It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

A/N: I do not own anything from Kripke's world of Supernatural and hope he can return to it really soon when the writer's strike ends. This is a tag for the episode A Very Supernatural Christmas so spoiler alert if you haven't seen it. Cheers!

The throbbing in his finger was matched by the throbbing in his head. While the bottle on the table was still more than half full, Sam had drank more than he was used to and drank it quickly with his eggnog. He stared up at the ceiling illuminated by the sparse Christmas lights that he had scrounged up for Dean's tree.

The brothers had stayed up only long enough to watch the game. Fighting pagan gods was tiring. So were the emotions of the evening. Sam had initially resisted Dean's desire to celebrate Christmas from a sense of self-preservation. December heralded not only the end of the year but Dean's impending descent into hell. Of course, most of Sam's Christmases had been marred by broken promises or some other disaster.

Until now, he had pretty much blocked out memories of the Christmas when he was eight. It was ironic since the reminder of that night was visible each and every time he looked at Dean. Sam smiled slightly at the memory. His father's broken promise and Dean's earnest but disastrous attempt to make things right had solidified the one constant in Sam's life. Dean supported and worshipped John Winchester, but Dean would always do what was best for Sam if he could. He had even let Sam walk out of his life six years ago.

Sam blinked until his vision cleared again. Adults his age were marking "firsts" not "lasts." The first degree. The first serious relationship. The first…. Not the Winchesters. For them it was the last. The last argument. The last plea. The last Christmas. Dean's birthday was only a month away and would soon be joining the list of "lasts." Sam had sworn that he'd do anything to get Dean out of his deal. He was running out of "anythings." God. He prayed that they would find a way to release Dean from his deal. A way to keep Dean alive with him now that they were learning to be brothers again.

Shifting carefully to avoid disturbing Dean in the other bed, Sam tried to find a comfortable position. His right arm and hand hurt. He'd iced the finger until it was numb but that was wearing off. He grabbed a pillow, plumped it, and elevated his hand. The throbbing receded. If only the same could be done for his head. It wasn't just the rum; it was from holding in all the things he needed to say but just couldn't get out.

Sam snorted as he remembered the look of consternation and then acceptance the first time Bobby'd seen the Winchesters after that Christmas. Bobby's eyes had locked immediately on the charm around Dean's neck. Sam had been afraid of what Bobby might say when he learned that John, the intended recipient, didn't have the amulet. Bobby had specifically told Sam to give it to John as a present, so he wouldn't refuse to wear it.

Sam had avoided Bobby all afternoon. He and Dean had gone out to rummage in the junkyard for some cool things. Sam was digging in a barrel when a hand pulled him upright. Thinking it was his father, Sam had jerked away. Things were still not right between them since the broken Christmas promise. John was at a loss on how to make things right with his youngest. His eldest had accepted the excuse and let whatever anger he had go. Seeing Bobby instead of John, Sam's jaw jutted out at a truculent angle. He knew what was coming. Looking up at Bobby through his bangs, Sam waited for the tongue lashing he knew he deserved.

For his part, Bobby was amused. He had been a bit dismayed to see the charm around Dean's neck; it was for protection and who needed it more than a hunter. He'd gone to a lot of trouble getting that charm. But a talent of Bobby's was reading people. This visit alone had told him so much about the Winchester family's current dynamics. Sam no longer turned to John for approval with his school work. Sam didn't ask John for help with anything. Sam turned to Dean. This entire week at Bobby's, Sam had followed his big brother around, mimicking him when he wasn't looking. It wasn't to mock Dean. It was a conscious effort to be like his big brother. Something had happened, and Sam had chosen to gift Dean with the only precious thing he had in his possession. The amulet. Bobby had decided to let it be. While Sam was mimicking his brother, Dean was mimicking John. Chances were the boy would grow up into a hunter too. Maybe it would come in handy one day.

Digging back into his memories, it seemed to Sam that the breach between John and Bobby had started that year. Something to do with an argument that Sam had overheard when he should have been asleep.

"John. What the hell happened at Christmas? Why weren't you there?"

"Who told you that? Sam? Dean?"

"Nobody told me! I figured it out for myself. I'm not an idjit."

John's snort contradicted that opinion. He reached out for the whiskey bottle and added some more. Waving the bottle Bobby's way and getting an affirmation, he topped off Bobby's glass as well. "I suppose this has to do with that thing Dean's now got. You?"

Bobby swallowed a healthy shot before answering. "I gave it to Sam. He chose who to give it to." Unspoken was the accusation that it should have gone to John. He glared a bit. "What did you do to piss that boy off?"

"I haven't done anything. Sam is the one who did something. He stole my journal…read it…found out about… about everything." John's head dropped as though it was too heavy to lift any more. It was weighted by too many horrible memories. He'd not noticed the journal missing until he wanted to write something down. By then, he couldn't go back; he'd lose vital time. The look in Sam's eyes told him who had taken it when he finally walked into the motel room. Sam's silence told him more.

Bobby sighed with sympathy. "I suppose that means he knows about what it is you do. Does he know all of it?"

"He won't say. He clammed up when I asked him."

"Asked or ordered? John, when will you learn that you can't treat Sam the way you treat Dean?'

John spluttered. "What's good enough for Dean had damn well better be good enough for Sam. He wants to know everything then fine. Now he gets the same treatment, the same training. He has to learn to suck it up. No more kid gloves."

Bobby shook his head. He had realized early on that Sam had a very curious and analytical mind that wanted to know the "why" about everything. And that wouldn't work in John Winchester's world. If he gave an order, the only response was 'Yes, sir' and no questions asked. Dean was a quick learner and desperately wanted to please his father. He wanted his approval. Sam had only known the hard man who was John Winchester. Bobby figured Dean remembered the man who had tucked him into bed and played tickle games and gave shoulder rides. A father. Not a drill sergeant. Not the hunter who now sat across from Bobby.

Bobby had met many hunters, heard the myriad reasons for their becoming hunters. But few of them dragged along their children. But John Winchester made his own rules. Rules that he insisted be followed.

Bobby tried again. "John, don't you think you should settle down for a few years, let the boys go to school, become normal?"

The scraping of a chair echoed in the kitchen as John stood up quickly. "Normal?" He began to pace. "What about my life is normal? You know there are things out there…things like what killed Mary..things like that shtriga that almost killed Sam a while back. Those things will always be there and normal will not keep my boys safe."

"Sit down, John, you're hurting my neck looking up at you." Bobby wanted John to calm down before the boys heard. His heart bled for them. They were just kids for goodness sakes. They deserved a life of their own not living in the back seat of that Impala. He sighed with relief as John settled back down. He decided to switch gears. "So, who do you think will win the Superbowl? Redskins or Bills? Hey, why don't you all stay here 'til the game? It's right after Dean's birthday so we can. . ."

"No thanks, Bobby. I've got a lead on some ghost lights out in Missippi. I want to head out there before the next storm."

"John. Take a break will ya? Another week won't…"

"No thanks, Bobby. We're leaving in the morning." John stood up and left his unfinished drink on the table. He wanted a clear head for driving. John headed up to the guest room, quietly circling the couch where both boys slept. Pausing to touch each boy's head, he needed the reassurance that they were there with him, warm and alive. He hated to let them out of his sight and now that Sam knew the truth, they could join him on more hunts. He needed to start teaching Sam how to shoot. To protect himself.

Bobby wanted to slam his head into the table. He understood John's burning desire to hunt and destroy evil. He sure as hell had his own demons that had drawn him into the world of hunting but those boys. Why couldn't John see how hunting would warp them? The enforced solitude and isolation was making them dependent on each other to a dangerous extent. He wasn't sure if they could handle being apart. Maybe it was a good thing that Dean wore the amulet after all.

He'd try to convince John to come back for an extended visit soon. But his hopes were dashed. It was months before he saw the Winchesters again and the changes in both boys frustrated and angered him. The men had argued about it. A few years later, the same argument had driven Bobby to distraction, and he threatened John with his shotgun. He couldn't bear to see how the boys' were losing out on a life with any chance for normality. Bobby got the last laugh in a way when Sam abandoned his family in his own pursuit of a normal life. Sam had found something that could make him leave Dean's side. A life away from hunting. A life full of learning.

Sam's breathing had finally settled into the slow rhythmic sounds of sleep. Dean was touched that Sam had chosen to help him celebrate Christmas the way he'd wanted to. In the darkness, Dean allowed the fear to rise up just a bit. Often, he found himself saying, "this is probably the last time to…" To do a myriad of thing for and with Sam. He knew his brother was strong, but cracks were appearing in Sam's armor. Dean was afraid he'd do something stupid. Something like killing the crossroads demon. Something like letting a demon live in hopes of it helping him out. Something like…Dean was afraid of the next stupid thing Sam would choose to do.

After months of being angry at his father's choice, Dean learned how easy it had been to make that same deal. His life for his brother's. No thought needed at all. He didn't regret it, but he was scared. And Dean never admitted he was scared, not even to himself. Until now. He had no idea how much of "him" would stay aware in hell, and he was trying to build as many good memories as he could to sustain him when he went there.

He needed to remember the good times. There were so many bad times that he couldn't forget, and he was afraid they would overwhelm him. But tonight. Tonight gave Dean a memory that he could fold up to be pulled out whenever despair threatened to overwhelm him. It joined the memory of seeing his baby brother for the first time, being cuddled by his mother, the djinn's Mary hugging the adult Dean, entering the derelict house in South Dakota and seeing Sam walking and talking, not lying there dead and cold. Every night, Dean put himself to sleep with the good memories he wanted to take with him into hell. And Sam had just built the best memory of all.

Dean understood Sam's resistance at celebrating Christmas. They'd never really had much opportunity to celebrate it in the past. Dean had never asked how Sam and Jessica had celebrated the holidays. He hesitated bringing her up if Sam didn't first. And this memory of the brothers' last Christmas together made the holiday even more bittersweet. Knowing what soon lay in store for Dean and that it would be their last together unless Sam or Bobby learned something must have been torture to Sam. Yet he had granted Dean's wish.

During the evening, Dean had noticed that Sam kept glancing at his amulet. For a second, Dean had wondered why before it dawned on him. It had been that Christmas that Sam had learned the truth behind their lives. All of it. That Christmas had been the death of Sam's childhood. The end of many dreams. The end of his faith in their father. Looking back, Dean realized that John's broken promise that night had started the fracture that had turned into the chasm between Sam and their father.

Now, on another Christmas, another chasm was yawning wide. It would swallow another Winchester in Sam's life.

Rolling over, Dean stared at the lights on the tree. They blurred into a colorful rainbow. A rainbow he made a wish on.

I would love to hear what you thought about this little tag. Happy holidays!