Good Tidings We Bring

It's Christmas and party time, except Dean has to baby-sit. Sam has other ideas however…

Wee bit of hurt Dean in this one!

Set towards the end of Season One. Sort of...just read the A/N! It'll sort it all out.

Authors Notes: For the purposes of this story the Impala has been given seat belts that we actually see the boys use. And before anyone says anything, I do believe in wearing seatbelts, even though this story might not present a glowing report on them.

This might get a bit confusing because it's essentially two stories in one. The first one takes place in the present (as in Season 1 ) but the second story, a teenchester, is the much longer one and is the result of Dean's thoughts whilst awaiting news of his brother.

Once again, this was originally intended to be part of the I Didn't Mean It series, but due to length and the fact that it was a Christmas story I decided to post it separately.

Christmas prezzie for Bluepeanut m&m and ephiny63, who requested a car accident involving a teenage Sam. Not quite what you guys suggested but I tried to make it a little different. Hope you approve sweethearts.

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Christmas Eve, Present day.

Dean slumped in his seat and reflected on a few things. He'd been giving Sam a real hard time of late, the brothers once again returning to the age old argument that originally led to Sam's outburst just before the Scarecrow incident some months back. At least this time the kid hadn't taken off without him. Sure - ok, hands up here, he'd driven away leaving Sam on the road that other time but he'd been asking for it.

In the end it was Sam who returned to save his ass and there was no question about that. The big fugly scarecrow was toast, Dean was in one piece, and no more young couples were disappearing in the middle of nowhere to be ruthlessly butchered. The apple pie was rank and bitter now without Burkitsville's Norse god to protect their crop, and word had it the town itself was rapidly drying up, the people moving on and its elderly residence dying off.

And good riddance.

Damn shame it hadn't put a full stop at the end of the brothers' disagreement though. There was a distinct dividing line between them, one that refused to fade; Dean trusted their father's judgment without question. Sam didn't.

Yet the real strange thing about it all was that the brothers trusted each other. Not without question admittedly, but tonight Sam hadn't hesitated...

Dean blinked back tears of worry and frustration.

Sam was still in surgery and fighting for his life after getting shot. In an altercation with a fucking ghost of all things. The fucker's ammunition was real enough if the blood stains on Sam's shirt were anything to go by and Dean's head still hurt a little from when his brother had shoved him out of harm's way and now his heart was really killing him.

Christmas fucking Eve and here they were...

The loud retort of a high calibre weapon grabbed Dean's attention in the worst possible way, but the lighter fluid fumes were strong enough to make his eyes sting and water. One book of matches flared briefly and the grave went up in flames.

He groaned and rolled slowly to his feet. "Sammy?" Glancing round he couldn't find his brother in the shadows cast by the fire. "Sam? You ok?"

"Dean..." Wet rasping breaths sounded nearby and Dean followed the noise fearful of what he might find. The small penlight he pulled from his pocket brought little comfort when the beam caught Sam's sprawled out form lying face up in the snow, blinking hard. The kid was panting awkwardly, a gurgling deep in his chest.

"Sammy!" Dean scrambled over just as Sam's head turned towards the weak light, his dazed eyes following his brother's progress.

Dean's gaze swept over Sam's upper torso and fixed on the chest wound. "Oh God Sam..." He pressed down hard on the hole in his brother's chest and Sam flinched, biting down hard on his bottom lip to hold in the whimper of pain, eyes scrunched shut, mouth twisted, breathing hard through his nose. "Sorry kiddo. Gotta slow the bleeding..."

Sam merely nodded features pale and sickly in the dim light.

"Can you stand?" Dean searched Sam's face anxiously when he nodded again, but shit he needed help. It took some effort, Dean's hand twisted in Sam's shirt, his other in a tight desperate grip round his brother's waist, and his heart...oh God his heart just about broke in two at the slight harsh cry of pain that erupted from Sam's mouth in spite of the kid's best efforts to hold it in. Sam's head flopped forward against Dean's shoulder when he stumbled weakly and would've gone down if not for Dean's death-like grip on him.

"Easy Sam, you just concentrate on breathing ok? Leave the rest to me."

"S'k..kinda th...the pr-problem," Sam wheezed out and his knees buckled, clearly exhausted with his efforts so far. "S-sorry."

"You should be. Dumbass stupid thing to do, getting shot by a stupid ghost on a stupid hunt in a stupid fucking graveyard..." Dean hoisted him up, increasing his grip.

In spite of his desperate situation Sam couldn't help but smile at Dean's muttered ranting; it made him feel better somehow. But the night sky was starting to spin, waltzing round him, stars blurring into one another in a weird dance, and that didn't make him better at all...

"Sam...SAM!" Sam hadn't realised he'd fallen to his knees again until Dean was shaking him hard. "Come on little bro you can do this, it's not much further to the car, just a few more steps."

Sam nodded wearily but the determined glint in his eyes suggested he wasn't quite ready to give up yet. "Y-yeah. I c-can do this. N-not far."

Blood bubbled out of his mouth from a wrecked lung and Dean smiled, grimly proud of his brother's stubborn nature for once. "That's ma boy."

The good little soldier...the blind faith...yeah, Dean could see where the kid was coming from but that didn't make admitting it any easier. His brother often speculated that Dean was always saving his ass, and that obviously wasn't the case. Unknowingly, Sam was just as much Dean's hero as the other way round. His quick thinking and ability to remember small details that most people let drift by them had been the driving force behind their survival more than once.

He recalled it was Sam who came after him when he'd been taken by a wendigo late last year, it was Sam who stopped the plane from crashing by keeping his head whilst Dean was all too busy losing his, it was Sam who found Roy Le Grange – though that was still another bone of contention between them – it was Sam who escaped the cage at the Bender's house only to rescue his big brother from a crazed teenage girl with a knife, it was Sam who remembered the spare blade all those years ago....

Dean sighed, and before he even knew his eyes had closed he lapsed into a troubled sleep.

T'was the night before the night before Christmas Eve…1998.

"Dude just go to the party, I'll be fine right here. Flu? Gone. No longer an issue."

"Nah. No point. I'll just get drunk and end up sleeping it off on Barry's sofa, then Dad'll fry my ass for leaving you here alone all night." Dean scratched his chin morosely. Sam might be feeling better but he still looked worn out. "It's just so not worth the trouble."

Sam sighed and put down his cheap paperback copy of Wuthering Heights. It wasn't usually his thing but he was enjoying the class debate, even though he'd missed most of it what with being sick.

Heathcliff: Devil Incarnate or misunderstood man?

Sam wasn't sure how he felt when he first watched the old black and white film adaptation, but now having read the book he was leaning more towards Devil Incarnate. Also, in his considered opinion there was no excuse for such wicked behaviour and Cathy surely was a bitch.

"And how's he gonna know?" Sam raised an amused eyebrow and nudged Dean gently with his socked foot. "Seriously dude, I don't need a baby-sitter. Go have some fun for once."

Dean glanced at his little brother with genuine affection. "Why doncha come with me? Could be fun. Do you good to get out."

Sam shook his head. "What about when Dad calls? At least I can cover, tell 'im you're sick or something." He shrugged. "I got plenty to keep me occupied right here anyhow." Sam indicated the row of books he'd selected from the library, some were modern classics, others a little more historical and Dean wrinkled his nose, instantly fighting off boredom.

"Whatever blows ya dress up kid." He got up and turned suddenly, looking worried. "You sure Sammy?"

Sam grinned. "Got everything I need; takeout menu, TV remote all to myself for once, and if that gets boring I have a backup plan: my entertainment for the evening." He waved his book, flapping the pages at Dean who snorted with laughter.

"There's just no hope for ya geek boy!"

His kid brother just laughed back, not in the least bit offended. "Parties just aint my scene dude." Sam frowned as a thought occurred to him. "Hey Dean?"

"Yeah!" Dean was shrugging into his leather jacket.

"I could drive you, that way you can drink and just call me when ya ready to come home. Provided it's after ten." It meant their father's call didn't go unanswered and Sam could finally do something nice for his big brother; Dean was always watching out for Sam and making the kind of sacrifices for his younger sibling most people his age wouldn't even contemplate.

Given the life they led it was no surprise when Dean hesitated for just a second before shaking his head emphatically. "No way Sammy, I don't like the idea of you driving around at night on your own. And besides, you haven't got ya licence yet."

"My test is in a few months Dean, the week after my birthday." Sam used reason and his puppy dog eyes as his main weapons. "Just a few months and I'll be legal."

"Closer to six months...I don't know dude."

"It'll be ok. You said yourself that I'm a good driver, right?"

Dean sighed, indecision weighing heavily on his shoulders. It was true that Sam had taken to driving like a duck to water, like he did with everything; and he'd had the best teacher money could buy. His big brother.

"Come on Dean," Sam pressed the point and could see the moment his brother gave in. "You'll be there fifty percent of the time, and a practice drive at night couldn't hurt either..."

Dean's eyes narrowed, tongue stuck in his cheek as he considered that.

"Alright. But you keep your cell phone on at all times and you call me the minute you get back, no stopping, no detours, you come straight home. Understood?"

Sam stood and saluted cheekily. "Yes sir!"

"Smart ass!" Dean growled and lightly clipped his younger brother round the back of the head.

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Dean was so tied up in knots with his decision he found he really wasn't enjoying the party all that much, even if he did get to chat up Barry's sexy older sister and show her a good time in the broom closet.

A beer had been shoved into his hand the minute he crossed the threshold but he hadn't touched it. It wasn't a conscious choice he just forgot it was there, and as the evening progressed he realised he was bored stiff. Actually, it was more than that. Sure, Sam had called the minute he got home and Dean felt a band of tension lift from his chest on hearing his brother was safe, but Sam still had to face the journey back here to pick him up.

"Hey Dean! Getcha ass over here. It's mistletoe time!"

Dean laughed and shook his head. Checking his watch he realised there was no way he could call on Sam just yet; their father always checked up at ten, and it was only half past nine right now. Sam would never get here and back in time for the phone call and then they'd both be in the shit.

Might as well make the most of it.

He put down his untouched beer, took a good look round the room, cataloguing each attractive young girl present…and joined in the fun.

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Sam was dozing on the couch, TV down low, left over pizza already wrapped in foil and stowed away in the kitchen, just in case Dean was hungry later. A loud ringing right by his ear had him jumping up and falling off the sofa with an undignified squawk.

Scrambling for the phone, a dinosaur from the seventies in sickly yellow and an actual dial, Sam grabbed up the receiver.

"Hullo?"

"Sam? It's Dad. How's it goin' kiddo?"

"Uh, fine Dad." For the purposes of a distraction Sam injected a sad note to his voice that wasn't entirely put on. "You gonna be home in time for Christmas day?"

A sigh settled over the line. "I'm gonna try son, but no promises ok? Now let me speak to your brother."

Sam was quite proud of this part and had even rehearsed it in the mirror. "Dean went to bed early Dad, said he wasn't feeling well." He lowered his tone to a concerned whisper. "I think he's coming down with a bad cold. You still want me to wake 'im?"

Another sigh. "Nah. Let 'im sleep. Poor kid needs a break anyhow; I been working him hard lately. Just look after him for me, ok Sam? And check all salt lines and wards before ya hit the hay."

"Yes sir. Uh…Merry Christmas Dad." He added just in case he didn't get to see him until later that week.

"You too son." Sam heard the genuine regret and it somehow made him feel much better.

As soon as he hung up his cell phone began chirping.

"Hey Dean! How's the party?" Sam rolled his eyes in amusement when he heard a female voice muttering sweet dirty nothings on the other end of the line.

"Uh…making good use of the buffet." Yep, Dean's mouth was full. "Great sausage rolls…" Sam could almost hear the grin in his brother's voice "…and the mistletoe's real helpful this year."

Gary Glitter's Another Rock and Roll Christmas suddenly blared out and Sam winced, then a door slammed, followed by some shouting.

"Dean what the hell's going on?"

"Uh…Mistletoe Kiss Chase."

"You're chasing the girls with mistletoe?" Sam frowned a little. His brother didn't even sound slightly drunk.

"Dude it's the other way round! And for the record I don't chase, I hunt!"

Sam started laughing at the image of his brother being chased by hoards of drunken girls – probably his dream come true. "Don't tell me you're actually sober and having fun?"

"Yup, turns out I can enjoy myself without gettin' shitfaced!" Was stated matter-of-factly, music still raging in the background.

Still laughing, Sam shook his head. "I take it you're ready for me to come pick you up?"

"That'd be great. And Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks for doin' this."

"I'm just glad you had a good time bro." Sam replied softly, disconnected the call and grabbed the car keys up from the kitchen worktop. After locking the front door of the Winchester's latest home Sam took a deep breath and glanced at the Impala. His Christmas present to Dean was in the trunk and he hadn't wrapped it yet. Once they got home and Dean hit the sack, Sam was going to remedy that.

Sliding behind the wheel he grinned and reached over to the glove compartment, rummaging around. His searching fingers found Dean's spare hunting blade and Sam clicked his tongue impatiently as he pushed it aside. Finally he found the cassette he was looking for and pretty soon Bon Jovi's Bad Medicine was belting out the speakers, shaking the cones, effectively committing a cardinal sin in his brother's beloved car.

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Sam swallowed nervously as he pulled up in front of the house. Under other circumstances he would've been fascinated by the lights and Christmas decorations that littered the front lawn. The trees and hedgerows were ablaze of pretty colours and it should have given Sam a warm feeling inside.

But nothing could shift the cold, dead weight in his belly.

Dean's gonna kill me.

He got out and approached the house, the sound of someone brutalising Walking In A Winter Wonderland through a Karaoke machine - with the slightly bluer version known as Walking 'Round In Women's Underwear - did little to calm his nerves, and the front door swung open just as he raised his hand to knock.

"Hey little bro! Ya wanna come inside for a while?"

Sam really wasn't in the mood. He so didn't want to do this and he wouldn't be able to enjoy himself until he confessed to his crime.

"No thanks. Uh Dean...?"

"So this is your little brother huh?" A tall leggy red head with a cleavage Dean could happily suffocate in appeared beside him, eyeing Sam up and down with a sexy pout. "Nice. Very cute. Come on in honey…"

Sam let out a startled yelped when she grabbed his shirt front and yanked him inside the house, planting a toe-curling kiss on his mouth as he went. He was practically dragging his heels like a petulant thoroughbred, refusing to give in and all the while Dean was laughing at the terrified expression on Sam's face.

He won't be laughing in a minute, Sam thought grimly.

"Dean?"

A beer was thrust into his hand but before he could blink, Dean whisked it away and gave it to someone else, replacing it with a can of coke.

"My brother's not old enough to drink," Dean explained to his red headed companion with a smile.

Neither are you, Sam kept that to himself, not wanting to risk his brother's wrath. He was in enough trouble as it was and besides, he was ever more convinced of his brother's sobriety. Sam wasn't all that interested in alcohol as a rule, hating the idea of losing all sense of control, but tonight he'd have gratefully chugged a bottle of paint thinner if it meant not owning up to what he'd done.

The guilt was on the rise all the time and he just couldn't hold it in any longer.

"Dean? I need to talk to you." He tried for the third time, and there must have been something in his voice because Dean frowned worriedly and followed him into the kitchen.

"What is it Sammy? What's wrong?" The kind concern in his brother's tone nearly made Sam cry but he stoically kept his voice firm yet apologetic.

"I think you better take a look at the car…"

And in that moment Dean's face froze, then a deadly scowl crept over it, abolishing all evidence of concern for his little brother's welfare.

"What have you done?" Sam tried hard not to flinch at the cold tone but it didn't work. Dean took a threatening pace forward. "Sam? What have you done to my car?"

Sam gulped audibly. "I'm sorry…my foot slipped off the brake and I panicked and the car was in reverse and I couldn't see where I was going and…" the words came out fast and furious but Dean soon got the gist.

"Sonofabitch!"

For the second time that evening Sam found himself being forcibly dragged through the premises, but this time by an angry older brother.

Thankfully, no toe-curling kiss awaited him this time, though a punch on the jaw seemed imminent.

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Dean glared at the rear offside wing where a large dent and a deep scratch in the paint work resided. He could see bright yellow flecks embedded in the gouge, further evidence of Sam's collision with the gate post outside their rented home.

"I'm sor…"

"Shut up and get in the car."

Before Sam could make a move, Dean barked out "Keys!"

Sam handed them over with his head bowed then trudged over to the passenger door, slid inside and quietly closed the door after him.

Dean just stood there staring at the damage for a while. It actually wasn't that bad but he was dreading trying to explain it to his father who'd given him the car for his birthday, and any slight speck of dust earned him a filthy look and a snide comment.

He's gonna shit bricks when he catches an eyeful of this.

Sighing deeply he headed for the driver's side and climbed in behind the wheel, watching his kid brother out the corner of his eye. Just keep your mouth shut Sam if ya know what's good for ya!

But of course he didn't.

"I really am sorry Dean. You know I wouldn't do anything to hurt your baby right?"

Dean merely grunted but Sam appeared to take that as a positive sign.

"I guess I need more practice with reversing…"

"Not in this car ya don't!" Dean cut his words off at the proverbial knees and Sam's mouth snapped shut. Dean shut off Bon Jovi with a deep scowl but didn't comment.

The boys continued the journey in silence.

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It started snowing heavily before they even made it half way, and the outside temperature began to plummet dramatically causing the wet roads to freeze over. Dean was forced to slow it right down which he mentally calculated could easily double the time it would take them to get home. It was frustrating but not the end of the world.

The bad weather was a little unexpected in the sense that it was supposed to hit on Christmas day, giving the boys their long awaited White Christmas. They'd been looking forward to snow fights and building snowmen, but Dean honestly didn't think he'd be in the mood for it now. And Sam could flash those puppy dog eyes at him as much as he wanted but it wasn't going to work. In fact the kid was lucky if Dean even spoke to him over the next few days.

As it was, Sam was being quiet and withdrawn much to Dean's relief; he needed to concentrate on the roads which were rapidly becoming more and more treacherous, and kept the radio on a low volume.

But not even the trusty Impala could hold the road for much longer and it started slipping, sliding and fishtailing dangerously.

"Shit!" Dean thumped the steering wheel. "We're gonna have to pull over for the night."

Dean risked an angry glance over at his brother to find him curled against the passenger door, looking utterly miserable.

"I really..."

"Just don't!"

"Dean please...I'm sorry..." Tears threatened to spill from Sam's eyes and that just made Dean feel angrier.

"Just shut the fuck up ok?" Dean roared. "Dad's gonna wanna know what happened, which means he'll take the car away and ...why the fuck did I even listen to you?"

Anger made his foot stamp down petulantly and unfortunately hit the throttle, which was why when the car caught a particularly icy patch it spun out of control.

Dean's chest slammed painfully up against the seatbelt and the last thing he remembered was the squeal of tyres, a shuddering and a loud crunch.

Predictably the world went black.

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"Ugghhh." Dean opened his eyes slightly, his head killing him. It was still dark outside and the snow hadn't let up. His world felt disoriented, tilted somehow, and it took him a while to realise it was because the car itself was actually tilted. Driver's side up.

"Smmmm…" Dean frowned and winced in pain.

His head hurt like a bitch, probably from colliding with the side window during the spin, and his chest was throbbing hard enough to make breathing difficult. But what he really noticed was the cold.

"Smmmy…"

A loud trickling sound was creeping in as his awareness increased, and he tried again to talk to the one person who might be able to help him figure this out.

"Sammy…"

Dean's voice was growing stronger but it still hurt. He turned his head towards the last place he'd seen his little brother but couldn't make much sense of what he was seeing.

Fumbling in a pocket for his cell phone he flicked lazily at a button and used the backlight to show him. The dull beam lit up the interior of the car and Dean squinted, trying to orientate himself. It seemed the only thing holding him up was his seat belt otherwise he would have slid right over to the passenger side, possibly crushing his brother….

"Sam?" Dean's actions grew desperate and he reactivated the backlight, shining it downwards

"Sam!"

That trickling noise was actually water. The car had ended up in some kind of large stream or small river, passenger side down and water was flowing through the smashed and broken windows.

But Sam…

Sam was lying unconscious and twisted in his seat against the passenger door, blood pouring from a deep gouge in the side of his forehead, maybe from hitting the dashboard, and another thin red trickle was running from his mouth.

Please tell me he just bit his tongue…

But the real bad news was the water level.

It was slowly rising as the car settled on the stream bed, and pretty soon only Sam's head was visible above the waterline.

"Sammy wake up!" Dean started yelling and desperately tugging at his own seat belt.

"Sam!"

Sam's head was bobbing in the mild current and Dean reached out an arm, trying to pull his brother towards him, but Sam was caught on something. Dean gasped when he came in contact with the freezing cold water.

"Jesus!" He muttered. Sam was either going to drown or freeze to death at this rate, and Dean renewed his efforts to reach him. "Come on kid wake up! Sam, shake a leg!"

Nothing.

The car gave a slight lurch and Dean lost his grip on his brother and his cell phone, Sam plunging back into the dark water, his head fully submerged this time. God knew where the cell went.

"Shit!" The water level had risen once more and Sam was obviously being held down by something because he didn't come up again. Dean fought back his panic and called upon common sense to prevail.

Seatbelt. Sam's own seatbelt is doing the same job as mine but in reverse. He's being drowned by a damn safety device!

Dean started fiddling with Sam's seatbelt buckle but try as he might the damn thing wouldn't give way, the clasp refusing to slide out and release his brother.

There was only one other option.

Dean braced his legs against his foot well, reached down to his own buckle and slid the metal clasp free. It took one hell of an effort to stop himself falling and pinning his brother and he used the dashboard to inch his way down as fast and as carefully as he could. Sam, still submerged in the water, was fast running out of time and Dean tried to hurry up. His bruised chest pulled painfully as he finally settled then reach down and found Sam's head under the water, pulling it up until it broke the surface.

"Sam?" Dean called, desperate for a response. "Can ya hear me dude?"

Sliding his knees down into the water and under his brother to keep him afloat as far as the seatbelt would allow, Dean swore viciously at the stinging cold soaking his clothes. Shivering, hands shaking, he felt for a pulse in Sam's neck and nearly passed out when he found it, but the blue tinge to his lips wasn't just down to the cold; the kid wasn't breathing. Dean tilted Sam's head back over the crook of his elbow, pinched off the boy's nose and began mouth to mouth.

"Come on kiddo please." First set. "I promise I won't yell at ya." Second set. "Please Sammy, breathe." By the third set he was yelling. "Fucking breathe Sam!"

As if scared of pissing off his brother again that night, Sam began coughing and hacking up chilled stream water, followed closely by a huge, painful sounding lungful of air

"Sammy?" Dean watched his brother's face, anxious for a response. He was finally rewarded when glassy blue-green eyes sluggishly opened up for just a moment before drifting shut as the shivers caught hold.

He needed to get Sam out of that damn seatbelt. The car seemed to have stabilised its position on the stream bed and the water level thankfully rose no further. Dean tugged on the tough fabric trapping his brother in place, but the entire mechanism had locked up. It wasn't going anywhere.

A quick feel around his ankle revealed that just for once Dean wasn't carrying his hunting knife. He tried to remember why. There must have been a reason but the cold was getting to him…if only he hadn't gone to that stupid party…that was it!

He'd decided to leave it at home this evening for the sake of the Christmas party; figured he wouldn't need it...damnitalltohell! Dean slowly began to realise that his thoughts were getting sluggish and he'd stopped shivering, though what was worse so had Sam. That was a bad sign, right?

Gotta get Sam out.

"De…" Dean started grinning madly on hearing his brother's voice, no matter how weak and breathless it sounded.

"Hey Sammy. How ya feelin'?"

"Ya…go…De…"

Dean frowned. "Sam?"

Sam opened his tired eyes and tried again. "You…gotta…getoutnow…'foryafreezetodeath…go…" tears welled up and spilled down his cheeks.

Dean's eyes narrowed angrily. "Forget it. I'm not leaving you."

Sam coughed and spluttered. "G…go….gethelp…De…"

"Can't Sammy." Dean blinked back his own tears, the deep cut on his own head pounding cruelly. "If I let go you'll drown."

Sam blinked and frowned. "Wha…?"

"The water dude. If I leave you'll die. Your seatbelt's stuck. Left my hunting knife...in the...in the bedroom. C...can't get you out. S-sorry little bro."

Sam let out a breathless chuckle. "Youstay…webothdie…" He closed his eyes for a second then opened them again to find Dean staring down at him, expression fierce with determination.

"S...so be it, 'c..cos I...I'm not leaving."

Sam just stared at him as though his brother had gone crazy. "Why…?"

"W...we go t...together dude."

Sam found himself being pulled tighter into his brother's arms and the boys stayed silent for a while. The seatbelt was cutting into Sam's upper torso but he didn't care, could only just feel it anyhow. His arm twinged, sending warning signals and he tried so hard to pay attention, but something was wrong with Dean, and Sam was a little hazy on the what or why of it until a drop of something warm landed on his cheek and his brother was slumping lower in the water. Reaching up with an unsteady hand Sam dabbed his fingers in the warm liquid and lowered it to his nose, recognising the coppery scent and thick texture immediately.

"De…y'ok?"

"Smmmy?"

Dean's losing it.

Sam tried to think.

Must be a way out. Remember something…gotta think…gloves…GLOVES? What the f…? Glove compartment! Something's in the glove compartment…

He blinked hard, then it came to him.

Sam reached up and weakly grabbed Dean's shoulder, shaking it as hard as he could and wincing at the sharp hot pain. A small part of him was glad about the cold, pretty sure he'd be in agony without it.

"Dean…Dean…"

"Hmmm?"

"Spareblade…" Sam was quickly running out of energy. "Dean…glove…" He reached out with his other hand and scrabbled underwater with the clasp on the glove box.

Another shake of Dean's shoulder and his big brother was awake and straightening up, swaying a little.

"Sam? What ya doin'?" Dean slurred out, eyes heavy with pain and weariness.

Sam was finding it harder and harder to breathe properly; it felt like someone was sitting on his chest, so he just gestured.

Dean frowned, clearly confused. "Wha…?"

Gathering one final bout of strength Sam clearly called out "blade" and pointed weakly once more at the watery glove compartment before passing out completely.

Dean's gaze darted almost comically between his now unconscious brother and the glove box before realisation dawned.

"Shit!"

I getcha...

Once he had a simple plan determination bolstered his flagging spirits; it didn't take much to leap into action, and soon he was cutting through the seatbelt and pulling his little brother free of the car. Dean was completely exhausted but now they were faced with another problem. It was still snowing, still freezing, and they were soaked through with no functioning cell phone.

He wasn't quite ready to give up however, not when they'd gotten this far. Looking round he realised the road was just above them; the car hadn't plunged as far down as he'd thought, not that he was able to do much real thinking right now but something was firing in his brain, so Dean gathered Sam up in his arms, ignored his freezing limbs, the agonising throbbing in his head and staggered up the steep slope, nearly getting knocked down by a passing pickup when he stepped rather shakily into the road, the heavily falling snow reducing visibility to only a few feet. To make matters worse the wind was beginning to pick up, pressing cold, sodden fabric to his already chilled skin.

The loud screech of brakes and an angrily yelled "Hey kid! You tryin' ta get yaself killed?" had Dean swaying violently and his vision tunnelling. Something else was said but he couldn't hear above the sudden thumping and ringing.

Where the hell's that coming from?

"Whoa take it easy." It was the same voice but softer and kinder, and something was wrapped round his shoulders, holding him up. Someone was trying to take Sam from him but he held on tight, shaking his head slowly.

"No…please…help my brother…" He didn't make much sense even to his own ears, and his body finally closed up shop in protest.

The next thing Dean became aware of was lying down on something soft, his brother still clutched to him, but the two of them were swaddled in soft blankets and warm air was blowing over them. It felt nice, until he realised both he and Sam were completely naked, and his eyes flew open in panic.

"What the…?"

"It's ok kid." Came a gruff but kindly voice. "You and your brother there gotta bad case of hypothermia; had to get those wet clothes off. Shared body heat and all that; basic rule of first aid."

Dean's tired, bleary eyes flickered up to the review mirror to find a pair of worried hazel ones staring back at him. He let his head fall back against the seat.

"Thanks."

"Oh don't thank me yet. Need to get you both through this snow storm and to a hospital. You both sure took a knock to the head and you're brother there…his breathing don't sound so good. Plus he bought himself an open fracture to his arm."

Dean was startled to hear that but then he hadn't exactly been in a position to properly check Sam over. Tentatively reaching out, Dean could feel the fresh bandage on his kid brother's right arm then allowed his hand to gently slide up Sam's neck feeling the fast, frantic pulse. Now that he was fully awake Dean could hear his brother wheezing, the desperate panting as he gasped for breath.

"Sammy?" He whispered worriedly but Sam couldn't hear him, obviously sick and badly in need of help.

"How long?" he rasped out to the old guy.

Dean saw his shoulders shrug. "Thirty minutes at most in my trusty ol' truck. Name's Nathan by the way."

"Dean. This is m'brother Sam."

"Good to make your acquaintance Dean."

Dean gave a slight tired nod. "Likewise." Dude you have no idea.

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Dean didn't remember arriving at the hospital, or Nathan making arrangements to have the car towed. He didn't remember someone asking him if there was anyone they could call for him, but apparently he'd reeled off his father's cell phone number verbatim.

He was groaning at the terrible pain in his head when John Winchester suddenly leaned over him, an expression of deep concern on his face.

"Dad?" He croaked and winced. Something was covering his mouth and nose and he reached up with a weak and shaky hand to remove it.

"Leave that on." His father ordered in a soft voice, gently grabbing his hand and bringing it back down to the bed.

"Where's Sam?" Dean whispered this time, eyes at half mast against the light.

John's mouth tightened a little and Dean knew something was wrong.

"Sammy…he ok? Dad?" Dean winced and groaned as he panted into the oxygen mask, panic setting in. Why won't he answer me?

"Sssshhhh. Calm down son, he's right here in the bed next to ya." His father rubbed soothing circles on the back of his hand. "But you gotta fractured skull and need to take it easy kiddo."

Dean slowly turned his head to stare at the occupant of the next bed.

Oh God!

"Dad…why can't he breathe on his own? Dad…?"

"Dean, take it slow ok? He's gonna be fine. Sam's just suffered a little aspiration pneumonia; the water in that ditch you guys drove into weren't too clean and he took in quite a bit. Doesn't help he's still recovering from flu."

John decided not to mention that Sam went into severe respiratory distress a few hours ago and developed a fever of 105. The younger boy hadn't woken up yet and the doctors were extremely worried about him.

"Just get some more sleep kid. That's an order." And one Dean obviously had no trouble obeying because his eyes closed instantly.

John hadn't wanted to separate his sons and insisted they share a room; it also meant he could keep a close eye on them both without having to run between rooms.

He'd had the pleasure of meeting old Nathan; the guy had been generous enough to keep the Impala at his place until John could arrange for Bobby Singer to pick it up. And the news seemed good on that score too; apparently the Impala was missing some windows, the engine a bit waterlogged, and there were some nasty dents, but Nathan assured him it was nothing that couldn't be fixed with a lot of time and patience.

John had no idea what happened or why his sons ended up fighting for their lives in the middle of a blizzard. As far as he knew, Dean should have been tucked up in bed nursing a cold with Sam looking after him. The phone call scared the living daylights out of him, and John hit the road immediately, tearing through the bad weather, the four wheel drive truck easily eating up the miles until he reached the hospital in record time. On arrival Sam was already leaving recovery after surgery and Dean was still unconscious, warm IV saline slowly fighting the hypothermia.

Dean's skull fracture had troubled John deeply until he finally woke up, but he wondered how much of that was a natural progression to consciousness or a deep seated need to know how his brother was doing.

And the answer to that was not so good.

John stared at Sam. The kid was in a pretty bad way, pale, with dark circles under his eyes and a thin sheen of perspiration coating his face and neck. The vent protruding from his mouth was scary looking and John had seen some pretty scary crap over the years. Like his brother he sported a thick bandage round his head, but his arm was tightly encased in a cast from upper arm to wrist and raised up on a couple of pillows. Surgery on the open fracture had been tricky given Sam's fragile state, and even now the kid was being pumped full of antibiotics; a preventative against any additional infection. Hell, the pneumonia was bad enough but the possibility of a bone infection on top of that…

John put a stopped to those thoughts right there. Not helping.

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"Dad?" John turned from the window at the sound of his oldest son's voice.

"Hey, good to see you awake again." Sitting down in the chair between the beds, John's intense gaze swept over the boy. "How ya feeling?"

Dean sniffed, glad that the mask was gone but really didn't approve much more of the nasal tube. "Ok I guess," he slurred out, blinking slowly.

As before when he first woke up, he turned his head towards his brother. "Sammy doesn't look so good Dad. What's goin' on with him?" He heard his father sigh but kept his gaze on Sam.

"The pneumonia got out of control and he needed help, but even with the antibiotics his fever still hasn't broken."

Dean frowned. "He's gonna be ok though right?" his gaze shot to his father at the uneasy silence. "Dad? Tell me he's gonna be ok!"

"Son, we just don't know. It's up to Sam now. The doctors have done all they can for him, but it don't look good." John's voice broke a little on those last three words, the first sign of emotion he'd shown so far.

Dean was suddenly trying to sit up in bed and throwing the covers off. "No! He can't…he has to be ok. Dad I was so mad at him…" pain spiked through his head and his vision wavered. His bruised chest started joining in and making its own complaints abundantly clear, forcing a loud groan from Dean's mouth.

John leapt forward catching Dean before he tumbled to the floor. "Stop it Dean. Just relax; you won't help Sam if you hurt yourself again."

"But…he has to be ok. Supposing he dies thinking I hate 'im?"

John stilled but kept a firm grip on his son. "Why would he think that? Sam could never hate you." Drawing back a little he looked Dean in the eye. "I was gonna save it for when you were feeling better but…what exactly happened out there Dean? What were you two doing out on the road that time of night?"

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Dean sat up at Sam's bedside against the wishes of his doctor, his father, the nurses, practically everyone that wandered by their room. John had left an hour ago to check on the Impala and Dean knew he was still mad at him. He hadn't said as much, hadn't said anything at all in fact. Didn't need to.

It was written all over his face.

Disappointment in large glaring letters that may as well have been penned in fire.

And Dean couldn't blame him in the slightest, not with his little brother lying there unmoving and desperately sick. He kept a hand on Sam's wrist, two fingers on the pulse at all times, and kept talking as long as his voice would hold out and when it didn't he fell asleep with his head on Sam's bed, still grasping tightly to his brother's hand.

Dean woke up again a short while later and sighed tiredly. It was Christmas day tomorrow and the scenery outside their window looked like something lifted straight off a greetings card. And Sam wasn't awake to see it.

"You can beat this ya know." Dean muttered softly. "I know you. You remembered the spare blade in the car, and you saved us buddy when I would've failed. Ya kept going. So no giving up now huh?"

His head was hurting again, the pain killers wearing off way too soon and he swayed in his seat, blinking hard. "I'm sorry Sammy, 'bout the stupid way I treated ya. I know it was just an accident and you were still a little sick from flu; I shouldn't have gotten so angry. I told Dad everything, but he won't be mad at you…this is my fault. I know what you were trying to do that night but I shouldn't have gone along with it." Dean watched his brother's face and whispered softly. "Never thanked you for that, not really."

He flinched at the next sharp pain in his head, signalling it was time to rest.

"Come on son; let's get you back to bed." His father's hand was suddenly on his shoulder; he hadn't even heard him enter the room. "It's time for your meds anyhow."

Dean shook his head slowly. "No. Need to stay here in case he wakes up, have to tell him…"

"Ya need to get some rest. Now back to bed." John sighed when Dean just turned his sad gaze on him. It was often as effective as his little brother's, especially when it was genuine. "If you get some sleep I promise you can sit up with Sam again later, but for now let me watch over him. Deal?"

Dean didn't even argue which had John worried all the more, just got up and allowed his father to help him over to his side of the room. The kid was asleep within minutes and John had some serious thinking to do.

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"Well this is an improvement huh?" Dean smiled as he fingered the straps on Sam's oxygen mask. The smile soon fell when there was no response. "Sorry ya missed Christmas little bro, but at least it looks like the snow's here to stay for a while. We can have that snowball fight we planned on, and the blizzard's calmed down so we can go home soon...well, at least back to the house. Betcha can't wait to get outta here huh?"

Sam stirred, shivered and muttered anxiously, breathing laboured and the fever still evident. His health was gradually improving under the influence of the antibiotics but he wasn't out of danger yet. Dean was also making progress but the constant headaches were wiping him out; at least his father had refrained from yelling at him, which Dean felt he had every right to do. Any raised voices would have killed him right then.

Dean sighed as he watched over his little brother, and reflected sadly that it wouldn't be long before the arguments started.

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His thinking led to all kinds of emotions, including fear and anger at both his sons, but chief amongst them was guilt.

"Pastor Jim? I need a favour....ah...you've been talking to Bobby...uhuh, yeah...."

John listened to his old friend's rant for a while and nodded in agreement.

"This might surprise the hell outta ya but that's just what I've been thinking. The boys need somewhere safe to recover. And...well...they kinda missed Christmas so..." John smiled at the response. "Sure. We'll head out just as soon as they get the all clear from their doc."

On disconnecting the call John felt a sudden sympathy for his boys.

Sounds like I'm well and truly in the shit so I guess that makes three of us.

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"Hey Dean...you ok?"

The croaky voice made Dean wince in sympathy and he raised his aching head from the statutory Big Brother post by Sam's bed. Watery, tired blue-green eyes met his and Dean stared at him for a long moment.

It was such a long moment that Sam grew scared and worried, could see the heavy bandage round his older brother's head. Before Dean could stop him, Sam wrenched off the mask.

"Dean? You're ok right? Please tell me you're ok?" Sam gasped at the pain his chest and large beads of perspiration rolled down the side of his face. "M'sorry, m'so sorry you got hurt...and the car...is the car gonna be ok? Dean...?"

Dean's eyes widened when he realised his brother was panicking. "SShhh calm down Sammy, I'm fine and can I just say this? None of this was your fault!"

It didn't stop the guilt funnelling onto Sam's face nor the tears that followed. Sorrow laden eyes watched Dean closely as he reattached the mask to Sam's face.

"Dean..."

"Just go back to sleep Sam. We can talk about this another time ok?" Dean pulled the covers up to Sam's chin and put on his best Game face, that Dean Winchester Reassuring Smile. The one he always reserved especially for his little brother.

"But..."

"Go to sleep. I'm right here if ya need me."

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The Winchester's left the hospital in silence, the boys clutching their medication in small white paper bags. John's big black truck waited outside, engine rumbling quietly to itself as he guided his son's over and settled them in, blankets and pillows carefully arranged for their comfort. Somewhere in the hospital an orderly was staring in confusion at the linen closet and scratching his head.

I could swear I locked that damn door last night.

Sam and Dean fell asleep more or less the instant they hit the road; John smiled slightly. They hadn't even asked where they were going next, a sure sign of just how much the accident had taken out of them.

Both boys had been released far too soon and it was evident in the way Dean still had trouble keeping his balance and the migraines that continued to attack him. Sam's lungs were a constant source of worry, his temperature still raised and his broken arm was giving him a lot of trouble.

They'd really had little choice; what with the cops sniffing round and John even caught one of them trying to enter the boy's room without his supervision at one stage. The doctors had managed to keep the law off their backs as long as possible whilst the boys were in a critical state, but now they were conscious it was imperative the Winchester family made their getaway. Besides, Dean hadn't been drinking, he was legally entitled to drive and it was obviously an accident, but the cops were obligated to follow procedure. One thorn in their side, however, had been the mysterious disappearance of the Impala. They'd found the spot where it went careening off the road but no sign of the car itself. When asked, John merely shrugged his shoulders and grinned sheepishly.

"Maybe someone stole it." The lame suggestion earned him a narrow eyed glance loaded with suspicion. At this point the car was already making its way across country on the back of Bobby Singer's tow truck, covered in a tarp, soon to arrive at the salvage yard bound for a full overhaul. It was a relief the cops never found it, especially given the contents of the trunk.

Another cause for relief: no one had seen the licence plate, at least no one who was prepared to admit to it. Now all that remained was for the boys to go into hiding whilst the dust or rather snow settled.

Sam was the first to awake during the journey. He sat up slowly, groaned in discomfort and began coughing loudly. Dean snapped awake and shook his head to clear the cobwebs, wincing at the movement.

"Sammy, how ya feeling?" He rasped out, concerned gaze sweeping over his brother.

Sam couldn't find the breath or energy for a verbal answer and just nodded.

"Yeah right," Dean snorted sarcastically. "You can barely breathe dude! C'mere." He reached for his little brother and pulled him upright, supporting and rubbing his back.

John's eyes kept glancing in the review mirror, watching his sons worriedly until Sam managed to get a handle on his breathing again.

"Dean? You guys need to stop?"

Dean blinked in surprise. He'd almost forgotten where they were for a minute there. "Uh, I think we're ok for now Dad. We can wait 'til lunch then Sam's gonna need to eat before he takes his meds."

So do you kid. John kept his mouth shut and just nodded. Sam was still on a course of powerful drugs to help his breathing and fight infection, and the side effects could be pretty nasty. Taking them on an empty stomach wasn't advisable. But Dean also needed to eat. The older brother usually had the appetite of a mountain lion during the mating season but since the accident all that had changed. John knew it was mostly down to the head injury, the nausea and pain enough to put anyone off their food, but he was also pretty sure Dean's own guilt had a sizable part to play.

It was a strange journey. John was used to Sam chattering away nineteen to the dozen, asking question after question, with Dean teasing him from time to time. There was no brotherly bickering, no car games or 'I spy', and in deference to both boys the radio was kept switched off. The only noise was the engine and the occasional snore from the back seat.

When they did stop for lunch there were further problems. Sam more or less fell out of the truck, John lunging to catch him before the kid hit his head.

"Sam? You with me?"

"I...m'ok..." Sam wheezed out, face disturbingly turning even more pale. His head slipped back against his father's shoulder, eyes half closed, and the deep crackles in his lungs grew louder, worrying John further. Dean was out of his seat the minute his brother disappeared out the door of the truck.

"Sammy?" Crouched down beside his brother and gently sweeping his unruly hair away from his eyes, Dean's frown deepened when he felt Sam's forehead. "He's not doin' so great Dad. Fever's back."

"Come on. Let's get you both inside the diner where it's warm. Probably just needs a decent rest." John gently hoisted his youngest son up into his arms and stalked over to the diner leaving Dean to lock up.

He strode straight over to a booth in the corner without stopping for the cheery greeting from the manager. Laying Sam back against the seat, John took off his own coat and draped it round the kid's shoulders, at the same time signalling for the waitress.

"Is everything ok?" A girl not much younger than Dean approached, looking worried and more than a little intimidated by the eldest Winchester.

"Just get me three bowls of soup, bread, coffee, and two glasses of warm milk." John muttered at her distractedly. "Oh, and some honey in the milk would help." Realising he was being less than polite he stopped, the frown fading a little as he glanced at her name tag and realised just how young she was. "As fast as you can please Sara. My son's real sick and needs food." John added softly with a smile.

Sara, instantly bowled over by the Winchester charm, almost curtsied and smiled back before scrambling to do as she was asked, only to run headlong into Dean. Soft, nervous brown eyes met Dean's vibrant green ones for an instant, and she was gone, disappearing into the kitchen and blushing prettily.

A small smile slid over Dean's face as he watched after her for a second, head tilting to appreciate her curvy ass.

"Wow. Nice...service."

John rolled his eyes, feeling a little relieved. If Dean was feeling up to flirting already then he truly was on the mend. But it was his youngest he was worried about. Sam sat slumped in his seat, eyes dazed and bright with fever, breathing unsteady and harsh.

"Dean sit with your brother; I'm gonna get another blanket from the truck." John announced when he spied Sam shivering lightly. "You got his meds?"

Dean held up the bag and gave it a small shake. "Yep." His father nodded and ducked outside.

Pulling his brother against him, Dean whispered to him softly. "Once you get some food inside ya the meds'll make you feel a little better kiddo, I promise."

Sam gazed up at him sadly, "Dean? Sorry 'bout the car..." his words were a little slurred and breathless, and Dean could barely hear him.

"Hey come on now, I thought we talked about that," Dean frowned again. Maybe his kid brother was really taking a turn for the worse if he couldn't remember it, and he wondered if finding another medical facility wasn't such a bad idea, but his brother surprised him.

"No...s-sorry for desecrating it." Voice a little stronger.

"Huh? Sammy, what you talking about?" Dean was getting really worried now.

"Pl-playin' Bon Jovi."

When Dean saw the sudden grin he started laughing softly. "That depends. Which songs?"

"Started out with Bad Medicine and Blaze Of Glory." Sam answered between bouts of coughing.

Dean considered that, hugging his brother to him a little tighter and gently running his hand up and down Sam's sling-encased arm. "Not so terrible. I can live with that." He turned his head back to smile at Sam just as he replied.

"But I was too scared to take my hand off the wheel to fast forward the tape, so it ended with Always." Sam snorted loudly at the disgusted expression on Dean's face. "Followed by In These Arms." His older brother made a retching noise causing Sam to alternate between laughing and coughing.

"Jesus Sam! You realise I'm gonna have to get Pastor Jim to bless the car now right?" Dean grinned when Sam started laughing harder and had to thump his back when the coughing got too much.

"I thought we were going back to the house?" Sam eventually managed to rasp out.

Dean shrugged. "Nah. We passed the turn-off about two hundred and fifty miles back. We're definitely heading to Pastor Jim's and making good time too. Reckon we'll be there by tonight easy."

"Yep. Guess I shoulda known you'd figure it out." Their father's gruff but amused voice sounded behind them just as a blanket was draped over their shoulders and tucked in gently. "Managed to spoil the surprise there son." But there was no evidence of anger in the statement and John was grinning widely as he slid inside the booth opposite his sons.

"Pastor Jim's? Really Dad?"

John noted Sam's smile was tired yet happy and it made him feel on top of the world. He was doing something right at last. Reaching across the table, he cupped Sam's jaw.

"I figured you guys deserve a real Christmas for a change." John spotted Dean's confusion and added "Whadya say boys?"

"B...but..." Dean stuttered a little before finally getting the words out. "After what I did, Dad...it was unforgivable."

John was silent for a moment. "Lotta acts are unforgivable in this world Dean, but not what Sam tried to do for you." He was met with blank expressions and smiled again. "It should've been me granting you a night off, some time to have fun. But I was too busy as usual. Don't get me wrong, I aint excusing what you boys got up to, but..." John sighed in understanding. "Let's just say that it was me. I should've known better. After all, I was your age once kid; I know just how long it takes before ya can snap."

Sam looked a little downcast when he spoke again. "But Christmas has been and gone. And I've known for years now that Santa doesn't exist, so why bother?"

His father sighed dramatically. "That's what everyone's been telling me for years." A sly grin emerged to both sons' amazement. "Maybe it's about time we found out for sure!"

"Uh...I've got your order." Sara spoke up nearby a little timidly. She'd been listening to them without really meaning to. Sara didn't get paid very well and was saving furiously to go to college next year, so she had no real idea why she said what she did. "It's on the house." And slid three hot steaming bowls of beef and vegetable soup on the table, followed by bread, the coffee and warm milk.

There was just something about this tiny family that hit a nerve; maybe it was the ratty clothes and the desperation she felt in the atmosphere around them. Sara didn't have a family, spent most of her young life in foster home after foster home, and now she was out on her own, hoping for something better, and she was scared. Spent most of her life being scared anyhow. But the loneliness that plagued her, the deep seated feeling that she didn't belong wherever she went and likely never would...somehow, in some strange way...she understood these people, and paying for their meal was her way of letting them know it. Her way of helping them.

But they barely heard her during their deep discussions and she slunk away into the background. It didn't really matter because it was the thought that mattered most.

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"I can't eat too much more Dean." Sam tried not to complain but he'd really had enough. The soup was delicious but he was having a hard time; his chest ached, his arm hurt, and he was just too exhausted to really enjoy it. He raised mournful eyes to his family. "I'm sorry I just can't..."

John watched fondly as Dean pushed the pain meds and antibiotics into Sam's hand and offered the warm milk. "Here Sammy, you'll feel better soon."

Sam didn't seem to mind being treated like a sick child again, but then in Dean and John's eyes that was exactly the point. Sam was still a child in spite of his maturity; John had a nasty habit of forgetting that important fact. And Dean was a fine kid; John could already see the signs of the fine, strong and capable man he would become. Perhaps already had without him noticing. That thought made John feel proud and sad all at the same time.

God I've missed so much in their lives, and yet they've been right here. Right in front of me all the time.

How the hell do I fix this...?

There was no way, and no way could John change. All he could hope for was...one day...

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"What dya mean the bill's already covered?" Dean asked the cashier guy with worry and maybe even a little hostility.

'Shane' according to his nametag, merely shrugged; camp, smug little bastard that he was. "That would be Sara. She's a fucking loon. Does this sort of thing for all the destitutes that wander in here. Don't ask me why." If he'd any sense of self-preservation he might have noticed the growing anger on Dean's face. "She's supposed to be saving her money so she can get out next year, find her niche as she puts it. Wants to go to med school and become a doctor." Shane shrugged again and laughed this time. It wasn't a pleasant laugh. "Girl's kiddin' herself you ask me. Gonna end up selling herself just like all the rest. She can't be too bright if she keeps spendin' her money on people like..." the guy trailed off when he realised what he'd said.

Dean leaned across the counter menacingly. "I'm payin' this bill. And you're gonna give me her address and phone number right now!"

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Pastor Jim was already outside and waiting at the gate when the black truck pulled up, a warm welcome smile on his face. The smile dipped a little when John jumped out and went straight to the rear passenger door, emerging with a very pale Sam tucked tightly into his arms.

"Pastor Jim. Good to see ya again." John nodded grimly. "Could you get Dean for me? The boys fell asleep and I don't have the heart to wake them. Been a long journey for 'em."

"Sure thing." Jim answered softly and did as he was asked, except Dean had already woken up and was stumbling out of the truck. "Easy there son. Take it slow."

"Hey Pastor Jim." Dean muttered sleepily. His head pounded a little, irritating him to hell and back. Most of the time he felt ok but whenever he was tired or worried – usually about Sam – the headaches came back with a vengeance. "How's the bible bashin' goin'? Managed to convert any atheists lately?"

Pastor Jim chuckled. "Yep, though it took some extra persuasion and you can tell that from the crucifix marks on the backs of their heads."

Dean snorted softly. "Figures. You Catholic types are all the same." Rubbing his eyes as the priest held him steady he added quietly "thanks for taking us in like this. Sammy needs all the help he can get."

"Hmm. I don't think he's the only one Dean." Jim studied the older brother in his peripheral vision. Dean was also rather pale though mostly down to weariness if he was any judge. His head was probably playing up and the kid desperately need sleep; preferably in a proper bed.

Sam was already settled comfortably, looking snug and warm under the blankets, and John was gently stroking his cheek as the boy slept when Jim turned up with Dean. He glanced up with concern as Jim helped his oldest son into the bed nearest the door, noting how he offered no protest when the priest began removing his outer clothes, but the loud snore soon told him why.

"How's he doing?" Jim nodded in Sam's general direction as he worked, pulling off jeans and tugging on a set of PJs he always kept especially for when the boys put in a visit. Jim smirked inwardly; Dean was going to be furious when woke up and found he was wearing Budgie The Little Helicopter.

"He's a little wacked out on some pretty heavy medication, that's all." John responded, still stroking Sam's hair. "You managed to get everything I asked for?"

Jim pulled the covers up to Dean's chin. "Yep, and the local doc said he'd be happy to drop by anytime to check up on the boys." He grinned. "Told 'em my sick God sons were visiting."

"Lying again Jim?" John raised an eyebrow.

Jim merely coughed politely. "Doesn't count if it's for a good cause."

"Uhuh." John nodded slowly, eyes narrowed in amusement. "I'll remember that one."

The priest tiptoed over to a closet by the window and removed a large round metal cylinder from its dark recesses. Attaching a long plastic tube with a transparent mask at one end, he lugged the equipment over to Sam's bed.

"Shall we put this on him now?" Jim raised the mask.

John considered that one. "Not a bad idea. Poor kid's been struggling today and his fever stuck its oar back in earlier."

"Come on into the kitchen where we can talk without whispering." Once the mask was secured over Sam's mouth and nose, the two men retreated out into the hallway, leaving the bedroom door open just in case.

"Now. You wanna tell me what's been going on with you three?" Jim placed a glass of whiskey on the table in front of John and sat down opposite.

John ran a hand through his hair. He was tired, been driving all day and worried sick about his sons. "Sam was just getting over flu when I was called away on a hunt. I left Dean in charge, but...well...it seemed Sam took matters into his own hands a little. Dean's been stuck at home all this time, looking after his sick brother and then I up and leave so close to Christmas." He sighed and glanced up at Jim. "It wasn't fair of me, I know. I should've been home for once, letting Dean have some time to himself. Looking after a sick teenager is pretty exhausting and I forgot that because I'd been off loading all my responsibilities onto Dean's shoulders. And in the end it was Sam that tried to give Dean what he needed." John threw up his hands in despair and let them drop with a loud thud to the table. "You know the rest. One thing led to another, and another... and the car ended up in a ditch with my sons half drowned and damn near freezing to death." Knocking back the whiskey with an angry scowl, John added. "I don't deserve those kids Jim, and they sure as hell deserve a better father than me." He looked up uncertainly. "You can start yelling if you want."

To his surprise, Jim merely began chuckling softly. "You wouldn't believe the number of people who admit to being bad parents in the confessional. The very act of admitting it tells me differently, tells me they care enough to worry about it." He sobered a little. "The fact is your boys are alive and recovering, and they've been watching out for each other. I'm not going to make your life easier by denying you did anything wrong, but equally I'm not going to condemn you either. Besides, both your sons know right from wrong and clearly they know they've broken the law."

He leaned forward, placing a hand on John's arm. "It was a close call but you all came through it. Time for a fresh start."

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John was just putting the last of the presents under the Christmas tree when a sound in the doorway made him look up to find Dean watching him.

"Everything ok with you boys?" John shifted back to admire his handy work; several small packages wrapped in brightly coloured foil paper glinted in the light from the fire place. It wasn't much but at least the boys had something to unwrap.

"Sam's still asleep though his breathing sounds much better." He raised an eyebrow. "You managed to pick up those items?" The eyebrows waggled in humour.

" Damn straight." John grinned at his son. "I promised you boys a real Christmas and that's what ya gonna get." He groaned as he climbed to his feet, knees aching after being cramped in one position for too long. "Come on. Pastor Jim's got something on the stove; and you're gonna eat."

Dean shrugged. "Sounds fine to me. I'm starved." And was out the room and raiding the kitchen before his father could even blink.

Hmm. John smirked. First the flirting, now he's hungry. Yep, definitely feeling better.

Deciding to check on his other son, John headed off in the other direction towards the boys' bedroom. Creeping silently into the room, he smiled a little at the sight of Sammy sleeping peacefully, snuggled under the covers. The only thing that marred the image was the oxygen mask over his face and the tank sitting next to the bed, but Dean was right at least; Sam's breathing did sound less painful.

The boy stirred and opened his eyes as if sensing someone new was in the room. Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, he peered up at the dark figure of his father silhouetted in the low hallway light.

"Dad?" Sam whispered sleepily. "We at Pastor Jim's yet?"

"Hey son, we sure are. You ready for something to eat? Pastor Jim's been cooking all day and whatever it is, it smells real good." John slowly crouched down, grimacing at the light click in his knees again. Getting too old for this shit.

Sam slowly sat up and pulled the mask away. "Uh...yeah, that'd be great. But can I eat in the kitchen with you guys?"

"I don't know kid, you've been pretty sick." John frowned. "You'd be better off in bed."

His youngest sighed deeply. "Please Dad? I seemed to have spent the last month in bed and I'm so gonna go insane if I don't get up just for a little while." And out came the kicked puppy eyes, and John was instantly sucked in. Under normal circumstances he was immune to it, but that immunity didn't stretch to a sick Sammy and probably never would.

John stood and pulled back the blankets. "Up ya get champ. And take it easy ok? Don't make me regret this." He added, as he slid an arm under Sam's shoulders and helped him up.

Sam just grinned sheepishly.

It was nice and warm in the kitchen and Sam was grateful that the main overhead lamp was switched off, the only light coming from a table lamp in the corner. The room looked cosy and smelled of good home cooking, with his brother chatting quietly to the Pastor, slouched casually in his seat and turned sideways to the door.

"How's the head Dean?"

Dean turned to see his little brother leaning heavily on their father. "Hey kiddo. Head's fine, never better." And though Dean was still a little pale, he certainly did look in good spirits. "You sure you should be outta bed runt?" He asked softly.

John rolled his eyes. "Don't get me started. Now you, sit and don't move." And pushed Sam gently into the seat next to his brother, tucking the blanket round him.

Just for once Sam did as he was asked without arguing. However, he did make an observation.

"Uh...Dean? Nice PJs." Sam couldn't hold in the snort much longer.

Dean froze and looked down at himself. "What the f...?"

"Language!" Pastor Jim barked out, his back to the room as he stirred something in a saucepan. John was the only one who was in a position to see the grin on the priest's face however and tried hard to smother his own amusement.

"Sorry." Dean muttered and scowled at the plain dark red attire of his kid brother's.

Budgie The Little frigging Helicopter? How did he even get a set in my size?

"Dude, how long you been wearing those?" Sam choked out, trying to hold in the coughing. "And you only just noticed? Must've hit your head harder than we thought!"

John could see Pastor Jim's shoulders start to shake and smelled a rat.

"Seriously Dean, I didn't know you were such huge fan of the Duchess Of York."

"Sam," Dean growled a warning.

"I mean, she's a little old for you but at least she has own chopper huh?" Sam was grinning and practically bouncing in his seat with glee as his big brother grew increasingly more agitated.

"Sam!"

"...even if it does have cute little eyes, a nose and goes by the name of...Budgie!"

That was it. John snorted at the furious glare on Dean's face and Pastor Jim roared with laughter.

The older boy glowered when the penny finally dropped. "This was a damn set up right?" He pointed at the priest accusingly. "You did this on purpose, took advantage of my weakened state!"

"Oh the burning martyr, do we need a fire extinguisher? Yep. I saw those in the store window and immediately thought of you." Jim's laughter had calmed to a quiet chuckle at last and the cleric was busy wiping his hands on a dishcloth. "They were making adult sizes as novelty gifts and, well, it just had your name all over it."

"Aw Dean," Sam cooed, batting his eyelashes mockingly. "You look so sweet ya big 'ol jerk!"

The scowl deepened if at all possible. "You're sure feeling better bitch."

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Dean groaned and rolled over, snuffling into his pillow. It was surely way too early to be getting up and he really didn't want to leave the toasty warmth of his bed, but the smell of food wafting in through the bedroom door was too irresistible. With a pained sigh he threw back the covers and stumbled in the general direction of the bathroom, pausing briefly to check on his brother.

Sam was looking better already and it was hard to believe that over twenty four hours ago he was in a critical condition and barely able to breathe. Dean hadn't gotten off lightly either and it would be a while until he was fully up to par, but Sam had stopped breathing. The reminder sent an icy chill down his spine.

If Sam hadn't remembered about the spare blade... that voice whispered again.

By the time he made it out of the shower Dean felt swamped in depression and knew it was more than just the side effects of cracking his head open. The sorrow of having nearly lost his little brother weighed heavily on his shoulders; he couldn't even look at himself in the mirror and decided to forgo shaving in case he cut his own throat by mistake.

He snorted without humour at the thought.

Grabbing his jeans Dean stilled suddenly and glanced at the stupid PJs, a small smile forming. They had no reason to get dressed this morning, after all this was their very own 'Christmas Day'. The fact that it made Sam laugh played only a small part in his decision. Really.

Just a tiny part.

Sam half opened his eyes and smiled. His chest whilst still tight and heavy felt so much better and his arm didn't nearly hurt so much, though he wouldn't have said no to...

"Here ya go Sam." Dean held out a glass of water and Sam's pain medication. "Drink up and let's go see what's cooking."

Sam chuckled lightly. "Hungry again huh?"

Dean grinned. "Yep, s'good to finally know when the fuel tank needs re-fuelling, now hurry up!"

"Alright keep ya wig on bro!" Sam threw back the covers and stood up a little too fast, the blood rush taking him by surprise and his eyesight quickly disintegrated. "Whoa! Can't see..."

"Easy." Dean caught his brother and lowered him back to a sitting position on the bed. "Sorry Sam. I should've known better. It's just..." His voice trailed off.

Sam's vision was clearing and now he could take a good long look at his brother's face and body language. Dean was acting like a cat on a hot tin roof.

"Dean what's wrong?" Sam gripped Dean's arm, voice urgent with worry.

Realising he was scaring the kid, Dean smiled reassuringly. "Nothing's wrong Sam I promise..." He sighed. "Just come with me, we got something to show ya."

Sam's eyes searched his and all he found was nervous excitement, and he nodded slowly. "Ok. Let's go."

Sam was still unsteady on his feet and Dean was more than happy to take some of his weight. Kid weighed next to nothing anyhow given how little he was eating lately.

"Hey Dean," Sam muttered, already tired from the slow journey and they were only halfway down the hall towards the lounge. "You're still wearing those PJs. I think you like Budgie; I think you wanna be his friend." Tired or not, the kid was being a little bastard.

Dean tried to smile rather than grimace and much to his brother's amusement grit his teeth when he spoke. "Oh yeah, I just love the little guy. In fact, I wanna have his babies!"

Sam's snort turned into a coughing fit and Dean grinned smugly.

"That'll teach ya!" And pushed the lounge door open just as Sam managed to get his breathing back under control. With a grand flourish he announced "Merry Christmas little bro."

Sam stared in wonder at the Christmas tree, the lights, wall hangings...and at their Dad and Pastor Jim sitting by the log fire wearing bright red Santa hats and grinning stupidly.

"Merry Christmas boys!"

Dean watched Sam with an affectionate grin as his little brother carried on staring, a small smile forming that made him look all of six years old. It seemed to be a little too much for the poor kid and he swayed in Dean's grasp, blinking back tears.

"Aw Sammy don't be sad. I know we missed the real Christmas day..." Dean began but Sam interrupted him.

"No! I'm not sad...just...this is..." he shook his head. "This is great...this is our very own Christmas day." Sam turned his smile up to full wattage as he gazed at his family. "Thanks guys."

And Dean understood. His brother was sick and overwhelmed but acting his usual emo-self. Things were getting back to normal.

"When do we open presents?" Dean piped up, ever impatient to be getting on with the good stuff.

"After dinner!" Growled his father and Sam smirked at the torn look on Dean's face. Food and opening presents; his brother was having a hard time prioritising here but there was no point arguing. The boys were herded into the kitchen and Sam was stunned to realise the time; he and Dean had slept all the way through to midday and his belly growled at him in complaint.

Candles were lit, dinner was served – goose, not turkey – drinks were poured – soda for the youngsters on medication, and yeah, Dean complained like hell over that one – Brussels' sprouts were forced on the unwary and unsuspecting – Dean again, surprise surprise! - and there was much good natured whining and bitching.

Pastor Jim said grace which much to everyone's relief was kept short in deference to the increasingly loud noises coming from Dean's stomach. Roast potatoes were stolen off plates; Brussel sprouts slid surreptitiously on in place. Sam could see his father frowning at the contents of his plate, could almost see the cogs turning in his mind.

Damn sure I ate all my sprouts, and where the hell did my potatoes go?

Of course, there was Sam's big brother grinning triumphantly, if not a little smugly.

Dinner was tiring but pleasant to all and Sam was virtually falling asleep at the table after the Christmas pudding. Dean smiled softly and helped his brother up and into the lounge as their father shoved some more logs on the fire.

"Say cheese guys!" A flash of bright light made everyone flinch and Pastor Jim was grinning from behind his camera. "That's gonna be a good one."

"Hey Sammy, ya can't go to sleep yet," Dean whispered in Sam's ear. "We got presents to open."

He was utterly bewildered at the sudden devastating look on Sam's face. "What's wrong bro?"

"My present to you, it..."

"It's right here." John sat down by his sons holding a small wrapped present. Winking discreetly at Dean, he handed it over to Sam.

Yeah, Dean got it. Sam had left Dean's present in the car and it was now ruined, but John as always thought ahead.

Sam, feeling completely confused, didn't remember wrapping it, was supposed to that night but fell asleep on the couch. But he handed it over to Dean anyhow with a nervous smile.

"Hope you like it dude."

Dean, as always, attacked the small gift like a five year old, tearing off the foiled paper in a way that made everyone smile with affection.

"AC/DC...limited edition, live collection..." Dean turned his gaze on Sam, eyes squinting like mad, and Sam knew what that meant. "Dude..."

"You're welcome," Sam responded quietly with a soft smile, and winked back his father when Dean wasn't looking.

But now it was Sam's turn.

His eyes filled with tears. Taking the Bon Jovi tape out of its wrapping and let it rest in his lap....

Sam shuddered and tried to hold in his sorrow. He'd fucked Dean's car and...

"Stop that." Dean informed him quietly. "I know how much this meant to you."

Sam raised damp eyes to his brother. "But I..."

"And that's not all." Dean reached under the tree again, producing another smaller box.

Sam stared at it, scared out of his wits until he took the gift and started to unwrap it. When he opened the box and his head shot up in shock, Dean didn't give him much of a chance to respond.

"Yeah. We need to work on your reversing."

The spare keys to the ruined Impala swung gently in Sam's grasp.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Two days after the 'Winchester's Christmas day'...

Dean had been watching her for some time now, and concluded that she might be a mouse – and a very pretty one at that – but she wasn't naive or stupid. She'd sensed someone was there throughout her shift, kept glancing through the windows, seeking her watcher.

She'd already paid for the meals of some other rag-tag no-hopers.

What the hell kid? Why do you do this to yaself?

But in a way he already knew, and that was exactly why he headed back to Pastor Jim's that night.

"Her name is Sara McPherson, a waitress with barely a cent to her name and she wants to be a doctor. Can you help her?"

Dean stared at the cleric hopefully.

Jim sat back in his seat, more than a little stunned. "I don't know Dean, I mean...she'd have to pass the exams to get in, the aptitude tests...I don't even know if she has the right qualities."

That intense stare continued. "I think she does. And I know you can find out." And Jim could do nothing else in the face of that.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Sara McPherson woke up to face another grim day at the diner, her grim shower that looked even more grim in the early morning light, her grim bedsit hardly an incentive to putting that smile on her face, but somehow managed it. Even if it continued to feel even more foreign the more time passed her by. She was starting to feel it now. Growing old, alone, with nothing and no one to hold her up. A sad thing to say for herself when she hadn't even turned twenty. But it had to be better than her last foster home...

Stifling back the tears, she held her head high, determined to keep her faith; one day her life would change. One day she'd get to do great things.

But deep down Sarah knew she was just marking time until she either killed herself through utter despair, or got shot during a diner robbery.

And right now, with New Year's day so far gone, feeling no closer to her dream, Sara had an idea where she would end up.

Dressing quickly and trying to warm up the smile on her face, ready for the world outside, Sara finally pulled on her shoes and moved quickly to the door...

To find an official looking letter sitting there, taunting her.

Knowing and dreading that her life was about to change and not sure how, she picked up the letter...

...and opened it.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Present Day. Christmas Eve.

Dean woke up, grimacing at the bone dry texture of his tongue.

No one had stopped by to tell him how Sam was doing, if he'd even survived surgery. Many hours must have passed but he refused to look at his watch. He was pretty sure that was good news... pretty sure...but now he was awake Dean was about ready to punch a hole through the wall just to find his brother.

"He's doing well." A soft voice informed him and Dean stood to face Sam's surgeon for the first time. "He needs to rest but he's anxious to see you. I got the bullet out of his lung with no trouble and Sam's going to be just fine."

His eyes grew wide with recognition. She was older now, her eyes haunted, but yeah it was her. Less the scared pretty girl and more the stunningly beautiful woman with hell weighing on her shoulders. And Dean knew what that felt like, but now his brother was gonna be ok...he just didn't know what to say.

Dr MacPherson tilted her head to one side, eyes narrowed in curiosity. "Do I know you?"

Dean stared at her for a long moment before his gaze softened, the corners of his mouth tweaking up into a casually amused smile.

"Nah, don't think so doc." He shrugged, just as casual. "I just have one of those faces. Get that a lot."

Dr MacPherson still watched him, obviously troubled. "Yeah, maybe..." she drew the words out long and slow.

Growing solemn, Dean added. "Thanks...ya know...for saving my brother. I don't know what I would've done if I'd lost him..."

Dr MacPherson cut him off with a shake of the head and a wry smile. "Sam's survival was only in part down to the surgery. The rest was all him." She added simply. "Not many people have been strong enough to get through it."

Yeah, Dean caught that message loud and clear; this aint her first gun shot case.

Another quick smile and she disappeared back behind the doors of the OR, and Dean had the very strange feeling something had been laid to rest. Raising his eyebrows and squinting at the floor tiles, Dean huffed quietly then set out to find his brother.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Sam was awake though obviously very groggy, and the oxygen mask took Dean back to his earlier reminiscence of another Christmas that came way too close to ending in tragedy. The room was dimly lit by a small Christmas tree the staff had thoughtfully placed by the window, and Dean felt unashamedly grateful they'd listened to his request. Though something told him Dr MacPherson had a say in that.

His brother was staring bleary eyed at the tree and smiling, watching the colourful display of twinkling lights with a childlike innocence that made Dean's heart clench.

"I heard you did good in surgery Sammy." Dean sat by his bed and fiddled with the blanket distractedly, pulling it up over Sam's bandaged chest. "You warm enough kiddo? In any pain? Need some water?"

Sam turned to look at him and snorted softly. "One question at a time dude. Don't have enough air in my lungs to keep up." In spite of the seriousness of the statement, the brothers grinned at each other with subtle affection.

"Seriously," Dean studied his face with concern. "You need anything?"

Sam's grin faded and he blinked tiredly. "Got everything I need right here."

His hand crept into Dean's and the smile returned when the touch wasn't rejected. Instead Dean's fingers curled round his and squeezed lightly before letting go.

Sitting back in his seat, he looked the most relaxed Sam had seen him for long while.

"Get some sleep Sammy." And that look said it all. Don't ever do that again! And thanks little bro.

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

"Merry Christmas Sam!" Dean proclaimed loud enough to wake the dead and Sam winced.

"Sure you don't wanna up the decibels there bro? Pretty sure there's a few corpses down in the morgue feeling left out."

"Wouldn't wanna disturb 'em." Dean grinned and held out a wrapped gift. "Here, for you."

Sam eyes went wide and suspiciously moist. "Really? I mean..."

"Just open it dude." Dean interrupted softly.

Sam did as he was asked and his breath hitched painfully in his injured lungs. "Dean, this....this is awesome..." He glanced up at his brother, tears truly filling his eyes.

Looking down at the gift again, Sam gazed at the framed photo, one tear falling helplessly down his face.

Dean, Sam and their father sat round Pastor Jim's fireplace, Sam's head resting on Dean's should, looking tired, pale but happy, his arm in a sling. Everyone looked happy in fact, the happiest the Winchester's had been in a long time, and hadn't been ever since.

Until today.

"Thanks, I mean...this....uh....God Dean I didn't get you anything. We haven't bought each other Christmas presents since that year..." Sam trembled in the effort to hold in sobs of remorse.

"Don't." Dean's voice was hard and determined but the look in his eye told Sam he wasn't angry, just the opposite. "You've given me what I wanted anyhow." When his kid brother looked at him quizzically he added. "You're here with me. You survived. S'all I could ask for dude."

Sam's smile was slow in forming and more than a little sad.

"Besides," Dean's grin was alarmingly quick to return. "Seeing you like this is totally awesome." His nodding and smirking instantly informed Sam that something was very wrong.

He looked down at himself and gasped in angry astonishment. He really should've known better. Of course Dean wouldn't pass up a chance like this.

"Sponge Bob fucking Square Pants?"

SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

Authors notes:

Walking 'Round in Women's Underwear (to the tune of Walking In A Winter Wonderland)

Lacy things, the wife is missin'
Didn't ask, her permission
I'm wearin' her clothes
Her silk pantyhose
Walkin' 'round in women's underwear

In the store, there's a teddy
Little straps, like spaghetti
It holds me so tight
Like handcuffs at night
Walkin' 'round in women's underwear

In the office there's a guy named Melvin,
He pretends that I am Murphy Brown
He'll say, "Are you ready?" I'll say, "Whoa Man!"
"Let's wait until our wives are out of town!"

Later on, if you wanna
We can dress, like Madonna
Put on some eyeshade
And join the parade
Walkin' 'round in women's underwear

Lacy things- missin'
Didn't ask- permission
Wearin' her clothes
Silk pantyhose
Walkin' 'round in women's underwear
Walkin' 'round in women's underwear
Walkin' 'round in women's underwear

I have no idea who originally wrote this piece of genius but I first heard it back in England during an SGR FM radio broadcast in the '90s. Had me in stitches so I thought I would share it with anyone who hadn't yet had the pleasure.

Back to the story; this wasn't an easy one to describe. I could see the accident in my head and the events that followed, but getting it 'down on paper' as it were proved difficult. So I apologise if it seems a little confusing. But we live and learn eh?

Abrupt ending perhaps? Yeah probably.

Kind regards and a very Merry Christmas to you all,

ST xxx