head dropped, his fingers picking at the wool comforter. “Good night, Dean.”

“Night, Pastor Jim,” Dean mumbled, shutting his eyes only to crack them back open once the door closed quietly.

* * * *

“P’sr Jim!”

The more-than-tired minister shifted under the expectant whisper and mumbled under his breath, ordering what had to be Sammy back to bed at least for another ten minutes.

“P’sr Jim!”

Jim smacked a hand against his forehead, keeping his eyes clenched shut as he moved to rub them.

“P’sr Jim!”

“Whu, Sammy?” the pastor muttered, cracking open his eyes and turning to see the alarm clock. 3:30 AM. Yep, single never felt so good.

Sam scrambled up onto the bed, tapping the man’s shoulder. “Are you up?”

Jim rolled his eyes, pushing himself up on his elbows and meeting Sam’s eyes. “No.”

“It’s Chismas!” Sam exclaimed, clapping his hands together before launching himself at the tired older man. “Chismas!”

“No, Sammy,” Jim murmured, glancing pathetically at the clock, “‘Chismas’ doesn’t start ‘til at least eight.”

“New days start at midnight,” Sam declared with a knowing nod. “Dean says so.”

“Well, Dean could be wrong,” the minister offered weakly, but the little boy merely shook his head.

“Nuh uh.”

“Fine,” Jim breathed, raking a hand through his tousled hair. “It’s Chismas.”

“Told ya,” the youngest Winchester laughed, scooting off the bed and running down the hall.

The pastor slowly made his way to the edge of his warm and oh-so-comfortable sleeping wonderland and shivered when his bare feet hit the cool wood. Groaning slightly, he eased himself up to a stand and began the shuffle to the living room, where Sam was already hopping anxiously at the sight of all the colored packages courtesy of Santa laid out beneath the tree.

“Open!” Sam yelled, not even minding how the family friend sunk down onto the sofa, a wry smile on his face.

“We have to wait for Dean, Sammy,” Jim explained through a yawn.

“I get him!” Sam determined and set off down the hall faster than Jim could stop him. Dean was already cranky. And with John not even trying to make an effort to communicate…Lord Jesus help them all.

When a few minutes ticked by and nothing but Sam’s cries had met his ears, Jim’s brow creased in concern and he slowly made his way to the back room. Sammy met him half way, nearly plowing him over as the little boy was running as fast as his legs would take him.

“Whoa, there, Sammy. What’s wrong?” Jim asked rapidly, sinking down to Sam’s level and grabbing the boy’s arms.

Sam’s eyes were overflowing and his voice small as he mustered a reply. “Dean a pillow.”

“What?” Jim questioned, way louder than initially intended. Sam didn’t reply, his bottom lip only quivering more, and the pastor had to keep his panic and raising temper in check as he pressed the boy for a better answer. “What do you mean a pillow?”

“Dean a pillow,” Sam stated angrily, frustrated he wasn’t getting his point across and jerked free of the minister’s hold, turning back to the room. “See! He gone! Sumtin took him!”

“Gone” was the only word Jim recognized in Sam’s whole account, and the hunter crossed the threshold of the boys’ room and was at the side of Dean’s assigned bed faster than Barry Allen himself.

Jim would later swear the entire room was deprived of oxygen and his lungs ceased to breathe in the instant he glanced down and saw nothing but a pile of uncovered pillows strategically placed to mimic a sleeping child. An extremely capable, albeit stupid, seven year old to be exact.

You search out people that are special to you. And sometimes you take risks, brave deserts and evil kings to get there

“Oh god…Okay, okay…” Jim muttered, beginning a steady pace. He cast a glance toward the foggy bedroom window, nervously studying the piles of snow outside the cabin.

He could figure this out. Hell, he’d hunted demons sneakier than this. Although, this was so not going to be on his ‘John should know’ list unless the worse came to worst, but surely Dean didn’t get that far. Okay, so this was Dean…maybe he did; after all the boy was searching.

“Where Dean?” Sam cried, sliding down the bedroom wall and huddling up against it, tears spilling freely down his face.

If he went toward the main road…“I don’t--” the minister halted, taking in the young boy’s condition and sighing. “We’ll find him, Sammy. I promise. Can you get your coat on and your boots?”

The little boy nodded and Jim helped him get fitted into the clothing, not failing to notice how Dean’s hat and boots were missing from the pile. All the while he struggled to get his shaking hands to function enough to pull his own coat and boots on. It was closing in to four, which meant Dean could have been gone close to five hours now. He had finished the story around ten, right?

This was so not turning out to be the Christmas Eve and Day celebration he had planned weeks ago.

“You ready, Sammy?” Jim demanded, stomping into the room and finding Sam barely able to move in his puffy jacket and Paddington bear-style boots. “Okay…okay, let’s go.”

Jim herded the young boy out into the living room, grabbing his hat off the kitchen table and ordering Sam to get the door. However, it wasn’t Sam who made it to the door first and Jim gulped audibly as John stomped the day old snow from his boots and entered the cabin.

“Jesus!” the minister exclaimed, grabbing the dinner table for support as he worked to get his thoughts in order. John smirked, giving the pastor a mock chastising glance and the man recovered slowly. “Mary, Joseph and the Saints. You’re back!”

“Daddy!” Sam screamed, running to hug his father’s leg. “You made it for Chismas!”

John grunted, reaching down and unclenching Sam’s hold on him. “Daddy’s tired, Sam.”

Jim’s mouth turned downward in a frown as he studied his fellow hunter. Stubble and creased lines surrounding John’s face weren’t the only things that suggested this Winchester was less than sober: the light sway in his steps and sharp bitter smell clinging to his body gave the game away too.

“John, I need to talk to you,” Jim stated firmly, taking Sam to his side.

“You can preach to me later,” John slurred, nodding to the minister before crashing out on the couch. “I’m tired.”

“You’re wasted,” Jim snapped, doing his best to ignore the way John snapped up to a dizzying sit, his glazed eyes lit with anger. “And there are more important things….Look, John, Dean—

“What about Dean?” John demanded, eyes landing on Sam’s tear-stained face.

Sam broke underneath his father’s glare, sobbing once again. “He gone, Daddy!”

“What?” the question was blunt, hard and demanded an immediate answer.

“Sam and I went to wake him up, and he was gone,” Jim clarified rapidly, and intentionally adding a bit of guilt. “No doubt to look for you.”

“You aren’t blaming me for this!” John boomed, coming to a stand and approaching the minister with furious haste. “It’s your fault he’s gone.”

“Yelling at me isn’t going to solve the problem,” Jim soothed or rather tried to, hands up in surrender, his gaze flickering to Sam’s small body rigid with fear and overwhelming emotion. He smiled encouragingly to the boy glad that the three year old was letting the grownups converse or yell, scream and fight.

“He’s a freakin’ seven year old dammit! You mean to tell me you can’t handle that?” the father raged, and Jim found himself pressed against the wall, fingers laced around his neck before he could even blink.

“And you can?” Jim whispered hoarsely, immediately feeling the release of John’s grip.

John stepped back, his eyes clear with determination. “I have to find my son.”

“I’ll help,” The pastor offered, but was waved away.

“No, someone has to stay with Sammy. And you’ve done enough already,” John reasoned and with that he pulled on his boots and headed out into the snowy drift.


The soft whimper tore Jim’s attention away from the door and he turned to find nothing more than a confused little boy desperately seeking answers to a problem way above his reach. “He’ll be back, Sammy.”

Sammy padded over to Jim, tugging at the man’s flannels and the pastor picked him up instantly, doing his best to avoid the puppy-dog eyes staring right at him. “With Dean?”

“I hope so, son. I hope so.”

* * * *

The harsh morning wind and damp snow had no effect on John’s whiskey-warm body, sweaty from exertion. Adrenaline alone could keep him going far past the thirty minutes he’d already put into the search for his son.

It had been a good sign initially when John found a set of boot prints, and he had thanked god--or whoever else was manipulating his existence for the day--that the snowfall had been next to nothing late the previous night. However, the father was now cursing the very Deity he had shown gratitude towards as the tracks disappeared as the forest grew denser.

All facets of his brain screamed this was some buzz gone horribly wrong and he’d wake up with a cool sweat and a new nightmare to store away. But the biting air and vast wasteland of trees bore stark witness to the fact that reality was playing out an elaborate scene for his torture alone.

“Dammit!” John yelled, smacking his fist into a tall evergreen when he realized he’d made a complete circle in the sea of white. The dull ache was nothing compared to the symphony of pain he knew his hand would be singing once the alcohol was out his system, but even searing agony couldn’t outweigh the despair clenching the father’s heart.

With a shuddering breath, John leaned against the tree, his body rising and falling with each shaky gasp he took in. He couldn’t go through this again…not again, first his Mary, and as tragic as that was he had found himself coping. But this…? No, he wasn’t going to lose his son.

Determination allowed him to get a handle on the situation, and John pushed off from the tree, scanning the line of forestry, his echoing cry for his son to simply respond to him resounding through the wood.

* * * *

Jim chewed nervously on his bottom lip. It was one thing for a man of God to go and lose another man’s child, but to insult the father on top of it all—he could see his Lord frowning from where he was sitting on the sofa, Sam curled up against him after literally sobbing himself back to sleep.

It was all wrong. All of it. He should be out there helping the hunt. He knew the woods better than anyone and the new game of IF his brain insisted on playing was not helping the situation in the least.

If Dean remembered to find a decent shelter

If Dean made it to the main road

If Dean had fallen in one of the many ground holes

If Dean had let the cold numb his body to the point of letting the feeling lull him to sleep

If John didn’t find him

If Dean wasn’t….

Jim shifted in his seat. No, this was too much for any man to endure, and all the prayers he shot up during the past hour should attest to that. Forget what a man can bear, there has to come a time when there is a breaking point, regardless of whether one could last another mile or two.

He needed something to do, something to occupy himself—even the children’s choir sounded good at the moment. But he’d spent the better part of the early morning starting a roaring fire, placing leftover bricks from his latest building project near the hearth, warming them, and fixing Dean’s bed with extra blankets just in case John should return soon. And now there was nothing to do but wait.

A dull thud startled the pastor and he jumped off the sofa, taking a sleepy and confused Sam with him. “Stay here.”

Sammy nodded tiredly, rubbing his eyes. The sound was repeated and Jim hastened to the door, the air leaving his lungs when he saw what lay behind it. “J-John?”

John swallowed thickly, shivering against the cold, his leather jacket wrapped tightly around the small body held tightly in his arms. A body that looked like Dean.

“H-he can’t have him.” Jim’s countenance drew in a puzzled expression at John’s painful admission, the father’s own face turned down to stare at the gray skin and blue tinged lips of his oldest son.

He gives and takes away.

“Get him inside, John,” Jim stated softly, fighting back his welling emotions and doing his best to regain control, because someone had to. John didn’t move. “I said inside, John!”

An order, something any Winchester knew how to respond to, and Jim was rewarded for it. “Take him to the back room. Get him out of his wet clothes.”


Jim stumbled over Sam, who had decided to be filled in on the situation. The pastor shook his head when John halted his steps, and motioned for the torn father to heed his command before he knelt down and placed his hands on Sam’s shoulders. “Sammy, I need you to listen to me, this is important, okay?”


“Your Daddy and I have to help Dean right now, so I need you to be a big boy and get all the towels from the bathroom and bring them into the living room. Let me know when you’re finished.”

Sam’s eyes widened. “Is Dean okay?”

Jim bit his lip and dropped his head in resignation. “No,” he stopped the moment Sam’s lip took to quivering and squeezed the boy’s shoulders reassuringly. “But we’re gonna try to get him there. That’s why I need you to help, got it?”

“Y-yeah,” Sam sniffled, wiping his nose and scurrying off to the bathroom.

“Good,” the hunter breathed, wiping his hands on his pajamas and hustling back down the hall, only to be met with the sight of a bundled up Dean, and a worried John grasping the boy’s wet clothes.

Jim swallowed convulsively when he approached the bed to find his friend all but comatose, John’s eyes locked on Dean’s too-still form. “H-he’s so cold. Jim, he’s cold.”

“I know,” Jim muttered weakly, clearing his throat. “SAM! You have those towels? John, try and get Dean warm as you can, come on man, friction…you’ve done this before.”

John nodded and dropped down on the bed next to Dean, molding the boy into a half sit and peeling back a few of the blankets to rub his own warm flesh against the frigid skin of his son.


“Uh huh,” Sam yelled, and the tiny patter of feet approaching sprung Jim into action.

Quickly, he blocked the littlest Winchester’s path and shook his head. “You need to stay in the living room, Sam. Now come on.”

Sam reluctantly followed, but acquiesced when cookies and milk were placed in front of him. Jim rapidly gathered the towels, wrapping them around the warm bricks and carrying a full armload back into the boys’ room, offering silent prayers that this would not be a day of mourning.

* * * *

It had been nearly two days until Dean’s pallor held no sign of ashen gray and his lips no longer a tinge of blue. Two days of constant rotating shifts between John and Jim without a word spoken between them. Four days of insistent bed rest and being bundled up so tight the boy could hardly move and five days until Sam had nearly busted down the door to simply see his brother.

And with a week of harrowing stress and new grays Jim was sure he acquired, all three Winchesters and the minister were settled around the tree, wrapping paper and torn packaging scattered amongst the wood floors.

Sam had been delighted with his car track and had assembled it nearly perfectly with a little help. Dean’s gift was still wrapped for the most part, and Jim patted his knee sympathetically before retreating into the kitchen for some more hot cider. Dean tired fast since the run away, and the cold he was fighting didn’t help in the least, but the kid was alive and Jim would take the sniffles over a gravesite any day of the week.

“Daddy, look!” Sam exclaimed, pointing his finished product. “It goes Vroom Vroom!”

“That’s really cool, Sammy,” Dean commented with a smirk, and toyed with the edge of his own wrapped present. A book of all things, but one Pastor Jim had said he would use in the future to destroy some pretty bad dudes. “Huh, Dad?”

“Yeah,” John murmured gruffly, scratching his head and motioning toward the kitchen. “Sammy, why don’t you go help, Pastor Jim. I need---uh, I need to talk to Dean.”

“Kay.” Sam laughed, running off to tell Jim that Daddy said the older man needed help.

John watched with a small smile as his youngest disappeared into the kitchen, taking a deep breath before turning to face Dean. “You want to tell me why you ran off in the middle of the night?”

Dean adjusted his blankets further up against his torso, and looked apologetically at his father. “Sorry I scared you.”

“Scared me?” John repeated tersely, “Dean, you could’ve died! I can’t—you are never to pull a stunt like that again, is that clear?”

“Yes sir,” the sandy haired boy murmured, ducking his head down. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t lost.”

John pinched the bridge of his nose and shot his son a confused glance. “What?”

“You didn’t let us know you were okay,” Dean admitted softly. “And…and I wanted to make sure you could come back.”

The father sighed and moved nearer his son. “This…this was different. Not a normal—hunt exactly. I want you to promise me you aren’t going to do something like this again, alright? It’s dangerous and I won’t—I can’t—just tell me this isn’t going to happen again. You can’t make a sacrifice like that—not for me.”

Dean shook his head in argument. “What if next time you really are lost or hurt?”

“Then you take care of Sammy until Jim or someone can help you figure out what went wrong or where I am,” John reasoned with fatherly authority.

“No, I can’t promise that,” Dean admitted firmly, locking his determined eyes with his father’s confused and angry ones. “Sometimes you take risks when you need somebody. That’s what Pastor Jim says.”

John scoffed gruffly, ruffling his boy’s hair. “Well, the old God nut might have a point on that one.”

“I think so,” Dean replied with a smile than John readily returned.

“Oh you do, do ya?” the father asked lightly, grunting his way to a stand and assisting Dean to one. “Well, two bags of M&Ms says the man still can’t make a good Christmas lunch.”

“Do I have to eat it?” the boy asked gingerly, his face scrunched in dislike.

John laughed openly, a sound that nearly stopped him it was so foreign. “Only if I have to.”

“Dad,” Dean halted his shuffle toward the kitchen, causing John to turn back. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Right back at ya, dude.”

The End

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