SUMMARY: It's a Supernatural Christmas Carol. Dean stubbornly clings to the belief that making the deal with the Crossroads Demon was the right thing to do, until he's visited by three familiar spirits who remind him how much Sam needed him in the past and still needs him in the present and future.
DISCLAIMER: Nope. Don't own Supernatural. Still playing in Kripke's sandbox. Not making any money so I'm allowed to play, even though he can't. Sigh.
A/N: This is a three-part story – as the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future come calling. Part One: It's the Weechesters of Christmas Past.
CHAPTER ONE: CHRISTMAS PAST
Dean woke suddenly, unsure what had pulled him from a fitful sleep. He pushed himself up with a groan, blinking his vision back into focus as he looked around him at this week's version of the usual crappy motel room. He couldn't for the life of him remember what town it was in.
He frowned when he saw the bed beside him was empty.
The fogginess in Dean's brain dissipated quickly when there was no answer.
"Sam." This time his voice was louder, more insistent, but there was still no answer.
The light in the bathroom was out so no Sam there. Dean threw back the covers, shivering as he left the comfortable warmth of the bed, and padded across the room. He threw open the door and scanned the motel parking lot. The Impala that should have been parked outside the door was nowhere in sight.
"So not cool, Sam." Dean ignored the blast of cold air that pushed past him and into the room. He turned quickly, slammed the door behind him and surveyed the room until his eyes fell on his phone on the bedside table.
He leaned over the bed, grabbed the phone, keyed in speed-dial for Sam and hit send. The call went straight to voicemail. "What the hell, Sam?" he growled into the phone as soon as the beep sounded. "Where are you? And where's my car? Call me as soon as you get this - and your ass better be on its way back here when you do."
Dean threw the phone down on the bed and sat down beside it, eyes darting back and forth as he tried to remember what had happened before he fell asleep, what had happened to make Sam take off.
"Not a pleasant feeling is it? Knowing your brother might be in trouble and not being able to do anything about it."
Dean jumped, startled by the strangely familiar voice coming from the other side of the room. He pushed himself to his feet, eyes widening as he saw the source of the voice. "Pastor Jim?"
Their old family friend smiled, walking across the room toward Dean. "I'd say 'In the flesh' but that's not quite true."
Dean backed up slowly, eyeing Pastor Jim suspiciously. "Okay, by that little joke, I'd say we're both aware of the fact you're, um, dead. Much as I'd like to say 'Nice to see ya, how ya been?,' you shouldn't be here. What gives?"
Pastor Jim sat on the edge of the bed and looked up at Dean. "We heard about the deal you made."
Dean's suspicion deepened. "Who's we?"
"You know who I work for, Dean; and we'd rather you not go to Hell." Pastor Jim shook his head at Dean's all-too-familiar avoidance tactics. "Now, the deal?"
Dean's jaw clenched. "What about it?"
"Why don't you want to get out of it?"
Dean's eyes narrowed. "If you know about the deal, you know the answer to that. I break the deal, Sam drops dead. And no way is that happening."
"You don't think you can find a way around that clause, especially if you and your brother work together?"
Dean folded his arms stubbornly. "Doesn't matter. I'm not taking the risk."
Pastor Jim stood slowly. "The real risk, Dean," he said quietly, "is leaving your brother alone, unprotected."
Dean swallowed. It was the part of the deal that bothered him the most; that by sacrificing himself for Sam, he'd ultimately left his brother vulnerable. He shook his head as his eyes met Pastor Jim's, trying to convince himself as much as his old friend. "Sam's smart, he's strong. Hell, he's a better man now than I'll ever be. He'll be fine."
Pastor Jim smiled sadly. "That attitude, Dean, is why I'm here. You and Sam are flip sides of the same coin. If we're going to win this battle, we need both of you. We're all foot soldiers in the war against evil: each with a different role to play, all with the same goal."
Dean shook his head, allowing a small smile to escape. "Dead or alive, always a preacher, huh?" His brow furrowed again. "So that's why you're here? To convince me to fight, make me change my mind?"
"Something like that." Pastor Jim stood up and walked over to Dean. "Although, with you, I've always found that show works better than tell."
He reached out and clasped Dean by the shoulder. The room around them twisted and distorted. A wave of dizziness washed over Dean. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision and when it did, he was in a different motel room. It seemed vaguely familiar, but they'd been in so many, he couldn't be sure. He was about to ask Pastor Jim to explain when his eyes settled on a small figure seated on a stool at the bar counter of the motel room's tiny kitchenette. The figure had his back to Dean but it was unmistakably his brother.
His brother at around the age of seven.
"Sammy." Dean smiled softly as he walked up to his brother, his little brother when he was still little.
Pastor Jim placed a hand on Dean's shoulder. "He can't see you, Dean. We're just here to observe."
"Why?" Dean asked the question of Pastor Jim but his eyes never left his brother. Sam sat on the tall stool, long legs dangling and kicking the stool rhythmically, long hair flopping over his eyes as he hunched over a piece of paper. His tongue was stuck out as he concentrated on his work. Sam paused to study the stub of black crayon in his fingers, sighed, then returned to his coloring. "Why are we here?"
"So you can see what's really important." Pastor Jim gave Dean's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Because, sometimes, especially when something is right under our nose, we stop seeing it until it's gone, until it's too late."
The door to the motel room flew open suddenly, the blast of cold air that moved through the room threatening to send Sam's piece of paper flying. He slammed his hand down on top of it, frowning as he turned to face his brother who now stood in the doorway.
"Dean, close the door. It's cold." Sam was still frowning, holding tightly to the piece of paper.
"Keep your shorts on, runt. I need to get something inside first."
Dean's eyes widened at the cocky smile his younger self displayed as he dumped the paper sack he was carrying on the chair by the door. Young Dean then went back outside, leaving the door wide open. The gusts of wind that came into the room brought with them large flakes of snow. Sam watched them fall and disappear as they melted quickly on the faded brown carpet before his attention was pulled back to his brother. Dean was now struggling to get through the door while carrying a three-foot tall fake Christmas tree, already fully decorated.
Sam's face lit up. "Dean, you got us a Christmas tree!" His frown returned when he suddenly recognized the unbreakable ornaments and multi-coloured lights. "That's the tree from the motel office. You stole it?"
Dean grinned. "Relax, Sammy. I didn't steal it. Mabel said we could have it in our room tonight and tomorrow, as long as we bring it back Boxing Day." His grin widened. "I think she has a crush on you. Didn't want 'that cute little thing' waking up on Christmas morning without a tree to look at."
Sam frowned again as he thought about the large woman with the bright red cheeks who worked in the motel office.
Adult Dean snorted at Sam's expression, glancing at Pastor Jim. "I don't think Sammy knows what a 'crush' is, although he's pretty sure if it involves Mabel, it can't be a good thing."
With the tree now fully in the room, young Dean slammed the door shut. He banged the snow off his boots before toeing them off and kicking them into the corner behind the door. He then shrugged off his jacket and dropped it on the chair beside the paper sack.
"Whaddya think, Sammy? Where should the tree go?"
It was a small room and there were few real options, but Sam considered the decision carefully. He pointed to the dresser against the wall opposite the beds. "I think we should put it on top of that. Then we can both see it when we wake up?"
Adult Dean smiled. For all the times he'd accused Sam of being selfish, at heart the kid was anything but.
Young Dean just shrugged, hauled the tree over to the desk and picked it up, the tree's ornaments swinging wildly as he dropped it into place on top of the dresser. He grabbed the cord dangling from the bottom of the tree, snaked his arm down behind the furniture, just managing to reach the outlet there, and plugged in the tree.
As the tree lit up, so did Sam's face. But with his bright smile, adult Dean's spirit dimmed a little more. Seven-year-old Sammy still had much of the innocence Dean had fought so hard to preserve, even as the life they led fought ever harder to take it from him. Sam was a good kid who'd grown into a good man; Dean just wished he'd been able to protect him from a lot more, a lot longer.
Mission accomplished with the tree, young Dean returned his attention to the paper bag he'd first carried into the room. "You hungry, squirt?"
Sam eyed the bag Dean held and sighed. "Burgers or Chinese?"
Dean looked offended. "Sammy, come on. It's Christmas Eve – you don't have burgers on Christmas Eve." He pulled a square Styrofoam container from the bag, popped open the lid and held it up in front of Sam. Sam's eyes widened at the contents – turkey with stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and even a dollop of cranberry jelly. "Dean, where'd you get that?"
"I told you, Mabel has a crush on you." He shook his head at Sam's confused expression.. "I'm kidding, Sam. God you're an easy mark. Her church group does a big Christmas dinner each year. They did all the cooking today so she put together two dinners for us. There's even pumpkin pie for dessert."
He pushed the container of food toward Sam, then motioned to the papers his brother had spread over the countertop. "Clear away that crap, Sam, then we can eat."
Sam's frown returned. "It's not crap, Dean. I'm working on …..on somethin'."
"Can't tell you."
Dean's eyebrows arched in surprise. It wasn't like his brother to keep secrets. He moved in closer to look at the papers. "Come on, Sam. Fess up. Whatcha doin'?"
Sam leaned over the paper closest to him, hiding it from Dean. "You can't see it - yet. It's, um, it's……." Sam deflated visibly as he realized there was no way his brother would let it drop unless he said something. "It's your Christmas present, Dean. But I'm not done yet."
Young Dean and his adult counterpart both felt like crap for ruining Sam's surprise. Young Dean backed away, hands held up in surrender. "Hey, whatever it is, it'll be great. . Just, um, finish up what you're doing and I'll put this food on real plates." He shrugged. "It's Christmas, right? We shouldn't be eating out of takeout boxes."
Sam nodded, a small smile threatening to break through his crestfallen expression. He picked up his crayon and turned back to his work as Dean busied himself in the kitchen. A few minutes later, Sam slid excitedly off the stool, grabbed the paper he had been working on and ran over to his bed. He dropped to his knees beside his small duffle bag, reached inside then very deliberately turned his back on Dean so his brother couldn't see what he was doing. Dean heard the rustle of paper then the zipper being pulled shut.
Sam bounded back to the kitchenette counter, and clambered up onto the stool; grinning widely, just as Dean put the plate of food down in front of him.
"Good. Then get started on your dinner." Dean slid a glass of apple juice in front of Sam's plate, a can of soda in front of his own and a paper plate holding two dinner rolls and two pats of butter in between the two.
Sam nodded happily as he picked up his knife and fork and tucked into his dinner hungrily. Dean shook his head when he realized Sam had gone for the vegetables first. Sam noticed the disapproving shake.
"What?" he asked, his mouth full of food.
"You're weird, Sammy. What kid eats vegetables first?"
Sam shrugged. "I like vegetables." He grinned. "And if I'm weird, it's coz I hang out with you. You're Captain Weird." He snorted with laughter at his own joke.
Dean snorted back. "If I'm captain, what does that make you? First Mate? Gilligan to my Skipper?"
Sam shook his head but kept eating. "Uh-uh. I'm smarter than Gilligan and you're not fat enough to be Skipper." He paused for a moment, trying to think of the best way to describe their relationship. "I'm, um, your lieutenant. The one you tell your plans to, to make sure they'll work. Then I help you carry them out and you make sure I stay safe while we do it." He nodded, satisfied with his answer, then returned to eating.
Adult Dean's eyes widened. Even at age seven, Sam saw things with a clarity that amazed him. He wondered, for only the millionth time, where Sam's brains and insight might have taken him if circumstances, if life, had been different.
Pastor Jim nodded, smiling softly. "Pretty smart kid. You should listen to him more often."
Adult Dean smiled sadly at the bittersweet tableau playing out before him: the two brothers, playfully teasing back and forth as they ate their dinner. The missing piece was obvious – Dad. As often happened, the hunt he was on had taken longer than planned. John had hoped to be back before Christmas, but would not show up until the following night, battered, bruised and emotionally spent. Backed up by Dean, he would put on a brave face for Sam's sake and say he was fine. Sam, playing his part, would accept the explanation and the three of them would move on like nothing happened.
But Sam was growing tired of his role. Dean could see him struggle each time he was required to rein in his natural inquisitiveness and swallow the questions that came so quickly to mind. With the gift of hindsight, Dean recognized that struggle as the seeds of rebellion already taking root.
When the brothers finished eating, Dean rubbed his tummy, smiled at his brother and belched loudly. Sam threw his head back, laughing hard, and promptly fell off his stool. Dean shook his head as he climbed off his own stool and offered a hand down to his still snickering brother on the floor. "Nice co-ordination there, kiddo."
"Your fault," Sam shot back, still giggling.
Dean tousled his brother's hair affectionately. "Get your PJs on Sammy, then you have a decision to make."
Sam stopped laughing. "Whaddya mean?"
Dean waggled his eyebrows mischievously. "You wanna open your present now or in the morning?"
Sam's eyes widened in surprise. "I have a present?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, Sammy. You have a present."
While Sam's face again lit up, adult Dean cringed. No kid should have to wonder 'if' they got a present.
Dean had only vague memories of Christmas when his mom was still alive, of helping her put sprinkles on freshly baked cookies, of helping his Dad put together the train track that ran around the base of the tree – but Sammy had never known that kind of holiday. Their mom had died, been killed, a month before what would have been Sammy's first Christmas.
The day after Halloween that year, Christmas merchandise had suddenly flooded local stores. Mary had found a silver rattle ornament, engraved with the words 'Baby's First Christmas.' She showed it to Dean and told him it was his job to hang it on a branch for Sammy when they put up the tree just after Thanksgiving. He had nodded and carefully carried the ornament around the store. The cashier had smiled at him when he reluctantly gave up the box for her to ring through, then placed it quickly in a small bag and returned it to his care.
Once home, he had taken it out of the bag to show Sammy, who had stayed behind with their dad. Very seriously, he had told Sam that it was his job as big brother to put Sammy's ornament on the tree until he was big enough to hang it up himself. Dean insisted that his mom put the ornament on his dresser, where he could keep an eye on it, keep it safe, until it was time to put it on the tree.
That time never came. A day later Mary was gone, and with it all vestiges of their normal life.
John was not a bad father, just a flawed one, and Christmas to him represented all he had lost. For the boys' sake, he'd tried to make an effort the first couple of years but, as they got older and John became more immersed in the hunting world, Christmas ceased to become a big deal. In some years it had been little more than another day on the calendar.
As Dean got older, he did his best to give Sam some kind of happy Christmas memories to hold on to, but the holidays best resembled his vague memories of what Christmas should be like when they stayed with Pastor Jim. Jim would make sure each of the boys had a present or two, something small in deference to their nomadic lifestyle, and a Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, served family-style from large, well-worn dishes laid out down the middle of the long table in the rectory kitchen.
The boys would also attend church services with him although, on the rare occasion John was with them for Christmas, he would not. Pastor Jim was usually a plain-spoken man but if he and Dad ever had it out over John's refusal to attend church, Dean never heard it or heard about it.
But John never stopped the boys from attending. Dean hated wearing a tie, hated the old ladies who insisted on pinching his cheeks as they waited for Pastor Jim at the end of the service, but Sammy seemed to like church. He loved the music, the stories, the pageantry. When, as an adult, he would confess to Dean he prayed every day, Dean realized he'd loved the spiritual comfort too.
Dean's attention was drawn back to the scene playing out before him when young Sammy walked slowly out of the motel bathroom, now dressed in the shorts and T-shirt that served as pajamas, and sat down on the edge of his bed. He turned to face Dean, his little face very serious. "I've decided I want to open my present tonight."
Dean had moved their dishes into the sink while Sam was getting changed. His eyebrow quirked slightly at Sam's decision to open his present before their father got back. "You sure?"
Sam nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure."
To adult Dean, the decision was a momentous one. Sam somehow knew their Dad would not be back that night or even the following morning. Waiting, in the hopes he might show up, would just end in more disappointment. Sam wanted to hold on to what he had, not what might be.
Young Dean nodded, accepting Sam's decision. He crossed from the kitchenette to his duffle bag at the side of the bed, reached in and pulled out a small parcel wrapped in the Saturday comics. "Merry Christmas, Sammy."
Sam nodded as took the parcel, smiling as he looked from the package to his big brother. "Thanks, Dean."
He moved to put down the package and get his present for Dean from his duffle bag.
Dean shook his head. "No, Sammy. Open your present first."
Sam looked at Dean, his eyes wide. "You sure?"
Dean smiled. "Yeah, Sammy. I'm sure. Open your present."
Sam picked up the parcel, carefully unfolding the paper and pausing to look at the comics. Dean rolled his eyes impatiently. "Sammy, you can read the comics later. Open your present."
Sam grinned mischieviously. He knew Dean liked to rip open his presents and opening them slowly drove him nuts. Sam returned to opening his present – slowly. Unfolding the last layer of comics revealed a shiny black car. Sam's face lit up. "It's our car!"
Dean nodded. "Yeah, Sammy. Dad always said the Impala would be mine when I'm old enough to drive it. But now you have one too."
Sam's eyes sparkled. "Thanks, Dean. I love it."
"No problemo, dude."
Sam carefully put down his new toy on the bed then jumped off and walked over to his duffle. He reached inside, pulled out his present for Dean and passed it to his brother. "Merry Christmas, Dean."
A single sheet of white paper was rolled up and slipped inside an empty toilet paper roll. Sam had decorated the cardboard tube, using his crayons to draw a Christmas tree on one side and write 'To Dean, From Sam' on the other.
Adult Dean recognized that as yet another momentous occasion – while he was sure it had more to do with available space on the cardboard tube than sudden rejection of his childhood nickname, it was the first time Sammy had referred to himself as Sam.
Dean pulled the sheet of paper from inside the tube and unrolled it. He smiled at the picture Sam had drawn: it was the Impala, with Dean and Sam standing beside it, Dean's stick figure arm thrown protectively around Sam's shoulder.
"Notice Dad's not in the picture," adult Dean muttered, knowing his younger self also noted the omission but said nothing.
Young Dean smiled at his brother. "It's awesome, Sammy."
Sam smiled, then shrugged. "Wish I could have bought you somethin' Dean but…"
Dean cut him off. "I don't. I'm glad you made this. Makes it special."
Five-year-old Sam would have taken that as gospel. Seven-year-old Sam wanted to believe Dean meant it, but was slightly more suspicious. "Really?"
"Really, Sammy. Thanks."
That was enough. Sam smiled. Really smiled, then turned to play with his car.
The spirit of Pastor Jim turned to face adult Dean. "Seen enough?"
"Enough for what?" Dean snapped back. "To know we had a crappy childhood?"
"To know how much Sam needs you."
Dean shook his head. "No. Sammy the kid needed me. Sam, the grown man, can take care of himself. He'll be fine."
Pastor Jim sighed. "Just because he can take care of himself, doesn't mean he doesn't want you in his life."
Dean's stomach roiled. "Yeah, well he wouldn't have a life if I hadn't done what I did."
"Such selflessness. Kinda brings a tear to your eye, don't it?"
Dean whirled to face the new voice. Now standing on the far side of the room was the Yellow-Eyed Demon, wearing the janitor's 'meat-suit.' He smiled, yellow eyes flashing. "Call me the ghost of Christmas Present. How'd ya like the wrapping?"
To Be Continued………
A/N: Hope to see you back. Thanks so much for reading and please leave a review. I love reading your comments. Thanks again.