Christmas Selection 2009

Holiday Spirits

By Tree

 

Then

“Let me know if it needs some more kick,” Sam offered, smiling nervously as he handed Dean the small plastic cup filled with eggnog.

Dean took a hearty sip and gasped as the whiskey overpowered the milk and cinnamon, stealing away his breath as it burned down his throat.

“No, we’re good,” he rasped, returning the smile.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah!”

“Good! Well, uh… have a seat. Let’s do Christmas stuff or whatever,” Sam nervously suggested.

Glancing at the small tree adorned in colorful lights and fragrant auto air fresheners, Dean smiled broadly, inwardly happy that his “Bah Humbug” brother had apparently relented and gotten into the Christmas spirit after all.

“Alright, first things first,” he beamed, pulling up a chair and grabbing a large plastic bag.

They exchanged gifts; Sam laughing over his porn and shaving cream, Dean equally pleased with the “candy” for both him and the Impala. Yet the humor was short-lived, the dark cloud of Dean’s mortality and the stark realization that this was likely to be the last Christmas that the brothers would ever again share suddenly settling over the room and threatening the mood.

So they wordlessly agreed to not talk about deals or days left on the calendar, instead sipping their eggnog and turning on the football game. Christmas Eve eased past with a forced comfort inspired by the spiked beverage and a younger brother’s determination to make his sibling’s last holiday memorable.

As the snow fell outside, the eggnog freely flowed inside the small motel room. Encouraged by the alcohol, their spirits lifted; laughing easily as the memories returned.

Back Then

“When is Dad s’posed to be back from Wichita?” Ten year-old Sam asked as he pushed the chicken nuggets across his plate.

Dean sighed and rolled his eyes, tossing his burger down on the table. “Does it really make a difference what I tell you? If I say tomorrow and he doesn’t show up, you’ll just be pissed. So I might as well say two days from now and then if he shows up early, then just maybe you’ll shut the hell up.”

“I was only asking,”

“Yeah, for like the millionth time.”

“Was not!”

“Honestly, Sam, I get it. I can look at the calendar too. I know what you’re gettin’ at; tomorrow’s Christmas. But you know where Dad is and you know what he’s doing, so you know there’s no guarantee that he’ll be home in time. And you’re just gonna be disappointed or angry when he doesn’t show,” Dean pointed out.

“I was only asking,” the shaggy-haired boy complained again, stabbing at a piece of food half-heartedly.

“No you weren’t. It’s the same thing we go through every year,” Dean shot back.

He looked down at the now cold sandwich and then back at the sullen boy sitting across the table. He should have seen it coming; the warning signs had been there for days. Sam watching the door, jumping up whenever there was a loud, rumbling engine outside the motel room or looking quizzically whenever the phone rang. Despite the revelations at Broken Bow, Sam still clung to the idea that Dad would be home for Christmas.

Maybe it was his fault, Dean considered. Maybe he was to blame for all the years he’d covered for their absent father, making excuses and flat out stealing when necessary to make Sam believe that Santa, or later Dad, had been there.

But things were different now. Sam was ten. He knew the big family secret. He knew there was no such thing as Santa Claus and he knew that there were things out there that didn’t take time off from slaughtering innocent people just because it was December 25th.

Still, that didn’t mean they couldn’t celebrate and Dad had left him a few extra dollars – “Just in case.”

“Alright, Sammy. I’m tired of looking at your sour puss. What do you say we get some things together and have the place ready for a nice Christmas dinner for when Dad gets home? Would that get you in the spirit?” Dean suggested.

The younger boy looked up, his blue-green eyes brightening. “Like what, Dean? Besides, we don’t have any money.”

Dean waved him off. “Not to worry. Dad left a few extra dollars just for the occasion and I put a couple bucks aside.”

“You mean you were hustling pool over at the bar,” Sam smirked knowingly.

“I was not! And if you say anything to Dad, I’ll tell Penny Harrison you like her,” Dean threatened.

“I do not!” Sam shouted, his face turning red as he jumped to his feet.

“The whole school will know, Sammy. Remember that, not a word to Dad.”

Dean chuckled smugly as his brother silently fumed. “Come on, Sammy. Grab you coat and we’ll walk down to Gray’s IGA and get a few things.”

The younger boy eagerly complied and within minutes the brothers were out the door and kicking through the fresh snow on their way to the small market.

The little Wisconsin town didn’t boast much in the way of retail shops, Wal-Mart having yet to find its way into the Northwoods. Besides the grocery, there was a Five and Dime, a hunting and tackle shop, and of course, several bars. In fact, the bars easily outnumbered the “respectable” establishments, three to one.

Dean figured he knew why. Way up here in the middle of nowhere, outside of hunting or fishing or working at the paper mill, sitting at a bar commiserating over the Packers was about the only other form of diversion.

I wish I had some other form of diversion… he quietly mused as they passed by the beckoning neon lights in the window of the Rustic Inn. It wasn’t that he was looking to drink or get drunk; if he wanted to he could easily get his hands on the beer or whiskey left behind by their dad.

No, Dean was mostly tired of being stuck here. Dad had been gone off and on for over three months on one hunt or another. And while it was great for Sam to be able to go to school in one place for a while, the older boy wasn’t as enthused with the academic continuity. Unlike Sammy, he wasn’t about “the grades” and even “the girls” around here didn’t really have any appeal.

Dean wanted to hunt, plain and simple. He’d been taking more and more of an interest in it and had even gotten to be a fairly decent shot with the Mossberg. Yet, no matter how much he cleaned the weapons for his dad or how hard he studied or paid attention to the legends and lore his father rattled off, the fourteen-year-old never made it past babysitting patrol.

“Dean… Dean! Are you listening to me?”

“Huh?”

“I asked if we were gonna just stand outside?” Sam asked, rubbing his arms against the cold.

Dean stared at him blankly, suddenly realizing he’d been lost in thought. He slapped his brother good-naturedly on the back and nodded toward the door.

“Come on, Samantha. Let’s get you inside before you freeze to death,” Dean teased.

They entered the nearly empty grocery store, the aisles virtually deserted except for the few last minute shoppers grabbing the forgotten loaf of bread or gallon of milk. Dean tossed a basket at Sam as he led the way.

“What are we gonna get?” the younger boy asked curiously, his eyes scanning the shelves as he hurried after his brother.

“Well, we need a real Christmas dinner,” Dean replied. “So I guess we’ll have to find potatoes and um…”

Dean whirled around as he looked at the signs hanging above the aisles.

“You don’t know do you?” Sam asked.

“Sure I do. We’ve had Christmas dinner at Pastor Jim’s before. They had stuffing and turkey and pie and ham… that’s it, we’ll get a ham,” he declared.

They made their way to the meat case and began looking at the various offerings. There were at least three or four different types of hams and all ranging in sizes. Dean looked at the tags, even the smallest ones were six or seven dollars and he doubted they’d be large enough to make a decent sandwich let alone a good Christmas dinner.

Still, he’d promised Sam a real Christmas and he was gonna make good on it.

“You boys need some help?”

Dean looked up to see an older man in a bloodstained butcher’s apron standing in front of him.

“Uh, no sir. Dad just sent us to pick up some stuff. He sprained his ankle and it’s hard for him to get around on the crutches,” Dean lied.

The man smiled knowingly. “You boys getting Christmas dinner then? Ham by the looks, huh?”

Dean nodded, nervously wanting to be away from the man’s questions but knowing he had to maintain the calm façade. “Yes sir. Dad’s a great cook.”

“He might have to be with that particular piece,” the man chuckled. “Look, son, can I make a suggestion? Why don’t you take home one of these nice spiral-cut hams? They’re much tastier, and most folks love them for Christmas dinner.”

Dean looked at the chunk of meat the man held up. His eyes caught the white sticker and the glaring price standing out in red numbers. “No thanks, sir, this one will be okay. Come on. Sammy.”

He grabbed his brother’s arm and pulled him away.

“Boys! Hang on a second,” the butcher called out. “We’re gonna be closed for the holidays, so these hams will go to waste. I was going to mark them down to get rid of them anyway. I can sell you this one for just a little more per pound than that one and I bet your dad will like it a lot better.”

Dean eyed the man suspiciously, but Sam tugged on his arm. “Come on, Dean. I bet Dad would like it.”

“Uh… okay, sir. We’ll take that one,” he answered, mentally calculating how much money would be left over.

The man smiled. “Now what else is on your dad’s list?”

Dean shrugged. “He didn’t really write one down for us. It’s kinda all up here,” he replied, tapping on the side of his head.

“Well let’s get you set up then. You’ll be wanting some sweet potatoes, some pecan pie, oh and we can’t forget the eggnog,” he called out, leading the way through the small store.

In a short time they were finished and back at the checkout with the basket loaded to the brim. Dean swallowed hard; there was no way he had enough money to afford all the stuff the man had piled together.

Pulling out his wallet, he thumbed through the bills, his heart pounding as he counted them out.

“Sam, we don’t have enough for all this,” he whispered. He hated the look on his brother’s face as Sam’s bright-eyed glee suddenly diminished.

“Okay, that’ll be twenty-two dollars,” the grocer announced.

Dean blinked. “Huh?”

“Twenty-two even,” the man repeated. “I hate counting change and it’s almost closing time so I don’t want to have to rebalance the drawer. You have twenty-two dollars don’t ya?”

“Uh, yeah… yes… yes sir,” the older boy stuttered as he quickly counted out the money. He knew it was charity, he knew the man was just being nice, but it was Christmas and it sure as hell beat having to try to steal this stuff to make his brother happy.

Dean helped bag it all up, then he and Sam, their arms loaded with supplies headed for the door calling Christmas wishes to their benefactor.

The snow had resumed and the temperature had dropped slightly, but the walk back to the efficiency apartment was lighthearted. There would be more than mac and cheese for dinner this year and Dean could only hope that the rest of his holiday wish would come true.

Getting back to their place, they started putting away the groceries when Sam came across the carton of eggnog.

“What do we do with this?” the ten-year-old asked.

“Its eggnog, you drink it,” Dean replied.

He watched as Sam pulled open the top of the container and sniffed cautiously at the contents.

“It smells kinda funny,” the younger boy commented. He snagged an empty glass left from dinner and poured some, cautiously taking a sip of the thick beverage.

“Ewww! Gross!” Sam whined, his nose wrinkling in distaste as he spit some back into the glass.

“Yeah , well, I think you’re s’posed to add stuff to it.”

“Like what?”

Dean shrugged. “I dunno. I think Pastor Jim always put rum in it.”

“We don’t have that. Will Dad drink it without rum?”

Dean shrugged again. “I think you can put other stuff in it too. Besides, Dad doesn’t like rum anyway.”

“Like what then? Beer? Do we put beer in it for Dad? It already smells pretty bad, I doubt the beer will make it smell any worse,” Sam suggested.

“No, you dumbass. Not beer. Hand it here!”

Dean grabbed the container off his brother and scanned the label. “Look, it says right here, you can add cinnamon or nutmeg. Oh and you can ‘kick it up’ by adding rum or whiskey.”

“Dad does drink whiskey,” Sam affirmed.

“Jim and Jack, two of his best friends. Right up there with Bobby and Caleb,” Dean added with a chuckle.

“So do we have any?”

“Dad keeps it under the sink,”

Sam scurried toward the cabinet while Dean returned to putting away the last of the groceries. The younger sibling came back a moment later with a nearly full bottle of amber colored liquid.

“Hey! What are you going to do with that?” Dean asked.

“Mix it up,” Sam answered.

“Right now?”

“I wanna taste it,” Sam insisted.

“I don’t think so,” Dean replied coolly.

“Aw, come on. Just a sip. Besides, we don’t have any of that other stuff it says to add,” Sam complained.

“Too bad!”

Sam huffed and petulantly stuck out his tongue as Dean turned his back and headed toward the bedrooms. When he was sure his brother was out of range, the shaggy-haired boy stealthily unscrewed the cap on the whiskey bottle and added a healthy splash to the eggnog he’d already poured in the glass. The alcohol didn’t seem to change the color of the milky liquid and other than the slight hint of the whisky still in the air; Sam didn’t think Dean would be able to tell he’d added it.

Straining to see if his brother was coming back, once the younger Winchester was sure he was still alone, he quickly lifted the spiked glass and took a healthy gulp of the contents. The taste wasn’t much different and other than a slight sour burn down the back of his throat, Sam didn’t think the flavor had improved with the addition of the liquor. He grimaced and forced the rest of the bitter concoction down.

“Maybe it just needs more,” he quietly mused.

Leaning forward, Sam made sure Dean was still out of range before he quickly poured another glassful of eggnog. More carefully this time, he added twice as much from the bottle of Jack Daniels until the mixture was skimming the brim of the glass.

Hurriedly, the boy lifted the glass and eagerly chugged the drink, unmindful of the contents. The heavier alcohol content struck him this time and Sam gasped, his eyes immediately watering as the whiskey burned his throat and raged down into his stomach.

The room tilted slightly and for a second Sam thought he was going to be violently ill. He grabbed for the edge of a chair to steady himself, the glass in his hand dropping to the table with a loud clatter.

“Sammy?” Dean called out from the back part of the apartment.

“Yeah?” the younger sibling barely squeaked out.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just dropped a glass.”

“Klutz”

Sam ignored the comment as he fought to regain his balance. A strange sort of “warmth” had washed over his body and while it didn’t necessarily feel bad, combined with the churning in his stomach and the suddenly spinning room, he wasn’t sure he could move without falling over.

“Hey, Sammy, I was just thinking,” Dean announced, coming back into the main room. “We should go get a tree too. Maybe decorate the place a little for Dad. I bet he’d like that. What do you think?”

Sam shrugged but didn’t speak and Dean looked at him quizzically, curious when his normally verbose sibling remained quiet.

“Well, don’t get too excited. If you want to go, you better go put some warmer clothes on. I figure we should be able to use one of the machetes if we don’t pick a really big one,” Dean suggested.

Sam nodded slowly and reluctantly let go of the chair, his fingers slipping off like a drowning man falling away from a life preserver. Dean watched him creep along toward the back bedrooms, curiosity nagging at the back of his mind. His eyes scanned the room; big brother radar and early warning system on alert. Years of training and the repetitive “watch out for Sam” made the little voice in the back of his head begin to nag like a bad toothache. His brother was hiding something; Dean just needed to figure out what.

Maybe it’s just Dad not being here… Dean considered, absently rubbing the back of his neck. But no, Sam seemed pretty happy with the whole idea of planning the Christmas meal, decorating and preparing for their dad’s return. Sure, the kid had been kinda down in the dumps for the past few days, but Dean knew it was all because Sam had been counting the days and watching the door. Giving the boy something to focus on and filling him with a little hope had obviously worked given the broad smile on Sam’s face on the way to the store.

“So what the hell is up with him now?” Dean pondered.

He glanced around the room once again, his gaze finally landing on the tilted-over glass lying on the table. Dean picked it up, examining it like some detective looking over a crucial piece of evidence. Recognizing it as the glass Sam had been sampling the eggnog from, the elder sibling was about to walk it over to the kitchen sink when the niggling voice returned.

“Nobody really likes eggnog enough to drink two glassfuls… do they?” he asked quietly.

Raising the container, Dean sniffed the rim, his eyebrows lifting as his keen nose picked up on a familiar odor.

“So, Sammy decided to get into the holiday spirit a little early, huh? No wonder little brother snuck off like a whipped puppy. Just how much J.D. did baby bro’ put in the punch?”

Setting down the glass, Dean lifted the bottle of whiskey and tried to estimate how much was missing. Surely his ten-year-old brother hadn’t been stupid enough to add that much liquor to the eggnog? The bottle appeared to be about three-quarters full, and considering their dad had purchased it when they’d first arrived here, then that most likely meant Sam couldn’t have used much of it. Could he?

Still, Dean was less than pleased by his brother’s little show of rebellion. It was one thing to have a taste of a beer, they’d both had their fair share of that at Bobby Singer’s place, and neither was a stranger to Jim Murphy’s version of “communion wine,” but neither of them had ever been granted permission to sample the strong stuff.

Well, not as far as Dean was willing to readily admit…

But that didn’t apply to here and now. Here and now, he was responsible for his brother in the absence of their dad. Here and now, his brother had just disobeyed him and snuck some alcohol.

“Fine! If Sammy wants to prove he’s so big for his britches… well, let’s see how big he really is!” Dean laughed smugly.

Moving over to the cupboard, the older boy retrieved a large thermos and returned to the table. Opening the carton of eggnog, he carefully filled the container until it was a little over half full, then with a quick glance to be sure Sam was still nowhere to be see, Dean quickly unscrewed the cap to the bourbon and added it to the bottle until the mixture nearly reached the top. Replacing the cap to the Thermos, he gently shook it back and forth to mix the contents.

Straightening up the bottles, he nervously glanced around, wondering if his younger brother would notice the lower level in the bottle of whiskey.

“Hey, Sammy! You get lost in there? Let’s get going already. We’re just going to cut down a tree, not like you have to get beautiful for Penny Harrison,” Dean taunted.

He knew it was more than likely that Sam was sitting on his bed praying for the bedroom to stop spinning or worse, hoping that his stomach wouldn’t suddenly turn inside-out and come spewing out of his nose. The white-knuckle grip on the kitchen chair suddenly made sense now.

Dean chuckled and called out again even louder.

“SAMMY! Shake a leg, dude. I thought you were the one that wanted to do the whole Christmas thing for Dad?”

“Yeah, I’m comin’,” a weak, less than enthusiastic reply came from beyond the hallway.

Dean was pulling on his jacket when Sam reappeared, slowing tugging on a pair of thick gloves. The taller boy stifled a laugh as he watched the shaggy-haired youth struggle to jam his fingers into each hole of the glove. It was like watching a cat try to flick something distasteful off its paw and after a moment Dean couldn’t contain his humor.

“Seriously, Sam. Do I need to get you a pair of mittens or something? Maybe something less… complicated?” he teased.

His brother turned to face him, his expression a mixture of harsh glare and slight illness that almost made Dean feel sorry for him. Almost…

“Let’s go, slow-poke. Time’s wastin’ and it ain’t gettin’ any warmer out there.”

Sam nodded, finishing by yanking a red stocking cap over his head. He began towards the front door, stopping suddenly when Dean’s voice called out.

“Whoa, hold up there a sec. I filled a thermos to take with us. You grab that and I’ll get the machete out of the closet,” the elder Winchester instructed.

Dean watched surreptitiously as Sam tentatively picked up the container. The boy looked at the dented silver cylinder as though it contained radioactive waste and he was just given the lethal task of carrying it.

“It won’t bite, Sammy,” Dean smirked. “It’s just some of that eggnog. You seemed to like it, so I warmed it up a bit, gave it a little ‘kick’,” he added with a sly grin.

He caught his brother’s suspicious glance, but Dean quickly snagged the machete from the top of the closet and hurried over to usher Sam away from the now half empty bottle of Jack Daniels sitting on the table.

Outside, a brisk northern wind gathered soft snow and whipped it at their faces. Dean heard Sam barely stifle a groan, his earlier enthusiasm somewhat dampened.

They walked for several blocks, the temperature, although just below freezing, was bearable. Snowflakes fell lazily and along with a nearly crystal clear sky, Dean had no problem leading the way to the nearby woods that began just at the end of their street. He could hear Sam sloshing through the snow just behind him, but he didn’t slow his pace.

Reaching the thicker shelter of the pines, the moonlight was further obscured by the cover of the trees, but Dean’s eyes had already adjusted. Within the rows of white spruce and firs, they were sheltered from the wind and snow, a peaceful sort of quiet settling over the woods that to most would have been welcome.

But Dean was first and foremost the son of a hunter; he knew there were dangers that lurked just beyond the edges of one’s vision. Add to that, he had Sam under his charge – like always – and watching out for his brother constantly resided at the forefront of his conscious thought.

Still, there was another lesson to be learned tonight. One that Dean had learned for himself not that long ago at the hands of his father and Bobby Singer, courtesy of the latter and a bottle of tequila Dean had been determined he could share along with the older men.

Tequila hangovers are a bitch! he thought, ruefully recalling how ill he’d been later that night and well into the next day after slamming a couple of shots with his father and the other hunter following the successful conclusion of a black dog hunt in Nebraska.

It had been a cruel lesson. Hard liquor wasn’t beer, not by a long shot. And while his dad knew he’d had a brew or two, drinking anything stronger would have earned him a far greater punishment than a pounding headache and a stomach that turned inside out.

So really, he was doing Sam a favor. Surely his method of handling his brother’s experimentation with the “hard stuff” had to be better than letting the old man take a pound of flesh out of his hide?

“Hey, how ’bout this one?” Dean called out, point toward a smaller Douglas fir.

Sam drew up closer and Dean didn’t miss the boy’s exaggerated grunts and groans.

“Yeah… okay… that one looks fine,” Sam mumbled through chattering teeth.

“Well, don’t sound so excited,” the fourteen-year-old threw back as he dropped down into the snow and began to tear away at the bottom branches. “I’m only out here busting my ass trying to make you happy.”

Dean could feel Sam shuffle next to him.

“You’re right. And it’s for Dad after all. Besides, I just don’t feel so good and I’m kinda cold,” Sam complained.

“Well, have a drink from the thermos, dorkbutt. That’s what we brought it for,” Dean ordered, carefully hiding the evil grin.

He went back to hacking at the trunk, but watched from the corner of his eye as Sam halfheartedly unscrewed the cap from the thermos and filled the cup. Dean could hear Sam’s hesitant slurp and in his mind, he could picture his sibling’s nose wrinkling in distaste.

It made Dean smile all the more.

“Uh… Dean?” Sam began.

“Yeah…”

“Err… nothing. You want some help?” the younger Winchester asked, quickly draining the remnants in the cup with a bitter scowl.

Dean rose up and eyed his brother. Even in the dim light, he could see the glassy-eyed gaze beginning to take effect. He looked back down at the machete in his hand and back to Sam.

“Alright,” he replied, hesitantly handing the weapon over. “I’ll hold the tree steady. You try not to hit anything valuable. Or me…”

Standing to the side while his brother chopped at the thin tree, Dean almost thought he was watching one of the Stooges go at it. Granted, the machete wasn’t exactly the tool for the job, but then the fir wasn’t exactly some massive Ponderosa Pine either. After another ten minutes, he couldn’t stand it anymore and he dropped down next to his brother, grabbing the weapon from Sam in mid-swing.

“Give it here,” he groused.

Sam relinquished it and fell back on his rump in the snow with a loud sigh. Following a couple of solid whacks Dean cut through the tree. He shot a triumphant look down at his brother, unsurprised when Sam returned a somewhat blank stare.

“Okay, Sammy, on your feet. I’m not hauling this back on my own.”

Sam groaned and struggled to rise, swaying like a juniper in a stiff breeze.

Except there’s no wind… Dean chuckled silently. “You gonna make it there, doofus?”

Sam glared. “M’ fiiinee, duuufuuuss” he slurred in reply.

“Good. You can carry the heavy end of the tree then,” Dean answered.

“F-fine… so b-b-boss-sqick-sy,” the last punctuated by a loud hiccup.

Dean snickered as Sam bent down to lift his end of the evergreen. The younger boy stumbled forward and nearly face-planted in the snow. He floundered for a moment, before managing to get back to his feet.

They trudged through the woods, hampered by the return of heavier snowfall and even more so by Sam’s slowing pace. By the time they cleared the woods and the first streetlight was glowing softly in the haze of the blowing flakes, Dean could hear his brother’s heavy breathing from behind him.

“You gonna live?” he called out, a tinge of sympathy in his voice.

“Yeah! Can we… just… stop a sec?” Sam replied, his breathing raspy.

Dean obliged him, and the tree fell to the ground in a billowing cloud of fluffy white snow.

“What’s wrong with you?” Dean asked, closing the short distance between them. “You getting sick or something?”

Sam’s head snapped up, the panic in his eyes barely masking the gray cast to his face.
“No!” he insisted. “Jus’ tired or sumthin’.”

“You need something to drink?” Dean offered slyly.

Sam paled even further. “Uh… errr… sure.”

Dean opened the thermos. “Here. Don’t gulp!”

He watched Sam drink it more carefully this time, his internal laughter all but bursting through.

“You wan’ sum’?” Sam asked after a moment, refilling the cup and offering it to his brother.

Dean blinked owlishly. “Uh,” Aw crap! “Sure!” How do I get out of this?

He downed it quickly, feeling the slight burn of the whiskey, even masked by the eggnog, as it coursed down his throat.

So not good! Whiskey-and on a basically empty stomach thanks to a cheese burger that had gone half-eaten when he’d put the evening’s plan into action. Dean could already feel it churning through his belly, the warmth running through his abdomen and up into his chest.

Put way too much Jack in that mix, you dumbass! His conscience chastised him. Okay, jokes over now! Just get back to the apartment and chalk this up to one really stupid idea.

“Hey, Deeeeaaan…” Sam slurred.

The older boy looked back at his brother. The ten-year-old was swaying on his feet again, but now he was grinning; the earlier look of illness replaced by humor.

“Sam?”

“How far aaarrrre weeee?”

“How far from what?”

“I do’n tink… I don’ think I kin’ make it…” Sam stated in giggling voice.

Dean’s eyes widened. “Make it where, dude?”

“Pee… I reeeeeellllly… gotta goooooo…”

Dean looked around. They were still blocks from the apartment and while there were several houses nearby, he could just imagine how fast Children’s Services would be knocking on the door if he showed up with a drunk brother asking to use a bathroom. No ma’am, my ten-year-old brother is not drunk, I swear. Our dad? Oh, he’s out of town hunting. Hunting what you ask? Any chance you believe in revenants? How about ghouls?

“Yeah, that’s not gonna work,” Dean muttered aloud. “Okay, Sammy, time for you to go au-natural.”

The boy looked at him in confusion.

“Pick a tree and whip it out, Sammy. And be quick about it, you don’t want frostbite there!” he teased.

Sam looked at him with wide eyes. “No way!” the boy exclaimed.

“Happens quick out in these temperatures, dude. You hear about it all the time. Hate to see you have to have that amputated just ’cause you couldn’t hold it,” Dean threatened.

Sam looked about himself uncertainly. “Really?” he pleaded.

“It’s there or in your pants. That or you better bust ass back to the place.”

Sam wavered. “Hate you…” he hissed.

“Not as much as you will in the morning,” Dean retorted.

He stooped to pick up the tree, figuring the lesson was over and the least he could do was get them both back to the apartment as soon as possible. He started walking, his boots sloughing through the deepening snow and making slow progress, knowing it would give Sam a chance to catch up.

One block, then another and the snow was really driving now. Dean sensed more than saw, Sam several feet behind him.

“Whose stupid idea was this anyway?” he grumbled, shifting the tree from one hand to the other while precariously balancing the machete under his left arm.

Two more blocks passed and they were nearly in view of the middle school where Sam had been attending. The proximity to the apartment was one of the reasons their dad had picked the place. Being able to walk to school meant he didn’t need to be around to drive them.

“Deeeeaaaannnn!” Sam’s sing-song voice shot up above the wind.

“What?” Dean shouted back, still moving forward.

“I daaaaarrrre ya’,” the boy called out.

“What?” Dean snapped again, stopping now. He spun around to face his brother and caught Sam staring off up into the sky. He followed the younger boy’s gaze but still couldn’t tell what his brother was looking at.

“I dubba’ dog daaaarre ya’,” Sam repeated.

And then he saw it.

Oh holy crap! No way… not even to humor my drunk brother!

“Let’s go, Sammy,” Dean ordered.

“Shickenchit…”Sam tittered.

“I’m not doing it, Sam. And stop cussing.”

Sam giggled again and pointed up at the tall flag pole. “I triple daaare dug … dug daarree… ummm… daaawwg daaarre ya’,” he finally managed.

“NO!” Dean replied firmly.

“Fine… I’ll doit…”

Dean stared, speechless, as he watched Sam stagger forward toward the metal pole. He’d seen A Christmas Story too. Hell, after so many years of being stuck in one random motel room after another on Christmas Eve, he couldn’t remember how many A Christmas Story marathons he’d sat through. While he wasn’t totally sure about the whole tongue on the frozen pole thing as it happened in the movie, he certainly wasn’t about to take a chance.

“Sam! Will you please come back here!” he shouted.

“Triple daaare, Deeean. Yooooou know the rullzzzzz.”

And Dean did. Triple dares meant that if he didn’t follow through and Sam completed the dare, his brother “owned” him for chores until the next dare challenge was issued between them. It was a petty, childish thing, but when you grew up with little else to occupy your time and with a father that drilled competition into your head, somehow it just came naturally.

“ALRIGHT!” he yelled, throwing the fir tree and the machete to the ground in a huff.

He stomped up to stand next to Sam, shaking his head when he saw his brother standing there with his tongue sticking out mere inches from the metal.

“Put that thing back in your mouth. You look stupid!”

“Ketchup n’ snowflakes…” Sam chuckled.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean asked.

Sam laughed again. “I meant catchin’ the snowflakes… You gonna doit?”

Dean looked at the flagpole, the metal glistening with ice, fresh snow clinging to the opposite side.

“Yeah, yeah… just shut the hell up,” he growled.

Can’t believe I’m gonna do this… just be quick… don’t let your tongue be too wet and it won’t stick… it’s just a movie, it won’t stick… Dad’s gonna be so pissed… stupid Dean… so stupid… gonna get you back for this, Sammy… triple dog dare, my ass…

Three… two… one…

And the tip of his tongue touched the ice-cold metal.

At first it was like taking a lick of ice cream that had been in the freezer too long; a painful burn searing into the fragile tissue on his tongue and lower lip. Then in the next second, Dean couldn’t feel anything, his tongue instantly numb from exposure to the sub-zero wind-chill.

He closed his eyes as memories of A Christmas Story replayed in his head.

I’m ’thuck!!! Flick had cried in the movie, his tongue firmly affixed to the pole while all the other children ran away laughing.

It was a similar laughter that Dean reopened his eyes to now; Sam’s laughter. The boy was hysterical, literally sitting in the snow rolling about in a fit of hilarity.

Dean panicked. He didn’t know if his tongue was stuck or not, but there was no way he was going to remain here, left behind to be rescued by the fire department while people looked on in sympathy and Sam laughed. Closing his eyes again, he did another mental three-count and jerked his head backwards.

It was painful, but not as bad as he’d envisioned. When he looked back at the metal, Dean was relieved to see there wasn’t some huge portion of his flesh still stuck to the pole. Peeling off a glove, he swiped the back of his hand across his mouth, letting loose a breath when it came away free of blood.

“…can’t b’leve you did it…” Sam managed between fits of laughter.

Dean was furious. Forget that his baby brother was well beyond any semblance of sobriety. Forget that he was supposed to be “in charge” and “watching out” for Sam. At this point, he didn’t even care that the snow was now wildly whipping around both of them or that his slightly inebriated sibling was teetering precariously close to the edge of a long bank of snow-covered stairs.

No, Dean only had one thing in mind.

PAYBACK!

He charged into Sam, lowering his shoulder and catching the younger boy solidly in the gut. Under normal circumstances, Dean’s heavier weight and body size would have driven the smaller youth into the ground with a bone-jarring impact. But the snow, underlying ice and slight grade of the staircase served to create a makeshift toboggan run and in an instant, they were off in a tangle of flailing limbs and squeals.

The ride didn’t last long and they crashed into several snow-laden bushes, frozen slush bombarding them and burrowing in beneath clothing to bite at exposed skin. Dean rolled over and scrambled to his feet, frantically digging to clear the icy mix out away from his flesh.

It took him a moment to realize that Sam wasn’t at his side mimicking his behavior, and then he saw why. His brother was face down in one of the white mounds.

“Sammy!” the elder sibling called out in a panic, immediately grabbing for his brother’s shoulders.

Sam blinked up at him, his eyes even more unfocused than before, all humor gone.

“Dean?” he asked dazedly.

“You okay?” Dean asked as he quickly checked the younger boy over for any obvious injury.

Sam shook his head slowly.

“Where you hurt?”

Sam shook his head again.

“Come on, dude. You gotta help me out. Is it your head? Back? Leg? WHAT?” Dean shouted.

But Sam remained ominously quiet and the older boy’s worry increased ten-fold.

Head injury… concussion… must be! Dad’s gonna kill me!

“Just hang in there, Sammy! I’ll take care of you,” Dean reassured him as he gently placed an arm behind his brother’s back.

“Nuf… D’n… g’na…” Sam garbled as Dean helped lift him to something resembling a more-or-less standing position.

“Sam?”

“G’na… b’… sick…”

It wasn’t warning enough before the youngest Winchester spewed half-digested chicken nuggets and far too much eggnog down much of the front of his older brother. Dean tried to step out of the way of the human Mount St. Helens, but it was no use. By positioning himself to help what he thought was a concussed Sam, Dean had put himself directly in the line of fire.

“Son of a bitch!” he exclaimed, relinquishing his hold and stepping backward as he fought to hold down his own stomach contents amid the steaming mess that covered the front of his jacket and jeans.

“Oops...” Sam offered weakly, looking up with large, dark eyes that reminded Dean of some forlorn puppy that had just messed on the floor.

“Oops?” he repeated. “Oops? You blow chunks all over me and you say oops?”

“I feel better though. I’m kinda thirsty. Is there more of that eggnog left?” Sam asked, swaying again.

“No!” Dean exclaimed. “We’re going home, Sammy. Now! You stay right here, I’ll get the tree.”

It took him a moment to find the discarded fir, half buried under the fresh-fallen snow, and return to his brother. By the time he did, Sam was giggling again, although at what, Dean had no clue. He merely grabbed the boy’s sleeve with his free hand and tugged him in the general direction of their place.

Four blocks… just four blocks… he mentally ticked off.

“Let’s make a snow fort, Dean,” Sam suggested.

“No!” the older boy growled, head down as he trudged onward.

Three blocks… three more blocks…

“How ‘bout a snowman? Just a snowman, Dean.”

“No!”

Two blocks… my arms are killing me… but just two more blocks of dragging this stupid-ass tree and my drunk-ass brother…

“Dean… hang on… ‘kay… I need a sec’…” Sam called out breathlessly.

Dean sighed and stopped. He looked Sam over noticing that his brother still appeared a little pale and without his hand holding onto him, was still listing like a slowly sinking ship. Between the alcohol and the vomiting, no doubt Sam was wearing out fast.

The elder Winchester sighed again and glanced down the sidewalk. Despite the snow, he could nearly make out the porch light outside their place. It wasn’t that far now. Maybe if he went ahead with the tree, he could then come back and help Sam.

Yeah… that seemed like a plan…

“Sammy… hold tight and rest here. I’ll take the tree and come back to help you.”

Sam barely nodded but seemed alright enough. Dean figured he could easily keep an eye on him between here and the apartment.

Grabbing the now scruffy-looking Christmas tree, Dean started toward his destination. He hadn’t gone far when a soft chuckle from behind him sent a chill down his spine.

Somehow he knew he’d been “had” even before the snowball slammed into the back of his neck, the cold, wetness slowly dribbling beneath his collar and down his spine.

He’d barely turned around when the second well-aimed missile connected with his face, filling his mouth and nose with icy slush and leaving him blinking against the sudden flashes of blackness that were filling his vision.

“How ‘bout a snowball, Dean? We got time for that?” Sam taunted with wild laughter as he launched another projectile.

Dean would have been impressed with his brother’s aim, considering the amount of alcohol Sam had imbibed, were it not for the torrent of blood rushing from his nose. Now in addition to the vomit, his clothing was splattered in red. Beneath him, even the pristine snow gave way to the crimson stain as he fought to staunch the flow.

“Snowball fight!” Sam decreed, as he lobbed yet another sphere, whirling around completely as the force of his throw put him off balance. He ended up slipping on the icy sidewalk and fell down, floundering on his back like some overturned turtle.

Dean managed to avoid the shot, but slid in the snow and landed hard on his rear.

That was it! The game was over… the lesson was over… and sure as hell… the snowball fight was definitely over!

“Sam!” he shouted in the best commanding tone of voice he could muster.

His brother froze in place, Sam’s previous wallowing ceasing. He looked up at his brother, some semblance of sobriety returning to his eyes.

“Dean?”

“Get up! Home! Now!” Dean ordered.

The kid struggled to his feet and made his way slowly toward the older boy. He glanced up only once, his eyes widening when he spotted the steady stream of blood trailing down Dean’s face.

“You ’kay?” he asked.

“Shut up!” Dean grumbled.

Sam took a couple more steps, his head down as he sloughed forward. Dean pulled up behind him, dragging the tree through the snow, uncaring now how much it was being damaged.

They reached the front door of the apartment, Sam propped up against the railing as Dean dug in his pocket for the key. Just as he was putting the key in the lock, Sam loosed another chuckle and Dean groaned.

“Now what?” he groused.

“Snow cones…” the ten-year-old mused obliquely.

“What the hell, Sam?”

“We could make snow cones…” Sam repeated, pointing down to two small piles of colored snow; one red, the blood collecting from Dean’s still bleeding nose, the other, the leftovers of Mr. Buford’s big husky.

Dean had to laugh too. “I don’t think you want to eat those, Sammy,” he warned.”

“Don’t go eatin’ yellow husky snow…” Sam sang back and giggled again. “You watch out for me… doncha, Dean?”

Dean smiled. He felt like an ass and he knew that Sam might not think the same thing in the morning, but deep down, it really was true. Putting an arm around his brother’s shoulder, he gently guided him inside.


***

The tall figured entered the quiet apartment in the darkness of the middle of the night. With the stealth he had learned in Vietnam and perfected during a decade of hunting, he closed the front door and gently lowered his gear bag to the floor. He hoped he didn’t wake his two sons, desperate to surprise them in the morning – Christmas morning – with the meager presents he’d brought and more importantly, just by having made it back “in time.”

Crossing the small living room, John Winchester spotted first the small evergreen tree lying on the floor behind the couch. He could smell the pine-like scent and knew the tree was fresh cut. Stooping down to peer at the trunk, he found the machete sitting next to the scruffy-looking fir.

John smiled. Obviously the boys had gone out to cut down a Christmas tree.

But why did they leave it like this? And why was the machete left like this? Dean knows better than to leave a weapon in this condition!

A soft groan came from nearby and the elder hunter spun around, his well-honed senses alerting him to the crisis even in the near-blackness of the darkened room. He hurried around to the couch, finding Sam wrapped snugly in a blanket and snoring softly. He knelt down, gently feathering a hand through his youngest son’s tousled hair, resting momentarily on the boy’s forehead to assure himself that Sam wasn’t ill.

Sam stirred slightly and let out a soft sigh, his breath flittering up to reach the older man’s nostrils. John’s face wrinkled at the smell of vomit.

So… Sam was sick then? But where was Dean?

The groan repeated and John found his answer as his eyes landed on the elder boy lying tucked up in the small side chair, his legs dangling over the arms at a preposterously uncomfortable angle. John drew closer and whispered his eldest’s name.

Dean roused slightly, his eyes flicking open but awareness escaping him.

“Dean? You okay, son?” John asked again.

When the boy didn’t reply, the hunter flipped on the lamp beside the chair, gasping slightly when he took in the stark bruising on his son’s face. The right side of Dean’s jaw was already turning a festive shade of purple, his nose a red to rival Rudolph’s, and a dried rivulet of blood still marked the presence of a previous nosebleed.

“Dean? Wake up, dude. I need to know what happened to you boys,” John commanded.

Ever obedient, even exhausted and dazed, Dean responded. Cracking open his left eye, he spotted his father, his heart immediately going into overdrive as his brain scrambled to formulate an explanation for the night’s events.

“Son… you okay? Can you tell me what happened to you and Sammy? “

Dean stared blankly, his mind still racing. “Uh… Dad…”

“You must’ve gone out to get a Christmas tree. I found it over there on the floor. What happened? Did Sam get sick? Did you get hurt? I can tell Sammy was sick… can smell it on him… you too for that matter,” John continued.

Sam sick? Sure… something like that…

“Yes sir,” Dean answered obediently.

“What about you? What happened? Is that nose broken?” John asked.

Dean blinked again.

“No sir. I’m okay… jus’ accident. ‘Was watching over Sammy… must’ve fallen asleep b’fore I got the chance to clean up,” he replied groggily.

John smiled and patted him gently on the shoulder.

“Well, alright then. I’ve got Sam now. Just get some rest, okay?”

Dean nodded and slumped back down against the ratty chair. John watched as he shifted uneasily, grimacing as his body betrayed other unseen hurts.

There was more to the story than a Christmas tree hunt gone wrong, of that John was sure. But whatever it was, it looked as though his boys were okay and perhaps had even learned a lesson.

“Hey, Dad,” Dean called out, his eyes still closed, his arms wrapped tightly around his chest.

“Yeah, Dean?”

“You made it…”

John nodded. “Yeah, Dean. It’s Christmas. I made it.”

Dean sighed, his breath easing out long and relaxed. “Sammy will be happy.”

John didn’t reply. He merely dropped down to the floor between the couch and the chair, between Sam and Dean.

“Dad…”

“Yeah, Dean…”

“Need to tell you…”

“Doesn’t matter, Dean…”

“But…”

“Merry Christmas, Dean! Now get some rest.”

John smiled. Yeah… he’d eventually get the full story. But it didn’t matter… at least not tonight. As he watched his sons’ peaceful slumber, he realized the “full story” didn’t really matter at all.

The End

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The Winchester Chronicles

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