“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is the darkest, the wind the coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.” -Taylor Caldwell

“Dude if I hear one more rendition of a White Christmas, I swear to God I may pull out my piece and pop somebody.”

Sam cast a half-smile in his brother’s direction. The older hunter was sitting across from him in the tinsel-decorated booth, stuffing his face with the last pieces of his BLT. Apparently the owner of the Three Cousins Diner was a very festive person. He was giving away a free dessert to anyone willing to perform a Christmas song of their chosing on the brand new Karaoke system. “Dude, what is up with the Ebenezer routine? What has Santa ever done to you?”

Dean took a drink of his Coke, frowning at his younger brother. “In case I haven’t cleared this up for you before, Sammy, Santa doesn’t exist.”

“So, who brought me that Optimus Prime when I was six?”

The older Winchester rolled his eyes. “Don’t start with that again.”

“You don’t know, do you?” Sam’s grin widened. “Neither you nor Dad bought it. And Pastor Jim was too far away.” He pointed his fork at his brother. “Santa is the only reasonable explanation.”

“I think Santa and reasonable explanation is what we in the real world call an oxy-moron, little brother.”

Sam shook his head. “When did you become such a cynic, Dean?”

“I’m not a cynic. I’m a realist.”

Sam shook his head, finishing off the last of his fries. “You worked awful hard to make sure I believed in the big guy.’

Dean waved off the observation. “No I didn’t.”

“Dean, I got beat up in the fifth grade because I still believed in Santa.”

A hint of a smile twitched at the corner of Dean’s mouth. “Hey, I made sure those bullies got what was coming to them.”

Sam exhaled loudly. “My point is…you always tried to keep the whole Christmas thing…” He searched for the right word.

“Normal?” Dean supplied, with a raised brow.

The younger hunter nodded, his eyes solemn. “Yeah.” That was exactly what his brother did.

“You’re welcome.” Dean went back to eating, his dour mood not improved, which had been Sam’s intentions.

“So…when did you stop believing?”

Dean lifted his gaze from his plate, shooting his brother a ‘could you give it a rest’ look. When Sam didn’t blink, he put down his drink. “I was six…almost.”

Sam swallowed, thickly. “Who told you?”


The younger man frowned. That didn’t make sense. Reaves was usually his brother’s partner in deception when their families would often end up together on the Holidays. “Why did he tell you?”

Dean shrugged, wiping his hands on the red and green napkin. “It wasn’t like I didn’t already have a good idea. And he was just trying to spare me some grief.”

Sam raised a brow. “By telling you there was no Santa?”

“Yes.” Dean’s hard look told his sibling he was in the sharing and caring mood and that he should drop it.

“He bought me the Transformer, didn’t he?”

Dean grabbed the check. “Are you ready? I want to make it to Charlotte before five.”

Sam watched him go towards the cash register, as he stood. The feeling that it was going to be a very long ride to North Carolina destroyed the little holiday cheer he had managed to grasp as he gathered his things.

The hunter’s fingers had just wrapped around the journal Caleb had given him a few weeks earlier when a sharp pain lanced through his head, causing him to drop the book and reach for the table to stop himself from crashing to the floor. “Ahhh,” His hands grasped blindly for stability, but instead his arm swiped across the table, sending empty plates and glasses crashing to the tiled floor.

“Sam!” At the sound of his brother’s distress, Dean whirled from his forced conversation with the elf ringing him up . Sam’s face was twisted in pain, his hands clutching at the sides of his head. “Fucking visions,” the oldest Winchester hissed, rushing to the booth just as Sam sent the remains of their lunch shattering around him.

“Hey.” Dean grabbed his brother’s shoulders, keeping him from collapsing amongst the glittering shards of glass. “Sammy?”

Two waitresses in reindeer antlers galloped to their aid and Dean had to bit his lip to keep from telling them to scamper right on back to the fucking North Pole. “Oh my!” Dancer proclaimed. “Is he alright, Darlin’?”

“Should I call an ambulance?” Prancer asked.

Then Santa joined in the circus, bounding from out of the kitchen. He was holding a dripping spatula. The white T-shirt stretched across his round belly full of jelly was covered with grease smears and suspicious-looking red stains. “If he’s on something, just take his high ass right on out of here.”

“Shut up!” Dean glared at the man in the red hat. “He’s having a seizure.” It wasn’t the truth, but it saved them a lot of trouble in the explanation department because ‘my brother is a psychic and he’s witnessing someone’s imminent doom’ just didn’t provoke much empathy. People could deal with epilepsy.

“Oh my, should I stick something in his mouth?” Dancer asked.

Dean gave her a look that clearly let her know if she laid one hoof on his brother, she wouldn’t be in shape to pull the sleigh this year.

“Just back off,” he growled. “He needs some space.” Dean moved his gaze to Prancer who had that deer in the headlights look, and was grasping a cordless phone in her hand. “And no ambulance. It’s okay.”

The older hunter wasn’t sure if it was okay or not, because he could feel his brother shaking beneath his grasp. He was curled against Dean, as if trying to shield himself from the torture he was going through. The big brother in Dean shouted for him to do something, to kill whatever it was hurting Sam. But there was nothing to shoot or salt, so he did all that he could, which was sit on his fucking hands, helpless.

He suddenly felt guilty for not reading the journal Caleb had given his brother. After all, it had Mac’s notes for helping his son learn to deal with the whole psychic thing. Dean had let his anger at Reaves feed his stubborn denial. Sam did not need the damn journal. He didn't need it either. “Come on, Sammy,” Dean breathed, letting one of his hands rest on his brother's shoulder, the other in his hair. “Just breathe through it, kiddo.”

“Dean?” Sam choked, and the sound of his pain-laced voice tore into Dean like a hungry wolf.

“I’m here.”

“Caleb…” Sam gasped, rocking forward, holding his head tighter.

“Sam?” Dean felt a sudden surge of panic as his brother nearly pulled free from his grasp when more pain shook his lanky frame. “Come on, man.”

“I don’t understand…” Sam mumbled and just when Dean thought he might rethink the whole ambulance thing, his brother went lax in his arms.

“Shit,” he cursed as the sudden dead weight nearly threw him off balance.

“Oh my!” Dancer cried. Dean decided the woman really needed to come up with a new catch phrase. “Bless his heart. Dora call the paramedics!”

“Sam!” Dean growled, his jaw clenching as he quickly brought his fingers to his brother’s throat. His pulse was strong, but too quick. He looked up just as Bad Santa and a few of the other patrons had formed a circle around him and his unconscious brother. “He’s just passed out, it’s normal after an episode.”

No it’s not, his mind shouted at him, but he refused to listen. “There’s a room in the back.” Prancer or Dora finally found her voice, but she continued to tarry with the phone. “He could rest there, right Larry?”

Larry, A.K.A Kris Kringle, grunted. “I reckon, but you two get back to work. I’m running a business here not an inn.”

Dean started to refuse, but another big, bearded man had already reached down to help him with Sam. “Let me give you a hand there, son.”

His trucking company shirt read Jim and Dean didn’t miss the fact the man had kind blue eyes and a wild mess of silver hair. He cleared his throat. “Thanks.”

Jim took one arm, Dean the other, and Dora led the way. Between the three of them they managed to get his brother settled on the tiny cot, in the cramped quarters. “Are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance, sweetie?”

“No.” Dean shook his head, reassured by the steady rise and fall of his brother’s chest. “He’ll be okay.”

“Okay,” Prancer backed out of the room, because there wasn’t space enough between the can-lined shelves and upright freezer to turn around. “But you yell if you need anything.”

Dean nodded and Jim flashed him a sympathetic smile. “Brother, right?”

The older Winchester shoved a hand through his hair, and then rubbed it across his face. “Yeah.”

“Have a couple myself. Pains in the asses, but I wouldn’t trade them.” Jim nodded towards Sam. “If you change your mind about the hospital and don’t want to do the whole lights and sirens thing, I have my truck out front. I can do a pit stop at the local clinic.”

Maybe Sam was right. Maybe there was a Santa Clause. “Thanks. I’m just going to…”

Dean didn’t get the words out of his mouth before Sam started coming around. “Sam?”

Jim excused himself just as the younger hunter blinked his eyes open, looking around dazedly at the unfamiliar surroundings. “Dean?”

Dean sat on the edge of the cot, in his brother’s line of sight. “Dude, if this was your way for paying me back for being a jerk it’s a little over the top.”

“What…Where are we?”

“What? Don’t you recognize Santa’s workshop?”

Sam winced, bringing his hand up to rub at his forehead. “Damn it.”

“You okay?” Dean dropped the joking tone, and his brother looked at him, lines of pain still all-too visible on the younger man's shadowed face.

“I’m okay.” Sam swallowed back the bad taste that had suddenly seemed to coat his mouth. “I didn’t mean to freak you out.”

“Who’s freaked out?” Dean feigned offense. “I was in complete control?”

“You didn’t kill anybody did you?”

“No! I can control myself, you know. I’m getting use to the whole vision routine. Although, I got to say if you keep changing up the moves on me, bro…”

“It wasn’t a vision,” Sam said suddenly, struggling to sit up against his brother’s restraining hands.

“Whoa,” Dean told him as he tipped dangerously close to the edge of the cot. “Take it easy.”

Sam shook his head. “No…Dean we have to go.”

“I thought it wasn’t a vision.” Dean searched his brother’s face. “What the hell was it? And what’s the big hurry?”

Sam licked his lips, swallowing again. “I…don’t know. It was like…” He struggled to explain it. “I think someone was trying to contact me.”

Dean sat back, his hands slipping from his brother’s shoulder. “Come again?”

“It was like a call for help.”

“Like a ‘reach out and touch someone’ kind of call for help?”

“Yes.” The psychic frowned. He’d had the feeling before, to some degree, but never since getting his abilities. It was intense like a vision and just as painful, but no images came with it. There was something…but he couldn’t quite grasp it.

“You said Caleb’s name.” Dean’s hand had found Sam's wrist again. He tightened to regain his brother's attention. “Sammy? You asked for Caleb. Could it have been him?”

Sam felt his own heart rate pick up as he saw the raw fear race through Dean's green eyes. His brother hadn‘t told him all the ends and outs of why exactly they were going to North Carolina. Dean covered with the simple story that he didn’t trust Joshua to be the kind of back-up Caleb usually needed, and with John no longer around…“I don’t know, Dean. I don’t remember saying his name.”

Dean nodded, then glanced anxiously towards the door. “You okay to hit the road?”

The younger hunter recognized the battle of concern and duty waging in his brother’s gaze. “I’m okay.” He reached out his hand for Dean to help him up. “Let’s get to North Carolina.”

They saw the cityscape of Charlotte rise before them with the sunset and Dean checked his watch for about the tenth time. “You think Sawyer will still be in his office? It‘s almost five.”

“He works for one of the biggest PR firms in the East, Dean. I don’t think they keep regular hours.”

“Public Relations.” Dean snorted. “The idiot can’t even give a straight come back. He couldn’t talk his way out of a paper bag. How the hell is he supposed to clean up someone’s image?”

Sam grinned despite the dark cloud that had been following them the whole three hour trip. “As Bobby likes to say Joshua is slicker than snot on a doorknob.”

Dean shot his brother a doubtful look. “You use to outwit him when you were five.”

“I think he’s different when he’s around us.”

“He’s different all right.” Dean turned his gaze back to the shiny steel buildings in the distance. “But he won’t weasel his way out of the line of fire if he doesn’t come up with the words I want to hear.”

“Just let me take the lead on this one.”

“Why? Because you lawyer types and public relation guys have so much in common?”

“No, because I won’t shoot first and ask questions later. Sometimes I think you forget he wears a ring.”

“I forget about the ring?” Dean shot his brother an accusing glare. “You’re kidding right?”

Sam took a deep breath, refusing to be baited. “I have my ring, Dean.”

“Maybe it’s about time you start wearing it.”

“That’s not for you to decide.”

“Yeah, well, how I handle Sawyer isn’t up for you to decide.” He glanced at him once more. “Got it?”

“Whatever,” Sam mumbled, watching the purple mountains in the distance. So much for a Merry Christmas.

They remained silent until Dean began whistling as they entered the plush fourteenth floor offices of the Craig Industrial Complex. “I have to give it to him; the man knows how to work his magic.”

Sam rolled his eyes at the dig. “I really don’t think Joshua got any of this by using…well, you know.”

Dean stopped at the fork in the cranberry-carpeted hallway and searched for the right direction. Sam pointed to a set of double frosted-glass doors with McGill & Associates etched on them. “What? You don‘t think Harry Potter wouldn’t wiggle his nose to get in on this type of action. We already covered the whole ‘Josh is retarded’ thing.”

Sam sighed. “Harry Potter doesn’t twitch his nose, Dean. Read a book for God’s sake.”

Dean ignored his brother as he pushed through the doors and strode up to the shiny black desk in the center of the office.

Andrew Harmon was just finishing with his impromptu manicure when he got his holiday miracle early. “Yes, my dear Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.” He sent a quick thank you to the Lord above for giving him his job, before leaning forward to greet the new handsome patrons. “May I help you?”

Dean flashed his most winning smile at the dark-haired guy in the bright pink tie. “We’re here to see Joshua Sawyer.”

“And do you gentlemen have an appointment?”

Sam flashed his brother a look, before replying, “We’re old friends of his.”

“Meaning…no you don’t have an appointment.” Andrew tapped his perfect white teeth with a pen. “Are you boys trying to be naughty? Because Santa is watching and I've been known to give spankings for such behavior. ”

Dean frowned and Sam bit his lip at the puzzled look on his brother’s face. “Can you just ring up Josh and tell him Dean Winchester is here?”

“Dean Winchester.” Andrew drew the syllables out with a Chesire cat grin. “I like that. Did Mister Sawyer dream that up?”

“No.” Dean tapped his fingers impatiently on the black counter top. “My parents did.”

“My bad.” Andrew propped his chin on his elbow, his gaze lingering on Dean. “You aren’t exactly the type that comes to call on Mr. Sawyer, but I was hoping his tastes might have improved.”

“He have a lot of unsavory types drifting in?” Sam asked skeptically. They had been given the third degree in the lobby. If they hadn’t flashed their fake badges then they wouldn’t have made it in off the street.

Andrew snorted. “No. Worse. Women.” The administrative assistant sighed. “He’s quite popular with the female clientele.”

“I’m sure,” Dean asserted, pulling the leather bi-fold from his pocket. He flashed the badge. “Get lover boy out here, chief.”

“Chief?” Andrew grinned playfully as he picked up the phone and punched a few numbers. “We’re already to the pet name stage? What next, Officer? You going to handcuff me to the copier?”

“Dean.” Sam grabbed his brother’s wrist before the older man had a chance to open his mouth. “How about we wait right over there for Joshua?”

Dean plucked the phone out of Andrew’s hand and replaced it in the cradle. “How about I just go on back and let him know I’m here, myself.”

Andrew shrugged. “Suit yourself. I’m off in five, anyway.”

“Just point the way.”

The eager assistant pointed a newly painted nail towards a far office in the corner. “He’s in a meeting.”

“The more the merrier,” Dean growled, starting off with Sam falling behind after giving Andrew an apologetic shrug.

“I’m up for a strip search when you’re done, detectives,” Andrew called after them, watching appreciatively as they made their way away from his desk. “Merry Christmas to me.”

“Dean, you should at least…”

Sam didn’t even get the chance to tell his brother to knock before the oldest Winchester was barreling into the office like he was the chairman of whatever board was meeting.

Joshua looked up from the table as the Winchesters entered unannounced. Sam caught the complete look of surprise that crossed his well-chiseled features before he locked his typical game face back in place. “Sam. Dean. I wasn’t expecting you two until later.”

The other men gathered around shot appraising looks in the young hunters' direction. “Joshua, what is this?” A tall, distinguished man with silver hair, stood haughtily gesturing to the two newcomers. “Who are these people?”

Joshua smiled, standing also. “You two will have to excuse Mjister McGill for not recognizing you. Much to his Grandson’s disbelief he doesn’t keep up with the music scene.”

“Excuse me?” McGill’s frown grew and the other gentlemen started to study Dean and Sam with more interest.

“Don’t feel bad, sir.” Joshua waved off his boss’s concern. “Not many people over sixteen have heard of Chevrolet Sucks, but I assure you these two guys are on the top of their game and the Alternative charts.”

“And what has that got to do with us?”

“The Pillar account, remember?” Sawyer circled around the room, gesturing toward a door off to the side. “They wanted something very trendy and obscure for the background music.”

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

“Exactly.” Joshua smiled again, opening the door, and smoothly gesturing Dean and Sam in. “Obscure. Mysterious. Jack will eat it up.”

“Old bastard is a strange one.” One of the other businessmen spoke up and that started a private conversation which allowed Sawyer to escape with a quiet click of the door.

“Chevrolet Sucks?” Dean asked as soon as the door was closed. He eyed the other man critically. He was wearing black slacks, a white button down shirt and some kind of black velvet sports coat, the older Winchester was sure cost as much as a small domestic car.

“What the hell are you two doing here?” Joshua demanded, ignoring the other hunter’s indignation, giving him the same once over he had received. “And couldn‘t you have at least dressed for the occasion ? Are you trying to ruin everything?”

“It’s nice to see you to, Josh.” Dean picked his way around the small office, that obviously belonged to Sawyer if the eclectic décor and smell of money was any indication.

“Dean, damn it.” Joshua shoved his hands through his hair as he went to the small mini-bar in the corner and poured him a glass of brandy. “You know this isn’t how it works.”

“We tried your cell,” Sam spoke up.

“Did you leave a message?”

“Hours ago,” Dean told him, picking up a crystal sculpture and turning it over and over in his hands.

“And I would have called you back.” Joshua grabbed the figurine and placed it carefully back on the meticulous desk. “In my own time.”

“Is that how the whole back-up thing works with you and Reaves? Because that pretty much sounds like it would suck in an emergency.”

Joshua took a long drink. “What?” He shook his head. “What about Reaves?”

“Where is he?”

“How the hell should I know?”

Sam stepped between the two, facing Joshua. “He said he was working on a job with you.”

Sawyer rolled his eyes. “That cult thing?” He shook his head again. “Tell me he didn’t screw it up, because Boone…”

“He doesn’t screw up!” Dean snapped.

Joshua grinned, ruefully. “Forgive me if I’m not prone to that thing called blind faith, Deuce.”

Sam moved quickly, expertly predicting his brother’s move before it happened. “Dean.” He pushed his brother away from Sawyer, holding a hand out against his chest. “He can’t answer our questions if he’s unconscious.”

“Where. Is. Caleb?” Dean bit out, glaring at Sawyer from over his brother’s shoulder.

Joshua sighed, as if he were growing bored of the conversation. “I’m not his keeper.”

“Joshua,” Sam kept his hand on his brother’s chest but turned, pointing a finger at Sawyer, “we know he’s working a job with you, so stop playing dumb.”

“That’s not an act, Sammy,” Dean said, sidestepping his brother’s barrier.

“We weren’t working a job together.” Joshua sighed again, favoring Dean with another dour look. “Do you realize how much trouble you could cause by coming here?”

“Do you realize I don’t give a shit about your fucking job?” Dean took a step towards Joshua. “You’re a part of The Brotherhood. That means this job comes first.”

“Really?” Joshua shook his head. “Because I don’t know if you realize this but not all of us can eek out a living by running credit card scams and hustling pool. And even though most of us dream of that artful dodger kind of childhood, the ‘real’ cops would catch on pretty fast and that would not work out well for anyone.”

“Look.” Sam glared at Sawyer, the dig at his and Dean’s childhood and insult to their father wearing his patience thin. “All we want to know is when you last talked to him and where he was?”

“I talked to him a few days ago,” Joshua relented. “ He was in Riverside, a little town about an hour south of here.”


“And he was following a lead.” Joshua waved his hand in the air. “He didn’t really elaborate. Prattled on about how he had won a couple of the members' trust and they had invited them to their own little Ruby Ridge complex.”

“Great.” Dean glanced at his brother. “I hate cults.”

“I don’t like them either, but Boone needed this one looked in to. Seems several young women have disappeared over the last few months. There was talk of some kind of demon worship and sacrifices.”

The older Winchester frowned. “Let me guess. Boone called you for a favor and you handed off to Caleb.” Boone might have officially retired from the ranks of The Brotherhood, but he still handed off assignments to other hunters. He was a middle-man of sorts. Dean had known his father to use him on occasion, although he hadn’t seen the man face to face since he was about twelve.

Joshua topped off his drink, not bothering to play the well-mannered host. “It sounded like Caleb’s thing. He knows a lot about the freaks, and he was interested in the particular demon.”

“Meaning in PR speak that you dangled a carrot in front of him because you don’t like to get your hands dirty.”

“Dean,” Sam warned.

“We’ve all been busy picking up the slack since Jim and…” Sawyer exhaled loudly, raking a hand through his hair. “I’ve had my share of jobs. It’s been an adjustment for everyone.”

Dean nodded, his jaw clenching. “Did you have a backup plan? A time for him to check in?”

“Tomorrow morning. If I didn‘t hear from him I was suppose to call you. Imagine that. You must be psychic, too.”

The older Winchester started for the door. “Don’t leave town, Josh.”

“It’s Christmas, Winchester. I have plans, and it‘s Joshua.”

“Plan on being here until we call you, Josh.”

Sam gave Sawyer an apologetic shrug. “Sorry. He’s not exactly in the holiday spirit this year.”

“I guess I shouldn't be expecting a Christmas card from him then.”

“We’ll be in touch.” Sam hurried to catch up with his brother.

“I look forward to it.” The older hunter stepped half-way through the office door. “And about that whole saving your life thing last year, Dean, don’t mention it,” Joshua called after them. “You’re welcome,” he added before stepping back into his office and slamming the door with a resounding thud.

“You know it’s not all his fault,” Sam said, once they were in their car and on the way to Riverside. “Caleb’s almost as bad as Dad about the whole need to know stuff.”

Dean didn’t acknowledge his words. He merely continued to watch the darkened Interstate for the exit they would need.

Sam was undaunted. “And despite everything Caleb must trust him or he wouldn’t work with him as much as he does.”

Still, his reply was silence. However, his brother did clench his jaw and hiis hands seemed to tighten, white-knuckle like on the steering wheel. That of course could mean a lot of things. “This could all be for nothing. Caleb could be fine.”

“Something’s wrong.”

The words weren’t as harsh as he expected, and Sam angled his body so that he could study his brother’s profile. “What makes you say that?”

Dean cut his gaze to him. “You mean besides your whole incident with the psychic hotline?”

“We don’t know that was Caleb.” The younger hunter shook his head. “Hell, we don’t know what that was.”

Dean moved his eyes back to the road and the congested traffic surrounding them. “I had a dream…all right. Jim was in it, and he told me…” The older Winchester sighed. “He told me to save the Knight.”

“Dean.” Sam sighed. “Jim’s dead.”

“You don’t think I know that, Einstein!” Dean snapped. He favored his brother with the patented Winchester glower. “But I’ve talked to him before.”

The younger hunter raised a skeptical brow. “Since he died?”

Dean shot him another look and Sam held up his hands. “I’m just clarifying.”

“Yes, Perry Mason. I talked to him at the pond, before I woke up at the hospital.”

Sam nodded. “And what did you two talk about?”

“That’s not important, Sam.” Dean gave the younger hunter another withering look. “This dream was different. Jim was different. He was messed up.”

Sam's voice lowered. “Messed up?”

Dean swallowed hard as the image of Jim Murphy’s slashed throat paraded through his mind. “His throat was cut. He was upset. Jim told me not to let it happen again.”

The younger hunter frowned. “You think he meant that Caleb was going to be killed by the demon, too? Like him and Dad?”

“What else could it mean?”

“Dean, you’ve never had…”

“Visions?” his brother interrupted. “Don’t worry, Sammy, I’m not trying to steal your psychic thunder. But for some reason, I have a connection to Jim. I can’t explain it. Hell, I don’t want to understand it…but Caleb’s in trouble. That much I know for sure.”

Sam sighed, rubbing at his head, where a echo of the previous ‘episode’ still lingered. “But if the demon was involved, wouldn’t I have had a real vision?”

Dean shook his head. “I don’t know, but you heard Joshua. There’s some kind of demon involved in this, whether it’s that yellow-eyed bastard or not, we’re going to finish it.” Before it kills someone else we care about.

“Yeah.” Sam glanced out the window. “Nothing’s going to happen to Caleb.”

Dean shot him a look. “Seeing as how I’m willing to bet Riverside doesn’t have a Hilton, we’ll need to find a phone book when we get there.”

“A Hilton?” Sam raised a brow.

“Yeah. Reaves has a rewards card. He’s likes to pretend he’s a rock star when he’s hunting. We‘ve stayed at some fucking awesome places.”

Sam shook his head. “And we stay at any rat-trap available.”

Dean shrugged. “When you start pulling in six figures, Matlock, we can get a Hilton card, too.”

“So, when he’s forced to live as the commoners do, he follows the same rules as the rest of us.”

“Yeah. He’ll be in the first cheap-ass motel registered under Rick Deckard.”

Sam frowned, trying to recall where he had heard the name before. "Deckard?"

Dean grinned. “The lead character in The Blade Runner. Remember?”

“How could I forget? You two made me watch that thing about a hundred times.”

“Hey, he was a hunter, sort of. It was educational.” Dean went back to watching the road. “Besides Caleb had a thing for the building.”

“The building?”

“Yeah. The Bradbury Building in L.A. They filmed the movie there. He and I did a sweep with an EMF once, but nothing showed.”

Sam laughed, shaking his head. “You two are so weird.”

“Seriously, Dude, it was designed by some architect after he had a conversation with his dead brother via a Quija board.”

“Now it all makes sense.” Sam rolled his eyes. “And here I thought the only things you two talked about besides hunting were the Sox, frisky women and weapons.”

“Are you calling us shallow?”

Sam moved his eyes back to the slow-moving traffic, ignoring the disgruntled look his brother was giving him. “As a summer creek bed in Arizona.”

“Shut up.” Dean pointed to the atlas lying between them. “Check that exit again. I don’t want to miss it.”

As it turned out, Riverside was hard to miss.

The small town was lit up like Vegas. To say the town took Christmas to heart was an understatement. Every lamp post, every tree, and each and every house was decked with lights and tinsel, not to mention the yards full of blow-up inflatables and more traditional wood-cuts of Santa and his team. “You’ve got to be kidding me?” Dean complained as the turned into the Sleep 10 Motel and was greeted by a chorus of carolers in a tractor-pulled wagon. “What is this?”

“It’s called Christmas, brother.”

The older Winchester glared at Sam as he parked far away from the singing troupe and killed the car. “Damien will haunt us forever if he’s taken out by the Grinch in this warped Whoville.”

Sam climbed out of the car and followed his brother through the candy cane lane that led to the manager’s office. “Dean, Caleb’s going to be fine. He can take care of himself. And the Grinch lived on Mount Crumpit.”

The older hunter ignored his brother's role reversal attempt and waved away the false reassurances. He opened the bell-laden door with a huff, feeling a sudden affinity to the green, cave-dwelling Christmas-hater from Suess' story.

“Merry Christmas!” An older man with a bad comb over and beady eyes greeted them with a forced exuberance from his perch in front of a small, portable television. “Welcome to Motel 10,” he said in his scripted tone.

Dean didn’t waste any time, pulling his badge and stepping to the counter. “I’m Detective Hutchinson with the Louisville, P.D.”

The manager stood quickly, setting the bowl of popcorn he was eating from on the counter. “Uhhh..." he stammered. "We don’t usually get the big city boys down here. How can I help you, Officer?”

“I’m looking for a man who might have checked in here a few days ago. A man named Deckard.”

The clerk rubbed a hand over his face. “Tall felllow? Dark hair, movie-star looking type?”

Sam covered his laugh with a cough. “So he’s staying here?”

“Yeah.” Bad comb-over punched a few keys on the computer. “Checked in three days ago. Paid for a full week. He’s in room 184, around back, on the corner.”

“Key?” Dean held his hand out expectantly, and the manager quickly scanned a plastic card and handed it to him.

“He’s not dangerous, is he?”

The Winchesters exchanged looks, and the manager seemed to draw his own conclusions from their furtive glances. He started shaking his head. “I don’t want any trouble here. I run a clean establishment.”

“And we’ll do our best to keep it that way,” Sam told him, sincerely.

“Should I come with you?”

“No,” Dean replied quickly and the man looked extremely relieved. “We’ll let you know if we need anything.”

After once again by-passing the carolers, they easily found the room in the small one-story motel. Caleb’s door was on the corner and in the back, the location that John Winchester had preferred. Dean checked the area, gratefully finding the back parking lot vacant of any well-wishers or tenants. He pulled his weapon and nodded for Sam to unlock the door.

The younger hunter slid the key in the lock, putting his shoulder into it when it didn’t open quick enough.

There was only a faint stream of light, seeping in from the half-open bathroom door in the far corner, but it bathed the dingy room in a sickly yellow glow.

Both brothers stepped into the small space, scanning the area, weapons held at the ready. “Caleb?” Dean’s voice echoed loudly to Sam, who’s senses seemed to be on overdrive and he flinched.

“Shit!” The oldest Winchester cursed, his gaze quickly landing on the inert form of the hunter in question. Dean slid his gun into the back of his jeans and moved towards the bed furthest from the door. “Caleb!”

“Dean?” Sam stood stock still, unable to get his feet to carry him across the wine-colored carpet. He hadn’t seen the other psychic move, and there was only one explanation for the older hunter not being alerted to their entrance.

“Get the light, Sammy.” Dean waited for his brother to comply before reaching a hand out to rest against Caleb’s neck.

“Is he…”

“He’s alive.” Dean exhaled, loudly, sparing his brother a quick look before he focused on their friend once more. “Caleb? Come on, man.”

Sam made his way to Dean’s side, his gaze traveling over the psychic’s body. Caleb was laying on his side, his upper body and face covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He was pale and his breathing was quick and shallow. “Dean?”

“I don’t know, Sam!” His brother snapped, gently rolling the psychic over so that he was on his back. “Damn. He’s burning up.”

Sam rested his hand against Caleb’s forehead and much to his surprise the older man’s eyes fluttered and opened. The amber-like gaze was unfocused and glassy, but it seemed to zero in on Sam’s face. “Damn, is it you?” Caleb rasped.

“Caleb?” Sam leaned closer, placing his other hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Can you hear me?”

Caleb blinked again. “John,” he muttered and his eyes slid shut once more.

The younger Winchester turned towards his brother, trying to open his mouth to say something. But a sudden force like being sucked into a wind tunnel stole the breath from his lungs and he felt himself falling away. As if from a great distance he heard his brother say his name , and then he was in another place, being serenaded by a very differnt voice.

At first he thought he was once more out in front of the motel listening to the carolers, but then he recognized the crooning of Elvis and realized he was in a crowded restaurant, the juke box booming out White Christmas. It was a vision.

“ I was surprised when you agreed to have lunch with me.” Caleb Reaves was sitting in a booth close to the door with a pretty blond. “I thought Solomon frowned on things like this.”

“I told him we were coming in for supplies.”

Reaves looked surprised and pleased. “You lied?”

“Solomon thinks the Lord and the land provide us with all the nourishment our body needs.” The woman shot Reaves a smile. “Yet, my body still seems to crave a good cheeseburger and fries every now and then.”

“ A woman after my own heart.” Reaves laughed. “But here I thought you were in the running for sainthood, Sister Ann.”

The girl’s face seemed to change. “I’m not as innocent as some people think.”

“Now that’s the first good news I’ve heard since joining your little club.”

“You’re not a member, yet, Brother Thomas.”

“Order up!” The cook behind the counter banged a meaty hand down on his bell, and Caleb glanced up.

“That’s us. I’ll get it.” He winked at Ann. “Don’t go anywhere.”

“I won’t,” Ann answered, sweetly, watching the hunter as he moved to get their lunch.

Sam witnessed the change in the girl as Caleb walked away. She moved like a cat once the hunter was out of sight. Ann slipped a hand into the pocket of her coat, coming out with a bundle of cloth which she quickly unwound. From Sam’s point of view the contents within looked like loose tea, and he watched helplessly as the girl dumped them into Caleb’s drink, using her finger to swirl the dark coffee around.

The hunter would be none the wiser, and Sam was helpless to warn him as Reaves returned with two plates in hand. He set one in front of the girl, and took the other for himself. “Extra cheese and heavy on the salt and grease.”

“Thanks,” Ann told him, picking up a fry. “I knew I liked you for some reason.”

Caleb reclaimed his seat and grinned. “Oh sweetheart, you haven’t seen anything yet.”

Sam watched helplessly as Caleb picked up the coffee cup and nearly downed it all in one swallow. “I’ll have you completely won over by dessert.”

“We’ll have to see about that.” Ann smirked, picking up the cheeseburger and taking a demure bite.

“Have faith, Sister Ann.” Caleb winked. “Have faith.”

“No!” Sam gasped and opened his eyes. He blinked and a water-stained ceiling came into focus.

“What the hell, Sam?” Dean’s face suddenly consumed his field of vision, replacing the tiles, looking as worried and frustrated as he could recall. “I don’t need this shit, man. Are you okay?"

Sam blinked again, attempting to weakly push himself to a sitting position. “Dean? What…”

“You fainted again, Francis!” Dean snapped, helping him up.

“It was a vision.” Sam used the side of Caleb’s bed and his brother’s arm to leverage himself out of the floor. He looked at Reaves. “Or maybe not.”

“Excuse me.” Dean guided him to the other bed. “What the hell does that mean? In case you haven’t noticed we don’t have time for twenty questions.”

Sam frowned, rubbing at his forehead. “I think I was seeing something in the past…something that happened to Caleb.”

Dean looked towards their friend and then back to his brother. “Like that whole link think that Caleb and Mac can do?”

The younger hunter looked up at his hovering brother and nodded. “Maybe.”

“What did you see?”

“A girl…she put something in Caleb’s drink.”

“Like a micky?”

Sam shook his head. “No. Some kind of poison, I think.”

“Damn it.” Dean moved back to Caleb’s side, resting a hand on the older hunter’s head. “That would explain this.” He removed his touch and sighed. “I told you a woman was going to be the death of you, Damien.”

Caleb moved restlessly, his eyes briefly opening again. “Caleb?” Dean rested his hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Are you with us?”

The psychic tossed his head again, moaning in pain. “Hey, man. It’s Dean.”

Caleb looked up, shook his head slightly. “No… Ace. You’re Deuce to me.”

Dean sat down on the bed as his legs betrayed him. It was the last thing he’d said to Caleb, a cruel little jab that drove home how pissed he was at the man. “Right. It’s Deuce.”

“No M&M’s,” Reaves muttered, and he was out again.

Dean looked at his brother. “Would you recognize the girl?”

Sam swallowed thickly, licked his dry lips. “Yeah.”

“Good.” Dean moved his hand back to Caleb’s shoulder, hoping to let the other hunter know he wasn't alone. “Call Joshua and tell him to get his ass over here, A.S.A.P.”


Dean didn't give his brother time to finish his thoughts. “Do it, Sammy. And if he gives you any bullshit tell him the Knight is dying and unless he wants to be kicked out of The Brotherhood on his public relations ass he better punch the time clock and take a fucking short cut.”

Onto Part 2