Disclaimer: Yeah. Sam and Dean Winchester belong to me and I can't think of a single thing I'd rather be doing than writing fanfiction. Sure.

A/N: Many, many thanks to Cheryl and Faye for the feedback and encouragement to post. If I were a hugger, I'd be all over those two. I'm dedicating this to my fellow addicts over at SFTCOL(AR)S...Merry Christmas! The title comes from "Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg and a portion of the plot was inspired by a recent film. Hot chocolate with extra marshmallows to anyone who recognizes the movie. ;)


A Toast to Innocence

Sam's first Christmas consisted of a crooked, two-foot tall plastic tree, junk food shoved into stockings, and a pile of sports equipment for baby Sam and his brother, Dean. It had been John Winchester's attempt at bringing some normalcy back into his boys' lives after the death of their mother not two months ago.

They'd been staying with John's old business partner and his wife for the weeks immediately following the fire, but after a scare with the Department of Social Services when Mike had taken it upon himself to phone the authorities, John had bundled his boys in the back of the Impala and disappeared.

The rundown apartment on the poor side of town was anything but ideal, but his children were with him and that had been all that mattered. His boys were all he had, and he promised himself that soon, things would be better.

--------------------------

Sam's eighth Christmas found the Winchesters holed up in a bland, white hospital room. A large, cat-like creature had given John a run for his money and the eldest Winchester found himself with one hell of a concussion. He'd been admitted to the hospital for observation and was advised to rest, so he'd sent his boys down to the lobby to join the other children for the tiny hospital's Christmas Eve party.

It wasn't great, but the boys would be able to eat cookies and drink hot chocolate and just be children, if only for one night.

A Christmas tree sat in the center of the room adorned with crayon-and-pipe-cleaner ornaments created by the patients in the pediatrics ward. The walls were lined with garland and from the main desk hung a stocking for each member of the small nursing staff. Children and their parents gathered around the table of refreshments as they waited for the candy striper to begin her rendition of "The Night Before Christmas."

Sammy tugged on his brother's sleeve. "Can we stay for the story?"

Truthfully, Dean would have preferred stuffing some candy in his pockets and spending the evening watching TV in their father's room, but one glance at his baby brother's dimpled smile had Dean suddenly wanting to stay. He had never been able to deny those dimples anything.

"Sure, bud. Go grab some cookies."

"'Kay!" The eight-year-old bounded over to the refreshments, eying the assortment of goodies. "Dean look, they gots chocolate chip!"

The candy striper cleared her throat and motioned for the children to gather around her. Many of them plopped themselves at her feet while others chose to remain with their parents. Dean took a seat on the floor and as Sammy wormed his way into Dean's lap, chocolate chip cookies in hand, he looked up at his brother and smiled.

"This is the best Christmas ever!"

Dean opened his mouth to speak but found he could only nod.

--------------------------

Sam's thirteenth Christmas was spent in near silence. They'd rented out a one-bedroom apartment while John tracked a pack of werewolves and the close quarters were beginning to frazzle everyone's last nerve.

When Sam came home and announced that he wanted to try out for the school's spring play, that had been the last straw.

John had ordered Sam not to audition, reminding his youngest that he would be needed on hunts and any other commitments were simply not acceptable.

Sam argued, John continued to yell, and Dean did his best not to take sides. Business as usual in the Winchester household.

When Sam stomped off to his room in a huff, John retreated to the kitchen and an exasperated Dean stormed out the door, seeking refuge in the comfort of leather seats and Led Zeppelin.

No one had spoken for the rest of the night.

--------------------------

Sam's twenty-second Christmas took him to San Francisco. Jess had insisted he join her family for the holiday, and with no other plans and no viable excuse, he obliged.

The Moores seemed to encompass Sam's ideas of normal. Jessica's father trimmed the tree and her mother and sisters decorated it in between baking cookies and hanging their stockings from the mantle. The kitchen was stocked with hot chocolate and egg nog and on Christmas Eve, relatives from across the country gathered around the fireplace to reminisce and enjoy each other's company.

Sam had never felt more out of place in his life.

He had done his best to maintain a smile and insert an appropriate response when prompted, but it wasn't until much later in the evening, when it was just the two of them, that Sam began to relax.

Jess had thrown another log on the fire and they sat together; Sam gazing at the Christmas tree, Jessica watching him closely.

"What is it?" she asked, taking a sip of her cocoa.

Sam hadn't realized he'd spaced out until he felt her nudge his arm. "What are you looking at?" she tried again.

Embarrassed, Sam struggled for words. "Just…just the different ornaments. They're nice."

"Yeah, they are." She put down her mug and nodded towards a glass figure near the top of the tree. "See that glass angel? It was my grandmother's. She gave it to me when she found out she was sick. Told me she'd always watch over me from Heaven."

"It's beautiful," he nodded sadly.

They sat in silence, each lost in their own memories.

--------------------------

Sam's twenty-third Christmas found him in some generic emergency room in some random town's local hospital. Somewhere between Pennsylvania and Ohio, a salt and burn had gone bad. Dean managed to walk away without a scratch but Sam had to be helped to the Impala, favoring his right ankle the entire way.

Nothing too serious, the brothers surmised, but Sam had insisted on going to the ER.

"Dude, why don't we just ice it? I mean, you said it's not broken, right? We'll get it looked at tomorrow if it's still bothering you." The last thing Dean wanted was for his brother to be in pain, but hospitals were to be avoided at all costs, especially for injuries that could easily be taken care of in a motel room.

"Nah Dean, I'd rather have it looked at now before it gets worse. We have those new insurance cards, right? And it shouldn't take too long."

"If you say so, man. I don't even know how you sprained it in the first place. That spirit was pretty slow-moving; you had plenty of time to ditch it." Dean smirked and nudged his brother's arm. "You gettin' rusty there, kiddo?"

Sam glanced out the window at the passing scenery. "Just shut up and drive, Dean."

It turned out that the insignificance of Sam's ankle forced the brothers to wait around the crowded emergency room for quite some time. Apparently Christmas Eve was a popular night for injuries.

The nurses milled about, making their rounds and doing their best to spread as much cheer as possible to those unfortunate enough to be there. December 24th was the night of the hospital's annual Christmas party and the staff did what they could to brighten their patients' spirits. Some nurses were decked out in Santa hats and scarves while others went for the elf look, complete with pointy, jingly shoes.

Dean could have vomited.

Sam, on the other hand, seemed to be enjoying himself. While waiting for his ankle to be examined, he managed to maneuver himself over to the hospital's Christmas tree. He lightly brushed his hand over one of the ornaments, taking in the feel of the halo and long, flowing dress.

"Dude, what are you lookin' at?"

"Huh?" Startled, Sam turned around to face Dean. "Oh, uh. Jess used to have one of these." He smiled looking back at the angel.

Unsure how to respond, Dean only nodded.

"Hey Dean, could you grab me a couple of those cookies?" Sam asked, pointing to the tray of chocolate chip in the corner of the room.

"Yeah, no problem."

"Dean look, they gots chocolate chip!"

"This is the best Christmas ever!"

"We have those new insurance cards, right? And it shouldn't take too long."

"I don't even know how you sprained it in the first place. That spirit was pretty slow-moving; you had plenty of time to ditch it. You gettin' rusty there, kiddo?"

And suddenly, realization slammed into Dean like a tractor trailer.

--------------------------

Sam's twenty-fourth Christmas is relatively quiet. After the events in Oregon and all that had ensued, neither brother feels much like hunting. Dean's confessions are still fresh in both Winchesters' minds, so they plan to take it easy. A pizza, two six packs, and a marathon of a Christmas classic are the extent of the activities this year.

Sam emerges from the shower to find that the pizza has arrived. He sits across from Dean at the small wooden table and claims a slice when he sees the blue and white Entenmann's box perched atop the dresser.

Dean follows his gaze and clears his throat. "Yeah, I uh. Had a craving."

Sam smiles knowingly and moves to take a bite of his dinner when the fluorescent light catches something in the corner of his eye. He follows the source of the glow and his eyes rest on the glass figure hanging in the window.

Sam cannot speak. He can barely breathe and it takes everything he has to blink away the prickling behind his eyes.

When the silence has become too much, Dean shifts awkwardly in his seat. "When I was picking stuff up for the first aid kit, I saw they had these…these angel things and I know you said…I mean last year…" He nervously looks away from Sam and bites into his pizza.

"Dean, I…" Funny, Sam doesn't recall his voice being so scratchy. "I didn't get you anything."

Dean continues to eat his dinner as he looks up at Sam. Yeah you did, dude. "It's cool. You'll just have to get me something really awesome next year."

They finish the pizza and chocolate chip cookies talking about everything and nothing and they take a drink whenever the little blonde boy says he wants a BB gun for Christmas.

They're not in a room full of people, standing around and making small talk. There is no tree or fireplace or hot cocoa. There are no stockings to be hung or big, shiny packages to be opened. There is only Sam and Dean and a twenty-three-year-old promise of a better life.

They are far from there, but together, there is hope.

end


Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Three weeks 'til Hunted. :)