December 19, 1995
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly! Fala-la-lala-la-la-la-la!"
"Dean will you shut up?" Sam whined, kicking the back of the front seat causing his older brother to jerk forward.
Dean turned around to face him a big, mischievous grin on his face and continued, a little louder and more obnoxiously than before, "Tis the season to be jolly! Fala-la-lala-la…"
"Dean," John warned, not liking Dean's off key singing any more than Sam did. And a damn Christmas Carol no less!
"Bunch of killjoys," Dean muttered.
"C'mon aren't you two even a little bit excited that it's Christmas?"
"No," John replied while Sam shrugged indifferently.
"But we're going to Pastor Jim's," Dean pressed rolling his eyes at his brother, "It's going to be awesome!"
"Yeah, and if weren't for that stupid wendigo hunt, we probably wouldn't be going at all," Sam sulked.
Dean sighed and argued, "Yeah but so what? Dad and I'll be back before Christmas and you'll get to hang out with your friends. It's a win-win-win situation."
"How is it a win-win-win situation?" Sam asked.
"Dad gets to kill a wendigo, I get to help, and you get to hang out with your friends and for once we are gonna get to have an actual Christmas holiday celebration. Like normal people, Sam. Isn't that what you want? To be normal?"
"I guess so," Sam shrugged.
"It's going to be awesome this year Sammy, just you wait and see," Dean grinned, reaching behind him to lightly punch him in the shoulder as a red Volkswagen beetle passed them going the opposite way, his grin growing wider when Sam punched him back with an indignant growl, "Pastor Jim said he went all out this year with decorating his house and the church. And there's going to be turkey."
"I hate turkey," Sam sulked just for the sake of being disagreeable.
"That's because you haven't really had turkey before."
"Yeah we have."
"That shit that's served in shelters and soup kitchens doesn't even compare to real homemade turkey dinner," Dean pointed out, referring to the last few times they had Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner.
"You've got a point there," John agreed, "I have to admit I'm looking forward to some of Jim's turkey myself." Dean grinned at that, it was the first time John seemed even remotely positive about Christmas in…well, forever. And Jim was famous for making delicious meals. When Jim wasn't preaching or hunting, he was cooking. He had even gone to culinary school briefly before he decided seminary was his real calling back in the day.
"See?" Dean beamed, "it's going to be awesome."
"But I don't recall ever going to a soup kitchen or shelter for a turkey dinner or anything for that matter," John added, stealing a brief accusatory glance at Dean before turning his attention back on the road.
Dean's smile faded, "Um, that's because you weren't there, sir." He could tell just by John's tone that he was in trouble. He knew he shouldn't have mentioned that he and Sam had gone to shelters before. It was the kind of thing that could get them in trouble with Child Protection Services what with two young kids ending up at a shelter on their own. But John always managed to find a hunt at Christmastime and was never around for Christmas ever since Dean was old enough to take care of Sammy on his own and Dean wanted Sammy to have a nice Christmas dinner and that was always the best they could do.
"What have I always told you about…"
"I know sir, but we were always careful, right Sam?" Dean asked, looking for some help from his little brother. Sam just gave a non-committal shrug and Dean sighed, knowing he was on his own with this one, "No one ever noticed or cared that we were by ourselves and besides…"
"Don't interrupt me Dean," John rolled his eyes. "You know how much trouble we could've gotten into?"
"But we only went because it was Christmas and Sammy deserved to have a nice Christmas dinner and you were never there! Never!" Dean snapped. John glared at him before turning his attention back to the road. "Sir." Dean added meekly.
Over time Dean had suspected that Dad was never around for Christmas because he wanted to avoid them so he could therefore avoid the holidays altogether. Dean suspected it had something to do with losing Mom. Just about every major decision John made seemed to be connected to Mary's death and Christmas had been her favourite holiday.
"If you wanted turkey so damn bad why the hell couldn't you have gotten some frozen TV dinners at Safeway and be done with it?"
"It's not the same, sir," Dean defended.
"Why?" John demanded.
"What? It's Christmas?" he scoffed with a slight sneer.
"Dean you're sixteen years old for chrissake, stop being so childish, you know that we…we can't…we aren't…" John shook his head, "Christmas is just another day as far as we're concerned, are we clear?"
Dean didn't answer.
"Dean! Are we clear?"
"Yes sir," Dean murmured quietly wondering why his father had to be such a Scrooge.
Pastor Jim's house was on the edge of town and close to the church. The Winchesters arrived in record time and just as the impala rolled up the driveway he stepped out the front door to greet them. Sam looked up in slight awe at the Christmas lights adorning his house, and the trees in the yard. While he didn't really want to admit it out loud, he had been admiring the festively decorated houses as they passed them ever since it got dark, and while Pastor Jim's house wasn't as elaborately decorated as some of the places they'd seen, it was really pretty to look at.
"John, Dean, Sam, I'm so glad you guys can make it for Christmas this year," Pastor Jim greeted giving them each a firm handshake as he said their names.
"Wendigo hunt," John corrected.
"Yes, yes, but that should only take you a few days at the most, right?" Jim asked. Dean nodded with a smile and Jim grinned, "So that should have you back for Christmas."
"Maybe," John shrugged. Dean eyed him curiously as John continued, "Rufus mentioned a possible werewolf pack somewhere in Wisconsin so…"
"Dad, you never said anything about us leaving again before Christmas," Sam exclaimed.
"You two will be staying here," John stated.
"You're not planning to stay after this wendigo hunt?" Dean asked.
"Dean…" John warned.
John cleared his throat and set his jaw, staring daggers at his eldest son in silent warning that he'd better not argue. Dean straightened his shoulders and returned the glare in an uncharacteristic stance of defiance to his father, but caved quickly.
"Figures," Dean muttered, brushing past him to head inside, a disappointed frown on his face.
"Dean!" Sam followed his big brother inside, "Wait up!"
"You keep that attitude up Dean and you're not coming on this hunt with me!" John called after him.
"John," Jim reprimanded gently, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Let it go, John. He's a teenager and well… it's Christmas. I think he wants you to be here for…"
"Don't you start Jim," John huffed. "You know how I feel about…"
"What about your family? What about how your boys might feel?" Jim asked.
"Don't worry Dean's still coming with Bobby and me on this hunt. I know how much he's been looking forward to it."
"I'm not talking about the hunt, John."
John shot him a look that told him that the conversation was over.
Dean's face felt hot with anger and disappointment as he flopped on his bed in the spare room that Jim always had ready for them and buried his face in the pillow to stifle his growl of frustration. He had been looking forward to this Christmas, not only because he'd get to help his dad on a hunt—John had even said he'd let Dean take the lead on this one—but especially because for once the three of them would be spending Christmas together, as a family.
Pastor Jim invited them to his house for Christmas every year, and every year John turned down the invitation and left them somewhere to go on another hunt. Dean thought that since this year John didn't turn down the invite that they'd actually be celebrating the holiday together. Guess that's not the case, he thought dejectedly rolling over onto his back, I should've known it was too good to be true.
There was a knock on the door, "Dean? You OK?"
"Go away Sam!"
"It's my room too!"
Dean sighed, "Fine, whatever but just leave me alone."
Sam stomped into the room and sat down on his bed and frowned, "I can't believe Dad's already got another hunt lined up! And it's Christmas!"
"What do you care anyway?" Dean asked dejectedly. "You don't even like Christmas."
"Yeah but that's only because our Christmases suck," Sam huffed. "It was like, why even bother?"
Dean sat up, subconsciously brushing his hand against the necklace Sam gave him four years ago, "I'm sorry I couldn't ever give you the Christmas you wanted, Sam."
Sam waved him off, "You tried, and that was cool I guess. Pointless but cool. Oh well, at least this year we're going to have a real Christmas so I think maybe it won't be so bad this year."
"Except now Dad's not going to be here," Dean said, trying not to put too much stock into how little regard Sam had for the effort Dean always put into making sure Sam had a Christmas in the past. But Sam had a point, why even bother trying? Dad made sure he was never around and Sam didn't like it.
Sam shrugged, "Yeah, but so what? Dad's a Scrooge right? You know he'll just be a party pooper anyway."
Dean huffed through his nose, a small grin building on his face that never reached his eyes, "Yeah."
Sam returned the grin but stopped, studying his brother's face for a split moment. "Wait," he said, narrowing his eyes in realization, "You really want Dad to be here for Christmas, don't you?"
Dean looked a little bit like a deer caught in headlights for a fraction of a second before he waved him off, "Well, yeah, but it's no big deal. Like you said, he'll just be a party pooper and besides, you can't just ignore a werewolf pack. He needs to go on that hunt."
"No, you're really disappointed, aren't you?"
"Not really," Dean feigned a smile and rustled Sam's hair, "I'd be disappointed if Dad ignored a hunt for something so trivial like Christmas. It's fine, I'm fine."
Sam wasn't so sure. He heard the conversation in the car, and outside Jim's door, he wasn't an idiot. He felt a little guilty for not stepping in and defending his brother like he knew he should've. It took a lot for Dean to defy their father, even if he caved the next moment. Sam knew it was important to Dean for some strange reason for Dad to be around for Christmas. He couldn't quite pinpoint why because Winchester Christmases weren't anything special, they were crap, except for this year because they were at Pastor Jim's and would actually have a real Christmas like in the movies. Personally, Sam was glad that Dad wasn't going to be around if he was going to be a Scrooge about it.
"Well hey," Sam said, "the full moon isn't until a few days after Christmas so there's no point hunting a werewolf until then right? Maybe we can convince him to stick around an extra day!"
"Yeah but there's travel time, research and prep to consider Sammy," Dean shrugged, "don't worry about it." He flashed his little brother a smirk and then playfully punched him in the shoulder as he passed him to rejoin Pastor Jim and their father.
It was clear that John wasn't interested in anything else but getting ready for the hunt. Even as everyone was sitting at Jim's large dining room table, John was off to the side, checking his weapons, making a mental catalogue of what all he was taking and what he needed to get before they left town tomorrow. Dean glanced at him before rising to his feet with the intent to see if he can help Jim with supper.
"You going to get your research Dean?"
"It's almost suppertime," Dean protested, "I want to see if Jim needs help."
John sighed and nodded and Dean frowned as he headed into the kitchen, admiring the festively decorated threshold adorned with fake holly and tinsel. He liked Christmas, even though the Winchesters were never really a part of it and he was glad that this year would be different. With one last look at his father before disappearing to the kitchen he hoped that something would delay his father from leaving just before Christmas. He was six the last time the three of them shared Christmas together and Dean always wondered if it was because Dad couldn't find anyone to watch them.
"Need any help?" Dean asked as Jim pulled a roast out of the oven and Dean let himself get lost in the delicious scent for a moment. He blinked and grinned, his smile growing even wider when Jim grinned back as he set it on the counter.
"I thought I told you guys to relax, you've had a long drive and you and your father are going to be very busy the next couple of days."
Dean shrugged, "I know but I don't like sitting around while someone else is doing all the work. What can I do?"
Jim thought a moment and motioned to the plastic salad spinner, "You can dish up the salads."
"Sure," Dean frowned as he lifted the lid and served the leafy salad into four bowls, giving himself only a couple of bites before Jim gave an amused scoff and put more salad into Dean's bowl.
"No need to be frugal," Jim smirked, "I made plenty for everyone."
"Who said that was my bowl?" Dean asked innocently.
"Because I know you," Jim laughed, and with mock seriousness said, "always selflessly giving everyone more than their fair share at the expense or your own." At Dean's sharp, surprised look Jim laughed again, "That and I know how much you love salad."
Dean chuckled, shaking his head. "Hey, when's Bobby coming?"
"He called and said he'd be delayed, he should be here later tonight. Why don't you serve everyone their salad and I'll be in there shortly. Would you mind plugging in the tree while you're at it?"
"Sure," Dean grinned as he headed back into the dining room.
"Salad?" Sammy frowned, picking at it with his fork.
"Yeah," Dean shrugged, "We need more vegetables. Dad you eating?" he asked as he looked for the cord for the Christmas tree. John glared up from his chair and went back to work.
"We've got a lot to do before we leave tomorrow, I'll join you when I'm finished here," John replied tersely. Dean shrugged and plugged in the tree, the festive foliage lighting up in a colourful flashing display of light. Sam turned to look at it as Dean paused to admire it. It wasn't as beautiful as some of the trees they saw in public places or on TV, but it was lovely.
"Check it out," Dean exclaimed, "He's got the ornaments we made when we were little on it!"
Sam climbed out of his chair to look and saw a bunch of the Christmas ornaments they made at various schools for Christmas. Since they never really did anything special on Christmas they always sent them to Jim or Bobby as presents. He picked up a badly painted reindeer made of clothespins and red and green felt with Sam's name crudely written on the bottom, "Why'd he bother keeping these?"
Dean gaped at him incredulously, "What does that mean?"
"They're ugly, don't you think?"
Dean put the cotton ball snowman he made in first grade back on the tree, "So? I think it's cool that he kept them."
"Of course I did," Jim said, "You made them, I could never throw them out just because they're not pretty. There's more to Christmas than the décor you know Sam."
Sam blushed like he had been caught doing something bad, "I know.
Dean glanced over at John who was watching them from where he was sitting there was a curious expression on his face that if Dean didn't know any better he would've thought maybe it was a smile, but whatever it was, it quickly turned into a scowl.
"Well Ebeneezer," Jim grinned at John, "You ready to eat?"
John grumbled something under his breath about there being more important things to do and sat down at the table.
"Admit it John, you've been looking forward to my cooking ever since you planned to come here," Jim teased lightly.
"Well, it does smell delicious," John conceded, his face warming considerably as he allowed himself a moment to take a whiff, "but forgive me if I get back to work as soon as I'm done. With Bobby delayed…"
"That's quite all right, John," Jim nodded, "I know the importance of being prepared."
Jim disappeared into the kitchen, Dean on his tail and the two of them brought out a beef pot roast, roasted potatoes, gravy and vegetables and the four of them began serving their plates. When they were done Jim said, "All right, bow your head for blessing and then we can eat."
Sam clasped his hands, bowed his head and closed his eyes, as did Jim, Dean pretended to, but there was an eye roll in there and he sneaked a piece of potato until John's stern glare made him put it back on his plate and he begrudgingly closed his eyes. John didn't even bother to pretend, he just watched his son and friend. Sammy sincerely seemed to be following along, nodding his head as Jim said the standard prayer, thanking God for their food, praying for Bobby's safe arrival and for Him to bless the upcoming hunt.
It struck a cord with John, Sam's sincerity, and he wondered when Sam started to believe in such a thing, and even Dean who a moment before was silently scoffing the prayer was obviously listening, even though John knew Dean wasn't a believer any more than he was. John rolled his eyes when Jim mentioned Christmas in his blessing, but forced himself to keep silent. When Jim was finished Sam echoed with a fervent 'amen' and Dean blinked his eyes open, a thoughtful expression on his face that instantly vanished when Jim told them all to dig in.
After supper some of the kids from the youth group came singing Christmas carols, much to John's chagrin and he was none too quiet about expressing his displeasure at the whole thing. Sam and Dean rarely had a chance to make any lasting friendships, but the youth group from Jim's church was the exception. They stayed with Jim often enough that they knew the group pretty well and they convinced John to let Sam come carolling with them.
Sam was excited and nervous about the idea of going with them. Nervous because he didn't really know a lot of Christmas carols, and excited because it seemed like such a fun, normal thing to do. Dean had to stay behind to help John prepare for the hunt and it wasn't until Sam and his friends left that John started to relax again. Dean wasn't sure if it was because of the carollers distracting him or because in the other room all of John's weapons were meticulously strewn on the table. It was probably both but everyone knew Jim wouldn't let anyone come in and see it.
Dean watched as John wrote a couple of things in his journal before telling Dean to grab their bags and help him pack.
Doing as he was told Dean grabbed the weapons bag and their packs and joined him in the other room, his eyes immediately scanning all the weapons that were laid out on the table.
"Flame throwers?" Dean queried.
"Yep, that's how you kill 'em, you burn 'em," John grunted. "You should know this by now."
John glared up at him from over his shotgun, "Is that a problem?"
Dean shook his head, "No, no…just seems like a crappy way to go is all."
"Like being strung up and slowly eaten alive isn't bad enough?"
"No sir," Dean replied, wondering what crawled up Dad's ass to make him suddenly so cranky. Just about everything he said was met with some irritated remark, order or question. "That's not what I meant, sir. I just want to make sure I've got all the facts, y'know? Like what if you couldn't burn them alive? Then what? Would silver bullets work or something?"
"Nope," John started to pack the first aid kit, opening it to make sure it was adequately stocked, "would only piss 'em off. That's one of the things that makes them so dangerous. You're not prepared and go shooting at 'em? They'll kill you. Those devils are fast, smart and deadly. They don't call them the 'Perfect Hunter' for nothing."
"Then why the shotgun?"
"Wendigo's aren't the only thing out there Dean," John sighed, speaking as though Dean were an idiot, "Are you going to help me or are you going to keep pestering me with questions? We've got a long day ahead of us and I'm planning to get a couple hours of sleep before we head out."
"Sorry, I just…"
"Dean," John warned.
"Right," Dean nodded as he started packing the other essentials like warm clothes and blankets, food and utensils that they had pulled out earlier for the sake of inventory. There were still a couple of supplies they needed to get in the morning, so it was good to make a catalogue of what they had and what they needed. John always stressed the importance of being prepared and Dean was taking it to heart, especially for this hunt.
He was excited about this hunt but nervous—actually, more like scared shitless. Dad was expecting him to take the lead and there was still so much he wasn't sure of about wendigos. He did some research, but the lore was often inconsistent and really the best source of information was through other hunters who had faced them before. Sam had promised to help him do more research but with him leaving to hang out with the youth group Dean found himself doubting everything he had learned, terrified that he'd screw up in his father's eyes.
"The night before a hunt isn't the best time to start research," John scolded, "not if you've had almost a week to prepare."
"I know sir," Dean replied, "it's just that there's so many contradictions on everything I've read and you seem to be the best resource."
"I can't have you relying on me all the time for information Dean," John hissed.
"Yeah but don't you often interview witnesses and stuff when you go hunting? Isn't me asking you, who have hunted these things before, basically the same thing?"
"He's right ya know," a gruff voice from the kitchen entrance said.
Dean turned and grinned stupidly at the sight of the man entering Jim's living room, "Bobby!" he exclaimed, jumping up to greet him, "When'd you get here?"
"Just now," Bobby replied, "Came in from the garage." He motioned to the kitchen where the garage entrance was and Jim who was right behind him.
"It's about time you showed up Singer," John grunted, clearly irritated about the fact that Bobby was taking Dean's side on this without even hearing the whole story.
Dean's eyes flicked from Bobby's to Jim's and back to Bobby's again, "Glad you made it. Jim and I saved you some leftovers for supper. You planning to stay here for Christmas, too?"
"Oh for crying out loud Dean, are you serious?" John huffed, "He's here for the hunt, we're here for the hunt."
"Nice to see you too John," Bobby smirked, "so what crawled up your ass this time?" Dean snorted at that since he had been thinking exactly the same thing.
"Don't you start, Singer," John all but growled. "Dean, get your head out of the clouds and focus on what's important. Enough of these childish fantasies."
"By that you mean Christmas, right?" Jim asked. His tone was casual, curious but they all could hear the gentle reproach underneath. John glared at the Pastor who folded his arms, not backing down, "I suppose you're right and we should stop with that nonsense and I as a Pastor should ignore the holiday surrounding Christ's birth, huh?"
"It's different for you, yes," John spit out, the admission clearly painful to say out loud, "but in case you've forgotten, we don't believe in that."
"True," Jim nodded, glancing between John and Dean who looked pensive all of a sudden, like he was caught doing something horribly wrong, like not being a believer was a crime, "and I can't force you to believe in that, but does that mean a holiday based on hope and giving is a childish fantasy?"
"Oh why don't we just cut this crap and get back to business," John snarled, "Dean, I want you to get back to research, I'm letting you take the lead on this one so you should be teaching me, not the other way around. Bobby and I will take care of packing the rest. Don't want your lack of information getting us killed!"
Dean noticeably paled and nodded, slowly heading to his room to review the research he had gathered. Jim watched him go and politely excused himself and knocked on the door, "Dean? Can I come in?"
"Yeah, sure," Dean shrugged, flipping through a newspaper article absently.
"Are you feeling OK? You look a little pale there kiddo," Jim reached for him, attempting to brush his hands across his forehead but Dean pushed his hand away before he could touch him.
"Yeah, I'm good," Dean hissed, sounding much harsher than he meant to.
"You're worried about the hunt, aren't you?" Jim asked as it dawned on him why Dean looked like he wanted to hurl.
"I don't think I'm ready to take the lead."
"Maybe, maybe not, but the best way to learn is through experience, right? And you know that you have two of the best hunters watching your back and who will step up to the plate if necessary," Jim assured him.
"But you heard what Dad said! What if I get someone hurt, or killed?"
"And you just heard what I said. Bobby and your father aren't going to let that happen if they can help it. Your father is just trying to teach you how important it is to be prepared and we all know tact isn't something he's very good at," Jim smiled and Dean reluctantly returned it.
"I don't want to fail," Dean murmured meekly, "I'm afraid that…"
"That what? Dean this is meant to be a learning experience, if you make a mistake you'll have two great hunters to step in, and you'll be able to learn from it. That's the point, not whether you pass or fail."
"Tell that to Dad," Dean frowned, "because that's not the impression I'm getting. Besides, what if I make a mistake and I have to learn the hard way because my mistake gets someone hurt?"
"There's always that risk whether you're an experienced hunter or not. It's right there in the fine print when you signed up. Bobby knows that, John knows that and they won't blame you if something goes wrong. Stop worrying so much, it won't do you any good when you need your head in the game. Leave the worrying to me and Sammy, you, you just need to get some confidence."
Dean nodded, his expression sombre and thoughtful.
"I know you're a good hunter, a natural even, I've seen you in action, remember?"
With a wry smirk Dean looked up at him, "You just saying that to give my confidence a boost?"
"Yes," Jim admitted, "but I'm also saying that because it's true."
"Thanks," Dean smiled, though something was still clearly bothering him.
Giving himself a moment to gauge whether Dean was willing to have another heart-to-heart so soon Jim lingered and risked asking, "Anything else you need to get off your chest?"
Dean shook his head, "Nah, I'm good."
Jim nodded, deciding that he could talk to him later if need be but as he left Dean sighed.
"I wish Dad could stay for Christmas. I mean, I know it's nothing really special in our family, but…we're here and this one, this one could be special, y'know, for once."
"I know," Jim nodded in understanding, "but you know how your father is."
"Mom loved Christmas," Dean whispered as though a dark confession. "Dad said it was her favourite holiday. I remember, well, sort of, our last Christmas together, even though I was only three. There was something…magical about it. Or so I thought."
Jim nodded, silently urging him to continue.
Dean's eyes were distant for a moment and then he blinked, shaking his head with a humourless chuckle, "Ah, I'm being stupid. Hunting a werewolf is way more important than Christmas. At least it'll be you, me and Sammy, so that's something. I'm just being selfish."
"There's nothing selfish about wanting your family to be together for Christmas, Dean," Jim said. "I don't see why John needs to rush to this next hunt after you guys finish off the wendigo. This werewolf isn't far apparently and it shouldn't hurt for John to wait one extra day before leaving. Would you like me to talk him into staying an extra day or two?"
Dean's cheeks went red, "No!" he exclaimed, then he sobered, "No thanks, you don't need to do that. It's not a big deal, really. I'm just being silly and I don't even know why I'm making this a bigger deal than it is. It's just another day really."
"It's important to you and that matters," Jim said, frowning when Dean scoffed, "you don't have to know why or have a profound reason, it just is."
"Whatever," Dean shrugged, embarrassed. He grabbed a book and pretended to read, "Thanks for the pep talk Pastor Jim, but I've got research to do."
Jim nodded with a sigh, "All right. I'll leave you to it then."
Disclaimer: "Supernatural" is not mine. Merry Christmas. Enjoy!
Chapter end notes:
Thanks for reading! As always, please let me know what you think!