2004


"Evelyn, this tall, thin bamboo stalk is my brother, Sammy."

"Sam," Sammy corrected.

Dean ignored him. "This is his girlfriend, Jessica; her best friend, Julie Murdock; and Taylor Wilson, someone Sam met at Stanford but couldn't get rid of even when the esteemed Mr. Wilson was accepted into the Wharton School of Business in that state to the north of us. Ladies and gentlemen, and Flip, this is Evelyn Holmes, PA for this office." He turned to Evelyn and gave her a pleased grin. "See? I didn't introduce you as the secretary. Because you know, bosses and secretaries can sound a bit sleazy."

Evelyn, fifty-eight, mother of three grown children, and married for forty years, rolled her eyes. "The only thing sleazy about the two of us is your lust for my meatloaf. It's nice to meet all you young people."

"Meatloaf?" Sammy asked eagerly.alt=

"Quick, Sammy, give her your poor-motherless-boy look. I guarantee it'll be worth it."

Sam complied and Evelyn caved. "Ed's getting tired of all the meatloaf I cook since you transferred here to the Pentagon, Captain."

"So? Means more meatloaf for me. And tell Ed if he wants to complain, he can go to the classic auto shows by himself."

"Or worse, he'll take me. So you win, sir. I'll bring enough meatloaf for all y'all tomorrow."

Dean grinned in triumph. "Now you see why I don't have a steady girl, Sammy. I'm in love with a married woman."

"More like a married woman's oven," Evelyn sniped.

"That's kinky."

Evelyn shook her head in exasperation. "Y'all got plans for while you’re here?"

"Sammy's looking at law schools, Jess design schools, Jules pharmacy schools, and Flip is looking at anything other than the four walls of his tacky apartment." Dean had the sneaking suspicion that Flip was there because of Julie, although the dude was really quiet about private matters. Dean was gonna have to break him of that.

"Sounds like you're gonna be busy. Your desk has been cleared for the afternoon, sir. Take your guests home and get them situated."

"Is that an order, Ms. Holmes?"

"Aye, Captain," she replied in a very bad Scottish accent.

Dean grinned. "Another TV Land addict, Flip. We're taking over the world." He grabbed his cap. "See you in the morning, Evelyn, and tell Ed I have tickets for that car show in North Carolina. Can you say, 'road trip'?"

"Can I say, 'a weekend of peace and quiet'? I'll tell him, sir."

"Well, it seems like your co-workers around here don't want to kill you," Sam said in the elevator.

"Give 'em time, Opie. He hasn't even been here a year," Flip said, good-naturedly slapping Dean on the back.

"That stuffy business school of yours doesn't seem to have affected your sense of humor," Dean replied. "Just as bad as it's always been. By the way, thanks for picking everybody up at the airport. I had a meeting I couldn't get out of."

"Captain Winchester is a very important man," Sammy sang.

"Damn straight," Dean said, squaring his shoulders. "Who else can get General Morrison's coffee juuuust right?"

"So those are 'coffee' bars on your jacket?" Jess teased, pointing to his silver captain's insignia.

"Oh, God, Jess, you're perfect for Sam. He doesn't get jokes and you can't tell them." She stuck her tongue out at him. He'd met her the Christmas before and they'd become friends. He could tell Sam was serious about her and figured she'd be an official member of the family sometime after graduation. "This is where you guys get off," he said, holding the elevator doors open. "Visitor's Parking is just through the doors. Flip, you know where Green Acres is, so don't wait on me."

Dean was the proud owner of a former horse farm in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Actually, it was more like an inheritance from a fellow Academy grad, once a POW himself--in the Korean War--who wanted his home to belong to someone who appreciated the peace and serenity of the property's location. Because he'd met the criteria left in the man's will, not to mention the approval of the man's granddaughter, he'd paid way under the value of the house and land.

Sam ushered everyone else out. "I'm gonna ride with you, Dean,"

"Sure, Sammy." A few seconds later the doors opened and they headed down the hall toward the officer's lot.

"So, Green Acres?"

"Yeah, you know as in 'Green Acres is the place to be, fa-arm livin' is the life for me'," he sang, stretching out 'farm' appropriately. Sam stared blankly at him. "Now, I know you were in the house when the TV was on," he said in exasperation.

Sam hunched his shoulders. "Maybe I was reading."

"So, no point telling you that Flip calls the house the Shady Rest Hotel?" Sam shook his head. "I can't believe you never peeked at Petticoat Junction. The fantasies I had about that Betty Jo..."

"Captain Winchester."

Dean turned and looked into a doorway to his left. He gave a quick nod. "Colonel Medford. Sir, may I present to you my brother, Sam? Sam, this is one if my commanding officers, Col. Medford."

"So this is the infamous Sammy?" Dean bit back a snort. "Nice to finally meet you, son. We've all heard a lot about you."

"Knowing Dean, very little of it is true, Colonel."

Dean noticed Sam didn't correct the colonel about his name. Smart boy. "I've been very complimentary, haven't I, Colonel?"

Medford laughed. "I don't know about all that, but I know he's very proud of you. Law school, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"I guess if you couldn't be Army, law school's an okay option. Have a good afternoon, gentlemen."

"Thank you, sir. You do the same," Dean said. They continued their walk to the parking deck.

"You talk about me. That's sweet."

"Screw you."

"You're never going to lose the Sammy, are you?"

"It's ingrained, dude, imprinted upon my brain. Blame Dad."

"He told me you started it."

"I guess you're old enough to know this, Sam--Dad can be a real rat at times."

"No," Sam drawled in feigned shock as they reached the Impala. Dean grinned as he unlocked the car and started her up. Joy could be so simple if you just let it.

He glanced at his brother meaningfully now that he was sure their conversation wasn't being monitored. He was an Army man who loved his country, etc., but wasn't naive enough to say anything in the building that he wouldn't want to listen to again. "So Jess and you are moving in together next semester," he commented. Jess had whispered that in his ear when he'd hugged her in the parking lot. "You kiddies are moving fast."

Sam shrugged. "We just know, you know? Forever and all that. Why? Don't you like her?"

Dean gave him the "are you this stupid on purpose?" look. "Of course, I like her, bro. I just--when are you gonna tell her?"

Thankfully, Sam didn't pretend not to understand. "The night before the wedding? Gee, man, when is the right time to tell your girl that your dad is a ghost hunter and that the line of salt you lay down in front of the doors and windows to supposedly keep out ants and cockroaches is really to keep out spooks and demons?"

"The right time is while she still has time to get out."

"You think I should do it before we get an apartment together."

"I think you'll know when you should do it. I just wanted to plant the notion in your head, so that you'll recognize the time when it comes. Hell, let her get used to your stinky shorts and finicky digestive system before hitting her over the head with the hard stuff. " He gave a snort. "Dad and I were always guessing just how badly the stuff we fed you would come out of you."

Sam glared at him as the car was waved through the checkpoint at the gate. Then, with a final dismissive glance, he focused out the windshield. "So, about the court martial?"

Since Dean had gotten his point made, he let Sam switch topics. "It's done. Twelve years at USDB for forgery and impersonating officers."

"USDB?"

"The U.S Disciplinary Barracks--the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Sam. Kinda ironic that they're in Kansas, isn't it?" He pulled his shades down from their holder on the driver's side sun visor. Letting the car steer itself for a few seconds, he used both hands to slip them on.

Sam shifted so that he was almost facing him. "What about what they did to you? What about what you suffered in Afghanistan?"

"Wasn't addressed."

"So you're letting them buy your silence with promotions?"

Dean wasn't happy about his brother's insinuations, but he just laughed. "Hey, don't diss the pay grade hikes. Got me a five-bedroom house for you and your friends to crash in. Besides, dumbass, I have my Masters now; I earned these bars."

"And what about the two men that were lost?"

Damn Sam for going there. "Goddamn it, Sam. What they did had nothing to do with what happened in Afghanistan. It was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sanders and Mitchell were killed in the initial wreck. If I could've--"

Sam slid back a little toward the window, as if he knew he'd stepped out of bounds. "I know, Dean. I'm sorry for bringing it up. I know you got everyone else out alive."

Dean thumped the steering wheel. "Bastards thought they could screw with my head. Thought a little pain could break me. Amateurs. Freaked them the hell out when I started speaking Persian and Latin." The looks on their faces were straight out of those vintage comedies that aired on late night TV, all double-takes and dropped jaws.

Sam frowned. "Latin, I get. Jim had us doing Latin masses and he's not even Catholic. Was Persian something you learned at the Academy?"

Dean laughed. "Something like that. There was a certain female cadet who--"

Sam held up his hand. "You can stop at the word female."

"You'd be amazed at what you can learn with the right incentives. Anyway, she had her heart set on being in Intelligence, so she needed to know the Dari dialect of Persian and Pashto. It was a good semester."

"I just bet."

Dean checked his rearview mirror. They were just ahead of the rush hour traffic. It was going to be a smooth trip home. "They weren't the most intelligent of the insurgents. I don't think they planned on having captives. Just that right/wrong place and time thing. They left me alone while they tried to figure out just who or what the hell they had in their tent. I got out and my team worked together to make sure those particular insurgents wouldn't be a problem to Americans anymore. All of that had nothing to do with Atkinson, Mills, and Logan. The bastards are guilty, but not of that."

"You're too loyal for your own good."

God, he was tired of the same old bitching. "If I'm so terrible, why the hell are you shopping around for schools here in the area?"

"They're good schools."

"Bullshit."

"Georgetown, George Washington, George Mason, and American University all have top tier law schools." Sam ticked them off on his fingers, trying to look indignant. But Dean knew he was just scrambling.

"You even have Jess looking for schools around here."

Sam gave up the pretense. "It was her idea," he mumbled.

"What?"

"It was her idea, man. She got tired of me worrying about you. Said it'd be a lot easier for everyone concerned if we were in the same time zone."

Dean sighed. "Sam, man, I'm fine. I've--moved on."

Sam cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I'm happy for you, dude. But it's not that easy for me, okay? I still have these images of you being dragged through the streets by those fucking terrorists!"

"That wasn't me, Sam! I'm not some burned corpse falling apart on some fucking road in some god-fucked country. I'm here. I'm breathing. I'm living, Sam." He wrapped his hand around the back of his brother's neck and gave a gentle squeeze. "I'm here."

"Fuck me for being such a baby, man. I'm sorry."

"No, don't be. It's okay. If the situation had been reversed...yeah, I see where you're coming from."

Sam's fists were balled up in his lap. "They fucking tortured you. You're always going to be susceptible to pneumonia."

"I know. And hey, faithfully every morning I take that vitamin C echinoderm shit you send me from that witch girl out there in LaLa Land."

"Echinacea. And she's not a witch, she's just New Age." Sam glanced down at his hands and forced them to relax. "You really take it?"

"Yeah, I do, man. I'm not about to let some pansy-assed bug take me down when a whole fucking country couldn't. Not to mention, I'd have to listen to you bitch about it while I recuperate." He shrugged and gave in. "The area's ripe with opportunity. New shit popping up everywhere. You and Jess will do well around here. And since we're gonna let Flip do all our investing, we'll be all set when those little Winchesters start popping up, or should I say out?"

Sam laughed. "Whatever you say, don't say it in front of Jess. Her sister has her believing childbirth is the worse horror that can be visited upon a person. I think Shannon described it as 'evisceration without anesthesia.'"

"Wow, that's a loving family, isn't it? Big on sharing, too."

"Another reason why it'll be good to get out of California."

Dean took the next off-ramp. "You partial to Virginia or Maryland? I know a couple of real estate agents that give servicemen some nice breaks. I'll put in a good word for you."

"You know somebody everywhere, don't you?"

"Friends in high and low places, Sammy. I ain't picky. Speaking of friends, glad you're here this week. Next weekend I'll be in Alabama."

"Car show?" Sam asked distractedly. He was looking out the window at the fields they were passing. Dean wondered if Sam knew what was being grown. Thanks to growing up in Kansas, Dean recognized corn and wheat. Anything else was a mystery.

"Annie's getting married."

That got Sam's full attention. "Annie? Purple-haired Annie? When'd she leave the business?"

"About a year and a half ago. Her aunt, the only member of her family who'll have anything to do with her, got sick and asked Annie to come take care of her and the antique store she owns. Charity convinced her to go, and she found some good ol' boy down there."

"He know?"

"Yeah, but to him she was living the glamorous life. He's right humbled that she's willin' to give all that up for him," Dean said with a thick Southern accent.

"She know you're coming?"

"Hell, Sammy, I'm giving her away. Gonna impress that whole damn town with my dress blues."

"What about the other ladies?"

"The bridal party. Gonna give the groomsmen a thrill, I bet."

Sam threw back his head and laughed. "You just can't have a normal life, can you?"

"Always told you normal was overrated, Sammy. Highly overrated."

*****

alt=John sat in the comfortable wooden rocker on his son's porch--a wide, meandering platform that curved around the farmhouse--and surveyed the distant mountains that made up the view. Dean--the wild son, the one he'd worried would just end up one day running the garage, still living in his room at the house (and hopefully not supporting a string of ex-wives and/or children)--was now the owner of an estate. About forty acres if the fencing was accurate. A five-bedroom house and a three-car garage. Deck and pool. Some kind of storage building in the back.

Mary's prince was now a king with his own damn castle.

John was impressed and if anyone wanted to pin a "Proud Papa" badge on him, he wouldn't break their arm. Well, not right off anyway. How could he not be proud? Dean wore captain's bars, worked in the Pentagon, had won the respect of his fellow officers. Coach Vanderpool kept up with Dean's success, called John up on occasion to mention which of his buddies knew Dean, saw potential in Dean, looked after Dean following the Afghanistan snafu. Although his son wasn't aware of it, Dean had many medal-wearing angels watching over him. That warmed John's heart because he never, ever wanted to feel like he felt those days Dean was missing. He'd thought nothing could match the pain of losing Mary, but not knowing whether Dean was alive or dead, that had almost broken him.

He rocked gently, the warmth in the fall breeze easing old stiffness in his joints. He'd always known Sam was going to make it. Sam would probably end up on the Supreme Court. Lord knows, he had an opinion on everything and wasn't afraid to share it. His youngest was all drive and purpose, never entertaining a major doubt about himself. Or rather, if he'd had a doubt, he'd taken it to Dean and Dean's confidence in him had totally erased it.

Dean always believed in Sam, but John reasoned the death of Mary had instilled in Dean a lack of belief in himself. He couldn't figure out exactly how that worked, but the changes in Dean after Mary was gone... The little boy whose every sentence started with, "Daddy, I can," had been replaced with one who shrugged or distracted with jokes whenever the future was mentioned. Thank God his little boy had found his "I can" again.

John sat up as he heard a familiar growl and two seconds later, the Impala appeared in the last curve of the road before it got to the house. He couldn't help but grin. Dean and the Impala. John would swear on a stack of Bibles that the Impala had survived twenty years of bad driving and sitting in a scrap yard just so it could be there for Dean. What he'd never told Mary was that he'd had the car long before he'd driven it home. He and Dean had gone to salvage yards on the weekend like women went to yard sales, just looking for stuff that might be needed at the garage. It was "Winchester men time" and Mary had just laughed and gave them a quick kiss each Saturday morning.

The Impala had been hidden behind a deck of smashed cars. John had been alerted to its presence by a shrill, "Look, Daddy!"

John swiped a finger across the dust coating the vehicle. Been there a while. "Think the old gal's got some good parts left in her, Deano?"

Dean had leaned his cheek against the door and shook his head. He'd definitely have to be cleaned up before Mary saw him. "She's mine, Daddy. All of her. Pretty, pretty." He tugged on the door, but it wouldn't open.

John thought it might be locked, but found that the Detroit steel was just too heavy for a three-year-old to handle. As soon as the door creaked open, Dean slid in behind the wheel and made engine noises. John popped the hood and took a look. The engine appeared surprisingly solid and intact beneath a heavy layer of grime. The battery was rusted, the spark plugs shot, but all in all, not bad. He slid into the passenger seat beside his still-driving son. Interior wasn't bad either. A little leather soap, the removal of the eight-track deck... "Hey, Deano, remember that face you made when Mommy couldn't decide whether we should go to the Chiefs game or not?" That pout, those sad green eyes. "Let's go see a man about a car, shall we?"

"Dad! You should've called." Adult Dean got out of the Impala and walked toward the house.

"The old man gonna be cramping your style?" Maybe Dean had plans. The boy never seemed to be without available female companionship.

"Hell, no. I just could've left work early. How long you been here?" He opened the door and ushered John inside.

"Not long. Had a White Lady in West Virginia. Thought I'd stop by for a visit. Not a problem, is it?"

"Nah. Beer's in the fridge. If you see anything else you want, go for it. I'm just gonna go get out of this fucking tie."

John started to walk away, but noticed a faint pattern in the hardwood flooring. "Is that--?"

Dean turned and followed John's gaze to the floor. "Yeah, me and Sammy put it in this past summer. It's at all the entrances so that it forms a repeating symmetrical motif or some shit of a term Sam came up with from helping Jess with a design project. So, it's not only useful, it makes the house 'trendy,'" he added with a grin.

The pattern was that of a Devil's Trap. "What's it made of?" The design was only slightly paler than the wood and really wasn't that noticeable.

"First, we burned the design into the wood, then we filled in the lines with a salt and resin mixture. Damn stuff was so thick we had to use a caulk gun. Afterwards, we just varnished the whole floor."

John was in awe. "Pure genius. I thought I was smart when I had the traps made out of wrought iron and placed across from doors. But this, you'd have to tear of the floor to break the trap. Damn."

Dean grinned. "Sammy came up with the concept and I came up with the execution. Guess Sam and I make a dangerous team. But don't look down on your wrought iron idea. The one you gave me as a housewarming gift is now in my office."

John snorted. "Considering where you work, it must be trapping half the people who come through your door."

Laughing, but not making any denials, Dean turned to leave the room.

John found a bag of chips and was comfortably ensconced in a leather recliner in front of the big screen TV when his son returned, stripped down to T-shirt and sweats.

"Here you go." Dean tossed something in his direction which he caught instinctively. It was a key to the house. John arched an eyebrow. "Sam has one. Charity has one. Flip has one. Jess will get hers when Sam finally puts a ring on her finger. Guess bunking with you and Sam all those years makes me nostalgic for a full house."

"You could easily solve that."

"Nah. I'm leaving the wife and babies to Sam. Settling down isn't for me."

Well, there went that concern about a string of ex-wives and children. John gestured to their surroundings. "Then what is this?"

"Refuge for whoever needs it."

"Do you need it, son?" They'd never talked about Afghanistan. Of course, he knew about the damage to Dean's lungs. Waterboarding done right was a bitch and when done wrong... He'd assumed if there were any lingering mental problems, the Army shrinks had taken care of them. However, now that he thought about it, he should've been encouraging Dean to talk to him while he was recuperating instead of going off on hunts. He sighed internally, wondering if he’d ever get it right with Dean.

"I'm okay, Dad. People I've had to talk to--" so there were Army shrinks-- "say that I have a 'caretaker' personality. Because I couldn't save Mom, I want to save everyone else. I justify my existence by taking care of you and Sam and whoever else I think needs my help. I actively need others who count on me. S'why I've always had a tendency to pick up strays--hookers, geeks, orphans..." Dean headed toward the kitchen. A moment later he was back with a couple of beers.

"Orphans?" John asked as he screwed off the top of what appeared to be a local brewery. Knowing Dean, he was probably helping out a friend by buying the stuff.

"Yeah. There's an orphanage a few miles from here. I kinda volunteer when they need extra people to take them on field trips or whatever. Therapy of a sorts, I guess."

John had no idea what to say. He wondered how much of a role he'd played in whatever problems Dean was having, what with the whole early co-parenting thing. And what was that Sammy had yelled at him about? Oh, yeah. Telling Dean he was disappointed in him.

"You're young," he managed after a moment. "True love will find you one day." There. Didn't that sound like a fatherly thing to say?

"It already found me. And left me November 2, 1983."

Fuck. What could he say to that? Oddly enough, he understood. There was nothing Oedipal in Dean's declaration. Mary's death had hurt her son, altered him, stunted the growth of something vital in his heart. John knew this because the same had happened to him. He figured Sam had been spared the experience because Sam had only lost a mother; he and Dean had lost Mary. Some would say it was the same difference, and he'd tell them to their faces that they were liars.

And speaking of liars... "Psychiatrists are a bunch of quacks." He took a long sip of the beer. Not bad.

The sad look in Dean's eyes fled as he gave a startled cough/laugh. "I'll be sure to tell them that."

John shook his head. "I'm serious. There's nothing wrong with you taking in strays--it just means you have your mother's heart."

"Mom liked strays?"

"That's how she found me. I was fresh back from 'Nam, and I guess you know what that's like." Dean nodded. "Went to a bar instead of getting a bottle and going back to the room I was crashing in. Sat in the back, nursing it until your mom came and sat at the table with me. Told me she was there with a bunch of her girlfriends. Had a headache, but couldn't leave because she was the one who was supposed to stay sober enough to drive the others home and keep them from stumbling off with ax murderers and the like. I guess that was old school for designated driver."

"She was always so responsible," Dean interrupted quietly.

"Yeah. Gave me hell when she thought I wasn't." John fought hard not to get lost in his own memories. This was for Dean. This was stuff he needed to hear. "Anyway, said she was going to sit in the corner with me because I was apparently the quiet type and I'd be kind to her aching head. She rambled on softly about her life, the classes she was taking in college, and...I don't know, she just grounded me, brought me back to this world. I let her drive me home and the rest--and the rest is sitting across from me." He smiled at his son.

"So, Mom picked you up in a bar? So not what I needed to hear." Dean grinned around the long-neck poised at his lips.

John took another long drink of the beer. Huh. He could get used to the mellow bite of it. "So don't listen to the shrinks. There's nothing wrong with you. You take after your mother and in more ways than one."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. While we were dating, she'd let people stay in her apartment--maybe they were mad at their boyfriend or a parent had kicked them out for one reason or another. I worried about the people that came and went at her place. Bought her a small .22 caliber S&W for Valentine's Day. Even wrapped a bow around it and had made plans to teach her how to use it."

"How sweet--and utterly Winchester of you." Dean's eyes sparkled with amusement.

John grinned. "Just wait 'til you hear the rest of the story. Mary looked at the gun, then disappeared into the bedroom. Thought maybe I'd made a big mistake, you know? A minute later she came out holding a Beretta 92 and her purse. Startled the hell out me. She started explaining how her dad had given the Beretta to her when she left home for school. It wasn't something she would've picked out; the kick was a bitch, but since she'd need only one shot to take someone down, she'd learned to live with it."

"Damn," Dean said admiringly.

John pointed at his son with his bottle and continued the story. "Then she held out her purse and slipped the S&W inside. She squealed and gave me her biggest grin because it 'fit so perfectly and hardly added any weight.' Let me tell you, son, whatever part of me wasn't in love with her before then, surrendered to her at that moment."

"So, you married a gun-totin' woman you met in a bar? Can I be you when I grow up, Dad?"

John laughed. It felt good to talk about Mary for once. Maybe because Dean was so much like her, now more than ever. His blond hair had darkened and his voice had deepened, but he was every bit Mary's son. "She was smart in math, too. Maybe that's why you had dreams of working for NASA. Whatever happened to that anyway? I thought about it when the Columbia exploded last year."

"Guess I am like Mom--found I liked weapons better."

"I like your weapons, too," John found himself saying. God, how stupid was that?

Dean laughed. "Come on out back. I'll show you my lab."

"The out-building?"

Dean shook his head. "You remember Harriman?"

"The reason why--?"

"Not his fault, Dad," Dean said brusquely. "Anyway, Harriman's teaching Engineering at the Academy. We were sitting around bullshitting when I went up there for a football game, and he was talking about he needed a project that all the Engineering divisions could work on, a unifying theme instead of the individual challenges they usually have. So I gave him the scenario of needing an underground bunker and lab in case of surface contamination. I let the cadets use the farm as the site. Environmental had to factor in the space, the soil content, air patterns, and everything. Mechanical and electrical had to work around power sources. Everybody had a part. Impressed the hell out of the Academy. So, a crew from the Army Corps of Engineers came down and implemented their plan. It's a really cool prototype."

John grinned and rose from the chair. "Give me the grand tour, son."

Onward to Infrangible Road 2005

U-Turn to 2003, 2001, 1997, 1995, 1993, 1991, 1984, or Infrangible Road On-Ramp

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