God Bless Us, Every One
K Hanna Korossy
"Dean, are you sure?" Sammy was eight, a little too old to be hanging on to his big brother, but while Dean had always been comfortable lying to adults and fooling people, Sammy had never taken to it. He could do it just fine; life with their dad allowed him no choice. But Dean seemed to enjoy it, while Sammy cringed at the thought. He didn't like the lies. Especially when his family had been lying to him.
Dean huffed a longsuffering sigh. "Do you want the Barbie?" he asked impatiently, looking down at Sammy at his elbow.
Sammy shook his head.
"Then this is the only way to do it." And as the last person in the line in front of them moved away, Dean stepped up to the counter. "I'd like to exchange this, please."
Sammy ducked to his shoulder, fingers brushing the back of his brother's jacket but not quite daring to twine in it. He didn't want Dean making fun of him on the way home for being a baby.
The woman behind the counter looked over at Sammy, and her face immediately softened. Great, he was doing it without even meaning to. Well, at least Dean would be pleased. "What can I do for you two boys?" she asked pleasantly, and Sammy offered her a hesitant smile before sliding a little more behind Dean.
Dean had a story—Dean always had a story—about an old great-aunt who forgot sometimes she had nephews instead of nieces and who'd sent him a cool baseball glove, but poor Sammy had gotten a Barbie. Could they please exchange it for something else without a receipt?
Of course, the woman cooed. Just come back to her when they found what they wanted instead. She looked it up and told them the amount the stupid doll was worth. Sammy's eyes bugged a little, but Dean took it in stride, thanking her, then pulling Sammy along with him.
He wheeled on Sammy in the Matchbox aisle. "Dude, what's your problem? They, like, do this kind of stuff all the time. It's no big deal."
"What if they find out you stole the Barbie?" Sammy whispered.
"Who says I stole it?" Dean grinned back at him, then rolled his eyes at Sammy's expression. "Sammy, they sell about a billion of those things for Christmas. They're not gonna know which one it is. Now, you wanna go find something else or not? 'Cause I've got other places I could be…"
He didn't really, and they both knew it. Not without Sammy, anyway, because that was always how Dad left them: Dean, take care of Sammy. And maybe Dean was right that this part, at least, wasn't really stealing. They'd given the Toys 'R Us something back, after all. Sammy slowly nodded. "Yeah. Okay, if you pick something, too."
Dean's eyebrows climbed. "It's your gift, Sammich."
He shook his head hard enough to make his bangs fly. "You didn't get anything, either, Dean."
"Sure I did." Dean's hand came up to pat the amulet hanging around his neck. Sammy had noticed him doing that a lot the last two days, and it filled him with a warm sense of pride.
"I mean…you know, from…Santa Claus."
He was kind of expecting Dean to make fun of him for that one. After all, they were way too old to believe that. He'd almost said "Dad" instead, except Dean didn't seem to want to talk about Dad. And it wasn't lying if your brother knew what you really meant.
But Dean just looked at him. Then his mouth twitched, and he dropped an arm around Sammy's shoulders. "Okay. We'll both find something, all right?"
It was actually kind of fun just browsing in the big toy store, even if they couldn't have picked something. Dad never took them, and Dean was often too impatient to stay very long or, worse, he wanted to steal something, which twisted Sammy's stomach into knots even when it was something for him.
So this, this just wandering around and looking at things with Dean, was really pretty cool. It was a Christmas gift all by itself.
Dean ended up in the sports aisle, which didn't surprise Sammy any. He himself hurried past the costumes and creatures section—that just didn't seem funny anymore, and he was trying really hard not to think about the real ones—drawn to the books and logic games. He was still happily perusing when Dean came back with a can of tennis balls.
Sammy gave him a puzzled look. "That's what you want?"
"Sure." Dean grinned. "I bet you can cut a hole in 'em and fill them up with flour, then throw them at walls and stuff. Flour bombs—it'll be cool."
Sammy checked the price and frowned. "That doesn't cost very much. Find something bigger."
His brother's face drew together. "Hey, it leaves more money for you to spend, twerp. I thought you'd be happy."
Sammy shook his head. "No, I want you to have half—that's what would make me happy. Find something bigger, Dean."
Dean tilted his head, looking at him with an odd expression Sammy couldn't quite read. Then, muttering to himself, he wandered off again.
Sammy finally ended up with a very cool Quiz Master, plus two extra books. This time, he went after Dean, and found his brother standing in front of the basketball display, looking with near longing at the balls. Sammy looked at the prices, surreptitiously tucked one of his books deep onto the shelf behind him, then pointed at one of the balls. "Get that one."
Dean looked over at him, surprisingly uncertain. Dean was rarely anything less than over-confident. "You sure…?"
"That one," Sammy said, nodding, never so sure of something in his life. And found himself smiling at the smile—not a grin, not a smirk, but a real smile—that made Dean's face look completely different.
The lady not only exchanged the stupid Barbie for the new stuff, but even gave them back a handful of change. It wasn't much, but it was enough for an ice cream cone to share. Dean even let him get vanilla.
And as they walked home, Dean bouncing his ball and Sammy clutching his brand new treasures to himself, passing the cone back and forth between them, Sammy realized that even if Dad hadn't been there, even with what he'd found out from Dad's journal, it was turning out to be a pretty okay Christmas, after all.
The dream—memory—evaporated into the cool polyester-and-pine scented air. Sam's brow furrowed, then rose as he peeled his eyes open and lifted his head from the pillow. He could still taste ice cream on his tongue as he looked sleepily over at Dean's bed.
Dean's empty bed.
Frowning again, Sam twisted back to take in the whole room, shoulders relaxing when he caught sight of his brother sitting on the small couch. Dean was still, eyes fixed ahead, posture relaxed. Watching TV, Sam thought, until he rotated a little more to see that only the Christmas tree lights were still on.
"Dean?" he ventured.
Dean's head popped up, turning toward him as automatically as a compass needle to north. "Yeah."
"What's wrong?" Because Dean didn't just sit and stare at nothing.
But his brother shook his head easily, his usual charm and guile absent. "Nothing, just not tired yet. Go back to sleep, Sammy."
Sam slanted a glance at the clock. Two twenty-five. Right, 'cause it was still so early in the evening. Dean had been knocked out longer and had been cut twice and had fought at Sam's side. No way was he not tired.
Nor was he just staring at nothing, Sam abruptly realized. He was sitting in the dark looking at the Christmas tree.
Sighing softly, Sam sat up, blanket still clutched around him, and shuffled over to the couch.
Dean didn't say a word, just pulled his legs in so Sam could get past him. Then, as an afterthought, closed the notebook that lay open in his lap and reached down to slide it under the couch.
"What is that?"
"What?" Dean asked, and Sam couldn't decide if he was playing innocent or just distracted, his gaze back on the tiny tree.
Sam jutted his chin toward where the spiral-bound had disappeared beneath the couch. "That. I'm not blind, Dean, I see you writing in that thing all the time. What're you working on?" For a moment, he dared hope it was some sort of strategy for how to get Dean out of his deal, but he squelched that thought just as fast. Dean had shown no interest at all in saving himself. And Sam hated to admit it, but his brother's resignation was starting to affect him. You couldn't save someone who didn't want to be saved.
But he wasn't going to think about that, not tonight. So Sam shoved the thought back and locked it away, and mustered a look of encouragement and interest instead.
Dean hesitated, pulled the notebook out partway again. But he made no move to pick it up, still half-bent over as if trying to decide what to do.
Sam would make it easy for him. He nudged his brother with one blanketed foot. "Come on, dude, it's Christmas. Share."
Dean glanced sideways and up at Sam. He slipped the notebook completely out but still left it lying on the rug. Then suddenly asked, "What's the first Christmas you remember, Sam?"
Sam paused, surprised by the question. "Uh, I don't know. When I was six, maybe? That's the one we spent at Pastor Jim's, right?"
Dean nodded once, fingertips resting lightly on the notebook's red, creased cover. Then, he seemed to make a decision and lifted the book into his lap, flipping it open.
As Dean paged through it, Sam saw at least two-thirds of it was full of his brother's solid block print. More curious than ever, he leaned forward, the blanket sliding unheeded off his shoulders. This was more than just research or notes.
Finding the last filled page, Dean wordlessly slid the notebook over to Sam, glancing up at his face briefly before looking quickly away.
Baffled, Sam looked down and read.
Christmas, 1983. Aunt Kate dressed you in red and made me decorate the tree and bake cookies with her. Nobody felt like celebrating—Dad either wouldn't look at us, or held us so hard that it hurt and you'd start crying. You liked the tree, though, kept laughing whenever you saw it. I had to make sure you didn't eat the tinsel…
He skipped down to the next entry.
Christmas, 1984. Not sure where we were, but we were on the road by then. All I remember is, you kept trying to pull down the stupid branch I set up in the corner. I loaded it up with paper chains and ornaments I made at school, but I was afraid it would fall on you and it made Dad upset, so I threw it out the next day...
And on it went, through…the Christmas when he was five. Six and on, the notes were more brief, details Sam probably wouldn't have known, like the Christmas he'd been so glad Dad had returned for the holiday, not knowing their father was recovering from some kind of poison.
Throat closing a little, Sam turned a page back. Then another and another, skimming, reading snatches of entries. School events, birthdays, habits, hobbies: the writing was choppy sometimes as it was clearly written on the go, a little shaky in one place as its author was probably fighting pain and/or weakness, and the recollections bounced all over the place, clearly recorded as they came to mind. But page after page, Sam's life was laid out in memories big and small, details he never knew or had forgotten or had only heard from Dean. It was his history book.
He looked up at Dean, eyes brimming both at the thought of his brother's undertaking and the catalyst for it.
Dean's gaze was rooted back on the tree. "Don't look at me like that," he said quietly. "See, this was why I didn't show you before."
"Dean," Sam croaked, and cleared his throat. "I— I don't—"
Dean tilted his head a little toward him, eyes sliding his way but not quite making contact. "You don't have to, okay? It's no big deal, I just… Nobody else's left to remember that stuff for you, Sammy. I wanted you to have that, whatever happens. I should've done it before you left for school, but…"
But that had been Dean losing Sam, a far greater blow than Dean facing his own end.
And for the first time, Sam totally, one-hundred percent got it. Knew exactly why Dean had made that crossroads deal, and why he wasn't doing anything to jeopardize it. Understood it because, at that moment, he felt exactly the same way.
Sam's eyes threatened to overflow, hot with love and anger and desperation because it couldn't end this way. Evil couldn't win like this, both here in this world and after. Not after all they'd sacrificed for Good, not if there was any justice left in the world.
Not his big brother.
Dean started humming under his breath, "White Christmas" eventually sliding into "Jingle Bell Rock."
The music was meant to soothe and it did, in a scoured-raw kind of way. Sam dragged in a ragged breath, palmed the tears out of his eyes. Dean had leaned forward, forearms propped on his thighs, either to give him a moment of privacy or maybe just to escape the embarrassing emotional scene; it was hard to tell with him sometimes. One hand idly twisted the ring on the other as his eyes reflected the colored Christmas lights, but Sam could sense all his attention was directed sideways, not forward.
Sam swallowed again, waiting until he was pretty sure his voice wouldn't wobble. "I'm keeping this."
Dean did glance over at him then, eyebrows arching.
"We'll get you another notebook tomorrow," Sam added firmly, tucking his treasure against his chest, injured finger rubbing along the edge. It was quite possible he wouldn't be letting go of it for some time.
Dean rolled his eyes, but his mouth curled up a little, quietly pleased. He sat back on the couch, arm draped along the top. He nodded vaguely. "So, you gonna show me yours now?"
Sam blinked. "What do you mean?"
"C'mon, Sam, give me some credit. Don't you think I've seen you scribbling away in your journal, too, when you think I'm not looking?"
Sam eyed him. "Maybe it's not something you should be asking about," he said meaningfully.
Dean gave him an exasperated look. "Dude, don't even try to tell me it's about that. I know when you're working on the stuff we don't talk about—you get that whole constipated look. 'Sides, you do that on your laptop. What're you scribbling in your journal?"
Sam stared at him. No way was he that—
"Yup, can read you like a book, bro. I would've just snaked it when you were out sometime, but if you're writing down your fantasies or the Great American Novel, I'm not sure I wanna know. So?"
Insufferable jerk. Sam glared at him halfheartedly. "It's not finished yet."
Dean shrugged one-shouldered. "Doesn't matter."
"Yes," Sam insisted. "It does. I'll show you when I'm done, just…not yet."
"You waiting until—?"
"No!" Sam said quickly, appalled. "This isn't some kind of…good-bye present, all right? I just…I want to finish it first," he weakly trailed off.
Dean was watching him soberly, and Sam was just starting to wonder what he saw when his brother's face suddenly cleared, breaking into a small smile. "Whatever, dude. You always were a little OCD."
"It's called doing things right, Dean."
"It's called anal-retentive, Sammy. Hey, doesn't that start when you're a kid or something? 'Cause it took forever to potty train you, too." He snapped his fingers at Sam. "Gimme back the book for a minute."
Sam wrapped his arm more firmly around the notebook, feeling the wire bite into his wrist. "No way, man. It's mine now."
"Bitch." Dean's lip curled, but there was affection under the surface.
"Jerk," Sam shot back just as easily.
Dean snorted, turning again to stare at their pathetic little Christmas display. "It's a good tree, Sam," he said quietly. His expression settled back into peacefulness, and with the lights painting his skin, he looked almost…young.
"Merry Christmas, Dean," Sam whispered, and slid down on the couch a little, notebook still clutched tight, to admire the tree with his brother.
Dean found him in the little fort he'd cobbled together by the creek near their motel. Dean always seemed to find his hideaways, no matter where Sammy made them, but that didn't bother him. He usually wanted to be found.
He wasn't sure what to think this time, though, when Dean slithered through the small opening in the bushes behind him. As Sammy peeked back over his shoulder, he saw his brother looking around the handmade structure with mild interest. "Dad's been asking where you are," he finally offered after settling cross-legged behind Sammy. "He came back early so he could spend some of Christmas with us.
A day late, and with a lecture Sammy hadn't wanted to hear. He made a face at the patchwork wall and worked on keeping his voice steady. "I don't care."
Dean sighed heavily. "He's just worried about you, Sammy. He didn't want you to know all this stuff yet."
"I'm old enough," Sammy insisted, then couldn't help the sniff.
There was a pause. "Dude, are you crying again?"
Sammy hunched down miserably against his knees. "Go away, Dean."
Instead, he could feel the heat of Dean's body move closer against his back. "Hey, c'mon, don't cry, all right?"
He'd expected admonishment, maybe scorn. Something about him not being a baby. Not this quiet, anxious tone. "I'm not," he argued feebly.
"Whatever." But Dean shifted in even closer, his shoulder and hip pressing against Sammy's back. "You okay?" he asked, voice going even softer.
He wanted to say something mean, he really did. Or at least tell Dean he was fine. But Dad's quiet voice, the "talk" he'd had with Sammy, was still ringing in his ears, and the fun of going to the store with Dean that morning seemed a million miles away. Sammy's head seemed to slowly shake side-to-side on its own, sliding his chin over the threadbare fabric of his jeans.
Dean huffed. "It's not that bad, kiddo. I know everything Dad told you is kind of scary, but that's why he has us do all that training stuff, so we'll be ready for it. It'll be okay. You'll see."
Sammy chewed his wobbling lip, and turned a little bit toward his brother. "What if something gets Dad?"
"Nothing's gonna get Dad. He's really good."
"But what if it does, Dean? Then it's gonna come after us."
Dean shuffled around so he was squeezed in next to Sammy instead of behind him, and his face was serious in the half-light of the snug shelter. "Even if something got to Dad, Sammy—and that's not gonna happen, but even if it did—I'll be there and I'll protect you, all right? I won't let anything happen to you."
Sammy tentatively dropped his head onto Dean's shoulder, leaning a little more when he wasn't rebuffed. "What if you're not there?" he asked in a small voice. "What if it gets you, too?"
"Nothing's gonna get me," Dean swore, arm slung casually over Sammy's shoulder. "I'll always be around to look after you."
And inside a stick fortress, nestled against his almost-teenage big brother, Sammy believed him.