Birthdays are odd phenomena. People who think you like them turn up at your house with things they think you want. The plans you make fall through, it rains on the party. Someone fights with their friends in the middle of your failed attempts at being a host and the awkward atmosphere chokes the smile from your face.
You sit down to unwrap a present and wonder why everyone else hasn't noticed you're inside without them. You spend the night cooking a banquet that everyone is jealous of and forget to have fun.
And to deal with it all you start to clean, because for one moment in your life you're in control of the situation, you can scrub the imperfections away and for the barest moment its perfection.
But it never lasts.
Not that Dean would know. He'd never had a party, or a bunch of useless presents. He'd never had the rain drench his party guests or try to conduct chaos control on his waring friends. He'd never even tried to cook more than a piece of toast.
But cleaning? Well that was one thing he did understand. He cleaned guns. He wasn't exactly sure what else you were meant to do in your free time. Imagine, Dean Winchester with a hobby? The picture of him building a model boat and sending handmade Christmas cards was laughable.
So yes, he'd never experienced all those stupid little traditions that ruin birthdays. But sometimes, when he was alone he would quietly admit that maybe, just maybe, it would be kind of cool to try.
There are things he'd rather though. Loving smiles occasionally, even a stupid chick flick moment with Sammy.
He knew that they were just busy, that they didn't mean to forget. It just happens you know? A life on the road wears you down because you never feel like you truly belong. There's no place to come home to. Home doesn't mean what it should. There's no refuge. No place that's comfortingly familiar, that you can find to be your place.
He knows that Sam and John feel it too, and that when you're tired all the time birthdays hardly matter. When being alive one more day is such a gift, why celebrate the yearly milestone?
But a part of him, a stupid, niggling, won't-go-away part of him whispers in his ear when just when he thinks he's over it. Maybe, Dean, you just aren't good enough for it? So he tries harder, but a part of him wishes he's done something wrong. Because if you haven't, then it means that even when you're the best you can be you aren't enough. You aren't perfect. That there's something you can't be or have and its folly to dream you will. Sometimes, you are nothing.
Dean is just that guy who happens to be there. He's saved hundreds of lives, but no one can save his.
And how could he think that? Dean was the glue that held Sam and John together; he was the constant in their lives. He was the guy girls dreamt of and men respected.
And yes, maybe the world didn't show that it cared, it just assumed he knew. Sometimes you spend so long thinking you're alone you forget you're surrounded by people.
But he knew he deserved better. But getting it, well, that just makes life too damn easy doesn't it?
Dean rubbed his eyes, and flicked the switch to the motel, sliding his mask back on his face before the light assaulted his eyes.
For a second, he stood frozen, unsure what to do or say. His eyes narrowed as the mask he always wore cracked a little.
So long, so long he had been pretending to be ok, and now, under the harsh, bare light of a weather-worn motel room he felt his foundations waver.
"What..?" The question died on his lips before it really formed.
There they were, John and Sam, sat at the round table to right of the door, directly in front of Dean as he turned to the kitchen. Neither stirred as he stood in the bright room wondering just how many shots he'd had.
John Winchester, commander and all round general bad-ass, had his head resting at an uncomfortable angle on the table, mouth wide open, snoring loudly.
Across from him, stretched across two chairs, feet on the table and head dangling off an armrest was Sam Winchester, dignified nice guy and junior bad-ass.
Between them, obviously store bought but no less touching, was a tiny and somewhat lopsided mud-cake that read in lurid pink letters "Happy Birthday!"
But what made Dean pause, wide-eyed in mortification, was the fact that, perched atop their heads, in what he was sure was some sort of practical joke or demon possession, was two cone-shaped party hats with little streamers poking out of the ends.
Rubbing his eyes again, he flicked the light off, took a deep breath and then flicked it on again. The scene didn't change.
Bewildered, he stumbled to the table and sat down heavily on the last remaining chair, staring ahead.
Then it happened, and it couldn't be stopped once it started.
First it was a smile, and then his eyes brightened just a little. A snort, he tried to stifle so he didn't wake his family. His shoulders shook with the effort, and in barely a minute he couldn't breathe. His eyes watered for a moment, and then in a drunken moment of decision he whisked out his phone, whipped it around Myspace style, not that he had ever had any practice at this thank-you very much, and snapped a photo of the three of them.
And it was to that shout of laughter Sam and John woke.
He'd never wanted much from life. He considered himself pretty damn lucky. Yes, Sam and John would probably go back to bickering by the break of dawn, and maybe they'd forget next year's birthdays. Maybe he'd spend the rest of his life feeling like he had something to prove.
But the moment, that so uncharacteristically honest moment when the masks cracked and a little bit of hope and silliness bled into their lives, it was perfection.
Sometimes you don't need a lot to make you smile. All you need is reprieve.
A fleeting memory when, yes everything was what you dreamt it would be, but it was just something different.
It had been such a long time coming. But when the laughter stopped and they realised how odd it was that they were sitting there in awkward silence looking like a family they would never be, it didn't seem so very odd.
It was almost natural.
They were still the Winchesters though. This meant his two presents were wrapped in bags they'd been bought in and the cake was gone in three bites.
He once asked himself what one day mattered when the rest of the year was so horrible. Well know he knew, and it was an awful lot. It didn't matter which day it was, as long as just occasionally, there was a fleeting moment that wasn't drowning in demons, or dragged backwards by fights.
Of course, he never did share the photo with Sam and John or anyone else, but he sent framed it in a store one weekend and it sat in the back of the Impala for almost four months until they found it by accident.
They didn't talk about it. Life just went back to normal. But Dean knew he wasn't the only one who would open the back of the car looking for something or another and pause at the only family portrait they'd had taken since Mary Winchester had died.
- The End -
First off, thankyou for sticking through this with me. This story has represented a lot of ups and downs and it's been a long time since it was first published.
I'll be honest when I say that I'm not sure the perfect birthday does exist, but I hope each of my wonderful readers has one in the New Year. :)
Please don't do a Dean and cope with disappointments in life by drinking. It is neither helpful nor uplifting. I recommend you find help and support from friends, family or any of the organisations or professionals involved in this kind of support in your local area.
Finally, please please PLEASE REVIEW! I really appreciate all your support.
Keep Smilin' :)