Christmas Eve in yet another cheap motel room. Sam and Dean waited for their father to come home from the store. It was important to stock up tonight, since there would be nowhere open to go out to eat tomorrow. Four year old Sammy played with the old G. I. Joe Dean had brought home from school. Dean had told Sam a kid at school had lost a bet with him. Dean sat at the table finishing his homework. Joe won the battle with his shadow, the only foe he ever fought. Sam sat down the toy and watched his brother close his book. This was probably the best chance he’d get.
“Dean, what was Christmas like before?” Sam would never have asked his father, you just didn’t mention her to John. Sometimes, if he was lucky, Dean would tell him things, sometimes he wouldn’t. Sam held his breath, hoping this would be one of the talkative times. Five minutes passed, ten, and then…
“She loved Christmas.”
Sam breathed again; it was going to be ok. Dean had that faraway look, not the hurt look, or the angry closed up look, the faraway look meant he would talk and even answer questions.
“I remember her singing carols, in the kitchen, in the car. She sang a lot. We’d go look at lights, all of us, and we’d all sing.” Dean continued.
Sam couldn’t imagine their father singing Christmas carols, or wasting gas to look at lights. But if Dean said it happened, it must be true.
“Was there a tree?” He asked tentatively.
“A huge one, we decorated it together. She had so many ornaments, old ones, and new ones. She kept all the ones I made at daycare, and she bought me a new one every year. There was an angel on top, it looked like her.”
“Cookies, she baked cookies for Santa.”
“But Dean, Santa’s not real. Daddy said so.”
“I know that,” Dean said, slightly irritated. “But he was then, ok.”
Sam nodded. Mommy and Santa must have died together. He wondered if the demon had killed him too, but he didn’t want to ask. Dean had lost the faraway look, and he knew that meant the end of this discussion.
Outside the dingy hotel door John stood frozen. He had gotten to the door just as Sam asked his question, and couldn’t bring himself to interrupt. He lost himself in memory, and for a moment he could smell fresh baked cookies, see the twinkle of lights, and hear Mary’s sweet soprano. A cold drop on his hand brought him back, and he realized it was a tear. Silently he turned around and headed back to the car.
Christmas morning Sam awoke to the smell of pancakes. At first he thought he was still dreaming, but when he opened his eyes he saw Dean grinning down at him.
“What’s going on?” he asked his big brother sleepily.
“Merry Christmas, Sammy” his father called from the kitchenette.
That got his attention; he sat up and looked around. There was a tiny plastic tree on the table, with an angel on top. Actually, it looked like she’d started out as a greeting card and someone had taped an empty toilet paper roll to her back. There were two gifts under the tree.
“Dean,” Sammy whispered, “Are you sure Santa’s not real?”
“Daddy did it” Dean whispered back.
Sam’s eyes grew wide, suddenly Dean’s stories about before seemed a little more real.
“Sam, Dean,” Their father was beckoning from the table where three plates of pancakes sat steaming.
Breakfast was quickly polished off, as were the dishes. Dean washed and Sam dried, as usual, but there wasn’t the usual squabbling during the chore. As soon as dishes were done John let each of them open their present.
Sam was happy to see his parcel contained brand new pajamas. They even had tags, so he knew they were really new, not hand me downs or garage sale finds. Dean had new pajamas too, but he didn’t understand why Dean looked like he would cry. Sam watched, puzzled, as Dean sniffed and John held him. Then John held out his arms and Sam forgot his confusion in his eagerness to claim an all too rare hug from his dad.
John held his boys, wishing he could give them more than just this one moment of happiness. Clearing his throat he asked, “How would you boys like to go look at the lights tonight?”