"You want us to go to Scotland?!"
"So you're the bounty hunter. How did you manage to get out of jail?"
"Trust me, these boys are the ones you're after."
"You said her name again."
"This job, y' don't just get out of it, even when you're old. Y' can't, after y' know what's out there."
"Hold on. Show the world, above and below, how long you can live."
It was the night before Christmas. Snow was thick on the ground and he could hear the children's choir singing their hearts out for the Christmas service in the Town Hall. His dad and brother weren't back yet, so for a while he could pretend. He sat with his nose pressed flat against the window, staring out at the snow and the lights and the Christmas tree in the square.
He longed to go out there and run through the snow. He wanted to go sledding for the very first time in his life and make a snowman without Dad saying it looked evil. He wanted…
He wanted to be a normal kid on Christmas Eve, and for a while he could pretend.
But Dad said he couldn't go out. They were never allowed to go out when Dad was away, and lately he'd been taking Dean as well, so there was no one to talk to. He missed his brother, and wondered what Dad was making him do, but his dismay was washed away by the fact that it was Christmas Eve.
Dean had dutifully taken his letter to Santa down to the post office, and Dad had even smiled that morning at breakfast, so he was absolutely certain that things were looking better this year. Dad had completely forgotten last Christmas, and Sam had long since stopped expecting any presents, but surely he would remember.
Of course he would. After all, he was Dad.
Smiling, he climbed into bed. Dad and Dean would be home soon, it was snowing, he could still hear the carollers out his window, and his little family would be together for Christmas.
"Dean?" He opened the door experimentally. "Are you awake?"
Silent on bare feet, he crept over to the lumpy mattress. All he could see of his brother was one arm that hung limply over the side of the bed and dragged along the floor. A blanket that had a large, frightening clown pattern on it covered the rest of him. Sam had complained non-stop until Dean had caved in and given him the quilt with the Millennium Falcon on it.
He didn't like clowns.
"You know what day it is?" He reached forward to drag the blanket from Dean's head, and his brother's hair sat up at all angles. Last week Dad has sat him on a stool in front of him and chopped his hair back until it was barely a brush on the top of his head. Dean had sulked for a day or two until the pretty teenager across the way who was staying with her mother made an offhand comment that it suited him. He spent the rest of the day preening.
"D'you know what day it is?"
"Well, yeah. But apart from Tuesday." Sam's hand tightened on Dean's shoulder and gave it a little shake. Dean didn't do this. Dean was the one that remembered the birthdays. Dean brought out the packet of chocolate eggs on Easter. Dean was the one that stayed up with him to watch the New Year fireworks on TV.
Please don't be turning into Dad. "D-eeean." He whined.
His brother leisurely rolled onto his back. There was a goofy grin on his face, a goofy grin Sam hadn't seen since he started going out in the middle of the night with Dad. "Good morning, doofus." He greeted, crossed his hands behind his head. "Enjoy your night off? You better not have been watching any blue movies or the Sergent will have you."
Sam pulled a face. He knew what sex was, but at nine going on ten, thought it was a pretty revolting idea. In his mind all girls still had cooties. "What day is it?" He pressed.
The obnoxious grin became more of an affectionate smile as Dean withdrew a sloppily wrapped parcel from under his pillow. "You thought I forgot, didn't you?"
"No, I didn't." Sam said defensively. Dean racked his fingers through his hair and yawned.
"Might be a bit squashed." He warned. "I accidentally sat on it yesterday."
Sam reached into the pocket of his pyjamas, withdrawing a small box wrapped in a length of blue ribbon. The boys exchanged gifts. "You know Dad'll kill us if he finds out we've been buying 'non-necessary' items." Dean shook his present, looking slightly disappointed that it was so much smaller than Sam's.
"It's Christmas." Even so, Sam knew how much of a survivalist Dad was. He'd impressed on both his sons not to get particularly frivolous if they could get away with it.
"You gonna open it or not?"
Sam ripped open the present. A glossy, slightly battered paperback book slipped into his hands. Surprised, he turned it over. "'Criminal Law'?" He glanced up at his brother. "Are you feeling alright?"
Dean actually looked embarrassed. "Got it for a ten down the street." He murmured. "You're into all that civics stuff, so I thought-"
"It's cool." Sam grinned. I would have preferred a baseball bat, but still… "I might even read it one day." He teased, tucking the book under his arm.
"Bitch." Dean muttered under his breath.
"What did you just call me?"
"You're like a girl. A bitchy girl." Dean elaborated.
"How do you figure that?"
"Well, you whinge all the time. Non-stop. Nag, nag, and nag. The next natural progression from nag is to bitch."
"I do not bitch. I have never bitched in my entire life-" Sam stopped when he realised that Dean had effectively lured him into a verbal trap. "You're an ass, you know that? A real jerk."
"Ooh." Dean smirked. He slit the ribbon with the knife he kept near the bed and peered into the box. "What the hell is that?"
Sam felt himself going red. "It's a… protection charm." He wriggled around on Dean's bed as his brother gave him an amused look. "I thought… with all the mad stuff Dad has you doing… it's only a bit of a joke…"
Oblivious to Sam's incoherent spluttering, Dean pulled the cord out of the box and placed the small amulet around his neck. "There. I'm wearing your goofy necklace, now you have to read my goofy book."
"Deal." Both brothers shook on it. "Merry Christmas, Dean."
"Merry Christmas, Sammy. Should we wake the rare and endangered Sasquatch, you reckon?" Dean questioned, glancing out to where their father had once again fallen asleep in the armchair. "He wouldn't have gotten us anything." He warned his little brother.
"Just to hear him say it for once would be nice." Sam said.
"I dare you to poke him."
"You're so immature."
Sam slipped from the bed and stood up. Even at nine he was almost as tall as Dean was. He held the book before him like a shield, and cautiously took a few steps toward John Winchester. "Dude, I was kidding!" Dean hissed. "Nay, good knight. Don't approach the sleeping dragon lest ye be slain!"
John wasn't asleep. Sam could tell as soon as he tilted his head to the side to gauge who was approaching him. "Morning, Dad." He stood opposite his father. Dad didn't say anything. One eyebrow tilted, giving the boy permission to continue.
"Um, well, I know you don't like us going out in daylight to the shops, but it's Christmas, and-" The glare became frostier but the man still didn't speak. Of course he knows what day it is. He never really forgets. He just doesn't do anything about it. "And, um, this is from me and Dean." He placed the box on the table and turned away, eager to leave behind his resentful, brooding father.
"I know what day it is." Dad's voice was dry and scratchy and caught Sam by surprise. "And it's just another day."
Sam's eyes grew wide. "But-"
"That was irresponsible. Going out like that, someone could have recognised you. Recognised you were my son. I had expected certain idiot recklessness from Dean, not you." John kept his careful monotone as he gave his blank stare.
In all the years of insults, training and running, Dean had created a hard shell around himself that no one else could get into to stop him from being hurt. No such thing with Sam. He loved his brother, but didn't want to be like him. No matter how hard Dad tried to turn them into drones.
"But it's Christ-"
"I don't care. Take it back. The same with whatever you two boys have. That way you'll learn how to budget your money for when you really need it."
He couldn't move. His hands were clenched by his sides. He couldn't remember ever being this angry, not even when Dad deliberately ignored the fact that Dean had gotten that award for excellence in Science. "No." He finally whispered.
"What did you just-?"
"We're still kids! We're still allowed to do things like this!"
"Samuel Winchester, you need to learn to live off only the bare essentials-"
"It's a watch, Dad! Only a stupid watch!" Sam cried, seizing the package off the table and waving it in the air. "Why do you always have to be like this? Is it what Mom would have wanted?"
That got a reaction. John rocketed off his chair, his face twisting.
"Don't you dare throw your mother in my face." He growled. "You have no idea what she would have wanted."
"Neither do you! Running, leaving in the middle of the night, never in the one place long enough to make any friends? Why can't you be a normal dad?"
"Sam! Dad! Stop!" Dean tried to interject, his voice loosing it's impact as it cracked on the last syllable.
John advanced. With a sudden urge of terror, Sam dropped the present and watched hopelessly as the heel of Dad's boot carelessly crushed it. His eyes bored into the boy, daring him to continue. Sam's heart was beating mile-fast, but he knew he had to finish what he started. After all, it was his idea to get Dad that watch.
"Mom's dead." He squeaked. "And nothing you can do is going to bring her back."
And that was when John hit him.
"Dad!" Dean bellowed, shooting across to Sam's side.
Sam stared up at his father, his eyes brimming with tears of anger and frustration. "I hate you." He whispered, putting every ounce of emotion he had left in his little nine-year-old body into those three words. "I hate you."
There, on the floor, were the mangled remains of the watch. The nice man who owned the jewellery store on the corner had engraved the back with a message because the boys had asked him politely.
Merry Christmas, Dad. Love Dean & Sam.
And from that day on, as said by John himself, Christmas became yet another day to Sam.
Unfortunately, also from that day on Dean had also felt compelled to reopen his little brother's mind to the joys of Yuletide. Which, of course, made him even more obnoxious than usual, which was saying something.
"Stockings and candy canes and mistletoe, oh my."
The two were sitting on the hood of the Impala, eating chips with gravy as flecks of snow settled in their hair.
Sam grunted in reply.
"Come on, Sammy. 'Tis the season."
"Don't make me hurt you."
"Bring it on, dog boy."
They were silent as they watched the shoppers pass them by, staggering out to their cars with mountains of brightly wrapped parcels. Christmas songs blared out of almost every store on the block, and there was a charity Santa ringing his bell on the corner. A charity Santa that looked to Dean suspiciously like a balding, fat hobo in a dyed sweater.
"He's making a list, and checking it twice." He hummed a few off-tune bars. "You know, for once in the crapper that has been my life, I'd like to get a real Christmas present."
"We always did have real Christmas presents. I mean, when we, like, didn't forget, or were doing something else at the time, or just didn't feel like it…"
"That's my idea. Something that just isn't completely bogus. You know, some gadget that spins and flashes and makes weird noises and you're never a hundred percent sure what it actually does."
"You're just a big kid inside, aren't you?"
"But Daddy, all the other girls have one."
"D'you think Jo'll mind us crashing at her place for the season?"
"Dude. Since when have you given a toss about imposing on others? Was it 'cause of that… uncomfortable process you went through a few months ago?"
"You know, the one where you suddenly grew a conscience."
"Hey, hey! I just don't like the idea of showing up all unannounced. I have a reputation to consider."
"What the hell are you talking about? We always show up all unannounced." Sam flicked away his last chip. "Whatever, man. Let's just go before the snow sets in."
Each radio channel was seemingly only airing Christmas music. "You gotta be kidding me." Sam whizzed the dial back and forth as Dean flung the Impala into the corner, a manic grin on his face to be back behind the wheel of his beloved. "You mind slowing it down a little?" Sam shouted over the strains of Jingle Bell Rock.
"You're a wuss, Sam. Live a little."
"Since the rest of my life could be all of the next ten minutes?!"
"Tut, tut. Goodwill to all men and all that junk, right, Tiny Tim?"
"Oh no, don't you dare. Don't you dare start quoting from A Christmas Carol."
"What, me? The Dickens, you say." Dean grinned.
"I hate you."
"I know. But your loathing is so amusing."
Sam hated snow. He hated carols. He hated mistletoe; it made him all itchy. Jess had once asked why he was so anti-Christmas; he said it was complicated. She had nodded knowingly and let the matter drop. She knew him well enough to tell that 'complicated' was a codeword for 'family problems.'
"What, loser-loser or a super loser?" Dean grinned, as unflappable as always.
"Eyes on the road, please!"
"Ha. Look, Sam. No hands,"