Author's notes: Quotes are from "It's a Wonderful Life".
" Man, this blows. I say we head back to the motel and watch those crappy movies we rented. Come on…everyone likes Billy Bob." Dean Winchester nudged his little brother in the ribs.
" Dude, only you could see Bad Santa as required Christmas viewing." Sam Winchester shook his head, his shaggy hair moving in waves that begged to be cut short.
Dean shrugged, narrowly avoiding a hell for leather Christmas shopper as she barged past -- no, through him. What was it with people this time of the year? Sure, as a general rule people were self centered assholes…but for some reason? Christmas always seemed to lower the bar on what was deemed normal behaviour. It was downright freaking insane.
But then, Christmas had never been Dean's favorite time of the year. Not when he was four and the loss of his mother was a sharp as a razor blade, not when he was seven and Pastor Jim had tried to comfort Dean and Sam while their father was missing until after Boxing Day, hunting a ghoul outside of Nebraska. Thankfully Sam was too young to remember that year with any real clarity.
Sam had always been the one who fell for the Christmas spirit. It was like he was genetically coded to see the nicer things in life while Dean had inherited his father's cynicism about it all. Sam was the one who wanted a normal life still…but lately that had begun to change and it hurt Dean to see it. Hurt him more than he was willing to let on.
Which is how they had found themselves wandering around a shopping mall on Christmas Eve. Dean was doing his best to absorb some of that Christmas cheer the songs always sang about in those god-awful piped carols they played in every store.
It was testing the boundaries of his patience but for Sam, he'd suffer a little longer. After all, he'd doing anything for his brother…even more so now they were without their father.
Sure, it was hardly the first Christmas without him. But it had been a year since his death and the loss was still too painful for Dean to talk about. Maybe it always would be….
" Dude, I dare you." Dean had stopped dead in his tracks, his arm shooting out across Sam's chest before he pointed to the object of his amusement.
" What?" Sam followed Dean's arm, his eyebrows skyrocketing. " Oh hell no. No way, Dean. We're not kids anymore. They'll throw us out on our asses."
" So?" Dean's shoulders rose and fell in a subtle shrug. " It'd be a freaking blessing, dude. One more carol and I'm going to go postal, I swear. I'll start capping elves just for the fun of it."
" I'm not doing it, Dean."
" You, pussy. I knew you couldn't do it." Dean grinned triumphantly. " Which means I get first shower AND it's my pick of what we watch."
" What? Aw come on, Dean. I don't think I can take another Christmas with Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers. I'm amazed that Bad Santa doesn't have one of them in it…" Sam was beginning to think that Dean was evil. Pure, unadulterated evil. This surpassed anything they had faced in the last few weeks. At least that evil hadn't taken so much glee in the pain it could inflict.
" Take the dare then. You do it? I'll even spring for eggnog, fruit pies and that crappy Christmas candy you seem to stuff yourself with every year."
Sam glared at his brother, wondering why he took such pleasure in this sort of thing? Was it simply big brother code or something uniquely Dean? " If I do this? You have to sit through It's a Wonderful Life with me."
Dean's grin faltered as horror crept into his eyes. " Capra? Dude…that's nasty. That's nasty even for you."
Sam was grinning now. " Deal or not? Cause I'm ready to walk away now, man…"
"Alright, alright….deal. But you have to go through with it….all the way."
The few moments of embarrassment would be worth seeing the pain on Dean's face as he watched Jimmy Stewart. Besides, maybe Dean would enjoy the movie? It was a classic after all and from what Sam had heard? Usually a Christmas tradition for most families. Families that weren't as screwed up as the Winchesters, anyway.
Taking a deep breath, Sam hopped over the tiny picket fence and waded through the crowd of children lined up. As yet another snotty nosed kid left the chair, Sam made his move. He slid up to Santa and sat his six foot four frame down on the startled man's lap, his arms behind Santa's neck as he grinned cheesily. Dean was laughing so hard, he was barely able to hold his cell phone still long enough to snap off the photo.
" Thanks, Santa…" Sam gave the guy a quick pull on his beard, laughter bubbling up as he saw the indignant look on Santa's face as his beard snapped back and hung from his forehead before the guy was able to hurriedly straighten himself again.
By that time, Sam and Dean were already running from the two portly security guards that had been summoned. They didn't have a hope in hell of catching two young men with bodies honed from years of hunting under the guidance of an ex-marine. As they reached the car park, the guards found nothing but row after row of cars….the boys long gone.
The motel room had clearly seen better days, but for now…it was home sweet home. Dean didn't even mind the frayed carpet and peeling wall paper, the musty smell that he knew was coming from the lumpy mattresses they would be sleeping on later.
The room was his safe haven from the outside world. There was no tree, no coloured lights, no tiny mountain of presents to be torn open by spoilt children, no string of cards across the window. It was blissfully Christmas free, with the exception of the supplies they'd picked up at a 7-11 and Sam's idea of torment on the TV.
"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
Dean shifted uncomfortably on the bed. This was why he hated these kind of movies. They always tapped into emotions Dean liked to keep locked away. He continued to pick at the roast chicken he had in front of him, still happy about the two for one deal he'd scored with them. It beat the hell out of microwave burgers for dinner again. " Hey dude…grab one end." Dean held out the wishbone towards Sam.
Sam looked at Dean from his own bed, one eyebrow raised. " Dean…what are you? Six?"
" What? You too good to make a wish with your brother now?" Dean looked offended.
With a sigh, Sam reached over and snagged one side of the wishbone with his little finger, tugging gently at the same time as Dean. It snapped with a dull click, Dean being left with the biggest piece. " There, are you happy now?"
" Yeah, I am." Dean smiled, dropping the bone back onto his plate. But not before he did something he hadn't done in well over a decade. He made a wish. A simple, stupid wish because Dean was finally letting Christmas get to him. Or maybe it was that stupid movie? Whatever the reason, Dean made his wish, then got up and put his plate in the sink, looking at the empty eggnog carton sat there.
" So…who do I thank for tonight's dinner? Alfred Millingham? Ernesto Cuervero?" Sam asked, taking a healthy swig of eggnog to wash down his chicken. Credit card scamming wasn't easy, but Dean and Sam had it down to a fine art.
" Me. I used the cash I hustled the other night."
" You paid for all this?"
" Geez, Sam, you don't have to make it sound like it's something completely out of character for me. We had a deal, I kept to it."
"Hey, sorry…I didn't mean anything by it."
"Whatever." Dean dropped the dishcloth he'd been using, his tone indicating the subject closed. He stood, palms pressed against the sink for a moment, staring at the faded tiles in front of him. " Sorry, Sam, I'm just tired, I guess."
" No problem." Sam bobbed his head up and down quickly glad for the instant cut in the tension in the room.
Dean pushed away from the sink and returned to his bed, pulling out his duffel bag and retrieving a small present wrapped in the traditional garish Christmas paper. He tossed it to Sam. " Merry Christmas, little brother."
Sam caught the gift easily, frowning in puzzlement. " You got me something? You do know your supposed to wait until morning before you do this?"
" So open it then if you want.." Dean shrugged, the movement careless.
Sam reached under his own bed and threw a small present to Dean. " Merry Christmas yourself, bro."
Dean arched an eyebrow. " So….what? We doing this now or what?"
Sam grinned. " Unless you want to wait for the fat guy to slide down the chimney?"
" More like break and enter through the front door." Dean chuckled. " Not exactly a fireplace here." He peeled off the paper from his present and looked up at Sam, surprised. " The Black album? Dude…I thought you hated my Metallica?"
" I do…but it keeps you calm and well, since your copy got busted in the crash, I thought I'd get you another one. It's just taken me a while to track down a cassette. You've seriously got to think about updating to CD one day, Dean." Sam shook his head as he laughed softly, prying the wrapping off his own present. " Uri Geller's Little Book Of Mind Power?"
" I saw it in some shop window. Thought you might want to try adding bending spoons to your repertoire." Dean gave his brother a devilish grin.
Sam grinned in return, flipping through the pages and finding it reassuring that although it was only a book? It demonstrated that Dean wasn't afraid of Sam and his powers. That to Dean, he was still his brother, even it he was a freak.
"Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!"
Dean's face scrunched up as if he was in pain. " Alright, seriously, man…either we turn this movie off or I'm not going to be held responsible for what I'll end up doing."
" Oh? Like what?"
" Like shaving your eyebrows off while your asleep."
" You wouldn't?"
" Fall asleep first and find out." Dean threatened.
Sam grabbed the remote and flicked off the TV, kicking back the covers on his bed and climbing under. He pulled the covers up around his shoulders, turning his back on Dean. " Get some sleep, Dean. We should be on the road first thing."
" Yeah, I know." Dean sighed, climbing under the covers himself. He lay awake until he heard the soft sound of Sam's breathing as it evened out in sleep. It took another hour of counting the mould rings on the ceiling before he found himself drifting off, dreaming of hunting Santa and his twelve demonic reindeer.
The heavy insistent pounding woke Dean, his hand reaching for the knife under his pillow as his gaze met Sam's in the other bed. The younger Winchester nodded and indicated quietly that he would cover Dean as he answered the door, pulling his .45 from the duffel bag beside his bed.
Dean crossed the floor in bare feet, the knife held firmly in one hand as he opened the door. The figure standing there slowly raised it's head and Dean was sure his heart stopped. "Dad?"
" Hey, Dean.."
Dean stepped back from the door, knife at the ready, not that it would do much good against the demon if that was what was standing on his doorstep. His one hope, was the thick line of salt across the doorway. " You're not him."
" Dean. It's me." John Winchester spoke softly, his voice raspy and thin from lack of use. He looked haggard, as though he'd been to hell and back…which in John's case, was the truth. Bruises and cuts covered his face, his eyes barely open, he was so tired. But as he looked at Dean, there was nothing but love, nothing there but his father's eyes looking at him. " It's good to see you, Dean….where's Sam?"
" Dad?" Sam appeared behind Dean, the .45 still in his hand, his eyes full of uncertainty.
John took a tentative step forward, crossing the salt line before his knees buckled and Dean caught him before he hit the floor. He dragged his father to one of the beds and laid him down. John didn't move for a moment, not even when Sam stood over him, emptying an entire bottle of holy water on him. Finally, he opened his eyes again and chuckled, the sound tired and so much like their father it made Dean's heart ache. " You want to perform an exorcism next?"
"How? If it's really you, Dad? How are you here? We saw you die…they called time of death. We burnt and salted your body. How can it be you?" The questions tumbled out of Sam's mouth as Dean simply stood and watched.
" Tell him, Dean."
"What?" Dean's brow furrowed. " Me? How would I…"
" Your wish."
" My wi-…." It dawned on Dean then, his eyes widening. "You gotta be kidding me?"
Sam turned and looked at his brother. " The chicken bone? You made a wish on a chicken bone?"
" How the hell was I supposed to know it would come true? I wished for a monster truck when I was 12….that didn't magically appear, did it?" Dean growled defensively. He looked back at John. " Dad, you traded your life for mine with the demon…I don't understand. How'd you get out of that?"
" I'm not really sure." John ground out, sitting up. He swung his legs off the bed, hunched over and rested on his knees. " I've seen and experienced things I hope you boys never find out about. Not even for a second. I was in hell, at that bastard's mercy…and then…your mother. She appeared to me, told me that your wish had been heard by some higher power. Someone that holds sway even over that son of a bitch demon. She touched my hand and I woke up three miles out of town. All I knew was the name of this motel and the room number."
" This is crazy." Dean shook his head. He looked at his brother. " Sam…you wanna?"
A moment later, John could feel something in his mind, like gentle fingers walking over the surface of his brain. " You've gotten stronger, Sammy."
Sam was quiet for a moment longer, his face full of concentration before he finally spoke. " It's him, Dean. It's Dad."
" You're sure?"
" Yeah…I'm sure."
John got to his feet as Dean moved forward hesitantly, then threw his arms around his father. He didn't know why it was that this had happened, that a stupid, simple, Christmas wish had been answered. But Dean wasn't going to question it. He'd gotten his father back, and now the family he had fought so long and hard to preserve was together again.
Dean had no illusions that he was a good boy or that Santa existed or any of that touchy feely chick flick crap. But something….someone….had finally cut the Winchesters some slack and that year? Dean had something to smile about.
He stepped back as Sam moved in to embrace their father, Dean watching the moment with a quiet smile, tears pricking his eyes.
Maybe, just maybe….he understood the meaning of Christmas now. It was about family.