Summary: Sam marks the holidays while struggling to survive as a lone hunter and searching for a way to bring Dean home.

The holiest of holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Day Zero

It was Sam's birthday.

Dean was dead.

Cradling his brother, Sam knew only one thing for certain: he didn't want to be twenty-five if Dean couldn't turn thirty.

Day Three

Bobby hadn't been too happy with Sam's decision not to burn his brother's body. "You gotta let it rest, son," he'd told Sam earlier that morning, as Sam had turned the ignition on the Impala, prepared to drive it out to the field behind Bobby's house with Dean's body in the backseat. His little brother and his car, all the way to his gravesite: the funeral procession of Dean Winchester. Sam thought Dean would have approved.

"Why does it matter, Bobby?" Sam replied darkly, adjusting the rear-view mirror. It was angled too low. "We already know where he is. He's not coming back."

Bobby didn't have much to say to that.

It took Sam four hours to dig the grave. He spent another six next to it, always with a beer in one hand and Dean's amulet in the other, before he gathered himself and covered it up again.

"It's Cinco de Mayo, big brother," he'd whispered drunkenly. "Too bad we're not in Tijuana, huh?"

Dean didn't answer; Dean couldn't answer.

Day Sixty-three

Getting away from Bobby's had been good for Sam. Only a month since he'd left South Dakota and already he'd wasted two demons and was on his way to a third.

Tonight's hell-bitch had been in a teenage boy. Sam had circled him, questioning him for information about Lilith's plan as the boy's emaciated voice screamed obscenities. It wasn't until Sam began the exorcism that the demon resorted to the Achille's Heel.

"Your brother screams for you in Hell. He begs for you to save him!"

Sam didn't glance up or even stutter. He'd already heard this twice before.

"When I get there, I will peel the skin off his bones. He will watch as I devour his flesh, strip by strip. And he will have you to thank for it, Sammy."

Sam stalked up to the demon, his face expressionless. "Only my brother calls me that, you son of a bitch."

"That's past tense, called, Sammy." The demon grinned wickedly. "I'll send him your regards."

Sam didn't talk to the demon again after that. For his part, the demon did nothing but scream.

Bon Jovi's "Miss Fourth of July" came on the radio on the way home, right after a last-minute advertisement for fireworks. Sam flipped it off without a thought. He never even realized his hands hadn't moved from the steering wheel.

Day One-hundred eighty-five

Six months to the day after Dean was gone, Sam summoned the Trickster.

After Dean went to Hell, Sam didn't pick up a lot of his habits from the post-Wednesday days. He didn't do hospital corners with his sheets every morning. He didn't always finish everything on his plate, and he often went to diners to do his research or hunting analyses.

But it was still worse now. When Dean had died in Florida, Sam had been on a mission. Yeah, he'd been lost without his brother, but he'd had a purpose – find the Trickster, and get him to bring Dean back.

Now, Sam didn't have a purpose. Nothing but a last-minute order from his brother to keep fighting, but that wasn't much to hang onto when Sam couldn't sleep at night because he couldn't hear his brother's reassuring breaths in the next bed.

When Sam had died, Dean had been lost because he didn't know what he would do without his brother. Not that Dean was gone, Sam was lost because he didn't know who he would become without his big brother there to anchor him.

The Trickster never came. In a fit of desperate rage, Sam pulled back a foot to kick the candles. Before he could swing his leg, the three candles exploded toward the four corners of the warehouse, their light dying abruptly and leaving Sam in the dark.

In the black silence, it suddenly became clear who Sam was meant to become. When Dean had died in Florida, Sam had had a purpose.

Twenty-five years to the day after his father's quest had begun, Sam had once again found his purpose.

Day Two-hundred nine

Ruby appeared at Sam's motel door in Modesto with a new body.

"Heya, Sammy-boy."

Sam acknowledged her without a word, merely nodding as he rubbed a break in salt line with his toe. Opening the door farther, he turned right around and stalked back to the bed where he was busy sharpening the knives.

Ruby started pacing right away. "I'm back. And we got some stuff to discuss. Lilith is mounting a huge effort. The good news, going back to Hell temporarily means I discovered her plan. Bad news is it's bigger than in our worst nightmare, and I've been to Hell so I know what I'm talking about. It'll be the fucking apocalypse. Which means, Sammy, we need to start potty-training lessons for the puppy. I know you don't want to, probably because your idiot brother didn't want you to, but I think we can both agree that his decisions weren't exactly top of the class material." Ruby paused in her rant, finally turning to face Sam.

Sam, who was standing right behind her now. Next to him, her demon-killing knife was doing flips in the air – all by itself.

"Wow," Ruby gasped, her eyes widening in awe. "You've been busy, Sammy."

"Nobody calls me Sammy but my brother," Sam replied quietly. He raised an arm and without asking rested his palm against Ruby's chest, right above her heart. Ruby didn't flinch until Sam pushed himself into her body, his power like an electric current. He filled her with a euphoria she hadn't felt since before she had died –a feeling of life which he was stirring in her soul. But there was too much dark hidden in there and then Sam wrenched his arm back and the feeling leached away from her instantly, the light he had attempted to create inside her dying without the promise of return.

Ruby clutched at her chest as Sam cradled his head in his hands.

"What did you just do?" she cried, tears escaping. Sam knew she didn't know what it was, but he could feel she wanted it back. She wanted Sam to bring it back. "You goddamn asshole, what did you just do to me? Tell me!"

Sam pulled his hands away from his forehead, wiping sweat from his eyes and blood from his nose. Ruby lunged for him but came to a stand-still when the knife stopped midair, the tip inches from her skin.

"You were there too long," Sam whispered. "There's just not enough left. I'm sorry, Ruby. I know you'd give me thanks if you could. I guess since it's the right day and all, I should really thank you too, for trying."

Ruby stepped back. "Sam, no –"

The knife plunged into her chest before she could finish.

Day Two-hundred thirty-six

It was almost like last year. Sam sat on a ragged couch watching the game, an eggnog concoction consisting of lots of vodka and very little egg in one hand and a remote in the other. There wasn't a tree, but there were lights strung up right outside the window.

It was almost like last year, but for one.

"Merry Christmas, Dean," Sam said, raising his glass for a lonely toast.

Day Two-hundred sixty-seven

Bobby arrived to the abandoned apartment complex just as Sam finished chalking the elaborate design. Setting his precious cargo on the floor next to Sam, Bobby slowly walked over back to the door. Sam had asked him to wait outside just in case things went wrong, and a hunter – a hunter who was not Sam – was needed to finish the job.

Once Sam heard the door shut firmly, he quickly unwrapped the cloth Bobby had swaddled Dean's heart in. It was coarse and gray and hardly recognizable as a heart anymore. But it was whole, and it still had a job to do, just like Dean had a job to look after Sam. To make sure nothing happened to him, as long as Dean was around.

Sam was so tired of looking after himself all by himself. It was too lonely of a job for anybody to have to do all by themselves.

Placing the heart carefully in the center of the intricate symbols, Sam stepped back and surveyed his work. Everything was in place. The time had come.

The spoken portion of the ritual was short. It didn't need to be long, with all of Sam's power fueling the words.

"Voco meorum fratrum corpemque mensem, lux viverum meorum et cor mensis meum, ab terra. Mihi licet cum potentis ab Dei illi hoc debere. Oririque excitate, carui fratri."

From the middle of the design, the heart began to glow. A bright light flashed in the room, and Sam covered his face as if to ward off a blow. With a snap the light pulled back into the circle, and Sam nearly fell to his knees in relief at the image before him.

There, standing in the circle, was Dean. He was whole and alive – the old scars still covered his body, but the marks from the Hellhounds were nowhere to be seen. Sam had called for Dean's body had come back just as he had been before his death. Sam's plan had succeeded.

However, no spoken ritual could repair the damage Dean had suffered in Hell. Sam braced himself as Dean's coal-black eyes landed on him.

"Sammy, fancy seeing you here," Dean said, his trademark smirk morphing along the lines of his cheeks. "I have to say, I knew we'd see one another again, but I hadn't thought it would be so soon."

Sam swallowed hard. "Nobody calls me that except my brother."

Dean stepped out of the circle. "What, you don't recognize me? That hurts, Sammy. I don't even have a new body." Dean opened his arms wide. "Come on Sasquatch, come give me a hug."

Without hesitation Sam stepped forward, letting Dean's arms wrap around him. He could read Dean's thoughts, and he knew that the hand his "brother" had placed around his neck was there so he could break the delicate and vulnerable bones underneath. But Dean couldn't read Sam's thoughts, and Sam had power of his own now.

Placing his right arm around his brother's side, Sam pressed his palm against his brother's back and began to fill his brother with light. Just as he felt his power encompass Dean's soul and cleanse it of darkness, the energy became too much for him to control and he let go.

Minutes later Sam returned to awareness on the floor, his shoulders encircled by strong arms, his head cradled in gentle hands.

"You idiot, Sammy, goddamn it, what the hell, I ordered you not to pull this shit, wake up Sammy, wake up so I can kick your ass. Sammy, Sam please you motherfucker look at me, it's gonna be okay if you just look at me, Sammy come back."

Sam opened his eyes.

"Happy birthday, Dean."

Latin translation: I call the body and soul of my brother, light of my life and heart of my thought, from below. I am allowed to order this with power from the God himself. Arise and awake, dear brother. (I did this all by memory so my apologies if anything is incorrect.)