Pilot AU. Twenty-two years after a fire and a divorce, the Winchesters have somehow turned out okay. Dean is attending the FBI Academy, and Sam’s on his way to law school. And then Mary gets a phone call from Sam’s girlfriend that will change their lives forever.I. Pleasant Valley Sunday1991
“Mom, come on,” Dean moans, holding the sweater at arm’s length. “Do we really have to do this?”
“We do it every year.”
“I’m with the kid,” John grumbles. “It’s embarrassing for the boys, Mar.”
She will not react to that nickname. She will not.
“This sweater is for babies,” Dean adds.
Sammy blinks wet eyes up at him and squeezes Mr. Elephant tighter. “You don’t want to be in the picture?”
Mary smirks and knows the kid has won this round for her. They’ll have their Christmas sweater picture for one more year, at least. “Put them on,” she orders the boys.
The three of them slide their sweaters over their heads. This year is a very respectable baby blue field of snow with one large white snowman in the center. No Rudolph noses lighting up from battery packs stitched into the seams, no jingle bells on pointy elf shoes. Mary took it to heart when Dean pitched a fit last year. She knows he’s getting too old for this tradition, and she was hoping that by toning it down, she could coerce him into one more year. Thank god for Sammy and his big, brown eyes.
John’s gracious enough to take a picture of the three of them assembled in front of the tree. Dean doesn’t smile, but Sammy’s goofy grin more than makes up for it.
Dean finds his enthusiasm for Christmas two seconds after the flash goes off. “Presents! Presents! Ahhhhhh!” He runs in circles around the coffee table, whooping and clapping, and Sammy soon follows suit because Sammy has to do everything Dean does. Mary was an only child, so she thinks it’s sweet.
Opening presents never lasts as long as she hopes. In spite of the rule to take turns, the boys tear into the stack, and soon wrapping paper is flying everywhere. Sammy starts to play with each new toy right away, only to drop them like hot potatoes when Dean points out another gift with his name on it.
When the area underneath the tree is bare, Mary rises to her feet. “Who wants pancakes?”
“Wait, wait,” John interrupts. “I’ve got one more for Dean.”
“For moving into Boy Scouts this year.” John goes to the coat closet and pulls a long, thin box off the top shelf.
Mary narrows her eyes. They never discussed any special present for Dean.
“I’m proud of you, son,” John says, handing Dean the box with a nod to open it.
It’s a BB gun.
Mary has a whirlwind of thoughts, starting with, I wonder if it’s a Red Ryder whatever whatever,
and moving to, We never discussed this
and How much did it cost,
and finally arriving at what she says aloud. “John, I don’t want any guns in my house.”
It’s too late, though. She knows it’s too late. Dean is already taking it out of the box and, worse, explaining how it works to her little baby, who’s probably going to ask for one for his birthday because he has to have everything Dean does. And now there is a gun in her house.
Well, okay, there have always been guns in her house, but nobody else knows about them, and the boys certainly wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near them if they did know.
“Come on, Mary, it’s just a BB.”
“John, no.” She knows they shouldn’t be having this discussion in front of the boys, but John shouldn’t have done this without talking to her first. “I don’t like guns. I don’t like what they mean. I don’t want him playing with that.”
“Come on, Mom,” Dean whines.
“I had one when I was his age,” John argues. “He can keep it at my house.”
“No! You’ll let him use it unsupervised, and then someone will get hurt.” She gestures wildly at Dean, who’s holding the gun so that it’s pointed at Sammy, and John carefully lowers the muzzle.
“Mom, Bradley Borne has one,” Dean tells her. As if that matters. Bradley Borne’s mother is lucky someone hasn’t sued the pants off her yet for unleashing her monster on Lawrence. She’s heartbroken to think Dean wants to follow in Bradley’s footsteps, even though she isn’t really that surprised.
She sighs. “It’s time for breakfast, boys. Go wash up.”1994
Although he and Mary get along okay, minus the typical divorced couple fights, it’s rare that she lets him take the boys for such a long period of time. He’s never really been sure what she thinks he’ll do – let them stay up all night drinking beer and eating Pop-Tarts or something – but he thinks it’s pretty funny, since she’s the one who’s fucking crazy.
Not that anybody in Lawrence except him thinks that. No, sir, who would believe Mary Winchester with her sensible heels and sugar sweet smile is a raving lunatic? Not the judge who awarded her custody of the boys, that’s for sure.
John’s not bitter. She makes more money than he does, and he probably would let them stay up all night watching TNG
and eating Pop-Tarts. Not drinking beer, though. He knows better. As much as Dean thinks he’s mature, he’s still just a kid.
This week, the boys are on spring break, and John took off work to be with them. He’s got a mental list of things they can do together: drive to Kansas City to go to Worlds of Fun, grill and eat outside, and if the weather’s warm enough, they’ll sleep outside, too, in sleeping bags under the stars.
He picks up Sammy first. The kid greets him with little enthusiasm and immediately opens a book and starts reading. It doesn’t matter. John knows the kid’ll perk up as soon as his big brother’s around. They seem to need that buffer.
They drive to the high school to get Dean. He’s much more excited, especially when a couple of his friends check out the Impala. “That’s right, fools, it’s all mine!” he taunts. John doesn’t bother correcting him.
“Well, boys,” he says once they’re on the road, “what do you think about renting some horror movies tonight?”
“Can’t,” Dean says, sliding on a pair of neon orange sunglasses. “Meeting the guys for burgers.”
John tries not to look disappointed. “Sammy?”
“It’s Sam,” he sighs. He doesn’t even look up from his book.
“Want to do something tonight? Maybe bowling?”
“I just want to finish reading this.”
It’s going to be a long week.1997
“Honest to god, I don’t know what to do with you anymore, Dean,” Mom says as she comes out of the principal’s office. “Fighting again? Really?”
As he follows her out to the car, Dean thinks bitterly about how she’s given up asking for his side of the story. That she implicitly trusted the principal, who implicitly trusted Adam Morris’s version of events – the one that had Dean throwing the first punch. Nobody bothered to find out that Adam had been taunting Dean about how Dad was “just a mechanic” and Mom was “hot on the outside and cold on the inside” and how Dean was lucky community colleges had to accept everyone. Mom doesn’t care anymore the reason behind Dean’s fights is that he’s defending his family. She’s given up on him the same way she gave up on Dad all those years ago.
When they get home, Mom slams her purse down on the table in the front hall and goes into the kitchen to start dinner. Dean trudges up the stairs, but Mom yells, “Dean, go check the mail. And take out the garbage.” He does what he’s told, since he’s just as sick of receiving punishment as she is of giving it. On the way back inside, he rifles through the mail and finds a thick package from KU. He lets out a sigh of relief.2001
“You want me to check?” Mom asks.
Sam shakes his head. They’ve been waiting for a month, and there’s no reason to believe today’s the day his rejection from Stanford will come. Still, Mom asks every day if she should check the mail for him, and he appreciates it. She gets it.
“I’ll be waiting when you get back,” she promises.
Sam makes the slow journey to the end of the driveway and opens the mailbox. It’s there. He can tell because it’s a thick manila envelope, and they never get mail like that. And it’s an acceptance. He knows because when he got rejected from Columbia, it came in a regular envelope, but his acceptance to his KU – the total fall-back school – came in a thick envelope.
He rushes back into the house with a triumphant grin. He and Mom tear into the packet and nearly forget to eat dinner as they start to make plans.2001
Dean was actually naive enough to think Mom would be happy about his decision, after he’d spent the last five months working at Dad’s garage. He knew she regarded that as beneath him, a waste of his college education. Dean thought she was being stuck-up. If it was good enough for Dad, it was good enough for him. It was hard, honest work, and he genuinely loved cars. But there’s something more important for him to do now, and he’d really appreciate it if his mother and brother were on board with this plan.
“You won’t be around for my graduation,” Sam says petulantly. Of course he would make this all about him. And of course he’s thinking about something that’s four years away.
Dean ignores him. “Mom, Dad fought in Vietnam. He’s a hero.”
“Did it ever occur to you that the reason people like your father fought in Vietnam was so you could grow up having a safe life?” she says sharply.
“Yeah, but, Mom, what about what’s going on in Afghanistan? Don’t we need to keep the world safe now, too?”
“You have a degree in business, Dean. What the hell good is that going to be when it comes to shooting guns at bad guys?”
Dean shrugs. “I only got that so I could take over the office work at the garage.”
“I’m not letting you spend the rest of your life working at your father’s shop,” Mom insists. “You went to college. You grew up safe. The whole world is yours.”
“I know,” Dean says with exasperation. “And I’ll get to see the world in the Army, Mom.”
“Can I say something?” Sam interrupts.
Dean breaks eye contact with his mother. “What?” he asks wearily. Sam’s home for Thanksgiving break, and it was clear from the second he walked off the plane that Stanford had changed him. Gave him a big head.
“September 11th was a really bad thing,” Sam says. “The Taliban are really bad, too, but maybe you’re rushing into this. Like how everybody rushed out to give blood.”
“People needed that blood, Sam. They were dying. Dad gave blood.”
“I know, I’m just saying that –”
Mom cuts him off. She never does that, so Dean knows how much she means it when she says, “I can’t support this decision.”
“Think about all those fights I used to get into. I can channel all that energy into something productive.”
“Assuming you think searching for terrorists in the middle of Asia is productive.” Mom shakes her head one more time. Then she puts a hand on Dean’s cheek. “I don’t mean to yell, honey, but you’re my special little angel. If anything ever happened to you...”
“I’ll be okay, Mom,” he whispers. He hates making her cry. 2004
“Hey, Sam, wait up,” Jess calls. She runs a little to catch up with him. “It’s my birthday,” she says breathlessly. She holds up a hand before Sam can apologize for not knowing or offer her well wishes. “I’m only saying that because it’s an excuse to have a party. A bunch of us are getting together tonight at Antonio’s for tacos and tequila. Will you come?”
Something occurs to Sam. “Wait, today’s
Jess blinks and looks around for someone with whom she can exchange a snarky look, but they’re alone. “Yes, that’s generally why people have birthday parties.”
“No, just –” Sam laughs. “Today’s my brother’s birthday, too.”
“The one in that picture on your nightstand?”
It takes Sam a second to figure out what she means, and then he remembers that he has a picture of Dean and Mom outside their house. But he doesn’t know when Jess was ever in his bedroom.
“It’s sweet,” she says, tucking a strand of blond hair behind her ear. “Most guys don’t have pictures of anyone on their nightstand. You’ve got your brother and your mom. I like that.” She smiles guilelessly. “So? Tacos and tequila?”
“The last time I had tequila, I woke up in Kyle’s room in my underwear with no memory of what happened,” Sam warns.
Jess’s grin turns predatory. “So that’s a yes, then.”2005
“Hey, Dad,” Dean says nervously. They haven’t talked in about six months, and he’s not sure if he’s currently on his father’s shit list or not.
“Sergeant Winchester,” Dad says warmly. “What’s going on?”
“Uh, I have some news,” Dean says. He’s pretty sure Dad will be supportive. Dad knows how important to him this is, even if Mom insists that this, like the Army, is too dangerous. “I’m moving to Virginia.”
There’s a long pause on the other end. “You got in? You got in! Hey, Carl, my son got into the FBI!” Dean grins into the receiver. “When do you leave? What happens next?” Dad fires off the questions. He’s as excited as Dean is.
But that wasn’t the real reason Dean called. Dean’s about to ask Dad to step foot into 1728 Barker, which Dad hasn’t done that since he stopped coming to Christmas when Dean was fourteen.
He tells Dad that Mom is throwing a party, even though she hates the idea of him joining the FBI, and asks if he’ll come. Dad is quiet for a long time.
“Dad, I know you hate her, but –”
“I don’t hate her. God, I don’t hate her. I love her probably more than anyone else in the world, except you and Sammy. I know you’re old enough to understand these things. Your mother and I – we weren’t compatible, Dean. Loved each other. She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. But we just don’t have anything in common. Except you boys. I think half the reason she married me was because she was so upset about losing her parents.”
“I’m not asking you to remarry her, Dad. I’m just asking you to come over for a barbecue. Please.”
Dad sighs. “I’ll think about it.”
Dean knows that means he won’t come. He’ll make it up to Dean, probably by taking him out to get drunk together and then kicking Dean’s ass at pool. He’ll apologize and swear to Dean that he’s one of the two most important things in his world, right alongside Sam, but that lip service won’t let him put his own drama aside for a few hours to come over to the house. Everybody’s drama comes before Dean’s.
It’s part of the reason he’s always looking for ways to leave.II. Delicate Sound of Thunder2005
Sam waits patiently for his coffee to come up. He still feels guilty about his new caffeine habit. It’s bad for his body and bad for his wallet, and his mother would die if she knew how much money he spent on his daily latte. But grabbing a coffee on the way to class is part of the culture on campus, and Sam got sucked in before he realized what was happening. Now he’s addicted.
And sometimes he likes pretending he fits in with the other students, the ones who aren’t the first in their family to consider graduate school and who aren’t on need-based financial aid.
He thanks the barista when his order is ready and sips lightly as he makes his way to class. There’s just a little more than a month to go until the LSAT, and Sam’s mind is admittedly elsewhere during the economics lecture. Here’s all the economics Sam needs to know at this point in his life: applying to law school is freaking expensive, getting fee waivers is a cumbersome process, and buying four-dollar coffee every day isn’t exactly helping.
Mom nearly burst with pride when he told his intentions when he was home in August. She promised they’d find the money somehow, but Sam’s already burdened her enough with tuition, room and board, and the flights back and forth from San Francisco to Kansas City. He would have stopped coming home during breaks and stayed with one of his West Coast friends, but Mom’s all by herself since Dean moved back east. And Sam has to admit he likes being taken care of.
After class he rides his bike home, where Jess is doing a damn good job as the other person who takes care of him. There are chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven and a new vase of flowers on the table. She greets him with a kiss on her way out the door to her lit seminar.
Sam thinks he’s pretty lucky that his girlfriend wanted to go to graduate school at Stanford, instead of transferring. He can’t imagine what it would have been like if he’d done his extra semester of undergrad while she was off somewhere else, meeting new friends and being a TA and having a totally different life. Instead, they’ve set up house together, and it’s awesome. They fit together really well. And, practically speaking, it’s a lot cheaper sharing the bills – Sam’s working two jobs as it is and barely making ends meet.
He has another class at one, so he doesn’t have a lot of time for lunch. But, given his coffee addiction, he thinks it’s wise to come home and eat for free. Plus, when he lived in the dorms, he ate a lot of campus food, and he got tired of it pretty quickly.
He puts a pot of water on the stove and goes to check his mail while he waits for it to boil. He loses track of time, posting stupid things on his friends’ Facebook walls, before his stomach growls and reminds him why he’s home. He rushes back into the kitchen, only to find that he’d never turned the burner on. It’s 12:40, and the pasta will take ten minutes to cook after the water boils, which will take another five minutes.
“Damn it.” He flips the burner on but then opens the refrigerator to see if there’s anything else besides cookies that won’t take any cooking. When he looks back at the stove, the water is already boiling. “Huh. That was fast.”
* * * * *
Professor Marshall has a complicated system for reporting grades that involves surface anonymity and lots of competition between students. Before class begins that Tuesday, he has the spreadsheet projected on the wall in front of them so they can see how they did on the last quiz. Sam looks toward the top, since he’s usually in first or second place, but BobaFett83 is all the way at number five. He suppresses his shock and anger and tries to pay attention through class, but when he gets home, he sets his book down on his desk and rants to Jess for a good five minutes. Somewhere during their conversation, the book flies off the desk and into the opposite wall. He and Jess look at each other, stunned and confused, and then they both start laughing. No way did that just happen.
* * * * *
Jess tells everyone who will listen about their collective hallucination, and after the fourth or fifth retelling, Sam decides literature is definitely the right field for her. She spins a pretty fantastic story. The first time, it was because their apartment is haunted. The second time, it was Mr. Elephant, finally showing them that he’s sentient after all. Today it’s because the textbook was magnetized, and their neighbor had activated an electron magnet. Her friend Cynthia, who thinks her love for science fiction is a secret, asks Jess why everything else in their apartment wasn’t attracted to the magnet wall. Jess rolls her eyes and explains that the neighbor was also harboring a deep-seated jealousy of Sam’s career as the President of the United States – the Lex Luthor to Sam’s Clark Kent, she says – and stealing his textbooks was the first step in destroying Sam’s future glory.
* * * * * *
Sam forgets their date. He feels like a total asshole about it, and it’s not really an excuse, but he’s been studying extra late because of the approaching LSATs. He’s still working on his law school application personal statement, and on October 26 he stays late in the library with his cell phone silenced until 9:30, when he remembers their dinner plans and sees the six text messages Jess has sent him.
As he rides his bike up to their building, he sees Jess’s unmistakable pink coat under the streetlight. She’s talking with some guy Sam has never seen before. They’re standing awfully close to each other, and Sam loses his breath for a second.
He stops and watches, half-fascinated and half-terrified. Whoever the guy is, he clearly knows Jess well. He puts a hand on her arm while he talks, and Sam wonders why she never mentioned him or introduced him. Jess wipes her cheek with the crook of her finger. She’s crying. Sam hopes it’s not because of him but already hates himself in case it is. And if it’s not, then he should be the one offering reassurance. They wouldn’t need to stand outside in the cold, either. Sam would take her inside, where it’s bright and warm, and put her to bed.
The guy leans forward toward Jess, and Sam can’t take it anymore. He feels like he’s going to burst inside with how angry and jealous he is. He’s never felt like this before. Unlike Dean Sam has never thrown a punch. He’s like Mom in that respect – he’s not sure he believes there is ever a necessary violence. Right now, though, he wants to rip this guy’s head off.
But before he can do anything, the guy doubles over, clutching his side.
He and Jess get the guy – Colin – to the hospital in Colin’s car. They sit in the waiting room together, holding hands and waiting for Colin to be released or for someone to tell them he’s been admitted and they should go home.
“So who is he?” Sam asks after a solid half-hour of silence.
“You know,” Jess says, squeezing their joined hands with her other one, “I totally appreciate that you waited this long to ask. You’re a class act, Winchester.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Except for the part where you were spying on us.”
Sam gapes at her. “How did you...”
“Pretty convenient that you showed up on the scene right as his appendix burst or whatever.”
Jess never gives him a satisfying answer about what was going on with Colin, but Sam figures it’s his fault for being a jerk who forgot about their romantic dinner date. He decides he’s lucky she doesn’t break his neck for standing her up.
The more he thinks about, though, the more he realizes it wasn’t convenient that he showed up when he did. It was coincidental that something happened to Colin right as he thought about striking out for the first time.
* * * * *
“Sammy, what’s up?”
Sam rolls his eyes. “It’s Sam, Mother,” he reminds her. “I – okay, this is going to sound totally weird, but I – do you believe in voodoo?”
There’s such a long silence that Sam thinks maybe they got disconnected. When Mom finally speaks, her voice sounds different than Sam has ever heard it. “Why do you ask?”
“You promise you won’t think I’m crazy?”
Sam tells her about the boiling water and the flying textbook and then Colin. He spends an extra long amount of time on Colin because he doesn’t want Mom to think badly of Jess and because he knows the logical conclusion most people would reach is that Colin’s appendix had become inflamed hours before and he was ignoring the signs.
Mom listens patiently. She’s never treated Sam like he was crazy, not when he was obsessing about his grades or making the soccer team. When he was in high school and practicing arguments for the debate team, she never made him feel like a dumb kid. He always felt like he had her respect. Maybe it’s because they’re so alike.
One of the things Sam worries about in secret, something he’ll never tell anyone, not even Jess, is that graduating from one of the top-ranked institutions in the world and becoming a lawyer will change his relationship with his mother. She has an associate’s degree and works as a bookkeeper at a carpet company. She’s the most wonderful person Sam knows, next to Jess, but he knows they will soon live in different worlds.
Mom spends two hours on the phone with him, until Sam is reassured enough to go to bed. She makes him promise to call on November 2, the anniversary of her parents’ death. Even thirty years later, Mom honors the day by looking through photo albums and having a special dinner. Sam says he will and hangs up. He crawls into bed next to Jess and squeezes Mr. Elephant to his chest.
* * * * *
There are better ways Mary Winchester would like to spend her lunch hour than driving over to the garage to talk to her ex-husband. He’ll probably dismiss her as crazy, reminding them both of how things fell apart twenty-odd years ago. But she’s not willing to take any risks when it comes to her baby, so this is a conversation she and John have to have.
He spots her as she walks up and wipes his hands off with the towel that was tucked into his belt. He says something too quiet for her to hear to one of the other mechanics and then jerks his head in the direction of the office. She follows him in.
“What’s going on, Mary?”
She puts her purse down on an empty chair. “At the risk of opening up all the old wounds, I’m here to tell you that the day has finally come.”
John rolls his eyes. “Come on, Mary, give me a break.”
“Damn it, John, I wish you would just listen to me once. Trust me once. Your son is in danger.”
That sobers him a little. “What happened?”
“He put another kid in the hospital.”
“Was this at work or in a bar?”
“Not Dean, John,” she sighs. “Sam. And that’s not all. He’s moving things with his mind.”
John looks at her for a long minute. His eyes have always been kind, if a little wide to the world. She never understood how someone who fought in Vietnam could come back so innocent, but it’s one of the things she loved about him. She just never realized how that innocence would affect their relationship. As much as she tried to keep all that stuff away from their home, it still managed to worm its way back in.
John laughs. It starts as a chuckle and turns into a full belly laugh. He clutches his stomach and throws his head back.
“Oh, fuck you, John.” She never swears, but he can still bring out that vicious side of her. “Someone was in his room that night, and whatever they wanted from him, it’s happening now.”
“Pretty convenient, right before he graduates. You’re just afraid to let him go. Manufacturing conspiracies.” He shakes his head. “I hate to tell you, but Elvis really is dead.”
“Damn it, John, if anything happens…”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to Sammy.” He wipes at the corner of his eye. “I gotta get back to work, Mar. Thanks for the laugh.”
* * * * *
John’s still thinking about Mary’s visit when he goes home that night. It’s unbelievable that she’s still clinging to a story from twenty years ago. Unbelievable that he has a steady job, a clear mind, and plenty of love to give his boys, yet she’s the one who got custody. That was the ’80s. Damn judge assumed a crazy woman would be a better parent than a respectable man.
He loves Sammy, a lot, even if they aren’t as close as he and Dean. He wishes things were different. He thinks about his boy all the time, wonders if he’s in class and what he’s studying, contemplates calling. But he usually doesn’t because it’s hard for them to talk to each other. He gets the scoop from Dean, if Dean knows anything. These days, he doesn’t.
He decides it’s worth an awkward few minutes on the phone just to make sure. Even if Mary’s nuts, he can say hi to his boy. He calls his cell phone, but there’s no answer.
* * * * *
The only time Sam ever stood her up was the night Colin Hallstrom ended up in the hospital. Even then, Sam was only two hours late. He’s never disappeared first thing in the morning without calling or leaving a note. He’s never gone eight hours without responding to her voicemails and texts.
By dinner Jess has moved from annoyed and confused to worried. She starts calling their friends to see if anyone’s heard from Sam. No one has.
She intends to stay up all night, worrying and waiting, but she passes out on the couch around three. When she wakes up at six, she berates herself for the slip. She keeps herself busy and awake with a pot of coffee. At eight she starts calling friends again.
At lunchtime she finds Sam’s phone buried underneath a balled-up sweatshirt in the corner of the bathroom. The battery is dead. She plugs it in and checks his messages, most of which are from her anyway. She tries to imagine why Sam would leave the house first thing in the morning without his phone. He might forget to turn the ringer on, but he never forgets his phone.
She scrolls through the contact list and presses the green button when she finds the number she wants.
“Sammy, what’s up?”
“Mary, it’s Jess. Sam is missing.”
* * * * *
“I told you something was going to happen, and you wouldn’t listen to me!”
“All right,” John concedes, “do you really want to scream at me right now, or do you want to figure out what we’re going to do?”
“I’m taking off work and flying to California,” Mary tells him. “My flight’s in three hours.”
“I’m going with you.”
“Can you really afford to close the garage?”
“Are you really asking me if my work is more important than my son?”
“No, but, John, there are things – this might not be the kind of thing you –”
“Don’t start in with the demons again, Mary!” he yells. Rationally John knows that Sam is probably off doing something stupid, having one last hurrah before he graduates. Maybe he found another girl and doesn’t know how to let Jess down easy. But the irrational part of him is panicking. Sam’s his youngest, and they’ve collectively lost so many members of their family – his parents, Mary’s parents, his brother – and Dean’s halfway across the country.
“We need to call Dean,” John says.
“I don’t think Dean can do anything.”
“The FBI handles missing persons, don’t they? I’m calling him. I’ll call you back when I have a plane ticket.” He hangs up before she has a chance to answer and immediately dials his son. There’s no answer, but that’s not surprising. They don’t know much about Dean’s work; he’s not allowed to talk about a lot of it. But if FBI training is anything like boot camp, the poor kid’s probably sweating his balls off right now. “Dean, it’s Dad. Something happened to Sammy. Your mom’s on her way to California. Call me when you get this.”III. Armageddon It
The first thing Dean thinks when he hears Dad’s message is, Little bitch better not being getting my dad all worked up for nothin’.
The second thing he thinks is that he’s a jerk of a big brother. He and Sammy aren’t really that close. Sammy never wants to go hunting or fishing with him and Dad – he doesn’t have the stomach for it – and Dean never wants to watch black and white movies with Sam and Mom. Nothing ever blows up in those movies. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love his brother. He’s loved him since the first time Mom helped Dean hold him. Sammy was really tiny and wearing a blue hat. His fingers were stuck together, and his face was purple, and he didn’t even open his eyes.
“This is your brother Sam,” Dad had said. “It’s your job to look out for him now.”
All Dean wanted was to do something important. By setting a good example for Sam when they were little, and then after some airplanes crashed into buildings, he saw a new way to leave his mark on the world.
Sam and Mom never understood what the Army did for him. The teenager who always got in trouble when all he was really doing was standing up for the underdog – the Army gave that guy a place to focus all his energy. The college student who didn’t think he was smart enough to make it to graduation – the Army showed that guy he had an ear for Arabic. The son who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps but wasn’t sure it was the right time – the Army sent that guy to the other side of the world, where fields and trees were replaced with mountains and rocks, where there wasn’t any freshly baked apple pie, where everything was life or death, but they were doing something important. The Army made Dean feel like he had something to offer the world. He knew his family loved him, but they never made him feel that way.
Signing up for a second tour wasn’t even a question. Mom cried for half an hour on the phone when he told her. He didn’t bothering telling Sammy.
He didn’t tell any of them about the FBI at first. He was too embarrassed that he wouldn’t be accepted. Everyone knew Sam was the brains of the family. Plus, he didn’t want to make Mom cry again.
It hadn’t remained a secret for long, thanks to the bureau’s careful screening process. Dean hoped that Sam would be amazed, maybe look at him with hero worship, the way he had a long time ago when they were much, much younger. Instead Sam was quiet through that first dinner after he and Mom found out. When they’d retreated upstairs that night, Sam came into Dean’s room and spoke quietly about the Bush administration and Guantanamo Bay and how he just didn’t know if he could support Dean if he wanted to be a part of any of that. The kid was too smart for his own good, but too inexperienced in the world not to realize that there was a difference between reading the news and actually going out and doing something. Dean didn’t want to be a federal agent because he wanted power; he wanted to serve. And he knew from his experience in the Army that this was the best way.
Sam didn’t agree, and they haven’t really talked much since.
The FBI training program is exhilarating. Dean is being pushed intellectually, physically, morally. Living in dorms again reminds him of the Army, and he revels in the company of so many like-minded people. Twenty weeks is a long time to be under such a demanding regimen, but if he can make it through boot camp and active duty, he knew he could make it.
He tries to dismiss Dad’s message. Sammy’s weird. He’s probably holed up in a library or something. No reason for everybody to freak out.
But there’s a message from Mom and that makes him start to worry. “He didn’t call me on the second, Dean,” she says gravely. Nobody ever forgets November 2. It’s the most important day of the year for their mother, and even though Dean thinks she’s nurturing an unhealthy obsession with her parents’ death after so many years, he and Sam always make sure to see her if they’re in town or call her if they aren’t. Even when he was deployed, he’d managed to get off at least an email.
It’s the third message that pushes him over the edge. “Um, you don’t know me, but my name is Jessica Moore. I live with your brother.”
How did he not know Sam was living with a girl?
“He hasn’t been home in three days. I know you guys don’t really talk much, but I was wondering if you’d heard from him. Or, if you haven’t, I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions. I filed a missing persons report, but I don’t think anyone’s taking me seriously.” Her voice breaks then, and she cries into the phone, making the rest of the message garbled. But Dean understands something to the effect of, “You’re my last hope.”
Dean ends the call to his voicemail and starts throwing things a bag. He’s not really thinking about what it will mean to leave Quantico. He just knows he needs to be in California right now. Even if it turns out that Sam’s down in TJ doing belly shots, Dean needs to be in California to wring his neck when he gets back and then tell him to email more often.
But something in his gut tells him Sam’s not in Tijuana.
He grabs his duffel and walks out. Gets a ride to the rental car place and then takes off at 80 miles an hour with Led Zeppelin blasting from the speakers.
Forty-two hours and three thousand miles later, he pulls up in front of Sam’s apartment building in California.
* * * * *
Mom is sitting at the kitchen table with some pretty blonde he assumes is Jess. They offer him chocolate chip cookies and, after some preliminary talk, Jess retreats to her bedroom. The minute she’s gone, Mom gets a look on her face like things are about to get serious.
“Honey,” she says, laying a hand on his forearm, “we need to talk about November 2.”
“Mom, Sam’s missing and you want to talk about your dead parents?”
“Sam disappeared on November 2.” She gives him a minute to digest that. “It’s all related, Dean. My father was a hunter.”
Dean’s first thought is that his interest in guns is totally justified by genetics.
“He hunted demons.”
Dean flashes back to an old memory, so old it’s grown fuzzy around the edges and he’s not entirely sure he can trust it anymore. Sitting at the kitchen table on a sunny afternoon, baby Sammy asleep upstairs. Mom’s on the phone in the kitchen, whispering quietly, and Dad’s gone. He hasn’t been home in three days, and Mom’s upset, so Dean gives her a hug and promises he’ll never leave her.
That’s how he’s always remembered it, anyway, but right now, sitting in Sam’s kitchen, he remembers her whispering about demons into the phone. He remembers that it scared him, and she gave him apple pie and played outside with him until he forgot what he heard.
“Demons? Demons, Mom! This – this is why Dad left you.”
She slaps him so fast neither of them realize that’s what she’s doing, and then she puts a hand over her mouth in shock. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“I deserved it.”
Mom has never hit him once in his life. Neither has Dad, though on rare occasions when he was really pissed, he threatened to. Mom never did that. She always trotted out the tired line that violence is not the answer. Tell that to an insurgent who’s got a bomb strapped to his chest, is what Dean thinks now that he’s an adult.
“I know how crazy it sounds, Dean, believe me. Do you remember the fire?” Dean nods. He can still remember the sound of the smoke alarm going off and the smell of burning wood and carpet. They were lucky they all made it out alive, especially Sammy, since it started in his room. For awhile he wanted to be a firefighter or an electrician.
“It wasn’t faulty wiring,” Mom tells him. “I saw someone in the room that night.”
“Mom, we’ve been over this.”
“I am not crazy,” she says again. He’s not certain, but she is his mother, so he decides to let her finish. “There was a man standing over Sammy’s crib right before the fire started. I didn’t get Sammy out because of the fire. I got Sammy out because of him.”
She’s always claimed that, but he remembers that some of the worst arguments between her and Dad were about that night. It was about six months after the fire that she and Dad sat him down and explained what divorce was.
“It wasn’t a man, Dean. It was a demon. I don’t know what he did to Sam, but I know that’s why he’s gone now.”
“A demon,” Dean repeats, hoping it will sound more plausible if he says it. It doesn’t.
“Whatever he did to Sam started manifesting a few days ago. He put a kid in the hospital.”
“Sammy did?” Dean’s proud. He never pegged his brother for a bar room brawl champion.
“He caused someone’s appendix to rupture. He made water boil with his mind. He has telekinetic powers.” Mom looks at him and must remember she’s dealing with the family moron because she adds, “He can make things move with his mind.”
He’s starting to understand why Dad has such a hard time talking to her like she’s a regular person. “And you think this demon took him?”
To her credit, Mom isn’t all perturbed by his obvious sarcasm and disbelief. She pulls a bundle of papers out of her bag and slaps them on the table. “Andrew Gallagher, Scott Carey, Jake Talley, Max Miller. They all had fires in their nurseries when they were six months old, and they all disappeared this week.”
Dean looks down at the collection of faces and then back at his mother. His whole life, he’d tried to forget the things he’d heard her and Dad argue about before their divorce and every now and then when they met to pass him and Sam off. He’d tried to forget because he didn’t want to believe someone as beautiful and strong and smart as his mother was psychotic. But looking through her research and listening to her story, he can’t help but wonder if what’s she saying is true.
And, in the end, it doesn’t matter if she is. Their priority right now is Sam.
“We need to find him,” he says.
“I’ve got a lead on another one who hasn’t disappeared. You need sleep, or…?”
He definitely hasn’t slept enough to be healthy, but he tells her, “I’m good.”
“All right, get your stuff. We’re going to San Rafael.”
“That’s where this other girl is.”
“Mom…” Dean licks his lips. “I thought we’d go to the police station and see if they’ll tell me anything. And when I fly back to Virginia, I’ll see if I can pull some strings.”
She taps an index finger at the table. “This is our answer. Not the government.”
Mom always talked about civic pride and duty when they were growing up. She pressed upon them the importance of voting and not littering.
“So, what, you’re a vigilante now?” He rubs his forehead. “Where’s Dad?”
“He’s coming. He should be here tomorrow.” She sees the look on his face and rolls right over him. “I’m not waiting for your father to start this investigation. Every second we waste not going to San Rafael is another second Sammy’s gone.”
“Mom, believe me, I want to get Sammy back safely, but shouldn’t we look around Stanford before we start driving all over the country chasing demons?”
There’s an uncomfortable silence. Dean can’t look at his mother, so he concentrates instead on the pattern of the chocolate chips in the cookie in front of him. He can tell Mom’s crying.
“I can’t do this alone.”
He sighs. He’s not sure if she’s really crazy, or if this is really the best way to find his brother, but she’s his mother, and he’s not going to be a total asshole to her. “You’ve got me until Monday, and then I have to go back.”
Mom knocks on the bedroom door while Dean swipes bottles of water from the fridge and, for good measure, a few extra cookies. He can hear them talking softly, Jess sniffing and asking if Mom really thinks they can help, and Mom telling her they’re going to San Rafael to find out. She doesn’t mention the other people who have disappeared.
Jess trails Mom to the front door to lock it up behind them. “Please,” she says, grabbing Dean’s wrist. “Please find him.”
“We will,” he promises.
Mom lets him take the driver’s side. She’s busy sifting through the papers. Dean wants to say something, to talk about this new family history she claims for them, but he’s not sure how to begin. He tries to remember the last time he and Mom had a serious conversation and thinks it might have been when he was still in high school.
They head to San Rafael, only to find that Lily Armstrong disappeared on Tuesday.
* * * * *
Two days later, and Dean feels like he’s walked into another universe. For one thing, his mother and father are sharing a room at a Day’s Inn. They’ve talked more in the last twenty-four hours than the last twenty years. And then there’s the part where nobody thinks Mom’s crazy anymore. She’s got maps of California and the United States taped to the wall of their room. There are newspaper clippings, excerpts from weather almanacs, and photos of the other disappeared people she warned him about. She tells Dean and Dad everything she knows about demons – how they possess bodies, how they can’t get out of this weird pentagram design, everything.
Dean can’t believe he really thought her anemia was the reason they always had so much salt in the house growing up.
They’ve promised Jess they’ll be over for dinner. Her friends have been keeping her busy, but it’s clear she wants to be around the Winchesters. Something about Mom calms her, and she keeps looking at Dean like he’s her brother, not Sam’s, and like he holds all the answers.
Dad takes the first shower, and Mom says she’s running an errand, so she’ll be out of the room while he and Dean get dressed. She comes back an hour later with three shotguns and two pistols. She’s wearing a new outfit.
“How much did all this cost you?” Dad wonders.
“How did you get guns without a permit or a three-day wait?” Dean asks. He runs his fingertips along one of them. He hasn’t even been issued his FBI weapon yet, won’t until he’s graduated from the academy. He’s jealous some suburban civilian mom can just walk out and get five.
“First thing I’ll teach you,” Mom says. “No permits, no real names. Nothing traceable.”
Dean’s a few weeks away from working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He can’t abide this. “Mom…”
“It’s for Sam.”
He’s going to be so screwed when he gets back.
“God, Mary, all those years, you yelling at me about hunting…”
Mom strokes Dad’s cheek with an expression on her face that’s sad and nostalgic. “I never wanted you to be a part of this life.” She looks at Dean. “Either of you.”
They head to Jess’s in silence.
* * * * *
After dinner, Dean is driving back to the Day’s Inn when he tells them both that he’s flying to Virginia in the morning.
“What about Sam?” Mom asks.
Dean feels awful. He wants to stay and search for his brother. He knows it looks to her, like he’s giving up on Sam to pursue his own dreams. He’s learned more in the last few days than he ever thought possible, but he has to go back if he expects to have any hope of not being booted from the academy. Besides, he’s met a few people there, and their best bet is working from the inside.
“I can do more from Quantico,” he says, but he’ll be lucky if they take him back at all.
Mom doesn’t say anything else. Neither does Dad.
They’re two blocks down the road when a fire truck passes them by, headed in the opposite direction. Up and down the street, the lights are flickering on and off. Then the radio starts goes wacky. Dean reaches to turn it off, but Mom stops him.
“Turn the car around, Dean,” she orders. “Now.”
He remembers what Mom told them about the night of the fire, and something clenches inside him. He pulls a U-turn and drives back to Jess and Sam’s building. It’s on fire.
Without thinking Dean rushes inside.
He kicks open the door to Sam’s apartment and runs around looking for Jess. He can barely see through the smoke, but the fire is spreading down the walls. His lungs and eyes burn. He races around, calling Jess’s name and hoping she’s already out of the building.
She’s pinned to the ceiling of the bedroom. Her stomach is cut open, and there’s blood dripping down on the bed. There’s fire all around her, but it’s not touching her, like whatever started it wanted to give them time to see her. The fire soon spreads to the walls and molding, and Dean can feel the heat singeing his eyebrows.
It doesn’t register that someone has wrapped their arms around Dean, pulling him out of the room until he hears himself screaming, “Jess! No!” His arms flail wildly, grabbing for anything, and he snags Mr. Elephant before he’s wrestled out the door.
They’re all the way outside, collapsed on the lawn, before the guy lets go, and Dean sees that the person who rescued him was his father.
They remained sprawled on the grass in front of the building. A moment later, Mom comes and sits beside them. They sit there for hours, until the fire trucks have all left. Nobody ever comes out with a body. Jess is lost to the fire.
The sun is nearly up when they start walking toward the car. It’s five in the morning, and Dean’s flight is in an hour and a half. But he doesn’t care anymore. His brother’s whole future just went up in smoke – his home, his school books, his girlfriend. Jess is dead because of whatever this is, and Sam’s out there alone.
“We’re gonna find Sam,” he announces. He’s never been more serious or more sure.
“What about the FBI?” Dad asks.
He opens the trunk of the rental car and sets Mr. Elephant reverently atop the arsenal his mother has stashed there. A reminder to them that whatever comes next, whatever violence they’re forced to undertake, it’s all for the sake of saving his brother.
“We’ve got work to do,” he says, and slams the trunk shut.