III. Qualifying Rounds
Dean shook his head and groaned. "Dude, that's the lamest impersonation I've ever heard. You gotta go deep if you want to sound like James Earl Jones. Pull it up from your diaphragm, man."
Sam sighed and clenched his fist in the sand. "I'm not trying to do an impersonation, Dean. I'm trying to tell you the truth."
Dean tried to figure out what was going on. Sam wasn't making sense. "Does this have something to do with Syl? He's—"
"When I was four, I woke up in a motel room. No one was there but me and a lot of smoke. I went outside to find my brother and my dad, but I couldn't find them. Instead, a woman saw me and carried me to safety. I guess I fell asleep or something because when I woke up, she told me my family was dead and that she was gonna take care of me."
"What kind of freak are you?" Dean stood up and backed away from the man he'd considered a friend. "It's sick to joke about someone's dead brother, you creep." Damn it. What if he wasn't just an ordinary sick fuck, but something supernatural? He had a couple of packs of salt in his pocket, but no other weapons. Shit. Maybe he could make it to Syl's. Blind or no, a hunter was always a hunter. The man had to possess some kind of weapons cache.
"This isn't a joke, man." Dean forced himself to listen to the thing. Maybe it would trip itself up and let spill what it was or what it wanted. "She told me you guys were dead, and I guess I buried Sammy Winchester with you. I was little, Dean. I believed what adults told me. That's what little kids do, you know? I've always known I was adopted but I never thought about who I had been...until you said your name on the plane. It came back then, Dean. All of it."
Shapeshifter, maybe? Nah. There was no Sam Winchester for it to be taking memories from. Demon? Some freaky Greek, Mediterranean, legendary monster? Damn. Where were the flashcards when you needed them? Of course, it probably wasn't local; after all, it was already on the plane in New York. Maybe it was some kind of djinn, leeching onto Dean's guilt about what happened to Sam. The real Sam. Lots of things liked guilt, ate it up like candy. Fuck, he was so out of his league right now. And alone. On a beach. Good killing ground.
"You're not believing a word I say, are you?"
Geez, was the guy—um, the thing—still talking? "Kinda hard to take it all in, Pole. Your name is still Pole, right? Christo." It just looked puzzled at the sound.
"Grace Polanski formally adopted me. She must've forged Dad's death certificate or something. I guess being a social worker came in handy for an illegal adoption."
Grace Polanski. He'd have to remember that name if this thing in front of him wasn't lying. Grace Polanski. Dead bitch. Yeah, got it.
If? Had he just used the word if? This couldn't be his brother. For one thing, he was too tall. Then again, if something was trying to imitate his brother, would it really consider six feet, a hundred inches an acceptable facsimile? And the long hair. No Winchester would run around looking like that.
But what if it was a Winchester who didn't know he was a Winchester?
"Dean! Are you listening to me?" In a word, no. "There's an extensive blood lab at the Olympic Village. We can be tested. I know it's set up for dope testing, but it does DNA, too. To make sure some of the eastern European women are really women, you know? They can do it. I checked before we left. I really am your brother. Ask Syl tomorrow when we go pick up your package. I don't know how the hell he knows, but he does. Think about it, Dean. He knew from the beginning."
Fuckin' psychics. Always with the cryptic shit—double-talking and being all obscure. Fuck 'em. Fuck this. "I'm going for a ride to clear my head. I'll meet you back at the room, okay?"
Damn if the thing didn't have Sam's old whine down. "I'll be back. I won't—I'm not running out on you."
Dean hurried up the beach and onto his motorbike. His first stop was at a jewelry shop. He found what he was looking for quickly—a sterling silver St. Joseph medal with a matching chain suitable for a guy. Then he went to a taverna where he bought a single bottle of beer that he wasn't going to drink. It wasn't like he didn't want to get drunk—hell, if this wasn't a reason there never was one—but this might be a case, and he didn't drink on cases. Ever. He'd seen his dad screw up once because of too much alcohol and it'd taught both of them a lesson. He opened the bottle and poured part of it on the ground. Next, he found a church and broke into it. He scooped up water from the baptismal and made sure the door locked behind him. Finally, he went to an open-all-night internet café at the resort. God, you had to love how convenience ruled the world.
Hours later, he let himself into the room he shared with Sam. He had no answers and a shitload of new questions. He'd started off trying to find out what kind of creature he could be dealing with, but found himself looking into Sam's death instead. From what he could tell, there had been no...biological evidence that Sam had died in the fire. What the fuck had Dad, Bobby, and Jim been thinking? They just let the local authorities tell them Sam was dead? They just let Sam's remains be hauled away with the rubble? Why hadn't they—Fuck!
He sat on his bed and stared at the body sprawled atop of the covers across from him. Could that be his little brother? Had his entire life since he was eight years old been a lie? Had he lived with his father's disappointment, thought himself a failure, not trusted himself all these years for no reason? Had he grieved for seventeen fuckin' years because a selfish bitch had stolen his baby brother? Could the fuckin' heavens hate him that fuckin' much?
And there it was. That little quirk of a lip right before Sam woke. Sammy's waking up, Mommy. Ya got the bottle? Can I help you hold it?... Nah, Dad, Sammy's sound asleep. I'll let you know when to hide your journal.
Hazel eyes were staring at him in confusion. So fuckin' familiar. "Gotta make an early morning of it, Pole. Make a run to Syl's, return the bikes, catch the hydrofoil, the bus, and then the train."
"Gah, we didn't do all that to get here, did we?" He scrunched his pillow under his head. "Go take your shower. I'll be up by the time you get back."
"Making a crack about my hygiene?"
Sam blinked solemnly at him. "Just noticing you're still wearing yesterday's clothes. You get any sleep?"
Dean got up and grabbed his shaving kit. "That's what train rides are for. Oh, here, take a sip of this." He held out the warm bottle of beer he'd carried around half the night.
"For breakfast?" Sam scowled.
Sam grabbed the bottle and took a tentative sip. "Blech."
No black eyes. No sulfur. No burning flesh. Hmm. He took the bottle from Sam and tossed it in the trash. "Gotcha something else," he said, digging into his pocket for the small jewelry box.
"Not another bottle of flat beer," Sam muttered, wiping his eyes blearily. Then he felt the weight of the box in his hand and looked down. His eyes widened in shock. "We goin' steady or somethin'?"
"Just open it, asshole."
Sam stared at the pendant, then reached to remove it from the box. "Ouch!"
Dean watched carefully as Sam pricked his finger on the nicked edge of the medal, nicked by Dean's own knife. Sam put his finger in his mouth, but showed no other reaction to the silver. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just scratched myself."
"There's a flaw? I can take it back and—"
"No! It's okay. It's great, actually. But why? You don't believe—"
Dean cut him off with a shrug. "Brothers or not, we're still friends." He grabbed his toiletry kit and headed toward the door. "Don't fall back asleep."
He sat down hard on the closed toilet lid. Could this really be Sammy? Nah. God didn't like him that much (which was okay since vice versa and all that shit). It didn't make sense. Bobby, Jim, Dad. They were all there. Surely, they...
He stood and turned on the water. It was all too much to take in after a sleepless night. He showered quickly and returned to the room where Sam—Pole was up and ready for his own shower. Pole. It'd be okay as long as he thought of him as "Pole". "Maybe Sammy" just wasn't computing at the moment.
An hour later, they were knocking on Syl's door. He met them with flatware and plates. "Set the table while I finish with breakfast."
"Syl, man—" Dean began.
"Anna called. Said you left without breakfast. That is not the way we do things in Greece. You upset her. I do not like my Anna upset. So you will eat here and I will tell her. Then she will not be upset and I will not be disappointed by my impolite American friends, yes?"
Dean just looked at Sam and shrugged. Apparently his world was set on doing its own thing and he was only along for the ride. He had to admit the coffee and pastries made him feel better after his long, restless night. They made small talk about what they'd seen on their tour of the island, then Syl asked him to go downstairs to the library to retrieve the journal. He found the room unlocked and the journal sealed in a protective case and placed inside a coffee table sized recipe book. Ah, just taking home a gift for his aunt/mother/girlfriend. Clever.
He started back outside when he caught part of the conversation Sam and Syl were having. He knew the evils of eavesdropping but did it anyway.
"Maybe I shouldn't have said anything," Sam was saying. "He's been...distant since then. I don't think he believes me, although I can't figure out why he thinks I'd lie. What would be my payoff?"
"In Dean's world, there are many reasons to lie and none of them are good. Take comfort in the fact that if he indeed thought you were lying, we would not be having this conversation."
"You mean he would've left without me?"
"Something like that."
Dean snorted. Hunters didn't run from prey; they ended them.
"I just don't know if it was worth it. He was my friend; maybe I should've just settled for that."
"The young never like this word—patience—but I say it to you anyway. Dean has been granted the gift of instinct. Therefore, he knows the truth; it just takes time for him to accept it. He also has the gift of loyalty. Once he accepts you as his brother, God help those who mean you ill."
"I don't want to be his brother because I want him to protect me. I just...I don't know..."
"Look into your heart, Sam. Being with Dean, are you where you should be?" Syl asked.
Sam paused and Dean could "hear" the smile that appeared below the droopy bangs. "Yes. I'm definitely where I should be."
"Then don't despair the journey. What was, was. Now, you are at what is to be. Rejoice in that, yes?"
"I will," Sam promised.
And it could never be said too often—fuckin' psychics. He pasted a smile on his face and walked out to the balcony. "Auntie Bobby is gonna enjoy this cookbook, Syl."
Syl grinned. "I'm sure she will. It was an honor and a pleasure to meet you Winchesters. And, Dean, thank you for taking such good care of my friend. He will never say it to you, but you are a special joy in Bobby's life."
Dean ducked his head, not comfortable at all with such chick flick conversations. "He's special to me, too. Probably saved me from myself a hundred times over. I'm a 'bad' boy, you know."
"Bah!" Syl stood and crossed unerringly to where Dean stood. "You are sometimes a pussycat who thinks he is a lion and sometimes a lion with the heart of a pussycat, but you are not bad. Don't ever let anyone tell you that—unless it is a lady, no?"
Dean gave the older man a quick hug. "It was an honor and a pleasure to meet you, sir. I'll give Bobby your best."
"You do that, son. And, Sam, take care as well."
"You, too, sir. Thank you for your hospitality."
"It is never hospitality with friends and family. It just is."
Dean was kinda sad as they got on their bikes and left. Syl reminded him a lot of Bobby—even if he was a fuckin' psychic. Bobby, Jim, and Syl were the same kind of hunters, preferring brains to brawn but perfectly capable of kicking ass when the need arose. His dad was just the opposite, perfectly capable of thinking a problem through but finding ass-kicking more enjoyable.
Aw, fuck. His dad. How the hell was he gonna keep John Winchester from killing Sam long enough for him to believe Sam was his son? If his dad were here now, he'd be giving him hell about letting someone get so close to even pretend he was Sam. But Syl was right, not about the silly pussycat/lion thing, but the other. Dean relied heavily on his instincts when he hunted, a prickling sense of what was right and what was unnaturally wrong. Sam wasn't...wrong.
Thankfully, Airlia was off delivering a replacement bike when they reached the shop. He didn't think she would appreciate his distracted manner. He did, however, write her a quick note when he found out his rental fee was less than half the usual.
Eventually, he and Sam were seated on the train for the long trip back to Athens. Dean had expected to sleep the entire way, but he couldn't seem to convince his mind to slow down enough to even slip into a light doze. So much of who he was, who he had become, rested upon the knowledge that Sammy was dead. If that was a lie, his whole life was a lie, and what happened now?
Or did it even make a difference? He was still a mechanic. And a hunter. Maybe it would change his relationship with his dad. And maybe it wouldn't. Sam had a life in California. He had a girl he was thinking about marrying, planning on going to law school. At best, they'd see each other for a major holiday or two each year. Maybe Sam would want him at his wedding. What had Syl told Sam? What was, was. The past couldn't be changed. They had to concentrate on the future and make that work as best they could.
"I'll make an appointment for us." Sam didn't look at him. Instead he fiddled with the medallion Dean had given him. "At the clinic."
Dean nodded, feeling a little guilty that the medallion had been just a test. "With the games winding down, they can probably fit us in pretty early. Shouldn't interfere with our plans to go to Piraeus and the moronic islands." He waited a beat.
"Saronic islands," Sam automatically corrected, then noticed Dean's smirk. "Moron," he chided. "You sure you wanna—?"
"You can be my long-lost daddy for all I care. I'm in Greece, man, and unless they build a bridge across the Atlantic and all the other bodies of water between here and the great State of South Dakota, I ain't comin' back. I'm planning to see all, do all, and live all I can while I'm here."
"Your long-lost daddy?" Sam chuffed happily. "Don't think I don't know the truth—you're addicted to hydrofoils, aren't ya?"
Dean laughed. "Think they'll let me pop the hood and take a look at one of the engines?"
"Sure, man. You'll just be one in the long line of crazy Americans they've had to put up with this summer." Dean felt Sam lose the tension he'd had for most of the ride. "Think I'll take a nap."
With a sigh, Dean released his own tension and felt the weariness of a sleepless night catch up with him. "Right behind ya, dude. Right behind ya."
Dean read the test results that Sam silently handed to him. They'd given blood that morning and thanks to the state-of-the-art testing facility for the Olympics, the results were ready when they returned from their day of exploring. Now they were in the doctor's office and he was reading exactly what he expected to read.
""So, you really are my pain in the ass little brother." He folded the letter back into its envelope. "I was so hoping for a puppy instead." Sam cuffed him on the back of his head. "I was gonna say that at least you were house-trained. Now, I'm not so sure."
The doctor laughed. "I'm glad neither of you seem to be traumatized by the news. We're not staffed to handle such things."
"Not a big surprise, Doc. I haven't seen the brat since he was four years old and except for the sixteen feet he grew, he ain't changed that much."
"You were blonder," Sam retorted in reply to the height dig.
"Is blonder even a word?" Sam subtly gave him the finger. "Sorry, Doc. Apparently my absence during his formative years has been detrimental to his ability to behave in public." He automatically ducked the slap aimed for the back of his head.
The doctor beamed at them. "You are definitely brothers. Was it a custody thing?"
"Something like that," Sam hedged. "Thanks again for being willing to do this for us. I know it's unusual."
"But not as boring as the standard chem tests we've been running for over two weeks. The lab guys were really happy to do something new. And it's nice to give out good news for a change because I can tell this is good news for both of you."
Dean glanced at Sam and nodded. "Yeah, it's been years since I had someone to boss around."
"Um, is there a psych ward around here somewhere?" Sam patted Dean's hand in a soothing manner.
"Go," the doctor ordered with a grin. "Good luck, gentlemen."
They walked out into the warm Greek night. Moths played in the lights of the village and the streets were still full of people.
"Well, now what?" Sam asked as they walked toward a set of benches.
"Argos, Mycenae, and Corinth, right?"
"I'm talking about us, not the tour, Dean."
"Oh." Dean sat and indicated Sam should take the seat beside him. "Tell me about yourself."
Sam rolled his eyes and straddled the bench. "I'm a Taurus."
Dean bopped him on the back of his head. "I'm not trying to date you, you idjit. Besides, I know exactly when your birthday is. I had to miss Sesame Street that day to go see your red, wrinkled ass."
"Sorry to inconvenience you."
"I forgave you the first time you pissed on Dad. Nothing on TV has ever been as funny as that," Dean cackled.
"So I never sprinkled you?"
"Drenched is a better word, and nah. Mom—" God, he hated how his voice always broke on that word—"She taught me how to avoid baptism by Sammy."
"She kept Dad outta the loop?"
Dean shook his head. "Dad could be a hard-headed, not-listening, stubborn bastard when he wanted to be. Which is why I never did get the puppy I wanted instead of you. Did you?"
"Did you ever get a puppy? Tell me about your childhood, what all I missed. You ever go to Disneyland and crap like that?"
Sam shook his head as if trying to follow Dean's line of questioning. "No dog; Mom's allergic. But my best friend, Mike, had a dog and didn't mind sharing."
"Best friend, huh?"
"Yeah. I met Mike right after...you know. We were inseparable. If I hadn't won a full ride to Stanford, I'd be with him at the University of Arizona right now."
"You still keep in touch?"
"Cool. And Disneyland?"
Sam peered at him curiously. "A few times. Probably more than that. Church groups. Youth groups. Seems like every summer someone was headed there. Got to be not so special after a while, you know? But I do remember my second visit because I got to ride The Haunted Mansion attraction. The first time Mom said I was too young. Felt like a big boy when I got to dance with ghosts... When you're young, stuff like that's important."
Dean nodded. "So what'd you do after you got too old for ol' Walt?"
Sam snickered. "Well, we were only an hour or so from the Mexican border. Man, the hours I spent in Nogales. Different laws, different culture..."
"Different women." Dean grinned, remembering some of his trips south of the border.
"Different everything," Sam agreed happily. "Now, what about you? What all did I miss out on?"
"Ding, ding, ding," Dean said, standing up. "Sharing and Caring Hour is officially over for the night. Tune in late tomorrow for On The Road With Dean."
"You promise? Because this has to be a two-way street, man."
"I know, Sammy. I'll tell you everything tomorrow when we get back from touring, everything you want to know and probably some you don't. But now it's time to go hunt down some food. Think we should try McDonald's, get used to food back home?"
"I'm not eating Mickey D's in Greece, Dean."
"Boy, you grew up to be an elitist little bitch, didn't you?" Dean smiled to let Sam know he was kidding.
Sam rolled his eyes. "And you grew up to be a jerk—wait a minute, I think I remember you being a jerk from before, so no growing up there, huh?" Dean just moved his hand to mimic Sam's mouth moving. That garnered a very loud, long sigh and a comment, "And if we're gonna eat non-indigenous food, let's try that French place on the corner."
"French? And watch you eat snails? No thank you, dude."
"At least snails look like snails. Who knows what kind of meat a Big Mac over here has?"
Dean winced. "Fine. Let's go eat Greek."
Sam smiled gleefully. "You have the best ideas, Big Brother."
"Bitch," Dean muttered.
"Jerk," Sam replied.
"Dean, stand up! Security keeps looking over here!"
Dean knew he was making a spectacle of himself, bent over and laughing hard enough to draw tears, but damn, he hadn't had so much fun in years! Forget winning gold medals; this was the highlight of his trip to Greece. He finally stopped laughing enough to speak. "Oh, Sammy, I didn't know you had it in ya, boy! You're my hero!"
"Oh, stop it! As if you were innocent in the whole thing. You're a bad influence, you know that, right?" Sam walked away, with his head held high.
Dean followed, still snickering. They'd just been let off at the gate to the Village and the tour bus they'd been on all day sped off with squealing wheels, glad to be rid of the two of them.
"Aw, Sammy," he tried to soothe his upset brother, "the bitch deserved it."
Sam slowed down and looked back at Dean with a faint smile. "Yeah, she did. The tour company obviously hired her because she was cute, and not because she actually knew what she was talking about."
"But you did. Man, our fellow Americans were eating it up when you started with your, 'Actually, miss, this particular agora is dated back to...' If looks could kill, you'd be a little greasy spot in Corinth."
"And you were translating Latin and Koine like you lived two thousand years ago. Jesus, dude, I need to get a copy of those flashcards you had."
Dean started laughing again. "What really ticked her off was that we got her tips." Nobody had been as shocked as he when a retired teacher from Wisconsin, traveling with an entire group of retired teachers, came up and handed them an envelope.
"You boys did a fine job today." She patted each of them on the arm, too short to reach their shoulders. "Most informational tour we've had since we got here. I think they figured we stupid Americans wouldn't know right from wrong when it came to Greek history. And I hate to tell them, but perky boobs don't have a thing to do with a perky mind." Dean had snorted loudly at that. "Anyway, all of us decided that you two should have the guide's tip."
"Oh, ma'am, we couldn't—" Sam had begun.
"You can," she'd said firmly. "Besides, most of us are women. And we found you both way cuter than Miss Thing."
That had mortified Sam into a silence that lasted all the way back to Athens.
Dean couldn't keep from giggling—um, manfully chuckling, that is.
"You're pathetic, man." Sam snickered despite himself.
"Wanna use our ill-gotten gain on dinner?"
"How did I know you were gonna say that?"
"No. You're just predictable."
Dean scoffed. "And I'm the only one? Then why do I know you want to spend this money at that place downtown where you can see the lit up Acropolis looking down on you?"
Sam froze, clearly not wanting to lie, but not give Dean the satisfaction of being right. "You're just too damn observant. But since you clearly are not observant enough to know that the place requires reservations—"
"Which we have in two hours. Since it'll take us forever to get there—could they have put the Village any further out?— better scurry along so you can make yourself all pretty." Sam just stared. "Business casual. Ya know what that is, don'tcha?"
An indignant scowl and a flip of a finger assured him that Sam did.
"I'll meet you at your place in twenty minutes. Should I bring flowers?"
"You're turning into a cheap date, princess."
Sam huffed off so fast that Dean couldn't exactly hear what he said as he departed.
As Dean strolled to his room, he remembered why he'd liked being a big brother.
"Why am I the girl?" Sam hissed as the waiter walked away, after leaving the wine list with Dean.
"One word, Sam—bangs." Dean had thought they were girly way back when Sam was four, but the kid had had such a hissy fit when he or Dad tried to cut them, they'd given up. Looked like his mom had had the same trouble.
Sam shoved the offending pieces of hair back off his face. "Hair prejudice!"
"Yeah. Better call Amnesty International or something," Dean commented dryly.
"You clean up well enough, but your clothes do nothing for you personality," Sam muttered as he picked up his menu. "Aw, man! I didn't even get one with prices."
"You better be glad my etiquette lessons are kicking in or else I'd be rolling in the floor laughing right now," Dean warned casually, not looking up from the wine list.
"Etiquette lessons? Really?"
"My high school guidance counselor."
"Some kind of career prep?"
Dean shrugged. "You could call it that. It was kinda fun, learning how to be 'sociably acceptable.' She had this whole award/punishment thing going on that kept me interested."
"Sounds like a nice lady."
Dean snorted. Ms. T was a borderline pedophile, something he'd only realized when he was in college. As long as her tastes didn't run any younger, she'd be all right. No high school senior would be outing her. But if she went younger, or accidentally found herself with a virgin that had attachment issues, she was going to find herself on the evening news. "Yeah, she taught me a lot of things, helped me get into college." Didn't mean he owed her anything, though. He'd earned every minute of her time.
Dinner went smoothly and Dean had to admit he was impressed by the view of the Acropolis. "You should bring Jess here on your honeymoon."
"She'd love it," Sam agreed. He took his last bite of dessert, then set his fork down to look at Dean. "I think it's gonna take some time for her to get used to being Mrs. Winchester instead of Mrs. Polanski."
Dean dropped his eyes to the wineglass he was holding. The house wine was pretty good, and he was considering getting a few bottles for the guys back at work. Their wives liked giving dinner parties and shit. "You sure you wanna do that?"
"Why wouldn't I? And Dad... How are we gonna do that, by the way? You tell him first or the two of us spring it on him together?"
Quickly swallowing the entire contents of his glass, Dean took his time wiping his mouth. "Um, about that...I was sorta thinking...Well, let's not tell him."
Dean had steeled himself for Sam's possible anger, indignation, or even incredulity. What he hadn't considered was the hurt that appeared in Sam's eyes. Damn.
"No, Sam," he said quickly. "Whatever you're thinking, just...no. it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with...him."
"Him being Dad?" Dean saw the hurt morph into curiosity.
"I'll explain as soon as we get out of here," Dean said quickly, hoping to forestall the questioning.
"Sharing and Caring Hour?"
Dean grinned, pleased that Sam had remembered. "Emphasis on the word 'hour'. By the way, that's the maximum, not the minimum."
Sam scowled, then let his face relax. "I'll take what I can get. So, you ready to leave?"
"In a minute. I had a special request." He motioned to the waiter who brought over two flutes of champagne. "Would've sprung for a full bottle except I hate the crap."
"Then why?" Sam looked at the glasses in amazement.
"Because I thought the situation warranted it," Dean said simply. He raised his glass. "To the Winchester Brothers—reunited and all that shit."
Sam laughed but tapped his glass against Dean's anyway. "Nice one, Dean. Learn that in etiquette class?"
"Let's hear you do better," Dean challenged.
Sam deliberately cleared his voice. "To serendipitous chance—in a field of over ten thousand athletes, we sat beside each other on a plane."
"And thus destiny reasserted itself," Dean concluded. They took a sip of the champagne.
"You believe in destiny?" Sam asked.
Dean shrugged and smirked. "You're the one intoning about serendipitous chance."
"Yeah, maybe I need to rethink some things." Sam held the glass up to the light. "You're right—it's not very good. But I know Jess is gonna want to have it at our reception."
"Yeah, 'cause it's a chick drink."
"If you promise never to say that or anything with the term 'chick' in it in front of Jess, I promise I'll tell her you're allergic to champagne, and I'll put Jack or something in your glass instead," Sam said earnestly.
"So is Jess one of those fem chicks?" Sam dropped his head with a sigh. "What? I happen to like fem chicks. I've never much cared who's in the driver's seat, if you know what I mean. It's all about the destination to me—the journey can be slow, fast, or, you know, toy-filled."
"Oh, God," Sam sobbed. "TMI!"
Dean just laughed. "Besides, Jess is gonna love me. I can cook, wash clothes, and I never leave the toilet seat up."
Sam's eyes widened dramatically. "Never?"
"That's, um, that's not natural, is it?"
"It is if you had a two year old brother who fell in one night. Traumatized both me and Dad for life."
Sam bounced his head off the table, rattling the centerpiece. "Is this what I'm gonna have to put up with at the wedding? You telling embarrassing tales about my childhood?"
"You shouldn't have been so entertaining," Dean replied with a beatific smile.
"Can I change 'serendipitous chance' to 'godawful luck'?"
"Nah, man. That would be your haircut—or lack thereof." He ignored the daggers tossed about by Sam's eyes. "So, I'm gonna be invited to your wedding, huh?"
"Best men usually are, Dean."
Dean winced as he swallowed another dreg of the champagne. And this was the good stuff? Blech. "Nah, dude. Mike's gonna be your best man. I'll sit with your mom or something."
"But you're my brother."
"And he's been your best friend for years. I know if the situation was reversed, I'd be pissed if some stranger came to town and shoved me outta the way after putting up with your ass all this time."
"You're so sweet. I'm touched."
"Only in the head," Dean snarked. He drained his glass and wiped his mouth. "Ready to get outta here, bro?"
Dean took a few minutes to arrange a shipment of the house wine to South Dakota—everyone had been advised it was easier to have things shipped rather than trying to carry them back through customs. And the case was surprisingly cheap.
"So?" Sam mused as they walked up the Acropolis. It had been a mutual decision made without words.
"I never had a dog," Dean said, his eyes on his destination. "Living in a series of seedy motels, rusted out single-wides, shanties so shabby that even drug dealers scoffed at them, and of course, squatting in burnt out shells and soon-to-be demolished properties, was not conducive to pet ownership."
"That's how you—we—lived?"
"Yep. That shithole where you supposedly died was just one in a long line of shitholes."
"He had nothing to do with it I'm sure," Dean said before taking a deep breath. "I also never had a best friend. Twenty-two different schools in nineteen different states sorta nixed the idea of lasting friendship, you know? As for Disneyland? Nope. Almost got to a theme park once—one of the Six Flags. The whole school was going on the last day of the year, completely paid for by a small-town-guy-makes-good type. Of course, Dad had us pack up and leave the day before."
"Fuck, Dean." Sam stopped walking and reached out to grab Dean's arm. "I—I don't know what to say."
Dean shrugged him off and kept walking. "It's okay, man. I'm not telling you this for some belated sympathy and crap. But I want you to know why I'm not mad at your mom anymore. She saved you. She gave you—normal—and that's something you wouldn't have had with us."
"I don't understand," Sam cried softly. "Why did you move so much? Why didn't you have a home? What kinda job let Dad keep running like that?"
"Dad's a hunter, Sam. We followed the game."
"But hunting is seasonal. You couldn't have been doing it three hundred and sixty-five days a year."
"Really? Sorry no one ever told Dad that."
"How the hell did you ever get grades enough to get through high school, much less college?"
Dean laughed. "I never asked if you ever broke a bone."
"Eleventh grade. Broke my wrist playing soccer. Man, my swim coach was pissed."
"Out for like six weeks, huh?"
"When I was thirteen, Dad and I were hunting. Our prey ran into an abandoned house and we followed. Dad indicated that he'd take the main floor while I went up the stairs to the second. The stairs were pretty stable, but three steps down the hallway, the floor gave out. I fell through to the first floor and then to the basement. My ortho doc to this day can't believe I didn't break my neck or my spine. But that was about all that wasn't broken. I spent eight weeks in traction—because of my age, they really didn't want to put pins in. Then I spent ten months in rehab."
They were getting closer to the ruins of the Parthenon and it was getting more crowded, so Dean led them off the main path. "Dad couldn't give up hunting that long, so he sent me to live with Jim. I had to be home-schooled, and he had this retired couple at his church who'd been missionaries and taught all the starving children in Africa, so you know, what was one starving child in America?"
"You weren't starving for real, were you?" Sam's question was hesitant, as if he were scared of the answer.
Dean tried to give him a reassuring smile. "Hungry sometimes, but not starving. But it was always obvious I wasn't a member of the upper class. Clothes from Salvation Army and its cousins. Shoes a little too well-worn. Most of the time I didn't mind it, but the first day in a new school...Little bastards could and would fuck with your mind . Probably would've ended up hurting one of them if I hadn't had to take that break. Anyway, the Reynolds decided to make it their mission to not only educate me, but to make me like it! Guess they succeeded."
"Your classical background?"
"My what? Oh, you mean the Latin and stuff. Nah, Dad had me learn most of that."
Sam looked shocked, but let it go. "And your Biblical background—what you know about Paul and his travels—that come from Jim and the missionaries?"
"Partially." He didn't want to lie to Sam, but he didn't want to get into the hunting business too much. "I should've known you'd geek out over my education." He smiled to let Sam know he didn't mind.They stood back and looked at the ancient structure. Tomorrow, they would tour the Acropolis properly, go to the museum, visit all the sites. But tonight, they just wanted to see.
"I don't understand," Sam said after a few moments of silence.
"Why you don't want Dad to know I'm alive."
Fuck. He'd hoped his sad tale would make it obvious. "Dad's sick, Sam. He's got an obsession and it's going to destroy him. I hated him when he basically threw me away, but now I'm grateful. He would've taken me down with him. And back in the day, I would've gladly gone with him. I thought I owed him—for losing you."
"You say you haven't heard from him in seven years?"
"He insisted I do my senior of high school in one place. Got us an apartment in Waterloo, Iowa. He hunted most of the time, but showed up enough that no one thought I was an unaccompanied minor. On my eighteenth birthday, he appeared, handed me the keys to the Impala and the lease to the apartment, then left. Haven't seen him since."
Dean shrugged. "The one truth I got from college is that he's sick. He can't—he can't help himself. I don't want his...madness to ruin your life like it almost ruined mine."
"And that's it?" Sam asked speculatively. "That's the full reason why you don't want us to meet?"
Dean stiffened. "What are you getting at?"
"Dean, I'm your brother. That means whatever you tell me is sacrosanct, okay? I can keep a secret, even from Jess, if I have to. Just tell me the truth."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"The hunting bullshit, man. It's not animals, or not just animals. Animals don't lead you into abandoned houses or laugh if you have on blinders. And you don't need exit strategies or backup on normal hunts."
"Damn. I talked that much?"
"No, man, you ain't said shit. This is me putting together pieces you let slip. And don't tell me this is just part of Dad's 'madness,' because he's not the only hunter. You hunt, Bobby hunts, and I bet Syl was a hunter back in the day, too. Still not sure if the RPG is the truth or just more of your bullshit. Just cut the crap, man!" Sam's voice was a harsh whisper in the warm night.
Dean ran a hand across his face. Anger had been his first reaction and he'd wanted to yell in Sam's face—"We hunt demons, damn it! Is that enough truth for ya!"—but Sam had escaped all the craziness and Dean just wanted to preserve his innocence for as long as possible.
He turned away from the historical site to look down to the city below. If just a view from a hill brought about such a sense of wonder and power, no wonder the Greek believed gods resided on mountains. And why demons were left to look up.
"What is it, Dean?" Sam pleaded. "Are you in some kind of assassins guild or something?"
Dean choked back a laugh. "An assassins guild? Sure, why not? I'm a member of the League of Extraordinary Assassins."
"Fuck you," Sam spat bitterly.
Shit. The kid was serious about this. "Look, Sam, I'm just trying to protect you, okay? I could tell you what we hunt, why we hunt, and the good that comes from hunting what we do. But it would seriously fuck up your whole world order—and no, I'm not exaggerating. What we do is dirty, dangerous, and most of the time, not strictly legal. But we don't do it out of want or desire, but totally out of necessity."
"What are you saying?"
"Dad's obsessed with getting Mom's killer. Our hunts are about stopping killers."
"You are assassins!"
"No! The difference between us and assassins is the real secret, Sam. It's what I'm protecting you from."
"I'm not a kid!" Sam hissed.
"No, but I was when I learned. I made my first kill when I was eleven, Sammy. That's a wound that will never completely heal. I don't want that for you—not at twenty, not at forty. But you're right; you're a man and it's your choice. I'll tell you the truth—if you really want me to. But take it from me, you don't want to know. Nothing will be the same after you find out. Your life with Jess won't be the same. You won't sleep well at night. You'll have trouble focusing during the day. You won't be doing yourself any favors if you ask this of me. There are reasons there are hunters like me, and there are reasons why no one knows we exist. Think about it, Sam. Think hard."
It was Sam's turn to stare off in the distance and Dean waited patiently, hoping beyond hope that his little brother would heed the warning. Dean wasn't ashamed of being a hunter, and like he'd told Sam, hunting was a necessity. But he wouldn't wish the life on his worst enemy, much less his own brother.
"My memories of you are sorta lacquered over, softened and mellowed by nostalgia," Sam began, his head slightly canted as he looked at Dean. "But I can't say the same thing about the past two weeks. I've seen you, Dean, not the fuzzy big brother in my past. I've watched you flirt, occasionally get shot down, and shrug it off. I watched you in competition, totally ignoring the nerves and tension around you. I told you something you were totally unprepared to hear, and you quietly walked out and came back in with this great gift." He gripped the St. Joseph medal that apparently never left his neck. "You don't rattle easily. You aren't into big drama. You're not a 'woe is me' pessimist. So I have to think, have to believe when you come this close to begging me not to go down this path, warning me of the dangers of the truth, that you have good reasons for it—maybe a lifetime of reasons, huh?"
Sam nodded. "Then...we'll let it rest for now. I'm not a kid, which means I'm old enough to know there are things I'd probably be better off not knowing. And I'll trust you to tell me when or if I need to be told."
Dean grimaced. "That's a lot of trust, Sammy."
"Dad's the one who lost faith in you, Dean. Not me. Never me."
Dean felt like crying, relieved and saddened and proud all at the same time. A breeze rippled through the air and he rubbed his eyes like a bit of grit had blown into them. Did he have the right to keep Dad away from his son? Did he have the right to deny Sam a father? What if they met and Dad didn't even try to convince Sam to fight demons with him? What if he just clapped Sam on the back and said, "Am I invited to the wedding, son?" What if Dean's imagination was the drama queen? Maybe Dad would be so excited and overjoyed that he had his baby boy back that he'd give up looking for the demon that killed Mom.
And maybe Bobby farted lilac-scented rainbows.
Thinking of... "I want to tell Bobby and Jim."
"They won't tell Dad?" Sam asked worriedly.
"Nah. I've told them plenty of things that never got back to Dad."
Sam went all doe-eyed and smiled at him.
Dean shivered uncomfortably. "What?"
"Thought you said you didn't have a best friend. Sounds like you have two."
Dean thought about it for a long moment, then shrugged. "Guess I was wrong, huh?"
"Guess so. And I've already told Rain about you."
Dean's eyes widened. "That's why she was so into me while she was here. Thought maybe she was changing her allegiance or something."
"Over you?" Sam snorted.
"Hey, man, I am made of awesome. Never discount that."
Sam laughed and they turned to walk back down the hill. "So, Dad's taken care of. Our friends are taken care of. Now, what about my mom? Any suggestions?"
"Other than a Thank You card?"
Sam stopped their progress with a halting hand on Dean's arm. "You might've forgiven her; I haven't."
"No, Dean. She made me think my family was dead. She made you think I was dead. I don't need to go to law school to know the definition of mental anguish or the penalties for kidnapping a minor and taking him across state lines. Or what about falsifying juvenile records and arranging an illegal adoption. Mom's in this deep, and I don't know if I want her to get out of it."
Dean could feel Sam's anger tremble down through his hand. "Chill, dude, we're not prosecuting anyone. If you want to be pissed, be pissed—"
"Thanks for your permission."
Ah, may the real drama queen step forward? He started walking again. "Sam. We can't go after your mom and leave Dad out of it at the same time. The two missions are counter-productive of each other. If you want to give her the cold shoulder or do one of Dad's numbers and kick her totally out of your life, that's up to you. But let me tell you something—getting tossed aside hurts, man."
"Did wrong for the right reasons. Been there. Done that. She hurt you. I get that—"
"No, her real sin was hurting you. She lied and I got a nice life out of it. You, on the other hand, got the shit end of the stick. It's not fair and she needs to pay!"
"She's already paid—you said it yourself, she gave you a nice life. Debt paid in full, in my opinion."
"I think we're gonna have to agree to disagree on this one," Sam finally said.
"Whatever lets you sleep at night." Dean glanced at his watch. "Speaking of..."
"Yeah, guess it's time to go back to the Village. We're good though, right, man?"
"Solid," Dean vowed. "But there's one more thing, Sam, and this is important, really important."
"You have to promise to tell me if something—strange happens, okay? The minute it happens."
Sam frowned. "What do you mean by strange?"
"Weird. Out of place. The things that make you take a second glance, that worry your mind afterwards, the ones that make you give a little laugh and say, 'no way, dude.' I need to know that you'll tell me if and when something like that happens. It doesn't matter how briefly you experience it, how no one noticed but you, how it could've been a bad light bulb, the beer you drank, a passing airplane..." Dean caught Sam's forearm and squeezed it, not hard enough to bruise but enough to be felt. "Promise me you'll call me immediately. I won't laugh. I won't call you a wuss. I won't do anything but listen, okay?"
"Dean, this isn't making any sense."
"Exactly. If it doesn't make any sense, you need to let me know."
He watched Sam struggle with what he was asking, but even with his desire to keep Sam innocent, he couldn't let him be vulnerable. He was gonna swing by Sam and Jess's apartment and make sure protection was in place—salt at the windows and doors, some sigils painted in clear latex, maybe a blessing or two. But he needed Sam's help. He needed Sam to tell him if the supernatural sought him out.
With an exasperated sigh, Sam nodded. "Okay, man. If the refrigerator ticks in the middle of the night, I'll give you a call."
"I'm serious about this, Sam." And sounding like a raving lunatic.
Sam closed his eyes and Dean watched his nostrils flare as he absorbed the request. "Yeah, Dean. I don't understand, but, yeah. I promise."
Dean didn't realize how hard his heart was beating until he heard Sam agree. He was relieved and saddened at the same time. Sam was going to be on his guard, alert for things he'd have readily dismissed before. Dean had already taken some of Sam's innocence, and he'd only been his brother for less than a week.
As they walked down to the bus stop, Dean wondered if finding his family was the blessing Sam thought it was.
"So we should finish up the tour by four and that'll give us plenty of time to shop, right?"
Dean sat on the bus and eyed the passing cars longingly. Man, would he be glad to get back to his baby. "Shop?"
"Yeah. There's a shipping station downtown. They even box the stuff for you," Sam said knowledgeably. "Of course, if you already have stuff back in your room that you need to ship, there's a station back at the Village."
"Um, I already had the wine shipped out."
"But what about your gifts for Bobby, Jim, and your other friends?"
Dean stopped looking at the cars and turned to his brother. "What gifts? I'm supposed to buy gifts?"
Sam snorted with a grimace. "Since I'm your brother I have the right to say this: you have the social skills of a gnat."
"The ladies happen to like my social skills, thank you very much," Dean replied defensively.
Another snort. "They probably think your cluelessness is cute. Didn't any of them ask you to bring them something back?"
Dean tried to think back. The weeks before he left were kinda hectic. He'd done a couple of hunts with Bobby because he didn't want the man hunting alone while he was gone. "Well, Rachel at work told me to bring her back something pretty. I got her a pendant at the same place I got your St. Joseph medallion." The rest of the moochers at the office had just threatened him if he didn't bring them something back.
"See? She knows you're pathetic and that's why she was specific in her request."
"Bobby didn't ask for nothing. Neither did Jim."
"They're not supposed to ask. You're just supposed to know," Sam said smugly. "What in the world did your etiquette teacher teach you?"
That an orgasm is the gift that keeps on giving. "How do you know all this shit?"
Sam shrugged. "From Mom, I guess, and Jess, too. It's like this; you buy someone a gift to let them know you were thinking about them even though you were far away."
Oh. It was a girl thing. Which meant you had to know a girl to learn it, and except for Ms. T, there'd been no long-term girl in his life—except for the four years he'd had his mom. She would've taught him that, bringing him home gifts if she had to go out of town. Damn, Sam was lucky.
Okay. Gift-shopping. He could do that. Where was the local equivalent of Walmart? Or better yet, wasn't there a shop they'd passed last night that had T-shirts and stuff? Maybe he'd get Bobby a cool pair of shades to wear with his trucker cap.
"And it has to be a gift that matters, that said you put thought into it. Even the most expensive gift can't top a well-thought out one. A gift to match the individual you're gonna give it to, Mom always says."
Dean sank lower into the bus seat. Where was a handy ghost or poltergeist when you needed one? Wait a minute. A gun! Bobby loved weapons, right?
And so did Homeland Security.
"You aren't tired of sightseeing, are you?" Sam asked. "Because we can do something else if—"
"Nah. I still have some room left on my last memory card, so I'm up to capture all the ancient Greek footsteps in their posterity. Or something like that."
"Then why the long face?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "Dude, I'm trying to do that well-thinking out thing you just told me to do."
"Looks painful," Sam said with a snicker.
"If we weren't on a bus full of people, I'd show you painful."
Sam just stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes.
Dean couldn't help but laugh.
He paid attention during the tour, but Dean reserved one quarter of his brain to figuring out what to get the two men who—who were the fathers his never was. Jim would probably appreciate something "churchy." He was truly a man of faith, not just some fire and brimstone spouting freak who got off on bullying the general population to seeing things his way. If any of those guys ever saw a real demon, they'd probably piss themselves.
So, some religious artifact for Jim. Check.
Now, Bobby. Bobby, with his good ol' boy facade. Bobby, who he'd put money on in a "smart tournament" between him and tenured professors from Harvard, Yale, and Cambridge. Damn man was so smart he made Dean's head hurt just with general conversation. Bobby was gonna be tickled pink over Syl's book. No way Dean was ever gonna top that. So maybe he should just go for the stupid, something to remind Bobby that he lived with an idiot—like he needed a reminder. One of those trucker hats that said, "My Son Went To Athens And All I Got Was This Ugly-Ass Hat"? Or maybe one of those nudie pens—turn it over and the girl on the barrel loses her clothes...
"I didn't mean for you to freak out over this gifting thing."
Dean was startled to hear Sam so close to him. The last thing he remembered was his brother heading over to confirm something about some vase or statue or whatever. "I'm not freaking, man. I'm just...shifting into a gear I've never used," he hesitantly explained.
"You're definitely a mechanic," Sam said and Dean frowned at him. "You know, the engine reference you just made? Never mind. So, ready to go shopping? We passed this store with—"
Dean held up his hand to stop him. "I think we should shop separately because you have to buy girly things and I don't." And he wanted to call Syl to see if there was a certain type of "specialty" store in the area.
"Not like I'm gonna buy underwear or something," Sam pouted. "But, okay, man. Meet you at the corner in a couple of hours."
"Um, better look for me in the taverna because, seriously, I'm gonna be through in half an hour at most." Hopefully, the local House of Hoodoo Voodoo or whatever was nearby and not in another one of Athens famous neighborhoods.
"Whatever, man." Sam waved and started to walk away purposefully.
"Hey, wait up," Dean called. "Gimme your medallion."
"Why?" Sam asked, grasping it tightly.
"Wanna get it fixed. Get that nick smoothed out."
"It's okay. I don't scratch myself anymore."
"You want Jess to scratch herself? Or are not gonna have her that close to you?" Dean added with a smirk. Damn kid was highly territorial, wasn't he?
"Okay." Sam reluctantly pulled the chain over his head. "I want it back, you know."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm not an Indian giver."
"You know that's racist, right?"
Dean just flipped him the bird and sauntered away. He had an idea about the medallion and wanted to see if he could get it done. After his shopping of course. He whipped out his cell phone and gave a quick call to Syl, silently thanking a hunter friend of his for tricking out the cell for international use. Hell, knowing Ash, he could probably call the moon—and get an answer. Minutes later, he was ducking into alleys and going around corners until he came to a small, unassuming, door labeled "Books and Other Antiquities." Yep. This was the right place.
Old books smell the same everywhere, Dean thought as he entered the store. There was a few customers who looked up as he entered, then back down to whatever junk, um, treasures they'd found. He made his way to the counter where an old-fashioned cash register sat. However, the register was far younger than the woman sitting on a stool next to it.
He pasted on the smile that got him pie-crust making lessons. "Excuse me, miss, but my friend Syl said—" Eyes the color of the sky on a clear blue day caught his and he stopped mid-question.
"Syl sent you?" she asked firmly.
"Theo!" A fifty-ish old man came hobbling over. "I need to take this young man into the other room. Mind the register."
The woman motioned for Dean to follow her. "My baby boy," she explained. "Born right here in the store. Perhaps that is why I cannot get him married and out of here."
Dean remained silent because, hey, what do you say to information like that?
"So, you are a hunter." They went through a door and started down a narrow, but long staircase.
They stopped in front of a brick wall. "From America."
"Yes." He tried not show his awe when she pressed on a brick and the entire wall opened up to reveal a poorly lit cavern. A huge mother actually, but partitioned into narrow rows by so many shelves that the word catacombs bounced around his head. It was like in a sci-fi movie where they kept DNA samples or cloned/alien embryos of everyone on the planet. And yeah, he had to stop watching DVDs with Bobby.
"What are you hunting? Did it come with the Americans visiting our city? Is it weapons you need? Herbs? Protection amulets?"
She stopped at a stone counter that looked remarkably like an altar—the kind that took live sacrifices. Yeah, waaay too many movies. Dean cleared his throat. "Um, I'm not on a hunt. I'm just looking for...gifts?"
"Gifts for hunters?" She looked surprised and Dean cursed his brother for giving him the idea. "The person or persons must be special to you."
"They are my—mentors." He had to search for the word but knew it was true as soon as he said it. "One is a minister at a church. I hoped to get him something that will help to protect his sanctuary."
She nodded. "I am Ismeme. It will be an honor to help you honor those whom you hold dear. So many hunters these days are caught up in the enemy instead of the friend. In the time before, hunters were a brotherhood, a united force. Today? Not so much." She smiled up at him and once again he was struck by the strange blue of her eyes. "Your soul is very well-defined, young man, bright with sharp edges. Are you sure you are a hunter?"
"Since I was a child, ma'am."
"Ismeme." He nodded. "You are the Winchester boy," she said with certainty.
It'd been a long time since a woman shocked him so much. "I—Yes, I am. Did Syl mention I was in town?"
She shrugged and glanced at several rows of shelves before choosing a particular aisle. "Stay here. I will be but a moment." Ismeme returned a few minutes later with a very dusty box clutched in her hand. She plopped it onto the altar—um, counter and after a lot of coughing, she wrangled the top off and showed Dean the tarnished silver cross inside. "Blessed by three Greek popes, three Archbishops of Athens, and three Archbishops of Constantinople. Thrice blessed thricely. This will serve your friend well?"
Dean nodded and wondered about the hit to his credit card. The cross had to be old—the last Greek pope was in the what, eighth century? He smiled; apparently something he'd heard on one of the tours had stuck. Anyway, old tended to be the same as expensive. Jim was definitely worth it, but he might have to do a gig at the NRA to pay off some of the debt. The Association paid speakers well, it was just that some of the local members were assholes of the highest order. Handling dicks with guns was a finessed skill he usually reserved for getting info for a hunt, not for cash.
However, Jim was worth it.
Yeah, he was gonna be muttering that for quite some time.
"Jim will put it to good use. Thank you."
"And your other friend? What do you wish for him?"
"I've possibly spent everything I have on this present, so..." he replied honestly.
She nodded. "Quite true, if I was selling for profit. But the items in this room are tools to be wielded by artisans, not baubles for the rich to look at and covet. You and your friends will make proper use of all that you purchase. This is what I require of my special customers, not their life savings."
"This special customer thanks you."
"We are at war, son. The troops must be supported. So, your other friend?"
"Super smart, but with an equal helping of common sense." He had to add that last part, because he'd known a smart hunter or two who didn't know to come in out of the rain. Those were the hunters you left in a safe place while you did the actual hunt.
"Ah, I have just the thing." Ismeme went further into the shadowy abyss of shelves, emerging a good five minutes later with another dusty box. "He is very smart, you say?"
"So a mystery will appeal to him." She pried off the cardboard lid. Under a layer of yellowed wrapping paper was—a rock. "In the late eleventh century one of our youth participated in the First Crusade. We do not know if he was a formal member of the Knights Templar or just their servant, but according to the letters that made it to his parents, he lived with them as they occupied the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. How he came to die, we do not know, but after his death arrived a final letter along with this rock. He implied that it was key to the end times and needed to be kept safe."
"A rock?" Dean asked skeptically.
Ismeme reached into a pocket and pulled out a magnifying glass. "There are symbols etched onto the stone, but they match no known ancient language. Perhaps it is the language of the angels or the demons. The best of Greek hunter-scholars have studied this, only to have it come back into my possession again un-deciphered and useless. Perhaps the answer lies not here but in your America. The beginning of the world may have begun on this side of the world, but the oracles point to your side as the ending."
"Oracles? You haven't upgraded to psychics?" he asked cheekily, trying to hide his nervousness. End times talk had always creeped him out. Day-to-day fighting evil was one thing; envisioning an apocalypse, and the end of all he knew, was something totally different.
"Are you too young to know the words Microsoft ME?"
Dean shook his head. "No, ma'am, and point taken." Upgrading wasn't always for the better. Hey, wait a minute! What did an elderly chick who used a manual cash register know about Microsoft? He peered closer at the storekeeper. Was she fuzzy around the edges? Damn, he hated glamours. "This old world act for the tourists or just hunters in general?"
Those weird blue eyes widened, then she smiled and shrugged. "Hunters like—no, trust—in things traditional, so we provide it for them. But everything we sell is one-hundred percent authentic. So is this cave. Hollowed out of hallowed ground. Safe as it gets."
"So, how old are you?"
Dean leaned closer across the counter. Perhaps it was Ms. T's influence, but he liked older women. "And your son upstairs?"
"My father. He really was born in the store. To my grandmother, who actually looks just like this. Although, with a bit more of a tan—she retired to Crete and runs a boat rental shop."
"Cool. And is your name really Ismeme?"
"And are you married, Ismeme?" He could hear Bobby warning him about fooling around with witches; women could be vindictive enough without having special powers. And there was that incident in Sault Ste. Marie that neither of them ever spoke of... Still, he bet she was a babe. He had a sixth sense about things like that.
"I am not."
Dean grinned, then frowned. "Hell, I'm heading home tomorrow. And it's my last night with Sam."
"Your brother," she said as she wrapped the rock in its paper.
"Yeah." Dean froze and took a step back, his body adjusting to a defensive pose. "How do you know that?" he demanded. "Syl doesn't strike me as the type to spread around personal business."
Ismeme waved her hand and suddenly Dean saw the real woman. Medium height, olive skin, dark hair in a long, thick braid. Wide lips. The same disturbing eyes. And definitely hot. "Oracles retire when their replacement is ready. Grandmother was on the first boat out of here as soon as I could control my Sight."
"So you're an oracle and a witch?"
"Witch? Oh, you mean Grandmother's face? Something a friend taught me after I got hit on by so many hunters."
"Sorry," Dean said with a shrug.
Ismeme smiled. "Hunting is a dying art here in Greece. Our ghosts are old, our time in the spotlight of gods and demons long past. America will be the battleground, the modern era Armageddon, so the young—and eligible—saunter off to your country. If what was left looked like you, I wouldn't bother with a glamour. Besides, you didn't even wait until I took off the glamour to make your move, so I am not offended, Dean Winchester."
A country full of psychics. Fuckin' great. Must be due to inbreeding or something. "So, an oracle, huh? Where's your temple?"
She laughed and shook her head. "The perks of this job have gone downhill, damn it. I would've been better off staying in college and getting my degree."
"Why didn't you?"
"You get noticed when you go into a trance in the middle of a conversation. Especially if you're a psychology major."
"It did, but I've adjusted. The wisdom of old age and all."
"Yeah, you're decrepit all right," he agreed, grinning at the silliness of it. "Bet you have to watch moving those hips, huh? Wouldn't want one of them to break at an inopportune moment or anything." The grin turned into a leer.
"You are incorrigible." Ismeme laughed and blushed. "Better be glad you're cute."
"You dirty old lady," he accused mockingly. He patted his pocket. "Oh, before I forget, do you know where I can get this fixed?" He drew out Sam's medallion.
Her nose wrinkled as she eyed the piece. "Where did you get that? Did someone in Athens sell you that junk? If they charged you anything, it was too much. Quick, tell me. I need to report them. We were so afraid the dregs of our businesses would take advantage of the tourists."
"Geez, it's not that bad, Ismeme. And I got it in Thassos."
"Yes, it does have that 'island quality.'"
He sighed. It wasn't like it was a diamond ring or something. "All I needed it for was the silver."
"Oh, you want me to melt it down into bullets?"
Her eager tone made him roll his eyes. "Seriously, it just has a nick that needs to be fixed and I'd like it engraved."
She sniffed in disdain and reached out her hand. "If you insist—" She froze as their hands touched.
Dean watched in fascination as her eyes went from blue to crystal clear, the pupils just tiny pinholes in the centers. He wondered if he should yell for her dad or just let her ride it out and make sure she didn't fall and hit her head. Before he could decide, she was back. Her eyes returned to their odd blue and she took a deep breath.
"That—was unusual." She dropped the medallion into her apron pocket. "I am an oracle, not a psychic. Touch usually does not come into play. I apologize."
Dean shrugged. Bees buzzed, birds sang, and psychics did freaky shit. Why would oracles be any different?
"You can ask if you like."
It took him a second to figure out she was asking if he wanted to know what she had 'seen'. Bobby was friends with a couple of psychics—one of them, Pam Barnes, was really hot—and he'd learned that if it didn't have to do with a case, knowing the future just wasn't worth knowing. "Okay," he said slowly. "So, do your eyes do that when you have sex?"
Her mouth dropped in shock. "You are either incredibly single-minded or incredibly resigned to your fate."
"God grant me the serenity..." he began.
"You're in Alcoholics Anonymous?"
"God, no. I just don't put too much store into prophecy and shit, no offense to your skills or anything. But if I can't change it, it's just knowledge I can do without. And fate is rarely changeable."
"Resigned to your fate then," she affirmed. "But may I give you a piece of advice?"
"Hit me with it," he offered. Advice he could handle.
"Love your brother."
Shit. She'd seen something about Sam? What? No. it's just be something else he'd have to keep from the kid. He pasted on a smile. "Easiest piece of advice I've ever had to follow. That's what this medallion is about."
Ismeme frowned again and sighed. "What do you want it to say?" He told her and she nodded. "Come by in the morning and all will be ready. If you are satisfied with how your items are cleaned and packed, I will ship them for you."
"Is that safe? I mean, these are one-of-a-kind items."
"My friend taught me another spell. I have never lost an item to the postal system."
So maybe witchcraft wasn't all bad. "Thanks, Ismeme."
"You're welcome. And, Dean Winchester?"
"If you come by early enough maybe you will get the answer to your question."
For a moment Dean was puzzled, then he remembered the question about her eyes. He lifted a surprised eyebrow.
She just grinned and restored her glamour.
Dean slouched back against the bench he was sitting on, knees apart, eyes hidden behind shades. Just because he had to wear the damn U.S. Olympic uniform didn't mean he couldn't be cool. He was definitely burning the thing as soon as he got back to the States.
"So, all I had to do was follow the spatters of drool and they led straight to you." Sam sat down beside him and kicked Dean's legs together. "Dude, don't you get enough action without all the advertising?"
"There is no such thing as enough action," Dean drawled.
"You know, I'm glad I met you. Now I know the type I'm not letting within a hundred feet of my daughter, when I have one."
"Aw, Sammy, you ain't gotta worry about that—Uncle Dean, the gold medal-winning sharpshooter, will make sure your baby gal is safe from harm."
Sam laughed. "Any baby girl I have is gonna wrap both of us around her little finger and you know it."
"You might be a pushover—"
"Did you take enough pictures for Bobby and Jim?" Sam interrupted with a smirk.
"Asshole." Dean sighed indulgently. "Not the way to talk to someone bearing gifts." He smiled at the light that appeared in Sam's eyes. God, he'd missed that.
"You got my St. Joseph's medal!" As soon as Dean dragged it out of his pocket, Sam was grabbing for it. "Hey! This isn't the same one."
"Yeah, I got bitched out about that. According to the shop owner, the first one I gave you was a piece of shit not deemed worthy enough to represent the jewelry industry of the great country that is Greece."
Sam frowned. "What?"
"Hell if I know. Anyway, when I went to pick it up this morning, she handed me this one—" he reached into his pocket again—"and a matching one. Said they belonged to priests who were brothers or some such shit. We were upgraded, dude."
"O-kay." Sam started to pull it over his head, then stopped. "It's engraved?"
Dean shrugged. "I had it done—you know, just in case it gets ripped off and you have to identify it in a pawn shop or something."
Sam rolled his eyes. "It's in Koine?" Dean nodded. "What does it say?"
Sam sniffed. "And yours?"
"Says the same."
Sam blinked rapidly and looked away. "Cool."
This time it was Dean who rolled his eyes at his little "sister." He slipped the duplicate medal around his neck, noticing the weight and feel of it. Ismeme claimed the medals belonged to two priests who'd been killed for their beliefs while wearing them, thus sanctifying the symbols in the blood of martyrs. Top of the line mumbo jumbo, hoodoo, whatever. Powerful shit no matter what you called it. As Winchesters, he and Sam needed all the help they could get. "Never take it off, Sammy?"
"Yeah. You, too?"
"Yeah." Dean rubbed his suddenly itching nose, then snorted. Who the hell was he fooling? "Since the Winchester sisters are through playing with their 'My Little Ponies' or whatever, let's go do something manly—have a burping contest or a goddamn lying contest about the biggest fish we've ever caught."
Sam laughed and slumped back against the bench. "I've been marlin fishing."
"No shit? I've heard they're big ass things."
"Some are over a thousand pounds."
"Fuck, that's big! You catch one that big?"
"Nah, man. I was with my roommate and his dad. I think the biggest we hauled in was about 150 pounds." He stretched his hands out to approximate the size.
Dean shuddered. "Still too big for me. When I have nightmares about getting crushed by a fish, I'll be sure to give you a call."
Sam hiccuped (or laughed)."What about you? What's your biggest catch?"
"Since I've never been fishing, I have no idea." Well, not fishing for fish. There had been a water wraith up in Michigan...
Sam sat up and looked at him earnestly. "Geez, man, we gotta fix that. Come out to Cali and we'll rent us a boat and go out into the bay. I have no idea what's out there, but I see fishermen so there's got to be something."
"Eager to hang out with your big brother, are you?" Dean tried for nonchalance and had to stop himself from wincing when he heard just a hint of need in the question. Pathetic.
"Hell, yes!" Sam nearly shouted. "You seem to have it in that thick head of yours that being taken away from you, from my family, was just the best thing ever. But it wasn't. There's a reason why I suppressed the memories, Dean. I woke up one day to find a hole in my world, a gaping wound where you and Dad used to be. There were days when I just couldn't do anything. I'd sit in my room and just stare, maybe subconsciously looking for you or something. Mom would have to bribe me just to come out of my room. My migraines. The more I talk to you, the more I realize my triggers had to do with you. I couldn't tolerate being called Sammy or the smell of grape bubblegum. What's your favorite flavor of bubblegum, Dean?"
"Grape," he whispered.
"There was a part of me left back at that motel and I've just now found it. Do I want to hang out with my big brother? Hell, Dean, if you ask, I'd probably move to fuckin' South Dakota with you, okay?"
Dean was so glad he had on shades. "Nah, Jess is a California chick if I ever saw one. I'll come visit. Maybe do some fishing and shit."
"Yeah. We can drive around in my awesome car and you can tell all your envious neighbors about your really cool brother."
"Really cool, modest brother," Sam amended with a grin. "Who bakes pies."
"Damn skippy," Dean agreed, matching Sam's grin.
"It sucks we're not flying back together."
Dean shrugged. "The drug company giveth and the drug company gets rid of its test rats. Experiment over, clean out the cages."
Sam snorted. "You're so philosophical. Ever think of doing a book?"
"Book? I was thinking more like Dr. Phil."
"Or Dr. Ruth."
"My own sex show!" Dean grinned and adjusted his backpack. Syl's book was damn heavy. At least it'd made it through customs without a problem. "It'd have to be cable, of course. With live models and everything."
"You're one sick dude, man."
"It was your idea."
Instead of Sam replying to that, he asked, "This isn't the end, is it?" Dean stared at him in horror. "Of our relationship, Dean, not life," he explained as soon as he caught on.
"Dude, don't mention the words 'the end' to a nervous flyer about to climb aboard a plane for ten fuckin' hours." Shit. He really didn't need that. "And what are you talking about? Did we not have a discussion about fishing and crap?"
"Yeah, but..." Sam shifted uncomfortably in a plastic chair that was much too small for him. "Seventeen years, Dean."
Dean sighed. "I know, Sam. But this time we're not two little kids depending on what adults have told us. I have your home address, your campus address, your email address, and your cell phone number. You have all my numbers and Bobby's as well. No more disappearing acts for either of us, man. I have my little brother back. Come hell or high water, nothing's separating us again."
A tiny nod. "And we have our medallions to remind us of that, right?"
"Damn right." Dean scratched at the back of his head. "Listen, I know this is coming a little late, but I'm sorry I left you in that motel room all alone, okay? And I'm doubly sorry that I didn't think to question the facts of your death, especially when I got older. I just—" Sam was giving him the same look of horror he'd just given Sam. "What?"
"What the fuck did Dad do to you to make you feel this guilty over something that you have no business feeling guilty over? You think I should feel guilty because I believed Mom when she said you all were dead?"
"No, but you were just a kid, Sammy—"
"And so were you. Eight, Dean. Look over there." There was a family with three kids. One of the boys looked like he could be eight—maybe they could see him better if he ever looked up from the game console he was bent over. "If his kid sister—" She was sitting in the seat beside him, having a conversation with one of the Olympic mascot dolls— "went missing, would you blame him? No. And that's who you were, Dean, a kid, just like me. Climb out of the pit of ashes Dad buried you in, rip off the sackcloth, and then tell Dad to go flog himself with that cat-o-nine-tails he stuck in your hand."
"Wow," Dean said uneasily. "Quite the wordsmith, aren't you?"
"Yeah, yeah. I'll stop with the self-flagellation if you stop with the 'he's gonna forget me's. If I didn't forget you when I thought you were dead, I'm not gonna forget you now. I'm gonna be in contact with you so much that Jess is gonna get jealous and wonder if I'm your brother or your boy-on-the-side. Text messages, emails, inappropriately timed phone calls, the whole shebang."
Sam smiled and relaxed. "So? Labor Day?"
Dean shook his head. "Sadly, you and I will be doing the same thing that weekend, but in different places."
"What d'ya mean?"
"The rubber chicken circuit. All those lovely people who were gracious Olympic sponsors? They're gonna want their pound of flesh. So when you get back, everybody from the local Y to the Chamber of Commerce to the Boy Scouts are gonna be calling you up so you can relate your 'tale of triumph through hard work and dedication to your sport.' Unfortunately, they will be probably feed you and you'll have to pretend it's your best meal ever."
Sam's forehead wrinkled. "How do you know this? I thought this was your first Olympics."
"People talk, man."
Sam sat quietly for a few minutes. "Thanksgiving?"
"What do you and Jess usually do for the holidays? Celebrate them together? Where she from, by the way?"
"Anaheim. Spent her high school summers working at Disneyland. Not so happiest place on Earth to hear her tell it." Sam gave a dopey smile and Dean gave up his last doubt about telling Dad about Sam. The kid was in love and had a real decent chance of having a normal life. He couldn't let Dad take that from him. He just couldn't.
"You wanna come to South Dakota for Christmas? Bobby'll wanna meet you. And Jim, too. Maybe he can fly out after giving Christmas mass. We got plenty of room."
"Shouldn't you ask Bobby first?"
Dean thought about it and smiled. No, he didn't. It was his home. If he asked, the man would just bop him on the head and call him an idjit for wasting his breath on the question. "It's fine, not like I'm organizing an orgy or something."
"Dean!" Sam sounded scandalized.
"Come for Christmas. There might even be snow and Bobby gets a kick out of decorating the house so much that our neighbors—five miles down the road—complain about the light pollution. Hell, I'll even put up with Mrs. Kawalsky's roving hands and talk her into cooking us a turkey."
"What? Turkey's in the same category as fried chicken, Mr. Chef?" Sam teased.
"That's Mr. Pastry Chef, remember? I'm serious about this, Sam. Have Christmas with me."
"Okay." Sam threw back his head and laughed. "Okay. Christmas in South Dakota. We have a plan, dude."
"Great. And in the meantime—" Dean held up his hand in the universal phone sign—"keep in touch."
"Will do." Sam groaned as his flight was called. "I guess this is goodbye for now."
Dean shook his head. "No. No goodbyes. Just 'see ya, dude's."
Sam got to his feet and hefted his carry-on pack. Dean stood, too. "See ya, dude," he said softly.
Dean grabbed him in an awkward one arm embrace. "See ya."
As Dean settled back into the seat to wait for his own flight, he wasn't even thinking about the long hours he was about to spend in the air. His mind was firmly set on how he'd gone to Athens with gold on his mind—and ended up with much, much more.