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The text stops Dean in his tracks: what do you boys want to do for Christmas? Not for the first time, he wishes there was a way to reverse the read receipt so the sender didn’t know he read the text. As it is, his mom is going to know he’s seen it, and Dean has no idea what to say.

 

“What’s wrong?” Sam asks, tugging his tie off.

 

Dean hesitates. “Mom wants to know what we want to do for Christmas.”

 

Sam grimaces. “Oh. Yeah. I guess that’s coming up.”

 

“In three days,” Dean says. “There’s no way we’re gonna be back at the bunker by then. I estimate at least one, maybe two days to wrap this case, then we’ve got that suspected vampire nest in Oklahoma City to check out.”

 

Sam shrugs out of his suit coat, his forehead creased in thought. “We could maybe do a late Christmas. Push it off until New Years.”

 

“I’ll suggest it,” Dean replies and fires back a text. Still finishing up a case, with another on the line. Can we push it off?

 

Dean starts up the engine of the Impala, tossing his own tie into the backseat. “Dude. What are we gonna tell her when she asks about, I don’t know, traditions?”

 

Sam shrugs. “We tell her the truth. It’s a little hard to celebrate Christmas when you’re on the road, so we made the best of it.”

 

That’s not exactly the truth as Dean thinks about it, but he figures it’s close enough, and it’s probably better than saying what he originally thought. They don’t have traditions because John Winchester hadn’t wanted to celebrate Christmas without Mary, and Dean felt much the same. Granted, if they were staying with Bobby or Ellen over Christmas, there was usually a tree, maybe a few presents, but that only happened on a handful of occasions.

 

Dean’s phone chimes with an incoming text, and he sneaks a quick peek at the screen. “She wants to meet us.”

 

Sam pulls out his phone. “I got this.”

 

“What are you going to tell her?”

 

“Where she can meet us,” Sam replies patiently. “Mom wants to meet us halfway. I say we let her.”

 

Dean has never let himself think about what spending the holidays with his mom might be like, not even when they got her back. He doesn’t really want to think about it this year either.

 

It’s not going to be a Norman Rockwell Christmas—not that Dean wants one. But he’s not sure whether Mary feels the same way.

 

“Yeah, okay,” Dean says. “As long as she knows we’re on a hunt.”

 

He’s being a bit of a Scrooge, but he’s not feeling particularly open to the idea of a Winchester family Christmas.

 

“Mom’s a hunter, too,” Sam replies. “She’ll understand.”

 

Dean keeps his opinion about that to himself.

 

“Okay, she’s going to meet us in Oklahoma,” Sam says happily. “I’ll bet she’d help us out. What do you think we should get her for Christmas?”

 

Dean frowns. “Hell if I know. What do you get your mom after she’s been dead a few decades?”

 

He has no idea what she likes, or wants, or needs. All the usual mom gifts—perfume, slippers, jewelry—don’t seem quite right.

 

“Maybe a book?” Sam suggests. “Do you think she likes to read?”

 

Dean sighs. “I don’t know, man. Maybe? I remember that she read to me, but those were just kids books.”

 

“We should get one of those little fake trees,” Sam says. “Obviously, a real tree is out of the question, but they sell the tabletop trees everywhere.”

 

“Whatever you want to do,” Dean replies.

 

He’s honestly not trying to be a jerk; he just doesn’t really want to put a bunch of energy into playing happy families when his mom is going to turn around and leave again.

 

Sam gives him a disappointed look. “Dean.”

 

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it!” Dean says defensively.

 

Sam shakes his head. “Just try, okay? It’s—it’s my first Christmas with Mom in like, ever.”

 

Dean feels like a heel, but he’s also pissed because Sam deserves to have the Norman Rockwell experience. He deserves to have an amazing Christmas with their mom, to have the kind of Christmas Dean remembers from when he was small.

 

Sam deserves to have a Christmas at home.

 

“Text Mom and tell her to meet us at the bunker,” Dean says firmly. “I’ll have access to my kitchen, and we can get a tree that way. We’ll meet her there. The date doesn’t matter as much as being at home together.”

 

Sam’s face lights up. “Yeah, that sounds good. You know Christmas trees are always dirt-cheap right after the holiday. We could get a fake one and store it at the bunker for next year.”

 

Dean thinks that might be a little too optimistic, but he’s not going to say that. “Sure.”

 

“Okay, Mom says we can do both,” Sam says. “She wants to be with us on Christmas Day, but she’s cool with actually celebrating Christmas once we get back to the bunker.”

 

Dean figures that’s probably the best offer he’s going to get. “Okay, we’ll make it work.”

 

~~~~~

 

Sam thinks this whole thing with their mom is easier for him. Sam’s just so grateful to have her at all, and he has no memories to compare to the reality.

 

Sure, he and Dean have celebrated Christmas together a few times, and with Bobby or whoever had been watching them a few other times, but Sam always had the sense that Christmas is what normal families do, and the Winchesters have never been normal.

 

But it’s the first Christmas Sam will ever spend with his mom, and he wants to enjoy it, even if Dean’s going to be a Grinch.

 

“Mom’s not here yet,” Sam announces after checking them into their motel room.

 

Dean’s turned away from him, leaning against the hood of the car, holding a whispered conversation. “I don’t know! I’m not much better at this than you are. Look, I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later.”

 

Sam glances at him. “Was that Cas? Is everything okay?”

 

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says. “He was asking for tips on, um, dealing with Crowley.”

 

“You have a little bit of experience with that,” Sam points out. “So do I. Should I call him?”

 

Dean shakes his head. “No, it’s no big deal. They’re just sharing a motel room.”

 

Sam’s beginning to get suspicious. “Okay.”

 

“Don’t worry about Cas,” Dean says dismissively. “We’ll catch up with him after Christmas.”

 

“Yeah, sure,” Sam agrees. He still thinks something is going on, but it’s just as likely that Dean’s finally acting on his ill-disguised crush.

 

A car pulls up next to them and Mary puts her head out the window. “Hey, boys. You beat me here.”

 

“Mom,” Sam says, waiting until she gets out of the car to hug her. “How was your drive?”

 

“Fine,” she replies. “Merry Christmas, Sam.”

 

“Merry Christmas to you, too,” Sam replies, feeling a warm glow.

 

Dean seems to be putting aside his Grinchy ways, because he rounds the car and hugs her, too. “Hey, Mom, Merry Christmas.”

 

Mary smiles brightly. “I’m so glad we could meet up like this.”

 

“I’m glad it worked out,” Sam says. “We’re going to get some dead man’s blood.”

 

He doesn’t want to give Dean any time to protest or make noises about the holiday that might put a damper on things. Besides, the sooner they get this case done, the sooner they can get back to the bunker

 

“You two go on ahead,” Dean suggests. “I’ve got a couple of calls to make.”

 

Sam gives Dean a hard look. “Dean, I thought—”

 

“Somebody has to figure out where the vamps are holed up,” Dean says, interrupting him. “The sooner this case is done, the sooner we get back home to celebrate.”

 

Sam blinks, a little surprised to hear the same sentiment come out of Dean’s mouth. “Oh, okay. Well, that makes sense.”

 

“Okay, great,” Dean says, and he’s dialing a number on his cell phone again.

 

“Is that weird?” Mary asks.

 

Sam shakes his head. “No, he was just on the phone with Cas, so that’s probably who he’s calling. They’ve—never mind.”

 

“I suspected,” Mary admits. “Cas was very enthusiastic about hugging him.”

 

“They have kind of a weird relationship,” Sam says. “But don’t tell Dean I told you. He’d kill me.”

 

Mary smiles. “My lips are sealed. So, how do you want to run this? Do you want to flirt your way in, or do we play the dead relative card?”

 

Sam considers. “I haven’t done any research as to who might be freshly dead. We didn’t have time between this case and the last.”

 

“Flirting it is, then,” Mary says cheerfully.

 

The mortuary assistant, when they arrive at the nearest funeral home, is a guy—a guy who is very obviously checking Mary out. Sam raises an eyebrow to indicate that it’s her game, and he’ll follow her lead.

 

Mary walks up to him. “Hi, there,” she says in a breathless Southern drawl. “I’m a journalist, and I’m doing a story on the strangest ways people die. I’ll bet you’d be a huge help with that.”

 

Sam smothers a grin and begins to sidle back into the area where they keep the soon-to-be-embalmed corpses. Mary is practically shoving her boobs in the guys face while she butters him up, talking about how interesting his job is and how he must be so smart.

 

He has no problem drawing a couple of vials of blood from the freshest corpse, figuring that no one’s going to miss it, and he sidles back out just as Mary says, “Thank you so much. Your perspective will be absolutely invaluable.”

 

“Go, Mom,” Sam says in an undertone as they leave.

 

“Well, one of us would have successfully flirted with him,” Mary says with a twinkle in her eye. “And if he’d been gay, it would have been you.”

 

Sam laughs. “Yeah, I guess so. Let me call Dean and let him know we got the goods.”

 

The phone rings a few times, and then Dean answers, “Hey, Sammy.”

 

Sam frowns. “What are you up to?”

 

“Nothing,” Dean says defensively. “Did you get the blood?”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Sam replies. “Mom was very proficient.”

 

Dean pauses. “She flirted, didn’t she?”

 

“I will neither confirm nor deny,” Sam replies. “Do you have a location on the vampires?”

 

“I have a couple leads,” Dean says evasively.

 

Sam sighs. “Meet you at the motel?”

 

“Yeah, we can regroup there,” Dean says.

 

Sam shakes his head as he hangs up. “I really have no idea what’s gotten into him.”

 

“Is he upset about the holiday?” Mary asks. “Was it a mistake to insist on meeting you?”

 

“No, no way,” Sam insists. “It might take Dean a little time to get into the spirit of things, but he will. He’s always been a bit of a Scrooge.”

 

Mary’s expression is wistful. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

 

“Dean—Dean tried really hard for me,” Sam offers. “He always did.”

 

“And John?” Mary asks.

 

Sam’s opinion about his dad has softened a lot over the years. “He did the best he could.”

 

Mary doesn’t appear convinced, but she nods. “Well, I can’t say I’d do very well without John, so I won’t throw stones.”

 

“Let’s take care of the vampires, I guess,” Sam says. “And then maybe we can find a restaurant that’s open on Christmas Day. Chinese food is usually good.”

 

~~~~~

 

Dean and Sam are far better at dispatching vampires than Mary expects—although maybe she should expect the unexpected at this point. By the time they meet up with Dean back at the motel, he’s narrowed their options down to two locations.

 

“I thought you weren’t sure,” Mary says.

 

“I just had to make a couple of calls,” Dean replies. “No big deal. Anyway, I have our options. I figure Sammy can fire up the laptop, and we can come up with a top candidate.”

 

Mary knows what Dean looks like when he’s hiding something, and it turns out that hasn’t changed a bit over the last thirty-plus years.

 

She doesn’t say anything, though, because the light in Dean’s eyes borders on glee, and she thinks that whatever he’s cooking up is something he thinks they—or at least Sam—will like. He’d worn the same expression at age four, having just helped John pick out a Christmas gift for her, unable to wait to give it to her.

 

Sam quickly selects one location as most likely based on a few factors, and then they head out. The nest is in a condemned house, and by unspoken agreement, Dean goes in the back while Sam and Mary take the front.

 

Dean refuses the syringe of dead man’s blood, hefting his machete. “You two carry it. I’m good.”

 

Sam hands her one of the syringes. “This is a break glass in case of emergency thing,” he says. “Beheading them is the better way to go.”

 

“Got it,” she replies.

 

Mary has heard of vampires, but she’s never taken out a nest before. She follows Sam inside, watching as he takes the head off the first vampire who steps into his path. Two more show up, and Mary takes on the slightly smaller vampire.

 

As much as she hates the idea of her boys as hunters, she has to admit that they’re good at it, fighting with an economy of movement and a fierce grace. Dean wields his machete like an extension of himself, killing three vampires in two swings.

 

The rest of the nest goes down easily, most of the vampires barely awake with the sun still high. It’s bloody and brutal and over in under fifteen minutes.

 

“Well, that was fun,” Mary says brightly.

 

Dean’s grin is very white in the dimness. “It really was.”

 

“How about a shower?” Sam suggests, swiping a sleeve over his face. “And then maybe we can head home.”

 

“Sounds good to me,” Mary agrees. “Although maybe we should find a place for dinner before we get back on the road.”

 

Dean checks his phone. “We’ve already paid for one night. Might as well get a good night’s sleep before hitting the road again.”

 

Sam frowns. “Dean, what are you planning?”

 

“I’m not planning anything, Sammy,” Dean replies irritably. “I’m tired, and I kind of want a decent night’s sleep before we have to spend a few more hours in the car.”

 

Sam puts his hands up in the age-old gesture of surrender and says, “Okay. Geez.”

 

Mary is more certain than ever that Dean is planning something, but his mouth still has that slant that says it’s probably a good surprise, so she lets it go.

 

They go back to the motel, shower, and then find a Chinese food buffet that’s open on Christmas. They gorge themselves on cheap food and joke about hunting, and it’s good. It’s great even.

 

Mary remembers the last Christmas she’d spent with Dean. He’d been so excited about Santa and his presents, and everything else. He’d hardly slept Christmas Eve, although he’d stayed in bed at least until 6 am, since John insisted on it.

 

They’d decorated cookies and hung ornaments, and all of the things parents were supposed to do with their kids leading up to the biggest holiday of the year.

 

Mary misses that boy. She hates that she hadn’t been able to give Sam the same experience. She hates that she missed so much.

 

Still, dinner is good, and they have a good time, and the next morning, they caravan back to the bunker. Mary figures they might be able to find a tree or something, and they can order dinner in, or she can help Dean cook, or something. She’ll be able to make up for her absence somehow.

 

And then she follows her boys into the bunker and blinks. “What?”

 

There’s a tree a few feet from the bottom of the stairs, so tall that it brushes the ceiling. There are at least three different sets of Christmas lights on it—white, multi-colored, and blinking multi-colored—and enough tinsel to sink the Titanic, as well as a few glass balls. Greenery hangs from the ceiling, but when Mary looks, it’s holly, not mistletoe.

 

“What the hell?” Sam asks.

 

Dean’s scratching the back of his neck. “Oh. Uh. Well. I might have asked Cas to help out with the decorating.”

 

Sam stares in obvious wonder, a wide grin gracing his face. “Dude. This is what you were talking about when you said you didn’t know any more than him.”

 

“I might have undershot my skills,” Dean admits. “Clearly, Cas knows way less than I do, but—I wanted it to be good for us.”

 

And Dean’s expression is so hopeful, so sweet, so like that boy she’d known, Mary has to hug him. “It’s absolutely perfect,” she says in his ear. “So perfect.”

 

Because it is. It’s exactly what her sweet boy would have done at four, and all unknowing, Dean and Cas have given Mary the best gift of all—a peek into the past she lost.

 

“This is great,” Sam says, delighted. “Where is Cas?”

 

“Well, I said today was for family, but he could come by tomorrow,” Dean replies. “Or, possibly later today, depending when I texted him.”

 

“He should be here,” Mary says firmly. “He’s family, too.”

 

And then she stares up at the ceiling and sees the sprigs of holly hanging everywhere, and she feels Sam’s strong arm circle her shoulders.

 

“You okay?” Sam asks.

 

Mary smiles. “I’m great.”

 

Dean tucks his phone away after a brief conversation and says, “Cas will be here tomorrow. He said he had a few things left to do.” He comes over and hugs Mary tightly. “Okay?”

 

Mary hugs him back and thinks that she still has her boy. “I’m great.”