This is the fifth round robin that four fantastic writers—Geminigrl11, Phx, Tyranusfan, and Yum—and I have done together. For the others, go see "Sammy the Shrimp" on Yum's page, "Smiling All the Way" on Tyranusfan's, "Sammy in the Window" on Phx's, and "Night of the Living Dean" on Geminigrl11's. Yum had to sit this one out, but she was with us in spirit!
And we'd planned to have it done for Christmas, but with holiday schedules times four, well, we were lucky to make it in January...
A Brother for Christmas, or The Christmas After
"C'mon, man, it's important."
"Oh yeah, sounding like a five-year-old is really going to get you the keys to my baby, Sam."
"Dean. This is important."
"Y'already said that."
"Y'all? What? You from Texas now or something?"
"Whatever gets the job done, bro. And in this case, the job is not letting you have the car."
"And why not?" Frustration bled into Sam's voice. Why was Dean being so difficult?
"'Cause I have something important to do myself." The smug bastard actually grinned.
Sam was skeptical. "On Christmas Eve?" Dean gave him a disbelieving look, and Sam held up his hands in supplication. "Okay, okay, I take that back. But, c'mon, this is really—"
"I swear to God, Sam, if you say it's important one more time, I will shove you under the front wheels of the car and drive over you myself."
Dean smirked. "Besides, a little exorcise will do you good."
"Don't you mean 'exERcise,' genius?"
"With you? Is there really a big difference?" Dean chuckled at his own cleverness and grabbed his leather jacket, making a big show of pocketing the car keys.
Sam tried a different tactic. "It's cold outside."
"Tends to gets that way in December, Sammy."
"There's a foot of snow."
Dean glanced out the window. "So there is…"
Sensing a weakness, Sam pushed on. "And you have actual boots. Look at the treads on those puppies. All I've got, man, is a lousy pair of sneakers." He modeled his foot and turned on his most pathetic look. Hell, his bottom lip even trembled slightly, and he could almost feel the weight of the car keys in his hand.
"They weren't so lousy when I paid $140 for them a year ago."
Sam was floored. Since when had Dean become immune to "the look"? Irritated now, he snorted," bite me." And grabbed his own coat and yanked it on.
"Not my type, Sammy," Dean replied, his voice way too chipper, "and you're still walking."
"Dean." Sam was exasperated. This was really important. There was something he wanted to get his older brother for Christmas, but the small pastry shop that advertised the most awesome homemade pies, his brother's weakness, wasn't really in walking distance. And on Christmas Eve, and in a strange town, Sam didn't want to try to figure out the bus route. But, oh, no, Dean—who normally didn't have a problem with Sam borrowing the car—had suddenly decided he needed the car himself. Sam frowned, a new concern dampening his almost seasonal feelings. "I can drop you off. You don't want to get busted by the cops on Christmas Eve. You know they'll be out in force tonight."
"Why would I—?" Dean's question tapered off as he suddenly realized what his brother was implying. "Dude," he scowled, "I don't just go to bars. I go to other places, too."
Sam gave him a significant look. "Name three places that you go without being on a job."
Dean held up his hand and started to count them off. "Bobby's."
Sam rolled his eyes. "That's not what I meant, but I'll let you have that one. Two more."
For a moment Dean seemed to struggle, then he rattled off triumphantly, "Gas stations and motels."
Sam held out his hand. "Give me the keys."
"Sam, I'm not going out to drink." He smirked and indicated the small bar fridge between the beds. "I'm good here. I actually have something I need to do, by myself," he added before Sam could offer again to drop him off, "so, hate to say it, bro, but it sucks to be you. Walk or take the bus, I gotta go."
"I'll call a taxi!" Sam called out petulantly as Dean opened the motel door and walked out. A thick blanket of snow covered the ground and a heavily gray-clouded sky threatened a lot more. He shivered as a gust of cold chilled him from the open door, but his brother didn't even pause.
"If you want," Dean did call back as he unlocked the driver's door, both of them knowing Sam wouldn't. Money was tight, and Sam had always been financially conscious. Now more than ever, actually.
Frustrated, Sam just stood in the doorway and watched the car back up.
Dean swung the Impala to the side to drive out of the parking lot, stopping a few feet away and rolling down his window. He leaned out and hollered at Sam, "Back in a couple of hours…and, dude, try to stay out of trouble 'til then, okay?" Then, grinning like an idiot, Dean floored the car and was gone before Sam could do more than flip him off.
"Jerk," the younger hunter muttered under his breath as he pulled the motel room door closed, zipped his jacket, and stared up at the threatening sky. A fat snowflake hit him on the nose, and he groaned, "Great. Just freakin' great," and started walking toward the bus stop. He might not have wanted to take the bus, but it was that or walking, and right now public transit was the lesser of two evils. And much quicker. "Man," he continued to grumble, "I just hope his freakin' pie is worth it."
But Sam knew it would be, and that sentiment had nothing to do with the pastry. Dean loved pies. It was as simple as that, and Sam was going to get him the best pie ever for Christmas.
Or die trying.
Dean tapped the steering wheel in time with Metallica, glancing with more than a little humiliation at the iPod that was playing the song. Yeah, he used it. So what? It held a lot of music.
And if Sam never had to know that the iPod was still in the car, then that was the way it would stay.
Thoughts of Sam made Dean frown. He hated not telling his brother why he needed the car so badly, but he was sure Sam wouldn't actually walk to wherever it was he said he needed to go. Sam would stay in the room and pout. Dean would just hurry with his shopping and get back, then watch Sammy's face light up when he handed over the keys. Whatever was so important could wait an hour.
Besides, the Christmas dinner Dean was putting together was far more pressing. Sam didn't know about it, and Dean was determined to keep it that way until he got back to the room.
In the weeks since they had butted heads with Cas and that prick Uriel over Anna, and Dean's subsequent confession to Sammy about...well, about the things he'd done, they'd been lying low. It was best to stay out of any demon's or angel's path right now, and, frankly, Dean hadn't been up for anything.
He tried to just not think about it most days. Sometimes alcohol helped, sometimes it didn't. Music, flirting, driving, pornography—all the fields he was an expert in—kept the worst of the memories at bay. Most of the time.
One thing that did the trick all the time, though, was Sammy. His brother had helped him so much these last few weeks. He was the only person Dean knew who could comfort someone without saying anything. "Don't talk about it" was the Winchester rule-of-thumb; talking was for pansies, after all.
Sam hadn't pressed him to talk again, not after Dean's little roadside confession. A well-timed shoulder nudge, a lame joke, a totally out-of-character whistle when an attractive woman went by that made Dean laugh…that was Sammy helping. Reminding him who he was and what he had.
Honestly, a small, cynical part of him had half expected Sam to go running from him when he'd confessed about his time in Hell. Dean couldn't have blamed him. The rest of him had known better, and felt bad for even entertaining the notion. Sam wasn't running out on him. It was corny; a bona fide chick-flick thing to say, but Sam had been his rock. An anchor. Without Sam at his side, reminding him every day that he wasn't that broken soul in the Pit anymore, Dean surely would have flamed out by now.
And the kid didn't even know it. His little—huge, not so little anymore—worrying, fretting, Boy Scout of a baby brother—
God, Dean loved that kid so much.
And this was at a time when Sam should be a blubbering, alcoholic wreck himself: half of Hell wanted him as a general, the other half wanted him dead, and Heaven of all places was actually debating his continued existence. Freakin' bastards, all of them! But Sammy didn't break. He didn't give up and cower in a corner like most of the people Dean knew would have by now. He took it and took it and came back fighting.
Dean had to smile at that thought; it reminded him of his dad. No wonder they butted heads: they're just alike.
Dean pulled into the grocery store parking lot, yanked from his thoughts when the Impala's tires skidded on ice. The snow looked even deeper here than at the motel. He stared at the store, grimacing at the thought of leaving the warmth of the car.
But tonight was Sammy's night. Dean was going to give his sibling a fantastic Christmas, Winchester-style: a real tree—plastic, of course—two movies, two 12-packs, and a spread that would put a dent in even Dean's legendary appetite. Sammy wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning after eating all the food Dean planned on bringing back.
That wasn't even counting the awesome present that was already wrapped and hidden safely in the trunk.
Tonight, he was throwing his brother the Christmas they had never had. Sammy deserved it.
Sam made it to the bus stop down the street from the motel surprisingly without frostbite. Damn, it's cold out here.
He stood just inside the shelter, studying the bus route. The shop he'd spotted the day before was on Main Street, which hopefully meant it wouldn't be a long ride.
Assuming the wind didn't turn him into a popsicle before the bus got there. Sam shivered, pulling his hood tighter around his face and zipping his coat higher. The snow was falling harder now. He wished he'd thought to check when it got dark in these parts. It was still mid-afternoon, but the thickly overcast sky didn't hold much hope for it to stay light out. Sam stuck his chin down in his coat and watched the time tick by.
He reminded himself he was on an important mission. He'd spotted a sign for peppermint-chocolate pie when Dean had brought them through town the other day, and had known from that moment that he had to get his hands on one. It was Dean's favorite.
His older brother had been through too much in the past year...or forty, as Dean had informed him. Sam's mind spun at the idea. He had no idea how Dean was still functioning at all, let alone how he'd managed to keep it all bottled up for two months.
Sam was determined to make it right again, everything. Dean had gone to Hell—for Sam. No one deserved that. Dean didn't deserve it.
If Sam hadn't turned his back on Jake—
He stopped that line of thought. Getting himself stabbed, failing to break the deal or kill Lilith before Dean was taken…all of it was connected. All of it was Sam's fault, but the important part was making it up to Dean any way he could.
After their brief conversation on the roadside the day after Anna had escaped the angels, Dean had clammed up again, hitting the bottle a little heavier than before. Sam had been doing his best to take Dean's mind off it all, to try to give him some solace somehow, but he was failing at that, too. Dean put on a great show, a convincing game face, but he wasn't much better, and Sam didn't know how to help him. His efforts to date had achieved little, and the need to help his brother through this grew stronger all the time.
He had to. It was the only way he could pay back his debt...which he knew could never be paid, but still Sam had to try.
Which was where the pie came in. Dean had an acute weakness for pie, especially peppermint-chocolate, and Sam planned on presenting two of them to his bro that night.
This was the Christmas neither of them had expected to see. The fact that they were both there was a miracle, literally, and it deserved celebration. Two pies, two 12-packs, some sandwiches and a movie, and they'd be set for the night.
Well, that and the awesome present Sam already had wrapped and hidden beneath Dean's seat in the Impala, the place where all Dean's fast-food wrappers went and the last place his brother would ever look.
Granted, it would have been easier to get all the stuff he needed back to the room in the car, but Sam would manage. They were going to spend Christmas in style, and Sam was going to remind his beaten-down brother that he was still needed, still loved. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
The two o'clock bus was ten minutes late when it finally rolled up. Sam didn't complain, choosing to board as quickly as he could. The fare was more than he'd expected, but he had enough quarters. After plunking the coins into the machine, he made his way to the back of the bus, stopping by the rear door. Sam settled into a seat as the bus rumbled and pulled away from the curb.
He could see everyone on the bus from that spot, all eight people. Six adults and two small boys. The adults were quiet, except for the two older women near the front who were chatting softly. The only noise was really from the two kids. Sam's gaze stayed on them for a moment, and he quickly determined they were brothers. One was older than the other by maybe three of four years.
The younger one was blond with sparkling blue eyes. The older was a darker shade of blond, with deep green eyes. He reminded Sam of Dean, from photos he'd seen. The innocent, playful child Dean had once been, not the haunted, tortured man he saw now.
Sam smiled faintly as he watched a wrestling match ensue between the siblings on the bench seat, much like a similar match he remembered in the back of the Impala about a hundred years before…
Long car trips had been norm by the time Sam was old enough to walk. He'd seen a fair portion of the country from the back seat of the Impala by the time he'd started school, had been able to pack up for anything, from a weekend road trip to a full-scale move, in fifteen minutes or less, even before he'd had a clue why their little family always seemed to be in transit.
It had been…an unusual upbringing, by anyone's standards except maybe actual Gypsies. But one aspect of all the traveling had been completely typical: bickering with Dean. Unless one of them was sick or Dad was in a particularly bad mood, boredom would hit after an hour or two. There were only so many games of "I Spy" and license plate bingo to be played before the boys moved on to more inventive pursuits, like seeing how many times Sam could kick the back of Dean's seat or how low Dean could talk to Dad, making it nearly impossible for Sam to be part of the conversation. Window and legroom control usually became pretty critical, too.
They knew, almost to the minute, how far they could push each other before one of them snapped, and usually tried to time it for when Dad stopped for gas. The second he was safely out of the car, and hopefully out of hearing distance, the wrestling match/tickle war/Extreme Brother Annoyance Plan would begin. Inevitably, someone—mostly Sam for the first few years, but eventually Dean, too—ended up noogied. Or wet-willied. Occasionally, bribery won the day, but it was a rare thing for Dean to share his Walkman, and he usually considered Sam's things too boring to covet.
Amazingly, none of their automotive turf wars were ever interrupted. Sam suspected Dad decided early on to let the boys vent a little frustration in a mostly tame way—when the car was not in motion—in order to keep the peace. Lord knew, otherwise he probably would have left the both of them on the side of the road more than once.
An unorthodox childhood, yes. And the road trips weren't even one of the more unusual things they'd been through. But they were among Sam's better memories from that time. All of them safe and together, not being scared that Dad, and later Dean, too, might not make it back from the hunt, no worries about not fitting in at the next school or Child Protective Services or getting evicted because Dad had been laid up and they didn't have enough money for rent.
Sam smiled as the two boys ended their wrestling match, the older looping an arm around the younger and whispering something in his ear that had them both giggling. He and Dean would never be that small or that innocent again—maybe never had been. But they were still brothers, and that's what counted. The previous Christmas, despite the specter of Dean's deal coming due, had turned out to be a pretty darned good one. There was a lot of water under the bridge now—an ocean, for both of them—but Sam was determined to make sure this Christmas continued the new tradition.
He must have dozed, not realizing his eyes had shut until they'd opened to the squeal of tires and muffled screams, the bus careening sideways down the narrow country road. Sam grabbed the seat in front of him and braced himself as they spun, picking up speed. The kids…the kids were in front of me. He saw the boys, taking in their terrified faces and the way the older boy was curled around the younger. Sam took a chance, vaulting from his seat and fighting centrifugal force as he lurched toward them.
"Cover your heads!" he was shouting, throwing his long body over both of theirs and sending up a prayer to a pair of angels he wasn't sure he really believed in to protect them as the bus slammed into a wooden telephone pole and tipped over.
Dean whistled as he walked back to the car, a Christmas song, of all things. Damned muzak. Two packs of Sam Adams Winter Lager were under one arm, along with copies of Scrooged and Airplane!—you never went wrong with the classics—and two giant plastic bags of every junk food he could find were in his other hand. Sam's favorite sour strips, a couple giant bags of holiday M&Ms, chips and salsa, those little decorated butter cookies all the stores had this time of year, a package of yellow-and-blue striped candy canes… Add in a couple of large pizzas, and they should have just enough food to last them through the night. Maybe even Christmas Day, if the snow kept coming down the way it seemed to want to.
He set the beer and bags in the back seat, grabbing the top of the door as his boots slipped on a patch of black ice. He thought of Sam and his sneakers and figured they should probably hit one of the post-holiday sales in a couple of days, grab Sam a good, warm pair of steel-toes. Dean had to scrape the windows before getting on the road, but no big deal. By the time Sam was back from whatever important errand wanted to run, the motel room would be warm, the food delivered, and one of the movies Dean had rented ready to go on the laptop.
It was going to be a good night.
He hadn't seen the semi coming.
He hadn't even known what had hit them at first, not until his eyes had strayed to the right, to the grillwork and bright headlights pressed against the Impala's side. He'd been T-boned by a friggin' semi. He'd let the Impala get T-boned by a friggin' semi.
Dean was gonna kill him. He hardly ever let Sam borrow the car as it was.
It wasn't Dean next to him, though, was it? Sam rolled his head, trying hard to focus blurry eyes on the figure lying limp beside him. Dad. That was Dad. Bloody and still. And Dean…
But there was only total silence from the back seat.
Sam coughed on the tail end of the call, curling instantly when the sudden movement seemed to cave in his chest. It hurt, but the pressure was the worst part. Crushed in the Impala…
But it felt wrong, smelled wrong, and somebody was crying. A kid.
"Dean?" Sam said it softer this time, which made him gasp but avoided the hacking. It still hurt to breathe, but a little air got in now, and he felt steady enough to try to open his eyes.
The world had turned over.
Seats angled crazily around him, and it was impossible to tell what was floor and ceiling. Windows opened to darkness above him, and something white fluttered down all around. A few flakes landed on Sam's face, and he blinked at the chill. Snow?
The bus. Pie. Squealing wheels and— Oh, God. The brothers.
He tried to push himself up, collapsing back almost instantly. "Bad idea, Sam," he gasped as his fingers fumbled over the seat that was somehow twisted around his chest and hip, pinning him down. One pants leg felt warm and wet, the other was numb, and there was something sharp digging into his shoulder. He wasn't going anywhere without help.
But the kids…
Sam forced his eyes open once more, this time only his gaze moving. Past two moaning adult figures, to the sound of crying he'd heard before.
It was the younger kid, the towhead. Red streaked his blond hair now, but he didn't seem to notice, bent over his still older brother, shaking him by the shoulder. Sam couldn't hear what he was saying, but he heard the hitches in the words, the current of grief and fear underneath it plain. Sam recognized the sound easily.
"Hey," he murmured, coughed. His voice barely carried, and he saved his air a moment to make a louder effort. "Hey."
The kid's head bobbed up. "I can't wake him up."
"It'll be okay," Sam said, voice raspy and weak. Not too reassuring. "Your brother wouldn't want you to be scared, right?"
The kid bit his lip, his breathe hitching. But the sobbing eased. With a miserable look, he turned back to brother, small mittened hand against a chest that was still rising and falling.
He should probably lead the kid through some basic first aid steps, but even just opening his mouth led to another raspy coughing fit. His chest felt like a barbell was sitting on it.
Sam breathed a curse and dropped his head back against cold metal, eyes unexpectedly blurring. He was so tired of loss, of grief and pain and fear. He'd just wanted to do something nice for Dean, to give him a little normalcy, comfort, heck, even distraction, but it had been for himself, too. He'd been so anguished for Dean during those months of Hell, and now he felt just as scared sometimes, worried he hadn't really gotten his brother back. That Hell would never release its grip on Dean. Sam was exhausted from pulling him back.
He'd just wanted a day off from it all. Was that so much to ask?
Above the sounds of groans and shifting and the kid's tears, Sam almost swore he could hear the Impala's engine, but he knew that was just wishful thinking. Dean would be halfway through the bar's supply of whiskey by now, or maybe halfway through the willing barmaids. No way was he showing up there. They weren't that lucky.
Would it kill those angels to do something nice for them for a change?
That was when he heard his brother shout his name.
Okay, so maybe he felt a little bad.
Not for wanting to take the car because, dude, it was his car. Well, mostly. Okay, so he'd kinda willed it to Sam, but returning from the dead meant all inheritances were off, right? Sam just had to wait his turn. All these errands Dean was running was for him, anyway.
Yeah, 'cause Dean wasn't looking for distraction at all. And Sam didn't know it was for him, hadn't even guessed, if that hangdog expression had been any clue.
Dean sighed impatiently to himself, beating a tattoo on the steering wheel. Well, that would just make the surprise all the better, right? Sam would be all gloomy poor-me, and then Dean would pull out the goods and Sam would forget all about whatever it was he'd wanted to go out and get. Probably some geeky thing like a new book, or maybe some more ammo. Because somehow, Sam had gotten to be even more gung-ho hunter than Dad in Dean's absence, and that was just downright scary. The kid needed to lighten up. He needed a holiday, a night off.
He needed a brother looking after him. If only Dean were up to looking after anyone.
His lips flattened at the thought, and he turned the music up to drown out the scrape of memories at the back of his skull. The screams and the blood and the horror. Sometimes he could still smell it, taste it. And—
No. Not going there. Not today. Today was about Sam. Giving Sam a long overdue Christmas, sticking a smile back on that pinched face, thanking him for keeping Dean sane.
Like, every minute of the day.
The snow was getting worse, and Dean frowned as he finally gave in and turned the windshield wipers on. Seriously, it was probably a good thing he hadn't lent Sam the car because his brother didn't have much experience with inclement-weather driving. If he was still set on going someplace when Dean got back, he'd offer to drive him. At least it would mean being together. Sam was the only thing that really drowned out the memories, and he deserved to get to do whatever was so important to him, too. Only a few months before, he wouldn't have even needed to ask, he could've just taken the car.
Dean didn't want to think about how many times Sam probably drove it drunk during those months. Just…pretend the summer hadn't happened. It was a plan. It was…
Something flashing red ahead on the road.
Dean peered through the windshield, trying to see what it was. He was already braking, which was a good thing because the car shimmied and fought him a little on the icy road. Probably some yahoo driving too fast had lost control. He'd have to stop and help if no one else was there, which meant—crap. Sam would worry, waiting back in the room. Dean sighed and inched closer.
The obstacle was bigger than he'd thought. Not just a car, then. More like…bus? On its side, its rear lights blinking. The accident looked fresh, the side of the bus tilted toward the sky not yet blanketed with snow. Only one person looked to have climbed free, leaning heavily against the overturned vehicle. No one else was around.
Cursing, Dean dialed 9-1-1 and rattled off what he knew of his location and the number of the bus. Reception was spotty with the snow, but he was pretty sure they said help was coming. Then he was zipping his jacket up and diving out of the car. There had to be more people still trapped on the bus.
The back door was wrenched, but a good pull managed to creak it halfway open. That was enough for Dean to twist his upper body inside for a look.
He saw the kids first, about halfway down. A younger one bent tearily over an older one, and something caught in Dean's throat at the sight. No other adult nearby seemed to be helping them, which made them his responsibility. He wiggled and pulled to squeeze through.
And that was when his eyes fell on the nearer spill of dark hair over a light brown jacket he himself had picked out months before. That was all he saw under a mass of twisted bench seat, and Dean's heart took a steep plunge at the sight.
…hate to say it, bro, but it sucks to be you. Walk or take the bus, I gotta go…
The words came back to haunt him as Dean struggled to pull himself the rest of the way inside the cold, twisted body of the damaged bus. Don't be dead! Don't be dead! His eyes locked on Sam, drinking in the relief on his brother's pale face when the younger man twisted his head slightly and saw Dean. Right back at you, buddy. He couldn't help but smile. "Sammy…"
"Dean," Sam managed, but the word was a strained gasp around a faint smile. "M'okay," he added. It might have even sounded convincing if it had been more than a whisper carried to ears trained to hear the sound. The older man really hoped it was only the seats making it difficult for Sam to breathe and nothing else.
Okay, my ass, Dean thought bitterly as he maneuvered his body inside the tipped bus, careful to keep from putting any more pressure on the seats pinning his sibling. His anger wasn't at his brother but at this next misadventure in a messed-up series of adventures that doubled as their lives. Couldn't they even catch a freakin' break at Christmas?
He noted with relief that although Sam was bloodied and the kid was obviously hurting, the younger hunter didn't seem in any immediate danger of dying. A quick press of warm fingers against his brother's wrist and brief clasp of the younger man's shoulder comforted them both.
"K-kids…" Sam winced as he shivered; damn bus was getting cold fast. "Help…k-k-kids."
"In a sec," Dean assured him, lifting his gaze to check on the children as he shrugged out of his jacket and worked it around his brother. The bigger kid still wasn't moving.
"No dying," he lectured, each word a puff in the air. He spared Sam a significant glance, then rolled his eyes at the wet, sappy look that returned the words, making it a promise. With one more squeeze on the shoulder, Dean forced down an only partially irrational fear about leaving Sam like this, and worked his way forward.
Luckily enough the children weren't far away, but with the bus lying on its side, moving even that short distance was a challenge. Cursing profusely under his breath seemed to help, though, especially as the cold seeped in through Dean's heavy shirt, making him shiver and reminding him about something else he had to worry about. Depending on just how tightly Sam was wedged, poor circulation was going to make frostbite a real threat.
Where the hell are the paramedics?
"Everyone okay?" The bus driver had finally worked his seatbelt off and turned around. His face was also bloodied, and he seemed shaken but relatively unhurt. He looked at Dean as the younger man cast a quick glance at the only other people on the bus, making sure they weren't bleeding out or anything. He gave a curt nod. They were in better shape than Sam.
"My brother's pinned." Dean tipped his head toward Sam, feeling the weight of the younger Winchester's gaze on his back as he crouched next to the little boys. Hang in there, Sammy. "I called in the accident," he forced out.
The younger boy was distraught, his small body shaking with sobs as he tried to get his brother to wake up. Dean ached for the terrified blond child in front of him, the memory of Cold Creek slamming bright spots across his vision. Closing his eyes for a moment, Dean swallowed the feelings back. Sam's alive… He's okay… but he won't be if I can't get my act together.
He turned his attention to assessing the older boy. A nice sized knot was forming on the kid's temple, but his chest was moving and his pulse was strong under Dean's fingers. Good. Hopefully just knocked out, then.
"Hey." He softened his voice, addressing the scared little brother as the bus driver moved toward the back. The other passengers, like the driver, just seemed dazed and bruised, although, based on what Dean was now hearing, one of them might have hurt their wrist. Dean had bigger concerns: two children and a trapped brother. Ho, Ho, Ho, Dean, and a Merry friggin' Christmas to you. He shook off the bitterness and focused on the boys again. "This your brother?" He figured it was but also knew asking ownership might get the little boy talking.
The blond child sniffled loudly and nodded his head, but didn't look at Dean.
"I got a brother, too—he's back there." Dean stole a glance over his shoulder, alarmed when he saw Sam's head drooping. "Sam!" he barked, wincing when the child next to him startled, but pleased it had the desired effect of waking his brother back up. "Not naptime yet, Princess." He was sure Sam whispered bite me and, oddly enough, it made Dean feel better. "Sorry," he apologized to the little boy, "my brother's hurt, too. I can't let him go to sleep."
"Tony's asleep." The child's voice, hoarse from tears, was scared. He turned hopeful eyes on Dean. "Can you wake him up?" The boy paused, then added, as another tear soaked its way down his ruddy cheeks, "Please?"
"Oh, kid…" Dean's eyes burned. Shit. Did all little brothers come with puppy dog eyes? "Okay, I'll try." And did he have to be so susceptible to them? Leaning over the unconscious kid, the hunter gently squeezed his shoulder. "Hey, Tony? Yo, dude? You mind waking up now?" He gave it a little shake, not jarring, just enough to hopefully rouse the kid. "You got one freaked out little brother here, Tony—he'd kinda like to see you wake up now…" So would I, he didn't add as he watched carefully, but Tony didn't move.
In the distance, the sound of sirens cut through the cold just as a strong gust of wind shook the bus. The storm was getting worse. Behind Dean, Sam groaned, the sound driving fresh urgency through him.
"M'okay." The whisper wasn't any more assuring the second time around.
"Mister?" The little boy shook his arm slightly. "Tony isn't waking up."
Increasing panic threatened to crush him as Dean bowed beneath the weight of need from two little brothers, but then he slowly pulled it back. I did not dig my way out of a grave to bury my brother, he looked at the child, or his. Taking a steadying breath, Dean curled his hand into a fist and rubbed his knuckles on Tony's sternum.
At first, nothing happened. But as the lights of emergency vehicles flashed through the windshield of the bus and the sirens screamed their closeness, Tony frowned, groaned, then slowly lifted a hand to bat Dean's away.
Next to him, Tony's little brother lit up and gave Dean a quick hug. "Thank you, Mister! Thank you!"
"Dean," Dean tried to tell him, but just as quick as that, the hunter was no longer important in the little boy's world because he had his brother back. And Dean didn't mind at all.
Sam was cold and hurting, but watching as Tony opened his eyes and the two little boys were reunited made him smile. His own eyes burned, and he let his head drop back again. Thank God the children were okay.
Another gust rocked the bus, and fresh pain burst through Sam's chest and legs as the seats trapping him shifted slightly. He didn't think anything was broken but, shit, it hurt. Squeezing his eyes shut, he bit back a whimper and shivered. This was not how he wanted to spend Christmas Eve. All he'd wanted was a pie, a freakin' Winchester soliloquy to show his big brother how damned happy Sam was to have him back and how much Dean meant to him. A chick-flick moment his brother could eat.
Then, as the bus was rocked again and Sam thought he was going to lose his mind to a wave of agony, a strong grip, familiar and unyielding, grabbed his hand. It squeezed tight as a voice caressed the side of his face and a warmer body slid in as close as it could get.
"Yo, Bitch—" Dean. "—you ready to get the hell out of here?" His brother's other hand gently stroked through Sam's hair, undoubtedly looking for lumps, or that's what Dean would say if anyone asked him.
Sam leaned into the touch and closed his eyes, his hurting body relaxing, "Y-yeah…"
As if on cue, the back door of the bus was wrenched off and a fireman stuck his head in. The rescue team was here. But Sam had no delusions; while they might get him out, the young hunter knew exactly who had saved him. His brother.
"H-Hey, D-D-Dean," his teeth were chattering hard enough to break now. His brother's hand stilled, and Sam knew he was listening. "S-sorry…'b-b-bout…th-the… p-p-pie." He wanted Dean to know.
And then a fireman was in his face asking Sam if he could feel his legs.
Sam couldn't taste his beer.
He assumed it was beer. The bottle in his hand looked like a beer bottle. He glanced down, shifting his weight on the Impala's hood and accidentally nudging Dean's hunched back with his shoulder.
His brother had just confessed to what had happened to him in Hell. Dean had finally dropped the over-compensating macho routine and was crying quietly beside the car.
How I feel… inside me… I wish I couldn't feel anything…
Sam reached out a hand, placing it gently on his brother's quivering shoulder. Then he blinked when he heard his brother's voice.
Dean wasn't crying. He was laughing.
The giggling fading slightly at his words, Dean steadied. "You know what the worst part is, Sammy?" Before he could answer, Dean wheeled on him, tar-black eyes pinning him as he turned and planted his hands on the hood, effectively trapping Sam against the vehicle. "The worst part is…you couldn't even get me a damned pie. I had to get it myself," Dean hissed. He held up a slice of chocolate pie and devoured it right there, smearing chocolate and whipped cream over his face and mouth.
Sam pushed against Dean's chest, trying to get some space, but the older man didn't budge.
"Getting yourself killed, not breaking the deal…I could forgive all that. But, no pie?" Dean sneered. "I'd hunt you for that. I mean…how far from human can you go, Sam? Denying me this simple thing? On Christmas?" Dean stepped closer, preventing Sam from even moving. It felt like his arms and legs were weighted down. His brother got right in his face and wrapped one hand around Sam's throat.
"'Course, what would you expect from a freak like you? I want pie…and you can't even do that one thing for me…"
The sound of a truck beeping as it backed up caught Sam's attention. He turned his head to look, but Dean squeezed tighter, choking him. "Listen to me, Sam."
"I'm sorry, Dean…please…"
"It's okay, Sammy. There's something thing you can do for me…"
Sam's eyes welled up, his feeling of failure intensifying under Dean's accusatory glare. "What? Anything."
Sam blinked. "What?"
Something squeezed his hand, and Sam looked down. His neck was free.
"Wake up, kiddo."
His eyes popped open, but closed again to block out the blinding light around him. The truck was still backing up somewhere over his head, and more noises were registering at the edge of his consciousness. The pressure on his hand was still there, and something was pressed against his forehead.
Sam struggled to open his eyes again, slower this time. Through a blur, he saw Dean, close to him. Momentary panic set in, but quickly faded. He didn't have the strength to resist, in any event. He frowned, tried to move his arms, but nothing happened. The bus seat was still wrapped around him.
No…that wasn't a seat. It didn't feel the same. He rolled his head away from Dean, searching.
His eyes found the source of the resistance. His right arm was tucked securely under a blanket. A bed rail pressed against his shoulder. He frowned again.
"Sorry…they were all out of sasquatch-sized beds."
Dean's words drew Sam's attention, and he rolled his head lethargically back to face him. His eyes drifted down, and he found that the source of pressure on his hand was Dean's hand. The hand in question gave him a gentle shake.
"You with me?"
Sam looked up, trying to focus on Dean's face. It didn't work. His brother was a blurred blob filling his vision, but that was about all.
"Who you calling a blob, man?" Dean asked, humor coloring his words. "This is all muscle."
Sam was confused. Had he said that out loud? He tried to get a grip on his wandering mind and focused on his brother.
Dean was laughing. Alarmed, Sam tried to clear his vision, wondering if Dean's eyes had gone black again. As if in response to his efforts, a hand rested on his forehead, stilling him. "It's okay, Sammy. Sorry, I shouldn't be laughing, but…"
"What? But…w-what?" Sam slurred out.
Dean laughed again. "Dude, you're stoned."
An irrational touch of anger helped corral Sam's thoughts. Dean was just making fun of him. It was middle school all over again. He swallowed, trying to get around the cotton feeling in his mouth. "Where…hell am I?"
Laughter trailing off, Dean brushed the hair from Sam's eyes and settled on the side of the bed. "ER. Paramedics brought you here after they pried you out of that pretzel bus seat."
The more somber tone cooled Sam's anger a bit. "How long…?"
Dean shifted a little, his leg resting against Sam's side. Sam reflexively moved toward the warmth. "…have you been out? A couple of hours. The stuff they gave you really knocked you on your ass."
Sam squinted, trying to see his legs. The last he remembered, he couldn't feel one of them.
Dean noticed. "You needed stitches on your thigh. Piece of metal from the seat cut you up, but it's fine. Just a scratch, you big faker. You'll just be limping for a while. In fact, they're a little busy tonight—Christmas Eve, who knew?—so the docs said as soon as you wake up enough I can take you home."
That truck was still backing up, and Sam was tired of not being able to find it. Something told him that he wasn't thinking straight. Irritation flared as he blinked his blurred eyes and tried to look around. "W-what's th't noise?"
Dean looked up, seeming confused, then he nodded. "Oh…heart monitor."
Sam took a moment to absorb that, brain still half-asleep. Abruptly, another thought broke through the fog of his mind. "The kid…?"
"Tony? He's okay, but he hit his head pretty hard. They're gonna keep him a few days."
"Oh." Sam tried to nod, but his neck wasn't working right. He settled back on the bed. The incessant beeping was irritating. "Stupid truck…'m tired…"
"Why don't you sleep a little longer?" Dean suggested with a chuckle. "I'll wake you up with the doctor comes around."
Sam was already drifting off, but fright suddenly, inexplicably took hold of him. "Dean…
The hand returned to his forehead, pushing his hair back a bit. "I'll be here when you wake up, Sammy."
An hour later, Sam was lucid enough that conversations weren't complete gibberish—though mostly still—and the doctor gave him one last examination. The drunken ramblings were from the drugs. The concussion was minor, and the gash on his leg was more painful than serious. Nothing more than the normal Winchester injury list. Sam had had worse before.
With instructions to check on Sam every hour or so to monitor the concussion and with a prescription for painkillers, Dean was told they could leave. The ER was full, and more were coming in, most banged up from car crashes and accidents due to the snow.
Dean judged that the Impala should be all right for the short drive back to the motel. Fortunately, the small hospital had been close by. The roads were icy, but apparently the town was used to it, since salt trucks and plows were already out in force. He helped Sam to the car and poured his now only mildly loopy brother into the passenger seat. The frantic behavior when Sam had first woken had given way to a general melancholy, and a steady, incoherent monologue about how sorry Sam was and how he'd screwed up the pie. Dean could only pretend to know what Sam was talking about, and wasn't convinced Sam even knew.
We are so screwed up, Dean mused as he tucked his brother under a blanket in the front seat and circled around to the driver's side. Can't even get through Christmas without almost getting killed…
Almost as an afterthought, Dean remembered the food in the back seat. A cursory inspection revealed that it had been cold enough in the car to keep the food safe, thankfully. It was only 8 o'clock, despite how dark it had gotten outside while they'd been in the ER. Maybe we can salvage tonight, after all.
Assuming Sam woke up soon.
His brother must have somehow sensed Dean's thoughts, since he rolled his head toward Dean and mumbled, half-asleep. "Just…w'nted t'do somethin' n'ce…"
Dean reached over and pulled the blanket higher. Sam didn't seem to notice. "Let's go home, Sammy."
Sam would never really remember the ride home. The next thing he knew, he was waking up in a hotel bed, head and leg throbbing, mouth dry. His eyes hurt when he opened them and he was dizzy, but the world made sense, at least. He had a vague recollection of what had happened—skidding and darkness and pain, the flashing lights of the ambulance, something about a too-short hospital bed and Dean laughing at him.
It was no surprise Dean was the first thing he saw when he turned his head. His brother was sitting on his bed, back against the wall, watching him with an eyebrow raised.
"You awake this time?"
"Yeah." To prove it, he pushed himself up, swinging his legs over the side of mattress. His vision swam a little, but it was workable. "Water?"
A bottle appeared under his nose and he grabbed it. Twisted the cap off and downed a few solid gulps.
When he looked up, Dean had moved, shifting so he was sitting across from Sam, mirror-image. "How you feeling?"
Dean just snorted, shaking his head when Sam pasted on a purposefully fake smile. It was the Winchester mantra, covering everything from "Nope, not hungry," to "It's a sucking chest wound." Consciousness was pretty much the only requirement…and being lucid enough to say it.
In this case, though, it was true. Sam would be bruised and sore for a few days—like that was anything new—and Dean probably wouldn't be letting him drive for at least as long. Which, come to think of it, wasn't really new, either. Now that Dean was back. And Sam was fine with it.
In a perfect world, having a car of his own would have felt like freedom: being able to choose for himself where he went and when, being completely independent. In the real world, the Impala had been the worst kind of punishment. A constant reminder of what he'd lost, of what had been sacrificed for him, of how utterly empty his life was. How alone he was.
Most days, he made a conscious effort to think of the car as a hunk of metal, a necessary means to an end, nothing more. On bad days, though…on the bad days, he hadn't even been able to make himself sit behind the wheel, feeling Dean in every inch of her. Feeling the Dean-shaped hole in his soul nothing could ever fill.
So, no. It was no problem at all to take back his default position as shotgun, to ask permission when he wanted the keys. He'd never drive again if that meant he wouldn't have to relive the horror of those four months.
"Hey." A nudge against his leg. "You sure you're with me?"
Dean was frowning at him, that angry-concerned look he'd patented as a pre-teen. Sam nodded, pushing his morbid thoughts away. "I'm here."
"Well, good. 'Cause we've still got an hour left of Christmas Eve and I'm starving."
The table by the door had been pulled to the foot of the beds and was covered with pizza boxes, cases of beer, chips and cookies, and enough candy to send an entire class full of kids into hyperdrive. Dean had even pulled out the tinsel "Merry Christmas" sign Sam had strung up the year before. He'd forgotten they'd saved it, Dean rolling it carefully and putting it at the bottom of his duffel.
That wasn't the only thing that had been saved. Sam still had a full can of shaving cream and an untouched skin mag buried in his own bag. He swallowed down the sudden sting of tears. "You got sour strips."
"And a Hawaiian-style, just for you." Dean opened one of the pizza boxes with a flourish, making a show of retching when the smell of pineapple and ham wafted out. "Which is still freaking disgusting. Why you can't like pepperoni like a normal person…"
Sam grinned, genuine this time. It wasn't the pizza; food all tasted the same to him these days, another means to an end, nothing he gave much thought to or even took notice of. But Dean remembering it used to be his favorite, the familiarity of the argument…
There would never be another moment he took for granted. Having Dean here with him was the only gift that mattered.
Dean handed him a slice, frowning again when Sam grabbed a beer, probably thinking about the wisdom of mixing pain meds and head injuries with alcohol. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was on the TV, and there was a tree in the corner, an honest-to-goodness Christmas tree with colored lights and yellow candy canes and pictures nestled in the branches. Sam set his pizza down and stood, limping closer to see who was in them, though it didn't take much to guess.
Dean and Sam as kids with Dad. Dean with baby Sammy in his lap. The picture of Mom and Dad he'd brought with him to Stanford and thought was gone forever.
There was no swallowing back the tears now.
Sam reached out and traced the pictures with shaking fingers. His family.
A long moment passed. Then he heard Dean clear his throat. "Pizza's getting cold."
Sam turned, but Dean wasn't looking at him, eyes focused on the TV like it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. Which Sam understood. There was nothing to be said. It was all right there, no words needed.
And deep down, from-the-bottom-of-his-heart gratitude that he was no longer the last member standing.
Sam limped back to his bed, took a drink from his beer. Dean's gift was still in the Impala behind the driver's seat, but it could wait until morning. And maybe, if he could convince Dean to stay an extra day, there would still be pie on December 26.
It was hard to watch Sam with the pictures—had been hard for Dean, putting them up in the first place. Neither of them needed a reminder of how important their family was, but maybe they needed one that it was still together. Fractured, but not destroyed. They'd each endured their separate hells and there were scars. There would always be scars. But, sentimental though it was, they still had each other. Something to fight for. Something to live for. Which was no small gift.
Dean didn't meet Sam's eyes when he turned around. Too much raw emotion there, Dean knew without seeing. More than he could handle right at the moment; there'd been too much of it in general lately. But he leaned into it when Sam squeezed his shoulder, didn't mock when Sam didn't let go right away.
Sam didn't eat much, which was understandable. There were no visible bruises, but he was hunched in, one arm curled over his ribs protectively, and Dean couldn't help but notice how little he moved. Still in pain and maybe even still dizzy—he'd gotten his bell rung pretty hard—and whatever the doc had doped him up on had packed a pretty decent punch.
Sam on medication would never get old.
Dean wanted to ask what Sam's errand had been but figured there'd be time for that tomorrow. Time for plenty, in fact: they hadn't watched the movies yet, had barely put a dent in the smorgasbord Dean had purchased. And, of course, he hadn't given Sam his gift.
It might even be worth staying an extra day, making it a bona fide vacation.
They didn't talk much, but it was an easy silence. Dean killed half a twelve-pack while Sam nursed a single beer between strips of candy and Rudolph gave way to the colorized version of Miracle on 34th Street. Dean watched Sam more than the TV, smirking when his head started to bob, eyes heavy-lidded and mouth open in almost-sleep.
A long day. And nothing like he'd planned. But good enough, for now.
"I'm so sorry, sir, but we don't have any more peppermint-chocolate pies. How about pecan or cherry?"
Sam could feel his face fall at the counter lady's cheerful offer. "No. No, ma'am, I'm sorry, but it has to be peppermint-chocolate—that's my brother's favorite. Could you check one more time, please?"
"Young man, I'm sorry, but those pies are pretty popular in these parts. If you'd come Christmas Eve…"
"I, uh, I tried, but there was this bus…" He huffed a laugh and reached up to rub the back of his head with his hand, only to realize it was the bandaged hand. He let it drop and offered the lady a weak smile. "Please? Maybe just a piece?"
Her eyes had followed the motion of his hand, and seemed to widen a touch on "bus." She gave him a speculative look, then softened. "You know what? I think I might have something. Hold on." She bustled into the back before he could say anything.
Sam tried not to squirm as he waited. Dean couldn't see him in the store, but Sam could practically feel his brother's stare from up the street. He knew it had been a big concession for his brother to drive Sam into town that morning, let alone let him do some shopping without a chaperone. But there was no way he was letting Sam take the car—"you even crash vehicles you're riding in," Dean had muttered, rather unfairly—and after a day of movies, candy, and beer, they'd both been going a little stir crazy. Besides, Sam was pretty sure Dean had promised him a ride sometime during his drug-induced haze. He just really hoped he hadn't mentioned pie in all his confusion.
"Here we go."
The shop lady's voice brought his attention back around, to the pie she held in her hands. It was chocolate-peppermint all right, just like Sam remembered it. But the dessert looked about as battered as Sam felt, the crust broken, the filling a little smooshed. It looked like it'd been sitting underneath all the other pies.
"I'm very sorry," the lady was saying. "We were going to throw it out—it got a little crushed, poor thing—but I bet it still tastes just fine…"
"Oh, no," Sam startled into speech. "No, I mean…it looks great. Perfect." Totally Winchester. He gave the woman an honest, dimpled smile. "Thank you."
She flushed and wrapped it up for him, only charging him half price.
It was just one crumbled pie, but Sam felt like he'd struck gold as he left the shop and limped back to the car.
Dean eyed the box warily as Sam slid into the seat. "Dude, I had to spend an hour cleaning off the car for that? Whatever it is, it'd better be, like, the best thing ever."
"It is," Sam said smugly, hugging the box to him.
Dean just shook his head, fondly tolerant smile in place, and headed back slowly to the motel.
After parking in front of their room, Dean quickly slid out of the car. "I'm gonna get the laundry bag from the back—might as well get some wash done if we're gonna stick around another day."
Sam nodded, watching until Dean was out of sight…then ducking quickly to feel under the seat. The flat, wrapped parcel was still tucked just where he'd left it, and he stuck it inside his coat before opening his door and wrestling himself and the pie out through the snow into the room.
Presents hadn't even come up the day before, not like either of them had anything more to ask for than Dean out of Hell. But with the pie and the gift he still had for Dean, it would pretty much be the best Christmas ever. Even a bus accident couldn't ruin that.
Sam just hoped Dean would feel the same way.
He was guessing this was the pie. The one that had been so important that Sam had rambled about it half-conscious in the ER. Dean hadn't even thought his brother liked pie that much, but considering Sam was upright and walking and decidedly not dead even after losing a fight with a bus, Dean would've happily gone to France to get him one of those fancy éclairs if that was what Sam craved, let alone into town for a pie.
But he still had to bitch and whine about it. Y'know, just so Sam would recognize him.
His brother's preoccupation with the holy grail pie was a good cover for sneaking the wrapped box out of the trunk, anyway. He waited while Sam was in the bathroom, then pulled the box out of the laundry bag and tucked it under his jacket. Perfect.
Well, would've been even more so if it'd been two days before and they could've managed it without a trip to the hospital, but…it was close. Closer than they usually got. Certainly better than last year when, for all Sam trying and Dean pretending, they both knew Hell awaited. And Dean hadn't even known then how horrific it would be…
The knock on the door jolted him out of his thoughts. Shaking his head, Dean glanced up at the bathroom doorway, where Sam's shaggy head had peered out with a frown. Dean mirrored the look, sliding a hand under his jacket as the other reached for the knob.
It was a guy and a kid, the man unfamiliar, the kid…
Dean wouldn't have recognized the smile, or the mop of straw-colored hair. But the little brother puppy eyes were unmistakable. He smiled back, hand slipping out of his jacket. "Uh, Tony's brother, right?"
The blond head nodded enthusiastically, and the man behind it stuck a hand out.
"Robert Trevillo. I think you met my son, Matt." After shaking Dean's hand, his hand fell on the kid's shoulder.
"Dean. And, yeah, think I did." Dean crouched down to Matt's height, gave him a formal shake of his own. "How's Tony doing, kiddo?"
"He woke up!" The kid was all motion and happiness now, complete opposite of the last time Dean had seen him.
"Hey, that's awesome. I bet he was glad to see you."
The small head bobbed furiously up and down.
"I'm sorry," Trevillo senior continued, "we didn't want to interrupt, but the hospital gave us your address and… Well, I just wanted to thank you for being there for my boys."
Dean pushed back to his feet, met the father's eyes evenly as he answered. "Hey, man, I didn't do anything. Matt here was the one who made Tony pay attention. Right, buddy?"
The kid nodded wordlessly again, body wriggling with pleasure. Apparently he was half-puppy in more than just the eyes.
Dean grinned at him, then glanced back to where Sam had come out to hover in the background. "My brother, Sam. He was on the bus, too."
Matt waved. "Hi, Sam!"
Dean didn't have to look at his brother to hear the grin in his voice. "Hi, Matt. I'm glad Tony's okay."
An enthusiastic nod. The kid was going to give himself whiplash soon.
"So, Tony's gonna be fine?" Dean addressed the question to Trevillo, head tilting in an invitation to answer honestly, beyond the comprehension of small ears.
But the man's easy smile put any concern to rest. "He's great. Head's as hard as his old man's." The words were pure love.
Dean glanced down at the guy's hand, saw a wedding ring, but also the wrinkled clothes, the slightly too-short sleeves on Matt, the lines in the young father's face, and the way the little guy had hung on to his dad with one hand throughout the visit. Dean knew those telltales, and gave the widower an earnest look. "Glad to hear that. Sam and I are glad if we could help."
"More than you know," was the quiet answer, then, "say good-bye, Matt."
"Bye!" A bounce accompanied the greeting, then the small body unexpectedly darted forward to hug Dean's leg. Kid and father were gone just as fast, crunching off into the snow.
Dean didn't even realize he'd zoned out until there was a gentle nudge of his back. "You done letting out all the warm air, dude?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah." He shut the door, gaze just grazing the warm smile on Sam's face before seeking something else to focus on. "So, you gonna show me what was so important to go out in two feet of snow to get?"
Sam shook his head. "Yeah, all right. Grab a couple of those plates, okay?" He nodded at the table still laden with their Christmas feast leftovers.
Dean obliged, turning back just in time to see Sam slip a pie out of its box.
A slightly beat-up pie. A slightly beat-up peppermint-chocolate pie. Which so happened to be Dean's favorite.
"You, uh…you still like 'em, right? I mean, I don't think we've had one since we were at Pastor Jim's for that Christmas, but…" Sam trailed off uncertainly.
Dean swallowed again, looked up at Sam. "Yeah." Had to clear his throat—stupid cold air. "Yeah, I do. Best pie I ever had."
"Well, good," Sam said with obvious relief, looking for a knife. He rolled his eyes but accepted when Dean pulled his hunting knife and offered it hilt-first. "It was the last one they had, so it's kinda mushed, but figured that was just about right for us."
Dean grinned. "Hey, long as it tastes good, I'm in."
It did. He was.
Three pieces and counting when Sam cleared his throat and reached under the bed. "I, uh, got you something, too. It's not big, but…" Flushing a little, he reached a comics-wrapped package to Dean.
Dean perked up. "Seriously?" He stuffed the last two bites of pie into his mouth at once, wiped his fingers on his jeans, and reached for the gift with one hand while pulling out his own present from under his jacket on the bed. "Got you something, too."
Sam eyed it warily. "It's gift-wrapped—you steal this one, too?"
Dean smirked at him. "No Barbie this time, promise."
Sam's mouth quirked as he took the box.
Dean tore into his…then stopped as he saw the title of the DVD he held. Indiana Jones 4. The movie he'd been so excited to see until he'd found out when it was going to be released in theatres. The movie Sam had confessed to seeing without him…then later confessed to having pretended Dean was there with him. No pretending needed now. "Sammy…that's—"
He looked up, to see Sam had already opened his own gift. Dean winced. "Not the right kind? Dude at the shop said they work with any iPods, but—"
"No, no, man, it's fine." Sam threw him a lopsided smile. "Hated my music that much, huh?"
Dean coughed. "No… Well, okay, yeah. But I figure that way you can listen to your stuff when you want. I mean…it's kinda your car, too." He squirmed—only Sam could get him to say stuff like this—then held up a finger. "I still get to drive it, though, and driver picks the music. But, you know, if you…"
Sam took pity on him. "Thanks, Dean."
Dean held up the movie. "Yeah. Me, too."
The cold air was apparently bothering Sam's throat, too, and making his eyes water. He gave Dean a hopeful grin. "So, not a bad Christmas?"
Dean looked down at the movie. Pie and presents and a tree. DVDs and pizza and candy. Snow outside and no place they had to be. And Sam, a little banged-up but okay, sitting there with him. Hell had never seemed so far away.
Dean nodded, clearing his throat. "Yeah." He peered up at Sam with a smile, seeing his brother softly mirror it. "Not bad at all."