2001


Dean stopped in the doorway when he saw Sam, in cap and gown, looking at himself in the mirror. "Fellow nature lovers," he called in a hushed voice, "I present the geek--in its natural plumage." Sam flipped him the bird. "How apropos, little bro. Still a fugly color, by the way."

"This was definitely not the color we voted on in the catalog," Sam agreed.

"At least it's long enough." When he'd come home for Christmas, he'd been hard put not to drop his jaw when he'd seen how tall Sam was. His dad had mentioned the growth spurt on the phone, but hearing it was nothing compared to seeing it. It would've been intimidating, except that daily training had Dean excessively fit. When they ran together, Sam had him in a sprint, but Dean won by a literal mile in endurance.

"It was special order--like a basketball player's."

"Well, I didn't think you got it at Freaks-R-Us."

Sam tore his eyes away from the mirror. "Speaking of Freaks-R-Us, you're not wearing your uniform to my graduation, are you?"

"And deprive all those delicate females of swooning over a man in uniform while you bore them to tears with your valedictory address?" Dean grinned when Sam rolled his eyes. Six feet plus a gazillion inches, and Sam was still easy to wind up. Then he noticed something in the reflected hazel eyes. "How come you're looking scared to death, dude?"

"You, um, mentioned my speech."

"Your val speech? Please don't tell me you're nervous about that. You've been writing it since when? Seventh grade?"

"Sixth," Sam admitted.

"So what's with the nerves? You've never had trouble standing up in front of a crowd and giving your opinion." Dean had heard stories about Sam's "reign" as student body president. Made Dean look like a teddy bear in comparison. Sam shrugged and Dean sighed. "Listen, bro, if you start to screw up, I'll just set off a small explosion in the corner of the stadium or something."

Sam turned around to glare at him. "Don't you dare!"

"Then don't screw up. It's in your hands, dude."

Sam rolled his eyes and went back to straightening his robe. "You're supposed to encourage me, assure me that everyone makes mistakes, etc. You're not supposed to threaten to blow up the stadium."

Dean grinned. "Whatever works, bro. Now, about my uniform. I'm planning on staying casual, your highness. Gonna make Coach V cry, though. He really wants to parade me around to the other teachers. Seems some of them didn't quite agree with him when he said I was West Point material. Guess he's just going to have to make do with flashing those pictures he took at my graduation. Still in shock over the fact he made it there."

"Less shock than seeing Charity and the ladies arrive in their rented van?"

"I knew they were coming, even lined them up some business for later on."

Sam turned beet red. "You didn't!"

"I did. Everybody didn't have a ton of family showing up for the ceremonies and they needed someone to celebrate with. At least my ladies wouldn't leave them with potentially drug resistant reminders."

"You know, most people just give their fellow graduates a pat on the shoulder and say congratulations."

Dean cocked an eyebrow. "When have we ever been most people, Sam? So, come on. Ball that sucker up in the closet and--"

"Missouri just steamed all the packaging wrinkles out. If you think I'm not going to gingerly take this off and hang it on the padded hanger she supplied, the Army really has burnt out your one remaining brain cell." He carefully removed the robe and draped it around said hanger.

Missouri scared him more than all his Academy instructors combined, so Dean refrained from calling Sam a wuss. "They're sending that one brain cell to M.I.T., so I'm sure they're going to hang onto it."

"You in a weapons lab is the start of the end of the world as we know it," Sam said as he adjusted the hanger across the top of the door, so that the robe was safely above the floor.

"I'm being sent to M.I.T. to further my studies."

"You're being sent to M.I.T. because the Department of Defense is funding Lincoln Lab. And no, I'm not going to ask what you're doing because one, you won't tell me, and two, I don't want to know."

"I'm going to get graduate credits," Dean defended himself. "Just because it isn't Stanford... By the way, do you really want to get into how the University of California system is contracted to the Department of Energy for nuclear research?"

"You know, it used to be easier to win a debate with you when you were stupid," Sam conceded.

"As I told you before: brains, beauty, and brawn. I'm a triple threat, Sammy."

"But you still have stubby legs," Sam said and raced out of the room.

Dean wasn't far behind.

*****

John let himself into the house and tossed the mail on the table. There was no TV playing, no stereo blasting, nobody lazily making dinner with a telephone attached to their ear. Dean was off at M.I.T.--and officially outranked him since being commissioned at graduation. If he wasn't so damn proud, that might have bothered him a bit. Lieutenant Winchester. Yeah, that never failed to bring a smile to his face. Sammy, Sam, was off at Stanford (free of charge thanks to the kindness of scholarship committees and Sammy's superbrain) getting into whatever college students got into these days. Whatever it was, he knew Sam was in his own personal heaven--libraries and professors and people who knew way more than him and were willing to share. Sammy-nirvana for sure.

So, John was home alone for the first time since Mary had sauntered into his life and settled in. Nobody to feed. Nobody to pick up. Nobody waiting for him to do anything at all. Nobody waiting...period. And this alone business was probably not just for the next four years. Dean was enjoying the hell out of the Army. Sam wouldn't come back to Lawrence to practice law. Sam was as much of a "defender of the people" as Dean was. He would champion the poor, the ignored, the ones who couldn't find anyone else to fight for them. If John was lucky, Sam would choose the nearby Ozarks area. But he knew it mostly depended on where Dean was eventually assigned. His boys were tight. Although they had an entire country between them at the moment, both knew it wasn't--wouldn't ever be--a permanent separation.

People down at the garage were always asking how he'd manage to raise two brothers who didn't hate each other. What about the sibling rivalry and jealousy? He always shrugged, not willing to tell them that the boys had figured out long ago that they weren't rivals. Not only were they so different that they existed in separate circles of influence, but Dean would never begrudge Sam John's love and Sam, as long as he knew Dean loved him, couldn't give a damn about what John felt or did--unless John wasn't treating Dean right. Then Sam would give him hell.

John chuckled. Everybody remarked how nice his kids were, how obedient and kind, not a mean bone in their bodies. But he knew the truth: he'd raised a couple of the friendliest, sweetest, vicious attack dogs he'd ever come across. Come between them, come after them, just look at one of them the wrong way, and you'd be staring at your ass handed to you own a plate. He knew this from experience; his ass had its own silver platter.

Raised. Past tense. He'd stayed and raised his kids just as he'd vowed that night racing back to Kansas to be there for Sam's first birthday. And now, he was done.

"I did it, honey," he said quietly to the empty house. "We did it. Created two little miracles who are now successful young men. Both intelligent enough to scare me. Both with generous hearts. Both out in the world and about to take it by storm. They don't need me anymore, sometimes I wonder if they ever needed me at all... Yeah, yeah, I sound like one of those women on Oprah-- Abe's granddaughter likes to watch when she's going over the paperwork. Hell, I know they needed me, just to pay the bills if not for anything else." He gave a sad smile. "I'm selling myself short, because I know our boys love me...and I love them so damn much."

His sigh echoed through the empty spaces, and he shook his head at his Sad Sack routine. Poor John, nothing to do but sit around and whine about not having anything to do.

Yeah, right.

He picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. "Hey, Bobby. Seems like I've found myself with an empty nest and extra time. Thought I'd go back to school like my boys. If you're ready to teach Demons 101, professor, I'm ready to learn."

*****

Something struck him in the head and Sam sat up, prepared to fight back.

"Answer your goddamned phone, Winchester!"

"Huh?"

"Your fucking cell phone, man! Answer it before I toss it out the window."

Sam shook his head to clear it, then stumbled to his desk before his roommate went through with his plans. He squinted at tiny LCD screen. Just after six in the morning and...Dad? A worm squirmed through his belly. "What's wrong?" he asked instead of the usual greeting.

"Is Dean still at M.I.T.?"

"What?"

"Is Dean still at M.I.T.?" Sam pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it. "Answer the question, damnit!" he heard exclaimed in a still loud voice.

He put the phone back to his ear gingerly. Something had his dad spooked. That--wasn't good. "Dad, what's going on? Just tell me!"

Dad sighed. "Turn on the news, son. I can't--Just turn on the news."

"Okay. Hold on." Sam fumbled for the remote to the small TV.

"What the fuck are you doing, Winchester?"

Sam ignored his roommate and stared at the screen. At first he couldn't make any sense of what he was seeing and the reporters' voices were just noise. Then it all became clear. "They flew planes into the World Trade Center? Who? What? Dad?"

alt=

"They think it's a terrorist attack, Sammy. I need to know if you know where your brother is. I tried calling, but phone lines are all screwed up."

"Um, let me..." Sam logged onto his computer. "I'm gonna try email, Dad. Just give me a minute and..."

"Is that real?" Wilson asked. "Is that fucking real?"

Sam nodded and tapped the desk as he waited for his email to load. "Dad, I have an email from Dean! It's timed stamped just a few minutes ago! Let me see, let me see. Okay, here it is:

Sam, Where's Dad? I'm fine. Dad's not on a hunt, is he? Find Dad. I gotta go. They're moving us. I'll contact you when I can. Let me know about Dad. By the time you get your ass out of bed and read this, you'll know why. D.

"He's okay, Dad. He's okay." He plopped down onto a chair, suddenly boneless with relief.

"Dean's okay?" Dad repeated.

"He's okay."

"Daughtry's fucking from New York." Wilson stumbled toward the door. Daughtry lived two rooms down.

"What is this, Dad? What's happening?" Sam nearly whispered.

"The world's changing, son. Just remember we're all okay. Hold on to that."

"What about Pastor Jim and Uncle Bobby? They weren't out on a hunt or anything, were they? These may not be the only attacks."

"They're fine, Sammy. Jim's the one who called me. I've talked to Bobby, too."

"Good, good. We're okay, aren't we, Dad?"

"Yeah son. We're okay."

*

By the time John finished calling everyone to tell them Dean was fine, he felt like he'd been up for days. He started a pot of coffee and just as it finished perking, the first tower collapsed. John sat in horror as the pictures repeated themselves and reporters asked stupid, insensitive questions to people who were too numb to notice how stupid and insensitive the questions were. Then, the second tower fell and he prayed for the first time since Mary died. He'd been in war. He'd seen smoke and fire and death that bled. But that had been war. This was...this was going to work in the morning and never making it to the first coffee break. This was "Stop by the cleaners on the way home, honey," and "honey" never walking through the door again. This was heartache and anguish and disbelief on screen again and again without the same situation being repeated twice.

Why, he thought as they showed the Pentagon in pieces and the plane in Pennsylvania, did demons even bother trying to destroy humanity, when humanity was quite capable of destroying itself with much grander fanfare? This was what he and Jim and Bobby and other hunters put their lives on the line to save? Maybe Dean had the right idea. Maybe he was fighting a better fight than any hunter could. Maybe demons weren't the worst beings walking the face of the earth.

Maybe Mary was the lucky one, dying before she could witness such wanton destruction.

Knowing he had to stop his downward spiral, John grabbed his keys and headed outside. The neighborhood was quiet. No kids were allowed outside. People had come home from work early and bunkered in with their families. Air traffic had been grounded and there was a stillness to the sky that made him shiver. He got into his truck and drove. He didn't know where he was heading until he found himself in the parking lot of KU's library.

He sat there for ten minutes before someone tapped on his window. Reaching over, he unlocked the door and opened it for her. "We've heard from Dean," he said, reading the worry on her face. "He's good. I just thought...well, you ladies drove to see his graduation, so I figured..."

Charity nodded. "Thank you, Mr. Winchester."

He stuck out his hand. "John. My name is John."

She looked at his hand, smiled, then shook it. "Little Bro okay, too?"

"Yeah. Both the boys...they're doing fine."

"And what about you, John?"

He shrugged. What could he say? The world had paddled up shit creek, but his boys were okay. He had no major complaints. "It's been a hell of a day."

She patted the hand she'd just shook. "Why don't you come and sit with me for a spell, John? I have some bourbon I've been saving for a special day, and I don't think they come any more special than this."

He paused, then shook his head. "I should go home. See if my boys call."

"You have your cell, don't you? Come on, we'll just be two friends commiserating together."

"Dean..."

"Sweet D will laugh his ass off when he finds out. He's been trying to get you laid for years."

"I get laid!" John blurted out, then felt the red sear up his neck. "I mean--"

Charity laughed. "It's okay. I know a good-looking man like you wouldn't have any trouble securing female companionship, so trust me, this isn't about pity. Just a brief respite from the insanity of the day."

"That sounds...nice." He got out of the truck, then went around it to gallantly help her down. "All I ask is that you let me tell Dean."

"Sure, John. I can keep a secret."

"A secret? Hell, I just want to wait until he has a mouth full of pop. Bubbles up the nose can hurt like a bitch."

In a night of silence, laughter was a gift.

*

"You a church-going man, Winchester?"

Sam looked up as his roommate joined him in the garden of the New Life Affirmation Church. He had no idea what denomination it was or who they even worshiped. "Not particularly. But a friend of my family is a pastor, and I just feel closer to him--and my family--in this place. His church has a garden, most of it planted by me and my brother. We spent a few summers there. Made extra money by cleaning the sanctuary after service and painting front porches for old ladies."

Wilson gave a smile that held a touch of...melancholy? "This the brother your dad called you about this morning?"

"Yeah, my only brother, sibling. Four years my senior," Sam answered easily, wondering why Wilson was standing around talking to him, instead of doing...whatever. Most of the older students had hit the bars or were holding wakes-by-proxy in their suites. Alcohol was considered a requirement.

"He go to Stanford, too?"

"No, West Point."

"Oh, military. No wonder your dad was so worried."

Sam nodded and moved down on the bench in case Wilson wanted to sit. Maybe he was a psychology major or something. Or a freshman counselor? Sam shrugged. If Wilson was using him for a term paper or research project, it was alright with him. He wanted to talk to Dean, but since Dean wasn't available... "Dean's supposed to be at M.I.T., but Dad wasn't sure if he'd been transferred or not. I know his movements much better than Dad."

"Sounds like you're close."

Sam shrugged and ran a hand through his hair. Longer than usual. If Dean could see him, he'd be dragging him to a barber. "Yeah, I guess we are. He's probably my best friend."

"And you're his?"

"Maybe. My competition for the spot is a group of prostitutes and a guy named Pinky." Wilson laughed and Sam realized he couldn't remember the guy's first name. Upperclassmen had only been in school for a week and Wilson, as a junior, spent most of his time with friends. Why wasn't he with his friends?

Wilson sat, putting one of his feet up on the bench. "Your brother sounds too wild to be an Army officer."

"Yeah, I spent four years waiting for him to get kicked out of the Academy."

"He some kinda badass?"

Sam grinned. "Dean considers himself a lover, not a fighter. But he hates bullies, and places like the Academy are full of them."

Wilson scratched at his short afro. "So, why did he go?"

Sam looked up at the stars. They seemed brighter in Kansas. "It took me years to figure it out but I think it's because of our Mom's death."

"Oh. Sorry."

"It's okay. I was only six months old. Dean was four and when she died, he lost his sense of order. One day there's mommy, daddy, and crying baby brother. The next day there's no mommy, a crying daddy, and bewildered baby brother. Way more world-changing to a four-year-old than something like what went on today, you know?" He wondered how he'd have handled it if he'd been the older brother and Dean the baby. "So, anyway, he's been searching for order ever since, and the Army is nothing but order."

"What about you? You consider the Academy?"

"Hell, no," Sam answered quickly. "My sense of order is firmly rooted in Dad and Dean. That's enough order for anyone. Dad was a Marine. We got KP duty and laps as punishment our entire childhood. No way was I going to sign up for more of that."

"So your dad and brother are a lot alike?"

Sam started to answer yes, but then he thought about it. Dean listened to Dad, did what Dad did, but never in the actual way Dad did. "Actually, Dean says I'm more like Dad and that's why the two of us are always butting heads."

Wilson looked confused. "I know this morning was all about the attack and everything, but I haven't noticed any bad vibes when you've talked with him before. Not that I've been eavesdropping or anything."

Sam shrugged the apology off. After living in a room with Dean all his life, his expectation of privacy was non-existent. "We don't fight, not really. We're both just highly opinionated. It was bad at times before Dean left, but he made us both promise to behave in his absence, and surprisingly enough, the truce held. Dad giving me a used Honda Accord for my sixteenth birthday went a long way in sealing our accord, no pun intended."

Wilson swatted away a bug. "Didn't have to ask him to cart you around?"

"It was more than that. It was the first time I knew that Dad got me, got that I wasn't some younger, screwed up version of Dean. Dean's car is a gas-guzzling, muscle car--a '67 Impala."

"Sweet," Wilson crooned, then winced. "In a gas-guzzling sorta way," he amended.

Sam laughed. "It's okay. I'm used to guys drooling over Dean's car. It was Dad's until he gave it to Dean. Well, according to family legend, it was always Dean's and Dad was just taking care of it for him." He had to grin as he thought of the Impala. "Dean and that car have always been an item, the only indication I've ever had that my brother knows what the word monogamy means. He calls the Impala his baby and talks to her and stuff. It'd be embarrassing if it wasn't such a manly car.

"But the thing is that the Impala isn't my kind of car, and Dad knew me well enough to figure that out. He owns a garage, so he basically had his pick of cars that he could've restored to give to me. But he picked an environmentally correct one. He knew me." Sam shook his head in wonder. Then he fixed a stare on his roommate. "Why're you here, listening to me as I wax poetically about my family? I know you have to have something better to do."

Wilson gave a small, embarrassed laugh. "Your life's like a TV show, man. It's so Happy Days, Andy Griffith. And I really don't mean that in a bad way. I mean, it's nice to know there really are families that get along." He stared at a statue in the center of the garden. It was female, so Sam figured it was Mary. Whether it was Mary, mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, the whatever of Jesus, that was beyond his religious training.

"My brother?" Wilson continued, never taking his eyes from the statue. "He slept with my girlfriend, got her pregnant, and the only one in the family who didn't know it wasn't mine was me. Only when I started to turn down the scholarship to here--so I could get a job and take care of my baby--did Mama finally tell me the truth."

"Harsh, man," Sam consoled. He couldn't imagine Dean doing something like that to him, although he knew for a fact that at least one of his girlfriends had thrown herself at Dean. Whatever Dean had replied, the girl had gasped and stomped away. Sam had told her the next day to consider herself back on the market.

"And my sister? When I was five, she offered me to her drug dealer for a free stash. Thank God he wasn't into pedophilia."

"Fuck," Sam whispered and tried to hide it with a cough. He didn't want Wilson to think he pitied him, nor did he want him laughing at Sam's naivete. Sam knew what went on in the world. He just never thought he'd know someone who lived it.

"So, I spend my summers apartment sitting and working odd jobs around here. I haven't been home since I left and don't plan on ever going back. Stanford's the ticket to being normal and for me, it's a one-way trip," Wilson said very matter-of-factly. He took a deep breath and rubbed at his chin. "You give me hope, Opie. When you talk to your family, you laugh, man, you smile. Maybe when I've made it, have my own family, my kids can get along like you and your brother. And hell, maybe they won't hate me like I hate my parents."

"You're here, man, at Stanford. That's says something about you, about who you are and who you can be." Sam noticed the streets around them were getting quieter. "And we Winchesters aren't perfect. Dean can be an absolute pain in the ass when he wants to be, tormenting me just because he can. I mean, I learned to read really early because Dean was always feeding me all this bullshit, and I needed to read just to defend myself. And I've already told you about drill sergeant Dad."

"Doesn't matter. When you talk about them, the love comes out. You're family, and you're proud of it, proud of them."

Sam nodded. Wow. Who would've thought his family would be something to strive for? But he couldn't deny he loved them. The fear he'd felt when he'd seen Dad's name on his cell phone, the relief he'd felt when he saw Dean's email, that spoke volumes about what he felt--even if he never said the words. Pride? He wasn't fond of the military, but when Dean was up on that stage at graduation, uniform all perfect and shiny, he couldn't help grinning and he just wanted to yell, "That's my big brother!"

He got up and stretched. He'd apparently been sitting for some time, if his stiffness was any indication. "Come on, man. There's a curfew tonight. We better get back to the dorm. And by the way, Opie was a redhead."

Wilson punched his arm. "Opie is a mindset, my brother. And you are the Opiest Opie I've ever met. Finally, a roommate I won't have to run off before Christmas break."

"Try it and I'll sic my big brother on you."

"Oh, no! Fonzie's coming! Fonzie's coming!"

All Sam could do was laugh. Dean would absolutely love the name.

TV Land made for strange bedfellows.

Onward to Infrangible Road 2003

U-Turn to 1997, 1995, 1993, 1991, 1984, or Infrangible Road On-Ramp

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