Merry Christmas! I made it with a little over 30 minutes to spare. It's still Christmas Day where I am. Never said I'd get this posted Christmas morning haha. But I DID get it posted!
Here is the VERY long awaited final chapter...
John thanked his lucky stars that he'd thought to look for a buffet when he'd been searching for local restaurants open on Christmas Day.
Steak had sounded good to him and Dean, but the steakhouse hadn't been open. Besides, Sam had requested burgers, so here they were at the all-you-can-eat buffet. At least they did have steak on the menu.
It was a little early for lunch, but by the time the doctor had officially released the boys, they had all been hungry and ready for some food.
Watching Sam return from the buffet with yet another plate - this time he'd loaded up with mashed potatoes, half a plateful of broccoli, three slices of ham, and a cheeseburger to top it all off - John was suddenly ridiculously grateful he only had two sons to feed.
"Is that your second burger?" Dean asked, looking up from his steak and doing a double take when he saw his brother's loaded plate.
Sam held up three fingers.
Dean snatched the burger off his plate and took a bite before Sam could do anything.
"Hey!" Sam glared at his brother.
"Hey, yourself." Dean stared at the burger as cheese dripped onto his plate. Grinning, he said, "You can go get another one. I'm injured. It hurts to walk."
John snorted at the same time Sam did and they shared a knowing glance at Dean's whining.
He had been using his injury to his advantage by making his brother get up and get him whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. To John's amusement, Sam had done so without a word of argument. Typically not one to be bossed around by his brother - or anyone, John thought ruefully - without an argument, Sam had been more than willing to get Dean everything he asked for.
Given the circumstances, it really wasn't that surprising. They always took care of each other, but right now there was a hypervigilance on both their parts. He felt a bit hypervigilant himself.
They were both eating with enthusiasm and seemed to be doing fine, but he wanted to get them somewhere warm and comfortable so they could rest. There was a tightness to Dean's features and a stiffness in his movements that spoke of the pain he was trying to hide. Sam looked like he could fall asleep in an instant if he stopped moving.
"You're gonna take advantage of our sympathy for all it's worth, aren't you?" Sam asked around a mouthful of broccoli.
Holding his hands up, Dean said, "You're the one who told me that I couldn't manage a shotgun and crutches. You think I can balance a plate full of food?"
Sam just rolled his eyes and drained his glass of milk. He pushed himself up from his seat, gaze on the beverage dispenser.
"Next time you get up," Dean grabbed his brother's sleeve, "I want a slice of pie with ice cream."
"Do you want it now?" Sam asked, inching away.
"Nah." Dean grinned at his burger again. "Gonna eat this first."
John watched Sam cross the nearly deserted restaurant and said, "If you keep making him go back for your refills, he's just going to burn off everything he's eating and we're gonna be here all day."
Taking a bite of the burger, Dean watched his brother filling up not one, but two glasses of milk.
Wiping his lips on his napkin, Dean said, "He does seem to be eating like it's going out of style, doesn't he?"
"You both burned through a lot of calories out in the cold." The thought of how dangerously close to death they'd come turned his stomach.
"Yeah, but I've lost count of how many trips he's made. He should be filling up by now, right?"
Smiling, John said, "He's also sixteen, Dean. You used to eat like this too. He's still growing."
Dean groaned. "He's gonna be taller than me, isn't he?"
"I wouldn't be surprised." John laughed at the horrified expression on his eldest's face.
"Wonderful," Dean muttered. He watched Sam head back their way. "Aren't you glad you've got a brand new credit card to pay for lunch?"
"I'm glad I found a buffet." John shook his head. "If we'd gone to a steakhouse or anywhere else and he was eating like this, that brand new credit card would be maxed out already."
Choking on a laugh, Dean shook his head when Sam walked back up and shot him a questioning glance.
Sam stared at them like he knew he was being laughed at but couldn't figure out why. John hid his smile behind his napkin. Apparently having decided eating was more important than worrying over whatever Dean had been laughing about, Sam focused on cutting up a slice of ham.
For a few minutes, they ate in silence; the music playing in the background reminding him - as if he could have forgotten - that it was Christmas. The only thing he'd planned for this day - before the accident - was hunting a ghost haunting Lake Chargoggagoggman. Chargoggago. Chargogogmanchau. Lake Chargo-whatever-it-was.
"Sam?" John asked, irritation burning through him abruptly. "What's the name of that lake?"
"Lake Char gogg a gogg man chaugg a gogg chau bun a gung a maugg," Sam rattled it off without looking up from his plate.
"I could've told you that," Dean muttered around a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
John shook his head. "You can't say it any more than I can."
"Lake Chargaggamoga...mugg...a muggacogachocogogaloga...uh."
"Just give me a minute." Dean held up a hand. "Char-"
"Great start, look at you go," Sam said, grabbing a handful of fries off his brother's plate.
"Shut up. It's Char-go-ggagoggman...why the hell are there so many g's?"
"Lake Char gogg a gogg man chaugg a gogg chau bun a gung a maugg," Sam said as easily as if he'd said his own name.
"How does he do that?" Dean shook his head, meeting John's gaze.
"I have no idea."
"It's not that difficult." Sam was eyeing the rest of John's steak as if it were, well, a juicy steak. "You guys can stick with Webster Lake, though."
"I think that's probably for the best." John nodded, casually drawing his plate just a tiny bit further from Sam's reach.
"I'll get it...I'll get it," Dean insisted. "Just give me a second."
He immediately launched into a string of hysterical and completely inane attempts at pronouncing the name of the lake. Not a single one of the attempts came even close to the actual name and Sam was practically in tears from laughing so hard. Even John couldn't hold back his laughter. It was good to have a reason to laugh.
Dean just grinned, enjoying their amusement. When the laughter died down a bit, he tapped his fork against Sam's arm and said, "Pie. Now. Go."
Sam was a little slower to get up this time, but again went without a word of complaint.
"He's going to get tired of you bossing him around like that," John said mildly.
"He is tired." Dean watched Sam at the dessert bar before turning to meet John's gaze. "He needs to be able to crash, Dad. I know you said we're not doing the hunt, but we can't just get back on the road tomorrow like none of this happened. He's not ok."
"I know," John said, feeling a slight sting that his son would think him so heartless. "Neither of you are ok. Even if we didn't need to get the Impala repaired, you're not driving anywhere for awhile."
Dean nodded, his expression tinged with just a flicker of pain as he shifted in his seat. His injured leg was resting on another chair with both his and John's coats beneath to provide some padding. Sam had yet to even unzip his coat.
"So we're staying for a couple days?" Dean asked hesitantly.
"Yes." There was still a ghost to be dealt with, but he would handle that on his own. "You both need time to rest and recover. I found a place to stay."
"Ok." The word was like a sigh of relief. Aside from the pain, Dean looked every bit as exhausted as his brother did. "That sounds really good."
"Movie and a pizza for dinner?"
"That sounds even better." Dean grinned.
Shifting as Sam walked back up to the table, he held out his hands expectantly. The plate Sam handed him seemed to be nothing but a plateful of ice cream, but Dean enthusiastically dug into it and there was a huge slice of apple pie hidden under all the ice cream. Sam had brought himself back a plate piled just as high as Dean's ice cream tower - but with vegetables.
"Did you say pizza?" Sam asked, sliding into his chair.
"You can't possibly still be hungry," Dean said, staring at his mountain of dessert with nothing short of pure delight.
The way Sam was shoveling salad into his mouth made it seem that he quite possibly was still hungry.
Figuring he should be grateful at least one of his sons learned to like vegetables, John said, "I was thinking about pizza for dinner tonight. Watch some movies."
"No Hallmark." Sam shot a narrow-eyed glare at his brother.
"No Hallmark," John echoed.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Dean offered with a grin, reaching over and mussing Sam's hair.
Sam shoved his hand away and said, "No."
"Alright, alright," John interrupted. "We'll figure that out later."
He tapped the table lightly to put a stop to the good natured squabbling before it got out of hand. The last thing he needed was a wrestling match breaking out. It had been a few years since the last restaurant brawl and he wasn't eager to repeat the event. A busted up knee would have Dean at a disadvantage, but he had two crutches he could use to even up the odds.
"Yes, sir," they both mumbled around mouthfuls of food.
Smiling, he got up and went for his own plate of dessert since he - unlike his eldest - wasn't going to take advantage of Sam's willingness to frequent the buffet lines.
As he perused the selection of pies, he caught sight of the Christmas tree in the front of the restaurant and sighed. They didn't really do Christmas. Presents, decorations, holiday spirit. There weren't a lot of opportunities in their lives to indulge in things like that and he couldn't honestly remember the last time he'd even spent Christmas day with his boys.
Glancing over at them as Sam made a move to help himself to Dean's dessert, a pang of regret hit him. They were eating at a buffet on Christmas. He'd almost lost his sons and he took them to a buffet for Christmas dinner. He didn't have presents for either of them; hadn't even thought about presents.
He took a piece of cherry pie that suddenly didn't look very appetizing and realized he didn't even have the faintest idea what kind of present he would get for them if he had the chance. Outside of ammo and car parts, he drew a blank and what kind of father did that make him?
"Not a good one," he muttered to himself.
He turned to walk back to the table and a smile tugged at his lips at the sight of Dean sharing his pie with his little brother. Pausing, John returned to the pie display and filled up another plate with a couple more slices because clearly they were going to need them. As he buried the pie slices in ice cream, he knew that descending into a spiral of self-pity wouldn't do anyone any good. He couldn't change the past and there wasn't much he could do to make the day special, but whatever he could do, he would do.
When both of his sons looked up at him and smiled some of the heaviness in his heart lifted.
Maybe there wouldn't be any presents, but maybe it was more important to simply be present.
And that he could do.
"This isn't a motel," Dean pointed out the obvious as Dad parked the truck in front of a small house.
Sam, squished between his dad and brother, leaned forward and glanced past Dean. It definitely wasn't a motel. As dumbfounded as Dean seemed by the development, Sam didn't care if it was a motel, a vacation cottage, or a stable behind a fully occupied inn. All he cared about was whether or not it had heat and a bed.
"The motels were all full," Dad said, turning off the truck. "Called all of the vacation rentals in the area and there'd been a cancellation here."
Freezing cold air rushed into the truck as Dean opened his door. "I call dibs on first shower."
He slid out of the truck before Sam could reply. Fumbling with his crutches, Dean dropped one and almost followed it to the snow.
Heart jumping into his throat, Sam grabbed the back of Dean's coat.
"I'm ok," Dean said over his shoulder.
Sam kept ahold of his coat, pulse pounding in his ears as he tried to shake the image of his brother falling into the snow. Sure, Dad was here now and could help Dean up if he fell, but Sam's fingers seemed frozen in a deathgrip on Dean's coat. Even when Dean inched forward, Sam didn't release his grip.
"Hey, really, I'm ok." Dean glanced back, pointedly tugging on his coat. Face sweaty and pale, Dean smiled and said, "I'm not gonna fall on my face. Promise."
Relinquishing his grip, Sam scooted across the seat as Dean pushed himself to a standing position. He leaned an arm against the open door while balancing on his good leg. His movements were stiff and slow; being crammed together into the truck hadn't been comfortable for any of them. Bracing himself on one crutch, he hopped forward enough that Sam could get out and grab the other crutch from the snow.
Straightening up, Sam handed him the crutch, then leaned against the truck when the headrush left him a little dizzy. The brightness of the snow had renewed the headache that had died down somewhat while they'd been in the restaurant. He couldn't wait to get inside and find a place to lie down. Shivering in the cold air, Sam stayed close to his brother in case he lost his footing as they made their way up the snow-covered path.
Dad was already coming back outside by the time they reached the front door. He held the door open for them and said, "Go ahead and get comfortable. I turned the heat up."
Sam hoped he'd turned it up as high as it could go. The cold air hadn't been good for either of them. They'd warmed up a lot at the restaurant only to have the walk to the truck when they left send them both into constant shivers. Even with the truck's heat on full blast, the trip from the restaurant had been enough for the chill to settle deep inside again. He'd been cold plenty of times in the past, but this was an entirely different kind of cold.
Even after Dad pulled the door closed behind him, the cold lingered in the entryway.
"Come on," Dean said, carefully moving forward. "Let's get away from the door."
Sam tried to keep his teeth from chattering as he followed his brother down the hall. "You should sit down. Get off your leg."
Dean shook his head. "Hot shower first."
It wouldn't be the first time they'd had to take a shower while injured, but dealing with a huge knee brace and crutches would be a new challenge. Sam was about to comment on the fact when Dean let out a low whistle of surprise. Stepping forward, Sam stood next to his brother and stared wide eyed at the room ahead of them.
"Yeah. Wow," Dean echoed.
The living room was a hundred times nicer than any motel they'd ever stayed in. For one thing, it was decorated tastefully. For another thing, there were two couches and several armchairs; none of which looked stained or lumpy. A huge window to the right side of the fireplace provided a view of snow capped trees. Over the fireplace was a large television and a fully decorated Christmas tree stood to the left.
"Merry Christmas to us." Dean grinned. "This is gonna be great."
Sam couldn't help but smile back. Completely unexpected, it was a good surprise. Dean was fiddling with light switches and one of them lit the lights on the Christmas tree while another had the fireplace roaring to life.
"Awesome." He lifted one of his crutches and knocked Sam's leg with it. "Go sit in front of the fire. Roast your chestnuts."
"You're an idiot." Sam rolled his eyes, but couldn't deny that sitting by the fire sounded like an excellent plan.
"I'm not an idiot and you need to warm up." Dean grabbed his arm and gave him a shake. "You're still freezing. How can you possibly be so cold? Maybe you should go take a hot shower."
Sam shivered at the thought.
Dean pushed him again toward the fire, then slowly hobbled in the opposite direction.
"What are you doing?"
"Getting you something hot to drink."
"I can get myself something to drink," Sam said, following him into the kitchen.
"Yahtzee!" Dean said, nodding toward a basket on the counter. "Perfect."
He was rummaging through the cupboards and Sam turned his attention to the basket. It was filled with different packets of various flavors of hot chocolate and apple cider. Picking through them, he heard the front door open and close again as Dad brought some of their gear inside.
"Pick one," Dean instructed, filling a mug with water. He struggled his way to the microwave and put the cup in to heat the water. "Sam, I'm serious, if you don't pick out-"
Sam cut him off by throwing a packet of hot chocolate in his face.
Catching it before it fell, Dean smirked at him.
"You should drink something, too." Sam went back to rummaging through the packets.
"I'm not an ice cube."
"I'm not that cold," Sam said, shoving his hands in his pockets because he was, in fact that cold.
"Your lips are blue."
"They are not."
"You haven't looked in a mirror." Dean snorted as the microwave beeped.
Elbowing past him, Sam said, "Let me get it out or you're gonna wind up spilling it and falling over."
"I'm perfectly capable of managing on a pair of crutches."
Ignoring him, Sam got the mug of water out and set it on the counter. Dean tossed the packet of hot chocolate back at him and Sam took it with fingers that were shaking and almost numb. Before he could try to open the packet, Dean snatched it back and dumped it into the cup.
"Find a spoon, Ice Man."
Rolling his eyes, Sam dug through a few drawers until he found a spoon to stir the mix into the water. He wrapped his hands around the mug and took a sip, warmth spreading through him.
"Good, right?" Dean's smile didn't disguise the lines of pain tightening his eyes or the way he was leaning heavily to his uninjured side.
Dean's smile widened; clearly quite satisfied with himself. He pointed at the living room. "Park yourself in front of the fireplace."
"Fine, but you need to sit down, too."
"Bossy," Dean muttered, following Sam back to the living room.
Every painful step slower than the last, Dean gingerly made his way to the closest couch. Collapsing backwards, he let the crutches fall to the floor. With a groan, he said, "This has been a long day."
"That's putting it mildly." Sam laughed. He set the cup of hot chocolate down and said, "You should get your leg up on some pillows."
"Too much trouble," Dean mumbled, his eyes closed. Despite his words, he listed sideways on the couch, not quite getting his leg up onto the cushions.
Grabbing the pillows off the other couch, Sam leaned down and carefully helped Dean lift his leg, settling it on the stack of pillows. That accomplished, he sat down on the coffee table, suddenly tired. Closing his eyes, he debated the merits of inching his way to the other couch. Before he could move, though, he heard movement to the left.
Sam looked up as Dad walked into the room
Dean didn't sit up from where he was lying on the couch, but waved a weary hand in acknowledgement.
"I'm going to run to the store," Dad said studying them both, the truck keys in his hand. "Grab some supplies."
"Do you...do you have to do it right now?" Sam asked, surprising himself a little with the question.
The snow was still falling heavily beyond the window and he didn't like the thought of his dad being back out on the snow slicked roads. He wasn't quite ready to have his recently reunited family separated again. They were safe and comfortable, they had a Christmas tree, Dean looked like he had already fallen asleep, and they didn't have a hunt to plan for right now.
All they had to do was...enjoy Christmas together.
"No, I guess I don't have to do it right now." Dad shook his head, frowning as he stepped closer. "Are you ok, Sammy?"
"Yeah. I'm good."
Dad studied him for a moment longer, eyes narrowed in assessment. He must have been satisfied with what he saw because his shoulders relaxed and he smiled. Unzipping his coat, he glanced at Sam's mug. "Is there more hot chocolate?"
"There's apple cider, too."
"Sounds great." He paused and added, "You did good. With the research for the hunt and out there with your brother. You two make a good team."
"Yes, sir." Sam nodded. They did make a good team.
Dad squeezed his shoulder, glancing over at Dean. "Didn't take your brother long to get comfortable. You should get some rest, too."
As exhausted as he felt, Sam was more than ready to crawl under a blanket and get some sleep. But it was Christmas and it had been several years since they'd been together on the holiday. Dad wasn't thinking about the hunt right now and Sam just wanted to hold onto the magic of the day as long as he could.
He turned as his dad started to walk away. "Hey, Dad?"
"Maybe we could play some poker?"
"That sounds great." Dad smiled. "I've got a deck in my bag. Let me go grab it."
Sam nodded, contentment sweeping over him as he breathed in the fact that the two most important people in his life were alive and safe and with him.
There really wasn't anything more he could have wanted for Christmas.
Dean woke up to the sound of his brother's laughter.
It was such a good way to wake up that he wasn't even annoyed about being awakened from his nap. He smiled a little at another soft laugh and opened his eyes just enough for him to be able to seek out his brother.
Sam was sitting on the floor, his back against the other couch. He had finally taken off the coats he'd been bundled up in and was down to just his hoodie. The cheery fireplace to his right was snapping and popping merrily. The light from the fireplace illuminated Sam's smile. He started laughing again and looked so young and happy that Dean could almost forget how he'd looked lying in a snowbank, dying in the middle of nowhere.
Despite that memory, Dean couldn't stop smiling as he took in the rest of the scene.
Dad was sitting in the armchair opposite Sam and was staring at his hand of cards with a shocked expression. From the way Sam was grinning, he must have pulled off quite an amazing win.
They were talking in hushed tones and Dean kept his eyes open only to slits so he could watch what was happening without either of them noticing they were being observed. He watched as John shuffled the deck and muttered something about card sharks that just made Sam laugh even harder. Dad started shh-ing him and Dean closed his eyes just as Dad started to turn his head.
A few minutes passed of soft voices and slightly less than soft laughter while Dean contemplated the events that had brought them to this moment of peace and contentment. The memory of the impact that had propelled them off the ice covered road was enough to make his wrists ache. Aches and pains aside, they'd walked away from that crash without any life threatening injuries. Then they'd survived a cold, uncomfortable night in the car together.
And then they'd walked through a blizzard, keeping each other alive despite the odds.
Dad had driven hundreds of miles in a snowstorm to get to them. The thought filled Dean with incredible warmth. He opened his eyes again and took in the scene before him once again.
They were all alive; all in the same room. There was a fireplace and comfortable places to sleep and sit. The room smelled like Christmas trees and hot apple cider and Dad had promised a pizza for dinner.
He was comfortable and warm and - at the moment - pain free. It was a pretty fantastic feeling. There were no presents under the tree wrapped in sparkling paper with fancy bows on top, but he didn't care.
No Christmas present in the world could compare to what he had already.
Dean drifted happily on the edge of sleep listening to his father and brother. Never in his dreams had he dared to hope for the Christmas miracle he'd received.
All in all?
It had turned out to be an unexpectedly perfect Christmas.
He puzzled and puzzled till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought...doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps...means a little bit more!
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
Hope you enjoyed! Thank you for sticking with this story even though it took a year to get finished. There were a lot of reasons it got delayed and none of them were because I didn't love the story (although at times I did hate it a bit lol). Life definitely makes writing a challenge at times. I'm very happy to have this finished and truly hope you enjoyed the story! Thank you for reading!