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Merry and Bright

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 baking cookies


Do you have any family traditions for Christmas? Jenn asks him the first December they're together, as they're making plans to drive up to her folks' house, and it's kind of a relief when Sam realizes that for once he can simply tell her the truth.

Lebanon wasn't really the home of Christmas cheer to begin with and living in a hidden underground bunker didn't help, but Dean had never been daunted by any of that--if anything, he'd always seemed to enjoy the challenge. Though when they'd been young their trees had mostly been branches in buckets, in later years they'd had proper evergreens, which were always a pain and a half to maneuver through the halls between the garage bay and the main reading room. Decorations weren't important enough to warrant a trip farther than the town limits, so they'd usually been stuck working with whatever Ladow's Grocery could supply--popcorn and cranberry strings, snowflakes and stars cut out of colored paper plates, candy canes and carefully decorated gingerbread cookies that had always gone stale by the time Dean decided they could finally be eaten.

They'd make enormous paper chains out of newspaper and discarded scrap from their dad or whoever happened to be conducting research at the time, hanging them across doorways and running them up and down the center spiral staircase. Dean would splurge on baking supplies and make them a new batch of cookies every few days until Sam got almost sick of them. On the weekends they'd watch staticky Christmas specials and drink hot chocolate with peppermint and try to find all the radio stations playing Christmas music.

Presents were always the tricky part, but Dean usually managed to scrounge up enough to give Sam a properly-filled stocking--candy and used library books, things that qualified as 'potentially useful', like a pocket knife or set of tarot cards (provenance unknown). Sam's gifts to Dean always seemed inadequate in comparison--a few hand-written recipe cards from the lady who ran the post-office, or a lumpy and almost unusable scarf after Sam borrowed the town library's only book on knitting. A compass, once, that Sam won off one of the local farm boys in a bet on who could knock down the most soup cans in a row with a pellet gun. A few other things over the years, but nothing to match what Dean always offered.

But every time, no matter what it was, Dean would say "This is perfect, Sammy, thanks," and really mean it, smiling deep and happy and like it was the best thing Sam possibly could've given him--which was a gift to Sam in itself.

Mine's probably going to make you wear an ugly sweater, just so you're warned, Jenn says before he can tell her any of this, And Granny Heywood always brings fruitcake, which you must eat on pain of banishment from the table, and Sam realizes that she's asking him a different sort of question after all.

No, not really, he says. Tree, cookies--nothing special.

Sometimes the truth is very nearly a lie.