Merry Christmas! Okay, so this chapter is a little shorter than my normal ones, but it's 2:30 and I still have to wrap gifts, so forgive me. Also, someone asked why Dean's gravestone didn't say 2005 on it because of Skin. Simple explanation, it could have...I didn't show the dates, doesn't mean that that isn't what it says...longer explanation? I've got 2...one, the scene showed a future where Sam and Dean both die at the same time, and since Sam didn't die in Skin, those graves are at a different place in a different time, I'm sure no one would mind there being more than one Dean Winchester...after all, there's another girl at college with my name, and that's a small population...
Second explanation...I don't think I mentioned a time frame for this, but seeing as the Bugs episode took place in March, I'm placing it before Bloody Mary...so whatever Dean does in this chapter managed to shape the future and the Ghost of Christmas didn't know that that was what was going to happen...
Anyway, enjoy my ending...
Dean spent a full five minutes waiting for Sammy to pop out again, laughing at how he was acting, but the ghost was gone, leaving the man to his own devices. The sight of his brother's gravestone unsettled him more than he cared to admit, and much more than the sight of his own next to it had. Dean could all too easily recount too many memories of almost losing his baby brother, but every time the boy had been returned to him, no worse for the wear in the long run. But that grave marker had an air of finality that no run in with some evil entity could muster.
He took one look in on Sam, making sure that his brother was still all right, simply sleeping off his headache dreamlessly. Dean could see the younger man still lying on the bed in the same position he had left him, the washcloth still draped across his forehead, even if it was long-since dry. A glance at his watch showed that there was still a few hours before sunrise; still time to salvage Sam's Christmas. The Impala's keys were left on the dresser next to Sam's face in case of emergency, and to assure the younger brother that he hadn't been abandoned should he wake, and the washcloth was thrown back towards the bathroom.
Dean was quickly finding himself rethinking his plan to leave the car behind as he searched the town for anything that would help him. He had been thinking about the Christmas play his middle school had put on when he was younger, and he was praying that this town would have had the same idea. But the man couldn't put that thought to rest until he found a middle school; or any school really. He had pilfered a small set of lights from the police department display, figuring that somehow the officials would manage to piss him off in the next few days anyway. A small book, found discarded at the town park was under Dean's arm, and his flashlight was in the other hand.
The back road was deserted, its normal travelers 'dancing with sugar plums' by this time of night, Dean mused. The setting was almost ethereal; the moon shining off the snow exuding peace, and the lone wanderer found himself oddly at ease. He knew that his brother would be worried if he woke up, knew that something could get the drop on either of them at any time, but he felt as though something would keep the evils at bay for tonight, allowing him to finish his tasks.
He came to the end of that street and found himself idly looking for a star or some other sign to guide him to his destination. He almost laughed out loud when nothing jumped out on him and fell back on his instincts, heading off towards the right. Dean wasn't entirely sure when he had left the center of town to find himself on these back roads, but he was pleased to see after some more searching that he had found a set of schools. He walked into the parking lot of the first one he came across and prayed that Christmas Eve celebrations were more important to the local law enforcement than watching out for vandals or vagrants looking for mischief.
Dean stared at the dumpster now in front of him. The school had been locked up tightly, and now he stood there, arguing with himself. Sammy better appreciate this, he thought as he rolled up his sleeves and pulled himself up against the side of the trash container. Both fortunately and unfortunately, it hadn't been emptied that day, and was full of bags.
Unwilling to jump inside, Dean reached forward, pulling and ripping bags to get a better view of their contents. He almost dropped back to the ground when a few of the bags proved to be more ripe than he had hoped, but he kept on his quest; glad that he hadn't eaten recently. He finally did drop to the ground, holding his hands disgustedly in front of him so that they wouldn't brush against his leather jacket, as he headed off to the next school. A backwards glance at the school made him pause to think about his original plan. He supposed that the local high school wouldn't have many of what he was looking for, and wondered if he should just head to the next school or search out which was the middle school. He had a feeling that was where he would find his treasure.
His thoughts proved moot as the next school was the middle school, and he repeated the process, almost falling into the dumpster as he misjudged the height and strength needed to pull himself up. Flailing one arm backwards before he flipped in head first, Dean found himself on the ground once more, tempted to run his fingers through his hair to make sure he hadn't brushed against the trash inside before he remembered where they'd been. He was definitely taking the longest, hottest shower he could manage back at the motel as a Christmas gift to himself after this.
Dean jumped up to the lip of the metal container once more, almost immediately rewarded for his efforts. There, amidst half-eaten cookies and red and green construction paper chains was his prize.
It was quite possibly the sorriest excuse for a tree he had ever seen. Dean was pretty sure it was even more pathetic looking than the one he found when he was twelve. There were a total of six branches, most of the pine needles were already falling off, and the top was bent. The twig couldn't have been more than two or three feet high. It was perfect.
Dean grabbed a few of the paper chains, weeding through the links to find the cleanest section he could, and draped it around the tree before grabbing the thing by its 'trunk' and dropping back to the ground once more.
He found that he was face to face with a flashlight and a police officer. Dean was glad that the string of lights was well hidden in his inside pocket. See? I knew they'd manage to screw me over somehow.
"I…uhh…" Dean held up the tree and smiled guiltily, trying to picture his brother's puppy dog look that had gotten him out of so much trouble when they were boys.
"If you leave now, I think I can pretend that I never saw you here. It is Christmas after all."
Dean nodded and bolted off, yelling a thank you back at the man as he did so. He had to get back to the motel before Sam woke up.
He made it back in record time, sliding the key from his pocket at the same time as he dropped the tree and decorations outside the door. If Sam was awake, they would have to be brought in later, hopefully when the younger Winchester wouldn't notice…somehow. Dean unlocked the door quietly and peered in, relieved and concerned all at the same time to see his brother hadn't moved. Something could have come in and done anything without him knowing about it, and the knowledge that Dean had left him alone in that state shot a quick pang of guilt to his heart. But nothing had happened, and he had long ago learned to put his emotions behind him as quickly as possible.
The tree was quickly balanced against a corner, the lights strung on it and the paper chain placed carefully around it, as far from the lights as possible. Dean had no desire to turn Sam's memory of this Christmas into a flight from yet another burning building, and made sure the firetrap tree was as safe as possible. He placed the small children's book under the tree and stepped back to appraise the tree; pleased with his work.
But something was still missing; Dean was sure of it. He stared at the bent branch that made the point of the tree and realized what it was. It was time to let Sam glimpse the smallest bit of Dean's sentimental side; it seemed to scream at him.
Dean started when he heard his brother groan behind him. He wasn't ready yet! It wasn't morning yet! His baby brother needed to stay in dreamland for just a little while longer!
It seemed that the gods were smiling on him once more as Sam merely cracked an eyelid to look at the clock before dropping his face down to the pillows again, out before it had sunk in completely. At least now Dean knew that his brother was going to be just fine; his hard head was indeed as hard as they had both hoped.
Dean smiled, knowing what he now had to do. The one place he had always been able to keep things hidden from his father was almost literally right under the man's nose the whole time his boys had been growing up. Sam had his lockbox, always stored under a bed, even now hidden under a bed of weapons in the Impala's trunk, and Dean had his hiding place too. The twenty-six year old reached into his pocket for a seldom used key as he headed out to the car.
Under the driver's seat of the Impala was a small black box, not unlike Sam's. The lock still gleamed, although it hadn't been touched in some time. It had resided there for as long as Dean could remember, knowing that his father rarely took the time to search under the car seats, and that it had always been the oldest son's job to vacuum and clean the carpets after a hunt. Sam had been charged with the outside, Dean with the inside, and it had provided the perfect cover for his box.
So it was here now that he sat, clutching the box as he leaned against the back seat. Simply sitting there brought back memories, but there was no time for that now. He needed to get back inside before Sam woke up, maybe be able to catch a little sleep before his brother did so.
So he rifled past the bullet from his first kill and Sam's first report card, pulling out his first gun and setting it down beside him. And then he saw it. It was a little folded and a corner was ripped, but other than that, it was in the same condition it had been when it was made. Sam's yellow star.
Childhood memories were shoved back into the box and it was locked and stowed away quickly. But the star remained. It was this that Dean had found missing from his tree, and this that now needed to come back into the world. It was Sam's innocence and hope that there was still good in the world that could be explained by Santa Claus, precariously held together with glitter and glue.
Now that the tree was complete, Dean was faced with a conundrum. He wanted to shower more than anything in the world, feeling as though it must have been months since he showered last due to the smell that was wafting up to him from his hands. But he was afraid that he would miss Sam's awakening if he did so. The man bit his lip in thought, glancing back and forth between his brother and the bathroom.
Dean tentatively lifted a hand towards his nose, taking the smallest sniff he could manage in order to determine if he was being paranoid or not. His brain hadn't finished processing the signal from his nose before he was locked in the bathroom, trying to clean any trace of the scent from him as pleading with his brother not to wake up.
Two rounds with the shampoo and almost all the hot water later, Dean finally felt as though his Christmas gift had been duly taken care of. He quickly shrugged back into clothing and peeked out into the bedroom with bated breath.
Sam was still passed out on the bed; now lying on his stomach with one hand having fallen off the side. Dean looked up at the ceiling again before sitting down next to his brother. A hand on the younger man's back assured him that no nightmares plagued him and the concussion hadn't taken a turn for the worse as Sam shifted subconsciously. A second later, the concussed man was awake, sitting back on his knees and pulling away from whatever had startled him. The shooting pain in his head, two Advil shoved under his nose, and his brother's other hand held up in peace cleared away the last remnants of sleep, and the hunter relaxed.
"Morning, Sammy. Merry Christmas!" Dean smiled at his brother, watching the look of confusion cross his features.
"Not today it isn't. Here, Merry Christmas."
The Advil were placed into Sam's palm and after they were dry-swallowed, he looked back up at his brother. "Who are you and what have you done with Dean?"
"Very funny, Sammy. Go shower or something, you smell." He watched as Sam glared at him before throwing himself off the bed. He turned away from his brother and managed a full step before he stopped dead.
"Dean?" When the younger man turned around, his brother was rewarded for all his night time wandering. The smile that lit up his face was almost equal to what the eight-year old Sam's had been, and for the first time since Jess had died, there was a spark in Sam's eye that Dean found he had sorely missed. "When did you…"
"Santa Claus came. It's not much, I know, and I wish I could have done more, but…"
"Dean. That is possibly the saddest Christmas tree I have ever seen. It's perfect. Thank you."
"You're welcome Sammy. Now seriously; go shower, consider it your Christmas gift to me. Please?"
Sam grumbled, but he didn't correct the nickname and found himself staring at the tree again.
When he had showered, and Dean was inexplicably showering again, Sam found himself staring once more. The paper chain and the lights were plain enough and warranted no further explanation. But something oddly familiar was tugging at Sam and he found that he was drawn to a time fourteen years past. He was ripped from his reverie before he could truly place what had gotten him there as Dean emerged, smelling his hands.
"You okay there, Sammy?"
The nickname was starting to get to him again, but the combination of it and the object of his gaze finally clicked. "Dean? Is that…my star?"
Dean laughed, pulling a shirt on and shaking out his hair. "Yeah."
"But how? Where?"
"I've had it."
"My brother keeps things like this?"
Sam saw the smallest amount of tension at the revelation and smiled. "Jerk."
Sam shook his head, reaching out to touch the construction paper before turning back to his now dressed brother. Christmas was nice and all, but they had a hunt to finish, and he was sure that Dean would be itching to get going.
"So what are we hunting today? Research? The locals?"
"Christmas dinner. Well, later on that is."
"It'll be there tomorrow, Sammy. Don't worry about that right now. What should we do for Christmas?"
"Okay, seriously now. Who are you and what have you done with my brother?"
"I just…realized that sometimes there can be some things more important than the hunt. Rarely, mind you," Dean nodded as if to assure that he really was who he said he was. "But days like today shouldn't be forgotten."
"Days like today?"
"Christmas, Sammy. Are you sure you didn't hit your head too hard?" He jokingly moved to check his brother's pupils.
"Quit it." Sam batted Dean's hands away. "But I thought you didn't care about Christmas?"
"Someone…cleared that up for me."
Dean could have sworn he could see an eight-year old Sam peeking in the motel room window. He smiled and turned to face his Sam. "You did."
Okay, so I know it's hokey, but it's Christmas, so it deserves to be...And now I can hopefully stop getting distracted by new plot bunnies and get back to Blindsided...I promise I'll have a new chapter out in the next few days...