They had been staying with Bobby since school started. John had gone on a hunt that he thought would lead him to the thing that killed their mom, and he said that he would only be gone for a couple of days, well those days had turned into weeks, and those weeks into months. Now that Sammy was settled, enjoying school, hell even thinking about being on the soccer team this spring, Dean knew that they would definitely be here a while. He didn't know what he thought about that. He loved staying at the salvage yard with the older hunter, but he didn't like how distant his brother got when they lived somewhere where he could have friends and that normal life that he seemed to crave.
Dean never made friends nearly as easily as his little brother. People didn't respond well to him, someone told him at his last school that he looked dangerous and like someone that could become a serial killer. Dean had laughed it off, but that comment had stung. Since then, he had let his hair grow out a little from its normal short military style, hoping that that would soften his features a little, make him look a little less dangerous, maybe earn him some friends. But all it had done was get hair in his face, and still no friends.
Hands buried deep in his pockets as he waited on Sam, who was at practice for the indoor soccer team, he walked up and down the streets of the small South Dakota town. Bobby said that he would be at the rec center after Sam's practice to pick both of the boys up, so Dean still had at least an hour to kill. As he walked he passed by the frosty window of the used bookstore. Sam loved to go in there, finger all of the old books, old books that had nothing to do with hunting and all to do with the love of reading, and he often made Dean stay there for hours while he paged through the books reverently, more reverently than any 7 year old should.
Looking inside the window, past the Christmas lights, past the Christmas books, he saw the comic books and wondered if there were any inside. Once, the owner, a sweet old lady who kept a cat that she allowed Dean to pet, had given him one of the comic books. Told him it was free, that she had watched him read it so many times that she thought he should own it. He still had the comic book, he still read it, it was one of the few gifts he had ever received.
Opening the door, revealed the warmth of the store that always rushed over him when he entered, and it made him feel safe, like nothing evil could ever come inside here and harm him. Mirabelle smiled when she saw him.
"I haven't seen you in a while young man." She said cheerily. She looked, smelled, and acted like what Dean thought a grandma should. She was sweet and kind and was never one to watch children like they were thieves in the making. She let them browse and enjoy what she had and she never seemed to be worried about possible sticky fingers.
"My brother has been doing soccer." He said by way of explanation.
"That doesn't mean that you can't come here sweetie."
"I don't read so good yet ma'am. My brother is the smart one."
"Now I doubt that he is the only smart one."
"He is ma'am. He gets only As on his report card." Dean said with pride. "And he can read books that I can't. Or have trouble with. My teacher called me slow. Sammy's teachers say the word genius a lot when he is around. No. My brother is the reader, he's the smart one." Dean said, digging his hands in his pockets, and trying not to look embarrassed or sad by the revelation. The teacher told Bobby, just the other week for that conference thingy that Dean was slow, and that he probably needed to be held back a grade, that he wasn't catching on like the other students, that he had difficulty reading, and when he did read she wasn't sure he understood what he read. Humiliation had been the only thing that coursed through him that night. Sammy had heard it. Heard how stupid his older brother was. It was horrible. But, when Sam's turn came, they only talked about how smart he was, how charming, how wonderful he was. They had mentioned that they would like to put him in a special accelerated class so he wouldn't be bored. Get him away from kids like Dean, is what Dean heard.
"Just because someone isn't book smart doesn't' mean they aren't smart at all or that they aren't special in their own right." Dean shrugged.
"May I look at the comic books please?" he asked.
"Of course you can. You know you don't have to ask." Dean nodded and went to the comic book rack, sat down on the floor and began to look through them. He read the adventures of heroes until his watch beeped indicating that he needed to go back to the rec center and wait for his brother and Bobby. He put the comic back where he found it, got up, and started for the door, when a book caught his attention. The cover was dark and old looking. It said Adventures of Huckleberry Finn across the front in gold. He went to the shelf and picked it up and looked at it.
"Ma'am?" he asked and went to the counter. "Is this a book for smart kids?" She gave a sad smile.
"It's a book for kids who like adventures."
"For smart kids?" Her shoulders slumped a little.
"Yes, sweetie, for smart kids." He nodded and flipped through the aged pages.
"How much is it?"
"It's a lot of money."
"If I come and clean your store while my brother is at practice, would that earn enough for me to take it?"
Mirabelle paused and thought about that for a few moments. She nodded. "Yes sweetie I think that would be perfect. You come every day, do some straightening for me. Alphabetize the books…"
"Put the books in order by the ABCs." Dean nodded. "I think that would work, and then on Christmas Eve you can have the book to take home to your brother." Dean smiled and handed her the book.
"Could you please put that back where no one else can see it?" She smiled and nodded.
"Of course. No one will see it." Dean smiled and ran out the door saying goodbye as he left.
True to his word, Dean came the following day promptly at 4 and went straight to Mirabelle, and asked where the cleaning supplies were. Once pointed out, he went and began cleaning. He was just about to pull all of the books off of one shelf and clean behind them when he remembered her saying something about the ABC thing. He waited until she was finished with a customer, asked her how to do that, she showed him, and he spent the next hour pulling books off of her shelves, cleaning behind them, and then putting each book back on, being careful to make sure they went back in the ABC order thing. His watch would beep and he would finish his task and put things away and leave.
He did this for the rest of December, and when school let out, he convinced Bobby to drop him off for a couple of hours each day, and he kept the store clean, even helped some customers finding books. People talked to him, treated him like a person, and not like some heathen child that was about to become a serial killer.
He helped her close up shop on Christmas Eve, and when they were about to leave she handed him the bag with the book he picked out for Sam.
"You did a great job." She sad. "I would love to have you back anytime. I put some comic books in there for you sweetie."
"No." he said and reached inside the bag and took them out. "No." he said and tried to hand them back to her. "I only did enough work for the book. Not for the comic books." She smiled and patted the boy on the head.
"You deserve to have something for Christmas."
"I don't think I do."
"You do. Trust me."
"Do you want me to come in after Christmas and keep cleaning, to earn the comic books?"
She chuckled and pulled Dean close to her in a hug. "No. They are a gift."
"I don't have a gift for you."
"You kept my store clean. Helped customers. And you spent time talking with me. That was gift enough." Dean furrowed his brow. Definitely not sure how his company could be construed as a gift.
"Your uncle is here." She said and pointed to the glass. Bobby was in his old beat up truck waiting for him. Dean thanked her again and went to the door and left.
That Christmas, Sam opened the gift under the tree that was marked "From Santa" and found the book that Dean had worked for. He grinned, loving it. He looked under the tree to find a gift from Santa for his brother but found none.
"Uncle Bobby, Dean didn't get any gifts from Santa, just you and me."
"He's too old for Santa." Bobby said by way of reassurance. Sam furrowed his brow and took the answer looking to Dean who just smiled. Sam spent the rest of the day reading the book, laughing, and running to Dean to read the funny parts to him. Pride welled up inside Dean, as he listened to his brother enjoy the gift.
Later that night, Dean had to pry the book from his brother's hands and force him into his bed. "Night squirt." He said and got inside his own bed.
He was just on the edge of sleep when Sam's voice drifted over, "Dean?"
"When I'm 11 will I be too old for Santa too."
"Then why are you?"
"Bobby was just lying to you."
"Bobby doesn't lie."
"He just didn't want to tell you that Santa doesn't bring bad boys presents."
"You aren't bad."
"Yeah I am. I steal things and I lie to teachers. I'm not a good boy."
"You heard my teacher Sam. Just drop it."
"Goodnight Sam." Sam knew when the conversation was over. Dean had a way of saying his name that made everything final.
"What are you thinking about so hard Dean?" 25 year old Sam asked looking up from the book he had in his hands.
"Just thinking that I'm amazed you still have that book." Sam smiled.
"Yeah. Best gift Santa ever gave me." Dean chuckled. "So, uh, while I was in college, I got several calls from collectors looking for this book." Dean looked at his brother with confusion.
"Because they only made 17 of these, it was made in 1895. Santa brought me a very expensive book."
"You stole it didn't you?" Sam asked with a grin.
"No. I didn't. I worked for it."
"You must have done a lot of work. I've been offered over a million for it."
"No. I just cleaned the bookstore for a month. That was it. She just gave it to me. Had me sign a paper, with your name, and she gave it to me." Sam just looked at Dean. That Christmas Dean told him that he had been a bad person and that was why Santa didn't bring him anything, he knew then that it had been a lie. And here today, sitting in Bobby's living room, three months after his brother had been resurrected from the dead by an angel, he had proof that his brother had never been a bad person, even God believed it.
"You never sold it?"
"No. I could never sell it. I knew who gave it to me." Sam said and went back to his book. Dean was left to stare at his brother. Maybe everything wasn't exactly the same since his return, but there were some things that could never be changed or erased, memories were one of those.