Oh God, why had he agreed to this? Why? He wasn't up to this, he wasn't good enough. He didn't do singing, let alone in front of people and he had a solo. What had made him think he should be doing this? Well, he easily remembered what had persuaded him to do this, but right now, the crazy flip-flopping his stomach was doing made him not want to do it any more.
Damn Mrs. Firth. What was she doing putting these ideas in his head? "You've got a really nice voice, Dean. You should sing in the carol service, Dean. Why don't you try a solo, Dean?" He should've gone with his first instinct, the one that said "Ha! No way, woman!" but no, he'd gone home and mentioned it to Dad and Dad had asked if he was going to do it and then just looked at him and Dean's answer had died on his tongue.
Dean could read his dad pretty well, he spent most of his life watching Dad's mood and so the look he had fixed Dean with then had just jumped out at him. It was clear Dad was trying to make it look like he didn't care what Dean said, that singing at Christmas carol services didn't matter to him one way or the other but there was something about the way he was looking at Dean, a certain attentiveness he didn't have when he actually didn't care. So, Dean's "I said no, of course! You won't find me singing in any church!" turned into "I told her I'd think about it" and Dean had been rewarded with a quirked eyebrow and a slight upturn of the lips and then hours and hours of Sam bugging him to practise and telling him that he really shouldn't slump when he sang and eight-year-olds really shouldn't be that bossy.
So here Dean was, being driven to his doom in the backseat of the Impala. He'd usually go for the front seat but he felt safer here, with Sammy beside him, watching him carefully as he twisted his hands in his lap and remained looking stubbornly out the window.
"You're going to be fine, Dean, you sing real good!" Sammy assured him. The church came into view and Dean welcomed the excuse to stop looking out the window.
"Yeah, but what if I get the notes wrong or forget the words or," Deans eyes went wide when his mind found an even worse possibility for him, "What if I faint or something?"
"Dean, you're just being silly now, you didn't even faint that time when you broke your arm and had to drag me out of the room, you had concussion too!" That was true, and it eased Dean a little. "And you never forget anything, it's, like, impossible for you to forget things!" That wasn't quite so true, but Dean was still eased by his brother's faith in him.
Dad pulled up to the sidewalk and Dean climbed out of the car. He looked back before shutting the door, Sammy gave him two thumbs up and Dad turned around and gave him a too-rare smile.
"You'll do just fine, kiddo," those words gave him the courage to get about as far as the church door. The service would start in half an hour, that's when Dad and Sam would come back, that's when he would be in front of all those people singing. He stared at the door and then opened it and went in. He was Dean Winchester, after all, it took more than an audience to scare him!
He glanced around, it looked like he was the last person to arrive.
"Dean! Good to see you here!" that was Mrs. Firth, damn her. She'd told him to wear something smart, obviously that had required them buying some new clothes because Dean really didn't have anything in his usual wardrobe that could be considered smart. He seemed to pass her quick inspection with his white buttoned shirt, vaguely patterned tie and, well, ok, so he was still wearing jeans but they were smart jeans! "I was starting to think you'd changed your mind!" she said as she lead him towards the front of the church.
"Yeah, sorry I didn't make that last rehearsal, I had to look after my brother," Mrs. Firth grinned at him, she was far too excited about this. Grownups do not get this excited about anything, there was definitely something wrong with this woman.
"Not to worry Dean, you're here now, that's what matters," everybody seemed to be gathering, ready for the final run-through before actual people started coming in (actual people? What was he expecting, ghosts?). Dean had to stand at the front, embarrassingly, with all the other soloists. They quickly ran through each song, some of them not even all the way through.
Dean took some time out from worrying to listen to the other solos and ruthlessly criticise them, though only in his head, he wasn't that nasty. Still, it made him feel better to hear the guy do In The Bleak Midwinter and never quite hit the right notes, he had to make an effort to stop from physically cringing on the high ones. That was going to be his solo but Mrs. Firth seemed to have changed her mind as soon as she heard Dean sing "poor as I am" as if it was a sore subject for him. Well, some of the other kids had sniggered, but as if that had ever bothered him, he'd have had a mental breakdown by now if he cared every time someone so much as looked at him the wrong way.
So, Dean was singing the last verse of Away In A Manger by himself. It was the last thing they'd be singing so it was that little bit more nerve-wracking, but also that little bit cooler. Especially if the look he'd seen in Dad's eyes whenever he was caught practising was anything to go by. It was one of the few times he made his dad smile, it was a kind of sad smile but a smile all the same, and Winchesters had to take what they were given and be happy with it.
To say that John had been surprised when Dean had come home from school and announced that he was going to take part in the carol service would be an understatement He hadn't shown it, no, he'd very carefully made sure that he treated it like any other news of school – that is, with mild interest but that it was nothing really important. John didn't really know if he'd succeeded with that because Dean had beamed at him as though he'd given him some kind of praise.
He did want Dean to take part in the carol service, it was true. His son had a good voice, any fool could tell and sometimes he wanted to show the whole world just how brilliant his boys were. But he couldn't, he couldn't let Dean know how much he wanted a normal, carefree existence for him, he couldn't afford to have Dean pining after carol services and after-school soccer clubs.
So, here he was sitting a few rows back in the church, next to Sammy, who looked like he might just explode with excitement. He was surrounded by moms and dads and brothers and sisters and even the occasional grandparent. It was strange how alien this kind of thing was to him, it should have been familiar to him. It made him ache for Mary.
John forced himself to push all his melancholy thoughts to one side, that wasn't what he was here for, he was here to watch his son be a kid for once. The audience quietened as Dean's music teacher stepped up to the microphone to talk and the last few parents nipped in the door (John smiled to himself; it wasn't very often that he could say for sure that he wasn't the last parent to arrive).
"Look, there's Dean at the front!" Sammy whispered to him. John nodded and cringed slightly to see Dean in his jeans next to the other boys and girls with their smart pants and skirts. Oh well, that couldn't be helped, John had great faith that Dean could sing better than any of the others and that was what really mattered.
Sammy waved at Dean and Dean smiled back, John smiled too when Dean looked in his direction and Dean seemed to calm down, at least, his shoulders relaxed, which was usually a pretty good sign of how tense he was overall. Dean's music teacher finally stopped talking, which was a relief to John and Sammy and probably Dean, too. None of them had been paying her the slightest bit of attention.
They got onto the singing at long last. The overall standard of the music was surprisingly good, considering the average age of the singers. There was one boy who sang the final verse of In The Bleak Midwinter who was absolutely awful, though.
"He's not very good, is he Dad?" whispered Sammy in the whisper of an eight-year-old, the one that was somehow louder than when he spoke normally. The woman sitting next to John tutted quite audibly, shooting a withering glare at John when he chuckled and agreed with Sammy. He told Sammy to be quiet and listen to placate the glaring woman, but didn't do it with the same severity he usually would. That woman was fooling herself if she thought her son could sing.
John, of course, was under no such delusion. So far it hadn't been very easy to pick out Dean from everyone else. There was a moment in The Twelve Days Of Christmas when Dean was on his own (and he definitely held his own) but it wasn't for long because they were trying to fit in a line for every one of the thirty children in the choir and there were only twelve days to go around. John was sure Dean had a solo but things sometimes got muddled in his head when they weren't to do with the hunt. He hoped he was right about this because he wasn't sure he'd be able to forgive himself if some run-of-the-mill hunt had come between him and his son's first (and, let's face it, probably only) carol service. It wasn't exactly a new thing for John to miss important times in his boys' lives but he was here for this one and he was going to make sure he didn't miss a moment.
He thought perhaps Mary would be proud of him for being there for Dean. Then he realised how wrong it was that a father being there for his son should be something special and to be remembered. He stopped imagining what Mary would think.
"Dad! It's almost Dean's turn!" Sammy was practically bouncing in his seat and John couldn't help but smile. He looked up at Dean and knew that Sam was right because, although to the untrained eye Dean looked perfectly calm, John could tell he was more tense. He was standing a little too straight and his eyes were flicking back and forth, taking in his surroundings more than usual. "This is it, Dad, this is it!" said Sammy in his whisper as Away In A Manger started and John put a hand on his shoulder before he fell off his chair from wriggling about on it so much.
John had to remind himself to breathe when Dean stood forward for the final verse (the final verse of the whole service! Someone obviously agreed with John about his son's talents). Everything, of course, went well. It went so well Dean even managed a smile while he was singing and it only became wider when he finished and he found John smiling at him proudly. Then the music finished and the audience burst into applause.
Dean was basking in it and even some other members of the choir were congratulating him. John couldn't help himself, it was swelling up in his chest and he had to let someone know.
"That's my son," he said to the woman next to him and while she'd looked ready to murder him during In The Bleak Midwinter she was kind enough to indulge a proud father.
"He's a very good singer, you must be proud of him," she said.
"Oh, I am," said John earnestly, and he was, for more than just singing. He was proud of everything that Dean was.
"He's my brother, too!" Sammy chimed in and that got a smile from the woman. The applause died down when Dean's music teacher stood up to talk again but Sammy made sure that his enthusiastic clapping was the last to be heard. Dean grinned at him. Once she'd finished talking (she didn't half go on) it was time to go and Sam rushed through the crowd to find his brother.
John waited outside the church for his children to emerge and eventually Dean appeared out of the crowd of bustling families with a very bouncy Sammy in tow.
"Dad! Wasn't Dean great? Don't you think so? He was, wasn't he?" John ruffled Sammy's hair.
"Yes he was," he looked directly at Dean, "He was the best there," Dean's grin was blinding.
"Well, what were you expecting?" he said, back to his familiar, cocky self. John laughed.
"Says the boy who was worried he was going to faint,"
"I was never that worried, I was pretending so I didn't look out of place. It would have looked weird if I wasn't worried,"
"Oh, of course, how did I miss that?"
"Nu-uh Dean, you were scared!" John was tempted to drop back and watch his sons bicker, it was one of his favourite pastimes, but Dean refused to let him fall behind. John didn't know if Dean was doing it consciously but when he slowed down, so did Dean and if he moved away from them at all, Dean followed him (bringing Sammy with him, as always) so John gave up on that. Instead, he caught a squealing Sammy around his waist and swung him up in the air before clamping him, struggling and wriggling, under his arm. Sammy was almost too big for that now, but not quite.
"Are you doubting your big brother?" John asked. Sammy giggled and flailed but to no avail.
"He was scared!" he said adamantly. John raised his eyebrows at Dean, who came in front of Sam, waving his fingers in an action all children know will lead to being tickled. Sammy struggled harder but that didn't stop Dean from launching his attack.
"Ok!" Sammy gasped out between giggles, "Ok! He wasn't scared!" Dean went in for one last tickle and Sam tried to bat his hands away, "Dean! You weren't scared!" so Dean backed off and John put Sammy down. Sammy tried to look annoyed that John and Dean had ganged up on him but he couldn't even wipe the grin off his face. John sent him running off to the Impala. Dean turned to look at John, he looked like he wanted to say something, so John waited.
The moment passed and Dean just renewed his grin. John clapped him on the shoulder before they got in the Impala and drove home.
Yeah, I know Mrs. Firth was mad to make the last verse of the whole thing a solo. I suppose she just has a soft spot for Dean.