maychorian: (Castiel & Hunters (he's always been a ti)
[personal profile] maychorian
Fandom: Supernatural
Title: Chapter 3: Told Them All I Was Crazy (Coming Down Book 3)
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Winchester Ensemble
Category: Gen, AU, Family
Rating: T/PG13
Warning: (skip) Language. Allusions to child abuse
Spoilers: S4, previous stories in 'verse.
Summary: John Winchester has four sons, but to an outside observer, he appears to have only three. Their mission is to stop the Apocalypse before it starts.
Word Count: ~6800 (this part)
 Author’s Note: Coming Down on a Sunny Day master list, and YouTube Playlist, from whence came the titles.

Coming Down on a Sunny Day
Book 3: The Children of Azazel




Chapter 3: Told Them All I Was Crazy

Sammy stood on the curb in front of school, scuffing his feet in the grass. His backpack weighed heavily on his shoulders, and he tugged the straps in front, pulling it up on his back. The spring afternoon was warm enough that his sports jacket felt heavy, confining. This whole place felt heavy and confining, despite the clear blue sky, the beauty of the mountains in the distance.

Young laughter drifted to him over the grass, and Sammy moved his eyes to look over at the group, not moving his head. Jake and his friends were playing football again, running and jumping in the softer ground of the school’s sideyard. Jake’s figure was tall and slim, and his throws were straight and true, and the dark skin of his face glistened with sweat.

Sammy looked forward again, balancing his feet on the edge of the curb. Another bus pulled out and he watched it go, dark yellow paint momentarily gleaming white when the sun hit it at the right angle. He could have taken the bus, he supposed. But Jimmy was coming to get him. His shift at the Boeing plant ended at 3:45. It was just a bit of a drive to the school.

The laughter was fading, voices yelling good-byes and “see ya tomorrow.” Sammy resolutely didn’t look. More cars were pulling away, parents picking up younger kids, older students leaving on their own. The traffic jam in front of the school was clearing out, little by little. Soon it would just be Sammy standing out here, waiting alone.

“Hey. Winchester.”

He looked over, eyebrows arching in surprise. Jake stood several yards away on the sidewalk, watching Sammy with a wary expression.

And…maybe…just a hint of guilt.

Sammy looked away, cheeks heating up. He still couldn’t believe he’d fallen for that stupid game yesterday.

“Where’s your big bro?” Jake asked. “Don’t you usually leave together?”

Sammy scuffed his toe on the concrete. “Dean’s not feeling good today.”

“Oh. Yeah, I heard there’s something going around.”

Sammy smirked down at the ground. Sure, if you called hangovers something that “went around.”

“Is someone coming to get you?”

He looked up at him, eyes narrowed. “What do you care?”

It was Jake who looked away this time, cheeks coloring, visible even under the dark pigment of his skin. He mumbled something about “just asking,” and Sammy looked at the dirt again.

He really wasn’t doing a good job of making friends with this kid. Here Jake was reaching out, and Sammy had pushed him away without thinking. It had been pure instinct. Even Dean’s loud declarations of how awesome Sammy was, even Cas and Jimmy’s steady support and Dad’s indignation on his behalf, even all that hadn’t quite wiped out the hurt of being made fun of the way Jake and his friends had done.

“Hey, who’s that weirdo?”

Sammy looked up. Jake was staring out over the parking lot, his face screwed up in fascination. Sammy followed his gaze. It was Cas, moving toward them with his usual calm, steady gait, his unblinking eyes, his strange way of holding himself just a little too stiff and straight. Most people wouldn’t notice it, the way Castiel was a little bit off from the norm, but for some reason, Jake had noticed.

“That’s my oldest brother,” Sammy said. Pride surged in his voice, strong and strident. He loved Cas and he didn’t care who knew it.

“Oh.”

Jake fell silent again.

X~*~X

Jake watched the oldest Winchester brother move through the parking lot. He was definitely older than Dean, but not that much older. College-aged, maybe, but his face was still smooth and young, his eyes clear and bright. Still, there was something about him that seemed far older. Old and wise and weathered.

And the guy looked back at Jake, tilting his head to the side as if to study him better. His eyes were wide, and they watched Jake without blinking. It was definitely abnormal.

But Jake was used to abnormal. Abnormal was familiar and comforting. Abnormal was Jake’s little brother, Jerome, who could never go to regular school, who had special problems and special tutors and special needs.

Sammy’s older brother was obviously more high-functioning than Jerome. But still. The familiarity of that strangeness tugged at something deep in Jake’s chest.

Sammy didn’t seem to care that Jake was there anymore. He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed or ready to flee if Jake got too close. He was just smiling at his big brother, eyes wrinkling up with pleasure at seeing him.

“Hey, Jimmy,” he said when the older Winchester was close enough, looking down at Sammy with warmth in his almost flat expression. “I can’t believe Dean let you drive his car.”

“Dean doesn’t have to know,” Jimmy intoned, and Sammy laughed, bright and high and delighted.

“Don’t worry, he won’t hear about it from me.”

The brothers turned away from the school and started walking toward the parking lot side by side. Jake watched them go, tightness gripping his chest. He might have misjudged the Winchesters.

Then Jimmy stumbled and started to go down.

“Whoa!” Sammy’s arms shot out to catch him, wrapping around his big brother’s waist. He managed to guide Jimmy’s descent, walking him back a step or two so they ended up sitting on the curb. Sammy’s hand pressed on Jimmy’s back between his shoulder blades, and Jimmy bent over with his head between his knees, his hands to his face.

Jake couldn’t help himself. He moved closer, trying to see what was going on.

A long string of blood dripped through Jimmy’s fingers, spattering on the blacktop in shockingly bright spots of viscous red, like bullet holes, jagged and wet.

“What did you do?” Sammy asked, his voice high not with delight, now, but frustration and dismay.

“It was not intentional.” Jimmy’s voice was muffled and low. “I told you, and Dean, that I wouldn’t try.”

“Yeah, you did.” Despite the harshness of his tone, Sammy’s hand was gentle on his brother’s back, rubbing in circles. “You said you wouldn’t. So what happened?”

“I…twitched.”

“Twitched?” Incredulity now in the kid’s voice, and Jake took a step back, unable to tear his eyes away.

“Yes, I twitched.” Jimmy huffed out a breath. “I said it was unintentional.”

Jake took a hesitant step closer. He scraped his foot deliberately on the blacktop, trying to get their attention. Sammy looked up, but Jimmy kept his head between his knees. “Are you guys okay?” Jake asked.

Sammy opened his mouth, and Jake braced himself for the same hard, hurt words as earlier. What do you care? But the kid paused, and what came out was, “I don’t know.”

Jake bent down, turning his head to look in Jimmy’s face. Jimmy’s fingers were pressed to his nose, his eyes fixed on the ground. He looked sad and sick and a little scared.

“Does this happen often?” Jake asked. “Do you know what’s going on?”

Sammy hesitated, staring at Jake as if deciding whether to trust him. Then he shook his head. “Ca… Jimmy gets spells like these sometimes. It’s…it’s unpredictable. Sometimes it’s nothing and he’s fine in a few minutes. Sometimes it lays him up for days.”

“Man, that’s rough.”

Sammy looked surprised at the honest sympathy. Jake guessed he couldn’t blame him.

A rumble of a diesel engine, a wheeze of heavy brakes, and Jake looked up to see the last bus disappearing out of the school’s driveway. “Oh, damn it. That was my ride.”

Sammy snorted a laugh. “Guess you’re stuck, then. I’d offer you a lift, but I don’t think Jimmy should drive right now.”

“I can drive,” Jimmy said.

“Shut up, you,” Sammy said, and continued to rub his back.

Jake stood there for a moment longer, watching them. Then he sat down on the curb next to Jimmy, sandwiching the guy between two fourteen-year-old kids. Sammy looked at Jake over Jimmy’s head, skeptical and surprised. Jimmy didn’t move.

“I could go in the school and call someone for you,” Jake said. “I’ll have to call my mom to come get me anyway, since I missed the bus. I bet she’d even take you home, if I asked her to.”

Jimmy’s shoulders jerked and he grumbled wordlessly into his bloody fingers. Sammy frowned at him. “No, you shouldn’t drive.” He looked at Jake. “We don’t want to cause trouble for you or your mom.”

“It wouldn’t be any trouble. My mom is really nice. And she’s got a soft spot for boys with…um…unusual problems. My brother, Jerome…”

“I don’t know what you’re insinuating…” Jimmy started to protest, but Sammy nudged him with his knee.

“Shut up, Jimmy.” Again he looked to Jake, his face open. “Go on.”

“My little brother is autistic. He gets funny turns, not like this, but… You know. He’s a weirdo. And so are you two. My mom will like you guys.”

“I am not that weird,” Jimmy said, still with his head down, still dripping blood into the blacktop.

Sammy laughed. “Dude, you are the weirdest person I know. And again. Shut up.” He grinned at Jake, bright and full, no shadow of yesterday to taint it. “Sure, call your mom. We appreciate the help, we really do.”

X~*~X

Jake's mom was super nice, and she took a shine to the Winchester boys right away. She clucked over "Jimmy's" bloody nose and made him sit in the front seat where she could keep an eye on him. It didn't seem to matter that he was in his twenties—to her he was a silly boy who really ought to be more careful with himself and his fragile schnoz. Cas sighed deeply, but did as he was told, accepting the handkerchief she forced into his hand and holding it to his nose. Jake and Sammy sat together in the back, sharing stories about their weirdo brothers. They both had plenty to tell.

When they got home, they found Dean lounging on the sofa in the living room. He didn't look very sick anymore. He perked up when they came in the door, alerted by the wide grin on Sammy's face that something had happened. Sam dumped his backpack on the floor and flopped into an armchair to tell him all about it.

When Sammy finished relating the story, Dean burst into laughter and sat up just so he could double over. "Oh my God, that is priceless!" He looked up at Cas, still standing by the door looking as wrathful as he could with a bloody hanky in his hand and a smear of red under his right nostril. "So it turned out that all it took to make friends with Jake was to have a guy with you looking crazy pathetic? Dude, that just figures."

"That's a simplification of the matter," Cas said, but his stuffy nose made the tone come out much more comically than he’d intended, and Dean doubled over again.

Cas heaved a deep, put-upon sigh and shoved the handkerchief at his nose again. Then he swayed, just a little, but it was enough to prompt Sammy to jump up and grab his elbow. "Sit down, you idiot, for real. You 'twitched,' yeah right, you probably tore something, didn't you?"

He steered the angel to a chair, and Dean sobered, staring at him with a touch of sadness. "You really do need to be more careful, man."

"It was not intentional," Cas said, his voice high and peevish at being forced to repeat this so many times.

"Yeah, but still." Dean shook his head. "It's freaky when you just start bleeding for no reason." He couldn't keep the grin off his face for long, though. It snuck back, just curling the corners of his mouth at first, then bursting out in all its splendor. "Still the funniest thing I've heard in months, though. Poor Sammy, it really sucks that you tried so hard to make friends when all you really needed was for Cas to show up and bleed on the ground for a few minutes."

"It's not that funny," Cas said.

"Oh yeah? I think your opinion is in the minority on this one." Dean shared a wink with his little brother. "Me and Sammy both think it's awesome. How about Jimmy?"

Cas shut his mouth in a thin line for a moment, as if trying to trap the answer behind his sealed lips. But he was too much in the habit of being completely honest with his family. "Jimmy is highly amused."

Dean didn't ask Cas to have Jimmy come forward and share in their mirth in person. Other times he might, but they had all long since learned that when something was going wrong with their shared body, Cas insisted on staying in charge. He was able to shield Jimmy from any pain that way, or at least muffle it a good deal.

Sometimes Jimmy made a fuss about it, saying he could handle the occasional stubbed toe, come on, but he always ended up giving in on this one. It just meant too much to Cas that he be able to protect Jimmy in any way he could. Penance, maybe, for the wrong he had accidentally done to him, for the months when Jimmy had been an abused orphan, forgotten and alone.

The thought made Dean lose his smile again, looking at his big brother in quiet contemplation for a moment. "Seriously, man, are you gonna be okay? This nosebleed seems like a bad one."

Sammy looked at Cas, too. "Yeah, it's been almost half an hour. Do you want some ice?"

Cas took the handkerchief away from his nose and looked down at himself, cross-eyed for a moment. Dean's lips twitched, threatening to smile, but he held it back.

After a moment, Cas put the hanky to his nose again. He'd obviously hoped that the bleeding had stopped, but nothing doing. "I think that might be wise.”

Sammy went to the kitchen, and Cas looked at Dean. His expression was penitent, which Dean didn't get at first. "Your car is at the school. I apologize."

Well, that explained his expression. Dean opened his mouth, about to chew him out, then closed it again. The guy just looked so pathetic, sitting there with his big eyes and his bloody kerchief. Dean couldn't really be mad at him.

He shrugged instead. "I'll get Dad to drop us off at school tomorrow and drive it home afterwards. You got the keys?"

Cas produced them from his pocket and tossed them to Dean. Sammy returned with a ziplock bag full of ice, and Cas leaned back in his chair and held it to his nose, closing his eyes. He blew out a small puff of air, and Sammy and Dean looked at him for a moment, then at each other, sharing their displeasure. They didn't like it when Cas was in pain. And it happened far too often.

"You gonna be okay, Cas?" Dean asked again, more quietly than before.

Cas hummed an assent. "I'm sorry. I know this frightens you."

"Don't," Dean said. "Don't think about how this makes us feel. We're worried about you. You don't have to worry back."

Cas opened his eyes, heavy-lidded and sleepy, to look at Dean for a moment. Then he closed them again. "That was uncommonly sweet, Dean."

"I'm an uncommonly sweet guy." Dean swung his legs over the front of the sofa and sat forward, studying Cas intently. Sammy sat on the arm of Cas's chair, watching over him. "Now answer the question. You gonna be okay? Did you...did you really tear something, like Sammy said? Your wings? Did you hurt yourself?"

"I'll be fine," Cas said. A note of frustration crept into his voice. "I wish I could tell you that everything will be completely repaired in a few minutes. I wish I could give you a time frame, even a guess. But I don't know, myself. Like I said, I twitched. It was not purposeful. I saw the boy Jake standing near to Sam Winchester, and I remembered the young man Jake and what he had done—will do—will not do. In the alternate timeline. It...alarmed me. I reacted as if I could fly. As if I could draw my sword and protect your brother as I should be able to do. As I am meant to do. As I cannot, at this time, in this body."

He sighed again, long and slow, sliding out of him like sand through an hourglass. This time it was not an expression of frustration and anger at the limits of his body, but sorrow and disappointment and regret and loss and grief. It wasn't funny anymore.

"I'm sorry, Cas," Dean said. "That really sucks."

Sammy, still on the arm of the chair, leaned down against Cas's shoulder and rested his light brown head against his big brother's dark one. Cas's lips curved in his version of a smile, and Dean couldn't help smiling, too, though it wasn't in amusement this time. Since the car accident last summer, since almost losing him, they’d become more tender and appreciative of Castiel. Jimmy, too. Sammy was better at physical demonstrations of affection than Dean was, but they both felt it. So Sammy leaned up against their big brother in wordless comfort, and Dean ached silently on the the other side of the room, and Castiel relaxed into the chair and closed his eyes.

Dean wanted to ask what the other, older Jake had done to make Cas so instinctively protective. It must have had something to do with Sam, other Sam, older Sam, in the timeline that they weren't going to let happen. But now was not the time, with Cas so sick and tired, with Sammy so close and restful against him.

It probably had something to do with the Apocalypse.

For now, Dean would sit here in the living room of their little apartment in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He would watch his brothers cuddle and smile at how adorable they were. He would resolve to keep them safe with all the force and depth of a vow. And he would keep that oath even if it cost him his life.

X~*~X

Now that they'd made friends with Jake, the next trick would be introducing him to the supernatural.

All of the Winchesters puzzled over this problem. It had always been easy before (though creepy and disturbing). Poor Lily had been absolutely terrified the day Sammy and his family came over for dinner, and her little brother starting spitting black smoke from his mouth. That particular exorcism had even been relatively quick and painless, and it had still traumatized Lily and her family for life.

But what to do about Jake Talley? Despite the way he had warmed up to Cas (though of course he called him Jimmy the whole time), he still seemed a bit wary and on edge around the rest of the Winchesters. It wasn't like they could just tell him straight out that he'd been fed demon blood as a baby and now he was ear-marked for a demonic army that would be formed eight years in the future by one of Lucifer's hand-picked commanders. That would just be stupid.

Cas, of course, thought they should do just that.

"You've said that he likes me," Cas said, his hands resting loosely on the table in front of him. It was after dinner on a school night. The table had been cleared, Dean washing the dishes, Sammy drying. Cas and John still sat, relaxing after their heavy meal of meatloaf and potatoes. When the dishes were done Dean and Sammy would probably join them at the table, forming another one of the almost-nightly war councils the Winchesters had been holding of late.

"He has shown more openness and trust with me than anyone else, even Sammy." Cas glanced over his shoulder. "Sorry, Sammy."

Sammy shrugged. "It was bound to happen sooner or later.

Cas's wide gaze flicked back to John. "We could at least give it a try."

John shook his head. "You're not going to sit down with a kid almost a decade younger than you and explain that you're an angel from the future and you know he's under the thumb of a demon."

"It's a good way to get arrested," Dean piped up from the sink, splashing a dish into the water particularly hard.

"He likes me. Why would he report me to the authorities?"

"Yes, but why does he like you? Because you remind him of his little brother. Who has special needs. He's more likely to think you're actually, certifiably insane than really listen to anything you have to say."

Cas's jaw set, hard and stubborn. "He may think I'm eccentric, but he has no reason to doubt my sanity."

"Not now. You tell him all that, and he will have ample reason to doubt you. And ample reason to cut off all further communication with our family."

"I think you're underestimating him."

John quirked half a smile. "No, you think I'm underestimating you. You think I'm doubting your ability to convince this kid because I'm doubting you. And that's not it, Cas, you gotta believe me. I have every faith in you. But I just don't see this working. At all."

Cas huffed out a breath. "That's equivocation. You don't think I can do it, but it's not because of me? There's no need to twist words. I'm not actually special needs."

"Coulda fooled me," Dean muttered at the sink, then covered it with a cough and another large splash, dropping the last pan into the rinse water. He threw a dish towel over his shoulder and stepped over to sit down at the table, his hand finding Cas's shoulder almost by instinct.

"Come on, man. We'll find another way. Dad had an idea, remember?"

John nodded, already moving on to the next topic. He reached to the side table and pulled over a BLM map of the surrounding area.

"There." He pointed to a spot off in Rampart Range, in the mountains a fair distance from Colorado Springs. But not far enough. "I think the gillyback is somewhere around there. It's time for a hunting trip. And it might as well be a family affair."

Sammy moved over from the sink, still carrying a dripping dish in his hand. He leaned over his father's shoulder to study the map. "Yeah, that ought to do it."

John smiled up at his youngest son. "Think you can convince him?"

Sammy shrugged. "You never know until you try."

It wasn't good enough for Cas. But it was what they were going with.

X~*~X

"Hey, Jake!"

Jake slammed his locker shut and looked up. Sammy Winchester was heading toward him, hands holding the straps of his backpack, big smile on his face. Jake couldn't help but grin back. Kid had an infectious smile.

"Hey, how ya doin', Winchester?" Jake extended his hand for a slap—the way he and his friends did handshakes. Sammy reciprocated, then went back to holding up his backpack.

"I'm good. Lots of stuff going on."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Hey, you doing anything this weekend?"

Jake pulled his own backpack up on his shoulder, turning the motion into a shrug. "I don't know. My dad hasn't said anything to me about it. Mom might have a church thing. Why?"

"Oh, just wondering." Jake turned to head down the hall to his next class, and Sammy hustled to keep up with him. "It's just 'cause, see, I'm going hunting with my dad and brothers this weekend, and it's gonna be awesome, and I thought you might want to come."

"For real?" Jake gave Sammy the side-eye. He'd gotten the impression that the Winchesters were a stick-to-themselves kind of family. They didn't mind interacting with outsiders, even sought it out on occasion, but they were also fine with just each other for company.

Besides that, Jake's heart didn't exactly leap for joy at the idea of going off into the woods with these guys. After meeting Jimmy, he had a little better understanding for why they were the way they were, but he still couldn't shake the idea that the family might actually be the kind of scary hillbillies that they'd appeared to be at first glance. They were okay here in the relative civilization of Colorado Springs, but who knew what they might revert to once they got out into the trees.

Sammy just nodded happily, oblivious to all this. "Yeah, for real. It's been a while and Dean's getting antsy for a trip. Mind you, we don't usually shoot anything. It's just an excuse to go tromp around in the woods for awhile, mostly. But it's fun. It'd be great if you could come."

"Huh." Well, that sounded slightly less terrifying. Jake warmed up to the idea a little. Sammy made it sound completely normal. It probably was, for him. "You guys go a hunting often?"

"Not often enough, if you ask Dean." Sammy's grin got even bigger. "You should see Jimmy out in the woods, though. You think he looks weird in a parking lot—you just gotta see him out in nature. Sore thumb doesn't begin to cover it."

Jake grinned at the image. He kinda would like to see that, actually.

"Yeah, okay, you're talking me into it," he said. "I'd have to get my dad's permission, though, and he's not as easy to convince."

"Hey, he could come along. The more the merrier. He and my dad would probably get along. Well, they might not. They might argue about which of their branches of the service is better—Dad always seems to be getting into arguments about that one. But you'll both have fun.”

Jake nodded. His dad liked those arguments, too. "Okay, I'll talk to him. Where exactly are you guys planning to go?"

"Up in Rampart Range. It'll be gorgeous up there, even this time of year."

Jake halted in his tracks. Sammy made it a few steps farther, then turned around, eyebrows wrinkling. "What is it?"

"Isn't that..." Jake swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. "Isn't that where those people got killed? Like, a bunch of them, a bunch of different times? It's been in the papers. And they died really weird, too, like...digested from the inside out or something."

Sammy hesitated for a second. His expression had fallen, looking exactly the way Jake felt when he turned in a test and only realized later that he had completely bungled a high-point section. Then a rush of words, "No, dude, it's not actually that close to there. We'll be fine. It's just a lot of hysteria. Newspapers gotta sell somehow—there's always hype in the headlines."

But Jake was already shaking his head. "Nuh uh. No way. I appreciate the invite, man, but there's no way my dad would let me go anywhere near where that freaky-deakiness has been going on. Sorry. You can count me out."

He kept walking, but Sammy stopped keeping up. Jake didn't look back, so he didn't see Sammy standing there in the middle of the hall, staring after him while the other students rushed around him. Then Sammy turned and headed to his own classroom, giving up.

X~*~X

Jake and his friends sometimes stayed after school or met in parks off the grounds to play Ultimate Frisbee, aka Frisbee Football. They had to arrange rides beforehand, but their parents endorsed it because it didn't have as much tackling as in actual football, so there wasn't as much parental nagging about "you'll break your ever-loving neck." After Jake decided he liked Sammy, he became a part of the games, too, partly for redemption for how mean they were that first week. Jake and his buddies never played keepaway with him again.

Today had been a good one—their group got in two full games before parents started arriving to pick guys up. As teammates disappeared in ones and twos, the remaining boys kept tossing the Frisbee around until it devolved to just a game of catch. Then the third-to-last guy took the good Frisbee home, and it was just Jake and Sammy. Dean was supposed to come get them, but he was running late.

"He's probably sucking face with some girl," Sammy said, flopping down in the grass beside Jake, panting and swiping his sweaty hair out of his face. He had abandoned his jacket during the game, but now he dragged it over to himself from where he'd left it crumpled in the grass. "He'll come get us covered in hickies and it'll be so gross. I'm just warning you now so you won't be surprised."

Jake made a face. He was sitting in the grass with his knees drawn up, his arms resting on them so that his hands dangled in the air. He didn't seem as out-of-breath and sweaty as Sammy was. His muscles were bigger, too. Sammy glanced at his own skinny biceps with a frown.

"My parents won't even let me date till I'm sixteen."

"Yeah?" Sammy fiddled with his zipper, still not pulling his jacket on, just hugging the bundle of fabric to his heaving chest. "Is your mom, like, really religious or something?"

Jake shrugged. "Not really. I mean, yeah, she makes us go to church and she tells us to be good because Jesus is watching. But she doesn't lock up the TV or smack my dad for using bad language, so she has some give to her, too."

"But she really believes it, though? You know, God and the angels and all that? Demons?" Sammy watched him carefully.

Jake turned to give him a puzzled look at that one. "I guess? She doesn't really talk about that part much."

"She doesn't have any stories that she tells you guys? Like, 'I know angels are real because this one time I almost died and I literally felt someone save me,' or 'I know demons are real because I know I saw one once.' Nothing like that?"

Sammy almost held his breath. He'd kept his voice deliberately casual through the entire speech, which had been its own kind of test. But man, if this worked, if Jake's mom had ever told him about making a deal with a demon before he was born, or anything like that... This could be their in.

But Jake shrugged, looking even more confused. "I have no idea, dude. That's kind of nuts. Do lots of Christians have stories like that?"

Sammy sighed, staring up the sky. Another good idea that had completely failed to pan out in any way whatsoever. "I don't know. I was just curious, I guess."

"Why?" Jake's voice had softened a little. He reached out a foot to nudge Sam with his toe. "You look kinda sad, dude. What's up? Why are you asking all these questions about my mom?"

Hmm. This might be another way to get into it. Sammy blinked, then looked back to Jake, meeting his eyes. "My mom died when I was a baby."

"Oh." Jake shut his eyes, very slowly, then opened them. "Oh. That sucks."

"Yeah. And I'm sorry if I come off as creepy or something, asking about yours. I know my family is weird and it makes it hard to deal with us. But some of it we can't really help. My big brothers and my dad did their best to make up the difference for me. They had to do the things that Mom would have done for me, if she'd been around. But she wasn't, and I still knew it."

"That sucks. I... My mom is unbelievably awesome. If I could give you one just like her, I would."

Sammy grinned. "That's nice of you, dude. But no worries. I'm okay, really. I just wonder sometimes."

"Don't your dad and your bros tell you about her?"

"Well, yeah, of course. It's not the same, but they try. Jimmy and Dean both remember their moms."

Jake tilted his head, and Sammy could have kicked himself. Another stupid slip. "Moms?"

This one really wasn't that big of a deal, though. "Yeah... Guess we never mentioned. Jimmy is adopted."

"Huh. Okay." Jake looked away again. "You don't treat him any different."

"No. Why would we? He's our brother, same as me and Dean. He's been in our family as long as I can remember. Joined it soon after Mom died, actually. I was still a baby."

"Really?" Jake squinted at him with one eye closed. "Your dad adopted a new kid right after he'd lost his wife? That seems like kind of a weird time to be doing that. I mean, I don't know much about adoption, but I know it's a big deal."

"Yeah, but..." Sammy had honestly never thought about it before. He blinked, staring up at the sky. Cloudless and blue and chased with spring sun. "Jimmy needed us. I guess...I guess Dad did it because there was no else who could."

"Huh." Jake kicked his foot in the grass, scattering a clump of damp, lush green strands. "Maybe Jimmy has reasons for being strange."

"He does." Sammy's voice came out much more solemn than he'd mean it to. But it was entirely true. "His parents died right around the same time as my mom did. And he came to us, and he needed us. He was one of us before he even joined our family, really. And now... Yeah, I can't imagine us without him. He's a Winchester."

Jake was quiet, staring away into the distance. Sammy lay beside him gazing up at the sky and thinking things he'd never thought before. Both Castiel and Jimmy were Winchesters, and had been forever, as far as he was concerned. But that time when they first showed up, even the first couple of years—they must have been hella tough. On everybody.

Except Sammy, who was too little to understand any of it. He was kinda glad he'd skipped out on all that misery. He knew from casual conversations and occasional confessions that Dad had had a really rough time after Mom died. There had been drinking. Jimmy, not even a teenager at the time, had finally laid down the law. God, what must that conversation have been like?

It had been hard, almost impossible, but Dad went completely sober for a few years until he had a real good handle on things. He still had an AA chip, treasured in the small jewelry box that had once belonged to Mom, the one personal, private thing that John Winchester had brought along on every single move in their long line of them. He placed it in the center of his dresser or nightstand or even a kitchen counter in every apartment, trailer, tenement, and broken-down house they had occupied. Sammy had never dared to open it, but he'd seen Dad, every now and then, sometimes months apart, open that box and pore slowly and lovingly over every article instead. A wedding band. A bracelet. A broken watch Dean had once given him that hadn't lasted a week before it snapped. That AA token.

Yeah, part of Sam was glad he'd been too young to understand during those really hard years. But part of him wished he'd been involved, too. The experience had bonded Dean and Jimmy and even Cas, and especially Dad, in a way that Sammy wasn't quite included in. He also knew it was partly for responsible for all of their continuing, completely aggravating, and utterly unjustifiable over-protectiveness of him. He was fourteen, damn it. He was old enough to shoot at the monsters they hunted, instead of always being shoved behind Dad and Dean and Cas.

"That's pretty cool, though," Jake said. "That your dad was able to adopt a kid who needed it, even when he was dealing with all that. It must have been hard."

"Yeah, it was." Sammy folded his hands behind his head. "Truth is, though, that Dad needed Jimmy almost as much as Jimmy needed him."

Jake squinted at him, ready to ask another question, but then Dean honked the Impala's horn. Sammy jumped up, swinging his jacket by one sleeve, running full-tilt for the car before Jake realized what was happening. "Shotgun!"

"Hey, no fair!" Jake squeaked out, already several yards behind him before he started running. They raced for the car, and despite his enormous, cheaty lead, Sam had some difficulty keeping ahead of Jake's long legs and grasping fingers. He won, though, slapping his hands on the hood of the Impala and laughing when Dean spazzed out and flipped him the bird from the behind the windshield, just as Jake grabbed the back of his shirt.

And he and Jake poured into the car, still laughing and slapping each other, cheeks hot and red with their afternoon of exertion and their final run. Dean called them jerks and drove them home, playing an AC/DC tape and singing at the top of his lungs while Sammy covered his ears and Jake bobbed his head. And everything was cool, despite it all.

X~*~X

Jake kept an eye on the news the weekend the Winchesters went on their hunting trip. His mom stared at him in astonishment when he turned on the TV to watch the six o'clock news—something that had never occurred once in all of Jake's fourteen years of existence. He didn't tell her what was going on, but he couldn't help the way he jumped to check every little update, even so.

Nothing. No stories about more people getting chewed to bits up in the mountains. No news of dead bodies washing up in the river, bloating and distended and strange. No more sightings of a mysterious creature, there and then gone before hikers and rangers knew what it was.

Nothing by Sunday evening, anyway. Jake still wiggled in his seat at dinner and stared at the ceiling for awhile before falling asleep, wondering if it would be on the news the next morning. Two men and two teenage boys found dead in the wilderness. His friend Sammy dead, his weird, sometimes creepy, sometimes awesome family gone with him. And Jake hadn't even tried to come along, to get his dad to come, too. What if they died, and Jake could have done something?

He regretted now, shutting Sammy down so completely and abruptly. At the time he'd only been thinking of his own skin. Now he had time to wonder and regret.

But Sammy was in school Monday like nothing had happened. He didn't even seemed freaked out or tired or anything, no bags under his eyes, no scrapes or bruises on his arms like he'd been running through the trees getting smacked by branches and scratched by twigs. He was just there, same as always, kind of short and skinny and geeky looking, even in his army surplus boots and redneck clothes.

"How was the hunting trip?" Jake asked him between classes, still with a bit of anxiousness jumping in his throat, making the words come out choppy and weird.

Sammy smiled, sunny and clear, no hint that anything bad or weird had happened at all. "It was great. Dean got out of some of his need to shoot things, even though most of it was at random targets he set up. Dad got to organize his tackle box again, which he loves doing. Jimmy made scrambled eggs and didn't even burn them."

"Yeah?" No monsters. No attacks. Nothing at all. "I'm sorry I missed it."

"Yeah, me too. You woulda loved it. But maybe next time, yeah?"

"Sure, next time."

Sammy quickened his pace, hurrying to his next class, and Jake lengthened his stride to keep up. "Yo, Winchester."

"Yeah?"

"Next Saturday me and a bunch of the guys are gonna go to Wilson Park and hang out for the afternoon. They have a great field for Ultimate Frisbee there, and it'll be a bigger group than usual. Think you can come? Your big brothers too, if they want. It's a whole high school thing."

Sammy nodded, taking the time to give Jake another brilliant grin. "Sure. That would be awesome. Dean doesn't go much for team sports, but Jimmy will come and hang out with us."

"Cool."

Jake hurried to his next class, a grin on his face to match the one he'd seen on Sammy's. He was really looking forward to seeing Jimmy try to throw a Frisbee. He had a feeling it was going to be hilarious.

Previous: Book 3 Chapter 2
Next: Book 3 Chapter 4
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