Title: Dimming of the Day
JT was whistling, nothing in particular, just a little under his breath as he walked out of the Charlotte, North Carolina airport to head back home. He had been in Tuamotus, an island off of Tahiti for a week to do one of the shots for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
The Sports Illustrated people had contacted him after seeing some photos he had taken of the team behind the scenes. They said it was reminiscent of Walter Iooss, who started his career taking pictures of ballplayers before being chosen by SI for swimsuit pictures. They also liked the angle of a ballplayer being a guest photographer. They made it clear it would be one shot, but that was fine with JT, especially after the Walter Iooss compliment. It was a challenge to take a posed shot, work with the model and the amazing environment for a perfect photo.
He had been with the Red Sox for five years now; Sam and Joshua were re-negotiating his contract for another two years. The sticking point was the no trade agreement. He wanted to finish his career with the Sox. JT was not going to play baseball forever. He had been very lucky to have been playing this long, especially with his other responsibilities with The Brotherhood.
Hunters were invited to every game, whether home or away, JT's seats were filled with hunters of The Brotherhood, proud to see one of their own get some recognition even if it wasn't for saving an innocent. JT was humbled by the attention. Because of the baseball schedule he was not assigned as many hunts as others, lucky to get in one or two salt and burns on the off season. He helped on research and advising as much as possible, but JT knew it wasn't enough for the next Guardian, especially one who was a legacy. He had to prove himself a lot more than the others to show that his father had made the right decision to choose his son as his heir apparent.
"JT, don't worry, two more years is nothing." His father had told him at the farm when he had visited before going off to the Sports Illustrated shoot. "Your old man isn't going anywhere, and neither is the supernatural."
"Dad, it's not right," JT had protested, wanting to make his father understand that he did not want a free pass. He had a duty, a calling. "I know Grandpa wants us all to have normal lives, but maybe this is taking it to another level." JT had been on two World Series teams, one ring he kept, the other had gone to his father to recognize how his father had supported him.
Dad had clapped him on the back to reassure him. "No one is complaining. You pull your own weight and then some with minding Max and James."
JT tried to set his mind at ease, but it was a perpetual nagging thought, enough so that he, Max and James were supposed to meet up for a hunt after he finished the shoot. It was also a consolation prize for Max who had begged to come along to Tuamotus, wanting to enjoy himself with the sand, exotic locale, surf and models.
"J, I'll comp my ticket-" Max had tried again, James thankfully was busy in school or else he would have been begging right along side his roommate.
"Dude, I'm working," JT had repeated.
"I can be your assistant." Max lifted a camera and held it out, upside down.
JT just retorted by lifting his brows in doubt and righting the camera. Max would not make a good photographer's assistant. He was accustomed to being his own boss at the restaurant.
Max deflated, knowing he had lost the argument. "What a waste with you being all monogamous," Max said as if being with one woman was a curse word.
He had been dating Sydney Matthews again, his high school flame. "I'll get some phone numbers for you, invite them to Sawyer's," JT added.
"I don't want you being my pimp, J. I do all right on my own," Max quipped with a smirk.
No matter, JT had exacted promises from some of the models to visit Sawyer's and ask about their executive chef. He also collected some phone numbers, which he would give his best friend when Max started whining about not being included on the trip.
He traveled light, a backpack to carry his belongings to the far away, isolated island. Cellphone coverage along with everything else was spotty, but it was breathtaking, and refreshing to be without technology for awhile.
He walked out of the Charlotte airport, headed to his truck he had parked there over a week ago. He rode in silence, not wanting to ruin the mood the island had left him in even though he'd had a long flight.
When he got home and saw the Impala in his driveway, his Zen-like attitude vanished in an instant to be replaced by a hole in the pit of his stomach. He was not expecting any visitors; he was due by the farm sometime tomorrow after some sleep. He left his backpack in the car, and hurried to his front door, which was left unlocked. They were waiting for him to get home.
"Dad?" JT called out as he strode into the house. His father and Uncle Caleb were sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for him, waiting to deliver the bad news.
"What happened? Jimmy? Max? Ben?" He tried to think about the hunts each were on and the risks they would face. His mind blanked.
Caleb shook his head. "No, the boys are fine."
JT sighed, a feeling of relief filling in that hole in his stomach. "Were you nearby?" He asked, thinking of the only other reason for a visit. "I don't think there is any food in the refrigerator." Caleb had given JT the house, saying it belonged to an artist who needed inspiration by the sea. JT appreciated the refuge.
His father pushed away from the table and stood in front of JT. "JT, Sydney was killed yesterday."
"What?" JT took a step back. He had misunderstood, the jetlag was affecting him.
His father reached out to him, kept him anchored. "She was visiting her father at the college and there was a shooting. Sydney got caught in the crossfire."
JT shook his head, trying to clear it. "I don't understand."
"The funeral is set for tomorrow," Uncle Caleb started. "Sam and Joshua are already in Texas with Eli and Elijah. The boys are going to meet us there. We came to get you."
"JT, sit down, Son." His father guided him to one of the kitchen chairs.
It was all white noise. They were talking to him, but when his brain was asked to process what they were saying, he couldn't grasp the concept. "We had plans. She can't be dead." JT clasped his hands behind his neck. They were going to get engaged soon, then get married eventually. They were going to have a life together.
Caleb squeezed his shoulder. "We packed some stuff for you. I'm going to take it to the car," Uncle Caleb announced, excusing himself so JT was alone with his dad.
His father placed a cool hand on the back of his neck. "The whack job that did it killed himself."
"Dad," JT swallowed all his feelings. "What am I supposed to do?" He was lost; in disbelief that Sydney was actually dead. Secretly, he thought it was all a mistake or he'd wake up from a nightmare.
His father bent down in front of him. "We need to go to the funeral. Can you do that? We'll be there for you, JT."
JT nodded, unable to speak and allowed his father to take the reins.
Dean was a father who reacted from his gut. Being a hunter and older brother had been good practice. When Sam had lost Jessica, he gave his brother space, but also a presence. Dean had been willing to listen and be there like a brother and a best friend.
His son had been so silent. Uncomfortable small talk about his trip in short sentences had punctuated the stillness as a distraction. Caleb had started the topic halfheartedly to anchor his son. What his boy needed was his brothers and best friend.
They met them at the airport, James and Max had a flight that brought them in a little earlier than Dean, Caleb and JT. They were waiting in baggage claim.
James hugged his brother, stayed close by his side, even taking the bag that JT had looped over his shoulder.
"We got a rental," Max handed the keys to Dean,
Dean pulled Max in closer. "Don't leave him alone. You got it?"
Max looked over his shoulder at his best friend. "I understand, Sir."
"Dad? Mom said to call her," James reported.
Juliet was going to fly out later so she could be there for the service. Dean knew she wanted to check in on JT to make sure he was holding up. Dean glanced at Caleb.
"Tell me you boys got an SUV and not a minivan," Caleb said as he corralled the boys to give Dean a moment of privacy.
He took only a moment to talk to Juliet and assure her that he was watching over JT. She mentioned something cryptic about James, but he didn't have the time to decipher. He would ask Juliet about that later.
Caleb had made the hotel arrangements, close to the church and funeral home. Sidney would of course be cremated. They had enough time to change and go to the funeral home. Dean had planned it that way, not giving JT much downtime to think. There would be plenty of time later to mourn and react.
Dean had to brace himself before entering the funeral home. He and Caleb greeted some of the hunters who were outside smoking. Ethan was the first one to greet them when they entered. It seemed as if the wall was holding him up. There was no usual grin when he acknowledged them. He gripped JT's shoulder as he talked to the group.
"Lane's trying to keep it together. He's with Cecily." He gestured to the seats that had been set out in front of the casket. People were keeping a distance from Lane and Cecily, their dark heads together in discussion. "I'm trying to get Eli and Jane to take a breather."
Dean saw JT swallow as he glanced at Cecily. Identical twins, the spitting image of her dead sister, and it was disturbing. The boys had told them the girls had distinct personalities, but Dean knew the girl would be known after this day as the sister who was still alive.
JT cleared his throat. "We need to pay our respects." He moved out of Ethan's grasp, squared his shoulders to face the rest of the bereaved immediate family. Dean allowed his son to lead the way so he could view the room for a moment.
Sam and Joshua were in the corner talking, then came up to him and Caleb as they waited in the line. It was small talk, not much to cover as they had been in constant contact for the last few days. Sam did give special attention to JT, gripping his arm in condolence along with whispering in his ear. JT gave a curt nod.
Jane was dazed without Eli she would have sagged into nothingness. When JT appeared she turned away from him, choking back a sob when it looked like her small frame could not be wrenched any further.
Eli opened his arms and embraced JT as did Jane when she recovered. They remained huddled together for a moment without speaking. Eli thanked them all for coming, not bothering to wipe away the tears from red rimmed eyes. This was the worst that could happen to a parent, to lose a child. Eli would never recover from this blow, but would learn to carry on for the sake of his family. Dean wondered if he would throw himself into hunts. He would have to pay careful attention to the Matthews family.
It was in times like these Dean understood John Winchester's sacrifice. It was the same one he would make for his children, for his family, because it was hard to be the one left behind.
Max ushered JT and James to where Cecily and Lane were sitting. They were peers bonded by The Brotherhood. Dean shifted sideways so he was in on the conversation with Caleb, Eli and Joshua, but could also watch his son who looked pale and uncomfortable.
Caleb gently nudged him with an elbow. "Sam's going to talk to him."
His brother swooped in, pulling JT away from Cecily and Lane. Dean felt relieved that his son was in good hands.
Dean made his way through the room, checking his phone to see if Juliet was in yet. He had yet to receive a text so he took up a quiet corner with Caleb and Ethan. Sam found him there and interrupted the hunters.
Sam cleared his throat. "Dean, I need to speak to you in private."
Dean raised his brows, but excused himself with a glance to Caleb to confirm if he should be worried. Caleb was tightlipped, but gave no further inclination.
"JT just told me he doesn't want to play for the Sox."
"What?" Dean looked around for his son, finding him with Max. "Like find another team?" There were teams closer to home, but none as good as the Sox.
Sam shook his head. "He doesn't want to play baseball. He plans on giving it up."
Dean took a step back. He thought that Sam was going to tell him something about JT's mental state, not this. "Geezus, Sam. You can't listen to him-"
His brother reached out, grasping his arm so he didn't leave to find JT. "Yes, I can. I get it, Dean. He's already told Joshua to make a statement."
Dean tried to pull away. He didn't want his son throwing away an opportunity. He glanced at JT; his kid was trying to do some honorable sacrifice for his dead girlfriend, almost fiancé. "Sam, you gave up school-" Dean tried to explain he didn't want his son to go down that path over something that didn't involve the supernatural.
"I want more for him, too, but I also know that we need to respect his decision," Sam explained. "He knows what he's doing, Dean. If you don't let him make this decision, then he's going to be a mess."
"But if he changes his mind-" Dean added, not wanting to give up, making sure the door could remain open.
"Then I'll be on his side," Sam vowed, and Dean had to find a way to respect his son's decision and grow up to the next Guardian.
James almost freaked out when he saw Cecily. He tried to be nonchalant, turning to Max with a whispered, "this sucks for Cecily."
Max gazed at the girl, confirming it was Sydney's twin sister. "Understatement much?"
James could see his brother was uncomfortable, there was not much JT could hide, and talking to Cecily and Lane was too awkward. He felt bad for Cecily, sharing a face with a dead person who was gone too soon. James was at a loss of something to say, he wanted to pull his brother away as did Max, but they felt trapped until Uncle Sam was able to interrupt and take JT away.
His brother caught up with them later, looking distracted. James could read emotions; grief was predominating, followed closely by determination. It was an odd combination. JT maneuvered James to the corner, leaving Max talking to his father.
"Hey, I know you liked Sidney," JT started.
James shook his head. He secretly thought there was the possibility that Sidney would pick him, but James toned down the charm in front of her after she had not accepted JT's first marriage proposal. "No, not in that way."
JT shrugged his shoulders in a way that said he was not going to argue, and he was going to believe what he believed. Usually, irritatingly, JT was right. Honestly, James would have waited until they were officially broken up like two years before asking Sidney out. He was contemplating his conscience when JT asked him the dreaded question, "Jimmy, do you see her?"
He had looked for her, usually such a brutal death meant that a spirit would be left behind, but growing up in The Brotherhood may have given her an incentive to move on, although the cremation would finalize it. "No, JT. I only see spirits that can't move on," he assured his brother.
JT nodded, thinned his lips for a moment, then leaned in. "If you do see her, promise me that you'll tell me."
"I promise," James replied.
JT squeezed James's arms in reply, then moved on to talk another hunter.
Max appeared, pulling him toward privacy. "Is that true?"
He shouldn't have been surprised that Max was nearby. He had been ordered by Dad to stay with JT. "Yeah," it was true he had not seen Sydney, "and even if I do see her, I'm not going to tell him. No one needs to know that."
Max wiped a hand over his mouth. "Dad said that JT doesn't want to play for the Sox."
James wondered why Max looked upset. "So he's going with another team."
Max shook his head, looking angry. "He's not going to play at all."
James stood stunned. JT was all about baseball, all American, Dad's favorite, and although James teased his brother, James was proud of what his brother had accomplished. He couldn't imagine his brother without the sport. He couldn't imagine his brother changing. "That's not right, Max. Go tell him he's making a mistake. He can't give it up." James pushed his friend towards the direction he had last seen JT.
"I can't tell him that," Max pulled him towards an empty room. "You can't either. It's his decision."
James was trying to think about what he could say to change his brother's mind.
"You need to promise me, Jimmy." Max used his height to be threatening, and James admitted it was working. "Your brother has enough shit to deal with. He doesn't want his kid brother second guessing him, giving him shit."
James straightened and was tempted to get on his toes, instead he held fast, unflinching. "Even when he's being stupid, and throwing everything away?" Someone had to be the voice of reason.
"Especially then. Stand by him, Jimmy, just stand by him." Max shook his head, thumped James on the shoulder, and left.
James loved his family, but relied on them not changing. His fondest memory was of touring with JT and the Sox for the summer before college. JT baseball player was different than JT, hunter, future Guardian and watchful older brother. James hoped that part of his brother did not die with Sydney.
Max was in the driver's seat of the truck. They had dropped off Ryker at the airport after completing a one week hunt for the wendigo. It had been the third hunt for Max and JT since Sydney had been laid to rest. He had placed Sawyer's in the hands of his sous chef temporarily, and was itching to go back. He was also tired of avoiding James's phone calls, emails and texts.
His best friend was in the passenger side sleeping, a bandage wrapped around his upper arm, a bruise across his temple blooming brown and blue. JT's single focus was being a hunter, the best hunter he could be.
Max could understand, and was supporting JT in his endeavor, not only because JT was a friend in need, but also fulfilling his Knightly duty. He didn't know which one was harder.
He missed JT's ever present camera. Even on a hunt, JT would take pictures, whether it was of the supernatural they hunted for his growing guide or personal photos. Since Sidney, the camera had been left at home.
James had also been left back at home in New York City. JT said it was because James needed to focus on school, but Max knew it was more than that. James didn't want his brother to change, would not allow it, and was still protesting that JT had given up baseball.
Max on the other hand gave JT space to become what he wanted to be even if it was at a loss of Yankee versus Red Sox tickets. JT was preparing to become The Guardian. Not that he hadn't been training for his whole life, or that JT would be next Guardian soon, but this was a different step, a more difficult step that required sacrifice.
His father had told him stories about Pastor Jim Murphy, about Dean Winchester, too, first hand accounts were different from the journals. His father's stories imparted their effect, but it was one James was unwilling at the moment to understand.
JT moved, then snorted awake. "How long was I out?"
"Enough time for me to change all your presets." Max pressed a button on the steering wheel and the radio responded with a hard rock station, replacing JT's country station.
"Oh good," JT replied, stretching with a wince.
Max glanced at the wounded arm. "I'm going to have to change that bandage when we get back at the house."
JT placed a hand on the bandage as if to cover it from view. "Max, it's nothing, a scratch."
It was more than a scratch since it required some stitches. "Well those herbs that Ryker used will start to smell soon, and since I probably will have to be in the same room as you, then think about humoring me."
JT sniffed the air. "Fine."
Max's phone dinged again. It had already gone off while JT was resting. "That's probably James again, asking about the hunt," Max admitted. He didn't want to hide anything from JT, and felt awkward being placed between the brothers. He had no doubt JT would hunt with James again, but for now JT had to work things out for himself.
"You want me to answer it?" JT offered, taking the phone from where it rested on the dash.
"You going to talk to him or text him back?"
JT gave a half shrug as he grabbed Max's phone and texted a reply.
"You can't avoid him forever." Max sighed. He was used to being an occasional buffer for JT, allowing him to run off some steam, but never for this long, and with James being aware of what was happening.
"Sure, I can with you giving reports to him, Ben and my dad." JT placed the phone back on the dash.
Max took his eyes off the road, his friend sounded upset at him, "J-"
JT waved his hand in forgiveness to the callous sounded comment. "Max, I get it. They want to make sure I'm okay."
Max was silent for a minute, noticing the highway signage. "Are you okay?"
"It's debatable." JT picked at the seatbelt, shifting it up, then setting it in place once more across his chest.
"You thinking you made a mistake?"
"Which one? I've made a lot of them." JT placed his hands palms up against his legs, staring. JT had admitted he felt guilty about going on the Sports Illustrated shoot- had he been around then Sidney would not have been visiting her father or maybe they would have gone together. Either way, JT was feeling that his presence would have changed the outcome. Max really didn't have an answer for that.
"Giving up baseball," Max pressed. JT had to miss something that was such a focal part of his life.
JT grinned. "You jealous because my hair is getting as long as yours?" JT had skipped getting a buzz cut, which was usually what JT did in preparation for the season. But the messy hair made him look unkempt, dangerous.
"Max, that's one decision I'm totally okay with. I got to play with the Red Sox, get two rings and retire with the team of my dreams. Not a lot of people get to say that." JT made eye contact with Max.
"And taking pictures? What happened with that?"
JT looked away. "Don't feel like it."
"Okay." Max gave in, but was hiding his real questions.
"You know I am an adult," JT stated.
"Didn't act like it on the hunt." This was the issue. JT was acting unlike JT. He never rushed in, which was why everyone was thrown by his decisions. He thought things through, like he was setting up a shot with his camera.
JT frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You're acting reckless, J." He and Ryker had witnessed it. JT ran out in the open to get the wendigo's attention without discussing it with them, sharing his idea.
JT pointed at Max. "Pot, kettle, black."
"What does that mean?" Max asked. He hadn't walked away wounded. He was almost skewered by a wendigo.
"That you're upset because I reacted and got this scratch watching your back," JT retorted. "It's my job, too. I'm supposed to put my life on the line for other hunters, for brothers."
"You're supposed to be the level headed one, too. We each have our roles. I don't want to end up being the responsible one," Max admitted. Their dynamics were thrown, especially with JT's guilty conscience. Since he wasn't there for Sidney, then he was going to be there for everyone else.
JT smirked. "You'll get used to it." He yawned. JT hadn't been sleeping well since Sidney's death.
"Get some z's. You need it if you're gonna try to takeover my job." Max slapped JT in the stomach. "I might have to throw in some cooking lessons, too."
JT snorted a reply.
"I'll wake you up when we're back at the house." Max wondered about the changes ahead for all of them. Uncle Caleb said part of being a Knight was being flexible and giving up some control, but it was going to be an issue. Max did have one belief, that when the time came in their journey, JT would be the right Guardian.
Family came first.
He was proud of his sons, and he would be the first to admit he had been struggling with JT's decision. He thought there was a chance until Ben had called him to tell him he had helped JT pack up his place in Boston.
"Dad, he doesn't want to talk about it. His mind's made up."
Juliet told him to let it go, too.
Joshua had managed the public relations with a story that JT was likely retiring because of the recent death of his longtime girlfriend in the Texas shooting. It was enough to keep reporters and the curious at bay. It was a time to mourn, and for Dean to feel the vulnerability in the normal.
Sam understood enough to arrange for the Red Sox shop at Fenway to send Dean all of the Winchester jerseys and JT bobble heads. They were packed in the attic now, but one day they would come out. What remained was the second World Series ring, encased in plastic on his bedroom bureau in a place of honor. When JT had given it to him he had thought it was the first of many rings JT would give in his lifetime.
He pulled up to Caleb's parent's house in North Carolina. Caleb had given it to JT so he would have his own place. This left James the odd man out, but he was enjoying living with Max and avoiding dormitory living.
Max's vehicle was in the drive and Dean pulled the Impala next to it. As he got out of the car, Max exited the house with his keys twirling in his hands.
"He in there?" Dean asked as Max greeted him with a firm handshake.
"He's out for a run." Max gestured to the beach in the rear of the house. "I'm going to the store for awhile."
Dean clapped him on the back to thank him for the privacy and for watching over JT.
He pulled two waters from the refrigerator and went on the deck to wait. He looked in the distance, the sunglasses not enough for him to stop squinting. JT was running on the beach looking lean, hollow. When in season he took care of himself, but without a season his son looked burned out.
Dean sipped his water sitting on the Adirondack chair, enjoying the warm sun and sea air. He closed his eyes, but heard when JT slowed down in front of the house and took the steps up to the deck.
"Hi, Dad," JT said, leaning against the railing, throwing shade over Dean.
"Your mom's worried about you. She asked me to check on you." Juliet was worried, but he had come to North Carolina on his own accord. Dean held out the bottle of water to his son.
JT accepted the bottle, twisted the cap off. "I'll try to come to the farm next weekend." Dean heard his son's noncommittal. It was not a promise. He would not be at the farm next weekend. He was avoiding anyone who would be disappointed in him.
Dean pointed to the white bandage on JT's arm. "Just a scratch?"
JT gave a glance to his arm as if just realizing there was something there. "Yeah, doesn't even hurt." He took another drink of water. "Was it Ryker or Max who told you?"
"Ryker," Dean answered. He had asked the young hunter to report back after the hunt, and Ryker was one to follow orders. "They're watching out for you."
"I know." JT slicked his hair back with his hand, but it just fell forward again. "Would have been coming up on spring training about now."
Dean looked off to the ocean before him. "You didn't get this view in Winter Park."
JT fiddled with the water bottle. "Are you disappointed in me?" JT didn't wait for an answer. "It's okay if you are. Baseball is our thing. Your dream."
Dean wondered where he had led his son astray. It was about JT following his dream, finding his happiness. "Our thing is that you're my son. I'm your father. Nothing changes that, and I could never be disappointed in you." Dean stood up. "I would have made the same decision as you. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, Kiddo." When Sam left, or when his father died, he threw himself into the hunt because it brought tangible results. "I just want to make sure it's what you want."
"I want to hunt. I've been thinking about it a lot, even before Sydney." JT's voice cracked.
Dean squeezed his son's shoulder. "But you're not going to hunt with James?" Dean talked to his sons everyday, and James had one note as of late.
"He wants a JT that doesn't exist, Dad." JT gave a half shrug.
"He misses his brother." JT and James did not have the drama that Sam and Dean had in the past. They had two stable parents providing a home, surrounded by family.
JT smirked. "He started whining didn't he?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "His usual m.o." James liked things his way, and he wanted his brother by his side.
"I need to get myself together before I can be what Jimmy expects me to be. But, I promise that I will call him. Okay?" JT nodded.
Dean accepted his son's agreement. "It gets better, JT. I promise."
JT turned around so he was looking at the ocean, his back towards Dean. "It never goes away, though-does it?"
Dean joined his son at the railing. "No, no, it doesn't." All the losses he had faced had affected him.
"That's what I thought."