All is Well
By: Ridley James
All is Well.
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Pray, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, let it be spoken without effect without the trace of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was; there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner.
All is Well.
-Henry S. Holland
“She was so checking me out, little brother,” Dean Winchester proclaimed without a hint of shame. “I could try and get her number for you,” he told the younger boy as they banged loudly through the front door of the small apartment. “Maybe if you had some mistletoe, you might even get her to kiss you. Drop a line to Santa, and you might even cop a quick feel.”
Sam Winchester rolled his eyes, dropped his books on the couch before starting for the kitchen. “Don’t do me any favors, dickhead.”
“Don’t be that way, Sammy. You know who may be listening.” The seventeen-year-old followed his brother, unwilling to give up the torment. “And besides, I’ll let her down easy, and she’ll need someone to sweep in and console her. Girls are softer at the holidays. They have visions of sugar plums and all that shit dancing in their heads.”
“Shut-up!” Sam shot over his shoulder as he turned the corner into both dining area and cooking quarters for the Winchester family.
He was brought up abruptly as he caught site of his father sitting hunched over at the wobbly card table. Sam hadn’t expected the man to be home. In fact, he thought their father had left that morning for a hunt, promising to meet them in Kentucky in time for Christmas Eve. He hadn’t even checked the lot for Dad’s truck.
“Dad?” his brother’s voice was sharp and held the edge of anxiousness Sam felt.
At first John continued to hold his head in his hands. It was only when he finally lifted his gaze to his sons, they caught site of the phone grasped tightly in his fingers. “Boys.” His voice was rough. Sam sensed his brother move closer to him.
“Dad, I thought you were going to Biloxi this morning?” Dean asked as he moved around the thirteen-year-old and stepped closer to their father. “We were going to meet up with you next week at Pastor Jim’s.”
Sam continued to hang back, an unfamiliar charge in the air keeping him frozen in his place. He glanced to the table again, noting the bottle of whiskey and a half-empty shot glass. “Dean?”
John looked at his eldest, but remained silent. Sam wasn’t surprised when Dean stepped in front of him. There was something dangerous in the room with them; and his brother was the ever vigilant protector. “Dad, are you okay? What’s wrong?”
John shook his head and carefully placed the phone alongside the amber liquid. “There’s been a change in plans, boys…we’re going to Kentucky tonight.”
“But it’s the middle of the week…” Sam started, only to have his concerns about missing an end of semester test abruptly halted by his father.
John’s stony gaze zeroed in on his youngest son. “Don’t,” he ordered.
It was more the bloodshot eyes than the icy tone that had Sam taking a step back. His father was not in any kind of state to hear a rebuttal. Even Sam wasn’t brazen enough to cross him on the rare moment he had given in to the temptation to drown all his misery in a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“Dad?” Dean tried again. “What the hell is going on?”
Sam watched as his father looked at Dean. The teen felt as if he were suddenly cast out of their dimension, forced to watch from behind thick glass as his father spoke to Dean alone. Sam may have physically still been present in the room, but as soon as John Winchester began to speak, he felt himself disappear completely.
“I’m so damn sorry, Son.”
Dean frowned. “For what?”
John glanced down at his hands, trying to get the buzzing in his ears to stop. He eyed the whiskey, wondering if adding another shot to the other two would bolster his courage. He wanted to get drunk to endure the reality of another loss in a stupor of alcohol induced haze; but he had to face his boys. They deserved better. “I have some bad news.” God. What was he saying? That didn’t even begin to cover it.
A hint of Dean’s half-assed grin appeared. “Bad news as in you sold the Impala while I was at school, bad news?”
Others might have missed it, but John heard the slight tremor in his son’s voice despite the typical humor. The kid was insightful as hell-in tune to the emotions around him. John bowed his head, closed his eyes for a moment. The soft touch on his arm made him realize his body language had answered Dean’s question.
“Who?” Dean asked quietly.
John swallowed hard. Dean’s hand swam in and out of focus so he took a quick breath, and shook his head to clear his muddled thoughts. He roughly palmed his eyes.
“Who? What?” Sam asked hoarsely.
John didn’t look at the younger boy. He’d be unable to speak the name if he did. As it was it felt like jagged glass on his raw throat. “Caleb.”
Sam was once again grounded in the room, brought back from his false anonymity by the shear state of confusion. He saw his father’s mouth move to answer Dean’s question, recognized the syllables on some basic level; but his mind refused to process what it was the man had said.
He watched his brother stagger as if the floor had shifted beneath his feet. Dean yanked his hand away from his father. “What?”
Dad blinked, his dark lashes glistening with moisture. It was then Sam realized his father’s eyes were not red from alcohol, but crying.
Crying was not allowed in the Winchester family. Winchesters only cried if a major organ was in jeopardy, a limb was missing, or someone they loved had…
Sam swallowed thickly. That was the dangerous thing lurking in the shadows. There was no enemy more formidable for the Winchesters-for anyone.
Sam should have recalled the difference in his father’s face from the few times he had seen the man break. Times from when he was a child and his mother’s birthday would roll around or the anniversary of her death. Blood could be regained, time recouped, but losing something invaluable, irreplaceable was reason enough for tears, even by the Winchester code.
Who? Sam was so focused on his thoughts he still couldn’t comprehend John‘s reply. The name sounded foreign. But the way Dean reacted- Sam wanted to shout for their father to just shut up.
Unfortunately, Dad kept talking. “Bobby called this morning after you two went to school. A hunt went bad yesterday and…they searched all day and last night…”
“ No.” Dean shook his head slowly. “That…that can’t be right.”
Sam wondered why something warm and wet splashed onto his own cheeks. So what if stupid Bobby called? What was the big deal? Before he could think anymore about it, his father pushed himself to his feet, taking a step closer to Dean.
Dean stumbled back before their dad could touch him. “You’re wrong!”
His brother’s shout sent a shudder through Sam’s body. The hot tears falling steady stung his cheek like acid. Dean never yelled at their father. It was as ingrained in him as the whole 'no crying rule.'
Sam half expected for John to bellow back, but instead when he spoke his voice was full of compassion, choked with emotion. It was worse than any screaming. “I wish I were, Son. Believe me. God…I loved him too and...”
“Shut up!” Dean growled. Sam watched in disbelief as Dean slung his arm out, catching the bottle of whiskey at the neck and sending it shattering against the wall. “You’re fucking drunk! You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”
Sam heard himself let out a frightened mewl. He was afraid his father might hit his brother. Dad looked so unsure of what to do next.
But Sam knew his father. He guessed the man had been playing this scene over in his mind the last couple of hours-hoping to find the best way to deal with it. John Winchester didn’t do anything without a plan.
John stood frozen in place, paralyzed by a myriad of emotions. With Mary there had been no lag time, no real need to explain. It had been so cruel for Dean to witness what happened to his mother, but at least John did not have to provide an explaination.
And Dean had been just a boy then. Only four when his world was ripped apart by death. He was still innocent. The worst he had faced was a skinned knee, a scraped elbow, nothing compared to a broken heart. But then their tragedy had changed all that. Death intervened, stealing the purity Dean should have had for years to come.
John had held Dean then, shushed away his child fears and grown-up misery. He’d whispered promises he couldn’t keep, like that things would be better tomorrow. All would be well again. John then did one good thing. He put baby Sammy in Dean’s arms and told him to rock his brother to sleep. But now Dean was a man…a man who didn’t deal well with pain and emotions, at least when they were his own. Another legacy John would leave his children. “Dean…Son…”
“Don’t!” The boy held his hand up, shook his head again. He stepped further away, putting more distance between them. His voice broke and John felt sick. “Just…don’t.”
Before John could stop him, Dean surged forward, darting past him and around Sam to take off for the living room. John squeezed his eyes shut as he heard the front door slam, feeling like a gunshot to his chest. “Goddamnit!” He was a fucking miserable excuse for a father. No doubt Caleb would have agreed wholeheartedly if he’d been there. God how John wished he were there.
Sam felt more than saw his older brother run past him, although it seemed almost as if he had moved through him. The already cold air around him dropped to frigid and Sam felt himself trembling harder. He looked to his father and Dad moved towards him in slow motion.
“Sammy?” John said softly, holding his arms out, offering what looked like shelter from the bone-aching cold.
How long had it been since his father held him? Sam couldn’t remember, but he felt himself leaning, or maybe falling.
All he knew was his father was there, holding him up, hugging him tightly. Sam couldn’t catch his breath. It was sinking in. It all made sense.
The syllables became clear, rang hollow in his head like church bells. His father had said Caleb.
Caleb was dead.
“I’ve got you covered, Deuce.” Caleb Reaves grinned. “Trust me.”
“They don’t let eighth graders on the freshmen team.” Dean tried once again to explain to the older boy as they walked towards the small ballpark in New Haven. Caleb was in for spring break; Dean and Sam were at Jim’s for the long Easter weekend. Dean had made the mistake of mentioning baseball tryouts were the following week at his school and Reaves and Sam had latched onto it like Scout with one of her pull toys. “It won’t even matter if I try out.”
“But this coach has never had an eighth grader like you, Deuce. You’re a natural.” Caleb threw an arm around his shoulder. “And you’ve got an advantage.”
The thirteen-year-old rolled his eyes. “And that would be?”
“Me and Sammy.”
“Right.” The nine-year-old Sam piped up with a smile.
“And what are you and the midget going to do? Muscle the coach into taking me for a benchwarmer.”
“We did research at the library yesterday,” Sam informed his brother.
Dean looked at him. “When you were supposed to be researching the ways to kill a water spirit?”
“We did that too,” Caleb amended. “But really, how many ways are there to kill a water spirit?”
“None that we could find,” Sam reminded him.
“But you told Bobby…” Dean started and Caleb shook his head.
“He’ll improvise and it’s not like a little bath is going to hurt Bobby.”
“He’ll kick your ass is what he’ll do.”
“Maybe, but no strong arm tactics with your coach will be necessary.” Reaves pointed towards the field. “You’re going to learn so much stuff today that your coach won’t be able to afford ‘not’ to put you on the team.”
Dean sighed. “I hate to mention this, but Sammy can barely get the ball over home plate from three feet away.”
“Yes, I can,” Sam defended.
Dean ignored his brother and continued on, “And your knowledge of homeruns isn’t exactly the kind I can use at my age.”
“True.” Reaves grin grew. “But those guys know their stuff.”
Dean looked across the field where two guys were tossing a ball back and forth. He glanced back to Caleb. “And they are?”
“Some old friends from way back.” Reaves shrugged, waving a hand at the guys who had looked up at their entrance. “They went to one of the private schools Mac sent me to.”
“Don’t look so impressed, Deuce.” Caleb shook his head, casting a frown in the youngest Winchester's direction. “I suppose I need to pull out the big card, Sammy.” He looked at Dean again. “Cam and Parker play minor league ball for the Mets organization. I mean it’s not the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, but I really didn’t have the time to build you a spirit field in the middle of Jim’s back forty.”
A disbelieving look crossed over Dean’s face. He glanced back to the two men moving towards them. “No way. What are they doing in New Haven?”
Caleb shrugged. “What can I say? They wanted to see the bustling sights and I told them about Jim‘s apple pie.”
Dean rolled his eyes, but couldn’t keep the huge grin off his face. Leave it to Caleb to bribe some buddies to fly in for a private training session. “Couldn’t you have just gone to Daytona or Cancun like most normal college students, Damien?”
“And missed torturing you for three days. No way.”
It had been three days ago when Dean last talked to Caleb.
The older hunter had called to ask John a question about something he was researching, and while his father had gone to get his journal, Dean had commandeered the phone.
Weary of reminiscing ancient history, Dean leaned his head against the passenger window of the Impala and instead tried to recall their final conversation as he endured the drive to the farm.
He couldn’t remember all the specifics, not every word, or how it started or ended. Funny how a memory of a day of baseball nearly five years before seemed just as clear. But Dean remembered pristinely the plans they made.
Dean’s eighteenth birthday was coming up. And although Dean could have cared less about the milestone, Reaves insisted on a celebration. Dean could pick the place, the type of fun, and the company. Nothing was off limits for his official entry into manhood.
When Dean had tried to brush it off, Caleb had followed up with a typical insult about miracles being far and few between. It was only by the grace of God that Dean had lived to the ripe old age of eighteen, considering the amount of trouble he attracted. Jim would view it as blasphemous if they didn’t pay tribute to such an obvious blessing. Mackland would be crushed if he wasn’t allowed to buy some ridiculously expensive present to demonstrate his pride and affection in typical Ames fashion. The teen relented.
Dean had been looking forward to the event since, playing different scenarios in his mind as he whittled away the last few weeks of the winter term in a boring classroom. He’d always wanted to go to Vegas, but then Reno was tempting, as was the sunny L.A. coast.
Honestly, just the idea of hitting the road for a weekend of complete freedom was the most appealing aspect. He might not have a group of friends to mark the milestone with, but Caleb was better than a bunch of kids he wouldn’t recall after graduation. Dean would always remember Caleb. Even if at that moment all the seventeen-year-old wanted to do was forget everything about him-especially the pain of losing him.
Unfortunately, as his family reached their destination, Dean was faced with the fact haunting reminders were lurking in the shadows everywhere. His father pulled the Impala in front of the barn at Pastor Jim’s. Spot-lighted by the Chevy’s headlights, Caleb’s Jeep was impossible to ignore.
Seeing as how several cars already lined the gravel parking area in front of Jim Murphy's drive, John drove a little way down to the front of the barn. The Impala's headlights reflected on the other vehicle parked there, illuminating the back of the dusty blue Jeep. The New York on the mud-smeared license plate was barely visible and a sharp ache lanced through Winchester’s heart as he remembered ribbing Caleb the last time he’d saw him about the dirt being the only thing holding the old heap together.
Reaves might not have shared his and Dean’s love of classic cars, but he loved the old Wrangler for a lot of reasons. For one, Bobby and John had bought it for him. The three of them along with Dean had worked on it to get it running and road-ready. You would have thought the kid was being presented with a prized Ferrari when they were finished. The look on the fifteen-year-old's face was worth every moment of the tongue lashing The Scholar had doled out.
To say Ames had not been pleased was an understatement, but to the man’s credit he kept it together until he got Singer and Winchester alone. John knew the boy could have had any vehicle money could buy, but Caleb surprised them all by holding onto the old 4x4.
Caleb, underneath it all, didn’t have the heart to let go of things that mattered to him. He was loyal and sentimental. It would have killed him to know how easy it was for his mentor to see the weak spots. How many times had John used that information against him in the name of doing what was best in the long run? Did Caleb know how much John loved him?
Sam’s soft voice broke John’s dark reverie. He realized he had turned off the ignition, but was sitting frozen in place. He wasn’t sure how long he had been that way, but his youngest son was staring at him with concern. Dean was no longer in the car, the passenger door standing wide open. “I’m okay, Sammy.”
“Dean will be okay, too.” Maybe. John opened his own door and waited for the other boy to do the same. “Let’s go inside, Kiddo.”
Sam didn’t know what his father was basing his judgment on because he had never seen his brother in such a state. Dean hadn’t spoken during the entire five hour trip to Kentucky.
Even when Sam had tried to talk to him while they were packing their things, his brother had remained silent. When Sam started to cry, Dean had slipped his arm over his shoulders, pulled him close and ran a hand over his hair in comfort. But, he hadn’t spoken to Sam.
It was unnatural and scary. Dean always talked, even when Sam didn’t want him to. Dean always knew what to say to make things better.
Maybe nothing would be better again.