The end credits of The Breakfast Club scrolled up the television screen. Dean was staring at it underneath the edges of his glasses, the lines on his face softened by the former contents of four empty beer bottles that sat next to his plate of chili cheese fries on the coffee table. Sammi was curled up next to him, eyes closed and breathing peacefully; tucked safe within the curve of his arm.
“I don’t remember high school being like that, Uncle Dean,” Mel observed. She was sitting on the floor with her back against the couch, one hand sneaking out to get some more fries. “And the dandruff girl?” She shuddered. “Seems to me she was just trying to call attention to herself by being weird.”
“That’s because there’s sensitivity training now,” Dean retorted with a deep chuckle; Sammi stirred and shifted against him, one arm coming around Dean’s waist as she burrowed deeper into his chest. “It was like walking across a minefield when I was your age.”
Mel twisted to look up at him. “Granddad says that you exaggerate things all the time just to stay in practice.” She grinned. “I think you just make stuff up to see how far you can push it.”
“Sam’s always giving away my secrets.” Dean flashed a quick grin, then frowned at Mel making a show of looking annoyed. “Molly used to hate it when he’d let loose with something. Said he took all the fun out of figuring me out.” His hazel eyes softened. “Of course, Molly could always read me like an open book. Could read Sam, too.” He snorted. “And I’ve never pushed anything in my life. Not my fault people are willing to take the words coming out of my mouth at face value, Mel. The way I see it, it’s their own damn fault for being gullible.”
It was the best opportunity Sam was going to get, Dean sitting there with a smile on his face – remembering Molly, holding his granddaughter and teasing Sam’s progeny because that’s what big brothers did. Sam coughed and Dean looked up to see him standing in the doorway. “Something you want to argue about?” Dean asked, eyes still shining.
“Possibly.” Sam returned his brother’s grin with a smile. “The kids want to go on a trip this weekend.”
“It’s summer. The kids want to go on a trip every weekend. I’ve been wanting to try that new slide at Water Loops.”
Mel snorted. “Every time we go to Water Loops, you spend all of your time in the wading pool watching girls.”
“I’m old and practically blind, little missy. Man’s got to make do with what he’s got.” Dean raised an eyebrow, frowning. “These goddamn bifocals make it real hard to be subtle about what I’m looking at.”
“Well…” Sam’s voice trailed off. “I was thinking that we could go to Canfield.”
“Canfield?” Dean’s voice went up two octaves.
Sam nodded. “Seems like I’m rubbing off on your grandkids, Dean. They want to go on an educational trip instead of an all-day junk-food fest at the mall.” Dean had a wild look in his eyes and Mel started inching away from the couch. “You know, the world didn’t even stop spinning on its axis when they asked me.”
“You’re fucking kidding.” Dean’s eyes narrowed. “How much money did you slip them to come up with this idea, Sammy?”
Sammi’s head popped up from Dean’s chest. “We want to go, Grandpa.” She blinked her eyes rapidly, smiling up at him. “Our idea. Not Great Uncle Sam’s.” Sam had to give the girl credit – she knew how to pull out the big guns, squeezing her grandfather hard around the waist and making the same cute face she’d been pulling since she was tiny. Seemed every Winchester had learned a little bit of that charm.
Dean coughed. “Well, if it’s what you kids want.” He pulled Sammi to a stand as he got to his feet. “Let’s get you to bed now, baby.”
“Love you, Grandpa,” Sammi replied, shuffling next to him.
Dean looked so happy when he left that Sam didn’t have the heart to mention that they’d be camping. His mouth twitched and he snorted – Canfield was going to be the least of Dean Winchester’s problems come Friday morning.
Mel was looking right at him, a small smile on her face, before she stood up and kissed him on the forehead. “Sometimes you’re a bad man, Granddad.”
“About the scheme to get Uncle Dean to go camping?” Mel nodded, didn’t even wait for him to answer. “Sammi asked me how to make s’mores.” She winked. “Don’t worry. Sam Winchester’s side of the family sticks together, especially when Dean Winchester’s side of the family gets too cocky.” Her eyes narrowed. “I think they’re up to something. I mean, s’mores? Seems to me like Chris and Dan are planning some stupid prank with half-melted marshmallows but they’ve forgotten that we’re the side of the family that can super-glue beer bottles to their hands without them even noticing.”
Sam couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he squeezed his baby into a tight hug.
“What the hell have you done to the kids, Sammy?”
Sam looked up from his latest editing proof, his finger paused in mid-air over the Page Down button. His comments on the current edit were due to the publisher by Monday and Alan wouldn’t take ‘We took the kids to Canfield’ as an excuse for it being late. Publishing schedules waited for no man, especially when your publisher was hoping to cash in on the popularity of your last book.
“I mean, look at them!” Dean was on a roll, gesturing out the large window in the cabin, past gingham curtains tied back with bows. Chris and Dan were pulling duffel bags out of the truck and Mel’s jalopy while Sammi painstakingly set up the pieces on the shuffle board outside. Mel was opening the front door, two bags of groceries in her arms. “They’re domesticated,” Dean added, his voice going thick in his throat.
“All it took to domesticate you, Dean, was a chicken pot pie,” Sam retorted.
“There were extenuating circumstances. You’ve eaten Molly’s cooking!” Dean’s breath came out in a huff and he rubbed his stomach absent-mindedly, no longer even trying to hide the results of being well fed. “We’re camping!”
“In a cabin.” Sam gently pointed out.
As cabins went, it wasn’t half bad. The outside was a little weather-beaten but given it was probably as old as Dean that was reasonable; the surrounding trees gave a nice sense of permanence and there was a fire pit near the picnic table outside. The furniture on the inside was comfortable, a little too country for Sam’s tastes but he had to live with the patchwork wooden chicken slapped onto the kitchen wall at home, so he figured he could live with anything. The chicken had been Dean’s sole contribution to the household’s ‘art’ collection; Sam blamed all the motels they used to stay in.
“The closest we ever came to camping was that one time we were hungry and cooked hot dogs over rock salted bo –” Dean’s eyes glanced towards Mel. His nearly-grown granddaughter returned Dean’s glance mildly, a soft smile on her face. She had the same dark hair as Sam had but she kept it cut close – shorter than Sam would have worn when he was eighteen. When her eyes met Sam’s, her smile turned into a full-on grin. Dean had moved on, working himself up to waving his arms. “We’re in a freaking KOA, Sam!”
“It’ll do the kids good to get close to nature.” Sam hid his own smile behind his hand, pretending to rub his face thoughtfully when Dean’s sharp hazel eyes turned towards him. The door opened again and the twins came in carrying the duffel bags. “And the boys wanted to go to Canfield this afternoon,” he added.
“Why the fuck would anyone want to go to Canfield?” Dean rolled his eyes. “The only place more boring is the Kansas City Museum of Natural History. When I asked that do-whatever about the sex exhibit, she almost kicked me out. Nothing more natural than sex.”
“Dean!” Sam’s mouth flattened. Watch your language! Dean looked away with a slight shrug, not hiding the grin on his face. Dean had watched his mouth while the kids were small enough to repeat anything said in front of them, but as soon as they could understand appropriate use Dean had stopped guarding what he was saying with the reasoning that Dad’s language hadn’t hurt either of them.
“We just decided to get a head start on our project for school,” Dan said as he dumped two of the duffels in the middle of the room and shrugged his shoulders, smiling at his brother. When Chris smiled back, Sam was struck by how much they looked like Dean. “Besides, Sammi wanted to go camping. Said she wanted to make s’mores over a campfire and listen to your old stories, Grandpa.”
Dean’s shoulders sagged and he scratched underneath his ear. “Well…” He looked up as the screen door slammed shut, Sammi standing there as gangly as her mother had been when Katie was thirteen; caught between a little girl who still had skinned knees and the woman she was going to become. Sam didn’t blame Dean for pulling her into a hug. “You could have made s’mores in the backyard,” Dean groaned softly. “We didn’t have to go to a freaking KOA for that.”
Sam smirked. It was the closest Dean would come to admitting that he’d do just about anything to make his family happy.
“But I wanted to visit Canfield, too.” Sammi’s voice was gentle. “I don’t remember a lot of what Great Uncle Sam said about it the last time we were there.”
That didn’t surprise Sam – they went the summer after Molly died and Sammi had been hit by her grandmother’s death almost as hard as Dean had, taking to sitting in the kitchen and looking at all of the old picture albums with her grandfather. It didn’t do either of them any good so Sam decided to take the kids on daytrips to local tourist spots or parks; maybe it wasn’t a good time to visit Water Loops but it got them all out of the house, away from sharp memories and the expectations that Molly was singing in another room or tending her roses outside.
Molly had been gone for five years now but it still seemed like she was there; a living memory. Like their mother, Molly Winchester was as cherished as she had been the day Dean carried her, kicking and laughing with her arms thrown around his neck, over the threshold of the big white farmhouse. Every nook and cranny of their lives was touched by her, proof that Winchesters didn’t love by halves; that it was more about heart than it ever was about guts.
Sam surreptitiously wiped his eyes, hoping Dean was too caught up with his granddaughter to notice. Mel had seen it, however, and she slipped her arm through Sam’s like she used to do when she six; kissing his cheek softly and leaning her head on his shoulder. He coughed. “Anyone up for lunch?” he asked, voice rough in his throat.
Dean had the kids loaded down with backpacks and enough provisions to last in the backcountry for three days. He’d even slipped two packets of hot dogs into a soft-sided six-pack cooler with some ice and strapped it onto his own pack, grimacing at Sam when he burst out laughing. They were going to a historical landmark within walking distance of the KOA, for God’s sake. No one was going to starve in the ten minutes it would take to get back to the cabin.
Canfield had fared worse than he’d feared in the five years since they’d last been there. The upkeep on the buildings was minimal and the formerly enthusiastic and helpful staff had been reduced to three volunteers trudging around in threadbare historical costumes. The graffiti on the back wall of the old blacksmith’s shop was proof that Canfield had been without a security guard for too long. There were no activities going on and nothing educational for the kids beyond what he could provide.
Canfield had become a sad collection of buildings that had seen better days.
Sam could appreciate the feeling, limping behind his granddaughter. It was cooler than it should have been for the time of year and the chill slipped right into the cracks between his joints. His knees hadn’t hurt like this in years, giving the occasional audible creak as he trundled behind Mel. Without even asking, Mel slipped her arm around his waist and walked side-by-side, her soft smile flashing before she asked a question. She didn’t flinch when a little bit of his weight settled against her hip.
Dan and Chris were walking around peering curiously at every building, Sammi trailing behind with Dean. All three of were walking around with notebooks, the boys making sketches. Dean grimaced every time one of them asked a question, hazel eyes rolling dramatically when Sam answered, but Dean kept his mouth shut.
They asked every question imaginable – when was the town founded, what kind of people settled there, was there any kind of mystery associated with the town. Sam wasn’t about to tell them about its werewolf infestation back in 1883, when it was a booming stop on a trade route, but he answered their normal questions with all the detail he’d have given in one of his lectures.
Sam made the answers as full as he could, watching the boys furiously scribble notes and Dean start to fidget; blowing air rhythmically through his mouth while hopping – in what passed as subtle for Dean – from foot to foot. Sam was experienced at ignoring his brother’s more annoying habits though, and kept his tone even. The twins were completely engaged in what he was telling them.
Dean gave up and sat down on one of the benches in the middle of town, all but snoring. Sammi looked like she was trying to pay attention to Sam’s comments about the general store, eyes blinking as she leaned her head against Dean’s arm, but she kept looking sleepily around her until she fixed on the old Presbyterian church off the main town square. She made a face. “That building looks weird.”
“It used to be a church,” Sam said. And she was right – when the local Presbyterian community decided to deconsecrate the church, some idiot got the bright idea of knocking the cross completely off the steeple. The college managed to save it from total destruction but even the Kansas State Historical Society wasn’t about to get mixed up in a political debate about keeping the cross on a church that hadn’t been used in over a century. “They defaced the building.”
“Used to be a church,” Chris questioned, glancing at Dan.
Dan frowned. “Wouldn’t it still be a church? It looks funny but the building’s still there…”
Sam opened his mouth to answer but Dean started speaking first. “Churches are sanctified. Consecrated.” He grinned. “Remember Tales from the Crypt? The Demon Knight one? Where they were in the hotel that used to be a church and they poured the holy blood over the door to seal it from the demons? Well, the hotel had been deconsecrated, which is why they had to use the blood. Consecrating a church makes it holy.” Dean made a face. “Although holy blood wouldn’t consecrate jack shit, and it…” he trailed off as Sam stared at him, willing him to shut up before he started telling the kids all about the demons who’d be quite comfortable in a holy place.
“So if it’s deconsecrated,” Chris grinned. “It’s not holy anymore? And it’s totally where someone would summon demons in a movie.”
Dean nodded and looked over at Sam. Sam nodded; he’d been over with the group that came to stop any more damage to the church and he’d carved a couple of sigils at the entrances that should have made the building unpalatable to demonic forces.
“You learn something new every day.” Dan was smiling and Sammi had perked up and there was a grin on her face. Chris was still writing in his notebook, looking for all the world like he was sketching a picture of the building.
“Did the townspeople have a lot of interaction with the Potawatomi?” Mel asked suddenly. She was looking off towards the sawbones’ hut, eyes narrowing when she saw the sigil inscribed on the door. “That’s Raven, isn’t it?” Her brow furrowed. “I find it hard to believe that white settlers were getting on so well with the local tribe that their doctor had common Raven symbology painted on his door.”
Sam pursed his mouth. “Canfield was tolerant.” He and Dean exchanged a glance; he wasn’t about to tell her that the sawbones had attempted to use Potawatomi magic in 1892 and that’s why Canfield had become a ghost town, cursed by the very powers the man had tried to control. “Lots of Kansas was back then.”
“I know, but a Raven symbol? That’s invoking the power of Creation itself and I don’t...”
“Me-el!” Sammi drew out her cousin’s name. “It’s almost dinnertime.”
“You hungry, kiddo?” Dean was already reaching for the soft-sided cooler. “Got some hot dogs right here.”
“I hate raw hot dogs.” Her eyes lit up. “But we can cook them over the campfire back at the cabin.”
“And the mosquitoes are coming out,” Chris added, slapping his arm.
Dean’s mouth pursed and he smacked his own thigh. “Well, hot damn, Chris. You’re right.”
“They don’t bite through jeans, Dean.” Sam snorted.
“Mutant ones do, Sammy.” Dean chuckled and stood up, heading towards the parking lot, Sammi in his wake. Chris and Dan grinned at each other and followed their grandfather.
Mel stared at them with arms folded on her chest. “They’re up to something.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. He chuckled to himself and squeezed her shoulder. “As long as they get up to it inside; the cold’s been bad for my leg and there’s no way the twins can be anywhere near as annoying as Dean was at their age.”
“I’ve got some of Earthfriend’s salve at the cabin.”
“Don’t you dare tell Dean that Britney’s been making me salve.” Unlike her charms, Britney’s salves actually worked. Sam respected John Green too much to call Britney by her chosen shamanic name but that still hadn’t kept him from inviting her over to dinner just to watch her flirt with Dean. It was too bad Britney Earthfriend had a shift at McAllisters every Friday night.
“I promise, Granddad.” Mel smiled at him. “And let me know when you want to turn the tables. I’m still pissed at the twins for leaving that smell in my car...”
The setting sun was no longer even a glow against the horizon and the mutant mosquitoes had given up the fight against the amount of garlic wafting around the campsite. Molly’s spaghetti sauce recipe had always been pungent enough to be slightly anti-social but tonight’s had had some help from the twins – who thought Dean’s taste had become bland in his old age and had done some re-seasoning on his behalf – and Sam reckoned that none of the family would be bitten by anything, ever again.
Sam settled himself back against the picnic table and watched as Dean snuck another log into the fire, causing sparks to fly up around his feet. Dean was never happier than when a family celebration involved fire and tended to work on the principle of more is better. The whole family had been relieved when Pleasant Grove had finally voted to let Dean run their fireworks display and he could take his pyromaniac tendencies out of the back yard and into the town square; for all he eschewed religion, there was something fundamentally pagan about the oldest Winchester.
Even with the heat from their inferno fire pit Sam’s knees ached. The walking and the cold at Canfield hadn’t served them well, and the salve he’d rubbed into them before dinner was barely making a dent in the pain. He didn’t like taking medication – Dad’s strict policy of only taking pain killers when it was really necessary still echoed in his head – but if they didn’t ease a little soon he’d have to.
Dean walked back over to the table via the cooler and silently moved Chris round a little so Sam had nothing between him and the heat. They sat companionably with their backs to the table, watching Mel and the twins stick their twisted hangers topped with marshmallows into the flames and Sammi spread out graham crackers before painstakingly putting pieces of chocolate bar on them. She took her cooking, even making s’mores, as seriously as her grandmother.
“Do you remember the s’mores cheesecake Molly made? The one with the caramel sauce?” Sam asked. She was always experimenting with cheesecake; it was her favorite dessert. Sam fell in love a little with her himself when she took a bite of the packet cheesecake Dean’d forced him to make, with its sauce of thinned strawberry jam, and professed it to be one of the nicest she’d ever tasted.
“Remember it? I think I gained ten pounds every time she tweaked the recipe,” Dean smiled ruefully, patting his belly.
“Do you have the recipe, Grandpa?” Sammi handed a piece of graham cracker to Mel, slapping the final cracker on top when her cousin slipped the marshmallow off her hanger. “Maybe we can make it next week when Mom and Dad come home.”
“Your mom will eat cheesecake on that power diet of hers?” Dean snorted.
“That diet’s better than the all-natural crap we have to eat with Uncle Hulsu,” Chris wrinkled his nose. “Granola and yogurt for breakfast instead of pancakes. And all that vegetarian food.” He made a gagging noise, sliding another marshmallow onto a hanger. “Hummus blows.”
“I blame Sammy for that. Back when we were kids, we’d go on road trips with Dad and, every time we stopped, Sam would get a can of peas instead of real food like M and Ms. He’d even eat the damn peas raw, right out of the can.”
“You do realize all those vegetables in a can are pre-cooked, don’t you? That you’re just heating them up?” Sam shook his head. “And it’s not Hulsu’s fault that his mom had allergies to about everything.”
Dean just chuckled and bit into the s’more that Sammi had handed him, yawning her head off
“Long day, Sammi?” He smiled up at his granddaughter, who nodded and smiled stickily.
“But it was a great day,” Dan said. “We learned everything we needed to know about Canfield. It’s going to be totally easy.” He grinned over at Chris.
Mel turned her head, sharply. “What’s going to be easy?”
“Our paper,” Chris sing-songed. “The one we’re writing on Canfield. You know, the reason why we’re here.”
“And which class is this for?” She frowned.
“Social studies… Sheesh.” He grinned. “Is this about the car?”
Mel narrowed her eyes. “I am so paying you back for that.”
“You know, not everything we do is to make your life hell, Mel.” Chris handed her some marshmallows. “Sometimes,” he added, glancing at Sammi, “We play jokes on the squirt, too.”
“I am not a squirt!” Sammi pouted.
“Behold our progeny, Sammy.” Dean grinned at him. “It’s almost enough to warm the dark cockles of my heart.”
“If you start singing Kumbaya, Dean, I’m going back inside.” But Sam had to grin back. Some days, it had seemed like they’d never have this – as close to a normal life as any he’d ever dreamed of when he was growing up. After Dad died, Sam swore he would have been dead by thirty – and maybe he didn’t have the life that he expected but he wouldn’t trade his dark-eyed son and his whip-smart granddaughter for anything else that might have been.
“Fuck Kumbaya, Sam. We’re Winchesters.” His brother’s eyes twinkled and suddenly he was bellowing out the words to a song Sam could sing in his sleep after so many years of traveling in the Impala.
The curtains in several of the nearby cabins rustled, eyes peering outside, but that didn’t keep the kids from joining in on the second part of the chorus. Sam ducked his head a little, smiling, and passed Dean another beer. His brother grinned gratefully and took a long swallow before he continued singing. Sam shook his head, and grinned back, only slightly worried about annoying the neighbors.
“The earth was quaking, my mind was aching –” Dean’s voice might have cracked a little but the kids didn’t notice, too busy screeching AC/DC. Dean held out his hand, fingers completely open, and tilted the beer bottle. “You little bitch,” he yelled. “This is so on, baldie.”
Sam just held up his tube of superglue and laughed. Forty years of the same joke and Dean still never saw it coming.