Happy Holidays to all my regular readers and any new readers who might be stopping by. This is my small gift to you. Thanks for all the support over the years, it truly has gotten me to this point as a writer.

Herein I offer many flavors of Dean as I take him on a wondrous journey from that happy and blessed child we saw in the pilot, through a period of unrest and angst as he laments the losses in his life, until we ultimately give him his own Merry Christmas with Dad, Sam and Bobby.

I also gift you a smidge of sick Dean being cared for and comforted by his family, which is always a good thing, right? I love seeing his family bestow all the concern on him that he so readily offers others.

Yes, this is a feel-good Christmas story and I hope you enjoy. Some might call it crack!fiction, but considering the fantastical elements in the Winchesters' reality…I don't really consider anything beyond the realm of possibility in their universe!

Thanks for reading and may you have a joyous holiday season!

B.J.

xxx

Live for today, for yesterday is gone and tomorrow may not come.

Mary's Little Boy Child

December 24, 1982

"But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight." Mary gently closed the book and looked down at her young son close by her side, snuggled down deep in his bedding. At this late hour she expected his sweet green eyes to be hooded in sleep, instead she softly laughed as she was greeted by a wide-awake, exuberant smile from her three-year-old. Sorry, honey, almost four-year-old.

"Mommy, will Santa come tonight?"

"Have you been a good little boy, my sunshine?"

"Uh-huh."

Mary leaned over and kissed Dean on the top of his head, gently threading one hand through his silky blond hair, while the other softly caressed his face. "Yes, you have. You are my sweet child." She shifted closer, softly whispering in his ear, "Go to sleep, Love, and when you wake up Santa will have brought all your presents".

"Hey, Dude."

"Daddy!" Dean squealed in delight at the gravely but warm voice.

"You better get some shut-eye. Tomorrow's the big day." John was standing in the doorway to his son's bedroom contentedly watching the most important people in his life share this special moment. His face was beaming with pride, with the knowledge of how truly blessed he was. His only thought was to wonder how he could have possibly deserved such a perfect life.

"Daddy, Mommy says Santa's going to bring all the presents I wished for."

"That's right, my man, 'cause you are the bestest little boy in the whole, wide world."

Dean's small voice was filled with wonder and glee. "I am?"

John marveled at the vision before him. Dean was the perfect child, all he could ever hope for in a son, full of life and beauty and everything that was good in this world. Every time John thought about his son his heart swelled ten times its normal size, filled with deep, overwhelming pride and all the hopes and dreams he knew Dean would one day fulfill. Sometimes when he got to feeling like this he wanted to set off a rocket to the moon, to the vast expanse of the universe just to proclaim for all the celestial beings that life was good. He wanted every being God had ever created to know that John Winchester was truly blessed and he could never ask for more than what he already had. So for this Christmas his only holiday wish was for his family to be together and healthy because he knew if he had that then he truly did own the world.

As impossible as it might seem, Dean got even more enthusiastic, turning to his mom and exclaiming, "Mommy, Daddy says I'm the bestest little boy in the whole, wide world!"

Mary's smile was radiant, her joy reflecting all the warmth a mother's love could bestow through soft and gentle eyes. "Yes, you are." She stood up and embraced her husband, snuggling against his side and capturing his eyes as they shared this special time. "You know your daddy is never wrong."

John returned the warm gaze, his smile broadening, threatening to explode off his face before he turned his focus back to their little boy, not wanting the moment to end but knowing tomorrow would be another perfect day with his family, Christmas Day promising even more excitement for their beautiful son. "How about that sleep now, Kiddo? Morning's gonna be coming pretty quick. You wanna be awake for the big day now, don't you?"

"Yes, Daddy!" Dean moved to scrunch down deeper in his bedding, still smiling, beaming with the glow of a child emerging into his own light, becoming his own little amazing person. The evidence of God's grace; the proof of all their love. "Will my bestest present be under the tree?"

John grinned, wondering if it was the bicycle or the GI Joe action set. "And what would that be, Sport?"

"My baby brother!" he exclaimed, eyes wide with glee, his lips turned up in a brilliant smile.

Mary and John shared a hug as they gazed down on their little boy child, his tender eyes so expressive, his smile luminous, his little hands tightly holding his sheet up under his chin. "I'm afraid you're going to have to wait for that one, Dude. You know that's still a ways off. We told you, the baby isn't due 'til May. You remember how many months that is?"

"A long time," Dean dejectedly replied, his eyes cast down to his bedding now, his joy seemingly lost. "I thought Santa was magic and he'd bring him early. That's what I asked for."

"You did, huh?" John smiled. His eyes met Mary's and she mirrored his joy as they shared this magical moment with their son.

Mary sat down on the edge of Dean's bed again, gently rubbing small circles on his chest with one hand while the other rested on the bulge of her stomach. She smiled when she felt a strong kick. She took her son's hand and laid it over the spot. "There, honey, you feel that? That's your baby brother saying 'Hello'."

Dean's eyes grew wide and he sat up to better reach his brother. He spoke directly over the spot. "Sammy, you in there?" He was greeted by another slight kick. "Mommy, he answered me!" he squealed. He gazed up at his mom's face with a wondrous smile, tiny dimples just beginning to form over his sweet lips.

Mary softly stroked his face and cupped her hand under his chin. "You are going to be the best big brother. I know you'll always take care of Sammy." Dean simply smiled in response, embraced by the love surrounding him. Her voice was soft and sweet as she continued, "The time will fly by. He'll be here before you know it." She continued stroking him, soft touches and gentle words soothing him, comforting promises drifting over him in a cocoon of safety. "Next Christmas will be the best ever. We'll all be together then with your baby brother too."

"You promise?"

"I promise."

Dean leaned over his mother's stomach softly rubbing the spot as he whispered, "You have to wait, little brother. Next Christmas, Dude."

Dean burrowed back into his bedding but his eyes lit up with passion as he gazed up at his parents and he started to excitedly rattle on about his baby brother and how much he was going to love him, and then the lizard he found in the yard that day and how you should never kill any living thing 'cause "Don't they all deserve to live?", and then back again to his brother and how he was going to be the bestest big brother ever, ending with, "And you know what I'm going to show him?"

"What, Dude?"

"EVERYTHING!"

xxx

December 24, 2002

The motel room was dark and dreary, cold and impersonal, and it felt right, perfect to fit his mood. Dean sat pressed against the hard wooden headboard, a pillow shoved behind the small of his back to make it bearable. His finger was on the remote, constantly flipping channels, trying to find something watchable. Something that didn't have stupid songs about chestnuts or reindeer or mean old Grinches who suddenly find enlightenment and become adorable happy Grinches. Or Norman Rockwell pictorials of happy children frolicking in the snow making snowmen or snow angels, or picture perfect towns with freaking Christmas lights strung up all over creation or…on and on, the list endless.

If people wanted to celebrate Christmas they'd be out celebrating it, dammit! If they're not, then they're in crummy motel rooms looking for something on the boob tube that won't remind them of Christmas and what they don't have. Hell, between George Bailey and Ralphie there ain't no escape. And do not get me started on Whoville!

His dad and brother had gone across the street to the diner for breakfast leaving him on his own to wallow in his misery. He'd faked a stomachache and major headache, saying he just needed to catch some extra sleep, never one to reveal his true feelings. The pain of that long ago Christmas again fresh and real, heavy in his thoughts, only trumped by the realization that this Christmas was going to mimic it.

He knew this would be the last Christmas with Sammy, he fucking knew it. Sam hadn't said anything, but Dean could see the proverbial writing on the wall. The letters bold and striking, big enough to see from a freaking airplane flying overhead at twenty thousand feet. Every step Sam took his entire life leading him away from his family and pointing him down that long and winding road towards normal. Once he graduated, being of legal age and able to at last abandon the life he hated, he'd leave them behind quicker than a banshee eluding a hobbled hunter. I know it as sure as I know evil exists…and believe me, I know evil exists.

At least this time I know what's to come. I know Sammy won't be here next Christmas…not like Mom. Mom promised to be there, said we'd all be together. I guess fate intends to keep whittling down the Winchesters until we're all gone… Yeah, that figures…and then there were none.

A loud knock sounded at the door and Dean swore. Goddammit! The Do Not Disturb sign was plainly hanging on the doorknob so it could only be his family, locked out without their key, which was still lying on the table by the door. He cursed their carelessness and tossed the remote down on the bed, shuffling to the door in his stocking feet. Throwing open the door he was met by a gust of frigid air, the short hairs on the back of his neck on alert as he stared out at an empty parking lot, the black Impala the only resident, standing as a stark reminder amid the snow drifts that everyone else had someplace better to be. He glanced to both sides looking for anyone or anything to explain the phantom knock. Nothing. He quickly cast his eyes down to the salt line at his feet, still solid and undisturbed. A cold chill ran up his spine and his shoulders shuddered in response. That's just freaking weird.

The TV behind him suddenly changed channels on its own, finding that damn movie that ran constant throughout the day. Dean quickly closed and bolted the door, returning to stare at the screen displaying the despised excuse for a feel-good Christmas movie.

That's what I was sent down for. I'm your guardian angel.

I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Ridiculous of you to think of killing yourself for money – Eight thousand dollars.

Yeah, thing's like that. How do you know that?

I told you. I'm your guardian angel. I know everything about you.

Well, you look about like the kind of an angel I'd get… sort of a fallen angel, aren't ya? What happened to your wings?

I haven't won my wings yet. That's why I'm an angel second class!

Dean muttered under his breath, Clarence and his stupid movie were grating on his nerves, bringing into sharper focus everything that was wrong in his life.

Yeah, right! Sure, it's a wonderful life…maybe in Hollyweird where the sonsuvbitches don't have a clue about the real world. There's no such thing as angels and if there were, they sure as hell wouldn't look like that freak Clarence. Any angels come visiting me, they damn well better be pretty!

With a huff he flung himself back onto the bed and grabbed the remote, pushing the buttons in search of another option. As the channels flipped, the TV momentarily paused before each channel continued playing the same damn movie, in sync with every other channel, the soundtrack echoing like a record skipping with a slight pause before resuming the same ridiculous dialogue. This is freaking unbelievable. No way!

In disgust he hit the off button and with satisfaction watched the screen fade to black. He then reached to turn on the clock/radio on the nightstand hoping for some Zeppelin or Ozzy, but before he could turn the knob the TV roared back to life, George Bailey and Clarence discussing the merits of every man's life.

Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?

I've heard of things like this. You've got me under some kind of a spell or something. Well, I'm gonna get out of it. I'll get out of it. And I know how too…

Dean slowly rose from the bed; warily glancing about the room looking for signs, knowing something supernatural was at work here, suddenly feeling a presence observing him. The room appeared as drab and uniform as it had when they first checked in, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing misplaced. Checking behind him one more time he reached under his pillow and retrieved his silver bowie knife, his hand wrapped tight around the hilt as he maneuvered to his duffel bag lying undisturbed on the floor by the door.

He unzipped the bag and pulled a shotgun from the top, snapping it open to insure rock salt shells were loaded into both barrels. With the shotgun balanced on his knees he rifled through his clothing before finding his Colt 1911 buried at the bottom of the bag. He slipped the clip out to confirm silver bullets were loaded before tapping the clip against the pearl grip and deftly sliding it back into place with a comforting click. He pulled back the slide to load a bullet into the chamber and placed the handgun in the waistband of his jeans before proceeding to the bathroom, the shotgun leading the way as he checked it out, finding it clear too.

With the room apparently empty he settled onto the bed again, his back firm against the hard headboard and waited. All his senses were on alert, sensitive to the presence but unable to identify it. Make your move, sucker. Let's get it on.

The damn soundtrack of that movie was playing low in the background, but he ignored it; he had greater concerns now. He glanced at the clock, barely eight o'clock, no more than forty minutes since his dad and Sam had left for breakfast. Time seemed to still and silently wait, taunting him. His unsettled mind continued to replay that earlier Christmas, the memories assaulting him with long-buried feelings of a forgotten time. Safe, loved, protected…totally happy. Far removed from the feelings of the following year, and every year since. He'd possessed a child's innocence then…sheltered and blissfully unaware of all the horror true evil imposed on the world, ignorant of all the pain silently lying in wait, ready to rip his perfect world to shreds.

He mentally slapped himself, now was not the time to be strolling down memory lane, and he sure as hell didn't want to tread there. He was being stalked by something, something evil and deadly. He quietly sat, waiting, but nothing happened. The ominous room, still and serene now, trying to lull him into a false sense of security, convince him he was safe; but Dean Winchester was skilled as a hunter and knew better. He knew evil was looking to take him, could feel it breathing in the shadows, silently watching, stealthy and patient. What the hell you waiting for, you freak?

His answer was another loud knock at the door. "Can't you get a little more creative here, Bitch?" he snarled across the empty room. Quiet continued to fill the space, a mysterious weight now pressing heavy across his chest as his gut clenched. No surprise it didn't respond. What's wrong, Freak? Shy?

The door started violently shaking, reverberating from the insistent pounding coming from the other side. "Dean, wake up, we left our key. Come on, man. It's freezing out here."

Yeah, so you can mimic voices, huh? Neat trick!

Cocking the shotgun he pointed it at the center of the door, waiting. He heard the distinctive voice of his dad now in addition to his brother. Soon a third voice joined in, speaking Spanish with Sammy, a female voice. Sounds like housekeeping. Yeah, right!

It was only a few more minutes before he heard the turn of the key and the door slowly pushed open. His family entered the room, stepping over the protection line and staring in shock at him sitting on the bed, the shotgun poised to fire while his Colt and knife were laid out close beside him.

"Dean, what the hell is going on?" John barked.

Fixed steely eyes glared back at him, the shotgun pointed squarely at his chest, his son's finger resting on the trigger. "Cristo," Dean muttered, garnering startled looks of disbelief from his family.

"What the hell, Dean?" they spoke in unison.

With no supernatural response to the Latin word, Dean could only assume they were who they appeared to be and lowered the shotgun to again rest across his lap. "Something's in here," he tersely replied.

Immediately his family moved in military maneuvers to secure the room, John reaching into the waistband of his jeans to retrieve his handgun while Sam ransacked their bags drawing out additional weaponry. Sam slid out the EMF detector and turned it on to a disquieting silence.

John's heightened senses were taking in the calm of the room, a stark contrast to the alarm in his son's eyes and the ragged tone of his voice, tense and on edge. Something wasn't right, the scene looked normal but it felt off. John shuddered, the weariness from years of hunting settling in his gut like a lead brick, past experience nagging him, alerting him to danger. Something's not right…not right with Dean. "Dean, how do you know? What'd you see?"

"Nothin'. I just know."

Dean sat rigid on the bed, not a muscle twitching while his family checked out the rest of the room, both drawing the same conclusion, there was nothing there. They turned back to Dean still frozen in place, his face a stark mask revealing nothing, only the rapid movement of his eyes indicating a faint glimmer of fear. John's concern for his son was spiraling downward, down toward the depths of this-is-just-so-fucking-wrong. Dean just looked…wrong.

John ran his palm down his face in exasperation before exchanging concerned looks with Sam. His younger son seemed puzzled by this turn of events and for once was intently watching his dad, waiting for clues on what it could possibly mean and how to proceed. John walked over to his older son and placed his palm against his forehead. "You're too hot, Dean. Sam, get the thermometer." Dean was pale and his skin was clammy. His eyes now vacant and dim, fixated on something his family couldn't see as their gaze followed his off into the distance revealing nothing but thin air.

"I'm not sick, I feel fine," Dean replied with revulsion, refusing to budge from his position, still observing the TV before him playing that damn movie, the bane of his existence. "If I'm just sick then explain why the hell the TV has George Bailey on every channel…in sync," he sneered.

With a hesitant glance towards his dad, Sam picked up the remote and started flicking channels as diverse images flashed across the screen: a George Foreman infomercial, Jerry Springer with obnoxious, loud losers posturing for the cameras, then Oprah with Dr. Phil and a screwed up family bitching about their tough life, before Ralphie at last appeared at the top of the stairs wearing those ridiculous pink bunny pajamas.

Dean blinked as he watched the screen change, his eyes now glued to the TV. I'm sure of what I saw…I'm sure.

Reacting to his dad's insistent prodding, he reluctantly opened his mouth for the intrusion of the thermometer knowing that was the only way to prove he wasn't impaired, that he wasn't sick. It was all a lie, guys. I just told you I felt sick to get you the hell away from me and leave me alone.

The frantic tone of John's voice sounded almost like panic, except John Winchester doesn't panic, ever. "God, Dean, you're burning up. Sammy, let's get him in the shower, we need to get him cooled off now."

Dean hated being manhandled. Where's my pretty nurse? Suddenly his mind grew fuzzy, his thoughts unclear like someone had stuffed his head full of cotton and then soaked it down with a fizzy drink. He found himself stumbling, pulled along between his brother and his dad. They maneuvered him into the small bathroom and shoved him under the spray of the water, leaving on his t-shirt and jeans in their haste. The spray felt good running down his face and chest, cool and refreshing. He opened his mouth and let the cool water drizzle down his throat, never realizing how parched he was. He staggered like a drunk, probably would have ended up on the floor of the tub if Sam hadn't twisted him around and latched onto his side.

"This isn't working," John yelled. "We need to cool him down faster. Sam, bags of ice, now."

Sam startled at the urgency in his dad's voice, the worry on his face painfully clear. He handed Dean over to him and raced from the motel room, the keys to the Impala clenched in his fist. They'd passed a convenience store a mile up the road when they checked in and he'd noticed the large icebox sitting out on the front sidewalk.

John eased his son down until he was sitting in the tub, ripping the clinging shower curtain from its hooks and tossing it outside the door of the bathroom. The water from the shower was soon flooding the bathroom, drenching John in the cool spray that splashed off of Dean's slumped form.

"Dean, hey, buddy, you with me?"

Dean gazed up at his dad in silence, his eyes unfocused and murky, so very distant.

John shouted louder, trying to get a response from his son, "DEAN, ANSWER ME!"

Dean always follows orders. Son, please answer me.

Dean's eyes flashed, momentarily clearer, but looking so young, so innocent. A soft, childlike voice responded, sending a chill down John's spine. "Daddy, is Santa going to bring my bestest present?" his son babbled.

John froze, the echo from long ago tugging at his heart. His hand instinctively reached for his son's face, gently stroking the overheated skin. Dean was almost purring from the touch, leaning into it like a love-starved alley cat desperate for human contact. "Hang in there, Dude. You hang in there."

Sam must have floored the Impala because he was back in a flash, carrying three bags of ice in each hand as he stormed through the bathroom door. John turned off the water and placed the plug in the tub and they poured the ice cubes over Dean. Then he turned on the water from the tub faucet, turned all the way to cold. As the tub filled Dean sank deeper into the icy water. John again tenderly caressed his son's face as he held his head above water, his own feelings sinking.

"Dean, you with me, son?"

"Hmmm?" Dean murmured, lost in a peaceful place, far from the concerns of this life.

"Dean? How do you feel?"

"Feels good…sleepy," he sighed. His eyes closed and he looked serene…blissful and content.

Panic exploded through Sam's voice as he demanded answers. "Dad, how could this happen? He was alright just an hour ago."

"I don't know," John yelled, frantic from the sudden onset of Dean's illness, unsure if it was a nasty bug or some supernatural event. It didn't make sense. It was all spinning out of control, too fast, too strange, and much, much too desperate. John Winchester was scared, and he didn't need his son badgering him with questions when there were no ready answers.

"How long do we keep him in there?" Sam continued, earnestly looking to his dad for guidance, hoping the seasoned hunter knew the right course of action. Under difficult circumstances, with no one else to turn to, at last trusting in his dad.

"Not long. Get the thermometer, let's see what we got."

John was going on instinct, hope and sheer stubbornness driving him forward. Whatever this bitch was, it wasn't going to claim his son. He wasn't going to lose another piece of his family. His mind couldn't even contemplate the concept, having spent too much time over the years since Mary's death in rage and denial, his heart locked down tight. He left Dean in the cold water for twenty minutes, until his pale skin took on a bluish cast and his teeth started chattering. His temperature miraculously dropping six degrees, still in the fever range, but at least below the brain damage or death point. They raised him up and toweled him off, peeling off his sopping wet clothes before dressing him in a clean pair of boxers and a fresh t-shirt and nestling him back in the billowy comfort of his bedding. Suddenly he looked small and childlike, so unlike the bold, fierce hunter he was just the day before.

And so the vigil began.

xxx

Dean had been lying deathly still in the bed for only a few minutes before he shifted in his sleep, muttering incoherent noises before again falling silent. His eyes fluttering behind closed lids as his mind drifted elsewhere, off to a distant time and place far removed from the grind of daily life. His family cut off, worlds away from where he now roamed, left behind to worry and wait.

Time passed slowly as the Winchesters kept watch over one of their own, desperate to ward off the death grip of whatever was pulling Dean into the depths.

Whenever too much time passed with no movement or sounds from his brother, Sam rose to check that he was still breathing, placing his hand on Dean's chest to feel it barely rising, the rhythmic beat of his heart light but constant. Concern for his brother made his gut twist as he fought the urge to panic, struggling against the overwhelming fear that they were losing Dean to an unknown entity.

Gently brushing back the short stray hairs now plastered in sweat to Dean's forehead, Sam leaned in next to his ear and whispered a soft plea to please wake up, before again returning to his post in the chair pulled up at the side of the bed. When the panic threatened to overcome him he would hold his brother's still hand, gently caressing the cool, pale skin; knowing if anything could stir Dean from his unconscious state it would be the chance to rescue his hand from such a tender embrace.

John sat at the small table by the window, scouring his journal for clues and then phoning every contact in search of answers, finally resigning himself to the harsh truth: there was no pattern that fit his son's symptoms and their only option was to wait for Dean to wake up. If he wakes up… Oh, he's going to wake up; I am not going to lose my son. Dean will wake up!

xxx

"Dean… time to wake up."

Dean tried to ignore the persistent voice, happy to be lost deep in peaceful rest far from the reality of his life. All the worries his life brought cast aside as he drifted blissfully unaware of anything or anyone. The pain of his hunting life gone, vanishing like the mist rising up on a cool summer morning, replaced by the gentle lull of tranquil sleep.

"Go away…let me be."

"No can do, Dean. We need to talk."

"No. I said go away." Dean rolled in his sleep, turning away from the voice, seeking out oblivion.

"You are a stubborn one. I guess you need some persuasion."

Dean shifted farther from the deep, obnoxious and male voice, sinking back into blissful slumber.

A soft, feminine voice filtered through the fog of his mind, sexy and appealing, offering special favors. Dean cracked one eye open seeking out the beautiful vision that simply had to be behind that voice. Her tone was soothing and inviting, just what a young man wanted…needed on a cold and dreary Christmas Eve. Honey, I'm home!

"Where are you, sweetheart?" he pleaded; sleep suddenly not as important in the grand scheme of things. He now had a more enticing option.

"Dean, wake up."

"Oh, darlin', I'm awake." His raspy voice was steeped in desire, a new passion driving him onward. "Where are you?"

He first felt a tender touch to his cheek and then a soft brush of lips against his forehead. A little lower and we might be in business.

He slowly opened his eyes to a vision of perfection…an angel if ever one existed. She was beautiful, shimmering in a glowing ethereal light, her long blond locks blowing back from her face like a model's in a wind machine, her lips full and lush, offering up the promise of so much pleasure. He leaned in and claimed them in a soft, gentle, romantic kiss. In response her hands caressed the sides of his face with a softness he barely remembered, a tenderness that had been so long lost.

"I'm dreaming, aren't I?" he ventured.

"Perhaps."

Hell of a dream, but I'm game. "So if you're a dream, you'll do anything?" His lips turned up in a sweet, fanciful smile, his mind vividly picturing his desires. "I mean, you're here to fulfill my fantasies?"

"Slow down, cowboy. We need to talk." She gently placed her hand against his chest to hold him back, his heart beating strong and steady beneath her fingers, yearning for more contact as he pressed forward.

"Talk? You have got to be kidding me," he incredulously responded.

"Sorry, Dean. We don't have much time and we need to resolve a few things."

"I'll tell you what we need to resolve. You see this?" His eyes cast downwards and he smirked. "That's what we need to resolve. Anything else will just have to wait."

She smiled sweetly, finding his bold advances endearing. His handsome, eager face so appealing, but there wasn't time for thatNo, she was on a mission and like him, her job always came first.

"Sorry, Dean." She leaned over and tenderly kissed him again, softly sighing in regret as she released his lush lips. "We have more pressing concerns."

"Oh, man!" he groused. He pushed up higher on the bed, throwing his arm behind his head and scrunching down on top of his pillow to support him. He stared up at her with a smug grin. "So, what exactly do we have to talk about?"

"Shall we start with counting your blessings?"

His happy, content gaze quickly morphed into one of disgust, a pout forming on those full lips. "Blessings? You must have the wrong family. We're cursed, or haven't you noticed? Nothing good ever happens to this family."

"I thought Sammy was good?"

Dean was speechless, which hardly ever happens, not with his silver tongue and confident air. "Well…yeah…of course, Sam is good." Hell, Sammy's the best part of this family.

"So you do have blessings to count then, don't you?"

Dean's expression was stark and sullen, his eyes exposing a lingering pain in spite of his best effort to corral his emotions. "Look, I'm not really into the whole touchy-feely chick-flick stuff, all right?"

"Yes, I know…, you're a big.. strong.. man.."

Dean's face filled with contempt, distaste for this conversation taking him places he didn't need to go, places he was loathe to revisit. This isn't exactly what I had in mind. There are more pleasant issues I could be discussing with a pretty girl sitting by my bed…like maybe getting her in my bed. "Look, we have a job to do and we do it. End of story. I don't need anyone getting inside my head."

"It is pretty scary in there."

He smugly laughed. "See, told ya."

A serious look descended on her face as she looked deep within his eyes, into his very soul, probing those dark places where his hidden secrets lie buried within long-denied pain. Dean nervously avoided her gaze, not wanting her to see, never before baring his secrets and not willing to start now. She was resolute in her intent and he knew then she wasn't going to put up with any of his crap. Dammit, why can't she just back off? I am not up for this now. Not now.

"Dean, you need to face your feelings. You can't keep stuffing them down. Face them and they can't hurt you."

"Yeah, right," he grumbled, trying hard to hold on to his cocky attitude. His fragile façade was threatening to slip from his grasp leaving him cold and unprotected, open to all the pain lying in wait to claim him. "Thanks, but I'll pass on the Dr. Phil guest spot."

"I knew you wouldn't make this easy."

Dean leered at her, arching his eyebrows suggestively while his dimples deepened. Maybe we can get back on track. "Sweetheart, easy is my middle name."

His eyes were hopeful, desperate to steer this conversation toward a subject he was comfortable with, an area of expertise he could control and relish, but she too was relentless. She painfully ignored him, her thoughts elsewhere, on the job and the best means to accomplish it. She sat thoughtfully considering her options before smiling in triumph. "You need to visit someone."

"Yeah? Who'd that be?"

"An old friend. Someone you haven't seen in awhile."

"Well, that narrows it down. Not too many of those still hanging around," he scoffed. Almost immediately he regretted speaking, revealing too much in that off-hand comment. Her eyes showed such deep concern Dean wanted to run away, unable to bear another's sympathy. That was one of the many reasons he kept his distance, never allowing anyone to get too close. He knew his life was fucked up, knew he was damaged goods, but if everyone around him only saw the front he projected then he could keep his secrets and silent shame. He hated being the recipient of pity and face it, my life screams 'pity me'.

She laid her hand against the side of his face and gently turned his eyes back toward her, trying to offer him support without crossing over that invisible line she knew he'd drawn in the sand, the line that kept his thoughts and hurts private. "I know, Dean, and it's too bad you don't have more friends, but you need to treasure who you do have in your life."

Anguish twisted his features, his eyes misting over with unshed tears while his lips pursed before giving way to an involuntary gasp. The truth was that's all he did treasure, the few people he did have in his life. Sammy and Dad mainly, but he had a few others he trusted, like Pastor Jim and Caleb, and Bobby. Bobby was like family, at least the closest he had to family beyond his dad and brother.

His voice was filled with hurt, brittle and ragged, on the cusp of shattering. "I do," he stuttered, "Sammy…Dad…they're all I have." Then Dean turned defiant, his defenses again rising up to protect him, shield him from the harsh world that battered him in a constant battle to gain control. He was sick of playing these worthless mind games, more than ready to end this disturbing encounter. He was firm and sure in his next comment. "They're all I need."

"Dean, you need to take a trip. You need to see that old friend."

Subtly shaking he concentrated on breathing, attempting to regain control over errant emotions, but curiosity temporarily got the best of him. He was studying her, trying to determine where that trip might lead. "Who is it?" he demanded.

"You'll see."

Dean's eyes flashed in anger and hurt, desperation taking hold. "Look, this is my dream and I want you to leave, now," he barked out. "I ain't lookin' to socialize." His cocky, smart mouth boldly attempting to redirect this encounter. "Let's skip the eggnog and secret Santa presents, shall we?" He paused for a deep breath before continuing more forcefully. "I just want to be left alone."

Her smile was tender, her intent to offer comfort, but instead her kind gaze only made him feel less in control, more vulnerable than ever; all his secrets on the verge of being revealed. "Dean, that's part of the problem, you're alone too much. I never said you controlled this dream. This is my call. Come along now."

She reached over and touched his face and his eyes fluttered closed, her warmth intoxicating, instilling a sense of bliss that subdued his stubborn nature. He leaned into the touch and was lost in another haze, all thought and feeling swept away. Then he felt himself tumbling, air rushing all around, cold and damp like snowflakes as the hairs on his arms stood up from goose bumps assaulting his skin. Suddenly he was landing feather light on his feet and he opened his eyes and was accosted by the cheerful frenzy of all the dreaded sights and sounds of Christmas.

His eyes grew wide at what were quite obviously elves scurrying about, rushing past him in their haste, but smiling and offering up quick hellos as they passed. The area was cluttered with assorted toys, and wrapping paper littered the floor while off to the side a huge stack of brightly wrapped presents towered over the scene. The smell of fresh-baked cookies and fresh cut evergreens mingled together to form the unmistakably sweet aroma of childhood happiness. I remember that smell. I remember being happy…

His memories from long ago again gently wafted over him, but this time he rejoiced in the good feelings. He remembered how safe and secure and loved he felt with Mom's arm wrapped around him as she read him a Christmas story. How Dad's deep booming voice filled him with the thrill of being treasured and how his dad made him laugh, tickling him and telling him silly knock-knock jokes. He remembered how he'd gotten all twisted around trying to tell his dad a knock-knock joke and Mom and Dad had both patiently waited until he finally got the words out and even though it was stupid, really, really stupid and not in the least bit funny, they both laughed like he was a comic genius.

He remembered how beautiful his mom was, prettier than any heavenly angel he could possibly imagine, and how her eyes lit up when she gazed at him with joyous pride and acceptance and his only thought was to please her and to forever hold on to her love. How her warm smile and gentle voice literally made him tingle from the intense happiness she showered upon him, each and every day. He remembered how different his dad was then, happy and smiling all the time, with sparkling eyes and goofy grins, and how good it felt to see his parents wrapped up in each other's arms and then how special he felt when they would call him over and bundle him in the center of their embrace. How warm and safe and happy he felt tucked away from all the evil he never knew existed. How complete he was back then as his family held him, sheltering him from all harm.

A lone tear escaped down his cheek at the memories, so close to joyful yet terribly sad…tragic actually…because it was all in the past, ripped from his grasp and forever lost. He shuddered and shook off his feelings and the overwhelming weight of that pain. It was over, long dead and buried. He couldn't dwell in the past because it only made living in the present that much harder, more unbearable than it already was.

He rubbed at his watery eyes wondering how high a fever he actually had as the commotion of Christmas preparations penetrated his thoughts, because this was freaking weird! He turned around in a circle surveying his surroundings before he started wandering about; thoroughly checking it out, certain something must be causing these visions, these unimaginable delusions. He was pretty sure he was at the jolly old elf's North Pole workshop and hell, how many times am I gonna visit there, huh? Even if it is a dream?

"Dean, it's been a long time. Glad to see you could make it."

Dean shrugged, wondering who this 'old friend' might be as he turned to greet his imaginary buddy. This better be good. Intense, cheery eyes glistened towards him as a warm, hearty laugh filled his ears and he found himself face to face with the main man himself, Santa Claus. Huh! "So…you're my old friend?" he slyly asked, a slow smirk again taking up residence.

"Looks like." Santa smiled, looking just as jolly and round as his propaganda indicated. "Dean, I've missed you. You're looking good, a little tired and worn around the edges, but all things considered you're handling it well."

"Gee, thanks." Dean reached over and tugged the vision's beard.

"Ouch."

"Aw, come on. That don't hurt." Dean flashed his cocky grin. "Can't hurt what ain't real."

"Oh, I see. You're going to be like that."

"Like what? I just call 'em as I see 'em," Dean smugly replied.

"A skeptic…should have known. Dean, trust me, I am the real Santa Claus and you really are at the North Pole," Santa replied, rubbing his chin in concentration, wondering what he might do to reach this obstinate young man standing before him.

"Sure thing, Sparky. Hey, Rudy around here somewhere? Lost my flashlight, thought he might lend me a nose." Dean offered a quick punch line grin; his eyes sparkling as he jovially amused himself.

"You are very quick-witted, I'll give you that." Santa leaned in, genuine concern radiating off of him. "I imagine that helps diffuse the tense situations you find yourself in."

"Yeah? I'm a barrel of laughs." Dean was strolling around again, searching out the source of that delectable smell. Damn, been forever since I've snatched a cookie right off the baking rack. "You wanna share some of those cookies? Been a while since I've eaten and you know me and free food." He patted his stomach for emphasis.

"Ah, yes. Your reputation precedes you."

"Oh, really?" Dean scoffed as he leaned in closer to the old geezer. "Come on, you don't know me." Dean warily looked into the twinkling eyes of the cheery, old vision. How many people have I ever seen with twinkling eyes? Nah, he can't be… No friggin' way!

"Dean, I've known you your entire life. You once thought I was magic."

Dean stood stock still at the familiar memory, this encounter turning into his own personal version of the Twilight Zone. And I am soooo not in the mood. Dean took a deep breath and focused his thoughts. "Alrighty then, if you know me, then how about you prove it. Tell me a secret…tell me something about myself that a stranger couldn't know. Come on, Sparky, that shouldn't be so hard." Dean flashed a confident grin as his eyes playfully danced. "After all, you're magic." He waited a second for effect before shaking his hands out in front of him like a dancer in All That Jazz, his mouth crooked up into his patented, cocky smirk. "Razzle dazzle me."

The round vision before him placed his finger upon his chin in contemplation. He chuckled and started to speak before silencing and shaking his head no. "No, no…that wouldn't do… Let's see, there must be something…something less obvious. Ah, yes, I've got it!"

Dean twisted his mouth into a downward grin, annoyance at being kept waiting registering in his eyes. "Well, don't keep us waiting, Watson. You come up with something or you need to wait for Sherlock?"

"Oh, I think I've got it." Santa smiled with confidence, his eyes again twinkling, "Remember when you were three years old? Right around Christmas."

A slight flicker crossed Dean's eyes, a brace against the memory of when he was three and all the pain that came after. He quickly recovered his composure and pressed on. "Long time ago, Sparky. You got anything more recent?"

The vision of Santa Claus stood pondering again before sadly offering up an apology. "Dean, I'm sorry. It seems I've been missing you a lot over the years. You have to believe to invite me into your home and you stopped. There were a few times when Sammy believed, that I was able to sneak something in for you, but you seemed intent on shutting me out. Why was that, son?"

I don't need your phony-baloney concern. Like Hell…this is ridiculous. Don't need your pity…and don't you dare call me son! Dean glared at the Santa wannabe, this delusion standing before him only succeeding in dredging up the pain of Christmas past. "See, I knew it." Dean leaned forward in a menacing posture. "You're a fraud, old man. I'm out of here. TAXI!" Dean yelled as he walked away from the man in red, looking for the exit.

"Dean, you wanted me to bring your baby brother early. You wanted your bestest present under the tree on Christmas morning… You wanted Sammy," the old man blurted out.

Dean stopped and stood deathly still; a polar chill drifting over him as if the snow drifts from outside the windows had blanketed him, burying him in bitter cold. How could he know that? HOW?

Santa stepped up behind him and placed his hand on the center of his back. Dean tensed and moved away, tears welling in his eyes, not knowing what to believe, feeling the emotions again, the love and the hope, the pain and the loss, everything converging. He sniffled and turned to face the Santa imposter, tears blurring his vision, his voice simultaneously hesitant and yet forceful, desperately yearning for something to steady him. "You're not real. None of this is. This is all in my head, that's how you know. I'm sick…must be delirious."

Santa sighed. "Dean, please believe me. You need to believe. Can't you do that? Can't you try to believe again?"

Dean furrowed his brow and set his feet in a firm stance, his eyes distant and cold as he shoved down all the emotions trying to fight their way to the surface. "No," he adamantly stated, grabbing hold of what he knew, refusing to be swayed. "You are not real. This is a dream…a freaking nightmare." He started to tremble, subtly shaking as he fought to control his mind and the pain it was trying to bury him in. "I'm going to wake up in bed…in that damn motel room." He set his jaw in a determined grimace, willing it to happen. "I just need to wake up."

Tears welled in Santa's eyes as he shared Dean's pain, feeling total anguish when he was most accustomed to feeling joy. "Dean, I am so sorry," he uttered, placing his hand softly on the top of Dean's shoulder.

Dean startled away from the kind touch, turning back to face him with a wounded look in his eyes, anguish piercing his heart. "I don't need your pity," he lashed out, "Just let me go. Let's end this little nightmare so I can go back to my crummy motel room and get some sleep. That's all I need…sleep."

"Dean, I'm afraid you need so much more…and I can give it to you if you'll only let me. Please…Dean, let me help you."

"You wanna help me? Huh? You really want to help me? Then leave me the hell alone," Dean snarled, his pain consuming him, every anguish he had ever had or feared tumbling forth. He stumbled away from the man trying to comfort him, away from the feelings and memories again assaulting him, dragging him back to how lost and alone he'd felt, how hurt and scared he was at age four. Back to when his world crumbled around him and all hope was sucked into a black hole, never to return. Back before he learned to harden his heart and shield his tender soul.

"You've been left alone too much, Dean. That's the problem."

"Says who?" Dean raked his hand through his short hair, spiking it further, his tone frantic, on edge. "Why don't you freaks just leave me the hell alone? I don't want to believe. I don't want to pretend that everything is going to be all right, because it isn't. And it's never going to be." Dean released a nervous chuckle, a desperate attempt to raise his wall back up, to assert his cocky demeanor. Resignation ruled his words, his eyes not as convincing. "But that's life. You suck it up and you move on."

Reaching out, again trying to comfort, Santa leaned forward, more concern dripping off in waves. "Dean, what's happened to you? I remember how joyous you were as a child. All kids are wondrous, but you…you had a special light in you. A shining essence that was simply brilliant. Your heart was limitless and your faith so strong."

The Santa vision was so caring, desperately trying to connect, so kind and pleasant and that just made it that much harder to bear. "Why won't you just leave me the hell alone? I don't want to remember that time. I don't want to pretend it's all alright, because she's dead and gone, and it's never going to be the same again." Tears overflowed Dean's tormented eyes, his voice low and gasping for breath. "It's never going to be all right again. You HEAR ME? NEVER!" He reached up and angrily swiped at the tears marking his cheeks, desperate to deny their existence. He turned away and walked toward the doorway of the room, struggling to breathe again, frantic to be anywhere but here, unable to face the concern evident on the face of this phony…this fraud that was messing with his head.

I just want to go back to that crummy motel room…back to my miserable life and forget that tomorrow's Christmas. Maybe I can sleep through it, that would be freaking perfect…just wake up the day after and take off on another hunt. Life makes sense when I'm hunting. My mind has something to focus on instead of…

"Did you say you wanted a cookie?"

The voice was high pitched and lisping and Dean looked down at a pint-sized elf with an expectant, overly happy face framed by shocking red hair sticking out every which way. Dean's mind was so overloaded with anguish he couldn't even register the words at first. He blankly stared at the presence before him, slowly calming himself down, regaining the slightest semblance of control. He took a deep breath and focused his mind on the words, gradually deciphering them before fully taking in the image before him. Once he brought himself under control, he couldn't help but laugh at the absurd look on the elf's face and the elf laughed with him, not realizing Dean was actually laughing at him. This elf couldn't possibly be half as jubilant as he seemed, but he appeared insanely oblivious to the strange situation here at Santa's workshop. Oh, man, this is just too freaking weird!

The elf was anxiously looking up at him, waiting…

Dean startled back to the present, this insane moment pulling him back to a surreal existence. "What?" He quirked his head studying the elf's quizzical expression.

"Didn't you say you wanted a cookie?"

Dean stammered, "Yeah, I guess… " My stomach is growling, what harm could it do now? He figured if he wasn't going to be released from this purgatory then he might as well enjoy dessert.

"The kitchen's this way. Come on." Grinning the elf signaled for him to follow as he turned and led the way towards the back of the workshop. He wobbled as he walked, his freaky elf shoes appearing to inhibit his stride, causing his gait to be slightly off center. "You can have all the fresh baked cookies you can eat."

Dean followed, the smell enticing, figuring he might as well pig out on the delicacies while he was stuck in this nightmare. No need to watch how many I eat, not like I'm gonna get sick from too much sugar or gain weight or anything. Yep, a free-for-all. Just my kind of dream.

xxx

Dean couldn't believe how bloated he felt and he'd only eaten a dozen or so cookies. That tells you right there this isn't real. I can never eat too much in real life. Bottomless pit, that's what Dad always says.

There were racks upon racks of fresh baked, still warm cookies just waiting for him to indulge his desires. He started off with your standard run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookies and proceeded on to the butterscotch & chocolate chip cookies followed quickly by the white chocolate with macadamia nut and then he finished off his first round with peanut butter cookies with a thin layer of peanut butter crème inside and topped with chocolate pieces, almost like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in fresh, hot cookie format.

As soon as he thought he'd sampled every variety, the elf would deposit another rack at his disposal and he would take off on another tantalizing taste trip. If forced to pick a favorite he knew he would be at a loss. Each new cookie tasted better than the last, and each one tasted so unbelievably good it seemed impossible to surpass. Man, if he could only convince Sam to take up baking, he would be totally stealing the recipes.

"So…what do you think, Dean? Should I try to market them?" Santa had reappeared and was trying to be jovially friendly. He continued on with a chuckle. "Mrs. Claus' Homemade North Pole Cookies?"

The sugar rush and mellow atmosphere of the kitchen had relaxed Dean slightly, allowing him to let go of the anger and frustration he'd been mired in. The warm glow of the open oven, inviting and pleasant, let him push past his objections to being here and savor the moment, along with the gooey creations. "Yeah, they've got potential. Mrs. Fields got nothin' on these and you got Keebler beat by a mile." Dean spoke with his mouth full as he continued to stuff down another warm, tasty morsel. "Of course if you're magic and all you could make them hot and fresh out of the bag. You'd have yourself a major selling point there." Dean offered up his smuggest smirk, a challenge awaiting a response.

Santa smiled in appreciation. "Yes, indeedy. That would certainly make them stand out from the pack," he leaned in a bit conspiratorially, "but it also might bring some suspicion down on the operation. Don't think we could risk that."

"Yeah, right." Dean offered a knowing laugh. "Don't want to alert the cookie police. Got to protect the elves and reindeer. After all, if you take up residence in the loony bin who's going to feed 'em all? Huh?" Dean smirked in delight, appreciating the crazy circumstances and the opportunity for levity.

Turning serious, that unwelcome concern back, Santa returned to an unpopular theme. "Dean, so what can I say or do to make you believe again?"

The shift was jarring and unwelcome. Dean stared at the annoying presence of this Santa imposter. So much for frivolity and fun. Way to ruin the party, chubby. His tone was firm and sure, matter-of-fact. "Ain't nothin' to say. I'm sick and this is all an illusion. Once my fever breaks you'll disappear and I can get back to my life."

"Perhaps." Santa smiled, again rubbing his chin before a light flashed in his eyes and he laughed.

"What?" Dean quirked a brow, suspicion forming behind inquisitive eyes. "What got your fancy?"

"Oh, I was just remembering back before." Santa smiled a smug, bemused grin.

Hey, that's my area of expertise; get your own facial expressions.

Oblivious to Dean's thoughts the Santa wannabe continued on, "You were quite the joyful child."

"So, what? You saying I'm not joyful now? Huh?" Dean actually looked hurt, a slight twitch to his jaw and defiance in his eyes. "I am two tons of fun..., just not around Christmas."

"So, Dean, tell me…why do you hate Christmas so?"

"I don't hate it," Dean snapped back. He forced himself to relax, to take a breath and put up his wall. "I just don't get the whole Christmas spirit thing." His voice was dismissive, cool and casual but just as forced. "It's just another day. No biggie."

"So, why were you avoiding your family and hiding out in a crappy motel room getting all depressed?"

"What? Come on," Dean protested, "Me? Depressed?" He took a step back, his arms wrapped around his chest, fire in his eyes as he defended his position. "You don't know who you're talking to here. I didn't feel well is all…I'm sick. Got a fever and everything. You know, delirious. Quit with all the questions, you're just a figment of my imagination anyway. You're not real. Hell, you told me that."

"No, Dean, I didn't."

"Yeah? Well, she did. She said this was all a dream."

"I see."

"Duh!" Dean confidently responded, "Not real then."

"Not exactly."

Dean was nervously looking around the workshop, trying to make sense of this insane situation. He finally looked back into the Santa's eyes, the weight of what this might really mean bearing down. "So what are you trying to say? Why am I here?"

"Dean, I'm trying to help you."

Something seemed to be breaking through, some need or hope lingering. His voice was low, barely audible, but sincere, "Yeah, but why?"

"You know why. Open your heart. You can do it. Just believe." The concern of this vision was overwhelming, heavy in the air, infusing everything with love.

Dean gasped as a gentle wave rolled over him, just a brief feeling of bliss…of intense happiness. Tears welled in his eyes as he searched the Santa's face for the truth, the heart of a lost child aching for comfort while the shattered man's mind railed against the risk. He stammered, his voice reaching out as his heart clenched, afraid to chance another hurt, so scared to lower his guard and believe. What are you doing to me? What are these feelings? These longings?

Everything converged in a wave of hope, cresting with a peaceful feeling, sublime and surreal but welcome, so desperately needed. Dean trembled, reluctant to let go, so scared to accept…to believe again. "It's just…is this real?" a small, hesitant voice ventured out.

"Dean, look to your heart. Remember when you were four? You remember…don't you?" The voice was so kind, so pleasant, not realizing the pain it was inflicting.

Dean's heart seized at the memories. He had spent years trying to forget. Why the hell would I want to remember when I was four? His Christmas when he was four was the worst Christmas of his life. The first of many bad Christmases.

Santa suddenly realized what the shattered look on Dean's face meant. "Dean, I am so sorry," he stuttered out, "…I forgot for a moment how it all ended… It's just before…before the fire you were so excited about Christmas. It was going to be your first Christmas with Sammy. I had big plans for that Christmas. You had some mighty high expectations."

His voice was small and soft, a child's voice echoing across the years. "Mom promised…" Dean's eyes filled with tears, the memories and pain washing over him, threatening to drown him under a tidal wave of anguish.

"Dean, I'm sorry. I know it didn't turn out like any of you thought it would." Santa seemed to be struggling for something to say, therapy and dealing with a child's grief beyond his pay grade, outside the norm for one who was used to bringing joy. He tried to offer comfort as best he could, lessons in forgiveness and acceptance the only thing he could come up with on such short notice. "That's life, son. You've got to take the bad with the good."

"The bad?" Dean lashed out, pain again filling his voice as monstrous wakes tossed him about. "How about the horrific, the unthinkable, the…unbearable?" Deep pools of green awash in fresh tears displayed all the painful memories of that time, all the horror he had buried deep in his heart. The tender pain again slicing up his insides, filling his gut with blood and despair.

"Dean, that's the thing…they're not unbearable. Look at you," Santa proudly stated, "You're a survivor. Look at Sammy...and your dad. You're all still here. You're together. It's not perfect, but can't you be grateful for what you have? That's what counting your blessings means. You could always have more…but you could always have less too. Hold on to what's right in front of you, treasure what's still here."

Dean looked up with pain consuming his face. His eyes lost and shattered; his tone harsh and bitter. "But Sammy's leaving, I know it."

Santa nodded in understanding, his empathy strong with this one. "But he hasn't left yet. He's still here now. You don't know what the future holds, Dean. No one does. Hold tight to today."

Dean's anxious eyes filled with a lifetime of emotion as he struggled to stand firm, his voice teetering between soft and childlike and firm and determined. "It's just so hard. Sometimes I feel like I'm barely holding on…" His voice broke off as he licked at his lips, the barest tremble of them mirroring the trembling of his voice. He took in a deep breath and faced his fear head-on. "I don't know how to keep doing this."

"Dean, you know you can't live in the past, but don't try to foresee the future either. The future's not set. You can't tell what's to come and whatever it is, you'll survive it. You always do. You're strong, Dean. You've always been so very strong. Hold on to the present, hold on to what you have right here, right now."

Dean nervously shifted on his feet, his fists clenched tight at the sides of his legs. "Yeah? Easier said than done. Especially when you don't have a hell of a lot to hold on to."

"You have your dad and you have Sammy. They're here. Treasure them. Hold on to them."

"So, you telling me Sammy's not going to leave?" Dean's eyes filled with hope again, pleading for comfort too long denied.

"No, Dean, I'm telling you that you have him now, this Christmas. Don't waste it. Let him know what he means to you." He took a deep breath, pushing onward to help the young man, his kind eyes and the cadence of his voice offering gentle guidance. "Don't push him away before it's time. Even I don't know what next Christmas will bring. All you can do is live in the moment and hope for the best and know that whatever happens there is a reason. It got you to here and now, it made you the man you are today: a good man, a strong man, a noble man." Santa gazed into Dean's eyes, connecting with him on a deeper level, his hand firm on his shoulder as he offered his support. "Dean, you always wanted your mom to be proud of you." He took a moment, waiting for the eyes to settle on him, for his full attention before he continued. "Son, she is. I promise you that. She is so very proud of her brave son and how you've taken care of your family."

Eyes full of tears gazed into Santa's eyes, a face open and childlike behind them as Dean embraced the memory of his mom. Her love and acceptance again showering him with a peaceful bliss, a contentedness he thought he would never again be blessed with. He closed his eyes and for a brief, shining moment he felt her hand against his face, just a soft gentle wisp of a touch and he felt her love so intensely he knew that a miracle had been bestowed upon him. Dean reveled in the moment, savoring the good feeling, at long last allowing himself to believe.

"Dean?"

Dean smiled, his entire face lighting up with a youthful joy. "Oh, man…this is some dream."

"It's not a dream, Dean."

Dean slowly opened his eyes and locked his gaze to Santa's. His eyes were again clear, strong and true. "I know," he whispered.

"Dean, are you ready to go back? Are you ready to embrace the holiday season? Can you share the love your family has and live in the moment?"

Dean studied his old friend. "You're not going to let me get away with anything less, are you?" He offered the man a warm, open gaze, finally allowing the message to sink into his obstinate brain.

"You know it's the right course, Dean. Savor the moment…"

"Yeah…'cause tomorrow it could all be taken away." A wave of sadness rolled over him for a brief moment, almost bringing him back to the edge of despair before he looked up and faintly smiled. It was hard to tell, he was so reticent and unyielding, so difficult to gauge, but at last a release seemed to come to his shoulders, a calm settling in. An acceptance of a hard lesson finally learned. "At least we're together this Christmas."

"That's my boy."

Dean took one last look around Santa's workshop. Like his own job, it appeared there was always work to be done. "So, you get to rest…once the big day is over?"

"We try to take a little break, but the job's never done. You know that, Dean."

Surprised, Dean questioned, "How would I know that?"

"It's much like your work. I know you sometimes feel the battle is endless. That you can never defeat all the evil in this world, but you do make a difference, Dean. Your entire family does."

"Huh. So you know what we do?"

Santa laughed. "I keep up with the newsletter."

"So, maybe we shouldn't be taking time out to celebrate, you know…the job always comes first. In our line of work it has to."

"Dean, you're allowed a break at Christmas. Haven't you noticed there isn't a lot of activity this time of the year?"

"Yeah." Dean cocked his head in a knowing nod. "I always thought it was a fluke or somethin'…like maybe they just hid it better."

"No. Evil tends to sit out the Christmas season."

"So, is Christmas like a time out? Evil actually takes a holiday?" Dean asked, skepticism ever present in his tone.

"Well, they don't exactly take a holiday, but they've learned to lay low. The price of retribution being a tad higher than they're willing to pay."

Dean grinned. "Yeah, payback's a bitch."

Santa knowingly nodded. "They more than make up for it on New Year's Eve."

"Yeah, I bet. Great opportunity for evil then, huh?"

"There does always seem to be lots of activity that night," Santa acknowledged.

Dean shook his head in agreement, past exploits confirming the fact. "Good thing we're there to take care of it, right?"

"The world is depending on you, Dean."

"Then I guess I better get back to it." Dean hesitated, not used to showing emotion or gratitude, but thankful nonetheless. "I don't know what to say," he stammered.

Santa smiled. "Just be good to yourself, Dean, and enjoy the holiday. Maybe next year you can leave me some milk and cookies?"

Dean laughed. "And how am I going to explain that one to Sammy and Dad?" He stopped short as his mind again dredged up the possible coming pain and he wondered if Sammy would even be there to question his actions. He stared at the floor trying to gather his courage, hoping to steel his resolve.

Live in the moment. Sammy's here now. You don't know what next year will bring.

He felt like he had a new mantra, something to hold firm to. He extended his hand for a handshake and Santa smiled at him and he basked in the blissful feelings and love he felt radiating from the kind, old gentleman. Damn, those twinkling eyes are mesmerizing.

Santa grabbed his hand in a firm handshake but pulled him deep into a bear hug. "Dean, it's going to be fine, you'll see."

"Yeah…thanks…thanks for everything." Dean slapped Santa on the back and contentedly closed his eyes and suddenly he was tumbling, swirling down a long winding tunnel with the air rushing all around him and he felt dizzy, the world spinning around him, falling out from underneath him as he landed in a soft mound of bedding.

Good idea, Ernie. A toast! To my big brother, George…The richest man in town.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…and never brought to mind.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot…and days of auld lang syne.

What's that?

That's a Christmas present from a very dear friend of mine.

Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

That's right. That's right! Atta boy, Clarence.

Dean snuggled into his bedding and smiled as he heard the familiar words playing low on the motel TV. Way to go, Clarence. With his eyes closed tight he grinned as he pondered if his angel had gotten her wings yet. He momentarily paused, wondering if it was all a dream or if…

The sun was streaming in through the threadbare curtains of the motel room filling the room with an unnatural light, soft and glowing, almost heavenly. The smell of coffee brewing in the coffeemaker by the sink was enticing, but another smell was evident, overpowering even, and Dean pried open his eyes to the shocking vision of the world's most lopsided Christmas tree. A Charlie Brown tree barely four feet tall and weighed down with assorted shiny glass bulbs and tons of silver angel hair tossed on in huge clumps was propped up mere feet from his bed. It was a strange sight to behold. Face it, a Christmas tree anywhere in the vicinity of the Winchesters had to be a surreal moment, but for once Dean welcomed the addition to the room's décor.

He glanced about the room searching out his family, eager to see them but he appeared to be alone. A chair was placed by the side of his bed, empty except for the ragged remains of a newspaper, twisted and rumpled from worried hands taking out their frustrations on the defenseless paper. His mind registered the running shower just as it turned off, followed shortly by the powerful engine of the Impala as she pulled up outside the window. The car door creaked more than usual, probably in protest to the extreme cold, before slamming closed and heavy boots sloshed through the snow to the door. He heard a grunt from the bathroom as someone stubbed their toe and muttered a curse under their breath.

Dean eased up into a halfway-seated position, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and waiting for the emergence of his family. His focus shifted back and forth from the bathroom door to the room door, wondering who would appear first. As happens so often in their lives, the doors opened simultaneously and the exclamations from both his dad and brother were joyous and loud.

"Dean!"

"Thank God!"

They were by his side in a flash and seemed uncommonly giddy. Relief and joy merging on their faces as they excitedly quizzed him on the state of his health.

"Man, you're awake. It's so good to see you, bro," Sam exclaimed as he grinned from ear to ear looking like a freaking clone of Alfred E. Neuman, sans the red hair and missing tooth.

Dad was no more eloquent, stammering and shifting anxiously as he gazed into the open eyes of his older son. "Dean, you scared the crap outta us. How do you feel, son? I was this close to taking you to the hospital..," he motioned an extremely small distance with his fingers as he excitedly rattled on, "…if your fever hadn't broke a couple of hours back, I don't know what…" His eyes glossed over with tears as his voice broke, so close to losing his modest control, the worry of the last few hours evident.

"I'm fine, Dad. Good as new," Dean assured his dad, relieved himself to be back.

John sighed as an enormous weight lifted. "You look good, Dean."

"Man, you ever do that to us again, bro, and I am going to thrash you." The fear and pain of the near loss was still etched on Sam's face as he tried to make light of the situation.

"Yeah, right, Sammy," Dean softly laughed, "You and what army?" Dean smiled, happy to be back with his family by his side. He tore his eyes away from their exuberant faces and again gazed at that sad excuse for a Christmas tree… That is so freaking weird! "So, what's up with the tree? You'd think it was Christmas or somethin'," he joked. "Whose idea was that?"

John offered a dopey smile, a grin like he used to flash all those years ago, back before all the bad things happened, back when Mom was still alive. "What? We're not allowed to have a little Christmas spirit? Offer up some Christmas cheer?"

Sam joined in; eager to show off the surprise they had for Dean. Pleased they were for once doing a normal family activity. "We're having Christmas, Dean. A real Christmas!"

"Just like normal folk?" Dean questioned. His eyes glimmered as he teased his brother. "Think you can handle normal, Sammy?"

Sam grinned like he did back when he was seven years old and Dean gave him his first and only true Christmas celebration. Dean's earnest attempt that year his gift to his little brother, a chance at a normal experience like every other kid got. Dean tried his best to give his brother what he himself was afraid to hope for, what he had once had before disaster struck.

John placed his hand on Dean's forehead, feeling the cool skin before gently pushing through his wayward hair as he ran his hand to the back of his son's head to rest at his neck and shoulders with a gentle squeeze. Dean smiled from the welcome contact from his dad, feeling the love and closeness that so often was pushed aside in the necessity of fighting a war.

With his son back amongst the living John only wanted to hold on to his family, what was left of his family, and celebrate. Dean is safe, we're all safe. It's Christmas, time to be thankful for what we have. The evil bastards ready to ravage the world can just fucking wait!

Dean started to climb out of the bed, his muscles suddenly tight and sore from just lying there, needing to stretch and move again.

"Dean, you sure you're up to getting out of bed?" John cautioned.

Dean continued squirming out of the covers. "How long was I out? I feel like I'm gonna break in two if I don't get moving again."

Sam offered his brother a hand as he pulled at the covers twisted around his legs. "You've been unconscious for almost a day. Way to scare us, Dude."

Dean gazed at the sun-filled curtains. "So it's Christmas Day?"

"Yep," they spoke in unison.

"Huh! How about some of that coffee and…" he grinned an evil smirk, his cookie filled stomach now feeling suspiciously empty. "What's for breakfast? You looking to starve a man now?"

Sam happily grinned as he proclaimed, "Feed a cold, starve a fever."

"Well, fever broke so bring on the food," Dean replied as his eyebrows arched and he licked his lips in anticipation.

"Breakfast's on the way. We suspected you might be joining us for our Christmas celebrations," John teased as he poured a cup of coffee for his son.

Sam laughed then. "Yeah, we knew you'd wake up soon after your fever broke. Not like you can go a day without eating, even if you are sick."

Dean was slightly confused by the mechanics of how breakfast was going to arrive since both members of his family were standing in the room and didn't appear ready to go fetch it. "So? They got room service here I don't know about or you gonna twitch your nose, Samantha, and genie it in?"

Sam laughed at the joke, pleased to have his brother back in usual form, even if that entailed listening to his standard unfunny and majorly stupid jokes.

For Dean, it felt good to again be at ease with his family, teasing his brother like a big brother is obligated to do and reveling in the moment: a respite from the coming fight, a temporary truce where they could forget the anguish and the fact they were soldiers battling to save the world. A time reserved for them to just be a family again.

A knock sounded at the door and Dean froze for a second, envisioning a repeat of that freaky encounter that started him on this strange journey. He hesitantly glanced at his dad and then his brother, both of them registering no detectable level of concern. He relaxed slightly when his brother confidently walked to the door as his dad placed his cup of coffee on the nightstand by his bed. They said breakfast was coming. They must have ordered delivery from the diner or something.

The voice coming from the doorway as Sam greeted their guest was another welcome sound, a pleasant reminder their lives were not totally devoid of friendship. Bobby entered the room juggling a couple of grocery bags and three boxes of warm, inviting Krispy Crème Donuts. His eyes glistened as he took in the sight of Dean standing to greet him, a huge grin on his face and his hand outstretched.

Bobby set the boxes and bags down on the table by the door and quickly strode over to Dean. He gripped the young man's offered hand in a firm handshake while his other hand reached up to grasp Dean on the shoulder pulling him into an embrace.

"Good to see you up and about, boy. Nasty bug you had there."

"Bobby, when did you get here?" Dean questioned as he hugged his old friend before releasing him and smiling back at him. They had been on their way to Bobby's for a job, but they were still half a day out when they pulled over because of bad weather.

Bobby smiled, his slow drawl easy on the ears. "I reckon I got here six or seven hours after you decided to scare your family half to death. Had to see if I could help save your sorry ass." Bobby placed his hand at the side of Dean's face and gave a gentle pat as he sighed in relief. "Hell, Dean, you always did know how to show a guy a good time. Between racing a damn snow storm to get here and dealing with your Dad's ornery nature, it's been one hell of a day."

John patted Bobby on the back, grasping his shoulder in a brotherly grip for a moment. "Bobby came as soon as I called. He's a good friend."

"Wish I coulda done more, but we still don't know what the hell happened with you. Dean, you got any idea? You remember anything that might explain what this was?" Bobby questioned, always anxious to fill in the gaps in his knowledge, eager to expand his research.

Dean gazed at his family, the people who cared about him, the ones he could always depend on and wondered if they would even believe him. Hell, I'm not sure I believe. Truth is I don't know what to believe except we deserve this. We deserve to have a Christmas for just us…no evil, no job, no imperiled innocents waiting for us to save them…just us.

Going for the short and safe answer, Dean replied, "Don't have a clue. Just glad to be back." Then he smiled. It really didn't matter how or why; only the end result mattered in the grand scheme of things. The Christmas tree stood waiting and there were even a few wrapped presents scattered around the bottom. Dean silently cursed that he hadn't bought presents for his family. He wasn't exactly up for shopping considering the last 24 hours, but he could have bought something before. He could have offered up presents in the past instead of ignoring the day and letting his past hurts shape the holiday. Spilt milk, don't dwell in the past, live in the moment.

Bobby, being the wise old sage he was, seemed to sense Dean's regrets. He placed his arm across Dean's shoulders and his gruff, straight forward approach cut through the tense atmosphere. "It ain't about presents, Dean. Hell, what could any of us possibly need anyway?"

Dean relaxed a little, taking in the contented looks of his family and feeling the camaraderie of old friends enjoying the moment, a time to relax and give thanks.

Bobby continued on, "Dean, having you back…safe…well, hell…I don't think any of us could ask for more."

John responded with a warm smile, placing his arm across Dean's shoulders from the other side, gripping Bobby's arm in the process. The two old friends sandwiching Dean between them in a show of solidarity. "I got my Christmas wish."

Everyone looked at Sammy as he stood there waiting to join the lovefest. He slowly grinned, savoring his moment in the spotlight, "Well…I…kinda wanted an iPod, but all things considered…" he offered a toothy grin, "Guess I can live with the disappointment."

Laughter filled the room that only hours before had been buried in dread and fear. One more bullet dodged by the Winchesters, one more narrow escape. The story of our lives.

Dean squeezed the shoulders of the older men gripping him tight between them before breaking free of their embrace and walking to his brother. Sam smiled at him as he wrapped his arms around the strong chest of his little brother and pulled him close to him in a heartfelt embrace, his hands fisting behind his brother's back, holding on tight for all he was worth, treasuring this moment and locking it deep in his memories.

Sam hugged him back, his own thoughts holding firm to his brother. He forced his mind to cast aside the terror he had felt at the near loss, fervently holding on to the most important person in his life.

Dean released his brother with a firm pat on the back and then clapped his hands together. "Alrighty then, let's get this show on the road. I think those donuts are calling to me. Shame to let 'em go cold."

He tried out his sea legs and maneuvered past his family to open up the boxes and grab his pick of the hot, tasty treats. He stacked three on a napkin and headed back to his bed and his cup of coffee.

Sam grabbed four with a smirk, always trying to prove he could wolf down more food than his brother, claiming he was still growing, after all.

"Good thing I splurged and got three boxes, John, or you and I might be left out in the cold," Bobby joked as he headed for the warm confections.

John grumbled as he reached for a donut. "I don't know why you boys like these damn things. They're pure sugar."

"True," Sam responded as he shoved half of a donut into his mouth.

"That's what makes them so good," Dean offered, his mouth stuffed full before he swallowed and licked his lips for that last trace of sugar. "Sinfully good, no redeeming qualities whatsoever…pure decadence."

Two boxes of donuts disappeared in the span of twenty minutes as the brothers kept returning for more. John and Bobby ate a respectable number of the hot donuts, knowing they were never as good once they cooled down. The third box was started but a few donuts would be left over for a later treat. Dean and Sam at least were not averse to eating them cold.

Once the rumbling of his stomach was satisfied, Dean was anxious to continue enjoying his Christmas experience. He poked around at the presents under the tree, noting there were presents with everyone's name on them, including Bobby.

"So, who did the shopping?" he asked, starting to get curious as to what might lie beneath the fancy paper of the packages. If Dad did the shopping he could guess where he shopped. It would most certainly be a gun or knife store considering a museum or artifact shop was probably unavailable in this backwater town. It was a given that anything John purchased would have a supernatural aspect to it and be useful in their fight against evil.

"We all did a little shopping. We took turns going out to stretch our legs and take a breather," John replied, thinking back to how hard it had been to leave the room with Dean laid out unconscious. They had finally ventured out only when he seemed to turn the corner, when they were certain he was on the road to recovery. Of course once Bobby arrived, he'd practically kicked them out of the room just to give Dean more air to breathe. Not that John would ever let anyone dictate his actions concerning his children.

Dean smiled at the thought of any of his family actually shopping for Christmas presents. Bobby was right, what was in the packages wasn't important. The thought that they actually took it upon themselves to shop for presents is what made him grin like a monkey on crack.

"So, who had the good taste to pick out that tree?" he teased, again considering it the most pathetic excuse for a tree he had ever witnessed.

"What's wrong with the tree? It's got character," Sam declared, sounding slightly offended and majorly defensive.

"Yeah? Character is what they say when you're so ugly even the fleas won't come near your sorry ass."

Sam chuckled at his brother's colorful down-home description. We've been spending way too much time in Texas lately. "Just be glad I found a tree, mighty slim pickings this late in the game."

"You actually bought it?" Dean teased. He continued on with a playfulness to his voice, a brotherly jab his solemn duty. "Cuz I'm thinking it was abandoned by the side of the road. Maybe fell off the truck? Or maybe it's a throwback, too scrawny for most folks."

"All right…it was off to the side in the five dollar lot," Sam confessed, "but I figured it needed a home."

Yeah, it needed a home just like we need a home. I guess it is the perfect match, Sammy.

Dean laughed loud and hearty, enjoying the picture of his brother scoping out and rescuing this pitiful tree. Memories of Linus flashed through his mind then and he thought it fit perfectly. His brother was as kind and sensitive as the cartoon character and maybe a Charlie Brown Christmas was just what they needed. That's my Sammy! Now, where'd you leave your blankie?

"I like it, Sammy," Dean admitted, relishing the happy expression on his brother's face at his acceptance of his tree. "It's perfect."

"Really? You really like it?" Sam pushed.

"Yeah, Sammy, like you said, it's got character…but don't press your luck." Dean laughed again. When was the last time I laughed this much in one day? I guess we are experiencing the magic of Christmas. Strange world we live in.

"So, if everyone is done eating, we ready to open presents?" John inquired.

"I'm game." Dean suddenly felt like a kid again, actually anticipating what the colorful packages might bring, happily succumbing to the joy he felt surrounding him and enjoying every blessed minute.

"Let's do it," Sam joined in. He was closely watching the excitement building in his brother and hoping he could make this Christmas as special for him as the one Dean gave him when he was seven. His brother had been through hell lately and this latest bout with this unexplained illness had galvanized Sam's resolve to make it up to him, to finally give Dean a good memory to hold on to. And if I'm being honest here, I'd like a good memory too.

Bobby sat down in the chair by Dean's bed and directed the operation. "Well, Sammy since you're the youngest, you get to hand out the presents." He then winked at Dean, who sat back against the headboard of his bed basking in the joy of having his family surrounding him.

Sam appeared shocked by this revelation. "Really, that's how it's supposed to go?"

John chuckled. "Yeah, Sammy, it's in the manual." He sat down on the other bed across from Dean and soaked up the good feelings, relieved to be witnessing his children enjoying themselves for once. Wondering silently what all the past Christmases would have been like if Mary had only lived and they had never embarked on this journey of theirs.

"What, Sammy? You failed to read your homework?" Dean mocked. "I'm shocked! Looks like you have to restock the trunk for the next month as penance."

Sam grinned at the teasing but reached down and picked up the first present.

xxx

Dean certainly could predict behavior. All of the presents from John were weapons, nice and useful, but hardly unexpected. Sam was a little more creative, gifting some classic rock tapes for Dean and some prime liquor for John and Bobby. Bobby offered up a rare protection talisman for John, a series of sci-fi books for Sam and a hand-tooled leather wallet for Dean. With a flourish Dean had opened up the wallet and loudly objected to the lack of funds inside, making everyone laugh.

The last gifts were labeled as far as the recipient, but the 'From' space was left blank. The odd part was no one claimed them, leaving them to wonder if Santa had made a secret stop during the night. Dean was the only one who actually believed that was exactly where the mysterious presents came from. Sam handed out the last of the presents and everyone took their turn opening them, from the oldest to the youngest. It took some time to figure out if John or Bobby was older, each proclaiming the other the old geezer of the group.

Bobby finally relented and tore open his package first. He appeared shocked as he opened the pages and leafed through the rare spell book he'd been searching out for years. He muttered that all his sources had never been able to lay their hands on the elusive book and he had begun to question its very existence.

John casually opened his gift next and his heart seized when he saw what greeted him. He hesitantly pulled the framed picture from the box and placed his hand tenderly on the glass over the image.

"Dad? What is it?" his sons asked in unison. Their eyes were full of concern at the suddenly still presence of their dad. A hush fell over the room as they waited for a response.

Lost in the memory, John didn't hear his sons for a moment. He slowly looked up with tears in his eyes, tears of sadness and joy. He turned the picture over so his sons could see and they both gasped.

"It's our wedding day." John's voice was filled to the brim with love as he displayed the image of the most joyous day of his life. "It was destroyed in the fire. I didn't think there were any copies left." He smiled then as he remembered the days his sons were born and he wondered of all the wondrous days he'd been blessed with, which one was the best moment of his life? He really did have a wonderful life before… His heart seized again as he remembered the day that was without a doubt the worst day of his life. He looked at his sons before him and decided to push aside that pain and enjoy this day. This day was going to join those other previous days as one of the good ones. For once he was going to focus on what he did have in his life. Dean was alive, Sammy was here with them, and they were all together, a family.

Sam stared at the photo, mesmerized by the joy evident in the picture. "She was beautiful, Dad."

John smiled. "Yeah, she was." He looked at Dean to gauge his reaction and was pleased to see his son also rejoicing in the memories.

"She looks just like I remember her. Sammy, she was soft and warm and her touch made you feel like you were the most important person in the world." Dean closed his eyes and pictured his mom smiling down on him. "And she smelled like fresh baked cookies and warm pie."

John laughed at that comment. "That's 'cause she was always baking. You loved to sit in the kitchen and watch her."

"She always let me lick out the bowl."

"You were the official taste tester. I think you ate more cookie batter than was ever baked." John's eyes were shining at the joyous memories. He cleared his throat, his voice raspy but mellow as he spoke to his oldest. "Dean, you were the most important person in her world." He turned his attention to his younger son, including him with a warm glance. "Both of you were. She loved you both very much."

Dean smiled contentedly. "I know, Dad. I remember."

Sam sighed, feeling the love of his family, feeling connected to his mom like he never had before, at last feeling a part of her memory.

John looked at both his sons, a wave of bliss overtaking him. "Family was all your mom cared about. She loved us more than life itself. She would be so proud of both of you…" John looked down at his clasped hands, twisting his wedding band before raising his eyes and staring directly into the expectant faces of his sons. "I'm so very proud of you."

John felt like he had been opened up and exposed by some invisible force, some do-gooder compelling him to reveal his innermost thoughts and hopes. It felt so out of character and strange, but at this moment in time, he didn't care. He had no clue what drove him to this tender exchange. He just felt comforted that he had finally shared the love of his family and shown his boys how much they meant to him. He was grateful the words so often pushed aside in the constant struggle against evil were finally being spoken on this Christmas Day.

The brothers smiled in complete bliss, pleased their father chose this day to share his love. Happy they were the recipients of so much love, both in the past and here and now.

"Boys, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm dying to know what's in those last two presents," Bobby offered with a wink, putting the mood back to a light and breezy tone.

"Guess I'm next then!" Dean laughed, tearing into the paper of his small package and tossing the scraps to the floor. He quickly uncovered the box and grinned as he opened it. "Yes! Eat your heart out, Sammy. Considering I'm the one with the musical taste, it's only fitting that I get the iPod." He turned the small device over in his hand delighting in the prospect of the additional great tunes he could now enjoy.

"All right, Sammy, I guess it's your turn," John prodded.

Sam slowly undid the tape on the edges of the paper, running his thumbnail under the crease. He turned the box over so the other side was at his disposal and methodically went about releasing the tape.

"Christ, Sammy, just open it!" Dean exclaimed, annoyed at his brother's slow, deliberate actions.

Sam grinned, knowing he was succeeding in annoying the hell out of his big brother and delighting in the tease. He also knew this was the last present and once it was opened the suspense would be over. Christmas would be over and he only wanted to make it last.

You'd think Sam had been to all the striptease shows Dean had, considering the agonizingly slow reveal he was subjecting them to. Dean was about ready to grab the gift from his brother's hands and open it himself when Sam finally got to the goods.

"Huh, Dean, seems there is justice in the world. Now I don't have to listen to your mullet rock all the time," Sam taunted as he held up his own iPod.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Just don't go mixing it up with mine. I get stuck listening to your lame music and I am not responsible for my actions. It'd be just like you to put Captain and Tennille on the playlist." Dean arched his eyebrows in that cocky manner that defined him while his smirk consumed his face and he uttered a threat to his not so little brother, "And just so you know…if you do…I will disown you."

xxx

After the presents were opened, they sat back and relaxed, enjoying each other's company, relishing a day off with no worries or concerns, no hunt demanding action. Bobby broke out the beer and they shared stories of past hunts. The brothers delighting in hearing some of the earlier stories before they were allowed to participate and the older men enjoyed the chance to extol their adventures. Bobby and John both had a flair for enhancing their exploits with humorous anecdotes. Even the most treacherous hunts seemed tame and reasonable in the safety of that crummy motel room with the distance of time to dull the danger.

John reveled in the tales of his sons' first hunts and how skilled they were. Stories of Dean seemed to be the most told since he had always embraced the life of the hunter and, being older, had participated in more hunts. Sam's stories were usually more comical or tragic depending on your point of view. He'd always resisted the lure of the hunt and that provided ample opportunity for Dean to mock him and for the situation to be turned on him, making him more often than not the brunt of Dean's pranks.

The stories went on for hours. The beer flowed and tongues became looser as the day wore on finally getting to the point where the stories no longer focused on the hunt but on before. Sam grew silent as his dad and Dean brought up memories of Mary and how it was in the beginning, back before Sam had any conscious memories, now dependant on their memories to offer him a glimpse into his mom's life.

The laughter continued as they rejoiced in the good times, keeping Mary alive with their stories. Dean's own memories were jarred by some of his dad's comments and he found himself reliving moments long lost, buried down deep with the pain he had tried so hard to forget. He was now blessed with only good thoughts, pleasant images of a happier time and all the love he could ever hope to possess. Sammy was drawn into their world, John and Dean both wanting him to feel the love Mary had for her family.

Wanting her memory to exist beyond the image of her terrible death. Wanting her life to again have meaning. Wanting Mary, the wife, the mother and the love of their lives, to again be a part of their lives instead of just the reason for their struggles.

All the emotions of the day settled over them and they basked in the love surrounding them. Dean rose to grab another beer from the mini-fridge and he paused before the scrawny Christmas tree, captivated by the angel tree-topper leaning down from the top. He gazed at the porcelain face of this angel, a beautiful face, soft and kind with lush full lips and a tender gaze. Her long, flowing blond hair was windswept as if a breeze was blowing it back.

"Dean? What is it?" Concern crept into John's voice as he noticed his son frozen before the tree. A brief moment of terror seized him as he wondered if Dean was relapsing.

"Huh?" Dean whispered, never taking his eyes off the fragile tree-topper. "Where'd this come from?"

"What?" Sam questioned.

"This angel."

Bobby spoke up then, his voice showing just a whisper of wonder hidden beneath his gruff exterior. "That? Found it at the second-hand store when I picked up the ornaments. The guy said it was an antique but I just liked it, figured it was worth the ten bucks."

Dean gently drew his thumb across the smooth porcelain of the face and touched the full lips. He smiled as he lightly ran his fingers along the soft white feathers of the delicate wings spread out behind the figure. Guess you got your wings after all.

"Dean, what is it?" John asked as he stood behind him, his own eyes taking in the image of the tree-topper that seemed to hold his son's attention. He tenderly placed his hands on his son's shoulders in a firm grip, feeling the life beneath them, comforted again to have his son back with them and to be sharing this Christmas Day with his loved ones.

Dean smiled back at his dad. He glanced over to his brother and Bobby and grinned with a contented peace. "Nothin'. She just looks like a dear friend of mine."

bjxmas

August 2007

All standard disclaimers apply.

Yes, this is a very old story that somehow never got posted. I find it eerie how some references written so long ago were later echoed on the show. And yes, this is definitely softer and more saccharine than what Kripke gave us with A Very Supernatural Christmas…so sue me, I like to see my Winchesters deliriously happy every so often. Which is why I love the brotherly moments of AVSC, one of my all-time favorite episodes and a terrific Christmas present to the fans.

And the iPod…well, this was definitely written before Lazarus Rising and while I considered revising it, I decided to let it stand. After all, it was the iPod douching up the Impala that Dean reacted so strongly against, not the idea of new technology. And Sam's questionable taste in music has held up…he's just not the Classic Rock guy Dean is. lol

Note: Thanks to DinaLori for reminding me (how could I have possibly forgotten this scene? ...mind-boggling!) but it seems my story fits perfectly into canon since Dean DID have an iPod when he was enjoying the Magic Fingers in Houses of the Holy! So obviously...this is how he came to own an iPod! I'm brilliant...or lucky! Or maybe it's just meant to be, but whatever, I'll take it!

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays to all! And if you'd like to leave a review, I'd take it as just another lovely Christmas present!

B.J.