By Ridley C. James, December 2009

Beta: Tidia

Rating: K

Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me, but the idea, which is obviously not original.

Words: 8.010

Summary: Pre-Series. Young Winchesters. After a hunt goes wrong, John disappears, leaving his sons to face Christmas without him. The family discovers that it is in our darkest moments, that we find the light within us.


“Love is not consolation. It is light.” –Fredrich Nietcshche

Bobby Singer’s feet stank like the inside of Caleb’s five year old destroyed Converse. The stench was hard to ignore even with a couch’s length in between. Caleb put his book aside, pressing deeper into his side of the leather sofa. He shifted so his socked feet easily reached the coffee table where he plopped them on top of Great Houses of Europe with a satisfied smile. He would fight fire with fire.

“What’s canary taste like, Kid?”

Caleb frowned at the nickname. His fifteenth birthday was only weeks away and he’d recently hit a growth spurt. It would be hard for anyone to consider him a kid when he was six feet tall.

“You look awfully pleased with yourself,” Bobby said. “I think a couple of feathers are hanging out.”

Caleb unconsciously touched his mouth. “I’m suddenly more interesting than the game? Don’t you have a roll of cash riding on this?”

Bobby’s eyebrow arched sharply beneath the bill of his Haul-em Heavy Towing cap. “You been listening in on my phone conversations again?”

“Why use the extension in my room when I have my own built in wiretap.”

Bobby pointed the remote at him. “Mac needs to teach you better manners, Psychic Wonder.”

“He has a bigger project at the moment.” Bobby had been staying at the Ames residence in New York since Thanksgiving when a hunt gone wrong left the mechanic with broken ribs and a lacerated spleen. That had been almost two weeks ago and Mac showed no signs of releasing Bobby back to the wilds of his junkyard or tiring of his quest to civilize the mechanic.

“Yeah,” Bobby rubbed his beard. "The boys are keeping him busy.”

“Right.” Caleb snorted. He let his gaze go to the half-eaten salami sandwich and empty bag of Lays in the floor by Bobby. “Dean and Sammy know how to pick up after themselves.”

“I’m sure they’re a breeze compared to living with you.”

The sound of a toy train whistle came from beyond the doorway, followed by the sharp tinkling of shattering glass. There was a burst of giggling. Sam and Dean Winchester were providing a different challenge for Caleb’s adopted father. “Looks like Sammy found the new ornaments.”

Bobby looked over his shoulder towards the commotion. “Has Mackland actually put up a Christmas tree before?”

“Last year he hired an interior decorating service to do it.” Caleb was pretty sure that had been done entirely for his benefit. It was their first Christmas together since the adoption was finalized. When they came home from spending Thanksgiving at Pastor Jim’s farm, the condo looked like the holiday showroom in Macy’s had exploded.

“I doubt if Dr. Ames had many Ralphie Parker memories growing up.”

Caleb frowned. “Ralphie who?”

“Ralphie Parker. The Christmas Story?” Bobby gave a disgusted grunt when Caleb maintained the clueless look. “All I’m saying is the elite usually celebrate a little different from us common folk, Kid.”

“Cullen spends the holidays abroad. He’s going to Australia this year.” Cullen had asked Mac and Caleb to come along, but Caleb’s school calendar had kept them in the city. Caleb didn’t mind, considering his grandfather had mentioned an ocean side villa and yacht. Besides, he at least liked Christmas in winter, maybe with some snow.

“That sounds about right.” Bobby grinned. “I'm sure the Ames's servants did most of the decorating. Mackland’s in virgin territory.”

“I think Dad’s doing all this as a distraction for Sammy and Dean.” The Winchesters had been with them since Bobby’s accident. Mac had made it a priority to keep them occupied. “He doesn’t want them to worry.”

“John’s coming back, Junior. He’s just licking his wounds.”

“I know that, but I’m not sure Dean’s convinced.” Caleb recognized the look Bobby was giving him, the one that said the hunter thought he needed some reassuring of his own. From the moment John Winchester held Caleb and Mac at gunpoint at that run down hotel in Ohio, Caleb had been enthralled. John becoming The Knight garnered his unyielding allegiance. Caleb wasn’t sure how to describe it, but something about John pulled at the teen. That awe factor had only increased over the time Caleb had trained with Winchester. It was eclipsed only by the bond Caleb had with the man’s son. His loyalty to Dean demanded he be pissed at John for his disappearing act.

“Dean?” Bobby arched a brow.

“Blonde kid, big green cow eyes.” Caleb brought his hand off the couch. “About this tall.”

“This ain’t the first time Dean’s been left behind,” Bobby said. “The boys will be okay.”

“John’s never been gone for this long,” Caleb said. Sammy seemed to adapt quickly to his new routine in New York, enjoying all the stimulation of the bustling city, the attention Mac was offering. Yet, the three year old had started sucking his thumb at night again.

“He hasn’t even talked to Dean on the phone.” The others might not see what John’s sabbatical was doing to his oldest son, but Caleb did. He’d caught Dean staring out the window at night. Dean was a tornado wrapped in a wooden box. Caleb’s gift allowed him to go beyond the smooth surface. He knew the storm that was stirring inside.

“John’s dealing with some…”

“Issues?” Caleb interrupted with a huff. “That’s grown-up slang for he’s being an ass.” Caleb didn’t want a return to the creepy, quiet kid Dean had been a year ago. He had helped pull Dean from that dark place and Caleb refused to let John’s tantrum pull him back into the shadows.

“What did Mac tell you?”

Caleb rolled his eyes. “Mac treats me like I’m Dean and Sammy’s age. I’ll be fifteen in twenty-three days. I’ve been hunting for almost a year, but he still thinks I need to get the kid glove treatment. He won’t tell me anything.”

“I hate to break this to you, but you can turn fifty-five and you’re still going to be that scrawny ass kid Mac snatched from the jaws of death.”

It was true. Caleb could get as tall as he wanted, but he’d never catch up to the men he so desperately wanted to impress. “I heard them arguing on the phone. Dad asked when John was coming back. He said he was going to keep Dean in school here until Christmas break. I just want to know what it all means. I want some answers.”

Bobby rubbed a hand over his mouth. “I think it means your daddy needs to reconsider getting a new place with more room.”

“Come on, Bobby. My imagination is worse than the truth.” Caleb only had his experiences to go on. Even his belief in John couldn’t escape his knowledge of how unfair life could be for little boys.

“John screwed up the hunt. It was a rookie mistake, one that happens to all of us at some point and time. It’s happened to me, and your daddy. It’ll happen to you someday. John’s trial by fire just came along at a particularly bad time.”

“Because of the holidays?” The faint ache and longing Caleb held in his heart for his parents flared to life on the anniversary of their deaths and during special occasions like Christmas and his birthday.

Bobby nodded. “It sure didn’t help.”

“Was it John’s fault that you got hurt?”

“I got hurt because I let the baddie get the drop on me. It was as much my fault as John’s.” Bobby draped an arm over his ribs. “He may be The Knight, but I was senior hunter in charge.”

“I guess he doesn’t see it that way. The Knight’s job is to watch the back of his fellow soldiers.” It was one of the lessons John drilled in him. Caleb remembered the look in his mentor’s eyes at the hospital, the way his shoulders sagged when Mac came out to tell them Bobby had made it through surgery. John blamed himself.

“Look, Junior. Your hero John’s a cocky sonofabitch. This shook his confidence, reminding him that this holy war he’s undertaken isn’t just about him and his revenge. I think he was reminded that there are still people he can lose to the battle.”

“Nobody likes to think about that.” Caleb kept walls around his heart for that very reason.

“We all have to look the monster in the eye sometime, Kid.”

There was another crash and Dean’s voice floated to them as he reprimanded his younger brother. Caleb pushed up from the couch. “I better go lend them a hand.”

“I thought you told your Daddy you were too busy with homework to help with his Ward Cleaver moment.” Bobby pulled his cap off, started reshaping the bill.

“There’s always Sunday.” Caleb frowned at the book in his hand. Lord Jim. Despite the title which at first had intrigued him, Conrad’s novel was proving to be a disappointment. The teen would never understand why Literature teachers everywhere tortured their students with ‘classics’. The most current instrument of sophomore cruelty had to be finished by Monday morning, along with a five page paper concerning one of the character’s motivations if Caleb wanted to pull a ‘D’ in Mrs. Whitmore’s class.

“There’s a movie, you know.”

“A movie?” Caleb whipped his gaze to Bobby, the current Winchester saga forgotten. “Mac didn’t say anything about a movie when he was singing the book’s praises.”

“You really think The Scholar is going to let you wimp out on such a geeky opportunity?” Bobby reset the cap on his head, pulling it low over his eyes.

“No.” Caleb knew better. Mac had talked the novel up, promising his son the protagonist’s story of overcoming a shadowy past and unspeakable deed to become a hero would resonate.

“That’s where Uncle Bobby comes in.” Singer glanced towards the doorway again. Mac and the boys were just beyond in the foyer. “There are two movies. First one ain’t going to help you much because it was the silent variety, but the second was good. It starred Peter O’Toole and Jack Hawkins.”

Caleb frowned. “Who?”

Bobby shook his head. “Never mind. Are you interested or not, kid?”

“Why are you helping me? What’s in it for you?” Caleb trusted Bobby with his life, but was smart enough to know the mechanic wasn’t going to hand out favors from the goodness of his heart.

“Your daddy is driving me crazy with his nursemaid routine,” Bobby said. “You talk him into letting me out of this place for a little R & R in the city and I’ll find you the hot ticket you’re looking for.”

“He’ll never go for it.” Caleb crossed his arms over his chest. Mackland Ames was a force to be reckoned with when it came to his sound medical decisions. Mac believed his way was always best, and he had threatened Bobby with going to The Guardian if he didn’t concede to his orders. Caleb wasn’t sure what his father had on the mechanic, but it must have been good for Bobby to give in.

“You never know unless you try.” Bobby raised a brow. “Didn’t you need another book by Conrad? Wasn’t there some kind of comparison part to the essay you have to knock out?”

“Are you suggesting I lie to my father?”

“You listen in on his private phone conversations. This isn’t that much different.” Bobby threw up his hands. “Hey, if you want to stick with the good old fashioned way and actually read the thing…”

“There is a bookstore a few blocks away.” Caleb stood. “It’s not too far of a walk. The fresh air might do you good.”

“That sounds like the spirit.” Bobby lowered his voice. “Speaking of spirits, any chance there’s a fine drinking establishment near that bookstore.”

“Did you miss the part about Mac treating me like I’m five instead of fifteen? He doesn’t usually let me prowl the Carnegie Hill bar scene.”


“I’m sure we can find you a hotel bar without dress restrictions.” Caleb really didn’t want to spend his weekend reading a boring book, but John had taught him to never take the first offer on the table. Countering put you in charge. “Throw in a twenty and we have a deal.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Take it or leave it.”

“Fine.” Bobby turned his gaze back to the game with a grumble. “But if this doesn’t work, you’re my man servant until I get my papers out of this joint.”

Caleb tossed Lord Jim among the other books on the coffee table. “That would be no different than the last two weeks.”

“Get used to it, Junior,” Bobby called after him. “You have years of servitude left before you get your ring.”

Caleb found his father and the Winchesters more or less exactly where he’d left them an hour before. The eight foot Connecticut Fir was mostly bare in the corner, an explosion of shiny silver and gold balls littered the wooden floor around its base. The Northwestern replica train set was put together, the only signs of progress. Its tracks circled the tree complete with a tunnel. The locomotive and caboose were derailed near a miniature reindeer and slay. A toy Santa looked like the only fatality.

“Caleb!” Three year old Sam leapt up from a box of packing peanuts. He pointed to the lone Mickey Mouse ornament on one of the low branches of the tree. “That’s mine! I did it myself.”

“Cool, Runt.” Caleb ruffled the little boy’s hair. He winked at Dean, who was sitting beside Mac, holding one end of a strand of lights. “I see it took a whole hour to pick out the perfect spot for Sammy’s ornament.”

“What have we discussed about keeping unhelpful observations to ourselves, son?” Mac glanced up from reading the back of the box the lights came in. “Shouldn’t you be concentrating on Lord Jim? You were behind after all.”

“I ran into a little problem.”

“So did we,” Sammy said. “Mac said a really bad word.”

“I think we’re all allowed a slip of the tongue here and there, especially when the overpriced lights one has paid for are as far from dazzling as you can get.”

Caleb snorted. “I’ll remind you of that the next time I drop the F-bomb.”

“I dropped some horn mints,” Sam tossed some of the white packing material into the air, watching them land on the floor. “The special snowflakes.”

“Or-na-ments,” Dean corrected his little brother.

“No worries, Samuel,” Mac assured. “Snowflakes are replaceable.”

“Those were really expensive snowflakes,” Dean said.

“Don’t sweat it, Deuce,” Caleb said. “Dad was a ‘special snowflake’ for letting that clerk convince him Swarovski crystals were childproof.”

“You’re not funny, Son.”

“They were mes-mer-i-zing.” Sam sounded out the term the salesclerk had used. He giggled as if the big word tasted like Pop-Rocks on his tongue. “Mesmerizing!”

“Not so loud, Sammy,” Dean said.

“It’s alright, Dean. They were quite mesmerizing.” Mac squeezed Dean’s shoulder. “I should have taken your advice and not have charged Samuel with the task of unpacking our shopping bags.”

“Maybe you should have thought twice before taking this project on, Dad.” Caleb glanced to the stark fir. “It’s not too late to call the designer again you know, or maybe call up Pastor Jim.”

“I’ll have you know, Son, I’m quite capable of putting up a Christmas tree. Furthermore, Pastor Jim will be in Colorado until Christmas Eve and I have two very qualified elves helping me.”

“I’m Sammy Elf! I work for Santa.” In his excitement Sam tumbled out of the box, peanuts spilling out with him. “See. I make snow!”

“Looks like you all have made a big mess.” Caleb shook his head at Sam. The little boy was mimicking a snow angel in the peanuts, scattering them everywhere in the process. Dean had warned Mac against giving Sam the second cup of hot cocoa.

“Our tree is big!” Sam sat up. “It’s the biggest.”

“Actually,” Mac put down the lights. “I believe the biggest Christmas tree on record is in Styx Valley, Tasmania.”

“Who knew?” Caleb rolled his eyes at his father’s tendency to pull useless trivia out of thin air.

“Do Taz-man Devils live there?” Sam was a huge fan of Looney Toons.

“Why yes they do, Samuel.”

Dean ignored his brother’s question. “How big is the Tasmania tree, Mac?”

“Over two hundred feet.”

“Wow.” Dean looked up at their tree. “That would take like a million lights.”

“I wish we had a million lights,” Sam said. “And a Taz Devil .”

“Don’t dream too big, Runt. You cause enough destruction without the help of a carnivorous marsupial.” Caleb knelt down in front of Dean, tugging at the strand in his hands. “Plus, your big brother and Dad haven’t even figured out a box of five hundred lights.”

Dean glared at him, pulling the lights away. “We’re working on it, Damien.”

Mac cleared his throat. “What exactly was the issue keeping you from your homework?”

“I need another book.” Caleb stood up, propping his hands on his hips. “Pronto.”

“We have an adequate library.”

“I need another Conrad book, for comparison.”

“You didn’t know this on Friday before you left school?”

Caleb frowned. “Dad, it was Friday.”

“Right. Your only thoughts were of the coming weekend. If Mrs. Whitmore hadn’t called me at my office you would have forgotten about the entire assignment.”

“Actually, I was thinking about being on time to pick up Deuce.” Caleb gestured to the seven year old. Hunter’s College Elementary School was just a few blocks from the private school where Caleb went. It was a public school, which Mac wasn’t thrilled with, but it fit the bill in a time pinch and Dean liked the name.

“And Hannah,” Dean said. “You wanted to catch up to her.”

“That was between us.” Caleb growled.

“Oops.” Dean shrugged going back to fiddling with the lights.

“It will have to wait until tomorrow.” Mac gestured to the glittery mess around him. “This will undoubtedly require the rest of my evening. We’ll be ordering dinner in.”

“No big deal. I can run to The Corner Bookstore. It’s open until eight.”

“No.” Mac shook his head. “That’s not a good idea. We can pick it up tomorrow. I thought we would take the boys along the Museum Mile, stop at Pasalou for lunch.”

“We’re going to see a T-Rex,” Sam said. He added a loud roar at the end.

Caleb ignored the little boy’s hyped theatrics. “That will never leave me enough time to finish the report tomorrow night, Dad.”

“I’m sorry, Caleb. You’re not walking the streets of Manhattan on a Saturday night after dark.”

“We live in Carnegie Hills, Mac. Even if I cross the tracks I’ll still be in the Upper East Side, not Harlem.” Mac seemed to forget that Caleb had spent time on the streets of New Orleans long before he came along.

“That’s my final word on it, Son.” Mac went back to reading directions.

“That’s not fair and you know…”

“I suppose I could go with the kid.” Bobby came up behind Caleb. He draped an arm around the teen’s shoulder giving a squeeze and effectively ending Caleb’s tirade before it could pick up steam. “Fresh air will do me some good.”

Mac gave the mechanic a frown. “The last thing you need is to slip on a patch of ice and split your sutures open.”

“You make me sound like some toddling invalid.” Bobby grunted, shoving his boot against a pile of freight cars. “Like I couldn’t trip on the Taz’s Norfolk and break my neck here?”

“The Northwestern,” Mac corrected.

“It runs through Chicago,” Sam informed them, mimicking Mac’s folded arms and dour look.

“You’re going to need some fuses, Mac.” Caleb and Bobby looked to Dean. He lifted the small box that was attached to the lights. “I think a couple are blown.”

“What?” Mac took the component which the sales clerk explained was what gave the lights their magical twinkling effect. He turned it over in his hand, studying it from every angle. “Are you sure?”

“The boy’s practically a savant when it comes to gadgets,” Bobby said. “If he says it’s busted, it’s busted.”

“The lights are broken?” Sam’s bottom lip quivered. “Lights are the most important part. You can’t have too many. We have none.”

“I’m sure I can find some lights packed in storage, Sam. We’ll have plenty.”

“Not lots. There’s never too much light. Pastor Jim says so.” Sam crawled into Dean’s lap. “Right, Dean?”

Caleb couldn’t have planned it better. Sam was giving his father the patented puppy dog look along with Dean, who was staring expectantly at the doctor, waiting for him make an executive decision that would fix it all.

“Don’t worry, Samuel. It’s nothing that can’t be remedied.” Mac took out his billfold and handed Bobby a few bills. “As soon as The Three Musketeers return we’ll get right back to work.”

Caleb glanced at the mechanic, and then to his father. “Three Musketeers?”

“I think Dean should go with you. He is the gadget savant after all.”

“Where do you think the boy learned all that genius?” Bobby said. “I think I can handle some fuses on my own, Mackland. One kid to watch out for is quite enough.”

“I think you’ve misunderstood, Robert. I’m sending Dean to watch the two of you.” Mac set a hand on Dean’s shoulder. “That is if he’s up for the job.”

“But Dad…” Caleb hadn’t counted on his father suggesting Dean tag along. The kid was quick and would question when Bobby ditched them. More than likely Caleb’s twenty would have to be cut in half for hush money.

“I can handle it.” Dean moved Sam to the floor, scampering to his feet. “I’m almost eight.”

“But what about Sammy?” Caleb knew Dean well enough to know his biggest motivator. He pointed to the youngest Winchester. “You sure Dad can handle Tiny Einstein Elf alone? There may be no ‘horn mints’ left when we get back.”

“Oh.” Dean’s smile faltered, and Caleb almost regretted the underhanded move. “I almost forgot about Sammy.”

“Dean, I promise I will take excellent care of your brother.” Mac gave Caleb a glower of disapproval. “We have some cookies to bake.”

“Chocolate chip!” Sam crowed, doing a little fist pump in the air. “I lick the bowl.”

“Yeah,” Caleb gave a mock cheer. His father had been more than lenient on the junk food. “More sugar. Just what you need.”

“Have you ever made cookies, Mackland?”

Bobby’s question had the doctor’s face flushing with color. “I’m a brain surgeon for God’s sake. How hard could it be?”

“That’s what you said about the tree, Dad.”

“Okee Dokee then.” Bobby gripped Caleb by the neck giving him a shove towards the coat rack. “You grab our coats and gloves, Junior.”

Caleb sighed, realizing his only recourse. He pulled his coat on, grabbing Dean’s new ski jacket and gloves from the other peg. He felt Dean come up behind him and turned to scowl at the boy. Caleb lowered his voice. “I wasn’t counting on your company, Deuce.”

Dean took the jacket. “If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be going.”

“Wait.” Caleb held out the gloves, but didn’t let them go when Dean tried to tug them from his grasp. “You made up that stuff about the fuses?”

“It could be the fuses.” Dean jerked the mittens free. “But we might need to pick up a few boxes of regular lights just in case.”

“Why did you do that?” Caleb handed Dean his Incredible Hulk hat.

“You needed to go.” Dean pulled the hat on his head, giving a little shrug. “You’re my best friend. I would do anything for you.”

Caleb wasn’t sure what to say. He quickly swallowed the lump caught in his throat, guilt overtaking his irritation. The last year hadn’t been all about pulling Dean from the black hole of despair. Somewhere along the way, Dean had led Caleb back into the light. He cleared his throat. “That’s cool, but geesh, try not to be so girly about it.”

"Right." Dean nodded seriously. “No chick flick moments. I got it.”

Caleb grinned. “Cow eyes or not, you’re still only getting a forty –sixty split of my blackmail money.”

“What blackmail money?”


“I’m not sure this is worth ten dollars, Damien” Dean said. “It’s starting to snow. I’m cold.”

“We agreed on eight.” Caleb shoved his gloved hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall of The Corner Bookstore. He and Dean had found the book Caleb would pretend to read along with a copy of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas for Sammy. Caleb sprung for hot chocolate at Crumbs, which hadn’t taken up as much time as he hoped. Dean was growing antsy as they waited for Bobby who ordered them to stay put until he returned. “And I thought you loved snow, Deuce.”

“Do you think Sammy is okay?”

“Dude, you know you can trust Mac to take care of Sam.” Caleb bumped the little boy’s shoulder. “If you’re worried about the cookies, Dad’s actually a good cook. We don’t order every meal in.”

“I’m not worried about the cookies.”

“Then what are you worried about?”

“Nothing.” Dean crossed his arms over his chest.

Caleb sighed. “Out with it.”

Dean looked up at him. “It’s my job to watch Sammy. Dad wouldn’t like that I left him alone, especially now.”

“Sam’s not alone.”

Caleb wanted to point out that John wasn’t around to find out, but bit back on his first response. They watched in silence as the hordes of people strolled by them, decked out in their holiday regalia. The families were perfect as if they had stepped from one of Norman Rockwell paintings that decorated Cullen’s study. Caleb knew he and Dean belonged more in the illustrations of a Dickens’s novel. He scooted closer to the little boy, sheltering him from the truth.

“You were right.” Dean’s voice was barely audible over the sounds of the passer-bys. “I should have stayed.”

“No, Deuce. I was wrong. I’m glad you came.” Dean leaned against him, but didn’t say anything. “Look. Mac will keep Sam so busy he won’t even realize you’re gone.”

“It isn’t working.” Dean blinked, a couple of big fluffy snowflakes caught on his lashes.

Caleb frowned. “What isn’t working?”

“Mac’s plan.” Dean shivered. “He’s been trying real hard to make sure we don’t notice Dad’s gone, but we still miss him.”

“Yeah.” Caleb draped his arm over Dean’s shoulders. Mac had done the same thing when Caleb first came to live with him. New clothes, fancy food, and tours of the city. It had taken Caleb a little while to understand the deep sentiment beneath the grand superficial gestures. The doctor meant well. “I know you do.”

“Can we go back to the condo now?”

“Not without Bobby.” Caleb knew Mac would blow a gasket if they showed up alone. Bobby would kill them if he had to endure a lecture from The Scholar. He watched as another large cheery group paraded past. Caleb had an idea. “I think there is something you should see.”

“But Sammy…”

“It won’t take us that long.” Mac planned to take the boys on the Christmas windows display this week. Caleb imagined it would be a trip much like the one the doctor had taken Caleb on last year. Even at thirteen, he had been amazed by the sights and sounds of the city wrapped in her Christmas best. It made him long to believe in Santa. He wanted to give Dean a taste of that now by showing him his favorite spot. They would be back before Bobby even knew they were gone. He took Dean’s hand and pulled the little boy along. “Trust me, Deuce. You’re going to love it.”

They entered Rockefeller Plaza, the horn blowing angels heralding their way. When Dean pulled up short, his mouth agape at the glowing tree in the distance, Caleb knew he’d made the right choice. “Wow.”

“Pretty cool, huh?”

“That’s the biggest tree ever.”

“According to Dad it’s been beat out by that giant in Tasmania, but this guy has to be pretty close and no Tasmanian devils in sight.”

“How tall is it?”

“Like ninety feet I think.” Caleb weaved them through the massive crowd, keeping a tight hold of Dean’s hand as they made their way closer to the center. Prometheus and the crowded skating ring now in view.

“Look at all the lights,” Dean whispered.

“Screw Dad’s set of five hundred lights. This baby boasts more than five miles.”

“Now that’s mesmerizing,” Dean giggled.

“Yeah.” It was the first time Caleb had heard the little boy laugh in weeks. He grinned. “Mesmerizing.”

“Sammy would love it.” Dean looked up at him. “Can we bring him here? Please?”

“Don’t worry. This is definitely part of Mac’s grand plan.” Caleb looked out over the whirring mechanical displays and carolers. “He’s been keeping some aces up his sleeve.”

Dean let go of his hand. “In case Dad doesn’t come back?”

“Deuce, I didn’t mean it that way.” Caleb started to reach out to Dean when a female voice called his name. He lifted his head just in time to catch a blur of a white from the crowd.

“I told Rebecca it was you!” Hannah Astor launched herself into Caleb’s arms with a laugh.

“Hannah.” Any other time Caleb would have enjoyed the quick enthusiastic hug, the give of soft flesh against his. The brush of moist lips against his ear had a rush of heat coloring his cheeks. He caught a whiff of cherry and vanilla as he pulled away from the blonde. “Hey.”

“I didn’t think you could escape your family this weekend.” Hannah’s blue eyes danced with pleasure as she gestured to a group of kids, most of whom Caleb recognized from his school. “Did you finish your paper? We’re waiting to get in the rink. Want to come with?”

“I can’t.” Caleb shook his head, though he’d been trying to score some time with Hannah for weeks. She was chatty for his taste, but extremely hot. “We’ve really got to get back. My uncle is waiting on us.”

“We?” Hannah reached up and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, readjusting the burgundy beret she was wearing. She smiled at him the way a lot of the girls in his class had started doing. “Did you bring your invisible friend?”

“No.” Caleb whirled around, finding empty air where Dean should have been. His heart skipped a beat, taking up a new rhythm at race horse pace. “Dean!”

“Your nephew, or was it cousin?” Hannah looked around them. “Cute kid with the big green eyes? Right?”

“Oh God.” Caleb brought his hand to his mouth, taking a step forward as he scanned the closest crowd. Dean had vanished, swallowed into the throngs of people. There was a sea of shifting faces and colors before him. Dean’s coat was red and black, his hat was green. It was perfect Christmas camouflage. “Deuce.”

“He couldn’t have gotten far.” Hannah grabbed his hand and squeezed as if Caleb had just proclaimed he’d misplaced his pencil in Calculus class. “I’m sure he’ll turn up.”

“He’s seven,” Caleb pulled away from her. His chest tightened as he panned the crowd. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.”

He barely caught the disappointed reply as he dove into the wave of spectators and tourists. Caleb could not believe he had lost Dean in this mess. He had wanted to make things better, but managed to make them worse. He shoved and pushed people out of his way as he carried on blindly, uncertain of where he was going, unsure of which direction Dean would have taken or what the kid was thinking.

Deuce was smart, but there was no way he could find his way back to the apartment on his own. It was snowing harder; the temperature would drop as the night waned on. Then there were the more dubious threats in their midst. Rockefeller Center might have drawn Manhattan’s elite, but it was also perfect pickings for the underbelly of the city. Caleb knew the kind of creeps that crawled out from dark alleys when the smell of fresh, rich blood was in the air. They were a different kind of devil, much scarier than any dog-sized rodent. He imagined Dean’s face on a milk carton, or worse, amidst the black and white print of The New York Times, a tragic front page Christmas story.

“Dean!” He shouted, doubtful he would be heard over the carolers and general commotion. Caleb felt his head spiral, his breath quicken as he started to panic. There was no way he’d find Dean here, no trail to follow that wouldn’t be destroyed by the stampede of people. Dean was lost, probably frightened, maybe hurt. John and Sammy would never forgive him.

Caleb’s head exploded with pain, he saw pinpricks of light in his mind’s eye scatter like stars in The Milky Way. For a moment he was overcome by a sensory ambush, joy, anger, greed, envy lashed against him like a brutal tide. It took a moment to realize his abilities had kicked in, taken over in a fight or flight fashion. They tended to overrule his control when he was scared or angry, opening him to an onslaught of thoughts from those around him. Mac said part of learning to control his gift would be mastering his emotions. Caleb had never felt an emotion like this, not even when Daniel Elkins was trying to kill him.

For the first time since the whole psychic nightmare had begun, Caleb prayed for a vision. Something that would lead him to Dean. He closed his eyes, took a breath, and tried to do what Mac and Missouri had been telling him for months-give in, not fight for control. He ignored the feelings battering his mind, both his and those of a thousand strangers. Caleb lowered his blocks. It was like opening a screen door during a hurricane. He focused on one thing only. Deuce.

Slowly the smaller luminaries faded away into the background, flickering off one by one. Only the brightest light remained, pulsing with vibrant energy. Something gave way, a great sense of purpose surged through Caleb, muzzling the fear.

He felt a mental tug, a burst of recognition. The light glowed stronger. Caleb reacted on instinct, running in the direction his mind was leading. The light was Deuce.

Caleb could feel the boy’s fear, his hurt and anger as if Dean were standing right beside him still holding his hand. He didn’t know why he hadn’t understood before. He could easily read Dean’s mind, Sam’s too. He thought it was because they were children, but Caleb never imagined he could use the link to find them. It was the first time he remembered being grateful for being such a freak.

Dean had made it all the way to the Fountain West Wall of the lower plaza. Prometheus floated above in all his bronze glory, the rebellious Titan who stole fire from the gods and brought it to man. Mac said mythology credited him for illuminating humankind in many ways. Caleb didn’t miss the irony. Maybe he was being taught an important lesson as well.

“Deuce!” Caleb called out to the little boy. Dean had his back to him, entranced by the dancing waters of the fountain. He looked smaller and somehow more vulnerable framed by the massive backdrop. The swell of emotion was like a punch of heat in Caleb’s chest, propelling him to cross the expanse still separating them.

Caleb grabbed Dean from behind, not caring if he startled the kid, willing to risk the elbow to the nose. He spun him around as he took a knee in the snow in front of Dean. “What the hell did you think you were doing?”

“I’m sorry.” Dean didn’t seem surprised Caleb had found him. His voice was choked, breath coming out in harsh pants that crystallized in the air. There were tears in his eyes and Caleb felt a stab of guilt.

“Shit, Deuce.” He was too relieved to be angry. “Take it easy. Slow breaths.”


“In and out, that’s it.” Dean’s thoughts were raw and throbbing. They crossed the psychic thread like whiskey over a fresh wound. Dean wasn’t just apologizing to him. He was apologizing for whatever he imagined he had done to drive his father away. Dean was thinking of his mother and the last time he saw her. She had kissed him goodnight, told him she would see him in the morning. Then she was gone. Just like John. “You’re okay. Everything’s okay.”

Dean kept his eyes on him, his head nodding along with Caleb’s. His breathing became regular. “I’m okay. I’m okay. ”

“Yeah.”Caleb pulled the little boy into his chest, squeezing him tightly. He held on until he felt Dean’s fear ease, the shadows recede. “I thought I lost you, Deuce. I can’t lose anyone else.”

“Me neither.” Dean buried his face against his neck. “That’s why I was running.”

Caleb pulled back, holding the little boy at arm’s length so he could look him in the eye. “You don’t run away from family, Deuce. Family is safety. As long as you’re with someone who loves you, you’ll be okay. Understand?”

Dean rubbed a gloved hand under his nose with a hitched breath. “Then why did Dad leave?”

“Maybe Johnny hasn’t learned that lesson. It has nothing to do with you. You didn’t do anything wrong.” Caleb squeezed Dean’s shoulders. “This isn’t like with your mom.”

“Is he coming back?”

“Yes, Deuce. He’s coming back.” Caleb let him go still holding his gaze. “I promise.”

Dean’s brow furrowed. “Then why did you bring me here?”

“Because you needed to come.” Caleb reached out and thumbed away the tear trailing across Dean’s flushed cheek. He forced a smile, remembering the kid’s words from before at the condo. “You’re my best friend. I’d do anything for you.”

“Even act girly.” Dean’s face broke into a small smile. “Good thing Hannah’s not here.”

“Forget about Hannah. Women can cause all kinds of trouble.” Caleb pointed to Prometheus. “Just ask the big golden guy. Mac says we have him to thank for Pandora.”


“Ask The Scholar when we get home. It will make him feel useful.” Caleb stood, gripping Dean’s hand. “But mention that hug to anyone and you’re dead meat. Got it?”

“It will cost you a fifty/fifty split of the blackmail money.” Dean looked up at him. “It’s only fair.”

“Save the fair speech for Bobby. If we’re not exactly where he left us when he gets back, losing twenty dollars will be the least of our troubles.”

They got lucky and beat Bobby to The Corner Bookstore with a few minutes to spare. Mac was waiting dinner for them when they returned to the condo. They passed the pizza boy on the way in. Home smelled like baking cookies and pepperoni. Sam greeted them in the foyer with a huge smile.

“Look, Dean!” He pointed proudly to the tree in the corner. The Fir was twinkling from top to bottom, bedecked in silver and gold ornaments. “I fixed the lights.”

“They’re great, Sammy.” Dean pulled off his coat and handed it to Caleb. He gave the teen a sideways grin before turning to his kid brother. “How’d you do it?”

“Turns out the fuses weren’t blown.” Mac glanced at the bags in Caleb’s hand, then to Bobby who was taking his time putting up his jacket and gloves. He leaned against the wall, folding his arms over his chest. “I suppose gadget genius runs in the Winchester family, after all.”

“I hit them with my plastic hammer,” Sam said, proudly. “Just like Daddy. He’ll like the tree. Won’t he, Dean?”

“Look, Sammy.” Dean handed his brother the bag from bookstore. “Caleb and I saw Santa while we were out.”

“Wow!” Sam tore into the bag, clutching the book to his chest. “My favorite.”

“Santa knows you like Dr. Seuss.”

“Why is he green?” Sam held the book out away from him. “Did he eat the eggs and ham?”

“He’s a Grinch,” Dean explained. “We read about him in school. He lives on Mt. Crumpet with his dog Max.”

“Where’s Mt. Crumpet? What’s a Grinch?” Sam asked.

“Mt. Crumpet’s like the junkyard only nicer and The Grinch is like Bobby, only sweeter.” Caleb ruffled Sam’s hair. “If you saved me some cookies, Runt, I’ll read it to you guys tonight.”

“I think you have enough reading to do, Junior.” Bobby stepped closer to the boys. “I can do the story telling right after we watch our movie.”

Caleb’s eyes widened as he stared from Bobby to his father. He had expected verbal retaliation for the Grinch comment, maybe even a slap to the head, but not full out betrayal.

“You rented a movie?” Mac frowned.

Caleb glared at the mechanic, but Bobby only gave him a cheeky grin. “The Christmas Story. The kid here doesn’t know who Ralphie Parker is. That’s a crime.”

“Who?” Mac’s frown deepened.

“For the love of…” Bobby grabbed the bag with the movies away from Caleb. “Bring the pizza when you and your culturally challenged father join us.” He whistled loudly. “Winchester geniuses, follow me. I might need help with the VCR.”

“Come on, Sammy.” Dean grabbed his brother’s hand and started after Bobby.

Sam bounced on his toes. “Should I bring my hammer?”

Caleb tried to follow along, but Mac reached out and caught his arm.



“Is everything alright?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“You were gone longer than I expected, even with the side trip to the video store.” Mackland tilted his head. “You seem shaken.”

Caleb shifted under the penetrating gray gaze. His father didn’t have mind reading abilities, but he could pick up on emotions. It would be useless to lie. “My abilities were acting up a little, that’s all.”

“What? Did you have a vision?”

“No, nothing like that. Something new.”

“Like what?”

“It’s nothing I want to talk about right now.” Caleb searched for a way to make his father understand. Sometimes he felt like a science project, something under a microscope for the doctor to study. He knew Mac loved him, but for now Caleb didn’t want to give another reason for him to be of professional interest to The Scholar. Besides, finding a link to Dean was the first good thing to come from his abilities. He didn’t want it picked apart just yet. “I need to process it a little while.”

“Process?” Mac ran a finger over his brow. Caleb could see he was hurt. “I see.”

“You’re always telling me I need to think things through more.” Caleb lifted a shoulder, let it drop. “Right?”

“Yes, I guess I am. I’m just not used to you listening to me.”

“Maybe I’m learning my lesson.” Caleb forced a smile.

“Maybe you’re growing up on me.” Mac held his gaze for a long moment. Caleb didn’t roll his eyes at the pride filled look being cast in his direction, nor did he protest when his father reached out and draped an arm over his shoulders. “How about you give your old man a hand with the pizza?”

“When’s Johnny coming back, Dad?”

The question caused Mac to falter for just a moment as they made their way into the kitchen. “Soon.”

“But he is coming back. Right?” Caleb did not want to be made out to be a fool or a liar.

“Yes, Son.” Mackland reached up and squeezed the teen’s neck. “He will be back.”

“I get why he freaked. I do.” Caleb followed his father to the counter where three boxes from Nick’s Pizza were awaiting them. He watched Mac retrieve some cans of gingerale from the fridge and two beers. Caleb pulled down some glasses from the cabinet, a sippy cup for Sam. “But I don’t get how he could just leave them behind.”

“It’s not as if he’s abandoned them, Caleb.” Mac handed the drinks to his son, gathered a stack of napkins, which he placed on top of the pizzas. “John left the boys in my care. They’re fine.”

“They’re not fine, Dad.” Caleb licked his lips. “Dean’s freaked, and Sammy…Sammy thinks John will see our super bright tree and it will lead him home. I read his mind. He believes his Dad will be home anytime now and they’ll be out of here.”

“I should have seen that coming.” Mac rubbed a hand over his mouth. “He asked if we could go see Santa tomorrow.”

“He’s their Dad.” Caleb felt stupid when his voice cracked with emotion. Parents were not supposed to leave. “When’s he coming back?

Mac had picked up the boxes but sat them down again. He looked at Caleb. “It is when we try to grapple with another man's intimate need that we perceive how incomprehensible, wavering, and misty are the beings that share with us the sight of the stars and the warmth of the sun."

“Come again.” That had not been the outpouring of comfort he had expected from his father.

“Haven’t gotten that far into Lord Jim, I see?” Mac smiled enigmatically. “I was quoting Marlow. It’s his way of saying even those closest to us remain a mystery. Things are rarely as we believe. Facts and logic are little solace when dealing with people.”

Caleb furrowed his brow. “You love logic and facts.”

“That could be why I for so long loathed people, why I’m still not very adept at making them feel better.” Mac arched a brow. “And why John Winchester makes me absolutely crazy.”

Caleb’s mouth twitched, some of his desperation fading with his father’s humor and humility. “Look at you now. You’re practically running a boarding house for wayward teens, orphans, and uncivilized hooligans.”

“I learned some lessons of my own over the years. People are worth the bumbling attempts, the possible heartache.” Mac picked up the pizzas again, adding extra napkins. “Not to mention the mess.”

“You’ve done a good job with Sammy and Dean, Dad.” Caleb grabbed two glasses. “I’m not just talking about not having a stroke over the grape juice stain on the antique Afshar rug in the library. I’m really proud of you.”

“Thank you, Son.” Mac managed the other two cups. “I’m proud of the way you watch out for the boys. But there is no way you’re watching that movie Robert rented instead of finishing the book.”

“What?” Caleb feigned innocence. “Bobby says Ralphie Parker is an important Christmas icon.”

“I’m not talking about The Christmas Story.” Mac moved towards the living room. “Peter O’Toole gives a stirring performance as Lord Jim, but it is no match for losing oneself in the lyricism and beauty of Conrad’s written word.”

“You told me it was an action story,” Caleb grumbled.

“Trust me. It will be enlightening.”

“I’ve had about all the illumination I can take for one day.”

“Son, there is no such thing as too much light.” Mac nodded to their twinkling masterpiece in the corner. “Just ask Samuel and Pastor Jim.”

Caleb admitted the glowing tree was beautiful. He wished it held the magic Sam thought it did. “Wait until The Runt sees Rockefeller Center.”

“I think Dean will find some joy there, too.”

Caleb met Mac’s gaze, wondering once again about his father’s knack for reading him. This time his smile was genuine. “I think he’ll be absolutely mesmerized.




Uploaded by Majs