The phone rings at six.
Sam’s heart jumps — something’s happened to Dean, or, something’s happened to Dean — and his fingers shake a bit as he grabs the phone. Though maybe that’s just being old.
“Merry Christmas, Dad. Did I give you a heart attack?”
“I thought it would be you,” says Sam, which is safely ambiguous and mostly true. “Merry Christmas. How’s life at the South Pole?”
At least Dean’s family compulsion to save the world has taken him to the end of the earth that’s less likely to have Evil Santa.
“Good,” says Dean. “I mean, I miss you, but it’s good. I’m sorry I couldn’t come home.”
“I miss you, too,” says Sam. “I know your mom misses you. But it’s your study abroad. We, I, we wouldn’t want to yank you home from that. I hope you’re fitting some fun in with the penguin stuff.”
“Who says penguin stuff isn’t fun? But, yeah, a bunch of us from the lab are having our wild Antarctic holiday bash in a bit. Dr Graham says hi, by the way.”
“Tell Jamie hi back,” says Sam. It’s one of the weirder ways things worked out, that his soulless stint had gotten him that bit of normal parental networking.
“Listen, Dad, I gotta go. I’m going to call Mom and then get ready. I just wanted to say Merry Christmas. I love you.”
“I love you, too,” says Sam. “Bye.”
He puts the phone down. It’s still dark out. But Hermione is staring at him unblinkingly and she can and will poke him in the eye if he tries to go back to sleep. He might as well get up and have coffee and feed the cat and stuff.
His phone pings while he’s eating breakfast. Linda.
The Kid sounds good, the text says. You know you’re welcome for dinner if you want. Juan’s cooking, so it will even be edible.
Bad idea, Sam texts back. We’d just get tipsy and sentimental about our awesome scientist kid. It would be a sad old people thing. You and Juan have fun. Live it up.
After all, Sam had at least decided on retirement, he ought to be used to it. Linda, when they’d had their talk, after she found out she was pregnant, she’d never really expected to see their kid off to college, to meet someone she’d want to leave hunting for, have the whole life thing. She’d just wanted a legacy, something real and living. And for her son to be safe, for his dad to be there when she wouldn’t be. But sometimes you get a life, too. Sometimes it works like that.
Sam could go to a motel for the night. He’s done that a time or two, since Dean has been off at Swarthmore. It’s a weird kind of comforting, the hum of inclosed air, the neutral not-quite-grief. Or he could stay here, enjoy the quiet, maybe finally fix the sink in the spare bathroom. He could sit in the car for a bit.
Or he could call someone.
“It’s seven-thirty AM on Christmas Day,” says Max. “You’re interrupting my beauty sleep.”
“That would be a tragedy,” says Sam. “Hey, you want to, uh, do something later? Have a drink?”
Him and Max and their ghost siblings. Sam still isn’t sure that’s a good combination. But it’s not something you can do just once, deciding to live. Maybe it’s something people can try to do together.
“Two retired geezers out on the town on Christmas?” says Max. “Are things even open?”
“Chinese food,” says Sam. He and Dean had gotten Chinese a bunch of times, working cases, not doing Christmas. Sam had never wanted to look back too closely at that one time they had done Christmas. That one time it was Dean’s Death Future, not Dean’s Death Past. “You know what, yeah, that’s, uh, probably kind of depressing. Maybe another time.”
He can fix the sink and then sit in the car for a while.
“Hey, whoa, not so fast,” says Max. “You can’t offer me Christmas Chinese and then back out. Depressing, my shapely ass. We are dashing and dapper. And maybe a few other reindeer. We have aged like fine wine. We wield chopsticks with flair. If you back out I might lose my will to live and fall back on a Christmas movie. You don’t want that on your conscience.”
Dean’s in Antarctica, doing penguins. Sam did a good thing with that. The world got a pretty awesome penguin scientist guy out of it, out of Sam carrying on. Maybe Sam should celebrate. With Chinese food.
“It’s a date,” he says.