Title: All I Want for Christmas
Summary: When he looks at the clock, it says 1:14 and John realizes that at least one of them got what they wanted after all.
A/N: This fic is for sendintheclowns, who is far too bah humbug for her own good this holiday season. So I decided to bring her Christmas cheer. Sadly, my attempt at cheer turned into a proliferation of utter bah-humbug-ness Winchester style. It's not my fault that the boy are doomed to have awful holidays! Thanks to geminigrl11 for the awesomely fast beta. Amazingly, this also fulfills the prompt from a fic table I took on fifty billion years ago that can still be found on my LJ.
Disclaimer: Nope. Not mine.
When Sam is twelve years old, he just wants some books for Christmas. He's never believed in Santa because the jolly old guy seemed to have no concept of how to find a motel room and he stopped hoping for a celebration the first year their dad forgot.
The year Sam learned the truth. The year all of Sam's why's were answered and the bottom of Sam's world fell apart. Santa just seems pretty stupid now; the old guy could get ripped to shred by a werewolf or sucked dry by a vampire (which Sam thinks may still exist, no matter what their dad says. After all, he lied about every other monster for eight years, so maybe vamps are the gift he'll get next year).
So Sam doesn't count on Christmas or trees or presents or even Dad being there. Dean still wants a tree, gets all goofy about it, but Sam's read about the pagan roots and can't help but worry that having a tree at all will do some kind of harm.
Books seem like a safe bet. There are used books stores in every small town and they fill the long hours in the car from one hunt to the next. They're even a nice escape from the training he does now: endurance and agility along with all sorts of weaponry.
For all the good it does him this time of year. After all, Sam can shoot tin cans off a fence but he doesn't know what to do at his homeroom Christmas party.
As usual, no matter what state or what city, there's a whole party, with cookies and brownies and stupid games and making something festive out of popsicle sticks like they're still five. And the room mothers come in these goofy looking sweaters and serve Kool-Aid in paper cups with snowmen on them and Sam just wishes he was someplace else.
Normally Sam likes school. But that's not school. That's group masochism veiled in red and green and way too much sugar.
And if Sam's going to go through all this crap, then he just wants some books for his trouble. That's all.
Maybe that's why, when his dad mentions this hunt, Sam really wants to go. Really. Not only will it spare him for the misery of pretending like he knows the second verse of Angels We Have Heard on High, but it might just get him some good standing with his dad, which may mean an extra book or two to make this season manageable.
It's a ghost of course. A salt and burn his dad could do in his sleep. But he likes it when Sam practices anything, grave digging included.
It's tiring and it's cold and it's messy but hey, at least it's not yuletide joy, Sam thinks.
Those books are still on his mind when the spirit shows and the whole thing turns worse than Dean after eating the entire bag of Christmas candy. There's yelling and a tussle and some kind of ruckus and the clang of metal before Sam is pulled from the hole.
He thinks for a second it's his dad or maybe Dean--who both get freakishly protective whenever anything even blinks at him--but the coldness of the grip tells Sam that maybe his dad and brother are right to be worried.
He's flying through the air and something burns cold against his skin and he can't stop the scream that bleeds out of him.
That's all he remembers until a week later when he wakes up in time for New Year's and learns that he didn't get books for Christmas at all.
Nope, he got a concussion, three broken ribs, a fractured elbow, fifty-six stitches and a blood transfusion.
Not even Dean can turn that fact on its ass to make it something good and Sam just chalks this up to another reason why Christmas really isn't a magical time of year at all.
His recovery is a bit slow. His body aches and he feels weak all the time and he has a lot of time to think since he never did get those books. And what he thinks about is Christmas and how the sad thing is that this one wasn't even the worst. How he'd take this, the hospital and the stitches and the feeling of being useless over the realization that he'd been lied to for eight years any Christmas that came.
When Dean's sixteen, all he wants for Christmas is a rifle. He's got the handgun and it works just fine. He's got a couple of knives, some nice ones even, with well-honed blades that he takes care of all the time. His dad lets him use his rifle when they need to, but damn, one of his own would be nice.
Sure, they're not overly practical all the time. They're loud and not ideal for close range shooting, but every hero who was worth anything needed a rifle, right?
He knows they're expensive. though, and even if it's not their money, their dad takes the scams pretty seriously. There's nothing frivolous in their lives. But Dean thinks he can make a case for this. He's been working his ass off, after all, training and hunting, and he's getting pretty damn good at it. He'll need his own arsenal as he gets older, for when he gets to hunt alone.
And that day is coming. Dean knows it. He just has to get through this amateur stuff, get his butt out of high school, and then it won't just be following orders and looking after Sammy. Not that he dislikes either one, but he wants to call the shots sometimes. There's something nearly damn romantic about being a lone hunter and Dean just can't get the image out of his head.
This is Christmas. A rifle isn't so much to ask. Not after all the crap he's done for his dad. All the grunt work. Hell, all the babysitting.
He just has to ask. His dad's a busy man, a focused man, and so the oh-so-subtle route isn't the way to go. He needs to ask for it straight up, like a man. And he's going to, right after this hunt.
It's a simple hunt. In and out, easy as pie (Christmas is great for pie). So easy and clean, even Sammy's going. It's all got Dean so hyped up, that he's humming Christmas carols instead of Metallica the whole way out to the cemetery.
They'll get this hunt done, Sammy will get his books, and Dean will get his rifle and this will be the best damn Winchester Christmas in, well, years. Everyone's getting along and Sam's not moping and his dad's not complaining and there's a hunt, so Dean's got every reason to be touting the holiday cheer.
But then it happens.
The freakin' Winchester curse that's determined to make Dean's life miserable. And it might have been a joke if Sam wasn't flying through the air and going pretty damn limp.
It's happening faster than Dean can think. One minute, they're shoveling; the next, the ghost has Sam--has Sammy--and there's a flash of metal in the ghost's freaky-assed, transparent hands.
Then Dean remembers that this ghost likes knives. Knives for carving. All of his victims are more carved up than Christmas turkeys and given the blood all over Sam, he's just been picked as the next victim.
Which cannot happen. Not now, not on Christmas Eve, not ever.
His dad's on top of things and Dean's jumping out of the grave as his father is charging with an iron stake. The ghost disperses as his father lunges and Dean's fumbling for matches. He'll just torch it--coffin and all, screw the accelerant, they've got to finish this thing before it finishes Sammy.
It takes too long and the ghost is back twice more before the fire hits the bones and it all goes up in smoke with a slash of metal and a horrific scream.
The ordeal's not over, though, Dean's Christmas isn't completely ruined until he sees his father cradling Sam's prone body. His dad swears and Dean feels numb because Sam looks dead.
The kid's always been a bit on the small side, and when his eyes are closed like that and with that mess of hair on top of his head, he's always sort of looked like he was still five, which is why Dean still gets to call him Sammy and talk in baby talk to him to piss him off. And normally that's all well and good but now Sam's not moving. He's not moving and there's so much blood and his dad looks like he's shut the hell off into full on Marine mode and Dean doesn't know what to do anymore.
It's Dean who drives to the hospital, a blur of speeding and yelling and the smell of blood and he's thinking about dashing through the snow and he doesn't quite know why.
He spends Christmas Day in a waiting room, drinking stale coffee and staring at scuff marks on the floor while his father paces back and forth, back and forth. Sam's messed up bad and Dean's too freaked to even get up when the doctor comes to explain it all to his dad. Dean hears stuff about surgery and blood loss and hypovolemic shock.
They spend Christmas night in Sam's ICU room because Sam's still a minor and Dean watches the seconds tick by with swoosh of Sam's ventilator.
He wants to say something, he wants to do something, but his father doesn't want to talk and it doesn't look like he even wants to move given that great statue impression he's pulling by Sam's bedside.
It's Christmas and all Dean wanted was a rifle, a rifle, nothing more and nothing less. He's not a complicated guy and that's all he wants, but instead he gets his little brother in a hospital. The nurses invite them to the floor Christmas party, offer him a bit of eggnog, and Dean likes eggnog and he likes cute nurses, but Christmas isn't Christmas without Sammy and until Sam wakes up, Christmas can take a flying leap.
Dean thinks that maybe Sam was right after all, that maybe Christmas isn't a reason to celebrate and he might hate this day for as long as he lives.
All John wants for Christmas is for it be over. Now.
Holidays have meant nothing to him since Mary died, and he hasn't even tried since Sam learned the truth. There just wasn't any point. Holidays are about family, and John's family is inevitably shattered and until he makes that right, there's really not much to celebrate.
In fact, to him, Christmas is nothing more than a good opportunity to dig up a graveyard because who visits a graveyard on Christmas?
What happens to be a little better about this year is that they at least get to spend it all together. That should make some difference to Dean and Sammy, at least. They'll do this hunt and then maybe next week John will take them shopping, after he gets the next credit card he needs. Sam will be easy enough; he just wants some books or something. Really, this year, it's Dean who's causing the problem with this gun he's been vying for. The kid hasn't said anything yet, but John knows anyway.
But John thinks he can swing it. Just finish this hunt, and they'll deal with the rest after that.
No hunt is typical. That's rule number one in the hunting world. Never think it's easy.
Because then it never is.
Of course, if he had thought it wouldn't be easy, he never would have had both boys digging a hole on Christmas Eve.
He feels the hairs rise on the back of his neck and he sees his breath puff out in front of him a second before Sam screams and Dean yells for his little brother.
The ghost is here. The ghost is here now and John's mind goes through an automatic list of all the things he knows about it.
Richard Drollinger. Died in 1903. Well known for his skill with crafting metal. Sliced up his wife and her lover after learning of their affair. Then killed his daughter before slitting his own throat. The entire home was a bloody mess.
Ever since, his ghost has tormented unfaithful lovers and children, all carved up. That was the trick to this case, finding the connection between the victims, but once he figured that out, it was easy enough for him. Just a salt and burn before anyone else gets sliced.
But sometimes, he knows--sometimes ghosts attack when they're threatened for no other reason than they're being provoked. And John knows that digging up bones usually qualifies as provocation.
He thought he could handle it. He thought he could stop it.
But by the time John turns his head to see, Sam's already flying through the air and the ghost is on top of him with his blades, slicing up his baby boy.
He stops thinking after that.
It's all instinct. Dean can handle the grave. He'll take the ghost. The only temporary solutions are iron or salt and he has salt, but it's in his bag on the ground, so the metal barrel of his shotgun is good enough for now.
With one clean swipe, the ghost is gone, but John knows there's not even time to really check on Sammy, but John can see the blood all over his baby boy. But there's not time for that because Dean needs to burn the bones and the ghost will be back and he has to stop the ghost before it goes after Sam again. No one has survived an attack from the ghost. No one. Not in fifty years, and John's got to make that streak end one way or another for Sammy's sake.
The ghost comes back on John's six, and the damn thing's fast, but John is, too--enough to keep its blades from his son's skin. That's one of those things about ghosts, John knows: their mysterious physical makeup that allows them to be ethereal one moment and solid the next.
The thing is getting stronger, and John wishes Dean would hurry the hell up.
It's charging again when John hears the crackle of fire. John doesn't stand down; he doesn't know how long his death throes will last.
Luckily, this sucker goes down fast and it gives a primal screech before it vanishes in a haze of red and light.
Damn Christmas. All he wants is it to be over but when he turns around to look at Sam, he realizes it hasn't even begun yet.
There's no time for this, no time for regrets or sentimentality. It's time to focus, to keep things in order. That's what they need now. That's what Dean needs, what Sam needs, what they all need to get through this night.
He barks at Dean to get moving, but his eyes are on Sam. His youngest isn't moving, and he's bleeding, and John needs to do some triage before they move. He uses his coat as a bandage, making quite strips of his flannel shirt he has on underneath. It's crude and quick and the blood is already seeping through by the time he's ready to move. Dean's got the car ready and when John's carrying Sam to the car, he looks at his little boy's face and sees it's slack and pale and smudged with blood and how the hell is this Christmas?
Dean drives and John holds Sam in the back seat, silent and stoic, keeping pressure on the worst of the wounds. It's a futile effort and the blood seeps out everywhere, all over everything, coating John's hands and soaking his clothes.
John's seen this stuff before. Seen it in war, seen it on the hunt. But never from his son.
His son. This is his son. His son who look as pale as the ghost who did this and there's no reaction from his little boy, none, not a peep, not a question, not a scowl, just bleeding and blood and John wonders how they got here. How they got here.
He had married Mary for the normal life, for the domestic life, for a little auto shop and a stay at home wife and the two little kids with baseball games and big family Christmases and all of that.
But he's here. He's holding Sam who's bleeding to death and Dean's driving with tears running down his face and it's Christmas Eve.
His mind shuts down when they get to the hospital and he watches as Sam's put on a gurney, watches as they strip Sam from his clothes and it seems so much worse then, the long gashes up and down Sam's torso and John thinks he can see flashes of bone.
He and Dean spend Christmas morning in the waiting room. Someone took the time to decorate and a family even exchanges gifts in a corner, the daughter squealing at the sight of some kind of doll and that John doesn't recognize.
Dean looks awful--tired and edgy--and he managed to find coffee somewhere. And he thinks vaguely that Dean had been excited for Christmas, always got a little stupid about Christmas, always had ever since he was almost two and understood the concept.
Then John remembers that last Christmas before Mary died, when Dean was three and Mary was pregnant. Dean had gotten up at six AM, too excited to sleep, dragging them out of bed. Mary had felt nauseous--her stomach was always off with Sam--but they had sat in bathrobes on the couch, watching Dean tear into his gifts, ripping open boxes and playing with them there on the living room floor.
And it had been perfect. Snow falling outside. Family. Love. What Christmas was meant to be. And John had held Mary close, kissed her softly and rubbed a hand over her belly.
That was Christmas. That was Christmas.
Not this. Not digging graves and ghosts and blood and hospitals.
The doctor is gruff and to the point, and tells John that Sam has a concussion and some broken ribs, even a fractured elbow. But those aren't real problems; they'll make Sam uncomfortable, but no, it's the lacerations closed fifty-six stitches that stretch over the length of Sam's body, some going all the way to the bone or nicking vital organs, that are the real cause of the problem, the cause of the hypovolemic shock and the need for a ventilator and an extended stay in the ICU.
Sam's not awake, probably won't be awake for awhile, and the recovery will be long--that is of course if Sam can stay stable through the day. It's a little rough, the doctor admits, and Sam's in a bad way, but the doctor is reasonably optimistic and they can wait with Sam.
Oh, and merry Christmas, the doctor says.
He and Dean crash in Sam's ICU room, which is dim and small and crowded with machines. Sam's still pale and though John knows he's doing better, it certainly doesn't look that way. And Dean looks worse, too, exhausted now, none of that exuberance that usually defines him left in his disposition.
Last year, they spent Christmas in Utah, in a rundown motel outside of Salt Lake City. Dean had jacked a string of lights from the motel office and had forced Sam to watch A Christmas Carol on TV before the boys exchanged gifts wrapped in newspaper.
The year before that, they were in Michigan, which at least had given them snow, but no tree or lights that year and John had made it home just in time to tuck Sam into bed on Christmas night. He could see the remnants of a pizza and a book and a pocket knife on the table that hadn't been there before.
And before that? John can't remember. John can't remember. Some years he was home, some years not. He was sober some of them; others he was a little less than that.
Damn it all. This is Christmas. This is Christmas and Dean's passed out from exhaustion, slumped uncomfortably in a chair, and Sammy's unconscious in the bed with a damn tube shoved down his throat and fifty-six stitches in him and all John wants is for it to be over. To be over, once and for all and for always.
Sam wants some books. Dean wants a rifle. And John just wants it to be over.
When he looks at the clock, it says 1:14 and John realizes that at least one of them got what they wanted after all.