Santa's Workshop (PG, Gen)
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters nor am I making any money from them.
Notes: Thanks to Angela for the usual insightful beta.
Summary: Written for the following prompt: 'Dean and Sam get jobs for the lead up to Christmas, Dean is a Santa in a shopping centre and Sam is one of Santa's elves.'
"You've gotta be kidding me."
Dean stood in the bathroom doorway, expression horror-struck, a toothbrush in one hand and a tube of toothpaste in the other. Sam had deliberately waited until his brother was out of eyeshot before outlining the job he'd found for them in the local paper.
Rockford, Texas, could hardly be described as a hotbed of supernatural activity. There was no prospect of a new hunt, they were short of money and it was the week before Christmas. After only two days Dean was already going stir crazy, and a bored Dean was one Sam could do without. He had begun scouring the local daily for something – anything – that had even the faint aroma of the supernatural. While this had proved futile, he had come across something that might just solve all of his problems.
If he could only convince his brother that it was a good idea.
"Look, Dean, it's easy money", he said in his most persuasive voice. "They were desperate, so they're offering more than the going rate."
Dean moved back into the bathroom. "What's wrong with hustling pool?"
"You almost got your teeth kicked in last night hustling pool," Sam said mildly, walking over to lean against the doorframe.
"In their dreams," Dean scoffed around a mouthful of toothpaste. "And those guys just had no Christmas spirit."
"That's another thing. It's almost Christmas. There's something not quite right about hustling at Christmas."
Dean spat out a mouthful of toothpaste. "Why?"
"Well," Sam floundered. "It's Christmas!" Oh, yeah, that sounded real convincing. "Come on, Dean, there's nothing wrong with earning some honest money for a change."
Dean rolled his eyes, finished cleaning his teeth and stalked out of the bathroom, flopping down on his bed.
Sam followed him across the room. "We'd be helping them out, Dean. Their Santa and a few of the elves have gone down with the flu, and they're desperate. And it's for charity – most of the entry money goes to pay for toys for poor kids."
Dean cowered, hands up in a defensive stance. "No, please, don't play the charity card!"
"So, we'll take the job?"
"Come on, man, an elf and Santa Claus? You know I hate Santa Claus."
"Yeah, I know. What I've never understood is why."
Dean had always had this strange dislike of Santa. Even when they were kids, he'd never written a Christmas wish list and hated visiting Santa in the mall. He'd take Sam, grudgingly, but would never go in to see Santa himself.
Sam looked expectantly at his brother, wondering if an explanation would finally be forthcoming, but Dean was silent.
Sam shrugged. "Anyway, it could be worse."
Dean looked at him threateningly. "If you so much as mention Spiderman, you're dead meat, dude."
Sam grinned. He still had the photos he'd secretly taken of Dean dressed in a Spiderman costume, entertaining a ward of terminally-ill children. "Admit it, you loved every minute!"
"Look, it's only for a few days," Sam said. "What's the big deal?" He paused. "Don't tell me you're scared of a few little kids!"
"Don't be a dumbass, Sam."
Sam folded his arms and looked at his brother challengingly. "Okay then. Tell me. What's the big deal?"
"It's a stupid idea, that's all."
"Well, come up with a better one, then." Sam intended to dig his heels in on this one. "Something that doesn't involve hustling or breaking the law."
Dean glared some more. Sam held his gaze and glared back. Eventually, Dean sighed theatrically. "Fine. I may regret this for the rest of my life, but if it makes you happy, we'll take the job."
Sam grinned. "Cool."
Dean pouted for a while, and then asked, "So, which of us is Santa?"
"You. Mrs. Shepherd said I'm too young."
"What, and she thinks I'm old enough? Dude, I'm only twenty-seven!"
Sam looked at him seriously. "You're only three years off thirty and I wasn't going to tell you this, but when I was cleaning that lake-monster gore out of your hair last week, I found a couple of gray hairs."
The lie was worth it to see the expression of pure horror spread across Dean's face.
"Dude! You're kidding, right?" Dean leapt off the bed and peered into the mirror above the vanity table, frantically running his hands through his hair. "Sam? Tell me you're kidding?"
Pathetic. Sam toyed with the idea of pointing out a few gray hairs on the back of Dean's head, where his brother would be unable to see them for himself, but decided not to push his luck. He didn't want Dean changing his mind about this job. "Chill, Dean, I'm kidding. But you're still Santa."
Dean shot him an acidic look. "Anyway, you should be Santa. You're the one who believed in him 'til you were, what, sixteen?"
"Hey!" Sam yelped indignantly. "That's a total lie! And you know it is, because you're the one who beat up Billy Halligan for telling me the truth in third grade."
Dean grinned. "Kid was a pain in the ass. He was asking for it."
Sam picked up his cell. "I'll call Mrs. Shepherd and tell her we'll take the job."
He had just started dialing when Dean said, "Hey, Sam."
"You totally believed in the tooth fairy 'til you were fourteen."
Sam threw a pillow at him and turned his back on his brother's snort of laughter. "Mrs. Shepherd? This is Sam Carrey. I'm calling back about the job."
At 9 a.m. the following morning, the brothers walked through the main entrance to Riverview Mall. Christmas paraphernalia adorned every possible wall and there was no need to ask directions to Santa's Workshop – tinsel-covered signs every few feet pointed in the right direction. Christmas music blared cheerily through loudspeakers at regular intervals and the mall was already filling up with Christmas shoppers.
Sam watched Dean get more and more tense as they walked until finally, he came to an abrupt halt beside one of the speakers.
"Man," Dean growled. "If I hear Rudolph the red-nosed freakin' reindeer one more time, I'm gonna tear down every single speaker in this mall and punch Rudy in his freakin' big-ass nose."
"Dean, that's no way for Santa to talk," Sam scolded. "You need to start getting into the role." He ignored his brother's venomous glare and tried a different tack. "Has it occurred to you that there'll probably be female elves as well as male?"
"Really?" Dean's face brightened. "You think they'll be wearing those cute little Santa outfits we saw on TV last night?"
Sam gave his brother his best withering look. "That was a commercial on a porn channel. I hardly think the Rockford Presbyterian Women's Circle is into that kind of thing."
Dean's face dropped. "Too bad."
Sam glanced at him. He knew Dean wasn't totally sold on this job, but he had the feeling that something in particular was bothering his brother. He was about to say something about it, when Dean stopped.
"Looks like this is it," Dean said.
Santa's Workshop was located in the center court of the mall. It consisted of a large square construction decorated very professionally to look like a log cabin. All around it were models of snowmen, reindeer and other assorted figures, and imitation snow covered the ground. An enormous Christmas tree stood to one side and a large sign announced in bright red and green lettering, "Come and meet Santa Claus! All children welcome and presents for all. Have your photo taken with Santa! Proceeds to St Joseph's orphanage."
Sam watched Dean closely as Dean stood silently looking at the scene before him. An expression Sam couldn't identify passed over his brother's face, and then Sam saw him deliberately square his jaw before turning to Sam and smiling.
"Okay, elf-boy, looks like we've found Santa's HQ. What now?"
There were a few inquisitive children standing around, but little other activity. They stood for a moment, uncertain what to do next, until a short, plump woman with gray hair and a pair of reindeer antlers emerged from the Workshop.
"I'm sorry, we don't open until 10 a.m.," she said with a cheery smile.
"I'm Sam Carrey," Sam said, holding out his hand. "We talked on the phone, about the jobs?"
"Oh, dear, of course, yes. I'm Dottie, Dottie Shepherd. I'm so pleased to see you. You've really saved our bacon, Sam." She looked around. "Where's your brother?"
Dean loudly cleared his throat and opened his mouth. Sam stood on his foot to prevent a caustic comment and said quickly, "This is my brother, Dean."
Mrs. Shepherd's eyebrows shot right up into her antlers as she looked at Dean and then back at Sam. "You told me your brother was forty-seven!"
Sam gave her his most innocent look, ignoring Dean's glare. "Twenty-seven," he said politely. "You must have misheard. It wasn't a very good connection."
Mrs. Shepherd sighed dramatically. "Well, it's too late now. You'll just have to do. Sam, do you have those references you promised me?"
Sam fished in his pocket and handed over the bogus references he'd knocked up on the laptop the previous evening. Mrs. Shepherd fished a pair of reading glasses out of her shirt pocket and began to read. After a moment, she looked up at Dean.
"So, you've worked with children before?"
Dean's eyes widened. "Uh, yeah—"
"It was a summer job," Sam supplied quickly. "He was hired to appear at children's parties in a Spiderman costume."
"Really?" Mrs. Shepherd was looking Dean up and down doubtfully.
"Oh, yeah. Dean really threw himself into the part—" Sam went on enthusiastically, and then winced as Dean stepped heavily on his foot.
"Well, the references look satisfactory," Mrs. Shepherd said with a bright smile. "Come along. We're using the changing rooms in Dixon's department store. The others are already there."
Sam blithely ignored Dean's hissed, "So help me Sam, if you mention Spiderman one more time..." as they followed their new employer into a nearby store and through to a large, open changing room. There they found four female and four male elves already in costume, milling around and chatting. There were also three people dressed in furry reindeer costumes with huge antlers and enormous red noses. It was hard to tell if they were male or female beneath the oversized furry heads.
"Dude, just look at those suckers! Man, they're just asking to be hunted down!"
Sam elbowed him in the ribs as Mrs. Shepherd turned and looked reprovingly over her shoulder. Dean smiled at her innocently, but Sam didn't miss the wicked grin that replaced the smile as soon as she looked away. He had to admit there was something a little – disturbing – about those massive reindeer heads with their plastic, staring eyes.
Still, Sam was more concerned about checking out the elf costumes. He was relieved to see that although the men wore luminous red and green tights under their tunics, the tunics were long and hid most of their legs. He wouldn't look as much of a dork as he'd feared.
Mrs. Shepherd called the collected elves and reindeer to attention. "Everyone, this is Dean and Sam. We're very grateful that they were able to join our little team at such short notice. Sam is taking Richard's place as an elf, and Dean will take over for Peter as Santa Claus. They'll be with us for a week initially, or until Richard and Peter are over the flu."
There were murmured greetings all round.
Dean nodded to the female elves, clustered together in a group. "So, who's going to be Santa's little helper this morning?" he asked, turning on his best chick-magnet smile.
To Sam's disgust it worked, because he heard a petite, black-haired elf mutter to her blonde counterpart, "Oooh, he's hot. I'm gonna make sure Peter never recovers from his flu."
Sam rolled his eyes and smiled reassuringly at Mrs. Shepherd, who was clearly concerned that she'd employed a sex maniac as Santa. She rallied quickly, though.
"Well, as everyone except Sam and Dean has been briefed, why don't you all go outside and get into positions. You can start giving out some flyers. Reggie should be there by now with the camera, and he'll want to take some practice shots."
The elves and reindeer filed out obediently, leaving Sam and Dean alone with Mrs. Shepherd.
"Right boys," she said briskly. "I'll leave you to get into your costumes. Be as quick as you can, time's flying along. I'll be back in twenty minutes."
Sam resisted the urge to salute.
"Did you get a look at that black-haired elf?" Dean commented enthusiastically, as soon as Mrs. Shepherd had left the room. "She can climb onto Santa's lap any day."
Sam ignored his brother and turned his attention to his costume. He stripped off his own clothes, hung them on a peg and then surveyed the elf outfit with some trepidation. He pulled on the tights first, reminding himself that it was all for the sake of the kids. The remainder of the costume consisted of a loose red and green tunic held in at the waist with a belt, soft green shoes turned up at the end with red pom poms and gold bells, and a red tassel hat with a huge green pom pom at the end. He pulled the tunic over his head and tightened the belt. It fit a little oddly, so he turned and looked at himself in the mirror. The elf that stared back at him had long legs with knobby knees and a tunic that was, frankly, at least eight inches two short.
Dean looked over and gave a wolf-whistle.
"Nice legs, bro'."
Sam ignored him, trying to fight back the flush that spread across his face and concentrated on trying to cram his feet into elf shoes at least two sizes too small.
"I've always said your feet are unnatural," Dean commented helpfully as he began to fasten the ties on the thick padding he had was required to wear under his costume. "Sam, come and help me with this stuff. I can't bend right with this freakin' padding."
Ten minutes and a lot of cussing later, Sam stepped back with some apprehension to observe Dean's transformation.
Sam felt his jaw drop. From the black, fur-topped boots to the red trousers and fur-trimmed coat, Dean looked every inch a Santa. The padding had successfully transformed his lean form into a rotund figure, and the wig, beard and red tassel hat obscured his youthful features to the extent that even Sam had to look closely to even recognize his brother.
Until Dean smiled his habitual cocky smile and shattered the illusion.
Dean did an awkward twirl. "Pretty cool, eh?"
Sam had to agree. "You look – man, you are Santa!"
Dean grinned. "Before you ask, you're not getting to sit on my lap, you perv."
"I can't tell you what a disappointment that isn't," Sam said dryly.
"Boys, how are you doing?" Mrs. Shepherd called. "Can I come in?"
"We're decent," Sam called back, and Mrs. Shepherd appeared around the curtain.
"Well, let's take a look at you, then."
First, she observed Dean from all angles, pulling at his jacket and adjusting the hat to her satisfaction. Then she stood back and nodded. "Well, you look much more the part than I'd expected. Yes, I really think you'll do!"
She walked over to Sam and frowned, pulling at the bottom of his tunic. "Sam, how did you get to be so tall?"
"He's a freak of nature, Ma'am," Dean supplied helpfully.
"And you can't possibly wear those shoes, they're far too small! You'll just have to wear your own and I'll see if I can get hold of a pair of extra-extra-large elf shoes tomorrow."
"There's a sports shop a few stores down," Dean said. "Maybe you could get a pair of flippers and spray them green?"
Obviously beginning to get Dean's measure, Mrs. Shepherd chose to ignore the comment.
"Now, the rules are simple," she said. "Sam, you'll start in the Workshop, helping your brother. You have to welcome each child in turn, and introduce him — or her — to Santa. The parent might want to come, too, and that's fine. Or they can watch from a distance. It really depends on each child. Dean, you'll be seated on Santa's throne. You'll sit the child in your lap, if the child is willing, ask the little cherub what it wants for Christmas, and give out a present from one of the tubs. Blue tub for boys, pink tub for girls. Then the child can have a photo taken with you, and that's it."
She carried on for another few minutes, outlining all the politically correct procedures that had to be followed. "Do you think you can remember all that?" she asked finally, directing the question at Dean with a distinct tinge of doubt in her voice.
"Piece of cake," Dean said airily.
Mrs. Shepherd didn't look too convinced — understandably, Sam thought — but she was nothing if not optimistic.
"Well, I'm sure everything is going to work out just fine. Now, I'm going out to see if everything's ready. I want you to follow me out to the entrance, then wait in the doorway until you hear them playing 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town'. Then you'll come out, wave to everyone, and take your place in the Workshop. All right?"
Dean nodded. "Got it."
"He'll be fine," Sam added, feeling that Mrs. Shepherd needed some additional reassurance. "He's very good with kids, really."
Mrs. Shepherd eyed Dean suspiciously once more and bustled away.
Sam and Dean followed more slowly. Sam glanced at Dean, who seemed to have lost his earlier unease. "You okay with all that?"
"Sure. It's easy. I jiggle the kid's mom on my knee and give the brat a toy from the … oof!"
Sam wished there had been a little less padding around Santa's middle when he jammed his elbow into Dean's ribs. Fortunately, Mrs. Shepherd seemed not to have heard and when she looked over her shoulder to check that they were following, Sam gave her his most disarming smile.
When they reached the door, Sam turned to his brother. "Dean, promise me you won't screw this up."
"Dude, I'm hurt," Dean said, his wide-eyed, innocent expression doing little to reassure Sam.
"Seriously, Dean, no scaring the little children."
"Sam, I do know the difference between Santa Claus and The Grinch."
From outside the jolly tones of 'Santa Clause is Coming to Town' began to sound. Dean pulled open the door and Sam hissed, "And no hitting on the little kids' moms!"
Dean gave him the finger behind his back and, with no little trepidation, Sam followed his brother out of the door.
Dean settled into his throne and Sam took up his position nearby. After a few moments, Mrs. Shepherd popped her head around the door. "Ready?"
"Oh, yeah," Dean said. "I was born ready. Let's roll."
The door was wedged open and the line began to file in. First up was a woman in her thirties, holding a very young girl by the hand.
Sam looked down at the child and said in his best cheerful-elf voice, "Hi there. Welcome to Santa's Workshop."
The little girl looked up at him. And up. And up. Her bottom lip began to quiver. "Mommy, it's a giant!" she whispered and burst into tears.
Sam didn't know who was the most embarrassed. It was probably a dead heat between him and the mother, who quickly ushered the wailing child out. Santa was doubled over, clutching his middle, his beard emitting a strangled sound as he tried to smother the laughter.
Mrs. Shepherd rushed in. "Sam, dear, I think it might be best if you and David swap for the morning. You might be better managing crowd control out here."
Too mortified to argue, Sam nodded and headed for the exit. Dean snorted, "See ya, Freaky-Monster-Elf," as he left.
Fortunately, the incident didn't seem to set a precedent for things to come. For the next two hours, Sam felt he more than earned his pay as an elf. He alternated between working the line, trying to keep impatient children happy, and acting as minder for the reindeer who were having difficulty seeing from within their furry heads. He couldn't see what was happening in the Workshop, but the steady flow of children came and went, and there were no sounds of screaming. In fact, the children and their parents all came out smiling and clutching photos. He even overheard several snippets of conversation that made him grin.
"Mom, that Santa's totally cool!"
"Daddy, Santa Claus gave me a high five!"
"And then Santa let me pull his beard…"
Finally, a comment from one of the moms made him laugh aloud.
"That Santa has the sexiest voice I've ever heard. I think I'll bring Jimmy back for another visit tomorrow!"
Sam began to think he'd drawn the short straw. After all, how hard could the Santa gig be, if Dean could do it for two hours without anyone actually calling the police? All he had to do was sit in a comfortable chair and pat a few kids on the head. Whereas Sam had been on his feet for two hours, trying to placate kids who wanted to talk to Santa, not one of his minion elves, not to mention acting as minder and bodyguard, protecting Rudolph from little monsters intent on pulling his nose off.
Eventually, the first shift of the day ended. The door to the Workshop was closed and within a few minutes, the area around was clear of all but assorted elves and reindeer.
Mrs. Shepherd fussed around them. "You all did an excellent good job this morning, everybody. There's an hour-and-a-half break before the afternoon shift. Reindeer and elves can go inside and relax, or you can wander around the mall – but please try to stay in character if you do."
Then she opened the door to the Workshop an inch and called, "Dean, honey, you might like to go into the changing room and take your costume off for a while, but don't touch the beard – it takes too long to glue on."
There was a muffled, "'kay" from inside.
"Dean, honey?" Since when had his brother become, "Dean, honey?"
"Dean did a wonderful job this morning, Sam," Mrs. Shepherd gushed. "I admit I had my doubts at first, but the children love him."
She bustled off. Sam was left wondering if it was really his brother in there or if Dean had managed to con someone else into donning the Santa costume and was even now across the street in his natural habitat, hustling pool.
Only one way to find out. He opened the door and entered the Workshop.
There was something infinitely disturbing in the sight of Santa Claus locked in a passionate embrace with the nubile elf seated on his lap. In fact, Sam was quite certain he was going to need therapy for some time to come to erase the image from his nightmares.
He caught Dean's eye and frowned fiercely. Dean reluctantly broke the kiss.
The black-haired elf hopped off Dean's lap, pulled a pen out from somewhere in her costume, rolled down one of Santa's white gloves and wrote something on the back of his hand. Then she kissed him chastely on the cheek. "See ya later, Santa." As she walked past Sam, she winked.
Dean looked at Sam.
Sam looked at Dean.
"Dude, that's just wrong. I'm pretty sure Santa isn't supposed to neck with his elves. Especially in his own workshop."
Dean smirked. "Who says? This Santa's been entertaining squealing kids for two hours. He needs some relief from the stress." He stood up and stretched. "Come on, Freaky-Monster-Elf. You gotta get me out of this costume. It's hotter than the fires of hell in here."
Sam chose not to comment on the inappropriateness of the metaphor.
Break over, Dean settled back into his throne. Sam, determined to witness his brother in action as Santa, had persuaded Mrs. Shepherd to allow him back into the Workshop, after promising to always crouch down to talk to the children. He took up his position at Santa's side and within minutes, the Workshop was open for business.
Several times during the next few hours, Sam found himself wondering if he'd been transported to a parallel dimension. A dimension in which everything he thought he knew about Dean was turned upside down.
Because quite frankly, his brother was freakin' awesome.
It didn't take long for Sam to realize that the Santa job wasn't quite as simple as he'd thought. The kids arrived in all shapes and sizes. Some were boisterous, some painfully shy, some downright evil and others so cocky and full of themselves that he wanted to slap them. And it was quite obvious that you couldn't treat them all the same.
Dean took it all in his stride and seemed to know instinctively how to talk to each child. Take the shy ones. Some Dean coaxed onto his lap. With others, he kept his distance, and for the life of him, Sam couldn't work out how Dean knew which tack to take.
That was surprising enough, but what impressed Sam the most was that Dean was taking this seriously. Sam didn't have a great deal of experience with shopping-mall Santas, but from what he'd observed, some were less than committed to their job, hurrying the kids through with one eye on the clock. Not Dean. He took the time to talk to each of them. Some he treated like equals, others he talked to seriously, some he joked with.
Watching it all, Sam felt incredibly proud of his brother.
Finally, there was only one child left in line, a boy of around six who held onto the hand of an older boy while a woman, probably their grandmother, watched from a distance, a somewhat anxious look on her face.
The little boy clambered up onto Dean's lap willingly enough.
"And what's your name, young man?" Dean asked.
"So, Mikey, what are you hoping Santa'll bring you for Christmas?"
The little boy leaned forward and whispered in Dean's ear. Sam saw his brother stiffen for a split second. Dean was silent, leaving Sam wondering what exactly the child had said.
Mikey looked up at Dean expectantly while Sam stood nearby, staring at the two of them intently.
Finally, Dean looked the child in the eye and said softly, "Mikey, I'm sorry, but that's one thing Santa can't give you for Christmas. I can't bring your Mom and Dad back. I wish I could."
Mikey's eyes filled up and he looked around. His brother rushed forward quickly, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"It's okay, Mikey," he said. "I told you Santa couldn't bring them back."
"That's right," Dean said. "They can't be here with you, but they love you very much, and they don't want you to be sad. They want you to have a good Christmas, okay?"
Mikey stared at Dean solemnly for a moment, and then he gave a slight nod.
Dean looked at the older boy. "You're Mikey's brother, right?"
The boy nodded.
What's your name?"
"Jake," the boy said quietly.
"Jake, I can't make Mikey's wish come true. No one can do that. You know that."
Jake nodded, a look of resigned acceptance on his face that tore at Sam's heart.
"But they'd want you and your brother to have a good time at Christmas, right?"
The boy nodded. "I guess. That's what Grams keeps saying. It's hard, though. Mikey misses them so much."
Sam listened, a lump in his throat. This boy reminded him so much of Dean. Worried about his brother, trying to be strong for him and not willing to admit that he, too, is lost without his parents.
"Of course he misses them. But you know what? You still have each other, and you have your Grams. Maybe if you try to make each other happy, you won't miss them quite so much. What do you think?"
Mikey glanced at his brother, then nodded, giving Dean a tremulous smile. After a moment, Jake nodded too. "We'll try."
Then Mikey reached up and put his arms around Dean's neck, holding on tight.
Dean wrapped his arms around the little boy, holding him tightly for a moment, and then released him and nodded to Sam. Sam delved in the tub for presents, which Jake took carefully.
"Thanks," Jake said quietly.
Dean held his eyes for a moment. "You're welcome," he said softly.
The brothers watched in silence as the two boys left the Workshop.
Sam glanced at Dean, at the intense expression on his face. He now knew, with complete certainty, why his brother had always hated Santa Claus.
The team retreated to the changing room, and one by one the helpers drifted off, until eventually Sam and Dean were alone in the room.
Dean had shed his Santa suit and wig in favor of jeans and a t-shirt, which looked somewhat incongruous when accompanied by the long, snowy white beard. He had been quiet ever since they'd left the Workshop, and Sam just sat with him in silence for a while, before finally asking, "Want to talk about it?"
"Talk about what?"
"About what happened the time you asked Santa to bring Mom back."
Dean glanced across at him with a faint smile. "So you worked it out, College Boy?"
"Yeah, I did."
Dean was silent.
"Sam, it's not important."
"Yeah, it is," Sam said softly.
Dean looked off into the distance for a moment. Then he sighed. "Okay, fine."
He stood up and leaned back against one of the lockers, arms folded.
"It was the first Christmas after Mom died. Dad took us to see Santa in a local store. You were just a baby, you won't remember. I didn't have a wish list – there was only one thing I wanted." He stopped speaking abruptly
Sam waited patiently, willing to allow Dean to tell the story in his own time. After a few moments, Dean looked up again and continued.
"Anyway, I was standing in line and I heard Santa telling the other kids that all their wishes would come true. So I was pretty confident when it was my turn, and I told him that I wanted my Mom back. And he said…" He swallowed, his jaw working. "He said, 'Then that's what you'll have, little man.'
"I believed him. Then I woke up on Christmas morning – and she wasn't there. And that's when I knew that Santa wasn't real." He shrugged, a tight smile pulling at his lips. "Stupid, huh? I guess the guy probably didn't even hear what I was really asking – maybe he thought my Mom was away from home or something. But it hurt really bad and ever since then, I've hated this make-believe character who gives little kids false hope."
Sam had noticed earlier that not once had Dean promised a child that he'd receive everything on his wish list. That made total sense now. And so did something else. "That's why you always used to help me write my wish list. To make sure I didn't put things on there that you knew I wasn't going to get?"
Dean smiled. "It worked, most of the time. And I always made sure you put some stuff down that I could get you if Dad didn't."
"Dean, I'm… I'm sorry. I wish you'd told me before. I'd never have suggested this job if I'd known."
"It's okay. It wasn't your fault."
There was silence for a moment, and then Sam said quietly, "Dean, you know you were awesome with those kids."
Dean actually flushed and looked away. "It's not rocket science, Sam." .
"Maybe," Sam said firmly, "but not everyone can deal with kids the way you just did. You really have a way with them, man."
"Yeah, well, I guess I had plenty of practice with my kid brother."
"And you did good, Dean. You know that, right?"
He held his brother's eyes for a moment, wanting to be sure that Dean understood the sincerity in his words and everything that lay behind them. Because no amount of words could convey what Sam was feeling right now. He wanted Dean to know that he was the best brother in the world. Of course, Sam could never actually tell him that. Dean didn't do sentiment. In fact, he was already expecting Dean to break the unaccustomed emotional moment with a wisecrack when Mrs. Shepherd's voice rang out from outside the room.
"Dean, honey, are you back in costume? The evening shift starts in ten minutes!"
"I'll be ready," Dean called back and turned away, beginning to pull on his padding.
Sam knew that there would be no more discussion about Dean's experience with Santa, so he deliberately lightened the moment. "Need a hand there, Dean honey?" he asked with a smirk.
Dean glanced up and grinned as he pulled on the red trousers. "Hey, she loves me. What can I say? I'm a magnet for babes of all ages."
Sam laughed and rammed the red hat onto his brother's head.
Mrs. Shepherd bustled in. "Boys, I think I forgot to tell you. All this week, the evening shift is Pet Night."
"Pet Night?" Dean repeated, shooting a panicked glance at Sam.
"Oh, you'll love it. It's always such fun. The children all bring their pets in to show Santa. I wouldn't advise that you pick them up, though, Dean. The animals can get a bit excited - we've had a few little accidents in the past, and we only have one Santa costume."
"Uh… right," was all Dean seemed able to muster, obviously trying to get his mind around this new and alarming development.
Sam couldn't help but grin at the thought of Dean cooing over sweet little bunnies and guinea pigs.
Mrs. Shepherd's next words wiped the smile off his face.
"However, accidents do still sometimes happen," she breezed on, "so Sam, I'm afraid your main job tonight is to take care of that side of things." She handed him a large plastic bag and a small shovel. "Five minutes, boys!"
And then she was gone.
Dean's lips twitched under his flowing mustache.
"Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, little brother."