By: Ridley James
"There is no remedy for love but to love more." -Thoreau
Jim Murphy pulled back the curtain in his tiny rectory office to check the weather outside. The snow was falling heavier now, the town covered in a blanket of white. He glanced to his clock, surprised that Kara France was late for their noon appointment. The young woman was usually punctual and had called twice to confirm their meeting to discuss her idea for a `modern' church social. Jim only hoped it wasn't like her idea to host a wine and cheese tasting for singles at the church. New Haven wasn't quite ready for Kara's trendy ideas, however refreshing and amusing Jim found them.
He refocused on his desk with a heavy sigh. Ruth, the church cat, stretched one black paw toward him as she rolled onto her side across a large stack of invoices. "I admire your dedication, girl. I wish I could get on top of all this paper work as easy as you." He smiled at his own humor, reached out to scratch the feline's underside, as a piercing scream split the quiet.
The shout echoed from the children's Sunday school classroom. Ruth leapt to her feet, a look of disdain usually reserved only for Atticus Finch flashing in her feline gaze as she regarded the preacher. She bounded from the desk, tail swishing in disgruntlement as she disappeared in the baptismal. "Chicken," Jim muttered.
Jim ran a hand through his silver hair, took a calming breath and prepared himself to face the most imminent crisis. He pushed away from his desk, making his way to the adjoining door.
"Sammy, be quiet. Pastor Jim is working."
"I was working," Jim said, having heard the hushed admonishment. He crossed the room in three long strides, making it to the center table where his three young charges were gathered amidst a mess of construction paper scraps, crayons and glue. "Samuel, I think we've talked about inside voice versus outside voice. Yes?"
Four year old Sam Winchester ducked his head slightly. "Yes, Pastor Jim… Dean's being mean."
"Am not!" Dean replied. He placed the scissors he was using on the table, looked up at Jim, green eyes wide in indignation. "I was working quietly."
Jim moved his gaze to the youngest Winchester. "What seems to be the problem, my boy?"
Sam waved a red piece of construction paper in the pastor's direction. "Dean says I can't send Santa a valentine."
Dean huffed. "It's February, Sam! Santa is long gone."
"To the North Pole?"
"Yes. To the North Pole."
"Do they get mail there?"
"Sure do, Runt."
Dean glared at Caleb Reaves, reading a book across the table from them. "Only at Christmas!"
Sam looked up at Jim. "Is that true, Pastor Jim?"
Jim decided to skirt around the specifics. "Why exactly do you want to send Santa a valentine, Samuel?"
"I love Santa."
"Oh brother," Dean muttered.
Caleb grinned over the edge of his book. "He loves Santa, Deuce."
Dean looked at his brother. "Right. I forgot."
Sam perked up. "I can send him one?"
"Of course you can, my boy." Pastor Jim picked up a pink heart and white doily, offering them to the child. He patted Sam's head. "Valentine's Day is a day to tell everyone how much they mean to us."
"Don't encourage him, Pastor Jim." Caleb lowered his book. "The runt has an unhealthy infatuation with the Claus. It's a burgeoning obsession."
Jim sighed. Caleb was unhappy about spending his winter break grounded at the farm, but nonetheless enjoyed needling Jim and the boys whenever possible. "You've been listening in on your father's sessions again, haven't you?"
Caleb grinned, gave a single shoulder shrug. "Only the interesting ones."
"I believe there's something called confidentiality."
"What's that?" Dean asked.
"It means privacy," Caleb answered. "Something I have none of."
"I think that is an exaggeration." Jim knew things were rocky in the Ames' household as of late. Caleb was rebellious, bucking the reasonable order Mackland was insisting upon. "Your father only wants to stay informed about your life." Jim was getting a lesson of raising a teenager. It was all quite shocking.
Caleb closed his book, tossed it on the table. "I have no door, Jim."
The pastor raised a silver brow. "Caleb, I have heard your father's side of this story. It made an old man blush."
Caleb rolled his eyes. "Which means you're on his side."
"I'm on no one's side. I believe you used poor judgment." Jim folded his arms over his chest. "And you should attend Sunday services more often."
Jim cleared his throat. He had boundless patience for typical boy rowdiness, but very little for disrespect. "Whatever, sir," Caleb amended.
"What happened to your door?" Dean asked.
The teen shrugged, slouched further in his chair. "Mac took it down."
"Did he kick it down?" Dean's eyes widened. "Because it's really cool when Dad does that."
Caleb shook his head. "No, Deuce. He called the maintenance man to do it for him in true Ames's fashion. It was lame."
"How do you spell love?" Sam asked.
"L-O-S-E-R," Caleb replied.
"There's an S?" Sam looked up, thoughtfully. "Like in Sam?"
"No, there is not." Pastor Jim leaned on the table and peered at Caleb over his glasses. "Caleb is pulling your leg."
Sam cast the older boy a reproachful look. "Caleb needs a time out."
"I believe we all could use a time out." Jim rubbed his hands together. Perhaps the boys had been cooped up in one small space for far too long. An art project would only buy him so much time these days. "How about I treat my favorite boys to lunch at the diner?"
"I thought you had an appointment?" Dean sat up straighter in his chair. "We can wait."
"Yeah." Caleb glanced at Dean. "Deuce is going to be really disappointed if Kara doesn't stop by."
Jim sighed. "Well it seems Kara has been delayed by the weather. I'll leave a note on the door and she can join us there when she arrives."
Sam bounced in his seat. "Can I give Millie a valentine?"
Jim smiled at the thought of the red-haired waitress from the diner. Her own grandchildren lived in Boston. Sam's enthusiasm might bring some well-deserved cheer to his friend. "I think that's an excellent idea, Samuel."
"How sweet. The Runt loves Millie." Caleb looked at Dean. "You going to make Kara a valentine, Deuce? Is that what you've been working on over there?" The teen bent over the table to see Dean's paper. "I'll help you write a poem."
Dean quickly folded his arms over the construction paper in front of him. "Like you know how to write."
"Come on, maybe she's into younger, much, much shorter guys."
Dean scooted his chair back, the red paper floating to the floor. "I hate you!"
Caleb shrugged. "Right back at you, Deuce."
"Dean…Caleb…" Pastor Jim's reprimand was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He glanced over his shoulder, then back to the boys. "Caleb, could you…"
The teen rolled his eyes, but nodded. "I'll take the brats over. But I get an extra dessert for the trouble."
Dean shoved away from the table and stalked towards the door.
Jim watched Dean leave. He quirked a brow at the teen. "Your helpfulness will be duly noted to your father."
"Right." Caleb grabbed his jacket. "Maybe Mac will let me hang a sheet in the entranceway of my room."
Jim squeezed Caleb's shoulder. "He could move your bed out into the hallway. Add bars to the windows. There's always worse things, Son."
"Thanks for reminding me." Caleb picked up Sam's jacket, handed it to the four year old. "Put your coat on, Cupid."
Sam complied. "Who's Cupid?"
"He's the big guy for Valentine's Day," Caleb explained. "Like Santa, but with a diaper."
"Does he have reindeer?"
"No." Caleb stuffed Sam's Spider Man hat over the little boy's head. "He has a bow and a quiver full of arrows."
"Is he a hunter?" Sam asked, pushing the cap up so he could see.
Caleb laughed. "That depends on what you believe about love."
The little boy's head tilted to the side. "What do you believe about love?"
The teen put his hands on his hips and sighed. "I believe it can get your bedroom door taken down if you think your Dad is working late and he's not." Caleb sighed. "Love hurts."
Caleb put a hand on the little boy's head and guided him towards the door. "Care to share your thoughts on the subject, Sammy?"
"I think love is like Christmas."
"Of course you do. Everything comes back to Christmas." Caleb noticed Dean's jacket tossed on his chair and went back to get it. It was freezing outside.
"It's a present you get all year," Sam said, clapping his hands together.
"You don't say." Caleb bent down to grab Dean's Ninja Turtles Scarf and gloves when the red construction paper caught his eye. There was a dog made out of tiny cut-out hearts on the front and printed in very careful letters at the top was his name. "Shit," he said softly. C-A-L-E-B was definitely spelling loser today.
"You don't have to hunt for it," Sam continued. "Your family gives it to you for free."
Caleb picked up the valentine, placing it on the table with a sigh. "Yeah, whether we deserve it or not." Mackland was right. He was being a selfish brat. Caleb turned, taking Sam's hand. "Come on, Runt. I need to talk to your big brother."
"Can I have pie?"
"Sure," Caleb said, rushing them through the pulpit and down the sanctuary isle.
"Can I have a milkshake, a cupcake and pie?"
"You bet." Caleb pushed through the double wooden doors of the church, expecting to find Dean waiting on the steps. He panicked slightly before catching site of the boy in front of the drugstore just down the street.
Dean was standing on the edge of the road, hands shoved in his pockets, watching old man Shannon shovel snow from his walkway. "Deuce," Caleb called. "Get back on the sidewalk."
The eight year old glanced up as Caleb and Sam exited the church, but ignored the teen's directive. Caleb recognized the stubborn set to the boy's shoulders, started down the stairs. Sam suddenly balked, tugging on his hand. "Caleb! I forgot Millie's valentine. I got to get it."
"Sammy, we'll take it to her later." Caleb kept his eyes on Dean and gave Sam a little tug to get him moving. "I promise I'll bring you back over."
"No." Sam pulled away, his gloved hand slipping out of Caleb's grasp, leaving the teen holding the empty mitten. "I have to bring it to her."
Caleb growled as the little boy slipped back into the church. He turned to go after him when he heard the car.
The teen's head whipped up, his eyes zeroing in on the unexpected threat. The woman was going far too fast on the slush and snow-covered street as she rounded the corner from Shannon's Pharmacy. Caleb barely managed to shout Dean's name before the little red Miata was baring down upon him, fishtailing on a patch of ice.
The kid looked up at Caleb's panicked shout, their eyes meeting for the briefest of moments before Dean was suddenly hurtling face first into the piled snow. The Miata continued on, sideswiping several garbage cans before bouncing to a halt on the sidewalk in front of Jim's church.
"Deuce!" Caleb dropped Dean's jacket on the landing, forewent the stairs, leaping over the iron-wrought railing to land on the icy ground below. He slid, recovered and rushed to the mountain of snow where Mr. Shannon was carefully picking himself up off the ground. Dean was still buried in the white mound, the impression of his body looking like a cartoon cut. "Dean! Dean!"
"Is he alright?" Mr. Shannon asked in his heavy Irish accent. "Did I get the boy out of the way in time?"
Caleb ignored the man, throwing himself to his knees beside Dean's body, praying the pharmacist had managed to keep Dean from getting hit. "Deuce?"
Dean moved, trying to push himself up from the ground. Caleb took his arms, eased him over. "Slow. Let me see."
The eight year old blinked, sputtering as he lifted a hand to brush snow from his mouth. "Damien?"
"Thank God." Caleb nearly sobbed. He reached down and cupped the little boy's face. "Are you hurt, Dean? Did the car hit you?"
Dean shook his head with a grimace. "I think…Mr. Shannon did."
Caleb shoved snow out of his way. "Can you move everything? Is anything broken?"
"Oh my God!" Kara France made it out of her red Miata and half-slid, half ran towards Dean and Caleb. "Did I hit him? Oh my God! Is he okay? I swear I didn't see him at first. And when I did, I couldn't stop. It was too icy…"
Caleb spared the briefest of glares for the distraught blond before returning his gaze back to Dean. "Dean, did you hear me? Can you move everything?"
"I can move. I'm okay." Dean struggled to sit up and Caleb helped him.
"Easy." Caleb kept one hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Should I call an ambulance?" Kara was crying now, verging on hysterical. "Mr. Shannon, call 9-1-1!"
"No…no… I'm okay," Dean insisted. "Please, Caleb."
Caleb ran his hands along the little boy's head, and down his neck and arms. "You're sure nothing's broken, Deuce? Did you hit your head?"
"I'm sure." Dean's voice was shaky. "The car didn't hit me. I swear."
"Thank God." Caleb pulled the little boy to him, crushing him against his chest. "I thought you were a goner, Kiddo. You scared the shit out of me!"
"I'm sorry," Dean choked.
Caleb pulled back, holding the eight year old at arm's length. "You don't have anything to be sorry for. I was a dick head. This is my fault."
"No. It's all my fault!" Kara exclaimed, kneeling beside them. "I swear I didn't see you! I almost killed you! Are you sure you're okay, sweetie?"
Dean turned away from the woman, burying himself against Caleb once more. Caleb tightened his hold and ignored the girl. "It's okay, Deuce. I've got you." He could feel the minute shivers. "You're safe."
Jim's frightened voice had the teen looking towards the church where the pastor and Sam had just exited. "He's okay, Jim! Everything's okay."
"Oh my God, Pastor Jim. I am so sorry!" Kara stood with a wail. "I didn't see him. I swear I didn't see him."
"Dean!" Sam shouted, trying to squirm from Pastor Jim's grasp. "Dean!"
The preacher scooped him up and made his way down the stairs to Caleb's side.
"What happened?" Jim demanded.
Kara started rambling. "I almost ran him over. I was late for our meeting and I didn't know the roads were so slick…"
Jim held his hand up. "Kara, dear, please just calm down."
"The boy was standing a bit too close to the road, Father." Mr. Shannon brushed snow from his coat. "I looked up in time to get him out of the way, though I think I might have been a wee too rough about it."
"Dean?" Jim held Sam tighter, bent down to lay a hand on Dean's snow covered hair. He met Caleb's gaze with a concerned frown. "Are you sure he isn't injured?"
Caleb nodded, standing up without letting Dean go. "I think he's just shaken up." The teen looked to Mr. Shannon. "Thanks to you, Sir. Anything you need, you've got it. I'll shovel the snow, wash windows. Just name it."
"Yes. Thank you, Levi." Jim nodded to the druggist. "We're in your debt."
"Think nothing of it." Shannon shrugged off the gratitude. "I'm just thankful my old bones can still move quickly enough when need be."
"Is there anything I can do, Pastor Jim?" Kara asked.
"For starters, you can learn to drive, lady," Caleb said.
"That's enough, Caleb." Jim motioned to the church. He sat Sam down, and placed the little boy's hand in Caleb's. "Why don't you take the boys inside while I help Kara take care of things out here? We'll have a late lunch."
The teen nodded. "Let's go, Sammy."
"Is Dean okay? Did he fall in the snow? Did somebody push him?"
"Dean's okay, Runt."
Caleb slowly made his way to the church, carrying Dean, pulling Sam along in the deep snow. The entire way he replayed the scene with all the possible worse case scenarios making him nauseous. The sight of Dean's discarded jacket and scarf by the doorway had his eyes stinging. He silently cursed himself for being such a pussy. By the time Caleb made it back to Jim's office with the boys, he was clammy and sweating from more than exertion.
"Let go, Deuce," Caleb said, softly. He found it hard to do the same, but released Dean onto the small leather couch across from Pastor Jim's desk.
Sam shrugged out of his coat, tossing it on the floor before crawling up beside his brother. "Are you alright, Dean?" His hand went to Dean's back in a soothing gesture. "Did you get a booboo?"
Dean shook his head. "I'm okay, Sammy."
"You're bleeding." Sam pointed to his brother's left hand where the palm was scraped and bleeding.
Caleb took Dean's hand in his. "Damn."
"That's a bad word," Sam said. "We're in church."
Caleb ignored the reprimand, jutting his chin to the little room off to the right. "Sammy, grab the first aid kid from under the sink."
Sam nodded. "Okay. I'll hurry." He patted Dean's knee. "I'll be right back."
"You okay?" Caleb eyed the quiet eight-year-old.
The teen pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and draped it across Dean's shoulders. "Better?" Caleb looked at him. "What the hell did you think you were doing, Deuce? You know better than to cross the road by yourself. I know you think you're twenty or something, but you're not. You're still a little kid…"
"I wasn't crossing the road!" Dean said. "I was waiting beside the road for you and Sammy."
Caleb shook his head. Fear was fading, quickly being replaced by anger. "Too damn close to the road. You're not an idiot."
"What do you care anyway? You called me a brat."
"Deuce…" Caleb ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't mean that."
"You don't like me or Sammy."
"Yes, I do!"
Dean snatched his hand away. "Well…I don't like you."
Caleb exhaled heavily. "Then why were you making me a valentine?"
"It wasn't a valentine."
Caleb's mouth twitched. "It was red and had paper hearts on it."
"It had Atticus on it."
"He was made out of frilly fu-fu hearts."
Dean huffed. "We learned it in art class. I was making it for him."
"Last time I checked C-A-L-E-B spells Caleb."
Dean snarled up his nose. "Like you can spell, Damien."
Caleb laughed, sensing a truce. He bumped the little boy's shoulder. "I really liked it. Best valentine I ever got."
Dean shrugged. "My teacher said we should make valentines for our friends." He looked up at Caleb. "Don't get too excited. You're the only friend I have."
Caleb swallowed, blinked quickly. "Right back at you, Deuce."
Dean swiped the back of his arm over his eyes. "Do you think Kara thinks I'm a baby now?"
Caleb fought hard to keep the smile from his face. "Nah. In fact, if you play this right, you could score your first valentine from a hot chick. Maybe even get a kiss out of the deal."
Caleb grinned. "Hot fudge sundae?"
Dean nodded. "That would be okay. You think Jim will ask her to have lunch with us?"
"When have you known Pastor Jim to pass up a chance at a teachable moment?"
"Here it is!" Sam reentered the room, nearly tripping over his own feet in his rush to present Caleb with the kit. "Fix Dean up, please." Sam gave the box to Caleb. "I need a band-aid too."
Dean frowned. "Why?"
"For my heart." Sam covered his chest with his pudgy hand. "You scared it really bad."
"Then maybe I need a band-aid," Caleb said. He took the kit, giving Dean a hard look. "Deuce scared me pretty good, too." He pulled out two bandages and handed one to Sam with a wink.
The four year old took it, nodding emphatically in agreement. He tore open the package and placed the Scooby Doo band-aid across his shirt. "Love really does hurt!"
"You got that right, Sammy." Caleb laughed, but sobered quickly when Dean met his gaze. He reached out, tossed his arm around the little boy and pulled him closer. "But it's worth it."
"Hate leaves ugly scars; love leaves beautiful ones.-Mignon McLaughlin