The room is dark -- it's still early morning and the bunker is underground so it's always dark anyway -- but the tree is lit, and Dean can see several bulky packages shoved haphazardly under and around the scraggly little bush.
He wriggles excitedly out of Tall Sam's arms, runs to the tree, sliding to his knees and grabbing the first package.
"He came! Santa came!" Dean exclaims, his chest so full of hope and joy he can hardly contain it.
"Well, the truth is, -- " Big Dean starts to say something but Tall Sam stamps on his foot, so that all that comes out is "Ow!"
"Merry Christmas, Dean," Tall Sam says.
There's a firetruck that makes real siren noises, and a train-set that he'll need help putting together, and a couple of baby toys for Sam that Dean gets to open too, since Sam's too little to know better and would rather play with the wrapping paper anyway.
The last thing he opens is a baseball and a mitt, and they're old, the mitt worn and soft.
"Belonged to my dad," Big Dean says. "He gave them to me when I was about your age. Figured they probably belong to you now."
Tall Sam is staring at Big Dean like he's seeing him for the first time.
"I'm not even gonna ask how you found those," he says, and Big Dean shrugs.
"Swung by the old house," he mutters. "While Dad was in the hospital. Knew there'd be a few things he needed."
Big Dean and Tall Sam exchange gifts, but Dean doesn't pay much attention as they grouse and complain and bump shoulders and pretend they're not pleased when they so obviously are.
Dean's too busy playing with his new firetruck, deep in his fantasy of becoming a fireman so he can save people from burning up in fires.
He's still playing with the firetruck an hour later when Daddy finally gets up, comes into the room, looking bleary-eyed and sad from his own night of bad dreams.
Dean jumps up, grabbing his package from under the tree.
"This one's for you, Daddy," he says. "From me."
Dad takes the badly-wrapped little gift, turns it over a few times, looks up at Dean with tears in his eyes.
"I can open it for you," Dean offers. "Can I?"
Daddy nods, so Dean tears opens the package, hands him the knife.
"See? It's one you can keep in your pocket, like the one you had at home."
Daddy nods again, watches Dean pull open the knife, demonstrate all its parts, close it up again and hand it back so Daddy can put it in his pocket.
"Thanks, son," Daddy smiles a little, wipes tears off his cheeks.
It makes Dean sad to see Daddy cry, so he hugs Daddy quickly and runs back to his firetruck.
That's when Big Dean hands his package to Daddy. Dad looks up at his grown son with a questioning look as he takes the bulky gift, and Big Dean doesn't quite look him in the eye.
"Figured you might need this," he says.
Dad opens the package, frowning. Big Dean stands back, shifting his feet nervously, and Tall Sam is frowning too, clearly not knowing what to expect.
It's a leather coat. The leather is a little worn and soft, and it clearly isn't brand new, but it's not old either. It's in good condition and obviously good quality.
Daddy holds it up, nodding his admiration, as Tall Sam sucks in a breath.
"Dean -- is that -- I thought you lost that years ago," he says, staring.
Big Dean nods.
"I did," he agrees. "I found this in the Salvation Army store in Lawrence."
Daddy stands up, slips the coat on. It's a good fit, looks right on him somehow.
"You wore this all the time while I was growing up," Big Dean tells him with a shrug. "Something tells me you'll be needing it now."
Daddy looks up at him, his face serious and a little mystified.
"Thanks, Dean," he says softly.
Tall Sam is still staring; now he shakes his head.
"The chances of this are just too great to be mere coincidence," he notes. "That jacket is a one-of-a-kind."
"Like you said, Sam," Dean shrugs. "We're supposed to be here."
* * *
The weeks between Christmas and Dean's fifth birthday are spent routinely. Daddy and Big Dean and sometimes Tall Sam train together in the gym or the shooting range, and when Big Dean figures he's ready he takes Daddy out on his first hunt. Tall Sam balks at being left behind, but in the end he stays because he can't argue with the fact that somebody needs to stay with Dean and Baby Sam, and he doesn't exactly trust Big Dean with his four-year-old self.
Dean's fine with that. Tall Sam is teaching him how to read, and he's learning fast and getting good and it makes Tall Sam happy and proud and that's just better than anything.
Baby Sam is growing too. He gets up on his hands and knees and rocks now, and Dean encourages him to crawl, but mostly he just scoots on his tummy or rolls when he wants to get somewhere. Tall Sam watches him sometimes with a bemused look on his face, like he can't quite understand how the baby can be so little and helpless, like he expected him to have horns and a tail.
Daddy and Big Dean come back from the hunt all sweaty and dirty and flush with victory. Dean only half-listens as they describe their adventures to Tall Sam; something about a poltergeist in an old airplane hanger which was terrorizing pilots and flight-school students.
Tall Sam seems vaguely jealous and frowns a lot as he watches Daddy and Big Dean together. Later Dean hears Big Dean and Tall Sam talking together quietly in the hall outside his room as he's falling asleep, and he can hear the complaining tone in Tall Sam's voice, the soothing tone in Big Dean's.
"He's learning a lot, and fast," Big Dean insists. "I introduced him to Caleb yesterday. Can you believe that? And Caleb wants us to meet Bobby."
"Dean, you can't take Dad to South Dakota," Tall Sam says. "There's no way you introduce him to Bobby."
"Yes, there is, Sam," Big Dean says. "I don't know what to tell you, but this is clearly how it's supposed to happen. I'm supposed to introduce Dad to the whole hunters' network, get him acclimated. Train him. You gotta admit, there's a certain poetic justice to it."
"Dean, we can't stay here," Tall Sam reminds him. "Dad can't stay here. Do you remember this place? Do you?"
Big Dean sighs.
"I don't know what I remember, Sam," he says finally. "It's pretty fuzzy for awhile after Mom died. I know we left Lawrence in a hurry. Maybe now I can see why. But after that -- I think I just took everything pretty much for granted. Trusted Dad to keep us safe. I know we stayed somewhere for awhile with these hunters -- "
He pauses, like he's thinking hard, trying to remember.
"Was it us, Dean? Do you remember us?" Tall Sam almost whispers, like he's half afraid of the answer.
Big Dean's silent another minute, and Dean imagines him scrubbing his hand over his face, frowning.
"I remember getting a firetruck for Christmas. And a bike for my birthday. But those guys we stayed with for awhile -- one of them was a real asshole. I remember thinking he didn't like me. He thought Dad would be better off without kids holding him back. He took Dad away on hunting trips and I can remember being scared they might not come back, that Dad would just take off with the guy and leave us. I remember feeling like a burden."
Tall Sam lets out a breath, and they're both silent for another minute.
"Do you remember me?" Tall Sam asks finally.
Dean imagines Big Dean shaking his head.
"But memory's a funny thing, Sam. Just because I don't remember you doesn't mean you weren't there. It just means you didn't do anything memorable, which is probably a good thing. And obviously you were there. I mean, Dad wouldn't have just left us alone while he went on a hunting trip. Not when we were so little."
Tall Sam sighs.
"So, any idea how long before we went to stay with Pastor Jim?"
"I remember kindergarten," Big Dean says. "I didn't like it 'cause everybody kept asking where my mom was. Then we must've moved because in first grade I got in trouble for lying because I told everybody my mom was at home sick."
"So sometime between now and next fall -- " Tall Sam suggests, then he's interrupted by Big Dean, who snaps his fingers suddenly.
"I remember your first birthday, Sam," he says. "You got cake all over yourself. And Tall Man was there -- no, not Tall Man, I just called him that. Tall Man and Big Mean."
Big Dean sucks in a breath, lets it out slow.
"Tall Sam and Big Dean," he whispers. "See, you were there. I remember you after all."
The next day is Dean's fifth birthday.
The bike is waiting for him in the library when he gets up, a big blue bow taped to the handlebars.
Daddy and Tall Sam take him down to the gym and let him ride the bike, help him balance and ride in circles a few times until he gets the hang of balancing on it without Daddy's hand on the back of the seat. Big Dean comes in to get Daddy and they take off together, leaving Tall Sam with Dean and the baby again. Daddy's not there when Dean finally starts riding without help; it's Tall Sam who claps and shares his excitement when he's balancing on two wheels and steering the bike around the room by himself.
And it's Tall Sam who picks him up when he crashes, skinning his knee on the rough concrete floor. Tall Sam's hands are warm and gentle; Tall Sam knows a lot about cleaning and bandaging wounds, and Dean only winces a little when Tall Sam fixes him up and wipes the tears from his cheeks.
When it snows the following week, Tall Sam takes Dean and the baby outside to build a snowman. Then he brings them inside again and serves them hot chocolate with marshmallows. Big Dean comes into the kitchen while they're sitting at the table, sipping the sweet brew from steaming mugs.
"Cocoa and marshmallows, huh?" Big Dean smirks. "Just like mom used to make."
"That's what you always said," Tall Sam answers. "Nothin' goes with snow like cocoa and marshmallows."
Big Dean stops, stares at him with a funny look on his face.
"You know, I don't remember mom actually giving me cocoa," he says.
Tall Sam shrugs. "So maybe she never did," he suggests. "Maybe you're remembering this."
Big Dean thinks about that for a minute, then shakes his head.
"Whatever," he grunts.
Tall Sam helps Dean put together his train set, and Dean plays for hours on the floor in the library while Tall Sam works at the table. Baby Sam sleeps in the portable playpen they found on another trip to Kmart, this one at night when virtually nobody's around to comment on the tall "dad" and his two small children.
Daddy and Big Dean are gone a lot, sometimes for several days at a time. Their absences make Tall Sam grumpy. He worries about them, mutters "Pick up the phone, goddamn it," if more than a day goes by without a call. When they finally get home Tall Sam acts mad and sulky, slams doors. Big Dean teases him, bumps shoulders, and at first Tall Sam resists and sulks harder, but then Dean catches them in the hall outside his room again, and Big Dean has Tall Sam pressed up against the wall, bracing himself with one hand, leaning into Tall Sam as he murmurs softly. Tall Sam's head is bent, listening, and when Big Dean's other hand comes up to touch Tall Sam's face, Tall Sam leans into it, slumps forward into Big Dean's arms and presses his face into Big Dean's neck. They stay still like that for a moment, and Dean tries to slip by into his room as quietly as he can, but Big Dean hears him, starts a little and turns his head, catches Dean's eye, frowns.
"You got someplace you gotta be, shorty?" he growls.
Tall Sam lifts his head, looks at Dean over Big Dean's shoulder. His eyes are red-rimmed and his cheeks look wet, like he's been crying.
"Hey little buddy," Tall Sam sniffs, clearing his throat. "You have a bad dream again?"
Dean shakes his head.
"Need a glass of water?" Tall Sam asks.
Again, Dean shakes his head.
Tall Sam disentangles himself from Big Dean's embrace, pushing him gently away so he can cross the hall, squats down to Dean's height.
"You want me to put you back to bed?" Tall Sam asks, and this time Dean nods, slips his hand into Tall Sam's. Tall Sam smiles, rises smoothly to his feet again, turns to lead Dean back into his room.
Big Dean is watching with his arms crossed and a smirk on his face, and when he catches Dean's eye again he winks.
"You're gonna give that kid a complex, Sam," he notes. "He's gonna grow up looking for you in every woman he meets."
"Shut up," Tall Sam grouses, but he says it fondly, not like he really minds.
Big Dean grins broadly, winks again at Dean.
After Tall Sam tucks him in and gives him another kiss, Dean turns over to snuggle into his baby brother, kisses his soft cheek.
"I love you, Sam," he whispers.
He knows the baby's sleeping, but he hopes he can hear him anyway.
PART SIX - BACK TO MASTERPOST