They're having a Christmas this year and, surprisingly, it's not Sam's fault. Okay, maybe it's not that surprising, considering the fact that the last time the Winchesters celebrated this particular holiday, Sam had spent the majority of the time doing a reasonable impression of the Grinch. No, Christmas this year is Dean's idea…
Fun fact: the last time that Dean Winchester celebrated Christmas, he was a few months away from going to hell. He spent the day getting tortured by and then slaying two pagan gods that looked like Ozzie and Harriet wannabes…with their own Christmas tree…
Another fun fact: the last time Dean had celebrated what would qualify as a "normal" Christmas by civilian standards, he had been three years old. He didn't have what you would call real memories of that holiday, more like vague impressions. He could kind of recall his mom singing carols instead of the Beatles. She had a really beautiful voice. He associated multicolored lights and a feeling of warmth and safety with that day: being enveloped in a hug, his father's laugh. If he really strained, he could evoke the image of a red fire-truck under the tree and asking Santa for a baby brother, disappointed when the new baby wasn't sitting under the tree and insistent that there be presents for him too. Mostly though, he can conjure the image of his parents' smiling faces and the happiness that he felt.
This is all to say that it has been a long time since Dean has celebrated a normal Christmas. John Winchester hadn't exactly been father of the year, let alone Father Christmas. It didn't help matters that the holiday occurred in the month following the anniversary of Mary's death. Dean had sought to make Christmases okay for Sammy when they were kids. That had usually involved shoplifting presents and alternatively trying to cover for John's absence or make sure to run interference if John was in a mood or drunk. Some years, he was more successful than others. Christmas got harder as Sam got older and he and John grew further apart. It was different too, once Dean and Sam started to join their dad on hunts. It wasn't like they were religious or anything and anyway, when you've got demons and monsters and literal hell to deal with every fucking day, sometimes this shit just falls off your list of priorities. Dean thinks that maybe Sam celebrated Christmas with his friends at Stanford, maybe even with Jess and her family—Dean spent those years getting smashed if he paid attention to the date at all—but he doesn't ever ask about that, because he's not sure that he wants to know, and Jess is a painful subject for Sam, even after all this time, and probably always will be.
This year though, this year it's different. The apocalypse that wasn't is over. Hunting is done. The Winchesters have effectively retired from the supernatural. Cas is human now. Dean and Sam are civilians. No, really. It sounds like the punch line to some fantastical joke, but it's not, even if Dean keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop. They've got jobs, a house, a freakin mortgage; there is a sense of stability that hasn't been the case in a long fucking time. It's a bit overwhelming to be honest.
They're each adjusting in their own way. All of them still have nightmares. Old habits—like salting windows and doors, keeping knives ready to hand, and putting devils traps under the welcome mat—are hard to break. Staying in one place for more than a week and using their real names when they introduce themselves to people…it's fucking weird and unsettling. Dean honestly spent the first month feeling this bizarre internal tug-of-war, where he was simultaneously happy to be in one place and certain that he was going to go stir crazy. There was this constant itch to get in the Impala and just drive, combined with a weird sort of panic that this new life was going to go up in flames just as quickly as the old one had and with just as little warning. If it weren't for Sam and Cas keeping him grounded, he's not sure what he would have done, but then, he's increasingly getting the feeling that he's holding them together just as much.
It's getting better slowly, incrementally. The Winchesters have to adjust to civilian life, but Cas, well Cas has to adjust to being an entirely different species…and, well, it's not always been what you'd call easy going. Dean winces when he remembers the first few months. Cas is learning to be human a little more every day. He smiles more than he used to. Sam seems lighter, like some enormous burden has been lifted from his shoulders. Dean feels a warm sort of feeling in his chest when sees the former angel explain something to Sam and Sam smile free and easy in response at the joke. He thinks that sensation in his chest might be contentment, but it's been such a long time since he's felt that, and it's such an unfamiliar sensation, that it's hard to be sure. He doesn't want to examine it too closely in case that will make it all disappear. So I'm being cautious, so sue me, he observes to himself, then shakes his head.
There's a definite sense of gratitude in him when Cas eases against him on the sofa one night in early December. This intimacy, this touching, it's brand new and it sends a thrill through Dean every time.
On this particular evening, about a week past Thanksgiving, they're all seated in the living room. It's movie night, a weekly ritual that Sam and Dean have instituted in order to initiate Cas into the finer points of pop culture. They alternatively choose films that are, as Sam says, "integral to his adaptation." Dean takes offense at the phrasing, "dude, you're makin' the guy sound like a fucking experiment." Sam directs an extremely judgmental expression at his brother: it's almost but not quite a bitch face, but nevertheless insinuates that Dean has entirely missed the point.
Regardless, they've agreed that giving Cas a working knowledge of pop culture references might make his life a little bit easier, and Dean is completely in favor of anything that's going to make Cas' path run more smoothly. So every week they offer Cas choices and they're slowly working their way through a wide array of films that Sam and Dean consider essential. Tonight, it's The Godfather, which was important enough to warrant an endorsement by both Winchesters. Sam orders pizzas for dinner because they've finally run out of leftovers. There's a vegetarian for Sam and a meat lovers for Dean (and, yeah, Sam made a joke about that, the kid's not a saint), and Cas is taking slices from both pies (carefully removing mushrooms from one and ham from the other).
Aside from dissecting his dinner with medical exactitude, the former angel is almost laser focused on the film. The comments that he makes indicate that he has an innate understanding of the mafia based almost solely on his experiences with heaven's upper-management, which Dean finds extremely disturbing, if not all that surprising. He's got his arm around Cas' shoulders and Cas has drawn his knees into his chest, leaning closer to Dean now that they've all finished eating. Sam looks on with an expression of complete benevolence and pride, as if he had personally organized for this arrangement and was fully responsible for their position. Dean can read Sam's face like a book and his baby brother clearly thinks that they're the most adorable thing that he's ever seen (although, if they started making out, Dean's pretty sure Sam's face would turn instantaneously to "ugh, dude, I am sitting right here, go to your room or something," and he smirks at the thought). Watching Sam watching the two of them, Dean has the strangest sense that he's living in some bizarre post-apocalyptic version of The Parent Trap (which is not going on Cas' must watch movie list, no matter what Sam thinks), and he finds himself unbelievably thankful that Sam doesn't have a twin. One's enough.
"So," Dean begins. Cas startles slightly and slowly moves his gaze from where Sonny is beating the living shit out of Connie's husband. Sam was already staring at them, so it's just a matter of pretending that he wasn't and turning his expression from doting uncle to something more serious. Dean clears his throat, "so when are we gonna get the tree?"
Cas tilts his head, in a good approximation of a curious puppy, brow furrowing quizzically. Sam blinks slowly, looking as if he can't quite believe his ears. And, okay, maybe that's a little bit justified, given the massive guilt trip that had been required to secure Thanksgiving (which, fyi, included what Dean considers an illegal and completely contrived strategic placement of Castiel, though, given the outcome, which includes Cas all up in Dean's personal space in all of the best possible ways, he's not really going to complain too much about Sam's tactics…). After all—Dean ruffles Cas' untidy hair, which doesn't dispel the former-angel's concentrated expression, as if he's trying to translate human into something he can understand—he figures that he owes Sam. The younger Winchester seems to be gung-ho about the whole, normal family = family holidays and traditions, and, hey, if that's what'll make him happy, Dean's on board. He can bend a little bit.
The silence seems to be getting to Cas, who has been waiting patiently for some sort of explanation, "I don't understand," he admits.
Sam meanwhile counters Dean with a "Dude, are you serious?"
"Yep," Dean offers, smiling, "c'mon, it'll be great."
"What are you implying?" Cas asks. He still looks confused, and Dean chuckles a little.
"He means we're gonna get a Christmas tree, Castiel," Sam supplies, and Cas swivels to look at the younger Winchester.
"But you said that—" Cas begins almost accusingly. Sam shakes his head sharply, but he's still beaming. Dean narrows his eyes and he figures that he can get to the bottom of that later. Right now, he uses his fingers to guide Cas' chin back towards him.
"D'you want a Christmas?" he asks, and he's not going to lie, he's a little bit nervous about the question. "I mean, I'm not what you'd call an expert, but we can ya know, do the whole thing with the lights and the tree and whatever—it's probably not gonna be like Christmas with the Crosby's but, I think we can avoid doing a Chevy Chase," Sam laughs appreciatively. But Dean is still focused almost entirely on Cas. He does that thing where he brushes something off like it's not a big deal when really it is. Disappointment is easier when you brace yourself for it. He glances away and back from beneath his lashes. Cas, who angel mojo or not, still looks at Dean like he can see straight into his soul, contemplates his proposal seriously.
"I don't understand those references," he says slowly, "but I think that I would like 'a Christmas.'" Dean can hear the quotes as clearly as if he'd seen Cas draw them in the air with his fingers. He means a human Christmas as opposed to a heavenly one. Because Cas has literally celebrated every single Christmas ever as an angel, but this will be his first with Sam and Dean. So it's not like there's any pressure or anything. Dean swallows audibly.
"We'll put those movies on the list," Sam says. He sounds like he's about five, or, more accurately, what he would have sounded like as a five year old if he'd had anything approximating an actual childhood with a mom and his own red-fire truck under the tree. He's almost joyful, which, wow, it's about the polar opposite of his reaction the last time that Dean suggested that they do this (again, that's fair given the circumstances). Dean can see the wheels turning in Sam's head. The kid is planning it all from now, he's got a mental list of every holiday movie that Cas needs to see and all the trappings of the season and…it's making Dean's head spin a little. He focuses once again on Cas, who looks incredibly solemn.
"You okay?" he asks, gruff and concerned, while Sam goes into the kitchen, presumably to call and invite Bobby.
Cas looks a bit unsure, and Dean wishes that they'd chosen a lighter film for tonight's viewing pleasure. "I believe so," Cas replies though he's still frowning.
"Well, cheer up," Dean tells him (he wishes it were that easy). He leans closer and kisses Cas gently, "Sam's gonna turn this place into Santa's freakin village and we're gonna be together. Maybe there'll even be snow." He brushes his fingers against Cas' jaw, almost believing himself, and trying to convey that, as long as Cas is here, and Sam is here, and they're both happy, that's all Dean needs for a Merry Christmas. He thinks Cas gets it because his furrowed brow softens slightly and he leans into Dean's touch. There is the beginning of a smile on his lips.
"Is snow so important?"
Dean grins, "You bet." He's not positive, but he'd lay money on the fact that it wasn't snowing in Bethlehem on the first Christmas. Hell, according to Sammy, Jesus wasn't even born in December, so, you know, angel logic might be relevant.
"There are like seven songs about it," Sam validates as he comes back into the room, confirming that Bobby is going to drive out on the twenty-fourth.
Cas, meanwhile, breathes heavily and leans his head against Dean's shoulder. His sigh is eloquent: more things to learn; picking up the nuances of humanity as an active participant is a complicated and tiring process. Dean gently runs his hand along Cas' shoulders. He is pretty sure that he and Sam might not be the most qualified to teach him about this particular aspect of the human experience. Hell, they're at least half as clueless, but they can figure it out together. He and Sam share determined gazes.
If they're gonna do this, they're gonna do it right. Sam busts out his laptop; Dean makes some coffee; and Cas puts on his game face, like he's going to smite the fuck out of human traditions. In short, Team Free Will is approaching the Christmas holiday like a particularly nasty triple murder perpetrated by vampires. They start building a list. Things that are a part of the holiday that they want to include, things there's no way in hell that they're doing ever. They haggle over some items, but some things are unanimously agreed upon. Cas offers esoteric facts about the origins of certain pagan rituals associated with midwinter, and some truly fucked up histories of Christian celebrations and brutalization over the centuries. He confirms Sam's belief that 25 December is not Jesus' actual date of birth. He was born in the Spring according to Cas. Sam gives Dean a satisfied smirk until his brother reminds him "you said he was born in the fall, bitch," and he expression becomes a glare. It takes them about two hours, but in the end there is a piece of paper—scribbled on in three sets of hand-writing, crumpled from where Dean and Sam tried to rip it out of the others' hands; some things have been crossed off and rephrased, and negotiated, but they've reached a general consensus—and Sam pins the finished product to the fridge in a place of honor. He's got a proud look on his face, like he's hanging his preschooler's first finger painting, and Dean has a momentary realization that that might actually be something that Sam has waiting for him in his future: marriage and kids and the whole white-picket fence thing. It floors him for a second, before Cas takes his hand and squeezes gently, and Dean realizes that he himself is almost halfway there. It's kind of terrifying and kind of awesome at the same time. Sam smiles again at the two of them. Dean nods, Christmas is coming.
Hi and thanks for reading! Godstiel help me, but I've written a holiday fic (again). I hope that you're enjoying this so far. I've got four chapters of this story written and will be posting them on a regular basis between now and Christmas. Comments and feedback would be really helpful and sincerely appreciated.
This story takes place after Season 5, but is pretty much AU from there. I have a lot of headcanon's re: Cas falling, and will probably write a fic about the months between his fall and this story, in the meantime if something doesn't make sense, please, let me know.