Title: The Holiday That Keeps On Giving

Author: HalfshellVenus

Characters: Sam and Dean (Gen)

Rating: K+

Summary: It's Christmas-time, and the brothers are caught in a single endlessly repeating day.

Author's Notes: Season 1 timeframe, and yes it's cheesy—probably every cliché in the book, guaranteed to warm your heart. This was written for spnchristmas, but I had too much Christmas of my own to finish it in time!

x-x-x-x-x

Christmas had been a standoff in the Winchester family for years.

Dean gave up on it early, once he realized there was no Santa Claus. Because that figured—any uncomplicated good in his life was always taken away far too soon.

Sam loved Christmas—the decorations, the traditions, the spirit of the whole thing. John and Dean had conspired to keep that going as long as they could, taking their joy from Sam's reaction. But once that dimmed, they stopped trying so hard. Some years Dean would bitch about the hypocrisy while Sam sulked in silence, and John would ride the unsteady line between cheerful insincerity and breaking Sam's heart.

With John gone—god knew where, and the man had never been that cooperative to begin with—it was left to Dean to make the compromise. Somewhere Sam would like that Dean could tolerate, festive enough without being overkill, because a Ward Cleaver Christmas was just more than Dean could stand.

So this year it was Portland—the rainy one in Oregon—where people had whole schemes for indoor recreation during bad weather.

They picked a motel downtown, not a great one, but it was cheap and the location was good. Movie theatres, indoor malls, pawnshops within a mile. There was a skating rink in a shopping center across the river, which only Sam was eager to try ("Be my guest," Dean said, "you can take the car."). A few hours of light snow in the morning added atmosphere, though the desk clerk had warned them it wouldn't stay.

"So," Sam said, once they'd unloaded their bags in the room. "What first? A movie?"

"No elves or hobbits or wizards," Dean stated.

"That was last year, Dean, and I wasn't even here."

"Whatever," Dean snorted. "Just as long as it has tons of explosions."

And so they went. Dean remembered matinee prices being a good deal cheaper, but the movie was okay even if it was basically a heist kind of thing. It could have benefited from blowing a lot more stuff up.

They wandered through the downtown area afterwards. Old department stores along the streets were hung with wreaths, and there was a quietly festive air about the neighborhood. Sam's soft smile told Dean he'd made the right choice in coming here.

A sleek electric train pulled to a stop at the corner next to them. "Hey, want to ride it?" Sam asked.

What are you, five? Dean thought, but then he noticed Sam's face. "Maybe tomorrow," he said.

"Okay." Sam seemed satisfied with that.

"How about an early dinner?" Dean asked.

"There's a sign that says Oyster Bar ahead."

"Seafood scares me," Dean answered. "I was thinking 'brisket,' or something along those lines."

"God, why." Sam wrinkled his nose. "Mexican or Italian."

It wasn't a suggestion. "Mexican."

After dinner they returned to the motel, flipping through television channels while Dean cleaned the handguns and Sam sharpened knives. It was eleven when they both turned in, the room quiet but for the rain beating steadily against the window.

Morning arrived in the form of Sam's hair tickling Dean's neck, and the rhythmic sound that had drifted through his dreams became dripping water.

Dean's head jerked up, and he looked around the room. The covers were off Sam's bed, and there was a dark spot on the ceiling above it. Dean watched as something formed and glistened and then—plop! It hit the mattress and disappeared.

"Why?" he moaned out load. Seriously, their run rate on trouble-free motels was about one-in-four.

"Ceiling's leaking," Sam mumbled.

"I know that!" Dean rolled out of bed and put the wastebasket on the bed to catch the drips.

Plink!... Plink!...

"I tried that last night," Sam muttered into the pillow. He burrowed under the covers, and Dean picked up the phone to call the front desk.

Two hours later, they moved their stuff to a room on the second floor. Sam had found a newspaper in the lobby and gotten sucked into it already. He was working methodically through the news stories looking for unusual signs, or for any kinds of hints or clues.

"TV's busted," Dean said sourly. He rummaged through the food supplies and produced a box of miniature chocolate-covered donuts. "Breakfast?" he offered.

Sam glanced at the box and shook his head. "Possible Yeti sighting on Mt. Hood," he announced.

"It's always a Yeti, at least in theory." Dean said without interest. "If it's not hurting humans, I'm at the point where I really don't care."

"You just don't want to go up into the mountains," Sam accused.

"Could be that. Or theYeti thing bores me. Either way, keep looking while I eat."

"Vandalism at an orphanage," Sam remarked after awhile.

"And?" Dean was sorting their clothes into piles.

"No noticeable entry point, lots of things broken and moved around."

"Loser teenager living at the place, probably."

Sam looked irritated. "Or maybe, oh, what's that other thing we call it? Wait, I know-- a poltergeist!"

"Dude, this is a vacation. Granted, it's kind of short and it's not very fancy, but it's still a vacation. And it was your idea, so why're you bending over backwards trying to scare up a job?"

"Orphans, Dean."

"Waste of time," Dean answered firmly. He jammed one pile of clothes into a duffle and put the wearable ones on the dresser. "There's a pawn shop a couple of blocks from here, and Powell's books is open today. We can browse around for supplies, pick up lunch when we're done."

"Go ahead without me," Sam said abruptly. "I'm checking out the orphanage." He pocketed the car keys and was out the door before Dean could even respond.

Dean stewed over Sam's attitude for awhile—he hated it when Sam got all passive-aggressive. Or pissy. Or both.

Consequently, when Sam returned to the hotel room that afternoon, Dean had swerved off into "naughty" with a Santa's helper in an elf suit.

"You--" Sam gestured at her. "Out!"

"Who's this, Dean? Jealous boyfriend?" the girl asked pointedly.

"Parole officer," Sam barked. "Now move your ass."

The girl straightened her costume, and stalked out with her elf hat and pointed shoes.

"I'm very disappointed in you, Dean."

As usual, dude. Whatever. "You took off, Sam. I made my own fun," Dean countered.

"I went to an orphanage, Dean, not an amusement park. And you should have gone with me from the beginning."

"I told you— total waste of time."

"Except that it wasn't," Sam said. "The EMF meter found something. Not to mention that the kids are lonely and half their presents got trashed."

"Did you get rid of it, whatever it was?"

"Of course. Why?"

"Well then, we're free for the rest of the day. Let's walk around and find someplace to eat before all the restaurants close."

"It's four o-clock," Sam protested.

"Christmas Eve," Dean reminded him. "So let's get going and not press our luck."

Three hours later, they were back and settling in for the night. Dean turned on the radio in the absence of a working television, and he stared at the ceiling while Sam read the book on Celtic mythology Dean had bought earlier.

Dean awoke feeling crowded. A knee against his calf was pressing on a bruise, and the room smelled damp. Soon he noticed something that sounded like dripping. When he lifted his head to look around, he froze and then let it crash to the bed in sudden confusion.

"Sammy," he said. "Sam, wake up!"

"Muh."

"It's yesterday again!"

"Whuh?"

"Today is yesterday. Again."

"Mneh, Dean. Go back to sleep,"

Dean got out of bed and looked around carefully. Yesterday morning's room, complete with the leaky ceiling. The national news confirmed the date, and Dean sat for a moment trying to decide whether it was a dream or whether 'yesterday' had been the dream.

"Gotta go… orphanage." Sam mumbled.

"That was yesterday," Dean said. "And today…" Probably.

They showered and packed up again, checking out of the hotel by noon. They moved to a different hotel just a block away, and Dean ran through the channels on the television just to be sure before dumping his bag on the floor.

Sam left for the orphanage again—alone, though Dean almost caved because of the bitching and the guilt.

Instead, Dean spent the afternoon getting drunk on eggnog, just to see how bad it could be and how long it would take. Sam stayed gone practically forever, so Dean finally found his answer four hours later on the filthy bathroom tile. He sat there, head and stomach roiling, and waited helplessly for the tide to turn.

When Sam returned, he just glared at Dean in disgust and went out for dinner on his own.

A lesser man would have been embarrassed, but Dean was far too miserable to care.

Somebody was talking. It was Sam, and it was practically in Dean's ear.

"If you puked in the bed, I'm gonna kill you."

And then Dean hear that other noise, the steady dripping that reminded him of-- "God damn it!" he burst out in recognition. Back to square one again, just like yesterday.

At least he wasn't hung over, though most of yesterday had sucked, so no need to try that experiment again.

Instead—"Sam, I've got an idea."

"What."

"Let's leave town and spend Christmas Eve in Seattle instead."

"But what about the kids at the orphanage?"

"Maybe they're responsible for this problem-- maybe they've cursed us. Who cares? Sometimes you've just got to cut and run."

They left an hour later, stopping for breakfast across the river in Vancouver before continuing North.

They visited Pike's Market that afternoon, then took out a demon in the parking lot on the way to the car. Dinner was hamburgers and ice cream with homemade fudge sauce. Sam fell asleep at the motel by ten, reading the Kafka he'd bought earlier that day.

Dean turned off the lamp and watched TV in the dark. Saturday night movies were the worst, but they were in a new city and he was feeling pretty good.

Blap… Blap…

"How…" Dean groaned in exasperation.

"Huh?"

"How does this keep happening?" Dean grumbled. "This time it even moved the car!"

"Huh…" Sam muttered from the pillow next to him. "Want to call Dad?"

"Might as well," Dean answered. Though he should have guessed that it wouldn't go well…

"What do you mean, time's repeating? Not from my end, it isn't. Are you feeling all right? Put Sammy on."

So that had been a total waste of time, and now Dean was in a mood.

Sam came out of the bathroom. "Should we--?"

"No," Dean said.

He resigned himself finally to the damp motel room. After days of packing up and trying new places, they still wound up there every morning.

Instead, they watched TV on the bed all day, taking turns buying junk food out of the vending machines downstairs.

At the end of the day, they crowded back into the bed to wait for morning. It was strange to be so tired when they hadn't really done anything that day. But both were asleep within minutes, and Dean dreamed of the Grinch and mutant snowmen stealing crows from a Depression-era bank.

There was an elbow jammed into Dean's back when he woke up. The smell of damp hit him solidly before he even had a chance to open his eyes.

"God damn it!" he cursed again.

"Give me a break," Sam mumbled. He rolled onto his back. "Can you not shout me awake every single freakin' day?"

Dean sat up and scrubbed his hands over his hair. "I'm sick of being in Limbo like this—every morning's the same damn thing."

"So sleep it off, maybe it'll go away."

"I liked you better when you were an insomniac." Dean got up and poked around in Dad's journal while Sam dozed. Not that he expected to find anything—the response from Dad made it clear this whole idea was news to him.

When Dean came out of the bathroom after his shower, Sam was already busy getting dressed. "I'm not hanging around here all day again. I'm going to the orphanage." Sam paused and gave Dean the Serious Sammy look: "You coming this time?"

What could Dean do? He'd fought that look for three days already. "Yeah, all right."

When they got there, Dean had to admire Sam's approach. Sincere as always, and so effortlessly believable. The staff was thrilled that a total stranger had dropped by to entertain the children on Christmas Eve.

"My brother here'll take a look at any damage left over from the vandalism. He's pretty handy—he might be able to fix something." Sam smiled at him expectantly, and there was Dean's chance to poke around and take care of the poltergeist.

"Well certainly!" the program director said brightly. "Right this way, Mr. Daniels. Betsy will show your brother to the rec room."

Sam pantomimed a "falling asleep" signal at Dean, and disappeared down the hallway. Dean was dropped off in the dining room, where he looked around briefly before working his way back to the large group bedrooms.

"Who're you?" a tiny voice asked. A little boy with a mop of brown hair clutched a teddy bear.

"I'm Dean," he said quietly. "I'm here to fix stuff."

"Oh," the little boy answered. "My name is Billy, and this is Mr. Cocoa. Can I sit here and watch you work?"

"Actually, uh, I hear they're playing games in the rec room and stuff," Dean said. "And it might get dangerous in here, so… maybe later?"

"Okay." The boy smiled shyly and wandered out the door.

Dean shut it, and pulled out the EMF meter. It squawked when he turned it on.

"C'mon, c'mon… yes!" It was a painting of a churchyard—nothing sinister, but this was definitely the location of the spirit. Dean took the painting down and checked the wall behind it, finding nothing. He opened up the room's large window and popped the screen open as far as he could. Then he heaved the picture into the bushes around the side of the building. He'd get it later and take it away to burn.

The walls were chipped and dented, and some of the metal bed frames were loose. Nothing that spackle and a screwdriver or wrench couldn't make better. Dean scared up some supplies and got busy.

By the time he finished, he was hungry. Sam was in the rec room playing Monopoly with a random bunch of kids.

"Can you read to me?" The little boy was back, gazing up at him hopefully.

"Give me a few minutes," Dean said softly. "I'll get something to eat, and then I'll come back."

An institutional peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich later, Dean was ready. He started with "Dragon's Christmas," followed by "Balloon Farm" and "The Cat In The Hat." Billy leaned against his arm, looking at the pictures as Dean read on. When the last book was finished, it was quiet; Billy had dozed off. Dean felt a pang at the sight of him, remembering how Sam had done the same thing when he was Billy's age. It all seemed so far away now. He waited a few minutes before setting Billy down and going to find his brother.

"It wasn't so bad, was it?" Sam asked as they drove back to the motel.

"It was okay," Dean said grudgingly.

But he was in better spirits when they ate dinner that night, in a restaurant filled with people out with their friends and families for Christmas Eve.

Lying in bed later, while Sam snored softly beside him, he thought about taking along a few presents and candy treats for the kids tomorrow.

It got to be a habit fairly quickly.

They'd get up and shower and get dressed, then drive over to Fred Meyer's to pick up treats and toys before the shopping crowd hit. After that, they'd work their way through the next item on the breakfast menu at a diner they'd found nearby.

Then it was off to the orphanage. They'd introduce themselves, and then Dean would go upstairs and toss the painting out the window and patch up the room. He'd get something from the kitchen, then spend the afternoon reading and playing with Billy and the other kids. He found a bunch of other books about "Dragon," who was a happy-idiot kind of creature who meant well but was very confused. The kids enjoyed his reading—he caught Sam grinning at him while he did the voice for The Grinch, and he almost lost his mojo for a moment before he decided that he actually didn't care.

In the evening, they'd eat dinner and then scour the internet for clues about fixing their predicament.

And every few days they'd take some time in the morning to stop by Powell's Books and pick up fresh reading material. It turned out that the same shows were on television every single day, and Dean thought he might cry if he saw "Miracle on 34th Street" or "White Christmas" even one more time.

Sometimes he longed for variety, for an extended road trip-- or just having his own bed.

But if he was going to repeat the same day again and again like the water-torture drip that leaked from the ceiling every morning… he supposed there were probably worse days than this one. He'd already lived a lot of those worse days one time too many, one way or another.

It might have been two weeks later—two weeks of their time, however that worked—when Dean realized that he'd gotten… comfortable… with the people at the orphanage.

He'd gotten more talkative after that first time, instead of hanging back and waiting for Sam to introduce him. But once he got used to the environment he got quiet again, and stopped trying so hard to make a fast impression. People warmed up to him more, even though he was still the same stranger every day. There was probably a lesson in there somewhere. Maybe someday it'd come to him when he was old.

"Read me a story?" Billy asked shyly at his elbow.

"You bet," Dean answered softly, sitting down and settling in for the next few hours.

That afternoon the Assistant Director asked Sam and Dean if they'd like to stay for dinner.

"Oh, that's very kind of you but—"

"We'd love to," Dean butted in.

"Are you sure? What's gotten into you?" Sam asked as soon as the woman left.

"Well, why the hell not?" Dean answered. "It's not like we've got someplace important to be."

They all ate in the dining room, turkey with mashed potatoes and it wasn't great but it wasn't all that bad. It was the younger kids' bedtime when they all finished, and Billy came over unexpectedly to give Dean a goodbye hug.

"Do you think I'll ever have a family?" Billy whispered.

"A great kid like you? Absolutely." Dean ruffled Billy's hair and watched him join the thirty or so others.

Dean's throat hurt with wondering for all of them—would they have their happy ending someday, finally?

That night in bed, Dean wondered if he'd ever have his own children, or if this was going to be it. A few memories of Sam clutching his sleeve with unfathomable trust when he was small, or a lost little boy with no-one to claim him. Dean hoped to god that boy was going to find a home, along with most of the kids they visited.

Dean was teetering on the edge of the bed the next morning when a phone call woke him up.

"Hello, Dean," his father's voice boomed out cheerfully. "Merry Christmas!"

"What?" Dean mumbled stupidly.

"Merry Christmas," John repeated. "Thought I'd call and say hello."

"Today is Christmas?" Dean yelped. Sam jolted awake and glared at him while Dean bounced on the edge of the bed.

"How could you forget?" John said. "I just spoke to you yesterday. Of course it's Christmas."

Dean searched through weeks of "yesterday." Oh—the phone call. The one where Dad thought Dean had lost his mind.

"Um, of course. Yes. Merry Christmas!" It finally sank in, and Dean grinned over at Sam.

Sam sat up, smiling slowly as realization dawned. Then he punched Dean happily in the arm and rolled out of bed, doing a victory dance.

"Are you two hung over this morning? What's going on?" John asked. "Put Sammy on."

Dean handed the phone over, shaking his head in mild amusement. When had Sam become Dad's voice of reason?

Actually, today he didn't care.

"Merry Christmas, Dad," Sam said, opening the blinds and pointing outside for Dean to see.

Snow covered the street and sidewalks again, not a lot but it was different from the day before.

Dean felt like a kid again, the prospect of freedom unfolding before him now that they were finally running under their own control. Sam's voice droned on in the background while Dean thought about the things he wanted to do now that they could leave. Sunshine and highways called to him, with werewolves, demons and vampires waiting. They could track down Striga and Wendigos and skinwalkers, and Dean would finally have the chance to use his guns again.

He shoved their stuff into their duffle bags, ready to go by the time Sam got off the phone.

"You packed all my clothes, Dean, and I'm still not dressed yet. What's your hurry?"

"I want to get out of this town before it changes its mind and tries to suck us right back in."

Sam laughed and headed into the bathroom. He cleaned up quickly and dragged some clothes back out of his duffle bag. Dean sat on the bed and jiggled his leg, watching a TV broadcast of some Christmas parade across the country.

"Do you think it really happened?" Sam asked.

"Unless we shared the same hallucination for the past two weeks, I'm going to have to say yes."

"So you think we were at the orphanage yesterday? Visiting the kids and staying for dinner?"

"As near as I can tell. I wonder if they remember us?"

"Only one way to find out for sure," Sam said. "Are you up for it?"

"I… yeah," Dean surprised himself. "I guess it won't kill me. We can stop and see for ourselves, on the way out of town."

"I hope they at least got to keep our presents." Sam sounded wistful.

"Me too, especially after picking them out every day. Someone should benefit from all that shopping. I may not ever want to go into a store again…"

"We may have to, to find breakfast on Christmas morning. Speaking of which—what do you want for Christmas?"

Dean thought for a moment, because they usually didn't do presents. Asking for something hadn't even crossed his mind. "I know!" The answer suddenly hit him. "I definitely want something for Christmas this year."

"What?"

"I want a tomorrow after today. And another one after that. I want Time to work the way it's supposed to."

"When you find a store for that, let me know," Sam said. "How about maple Santas and an eggnog latte?"

Dean's stomach gurgled. "No more eggnog, ever again."

"Race you to the checkout desk. Loser pays for the room." Sam was already halfway out the door.

"You go ahead," Dean said, looking the room over one last time.

It hadn't been what he'd expected, any of this vacation detour. He wasn't sure what set off that Christmas-eve time loop, but it hadn't all been bad when you got right down to it. They were rested—bored, but rested—and Sam was definitely in a holiday mood. That was all he'd really wanted in the first place.

So they'd gotten what they came for, though the packaging was certainly unpredicted.

And as for Dean himself, well-- Sam's mood was definitely catching. When all was said and done, he hadn't been this happy to see Christmas come in years.

------ fin ------