Disclaimer: This is a transformative work of fiction written for pleasure not profit. Based on the original creation of E. Kripke.
A/N: Happy Holidays! It's been a long time that a story idea just wouldn't leave me alone and I thought it would be pretty lame not to post this by Christmas at the latest. So I'm writing this A/N in the car as we drive to my in-laws for Christmas dinner...
11pm Christmas Eve 1999
John punched the door open with his shoulder as both his hands were full. The cold December air followed him into the apartment they were currently calling home. His trained hunter's eye took in the undecorated tree lying in the corner and the decorations abandoned on the floor. He'd already noticed the empty parking spot where the Impala should have been.
"SAM?" he bellowed, putting down the shopping bags and shrugging the duffel from his shoulder.
"What?" Sam emerged from the room he shared with his brother.
John mentally rolled his eyes. Good to know his youngest's snark was still firmly in place.
"Where's your brother?"
"What's with the mess? I've only been gone a week. I expect you boys to keep the place tidier than this."
"I didn't feel like decorating."
"Because it's Christmas?" John returned.
"So? What's the point in celebrating like normal people do? You keep pointing out that we aren't civilians." Sam crossed his arms across his chest and cast a sulky look from under his too long hair at his father.
"Back to that, are we?" John couldn't help the sigh that escaped. "And what about the rest of this mess?"
"It's Dean's – he made it; he can clean it up."
John clenched his jaw and counted to 10. "You still haven't said where your brother went."
"Sam!" It was the tone and volume that Sam knew not to screw with.
"That's all he said. He said, he was going out to find someone to celebrate the season with – or some shit like that. He's probably picking up some nice piece o…."
"SAM!" John cut him off. "Language and manners."
John took a more thorough look at the apartment. There had potentially been a bit of a scuffle. The boys weren't the best housekeepers at the best of times, but it was fairly clear that some things had recently been thrown around. There were a couple of books that had slid under the couch and some other things that looked like they might be school supplies.
"How long ago did your brother go out?"
"Few hours. Maybe around 2 or 3."
"It's almost 11 now," John stated the obvious. "What exactly did you say to your brother?"
"I told you. I just said I wasn't decorating the stupid tree or the stupid apartment. Celebrating Christmas is just… stupid…" Sam finished lamely, finally looking a bit chagrined.
"You know your brother sets a lot by the holiday, Sammy," John admonished. He was starting to get a much clearer picture of what happened. Just another way that Sam could buck any Winchester "tradition". Even if this one was purely for his brother's benefit.
12 HOURS EARLIER
The radio cycled through the usual playlist peppered with the standard rock Christmas fare. Dean had tidied up the apartment and set out the meagre decorations he'd managed to pilfer and gather. He'd even managed a tree. Sam only had a half day at school because it was Christmas Eve, so Dean was expecting him any time. He'd dragged the tree in, but he'd wait for Sam to help him set it up and decorate it. Dad was a day late, but he always managed to make it back for Christmas, so Dean wasn't too worried. Some years it was late Christmas night, but he always made it.
Sam banged through the front door, let it slam and made a beeline for their bedroom, slowing only to shrug his coat to the floor and toe off his boots.
"Well, hey to you too," Dean muttered under his breath, rolling his eyes.
"Get your ass out here and help me with this tree!" he bellowed after his brother.
"Sam!" Dean tossed the lights he was trying to untangle onto the worn couch and stomped to their bedroom. His brother was sprawled on his bed with a book. No great shock there.
"Don't you get enough of that at school?"
"No. Go away." Bitch face in full force.
"Come help with the decorations," Dean did his best to ignore the whiny bitch that was inhabiting his brother.
"Who pissed on your cornflakes?"
"Does it matter?"
"It does when you are returning the favour to me," Dean answered.
"I just don't see the point in lame ass decorating our lame ass apartment. Which we will probably be leaving before school goes back." Sam fairly glared at his brother.
"Oh c'mon, Sammy! It's Christmas! You love decorating the apartment," Dean wheedled.
"No Dean. YOU love decorating the apartment. And you love torturing me," Sam corrected.
"We do it every year; you love it," Dean figured if he just kept repeating it, he could force Sam into agreeing.
Pushing himself up, Sam stared at his brother. He'd recently had a growth spurt and they were roughly the same height now. Dean still found it … unsettling.
"No Dean. I HATE it. What's the point in pretending to be normal? We aren't normal. We don't get to have normal. YOU don't get to have it. It's lame and it's pointless," Sam only felt satisfaction as he saw every one of his barbs strike home.
He knew that for some freaky reason, Dean really did love Christmas and he'd always gone out of his way to try to make it special for Sam. Even if he'd failed spectacularly in his attempt to give Sam a "normal" Christmas some years, he mostly did manage to make the holiday special in some way.
"You don't mean that," Dean denied, turning on his heel and going back out to the living room.
"Look around, Dean. This is not the Joe Normals' apartment! They don't have shotguns in their closets for one thing," Sam's voice was rising.
Dean picked up the box of decorations and put them back down again.
"Normal people decorate their windows with fake snow NOT salt!"
"Shut up, Sam," Dean's voice was low.
"Normal people don't have different decorations every year," Sam yelled picking up the box Dean had put down. "Where did you get them this year? Good Will?"
"Nice to know you pay any attention at all, Sammy. They aren't all new every year," Dean growled back.
"Normal people don't buy their presents at a gas station," Sam spat out, ignoring his brother's last remark.
"Neither do I, you ungrateful little prick," Dean's face was flushed. "Maybe you'd like yours now?"
Dean grabbed a bag from the closet and tossed it at Sam. Several books and school supplies skidded across the floor, some coming to rest at Sam's feet and some skidding under the couch.
"Did these come from Good Will too? Or did you just outright steal them," Sam threw back at his brother.
"Screw you, Sammy. I'm outta here. You don't want to celebrate being alive for another year. Fine." Dean pushed past his brother, grabbed his coat and keys and slammed out of the house.
Sam was breathing heavily. All of his friends at school had been babbling for weeks about their family holidays. It was too much. They all had family traditions, some going back hundreds of years. They talked about how their Moms always cooked some particular thing and they always got their tree at the same farm. How their relatives all came for dinner or they had to take turns going to different relatives' houses each year. How their Christmas was just like some movie or other… How their Christmases were so normal.
Sam looked at the decorations he was still holding. He was momentarily surprised to realize he actually did recognize some of them. A couple were ones he'd made in school as a kid and there were a couple of others he was sure he'd seen before too. He huffed and dropped the box to the floor where the contents spilled out. Sam stomped back to his room and flung himself on the bed….
11:45 pm Christmas Eve 1999
John paced the apartment. He'd finished putting away the groceries he'd brought home. Sam slouched on the couch, pretending to watch television.
"This isn't like your brother," John finally said.
"How is this not like Dean? This is a typical Friday night for him when you're not hunting," Sam replied.
"It's not a "typical Friday night" and you know it. It's Christmas Eve. When has Dean not spent it with you?" John stopped to glare at Sam.
Sam opened his mouth to reply and closed it again when he realized this was an argument he actually couldn't win. Even in his own mind. Great. He'd now gone officially from being pissed to being worried. Because Dad was worried and Dad was never worried.
John turned on his heel, picked up his keys and grabbed his jacket.
"Whatever your brother is doing, it's a fair bet that he's not going to be in any shape to be driving himself home. I'm going out to get him. Finish cleaning this place up," John ordered.
John turned just as he was going out the door.
"And set up that damn tree," he growled, slamming the door.
Sam was about to answer back, when he thought better of it. His dad was right. Dean had always spent Christmas Eve with him. He'd made sure that there were presents and something to eat. True, the quality of the food and the presents had gotten better over the years, but there'd always been something. He was starting to feel a little bad for going out of his way to ruin Christmas for Dean. It really hadn't been his intention to do that. He was just so frustrated, and Dean never seemed to be bothered by what they were missing out on.
1:45am Christmas Day 1999
John had had no idea just how many bars there were in this town. So far he'd toured about 12. Some of them were a bit tonier than Dean would normally frequent and some were the bucket of blood type places that John himself favoured. Dean hadn't mentioned having a favourite hangout, but then, Dean rarely shared with John what he got up to when he went out. As long as Dean kept out of trouble, John was willing to turn a blind eye to some of his son's more worrisome hobbies. John was starting to regret that policy now.
The last bar had mentioned a country-western bar that was a little outside the town's limits. John didn't think that Dean would go to a place like that – the music alone was likely to kill him according to Dean – but John was running out of options.
The parking lot was pretty empty by the time John pulled in, so it was easy to notice the two pertinent things in the parking lot. First, he spotted the Impala. She was parked a little apart – no chance some dumbass in a pickup was going to accidently scrape Dean's baby.
Secondly, there seemed to be a fight going on by the doors. John sighed as he recognized a familiar head of short hair, a familiar fighting stance, and a familiar set of bowlegs. Naturally, that figure was at the centre of the crowd and the centre of the action. As usual, Dean had managed to piss off a crowd. He always was an over-achiever in that department.
John felt the familiar weight of his gun in the waistband of his jeans at the small of his back. He reached behind the seat for the baseball bat he kept for less than supernatural threats. He wasn't planning on killing anybody, but he was damned if anyone was going to lay a hand on his boy either. Well… more hands at this point.
As John climbed slowly out of his truck, he took the moment to assess the situation. Dean was swaying slightly as he tried to keep the wall at his back. Four guys were trying to flank him. One eye was already swelling shut, and blood was trickling down the side of his head. To his credit, all four of the guys advancing on him didn't look much better and there were two laid out cold on the pavement.
John was just shouldering his way through the small crowd when he noticed a bouncer had finally come out of the club and was doing the same from the other direction. When he brought his focus back to the fight, his attention was caught by the glint of light off of metal.
One of the idiots had drawn a knife.
John knew better than to distract Dean's attention away from the greater potential threat. He had no idea how long the fight had been going on or how drunk Dean was, but John was relieved to see that Dean had noticed the knife.
Just as John broke from the crowd, one of the unarmed cowboys went for Dean. As the cowboy swung wildly, Dean timed his swing perfectly to come in under it and wind his attacker.
Meanwhile, John had the element of surprise on the cowboy closest to him. Poking him with the bat, the idiot turned and John laid him out with one well placed punch to the jaw. Admittedly, it did look like Dean had softened the guy up a bit… The bouncer had managed to subdue one of them and that left only the asshole with the knife.
Unfortunately, while everyone else was occupied elsewhere, he charged Dean with the knife. Luckily, John's relentless training paid off, and Dean had kept one eye on the knife the entire time and was therefore ready for his attack. Dean managed to leap back, sucking in his stomach to avoid a wild swing at his abdomen. Regaining his balance, Dean kicked out attempting to disarm his attacker. Unfortunately, the kick was a little wild and the cowboy dodged it, swinging back with the knife and catching Dean's forearm, causing him to hiss in pain.
Before the cowboy could follow up, John was there with the baseball bat, bringing it down on the cowboy's arm with an audible snap. The knife clattered to the ground as the cowboy screamed like a cowgirl, writhing on the ground, cursing and holding his arm.
Dean looked dazedly at his father. "Dad?"
"What the hell, Dean?"
Dean swayed and would have gone face first into the pavement if John hadn't stepped in, grabbing him and lowering him gently to the ground. John propped him up against the wall, holding him in place with a hand to his son's chest. He could feel the racing of Dean's heart as it slowed back to something approaching normal.
Meanwhile, the bouncer had dispersed the crowd.
"Mister? Does your friend need an ambulance? I'm gonna have to call 911 for this asshole," he indicated the one who had had the knife. "Will you want to lay charges?"
"No. I don't think so. And we don't need an ambulance," John answered quickly. At least, he didn't think they needed the ambulance. Dean reeked of booze, so it was hard to tell how much was drunk and how much was punch drunk. John looked quickly at the wound on his forearm. Without taking his jacket off, John could see that the wound would need stitches, but it wasn't really deep. Just as he was trying to figure out how to staunch the bleeding until they could get home, a waitress emerged from the bar with some towels and ice.
"Thanks," John smiled at her, taking the offered towels.
"No problem. He didn't start it you know. These guys are assholes. They were just mad that someone was horning in on their turf. Your friend was real quiet all evening… he actually seemed kinda sad. I hope you're taking him home for the holiday." The girl looked at him with doe eyes.
"Yeah. He's my son. We had a little family drama this evening…" John shrugged.
"Oh," she paused and nodded sympathetically. "Seems like the holidays are all about family one way or the other. Speaking of which, I'd best get home to mine, unless you need some help?"
"No, no. Thanks, but I've got this," John smiled at the girl. "Thanks for letting me know."
"No problem. Merry Christmas," she smiled, handing him the ice and then was gone, back to her own family and cares.
Turning back to Dean, John quickly packed the wound with one towel and tied it off with another. The pain caused by the pressure on the wound brought Dean around. Typically, he tried to come up swinging, but he was so disoriented, John easily kept him still.
"Whoa, there son. Just stay down," John ordered.
Instinct alone would have stilled Dean even if gravity and his own mutinying body weren't doing it for him. He was hardwired to obey his father without question. John sighed inwardly and wished for even a fraction of that compliance from his youngest. He watched as Dean attempted to draw in the threads of reality and make sense of them.
"What the hell were you doing here son?" John asked.
"Celebrating the holiday," Dean slurred.
"How drunk are you? Think you have a concussion? Jesus, Dean! We need to get out of here before someone decides they really should call the cops…"
The snark and defiance that Dean was using as his mask quickly fled in the face of his father's anger and fairly obvious disappointment.
"Sorry…." Dean mumbled. "Not concussed. Maybe a little drunk… but I coulda taken those assholes….. cept the one had a knife… nobody fights fair anymore…." Dean became a little less coherent as he attempted to answer his father, fighting to keep his eyes open.
"Okay, okay, we'll discuss this at home. Let's just get you up and outta here. We'll have to take the Impala and leave my truck. I'll come back in a cab…" John trailed off as he fixed a plan in his head. They could trace the Impala directly to Dean if they wanted to pursue the matter and it would take a lot longer to trace John's truck back to them, he'd have it and the boys long gone before it could escalate. He rolled his shoulders. Just another day at the office, really.
John fisted his hands in Dean's coat.
"On three. One, two, three…" John heaved his eldest to his feet. The altitude change didn't agree with him. John pushed Dean up against the wall and braced him there as his son's legs attempted to buckle and his eyes tried to roll back in his head.
"Dean!" John barked to bring him around.
Dean blinked hugely and stifled a groan. He was as white as the snow gathered in piles around the parking lot. He swallowed convulsively a few times but was obviously losing the battle.
"Dad," he managed to choke out. "Sick…"
John grabbed Dean around the waist with one arm and spun him to the side, just in time for his son to empty the contents of his stomach. He lowered him to hands and knees but kept one hand fisted in the back of his jacket collar to prevent him pitching forward into his own mess. Eventually, the dry heaves stopped.
"God. I hope so," Dean groaned.
"Doesn't feel so good, huh? Figure you got some bruised ribs into the bargain… Okay. Let's try this again. You ready?"
"Humpf," was the best Dean could manage.
This time he managed to make it to his feet, albeit a bit wobbly and John got him to the Impala where he held him against the car while he frisked him for the keys. Once he'd gotten the door open, he shoved Dean into the passenger seat, handed him a towel with some ice in it, and headed for home.
2:30 am Christmas morning, 1999.
Sam was waiting when John appeared at the door supporting a somewhat less than coherent Dean.
"Shit," he said as he opened the door and saw his brother. "What happened?"
"What do you think happened? He got drunk, managed to piss off the locals, and got into a bar fight. Although according to an unbiased witness, he didn't really do anything to piss them off. It's apparently just their natural state. But you know your brother. Even if he doesn't start it, he's more than willing to finish it." John moved Dean directly into the bathroom and propped him up on the toilet.
Dean groaned and leaned his head on his good arm on the counter. The bandaged one, he cradled carefully in his lap.
"Holy crap! What happened to his arm?" Sam crowded into the bathroom after them alarm spiking when he finally noticed the bloody makeshift bandage.
"One of the assholes had a knife," John stated the obvious. "Pass me the medkit. It's gonna need some stitches. And save the bitch-face. It's not deep."
Sam bit his tongue. It was starting to dawn on him that as frustrated as he was and as important as his feelings were, maybe this whole holiday thing was even more of a big deal to his brother. Dean hadn't known Dad was gonna be home tonight for sure. It just wasn't like him at all to do something like this when Dad was out of town on a job. So Sam bit his tongue and grabbed the medkit.
John made short work of the stitches. Dean remained mostly still except for the occasional flinches he couldn't quite suppress.
"I can't give you any painkillers, son. You could easily have a concussion. I'm sorry," John pitched his voice low, but he saw Dean nod his head.
After he finished the stitches, John checked Dean over as quickly as possible. Sam hovered in the doorway of the small bathroom. He wet a towel with warm water and handed it to his father when asked and watched as John gently wiped the grim and blood from Dean's knuckles, face, and scalp. Luckily the wound on his head was superficial and didn't need any stitches. As he worked, he made sure that Dean drank a few glasses of water in small sips to re-hydrate him.
"Ok son," John said when he was finally satisfied. "A decent bump on your head, nasty cut on your arm and a lot of bruising, but otherwise you're ok. Except maybe for the killer hangover you're going to have in the morning. Let's get you to bed."
Dean looked up at John out of the eye that wasn't swollen shut and grimaced.
"Thanks, Dad. 'm sorry," Dean said quietly.
John just huffed in response and hefted his son to his feet. He was about to help him to the bedroom when Dean resisted.
"Gotta pee," he said, shrugging John off and toward the door, leaning one hand against the wall to steady himself and breathing deeply as the world tilted alarmingly around him.
"Okay. I'm just outside the door," John said backing out and drawing the door shut after him. Sam was right there.
"Is he really okay?" his youngest demanded.
"Yes, Sammy. You know he's had a lot worse."
Dean opened the door, leaning on the doorjam.
"'m fine, Sammy. 'm always fine," he mumbled, pushing past his father and brother and staggering down the hall to his bedroom.
"You want a hand?" John called after him.
"Got it," Dean waved a hand at him vaguely.
"I'll be in to check on you later," John said to the retreating back and then turned back to his youngest. "You finish decorating?"
"What? No." Sam couldn't have been more surprised. What difference could that possibly make?
"We have work to do then." John headed for the living room and Sam trailed after him.
"You can't be serious," Sam blurted out, and then couldn't stop himself from adding somewhat bitterly, "Don't you want to start packing?"
"Don't start, Sam. They said they weren't going to call the cops if we didn't want to press charges. It's Christmas. It's bad for their business. We can afford the one day at the very least," John surveyed the living room and the scattered decorations. "Do you have any idea what Dean's plan was?"
"No. He usually improvises depending on where we are."
"Ok. Well, you start with picking up all the stuff on the floor and untangling the lights. I'll get the tree set up."
"Why?" Sam couldn't help it. He was just hardwired to want to know.
"Because this is important to Dean. And because I made a promise to your mother," John unexpectedly answered.
Sam was momentarily stunned. By the fact that John had answered but even more by the answer itself. He remained silent but raised his eyebrows.
John sighed. He was tired. He'd use that as his excuse for unburdening himself in the morning.
"The first Christmas after your mother died was hard. So hard. You've no idea. But as hard as it was for me, it was infinitely harder for your brother. What do you think a child's sharpest memories are of?"
"Christmas," Sam answered thoughtfully. Maybe not for him, but definitely for "normal" kids – the past two weeks at school had proven that.
"Yep. And Mary loved Christmas. She'd already been planning it and telling Dean about it before…. And then of course, he expected that Santa would bring his mother back to him. What he hadn't expected was that Santa wouldn't bring him anything. No presents, no tree, no decorations, nothing. Because I was so busy wallowing in my own grief, I didn't realize… And of course, even back then, your brother assumed that Santa hadn't come because he'd been naughty. I think he may even have decided that he was so naughty that it had had something to do with Mary's death. Anyway. About mid-afternoon on that Christmas, I found your brother sobbing uncontrollably beside your crib. He was so upset. He made himself physically ill. He still wasn't really talking at that point, but even a thick headed, self-involved idiot like me was able to piece it together. Dean finally cried himself to sleep and I got on the phone and managed to get some kind of Christmas dinner and a present for your brother by calling some of the few friends I still had at that point. Later I was able to go by the house and salvage a couple of decorations that had been special to Mary, including the one Dean had made the year before…" John paused and moved to the box of decorations.
He looked through them, pulling out one that was obviously homemade by a child and two others, one with an angel on it and one with a winter scene. Sam swallowed, tears threatening to fill his eyes.
"I vowed that I would always make Christmas special for your brother to help him remember Mary and because Mary would have wanted that. When your brother got only a little older, he vowed to do the same for you. We aren't your mother, son. I don't think I did the best job, and maybe Dean didn't do the best job either, but we tried. Christmas is about family. That's what's important."
Sam let the lights he'd been fiddling with fall back onto the couch and moved to his dad. John was ready and opened his arms to welcome his son's hug.
"I'm sorry, Dad. I had no idea. I guess I'm just not as smart as I think I am," Sam mumbled into his father's shoulder.
"I think you would have figured it out, Sammy. I've got faith in you," John's voice held the smile on his face as he patted his youngest on the back. "You ready to make this place fit for your brother?"
With one last squeeze, Sam released his father and stood to attention – but without any of the usual rancour.
"Yes, SIR!" he said with enthusiasm.
11 am Christmas Day 1999
When Dean finally emerged, he did indeed have a killer headache. His arm ached, his ribs ached, and if he was honest, just about everything else – including his pride. Luckily, his stomach had settled down.
What had woken him was laughter and he followed that sound, making his way into the living room. He was stunned to see his brother and father laughing at some shared joke in their decorated living room.
"Well, good morning and Merry Christmas, sleeping beauty. Nice of you to join us," John boomed.
"Not so sure about the "beauty" part," Sam chimed in, chuckling.
Dean winced a little at the volume, but was speechless to come up with a witty reply other than a grunt.
"Are you gonna come in and grace us with your presence?" John asked, dialling the volume down a notch.
"Coffee?" Dean managed to croak, heading for the couch.
"Got it!" Sam bounced up and headed for the kitchen.
Sinking into the couch, Dean took a minute to look around the living room. The tree was set up and decorated in the corner. All the lights even seemed to be working. More amazing still was that there were wrapped presents beneath it. Dean had barely had a chance to process all this information before Sam was back.
"Where's my coffee?" Dean eyed his brother's coffee-less hands.
"Thought you'd need these first," Sam said handing him a glass of water and some ibuprofen. When Dean handed back the glass, Sam handed him an ice pack for his eye and headed back to the kitchen.
Dean raised his eyebrow at his father.
"Christmas miracle," John offered to explain Sam's suddenly solicitous behaviour.
"Hey! Cool wreath... are those beer cans?" Dean asked having just noticed an addition to their decorations.
"Yeah. Dad found it," Sam explained handing Dean a steaming mug of coffee.
Dean took a sip and groaned in pleasure.
"Think you'll live now?" John asked smiling.
"Yeah. Guess this is the part where I might start to regret it," Dean answered, expecting the usual lecture.
"Don't think you'll like your presents? Sammy and I went to a lot of trouble, you know," John feigned a hurt expression.
"This isn't the part where I get the lecture?"
"Not today. No promises about tomorrow, though. Sammy, you want to start grabbing those presents?"
"Here Dean," Sam held out a gift to his brother.
Dean looked at the gift wrapped in newsprint and then up at his brother smiling down at him. He'd still been a bit pissed with him when he woke up, but that all melted away in the face of his brother's thoughtfulness.
"Your welcome, jerk."
The gifts had mostly come from the convenience store attached to the gas station down the road, but considering that was pretty much Dean's favourite store to shop in that was fine with him. Sam had even wrapped the gifts Dean had gotten for him.
The gift that meant the most to Dean and the one he'd remember over the years, even after Sam left and they stopped celebrating, was the gift of seeing his father and brother just enjoying each other's company for an entire day. Christmas was about family after all.
A/N2: I hope that everyone had/has a wonderful day with their family. This is my way of spending at least a little of the day with my Supernatural family.
Peace and happiness....
And, you know, reviews are a little like gifts under the tree...