Dean heard the familiar strains of Christmas music as he entered the house from the garage carrying the last of the boxes that were labeled "Christmas decorations", and he tried not to let the sour feeling that was upsetting his stomach show on his face. He couldn't ruin the holiday for Lisa and Ben just because he wasn't feeling it.
He was having a very hard time getting into all of this Christmas stuff. God had given up on him, had let his little brother be possessed by his pissy youngest son, and allowed Sam to fall into a pit and be locked inside of hell for all of eternity, so Dean was having a difficult time getting into the season. But his new little family loved the holiday and they were excited, and he couldn't ruin their Christmas just because he was bitter.
Lisa turned when he walked in the living room and smiled, and his heart melted a little. Her smile reminded him why he was even participating in this holiday. He put the box down where Lisa directed.
"Could you please string the lights? I get them all tangled every year." Ben laughed at his mother's statement.
"One year, mom had them so tangled on the tree that we had to throw away the tree and the lights because we couldn't get them off." Dean tried to smile.
"So, yeah, I think it would be less of a fire hazard if you did it." She smiled and handed him a strand of lights.
"Yeah, don't want to have to call the fire department." Dean said and began his task of testing lights and stringing them, as Lisa came back and forth from the kitchen carrying cookies and cocoa.
He strung the lights, and his hands hesitated once in a while when grief overcame him, and he forced his thoughts past his baby brother giving him the one last Christmas he wanted, the Christmas that hurt his little brother to give, the one that had air freshener ornaments, and dollar store lights that didn't work very well, and that had cheap egg nog kicked up ten notches too high with alcohol.
His grief spilled over into anger as they filled the tree with ornaments, ones that sang, ones that blinked, ones that sparkled in the lights. He and Sam had never needed something this gaudy, this commercial. They only needed each other and thrown together decorations to make the holiday special. It was about family, it was about those you loved being near you. This superficial crap was just that, crap. He wanted to thrown the glass ball he held in his hand against the wall. Wanted that glass ball to shatter into a million pieces, he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs that this wasn't fair, that his brother should be here.
Instead, he licked his lips, bit them, bit his cheek, and did everything he could to keep the bitter words from spilling, stopping only when blood began to pool inside his mouth. The salty metal taste of blood pushed him just over the edge into the abyss of memories that had no place anywhere during this time of year full of cheer and goodness, and belonged more with the jack-o-lanterns of Halloween. Memories of hell clouded his vision, that was something he could handle, had handled for the last two, going on three years. That wasn't what made him want to fall apart, what threw him into a panic was the thought that instead of being here, with Dean, decorating a real or make shift motel tree, Sam was in hell, being tortured, probably tortured worse than Dean could imagine, and Dean was celebrating, turning a blind eye to his brother's sacrifice, to his brother's suffering.
"I'll be right back." Dean said when he couldn't take it anymore. He turned and went to the master bathroom as quickly as he could, without looking like he was running, he couldn't destroy Lisa and Ben's holiday with his nonsense. He turned on the water, began to brush his teeth, trying to brush the taste of bitterness and betrayal out of his mouth, and with it the thoughts that were coming in unrelenting flashes. It didn't work. He brushed his teeth for ten minutes and all he got for his trouble was sore gums and a bloody toothbrush.
Spitting out the blood and toothpaste, putting the toothbrush back in its holder, he reached for a cup, his hands shaking the whole way. He filled the cup, and his shaky hands sloshed water from the cup onto his shirt as he took a sip of water to rinse his mouth out. He looked up, checked his reflection in the mirror, he had to look normal, he had to look like he had his shit together. Lisa expected that he was over the bulk of his grief for his brother, he couldn't go back in there looking like he had lied, looking like he was falling apart at the seams. That wasn't fair to Ben and Lisa.
What he saw in the mirror was worse than he imagined. He was pale and shattered looking, but most of all he saw who he really was: a traitor, a betrayer, a sham, a liar. That was what he had become. In his promise to "be normal" he was betraying his brother. It was hard to accept that.
He took a deep breath, threw water on his face, and pinched his cheeks trying to get the color back into them, and he threw on his best happy face and returned to the holiday festivities.
The tree was decorated, Ben was attaching the last of the tinsel, and he stood and watched. Lisa snaked an arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she asked.
"Our first Christmas together." She said with a happy sigh. My first Christmas without a brother, Sam's first Christmas in hell.
"Yeah. Our first Christmas together."
"Done!" Ben announced.
"It's awesome babe!" Lisa said with a laugh. The three of them gathered in front of the tree, and Lisa reached behind Dean and turned off the lights, and the tree twinkled and sparkled and looked like something out of a magazine. Lisa and Ben oohed and ahhed. Dean starred, and wished that Sam was here, wished that it was a little make shift Winchester tree with car freshener ornaments and dime store lights, but it wasn't. It was a tree made for a family, a real family, a family that had all of the key elements. And he suddenly understood why Sam craved normal all of those years. He assumed they weren't a family because they didn't share this kind of thing, they didn't have a tree and lights, and presents in the closet waiting to be wrapped. Dean wasn't ever able to provide that for Sam, and he had gone elsewhere to find it. Dean felt ashamed, and stupid, he had tried so hard to be able to give Sam what he wanted, and it took Sam dying and going to hell for one of them to actually have the real deal, and Dean couldn't help but think, he should be the one rotting in hell and Sam should be here enjoying this "normal" Christmas.