Time Stamp: The Ghost Of Christmases Past - Ch. 1
The Winchester family is gearing up for a peaceful Christmas season and for their first anniversary of when they met, but someone has other, darker plans for them. Takes place one year after Dean took Sam and Em in.]
"There are no dark shadows, no baddies, and definitely no ghosts walking around the house. It was just a dream. Come on Em, let's get your coat and get you to school. You let Dean worry about saving the world, okay?" Sam said, heading to the clothes hook next to the door. "You just worry about homework. It's on the table," he gently reminded her.
"But I know what I saw. It was big and dark and... Daddy, it wasn't a dream. It was right over you and... and..."
"And Dean has the house locked down tight, with salt, and every other protection." Holding her coat open, Sam waited for her to grab her school work and walk over to him, where he helped her get the coat on. "It was a dream. I promise you," Sam said, buttoning her up and then giving her a hug. "Did you pick up your trip permission slip?" he asked, knowing that the reminder that her class was going to Santa's Village in a couple days would get her mind off the nightmare.
"Got it!" Slipping her hand into his, she walked out and down the porch stairs, but then pulled away. "I'm gonna say bye to Popsie," she announced, running toward the garage bay without giving Sam the chance to argue.
Shaking his head, Sam watched until she was safely inside and he saw Dean through the doors, before starting the car and turning it around.
Dean yawned and rubbed his eyes tiredly. He'd been up all night getting the finishing touches done on the restoration of the VW Beetle that the owner wanted to be able to pick up that afternoon. The propane heaters kept the garage bay warm throughout the cold South Dakota night and Dean had frankly been surprised when the morning sunlight began creeping in through the frosted windows. Hearing the car start up, he glanced at his watch. It was already time for Emily to go to school? He shook his head. He was done with the restoration except for putting a final polish on the re-chromed bumpers, then he could crash until lunchtime.
The door to the garage creaked open and let the bitter cold into the warm bay.
"Hey Munchkin," Dean said, though he couldn't actually see her from his position. "Sorry I missed breakfast with you. Was your daddy cranky this morning?"
"How did you know?" she exclaimed, running up to him and looking up. "Maybe you should tickle him when he gets back. I'd help, but I gotta go to school," she said, reaching up.
Dean scooped her up into his arms. "Because he doesn't like it when I pull an all-nighter. Because your daddy is a worry-wort. He'll probably have to tickle me to even get me awake when he gets back. Geez kiddo, if you keep growing like this, in another six months you're gonna be too big to throw over my shoulder any more. You did all your homework, right?"
Closing her arms around his neck, she laughed happily, nodding in agreement. "Uh hmm, I did it. And I didn't forget it at home, this time," she said, her fingers clenching a little tighter around her papers.
Her head snapped toward the door, then she leaned in and gave Dean a big kiss. "Don't tell Daddy I told you but... I saw broccoli in the fridge," she whispered.
Dean grinned at the little girl. "It's our secret. Thanks for the warning. Guess I'll have to cook tonight unless I want your sneaky daddy putting broccoli in my dinner, huh?" Giving her a loud sloppy kiss on her cheek, he carried her near to the door and put her down. "Have a good day at school. No kissing the boys. They have cooties and I don't want you coming home with cooties all over you." He gave her a final hug before lightly swatting her bottom, then waving at Sam through the window.
"Ewww." She wrinkled her nose and started to run off. When she reached the door, she turned around. "Can you check the salt tonight? I don't think Daddy checked last night."
"Em...," Sam leaned out the window. "We're going to be late."
Giving Dean a quick wave, she ran around to the other side of the car and waited until Sam opened it for her. As Sam got her buckled in, her gaze was on Dean, inside the garage.
Dean gave the girl a reassuring smile and wave, though he was frowning on the inside. She didn't usually ask about the salt unless she was having nightmares. He'd triple check the salt. Maybe it was time to call in that favor and get Emily a real dreamcatcher, one that really would help keep the nightmares out. She'd been doing pretty well, though, or at least, he thought she had. Realizing Sam had pulled the car up so he was on Dean's side, Dean strode quickly to the car and its open window. "Hey, good-looking, how about a smack-a-roo before you disappear into the sunrise?"
"You know I'll be back in ten," Sam answered, smiling as he leaned out to collect the kiss. Dean's tongue had barely penetrated past his teeth when he pulled back, glancing at Emily, then back at Dean. "Hold that thought. I'll wake you if you've passed out on the couch," he teased, rolling his eyes when he realized the song Em was humming was the kissing song. "Love you," he muttered, throwing the car into gear the moment Dean stepped away, and checking him out in the rear view mirror before he pulled out of the yard and onto the road.
* * *
"I'll get you something to eat," Sam offered, seeing Dean was laying on the sofa and half watching T.V. "You've probably had a whole pot of coffee overnight, want some tea?" Shrugging his coat off and hanging it up by the door, he cocked his head.
Dean gave a yawn. Sam was right. Too much caffeine. Even though he was whipped, he couldn't fall asleep. "Mmm, nah. How about some milk? And maybe french toast and bacon? Were the roads clear? Munchkin get off to school okay?"
"Not bad, though it looks like a storm might be coming in." He took a couple steps then turned. "Wait, did you say milk?" Laughing in disbelief, he headed to the kitchen. "How about scrambled eggs and bacon? I saved you some," he said. It'd be faster.
"What? I drink milk sometimes," Dean protested, pushing himself upright and running a hand over his face. He scratched at the stubble on his chin. "Eggs and bacon are good. Toast too. And no slipping that damned broccoli into the eggs."
"What broccoli?" Frowning, Sam got to work, warming up Dean's breakfast and getting him some milk. "You know something, you're paranoid." Yeah, he completely ignored the fact that the bottom drawer of the fridge in fact had some of that offending vegetable, that Dean would not even notice when pureed in soup.
"You went shopping last. I know there's gotta be broccoli in the fridge. Besides, the Imp loves that disgusting stuff." Dean pushed himself to his feet and headed through the dining room to stand in the doorway of the kitchen. "Has she been having any nightmares lately?"
"She says 'no,' but I think she's keeping it from me." Sam threw a worried look at Dean. "Maybe it's because last year at this time..." he gave a helpless shrug. "She's getting all protective of me, and all I want... all I want is for her to be a kid and just worry about herself, not me. This isn't how it's supposed to be." Burning his hand on the toaster, he cursed under his breath.
"Might not be how it's supposed to be but, when I was a kid, I worried about my dad and got protective of him. I'll see if I can worm it out of her. If she's being protective of you and not wanting you to know, maybe she'll tell me." Pushing off the door frame he walked over to Sam, took hold of the hand he'd just burned and kissed it lightly. "We could have a little celebration. One year ago tomorrow is when you guys came into my life. Made it all crazy and topsy-turvy and I've loved every minute of it. Cause of you and Em."
"I can't believe you remember that." It surprised the hell out of Sam. He knew how romantic Dean could be, but a guy who remembered the day he met you? "Best day of my life, not that I knew it back then," Sam said. "Let's do that, dinner out, and then I can, you know, thank you for walking into our lives." Sam leaned in and kissed Dean, his hands wandering down Dean's back, and automatically moving one arm across Dean's lower back, gripping his hip and pushing just so. The sound of bones shifting and cracking, and Dean's surprised expression, had Sam laughing softly. "Still not used to it, huh."
"I should be, after almost a year of you making popcorn of my bones. And how could I forget it? Wanna go to the diner where we first saw each other? Not that you probably noticed me at the time. Your eyes were always on Em, teaching her to add and subtract with pennies." Dean gave Sam a fond smile as he ran his own hands over Sam's back.
"Oh, I noticed you alright. Just... Didn't dream I'd have a shot at getting with you, even in other circumstances. Course that was before you opened your mouth. I mean you were a little... gruff when you did speak to me. Good gruff," he said quickly, about to kiss him, but remembering the bread and pulling away to get it out of the toaster. "You've been working too hard, think you can take a couple days off?" he asked, knowing if there were any accidents because of the weather it would be out of the question.
Dean chuckled, pleased Sam had noticed him. "I'm always bitchy when I'm hurting and tired." Dean sat down at the table where Sam had already poured him a glass of milk. "Yeah, I can take a few days off from restorations, but you know if a snowstorm is coming in, I'll probably be headed out. Tomorrow night at dinner, promise I won't leave in the middle unless it's like a fifty car pile up or something. And I haven't been working too hard. The one they're picking up today was a rush job. You know I wouldn't have been out in the garage overnight if it hadn't been. Would have rather been in bed with you." He gave a big yawn. "To sleep, at least part of the time."
"Sleep, huh." Sam gave a snort and set Dean's plate down in front of him. "I think you should take a big long nap today. Get your strength up, you know?" He kissed the side of Dean's neck, then pulled up abruptly. "Why'd you do that?" he asked, perplexed as he stared at the shelves. Squeezing Dean's shoulder, he walked across the room to pick up the pictures that had been laid flat on the shelf, standing them up again.
"I intend to. After I eat," Dean said tilting his head a little to give Sam more access. He frowned when those warm, soft lips were no longer on him. "Do what?" Dean asked, turning and seeing what Sam was talking about. "I didn't touch them. You know I let you do all the decorating and dusting. Maybe Munchkin was looking at them and got distracted?" he suggested. Wouldn't be the first time Emily didn't put things back in place.
Sam glanced at a nearby chair. He supposed she could have pulled it over and climbed up to look at the pictures, she did seem to love them. "I guess." Fixing them, he returned to the table. "She's so excited about the class trip to Santa's Village. I tried to volunteer to go with them but they were full up on the number of adults they'd take on the bus. You think I should go separately?"
"Depends. You want to go to be with her, or go because you're afraid of her being 'alone'?" Dean asked, pretty sure he already knew the answer to his question. He scooped up some eggs then took a big bite of toast.
Sam gave a wry smile. "You gotta ask?" The silence told him what he already knew. He looked down at his hand, his fingers drumming on the table. "Maybe she's not the only one feeling protective."
Dean smirked at Sam and gave a nod. "Why don't you take your massage chair out there and give the workers some free massages on the day she'll be there, maybe drum up some new business for you in the process. That way, you're there if she needs you, but you're not right there-there, if you know what I mean."
"Maybe I will." Sam looked up. "I love you."
"How can you not?" Dean asked, but he gave Sam a look plainly telling him he felt the same.
* * *
As he headed down the stairs, Sam heard Em's in-drawn breath and expected to see her afraid of something on TV. Instead, he found her looking at him from the living room, her face practically drained of blood. "What's wrong?" he asked, taking the stairs faster.
She shook her hands, like she was screaming silently. "Daddy... Daddy hurry.... Daddy!"
He took the last three stairs at once and crossed the room to get to her, where she was standing between the sofa and the coffee table, her little stool knocked over. "Right here," he said, reaching for her and picking her up. He glanced at the TV and saw she was watching something on Disney and it looked tame. Holding her close, he stroked her hair. "You're shaking, Em." When he pulled back, he saw she was focused on the stairs. "Emily?"
Shaking her head, she buried her face in Sam's shoulders and held him tight.
"Honey, whatever it is, you can tell me," he said, frowning.
She looked up, looked around and whispered. "It's okay now."
He could feel her heart racing and knew damned well it wasn't fine. "Can you tell me what happened that wasn't okay?" he asked softly, feeling helpless when she shook her head 'no.' "Did you fall asleep?" he asked, thinking she might have been awakened by a nightmare.
She shook her head again. "No."
Sighing, Sam set her down. "How about I get you a small snack while I get dinner started?"
The hopeful look in her eyes and her tone had him laughing. She'd already had cookies earlier and he usually didn't let her have more before dinner. Dean wasn't the only one wrapped around her little finger, though. "Alright, milk and a single cookie, it is." The smile was wiped away from his face the moment he headed for the kitchen and she came scurrying after him, like she couldn't bear to be alone.
It was the same for the rest of the afternoon. She did her homework in the kitchen as he cooked, then followed him to the spare room where he had his massage equipment. She stayed with him as he cleaned and prepared. Though she watched TV, he kept feeling her watching him. He tried a few more times to find out what was wrong, but got nowhere with his questions.
When she followed him up and down the stairs several times while he took care of the laundry, he really started to worry. He was so worried he didn't question her when she claimed not to have moved not only the pictures downstairs, but the ones in his own bedroom. The first time he saw the fear in her eyes dissipate was when they heard the front door opening and she raced out to the hallway, to the stairs, though she waited for Sam there while looking through the banisters.
"The handsome one is home!" Dean called out, lugging in bags. "I brought goodies!" He saw Emily peeking at him between the railing. "No pouncing on Popsie while he has bags he's bringing in," he told her mock-sternly, though she hadn't moved. She looked...relieved and that made his big smile falter. Setting the bags down, he strode quickly to the stairs, grabbing a salt-filled shotgun on the way. "Em, everything okay? Where's Sam?"
She nodded, smiling a little when she saw the gun in his hand, then looked up behind her.
"Dean," Sam grabbed Emily's hand and started down the stairs, giving Dean a questioning look when he saw the shot gun. "You going somewhere?" Maybe Dean had been called away. It had been a long time since he'd had to leave home for a hunt.
Slipping her hand out of Sam's, Emily bounded away, jumped to the bottom step, then running to Dean. "You're not going away, are you?" she asked, looking up intently at him. "You have to stay."
"No, not going anywhere except to finish unloading the car," he said, kneeling and wrapping an arm around Em's slender waist. "Emily, you looked like something was wrong when I came in. What's going on--" Dean, stopped mid-sentence when Sam suddenly came tumbling down the stairs with a startled cry. "Sammy!" Dean yelled, forcing his bad leg to get him back on his feet and over to Sam.
Biting back the curses that came to his lips, Sam pushed himself up onto his hands and looked up at the stairs, searching for what had tripped him. "I'm okay. I'm fine, just fine," he said the phrases that came to him like rote, reassuring not only his daughter this time, but his husband.
At Dean's side, Emily pushed on the butt of the rifle Dean was holding, making the barrel point up the stairs, looking up at Dean with a question in her eyes, then dropping down next to Sam. "Where did you get hurted, Daddy?"
As she reached to touch his face, Sam grimaced. "Nowhere. Just a little tumble. Dean, could you..." he nodded toward Emily. "I didn't break anything," he said meeting Dean's intense gaze.
"I've got Sam, Emily. You go in the kitchen and fill a baggie with ice, wrap it in a hand towel, and bring it back out. I'm going to get Sam to the couch and check him over, okay?" Dean said gently but firmly. He gave Sam a warning look to just keep his mouth shut. "My turn to help you to the couch, clumsy," he said to him, but kept the gun in one hand as he offered Sam a hand up.
She stepped back but didn't move until she saw her dad get up, and then she practically ran to the kitchen.
Sam gave a sheepish smile and let go of Dean's hand. He took a step, and when he took the next, he winced. He'd banged his ankle hard against the edge of a stair. When Dean moved in to help him, Sam gave a small snort. "It's fine, really," but he didn't argue and allowed Dean to help him to the sofa. "I messed up your surprise," he said, nodding toward the bags Dean had dropped.
"Better messing up my surprise than you getting messed up on the stairs, besides it's nothing big. Dude, it is so going to look like I beat you up," Dean said, shaking his head as he set the gun down and grabbed a couple tissues from the box and began carefully wiping the blood off of Sam's face. "Put pressure here. Facial cuts bleed like a bitch. The cut's small, but you're bleeding like a stuck pig."
After Sam took over holding the tissues in place, Dean pulled up the cuff of Sam's jeans and looked at the ankle. "Ouch. It's already swelling some. Let me get this over with now," he said, gently running his hands down Sam's leg, slowing as he reached the ankle. He heard Sam's breath hitch but gave a satisfied nod. "Nothing seems broken. Could be you chipped or cracked a bone. If it's still swollen tomorrow night, we'll take you in for x-rays the next morning." After he pulled Sam's shoe off, he grabbed a pillow from the couch and set Sam's ankle on it ever so carefully. By then, Emily had returned, her eyes filled with worry.
"He's fine Emily. I think he's just a little bumped and bruised. Lay that ice on his ankle, then go get the small medical kit out of the guest bathroom. Some alcohol wipes and bandaids, and your dad will be almost as good as new."
Sam gave her an encouraging smile. "Just a little cut, nothing to worry about." When she walked away to do as Dean asked, Sam touched the cut on his face. "I didn't realize I was bleeding. I never wanted her to see me like this again and then... then I'm fucking tripping over my own feet. I'd kick myself if it didn't hurt so much." He made a face as Dean placed the ice against his ankle. "Sorry. For giving both of you a scare."
"Don't sweat it, Sam. Accidents happen. But it looks like you're going to have a little bit of a fat lip and bruising along the side of your face. And I'm guessing your chest is going to be a little tender, and your knees." Sliding his cold hand under Sam's shirts, he grinned when Sam flinched back from his cold touch. "Just checking to make sure you're not bleeding...and warming my hand up," he said as he quickly ran his palm over Sam's chest. "No blood. Good. Ribs feel okay?" he asked then ran his hand up Sam's pants leg to each knee, making sure there was no blood or swelling. "Mmm, think you've busted open this knee a little and it feels a little swollen. Probably should clean it out, slap a bandage on it, and put a little ice on it, and maybe the side of your face could use some ice. You are officially out of commission for tonight and keeping your butt planted on the couch."
Unused to having his injuries tended to, Sam merely mumbled or grunted out his answers as Dean inspected him. The last made him smile. "Whatever you say, just don't look so worried. Both of you," he added, when Emily came back to his side. "That's kind of an order."
Glancing at Dean, Emily turned back and gave what was patently a forced smile.
"That's my girl," Sam said, smiling back at her and then letting Dean finish cleaning him up. "Em and I made one of your favorites for dinner, but after that trick of yours, sticking your cold hands on my stomach, not sure you deserve it."
A little laugh broke out of Emily, who put her hand on Dean's arm. "Popsie can be tricky, too."
"Yeah, yeah he can. Just... no tickling for a couple days, both of you." Catching Dean's eyes, Sam gave him a smile. "Fat lip, I'm sure it looks great," he said feeling it sting.
"Cheaper than getting one of those lip jobs to make your lips all pouty and plump," Dean said, winking at him. "No lemon in your ice tea, no orange juice in the morning either. Hope what you made me isn't too salty. Chili? Meatloaf? Cheeseburgers?" Dean asked, wondering what it was. After all, he had a lot of favorites. It smelled great whatever it was and his stomach rumbled loudly. "Guess I sort of missed lunch today," he said sheepishly. "Em, you keep your dad company. I'll go make sure nothing's burning, then finish bringing in the stuff from the car, then you can help me set the TV trays up and we'll eat in here tonight so your dad can keep his ankle up."
"We can eat here? Yay!"
Sam shook his head. "Why do I feel like this is one big conspiracy between the two of you?" he asked, knowing they both loved dinners in front of the TV, though he usually insisted they eat at the dining room table. "Meatloaf and baked potatoes are in the oven. I didn't get to dessert. I guess we can do ice cream." Another loud 'yay' from his daughter had him grinning again. "Don't make me smile Imp." The sound of her giggles couldn't be sweeter to Sam's ears. He patted the place on the sofa next to him.
"I got dessert handled," Dean said with a smile. "Sorta healthy, even if it doesn't have broccoli in it." Seeing the question in both their eyes Dean refused to say anything else. He whistled as he carried the bags into the kitchen, checked dinner, then ran back outside to bring in some more bags. Rumsfeld followed him in on the last trip, shaking snow everywhere inside the front door.
Dean sighed. "And I wonder why I can't keep freaking salt lines at the doors. Geez, Rummy, you coulda waited and sprayed the snow all over Sam."
"Very funny, Dean," Sam said, rolling his eyes.
Making himself busy in the kitchen, Dean quickly put groceries in the fridge or freezer, and some wrapped packages he hid up high in the cupboards, then dished dinner out on plates. "Emily!" he called. "Get the trays set up. I got a rental movie for us to watch tonight, too."
Emily went to get the trays and dragged them over. Sam helped her get them opened up, unsurprised that she kept telling him she could do it herself. She was getting so independent. As they talked, he saw that she'd bounced back, that she was no longer worried or afraid. That was until he asked her to go upstairs and change into her pajamas, then suddenly she was refusing and getting teary eyed as she tugged on the hem of her dress.
"Emily, come here," he said softly. "Come sit." But she just stood there.
Sam lowered his leg from the coffee table and started to get up.
Dean was headed in with two plates and silverware. "Hey kiddo, go get the glasses of ice tea, would you?" he asked Emily as he came into the living room and set down Emily's and Sam's plates and pulled their silverware and napkins from his pocket. He saw Emily's eyes glittering with almost-tears and Sam starting to get up. "Sam, sit down," he ordered a little more sharply than he meant to, but he didn't want Sam up on that ankle. His voice turn more gentle when he asked. "Em, what's wrong?"
"Watch my daddy. Promise," she begged Dean. "So I can get my jammies."
For a moment, Sam closed his eyes, then he opened them again, sitting back. "We'll get your pajamas later. Just ... Please Em, tell us what's wrong."
She shifted her weight, tugging harder on her dress. "I don't want anything to happen to you and... and Rumsfeld moved the salt. It won't stay. It blows away or, or..." She shrugged.
"Wait, you're not afraid to go upstairs?" Sam asked.
She shook her head 'no,' and determinedly walked to the stairs and started walking up them, her eyes on her dad and her popsie.
"I'll stay right here until you get back," Dean promised the young girl. Once she had disappeared from view Dean blew out a breath. "Dammit," he muttered. "I guess little Miss Big Ears has heard too much about hunting and is putting the pieces together. Thinks there are monsters after you or something. Did I tell you she asked about the salt? I told her it was an old superstition my Uncle Bobby believed. That salt at the door keeps bad things out. She wanted to make sure Santa could still get in."
"She asked me how my shooting lessons were going," Sam said, taking Dean's hand. "Dean are we giving her nightmares? Oh God..."
Dean sat down next to Sam. "No, I don't think we are. Christmas is the anniversary of an awfully big upheaval for both of you last year and then Dex kidnapped you and everything...I'm sure it's just all coming back...you know it was the day she went to see Santa that Dex showed up. You said she's been excited about going to Santa's Village. It's probably just all of that in her subconscious. I'll bet everything will be okay by the time Christmas gets here." Dean put his arm around Sam's shoulder and kissed him on the temple.
"Yeah. I guess." Turning his head, Sam kissed Dean, not caring about a little stinging where his lip was cut. "I thought she was having nightmares, but she keeps denying it. And when she has them, she's usually too frightened to be alone. She's not scared, not for herself. I don't know how to convince her everything is fine, I just don't know." He could hear her running down the hall overhead and couldn't help smiling a little. "She'll be down here in a second and then it'll be like nothing ever happened."
"Start by not falling down the stairs again anytime soon," Dean teased. "As soon as she's down here, I'll finish bringing in dinner and put in the rental. It's called "Bolt" about some dog that gets lost and finds his way back to his girl or something. No bad guys or anything, at least, that's what Roberta at the store said. Maybe I should have picked up a Christmasy something for her instead..."
"Funny," Sam huffed, though he did feel foolish about tripping over nothing. "You did good. With Bolt, I mean. She's mentioned wanting to see it." They heard her shouting 'yay' and he rolled his eyes. "Big ears. Very big ears." Her laughter was the best thing he'd heard, and looking at Dean's wide grin, he could tell it was the same for him. "You know, when she grows up and figures out her popsie will do anything for her, we'll be in big trouble."
"She won't be thrilled when I don't let her date anyone until she's like thirty," Dean said, tilting his head back and seeing her in her jammies clomping down the stairs. "Okay, now sit down before dinner gets cold. Cold is to be saved for dessert and the homemade ice cream maker I bought. Don't worry Sammy, you can make healthy frozen fruit things when you're in charge of it." He smiled at Emily's shriek of delight at the news. "And of course I picked up apple pie. Now, I'll go get the rest of the stuff." Dean squeezed Sam's hand and stood up, retrieving the movie and putting it in the player and handing Sam the remote. "Back in a flash. And for the record," he leaned down and whispered in Sam's ear. "I like plump lips. Just saying."
Emily dove onto the sofa, taking Dean's place.
As Sam worked the remote, he felt her gaze and turned to find her inches away, peering at him. He raised his brow and was sorry for it.
"You're pink. What did popsie say?"
"I am not."
"Uh huh, you are," she said shaking her head.
"And you see too much. Why don't you start eating." When she didn't respond, he added, "It's those cookies, isn't it? I should never let you--"
Just like that, she sank her fork into the meat that Dean had cut up for her and stuffed it into her mouth. "Not too full," she said, speaking around her food.
"I see that. Good." He lifted his gaze as Dean walked up and sat on her other side, pulling the tray close to him. "Everyone ready?" He hit the start button, stole a glance at Dean and started eating.