Dean opened his eyes and stretched lazily. It was Christmas morning, and he hated to admit it (even just to himself), but he was totally excited. It was still early, but he couldn't wait anymore. He hopped out of bed, threw on his robe and headed out to the sitting room. He was surprised to find Charlie already awake, dressed in a pair of pale blue pajamas and sitting cross legged on the floor in front of the tree.
" 'morning," Dean said, his voice scratchy with sleep. His eyes widened at the number of presents that seemed to have accumulated overnight.
Charlie turned, startled. She grinned at Dean, but looked a little sad at the same time.
"You're up early," Dean said softly, curious about her expression.
She nodded looking back at the tree.
Dean took a seat on the coffee table beside her. "You ok, kiddo?"
Charlie looked up at him, tears in her eyes and let out a weak laugh as she nodded.
"Charlie, hey..." Dean put a hand on her shoulder. "What?"
"I... I was just thinking... about my mom," she said, struggling for control as a few tears slipped from her eyes. "I miss her."
Dean leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "I know." Something inside twisted with grief for his friends. Sam had mentioned that he'd had a similar conversation with Kevin the other day.
Charlie sniffled a little and managed a smile. "I'm sorry. I won't ruin Christmas. I'll be-"
"Charlie, you're not ruining anything. It's ok. All right? We're glad to have you here."
She looked gratefully at him. "I'm glad to be here, I really am."
Dean touched the side of her face and smiled down at her.
She brightened a little and laid her head on his knee. "Cas got you guys something really cool."
"He did?" Dean asked surprised, rubbing Charlie's shoulder a little. "What?"
She looked up at him in feigned shock. "I'm not telling!"
Dean laughed. "Crap. Well, which one is it?" He stood up and walked over to the tree.
"Dean," Charlie's reaction was becoming a little less of an act. She eyed him suspiciously. "What are you doing?"
Dean laid down on his belly and started reaching around under the tree, examining the tags on the packages.
"Dude, seriously... what are you doing?" Charlie was truly concerned now.
"Nothing! Relax. I'm just going to do a little poking around and- Whoa!"
Someone had grabbed his ankles and yanked him none too gently out from under the tree. Dean rolled over on his back and found himself staring up at a classic Sam Winchester bitch face. Dean smiled broadly at him. "Merry Christmas, little bro!"
"Yeah, Merry Christmas yourself, Mr. Grinch. Let's wait for the rest of the house to join us, ok?" Sam reached down and Dean took his hand and rose up to his feet.
Sam finally cracked a smile and gave Dean a gentle punch on the shoulder. Dean shoved him back playfully and went back to examining gifts, but from a more respectable distance.
Charlie watched, curious as Sam's eyes followed Dean with visible excitement. His gaze grew more intense as Dean circled the tree.
Just then, Dean stopped and let out a gasp. "Oh!" He pointed to something behind the tree.
Sam was grinning now. Charlie got up to see what had Dean's eyes practically bugging out of his head like a little boy on... well, on Christmas morning. Behind the tree stood a beautiful wooden toboggan with a big red bow and a tag hanging from its rope.
"Dude!" He looked back over his shoulder at Sam. "Did you go back and get this for Cas?"
Sam was shaking his head. "Look at the tag," he said folding his arms.
Dean grabbed the tag and read it. His face lit up as he looked at Sam. "It's for me?"
Sam nodded, a lopsided smile on his face. Charlie could see it in his eyes that he was thrilled that his brother was so excited.
"Oh, dude! This is awesome! This is going to be so cool!" Dean pulled it out from behind the tree and ran his hand over the shiny wood surface. "Thanks, Sammy!"
Suddenly, Charlie couldn't wait to see what else was under the tree. "When will everyone get up?" she asked excitedly.
Dean leaned his sled up against the wall and put his hands on his hips. He looked at Sam thoughtfully. "I'm figuring right about now. What do you think, Sam?"
Sam twisted his mouth a bit as though he were thinking about it. "Yeah, now is probably about right."
Charlie looked at them, confused. "Right now? All at the same time? How do you know that?"
Dean walked over to the tree and pulled two air horns out from behind a brightly colored package. He looked knowingly at Charlie as he tossed one to Sam.
Charlie laughed in disbelief. "What are those?"
"Early Christmas presents." Sam said. "Merry Christmas, Dean!"
"Merry Christmas, Sammy!"
"Holy crap. I'm glad I got up early!" Charlie said following the boys down the hall to the bedrooms. They stopped in the middle of the hall.
"All right, cover your ears, kiddo. Rise and shine, everybody!" Dean yelled and raised his air horn over his head as he and Sam blasted out enough noise to wake the dead.
After a second or two, they dropped their arms, stifling laughter like 12 year old boys and started running back towards the living room. Dean took Charlie's hand and dragged her along as Sam shoved her gently from behind. "Go, GO!" Sam said laughing, urging her forward.
The three of them skidded down the hall in their socks and dove onto the sofas, quickly taking a relaxed position, assuming bored expressions, and pretending nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
It was Jody who emerged first. Her hair was sticking up, her pajamas were rumpled and one pant leg was pushed up to her knee. Her eyes were half opened and she did not look happy. "What. The. Hell," she bellowed in a voice that was a cross between tough cop and angry mom.
Sam covered his mouth, but couldn't hold back his laugh. Jody walked over and smacked his head, only causing him to laugh harder which in turn, caused Dean to lose it. Charlie just sat motionless and somewhat nervous.
Castiel came hurrying out of his room, looking even less put together than Jody. "Is everything all right? Is there a fire?"
Almost right behind him, Kevin came stumbling out of his room. "You guys suck!"
And from the other side of the room, from the doorway leading to the kitchen, Garth appeared carrying a tray of glasses, plates, several pieces of toast, jam, and a pitcher of orange juice. "Air horns! Ahh! That's just classic 'Sam and Dean'," he said, shaking his head.
Dean and Sam looked at each other, both grinning ear to ear.
Garth set the food down on the small table and once everyone was sipping or munching on something, the air horn incident seemed to smooth over.
They moved the sofas and chairs in closer together. Presents started getting passed out. There was laughing and occasional hugging and seven people talking all at once. Wrapping paper was everywhere.
Dean had revealed his big present for Sam, a memory foam mattress which Kevin and Cas had hidden for him in the back of the garage. Dean had attached a string to the gift tag under the tree and Sam had to follow it to find his present.
Sam had given Dean a new robe with his initials embroidered on the front pocket.
"You really don't like that robe I've been wearing, do you?" Dean asked, trying on the new one. It was about as soft as his new blanket on the inside. He had to admit, Sam had done well and he certainly wouldn't be missing the old one.
Sam shook his head. "No. It creeps me out."
Dean laughed and tossed him a gift. "That little shop in the strip mall that does the custom embroidery does printing too. Guess it came in handy for both of us this year."
Sam looked questioningly at him.
"Open!" Dean waved his hands at the present in Sam's lap.
Sam ripped off the paper and opened the box. "Oh, awesome! Pajamas!" he said as he lifted a pair of fleece pants out of the box.
Dean shook his head. "Not just any pajamas-" he stopped and a grin spread across his face as he watched Sam examine the matching t-shirt.
Sam gave him a look. "Really?" he asked in embarrassed annoyance.
"Go on, show 'em all what is says!"
"What's it say, Sam?" Jody asked.
Sam was turning a bit red and looking none too eager to show anyone what was printed on the shirt. Dean was laughing.
Now Cas and Kevin looked interested and Sam's shoulders finally sagged as he hung his head and lifted the shirt out of the box.
Charlie read it out loud. " 'Sammy Jammies'! Oh! Oh my gosh- that is so cute!" she laughed.
Kevin was rolling on the sofa.
"Aww, that's adorable," Garth said, reaching for another piece of toast.
Cas got up then and pulled a box from under the tree. "This is for Sam and Dean and Kevin, but everyone can use it," he said setting the box on the table. The three boys tore open the paper together and there was a collective gasp from all three of them.
"Holy crap, Cas! A Playstation?"
Castiel nodded. "Do you like it?"
Dean ran his hand through his hair, his eyes widened with excitement. "Like it? This is freaking awesome! But how did you get this?"
"My manager, Nora. This belonged to her nephew and she and her brother are planning to buy him a new game system for Christmas. Her brother gave her this old one and she said I could either have this or a Christmas bonus. I thought it might be something we could all enjoy. She said it's a fairly old model, but-"
"I don't care how old this is, it's freaking awesome!" Sam said.
"And look at all the games!" Kevin was practically drooling into the box.
Castiel smiled, pleased his gift had gone over so well.
Sam waited a bit, and then pulled a large box out from behind the tree. "Cas, you and I were thinking alike... this will go really well with the Playstation. It's for you and Dean and Kevin."
Kevin and Dean were still digging through the games.
"Maybe you could open it for them," Sam laughed as Cas tore off the paper.
"Holy crap!" Dean exclaimed, glancing up to see what Cas was unwrapping. "Is that a TV?"
"Yes!" Kevin shouted.
Sam grinned sheepishly. "It's not the big monster set that most people are getting this year. I found it used, but it's in good shape and I thought it would still be good enough-"
"Sammy, this is great!"
They spent most of the morning opening presents and playing with all the new toys. The Playstation was popular until well after lunch and then the drawing game that Garth had brought them took center stage. Dean wasn't sure he wanted to play at first, but then he remembered "what a fantastic artist" Sam was and he finally agreed. And he ended up very glad he joined them. He had never laughed harder in his life. It turned out that Castiel couldn't draw any better than Sam and the two of them combined with the game made for a pretty hilarious experience.
And of course, there was the epic sledding event of 2013, as it would come to be known. Dean's toboggan "kicked everyone's ass" as they all raced down the hill in the back of the bunker on the new sleds. The girls headed inside after a couple runs, but the guys stayed out a little longer. Castiel was having the time of his life. Eventually, Sam could sense Dean's energy running low again, plus he was getting concerned about the height of the jumps Dean and Cas were building. Sam started to complain about being cold and was relieved when Dean didn't argue about going inside.
Jody and Garth made a big dinner for everyone and before they knew it, the day was over. Dean was asleep on the sofa, nestled in his blanket, but he stirred sleepily when Sam came in and stood admiring the tree with a mug of tea in his hand.
Sam glanced over his shoulder and turned with a resigned sigh when he heard Dean sitting up. "Well," he asked spreading his arms wide to show off what he was wearing. "What do you think?"
Dean rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and looked at him. He was clad in the navy and gray plaid fleece pajama pants and the gray cotton t-shirt with the words "Sammy Jammies" printed in a childlike font across the front. Dean threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, Sammy. I'm sorry, man," he said, trying to catch his breath. "I just... I had to."
Sam was nodding and grinning sheepishly.
"Here," Dean said, tossing a large bundle at him. "Maybe this'll make up for it."
Sam caught it and his eyebrows raised in surprise. "Hey! It's the famous Christmas blanket! I get one too?"
"Yeah, sorry. I picked it up yesterday and hid it in my room and forgot to wrap it. With everything going on this morning, I kept forgetting to go and get it for you."
"But, it's the same color as yours! I thought-"
"It only comes in six colors. You had to get a repeat. Don't worry, I put an "S" on the tag."
Sam smiled at him, knowing Dean would have picked this one for him had the blanket come in 15 different colors. "Thanks, man."
Dean yawned. "What time is it?"
"Everybody gone to bed?"
Sam nodded taking a sip of tea. "Yeah, I'm thinking of heading there myself in a bit."
Dean groaned and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Yeah, me too."
Sam was quiet for a minute, just looking at the tree.
"Hey, you ok over there?" Dean asked, noticing something off in Sam's body language.
"What, me? Yeah- yeah, I'm fine." Sam put his mug on the table and sat down. "This was really, really great day."
Dean grinned. "Yeah. It really was. I don't think I've ever laughed this much in my life. I've got a headache from it."
"You need something for it?"
Dean shook his head. "No, I'm good. Hey, uh...I've got another present for you."
Sam looked at him, surprised. He smiled a little. "What? Dude, you gave me enough already-"
Dean waved him quiet. "Just shut up and go get it. It's on the bookshelf behind the tree."
Sam walked over to the shelf where a long package lay across the books on the top shelf. He pulled it down and came back over the the couch. Dean pulled his legs up and made room for Sam.
Sam sat down and looked at Dean, knowing this was going to be something with at least a little bit of an emotional edge to it, otherwise his brother wouldn't have waited until they were by themselves to give it to him.
"Go on, open it."
Sam carefully tore the paper off to reveal a frame with three photos... Mary and John on one end, the whole family on the other and a picture of 4 year old Dean holding baby Sammy in his lap in the middle.
Sam looked up from the frame, trying to keep the moisture out of his eyes.
"I had those photos copied. The ones they found in the basement of the house. They did a little restoration work on them too... fixed them up, got rid of the folds and tears."
Sam nodded, not quite able to speak yet.
"They couldn't fix your face, though... there was nothing they could do."
Sam couldn't hold in a laugh, which ended up forcing out a couple of tears. "Jerk," he whispered, shaking his head as he wiped at his eyes.
Dean regarded him then, more seriously. "You need some things in your room to- you know... make it yours, Sam."
Sam looked at the photos and then back up at Dean. "Thanks," he said sincerely. "This is really great."
Dean watched as Sam stood and walked back over to the tree, still hanging on to the frame. The nervous behavior Dean had noticed earlier was back and even more pronounced.
"What's wrong with you?" Dean asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Nothing!" The automatic response came back rather unconvincingly.
Don't give me that, Dean said with a simple look.
Sam sighed and looked at the floor. ""I uh... I have another present for you, too."
Dean raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Well, why are you all weird about it? Is it something I'm not going to like?"
Sam looked up hesitantly.
Dean grimaced. "Is it plane tickets?"
"No," Sam laughed, softly.
"A snake? Is it a snake? I don't like snakes, Sammy-"
"It's not a snake! Dude," Sam rolled his eyes, exasperated.
Dean chuckled and sat back on the sofa. "Well, come on, then. Don't keep me in suspense. I'm sure I'll love it- if it's not a snake or plane tickets."
Dean watched as Sam started to reach for something, then hesitated and looked back at Dean, then he pulled open a drawer at the base of the bookshelf. He hesitated again and then went ahead and pulled something out. Dean couldn't see what it was until Sam walked over and placed a small, newspaper wrapped package on his knee.
He was about to make a snide comment about Sam's choice of wrapping paper and where the hell is the curly ribbon, when a memory jolted his thoughts and stopped the words instantly.
Sam stepped back and watched as things began to register in Dean's mind. Dean swallowed and looked up at Sam, his eyes looking almost fearful as Dean picked up the package.
Sam looked down then and took another step back. Since he didn't have pockets in the fleece pants he was wearing, he kind of just stood there with his arms wrapped awkwardly around himself, scuffing a spot of the floor with his sock.
Dean tore carefully at the paper, his throat tightened as he felt the sting of tears threatening to form. Get a hold of yourself, it can't be what you think it is!
But it was.
Tears welled immediately in his eyes. He felt his heart in his throat as he lifted the gold amulet out of it's packaging. It was a moment before he could look at Sam. It was several moments before he could breathe again.
"You saved it," he said, his voice could barley raise above a whisper as he finally sucked in air.
But Sam was still staring at the floor. "I picked it up after...If you don't- if you don't want it, you don't have to keep it, I just... I thought that maybe since things had been pretty good with us that maybe-" He was talking too fast and his words were running together and there was a catch in his voice. And he wouldn't- he couldn't- look at Dean.
Dean got up off the couch and closed the distance between them in two steps. Sam's last few words were muffled into the soft flannel on Dean's shoulder as Dean yanked him down into a tight hug and didn't let go.
"Oh, Sammy," he finally choked out after a moment. "I am so, so sorry."
Sam's breath hitched as he wrapped his arms around his brother, melting into his arms in relief.
"Sam..." Dean whispered. "I don't think I've ever told you...I've been sorry every day since I let this thing go. Sorry for letting it go and more sorry for..." he swallowed, "...for hurting you. More sorry than I can even... It was a really dick move. And I knew it the minute we drove away from that motel."
Sam shuddered a little in his arms, trying to breathe and hold back a sob as tears streamed out of his eyes.
"But you know what the worst thing is?" Dean asked softly, still hanging on.
Sam didn't answer him, he just kept leaning into Dean's shoulder. Dean felt him swallow and heard the softest hint of a sniffle. He squeezed a little tighter.
"The worst thing is that you have any doubt in your mind right now about whether or not I would want this back. I failed you big time if you even think for a second that-"
"No-" Sam choked out through tears. "Dean, no. I... I get it-"
"No, I don't think you do," he said softly, pushing Sam back so he could look at him. It took some doing to lift his brother's face so he could make eye contact. "Sam, look at me."
Watery hazel eyes lifted from the still ducked head and finally met his.
Dean's voice was a firm, but gentle whisper. "If you 'got it', you wouldn't be staring at your toes and hovering off in the corner. You'd be looking me straight in the eye and saying, 'Here, dumbass. Don't do anything stupid with it this time.' "
Sam let out a laugh and choked on a sob at the same time.
"Sammy," Dean shook him gently, demanding his attention. "You are the most important thing in the whole universe to me. You always have been. I said it in the church and I meant it. And I will keep saying it to you every single day if I have to till it sinks in to that thick skull of yours."
There was a long pause as Sam had to look away again for a moment. When he caught his brother's gaze again, he was able to muster a bit of a smile. "That would be weird."
"What, me telling you that every day? Yeah, no crap. So maybe you can just believe me this time? Make things a little easier on the both of us?"
Sam laughed a little and a couple more tears spilled out of the corners of his eyes. Dean brushed them away with his thumb and Sam swatted playfully at his hand.
"You ok, now Samantha?"
Sam leaned in and hugged him again. And now it was Dean's turn to bite back the sob.
"Thank you, Sammy."
When Sam let go, Dean turned away and wiped his eyes. He sank down to the couch and gazed at the amulet in his hand. He slipped it over his head and almost spilled a few more tears as he felt the still familiar weight against his chest. "I love it."
Sam grinned and picked up his new blanket. He stretched out on the couch that had been pushed up to form an "L" to the one Dean was on.
They both laid there for a while, not saying anything, bathed in the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights, wrapped up in fuzzy, slate colored blankets and surrounded by family sleeping in their house. As much as they loved having them all here, both were grateful for the brief, private little Christmas evening they'd been able to spend together.
Neither of them would be surprised the next day to be awakened early as punishment for the air horn incident. Neither of them would be surprised to find Garth and Kevin glued to the Playstation for most of the morning or Castiel hinting none to subtly that he's like to go out and play in the snow again with someone. Anyone. And, though uncomfortable, neither of them would be surprised by Charlie's enraptured squeal of glee upon seeing the amulet hanging around Dean's neck, or her earnest assertion that she knew all along that Sam had kept it and would give it back one day and why did you wait so long, and why did no one call me to witness this epic bro-ment? It could all be put off at least till lunch if they went to sleep in their rooms.
"So," Dean said quietly. "You gonna go try out that new mattress?"
"I don't know," Sam said sleepily. "Would you be offended if I said maybe tomorrow?"
Dean chuckled. "Nope. I'm not moving either."
And they were quiet again. As Sam started to drift off, he mumbled, "Merry Christmas, Dean,"
He thought maybe Dean was asleep, but then he heard him, just barely a sleepy whisper, "Merry Christmas, Little Brother."
Writer's note: Just wanted to say thank you to all of you who took the time to read and I hope you enjoyed the story. Thanks for the encouraging comments, I was a little nervous as this is my first SPN fan fiction. Would love to hear your thoughts if you have a moment to review! Hope you all had a wonderful holiday.