Trust Versus the Tooth Fairy
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face." –Eleanor Roosevelt
Caleb Reaves heard the pounding of feet coming down the hall long before a body reached him. John's latest rental was at least half a century old with thin walls and rotten floorboards that creaked and groaned with the most careful of movement.
He stifled a groan as four-year old Sam Winchester bounded around the corner, stomping into the kitchen. The little boy was half dressed for bed, bare-chested because the shirt from the ancient pair of Rescue Rangers pajamas he'd inherited from his big brother was tied around his neck like a cape. His dark hair was mussed. Breathing heavy from his sprint, he still found enough air to use his very boisterous outside voice.
"Caleb! Come quick!"
"What now, Captain Chaos? I thought you and your sidekick were going to sleep?" Caleb closed his calculus notebook with a loud thud, managing his most menacing look over the pile of papers on the table. It didn't take much effort. He hated calculus and despite having a stack of homework for the weekend, he'd been conned into playing nanny for The Knight. A piece of cake, Junior, John promised. Just nuke some dinner and put them in bed, he'd said.
Nuking dinner had been a disaster, nearly warranting use of the fire extinguisher and heralding a call for takeout. The bed time ritual began over an hour ago. A never-ending game of Candy Land, a glass of warm milk and two trips to the bathroom later and Sam was still no closer to being in the bed. To top it off, Caleb had yet to solve one problem on his homework, which would warrant him a trip to detention on Monday if Mr. Carver, his math teacher, had anything to say in the matter. Detention meant being grounded next weekend on Halloween.
"Dean needs you!"
"Runt, I swear to God if I have to come in that room again, you and your big brother are so not going to like what happens." He entertained a brief thought of doping the boys with Benadryl, but knew Dean would never fall for the red Kool-Aid spiel.
"You have to come!" Sam scrambled to the table, his hand clutching at Caleb's arm. He tried pulling Caleb to his feet. "Dean's bleeding!"
"Bleeding?" Caleb quirked a brow in doubt, folding his arms over his chest. He was still learning to use his psychic abilities, but there was one connection that was easy to establish and maintain. Caleb's Dean Winchester radar was dead on; had been since the previous Christmas when he'd lost the kid at Rockerfeller Center. He tapped his head. "Nice try, Sammy. I would know if Deuce was hurt." It wasn't a theory Caleb wanted to test, but the few times Dean had been in trouble it proved true enough.
"He's not hurt, he's bleeding." Sam continued to tug on Caleb, his footy pants sliding on the old Linoleum rug like roller skates as Caleb refused to give.
"Is this about the fake blood?" Caleb knew he shouldn't have caved on the cheap vampire costume set. The boys had promised not to open it until next weekend at Jim's when Caleb would be nowhere in the vicinity to be yelled at for encouraging John's outlawed celebration of Halloween. There was an invitation to Hannah Astor's Upper East Side costume party with his name on it.
"No! Real blood." Sam's eyes widened, his arms opening to make a sweeping gesture. "Dean's blood-it's everywhere."
"Fine!" Caleb growled. It was the sincere concern he read from the youngest Winchester and the flash of dread he felt when he psychically reached out to Dean that convinced him. He pushed himself to his feet. John was so going to double the measly twenty-five bucks he'd promised him. That didn't count reimbursing him the twenty he was out for the pizza and impromptu field trip into town. The night was definitely not turning out like Caleb planned.
"Do you have any idea what most sixteen year old guys do on a Saturday night?" The question was rhetorical, but Sam seemed compelled to reply.
"Put on make-up with girls." The four year old was confident in his incorrect reply. He wrapped his sticky fingers around Caleb's hand, guiding him out of the small kitchen into the even smaller living room. "I heard you tell Dean all about it."
"That would be making 'out' with girls, Runt," Caleb corrected as he extricated his hand from Sam's. The kid was always sticky, and obviously had ears like a bat. Caleb had not exactly kept his voice down when he was helping Dean with his science project. John had not mentioned anything about a papier-mâché model of the solar system. It was the lack of supplies which had forced Caleb to pack up the boys and visit the small town Mecca that was Wal-Mart. He let out a long, tortured sigh as Hannah Astor came to mind. "I should definitely be making out with a girl instead of babysitting."
"How do you make out with a girl?" The unexpected question interrupted Caleb's thoughts. He found the little boy staring expectantly up at him as they moved down the hallway that would take them to the boys' bedroom. Sam's curiosity was unmatched.
"Do you want me to explain the birds and the bees or save your big brother's life?" Caleb glanced down at him. "I can't do both."
There wasn't even a moment of hesitation. "Save Dean."
"One rescue coming up." Caleb scooped Sam into his arms as they entered the room. He hadn't expected Dean to be hurt, to find him sitting on the edge of the bed, a bloodstained washcloth held to his mouth.
"Told you," Sam said.
"I told him not to bother you." The eight-year-old mumbled around the rag as he looked up at Caleb. "I'm okay, Damien."
"Bleeding is not okay. What happened?" Caleb put Sam on the bed. Although blood wasn't everywhere as Sam had proclaimed, there was more than enough on Dean's shirt for Caleb to be worried. Any spilled blood was too much when it came to the Winchester brothers. Caleb's stomach twisted; calculus, parties and girls instantly forgotten. "Deuce?"
"I just wanted to try them on." Dean held up the pair of plastic vampire teeth as an explanation. That's when Caleb noticed the black cape tied around Dean's neck. It explained Sam's get up with his shirt. The four year old lived to emulate his big brother. "They glow in the dark."
"They really do." Sam nodded emphatically from beside Dean. "Like fireflies."
"How did you two trying out the vampire teeth lead to this?" Caleb raised Dean's chin, pulling the little boy's hand away from his mouth.
"My loose tooth isn't loose anymore." Dean opened his other hand to reveal the small bloodied incisor. "When I pulled the vampire teeth out, it came with them."
Caleb let out the heavy breath he was holding in a laugh, relief releasing the knot of fear that had taken up residence in the pit of his stomach. The top front tooth Dean had been worrying with the last two days was indeed missing. "Just when I thought it was impossible for you to look any goofier."
"Shut up, Damien." Dean pulled away from his touch. "At least I'll get a new tooth. You're stuck with your ugly face."
"Where do new teeth come from?" Sam bounced on the bed a couple of times.
Caleb ignored the question, nudging Dean towards the tiny half-bath in the corner of the room. "Come on. Let's get you cleaned up, Snaggles."
"Don't call me that!" Dean shoved Caleb as he passed. "Deuce is bad enough."
"Will you lose all your teeth, Dean?" Sam jumped off the bed to follow his brother.
"I guess so." Dean stopped at the vanity and waited on Caleb, who made a point of ruffling his hair as he came along beside him.
"Think how ugly you'll be then." Caleb grinned at the scowl he received, thinking there were some perks to the babysitting gig.
"And how will you eat caramel apples?" Sam leaned against his brother's legs. "You love caramel apples."
Caleb turned on the tap water, waiting for it to warm. He nudged Dean's shoulder, giving the kid a half grin. "Guess those vampire teeth might come in handy."
Dean ignored him, consoling his brother. "They're just baby teeth, Sammy. Like I said, I'll get new grown up teeth."
"Eventually," Caleb took a paper cup from the dispenser above the soap dish and filled it. "Until then, I'd stick with the serious look if you don't want to scare the kids at school."
"I hate you." Dean elbowed him in the side.
"Dean?" Sam tugged on his brother's cape. "Can I have your old tooth?"
"Why?" Dean held up the incisor between his forefinger and thumb.
"I can take it to show and tell at daycare on Monday." Sam stared up at the tooth as if it were a sparkling jewel. "It has blood on it and everything."
"No way, Runt." Caleb took the tooth from Dean, offering him the cup of warm water in its place. "Rinse your mouth."
"Why not?" Sam crossed his arms over his chest. "Dean's getting a new tooth."
"Because, Runt, it's majorly gross," Caleb turned on the faucet again, holding the lost tooth under the stream of water until it was glistening white.
"Remember the dead cockroach, Sammy." Dean lifted the water to his lips. "Dad was not happy." He gargled.
"Besides," Caleb held the tooth up to the light. "Deuce needs this little gem. It's money in the hand."
Dean spit out the water, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "Are you talking about the tooth fairy?"
"The tooth fairy's coming here?" Sam did a twirl, the shirt-cape swirling about him. "Woo hoo!"
"No way!" Dean shook his head. "No tooth fairy, Damien."
"Since when do you have a problem with cash? You try to cheat me out of money any chance you get." Caleb grabbed a dry wash cloth and polished the tooth before giving it back to Dean.
Dean closed his fingers around the incisor, frowning up at Caleb. "I have issues with the tooth fairy."
"Issues?" Caleb laughed. Dean had been spending too much time with Mac. "Since when?"
"Since Bobby told me the truth about her." The kid seemed to think that sufficed as an explanation and turned to leave the bathroom.
"I like fairies." Sam was right on his heels. "Is the tooth fairy like Tinkerbelle?"
"No, Sammy. She's a different kind of fairy."
"Wait." Caleb followed them out. "Why was Bobby sharing his great wisdom about the tooth fairy?"
Dean shrugged a shoulder, moving to the nightstand where he placed the tooth beside his baseball glove. "I lost my first bottom tooth at his house. I was going to put it under my pillow because this kid, Clay at school said he got five dollars for his, but Bobby filled me in on the real story."
"And that is?" Caleb could only imagine what Bobby had told Dean. He easily recalled the mechanic's great tact when he gave Caleb his version of what it meant to 'make out' with a girl.
Dean moved his gaze to Sam, who was watching them with unblinking owlish eyes. Caleb cleared his throat. "Hey, Sammy, how about you go grab your big brother a clean shirt out of the dryer. He needs to lose the horror picture look."
"Okay." Sam picked up the discarded vampire teeth from the bed. "Can I hold Dean's tooth when I get back?"
"Sure thing, Count Disgusting."
"Yes!" Sam popped the plastic partial in his mouth and dashed out of the room, shirt fluttering behind him.
"It really doesn't take much to make that kid happy." Caleb sat on the bed, watching Dean. He wished the same was true for the older Winchester sibling.
"He's four. Blood and gore are new to him." Dean picked up his ball glove, punching his fist into the worn leather center.
"Not a hardened veteran like his big brother." Caleb was kidding, but the truth of the statement was not lost on him. Dean would never be as innocent as Sam. So much so that sometimes it was easy for people to forget he wasn't a pint-sized adult, especially if the person wasn't mister sensitivity in the first place. "Tell me what Bobby told you."
Dean tried the shoulder shrug again, but Caleb was having none of it. The silent routine didn't cut it with him. "Deuce, spill. It's not going to take Super Sammy long to figure out I only put a load of towels and underwear in the dryer."
The eight-year old put the ball glove down and climbed onto the bed beside him. He looked up at Caleb, his green eyes solemn. "Bobby said that the real tooth fairy is a witch. If you give her your tooth when you're little, it's like giving her a key to cross blocks, even salt lines. She can come back into your house anytime she wants and take the rest of you. It's too risky."
"Deuce, that's not true." Caleb wasn't sure if there was such lore, or if Bobby had simply been running short on cash. Whatever the reason, the last thing Dean needed was something else to be afraid of, another nightmare to keep him awake at night.
"I've been thinking about it. What if…" Dean's eyes shimmered. He bit his lip, voice lowering to barely a whisper. "What if that's what happened to my mom. Maybe it was the tooth fairy that killed her."
From any other kid, the idea of a murderous tooth fairy might have held some dark humor, but from Dean it was heart-wrenching. Caleb reached out and put a hand on the back of the little boy's neck. "Deuce, that's not what happened to your mom. I promise."
"How do you know?"
"Because I know, Kiddo." Caleb gave Dean a little shake before running his hand over the little boy's blond hair. "The only thing the tooth fairy takes is kid's baby teeth. That's it. She's harmless. In fact, her magic doesn't even work on anyone older than twelve."
Dean continued to stare at him, the pain in his eyes slowly dissolving to a familiar look of stubbornness. "Bobby's story makes more sense, Damien." He crossed his arms over his chest. "Why would a fairy give money for a tooth? What does she do with them once she has them?"
"Maybe she collects them," Caleb offered. In reality, he was betting most teeth got tossed after the first one, not even the most sentimental parent willing to keep a stash of canines and incisors hidden about. "And not for black magic either, sort of like a hobby-like your baseball cards and Sammy's rock collection."
"Why not just take them? Why leave money?" Dean was not going to be deterred.
"She likes kids, does it out of the kindness of her heart." Caleb knew it was lame, but it was the best he could do in a pinch.
"Yeah." Dean snorted. "Just like Santa leaves presents under the tree because we've been good all year."
"Dude." Caleb had no one to blame but himself. He groaned, feeling a spike of guilt for having busted that myth for the kid. Bobby and John weren't the only ones who sometimes forgot Dean was just a kid. He had lost so much of his childhood; Caleb was overcome with a ridiculous determination for him to keep faith in this one tiny ritual. "This is different. I swear."
"I can't take that chance." Dean turned and grabbed the tooth from the nightstand. He pushed it toward Caleb. "Just get rid of the stupid tooth, Damien."
"No, Dean!" Sam appeared beside them, an oversized clean shirt from John's closet in his small hands. "You can't throw it away."
"It's my tooth, Sam. I can do what I want with it." Dean shoved the tooth into Caleb's hand. "You're too little, you don't understand."
"But what about the babies?" Sam flung his father's shirt onto the floor, both hands curling into tight fists.
"Whoa, whoa. You've lost us, Runt."Caleb glanced at the clock on the nightstand, blaming the late hour for the tears he could see shimmering in Sam's eyes. He held up his hand, unsure why the four year old was now also on the verge of crying, but determined not to have two upset Winchesters on his hands. "What babies?"
"The babies who need baby teeth." Sam propped his fists on his hips, his lip trembling ever so slightly from beneath plastic fangs. "The tooth fairy recycles."
"Lose the vampire teeth and try that again." Caleb was hopeful all the lisping was to blame for his lack of understanding and clarity would come once Sam removed the costume piece from his mouth.
The four year old removed the teeth. "Like Pastor Jim with his tin cans."
"Of course." It didn't help one bit. Caleb looked to Dean, hoping that as usual the older Winchester could translate. "Tell me you've got a clue, Deuce."
The eight year old looked at his little brother. "I think Sammy believes the tooth fairy uses the teeth she collects from older kids to give babies their first teeth."
"Well, yeah." Sam nodded, as if the explanation he'd come up with during his search for Dean a shirt made complete sense. "What else would she do with them?"
Dean smirked at Caleb, and it was so much better than the look of loss Dean had held only moments earlier that Caleb didn't mind being outwitted by a four year old. "Sounds better than the tooth collection Damien came up with."
"Gross," Sam made a face. "Who would collect a bunch of used teeth?"
"That from the weirdo who wanted to take his brother's bloodied tooth to show and tell." Caleb reached out and tickled Sam. The little boy roared with laughter, rolling across the bed to escape Caleb's attack. He pointed a finger at giggling Sam. "Okay, Runt, time the cape transforms back into a pajama top. Now."
"I'll do it with magic!" Sam disappeared behind the other side of the bed for what Caleb imagined the kid saw as a miraculous Superman quick change.
"As long as it gets done." With one Winchester taken care of Caleb turned to Dean. He held up the tooth. "So what now, Deuce? It sounds like some poor teething baby is counting on you to be brave."
"You really think the tooth fairy will leave me five dollars?"
Caleb had nothing but a pocketful of change after the pizza and school supplies but he'd find something even better. He laid the tooth in Dean's hand, closing the boy's fingers over it. "Put it under your pillow and I promise she'll leave you something special." He folded his hand over Dean's and squeezed. "More importantly, I promise she won't hurt you or Sammy."
"Caleb watches over us." Sam popped up from the other side of the bed now wearing his Rescue Rangers top. It was on the inside out and backwards, but Caleb was learning to choose his battles.
"You know it, Runt." He reached over and pulled the covers back for Sam, waiting for the squirming boy to situate himself.
"Goodnight, Caleb." Sam shoved his hand under his pillow coming out with the worn teddy affectionately known as Woobee. He wrapped his hands around the bear, burrowing next to Dean, his eyes already fluttering with the pull of sleep. "Love you."
"'night, Runt. Sleep tight." Caleb turned in time to see Dean tuck the tooth beneath his pillow. He raised his brow at the eight year old with a smirk.
Dean frowned. "This doesn't mean I believe your story about the tooth fairy, Damien."
"Oh really?" Caleb waited for Dean to climb under the blankets before he pulled the comforter over both boys, tucking them in.
Dean met his gaze, his voice dropping. "But I believe in you."
The unfinished calculus homework no longer seemed important. A trip for pizza and a couple of hours spent recreating the universe a mere fleeting moment.
"That's good to know, Deuce." A feeling of warmth rushed over Caleb and he felt the need to quickly turn off the lamp on the nightstand, casting the room in darkness. He could just make out Dean's knowing grin in the glow of Sammy's Scooby Doo nightlight. "But just so we're clear, I'd still rather make out with Hannah Astor than hang out with Super Sammy and the Toothless Wonder."
Dean snorted. "Like Hannah Astor would make out with you, Fugly." He gave a big yawn before turning his back to Caleb, tossing his arm over his little brother. "I bet you whatever the tooth fairy brings me that you'll be spending Halloween with us at Pastor Jim's farm."
Caleb shook his head at the kid's audacity. He really only had himself to blame. "We'll see, Deuce." He stood, making his way to the door; barely catching Sammy's sleep filled voice as he headed back to the kitchen and his calculus homework.
"What does make out mean, Dean?"
"Go to sleep, Sammy."
The night had definitely turned out better than Caleb planned.