Title: Cupcakes and Candles

Author: embroiderama

Challenge: Chart Challenge, First Birthday

Characters: Sam, Dean, John

Rating: PG-13

Warnings: very slight sexual reference

Spoilers: none

Word Count: 2219

Feedback: - constructive criticism welcome

Disclaimer: None of the Winchesters belong to me, alas.

Summary: Sam's always wanted a birthday like kids have on TV.

Cupcakes and Candles

John Winchester never made a big deal about birthdays. Sam didn't know why, though he wondered if it was because the anniversaries of his and Dean's birthdays reminded their father too much of their mother. Made her absence too painful.

Or maybe he just figured that birthdays were a waste of time and money, two precious commodities that were to be spent on essentials: ammo, food, shelter, gas. Dean never seemed to mind the lack of traditional birthday celebrations. He never asked to have a big birthday party like the kids they saw in the McDonalds Playland. Never asked for a Nintendo or rollerblades or any of the other cool things they walked past during supply runs to Wal-Mart. Never yelled at his father and told him he hated him because his 13th birthday passed alone in a motel room.

Sam did those things. Always Sam. And it was always Dean who tried to find a way to make it right. He would wait until Dad had fallen asleep and then wake Sam up and lead him into the motel bathroom where he had Hostess cupcakes with birthday candles stuck into them. Swiped from the gas station, probably, but the closest thing to a birthday cake he could fit under his jacket.

It became their tradition, midnight birthdays by the light of tiny candles glowing in waxy cupcakes and reflecting off of mirrors and glossy tile. When Sam turned 12, Dean surprised him by adding something to the party--beers, one each, taken from dad's supply in the trunk of the car. That birthday was so much fun--stifled laughter, Dean threatening to give him a swirly, the candlelight sparkling around him as he felt that first beer going to his head. Sam would always associate the taste of a Budweiser with the taste of chocolate icing licked off the bottom of a candle.

The next year, when May 2nd rolled around, Dad had a big job, getting rid of a poltergeist from a house in Maryland. Sam wasn't allowed to go along, but Dean was. Dean and dad left early in the morning, and Dad said to stay in the room, that they should be back by late that night. Dean caught his eye and gave him a little nod, like a secret code, telling him that he'd be back in time for cake and candles.

Sam spent most of the day reading and watching TV, jacked off a few times, but once night fell the time began to pass much too slowly. Finally ER ended, then the local news, and still Sam didn't hear the familiar growl of the Impala pulling up outside.

Tears prickled behind Sam's eyes, but he rubbed them away with the heels of his hands and refused to cry. This sucks, he thought. Dad sucks, with his stupid, precious hunting. It's only my birthday, not like they could have put it off another day, not like anything else matters other than doing the job. Not like Dean could have maybe spoken up to Dad for once in his life. As if. Not like my birthday matters to anyone.

In that moment, Sam hated his life, hated his father, and even hated his brother. Staring up at the dark ceiling, thinking about how much he wished he could have a birthday party like kids on TV, with movies and balloons and girls, he drifted off to sleep.

Sam woke up when he heard the door bang open, and he sat up fast, watching as Dad came through the door, nearly dragging Dean under one arm, flipping the light on with his free hand. Dean's face was covered with blood, and his eyes were pressed closed.

"Dean!"

"He's going to be okay, Sammy. Go get a washcloth and some water." John pushed Dean onto the bed closest to the door, and reached out a hand for the supplies Sam brought over. "Now bring me the first aid kit."

"What happened?" Sam broke his horrified gaze away from his brother's pale, bloody face long enough to grab the first aid kit from Dad's bag.

"The poltergeist was throwing things around, and your brother's head intercepted a lamp." John wet the washcloth and began gently dabbing at the wound on Dean's forehead. "Head wounds bleed bad, but he's going to be okay. Just a little bit of a concussion, I think, and the cut'll take a few stitches. Dean? Stay awake, son."

"'m 'wake," Dean mumbled, still keeping his eyes closed against the light of the room.

"Good." John finished cleaning away the blood, then disinfected the wound and pulled a stitching packet from the first aid kit. "Sam, I need your help."

"What do I do?"

"Hold his head in place. This is going to hurt, and he's going to try to move his head around, so you have to keep it still for me." He waited until Sam nodded. "Dean, I'm sorry, I can't give you anything for the pain. It might not mix with your concussion."

"It's okay," Dean answered quietly.

"Sam, hold it tight, now."

Sam pressed his hand down on Dean's forehead, keeping away from the raw-looking cut. As the first stitch went in, Dean shuddered under Sam's hand, his face going a shade paler. He jerked at the second stitch and then went still, his breathing tense and strained. Two more stitches, and it was done. John bandaged it up and pulled a blanket up over Dean.

"You can sleep now. I'll wake you up in an hour."

Dean nodded, and Sam watched his body relax. Not quite asleep yet, but close.

"I'm going to step outside," John said, and Sam knew that meant he was going to have a smoke.

After dad was gone, Dean opened his eyes and looked at Sam. "I'm sorry, Sammy," he whispered.

"Why?"

"You know, your birthday. We'll do it tomorrow, okay?"

Sam swallowed, feeling guilty for thinking earlier that he hated Dean. "It's okay."

Dean smiled a little, then blinked heavily before drifting off to sleep.

Sam felt the anger from earlier sweep through him again, aimed at his father this time. He walked outside and easily spotted his father, leaning against the Impala, the glowing end of a cigarette held close to his face.

"Sam? What are you doing out here?"

Sam felt the anger burning inside of him and walked up to the car. "This sucks! If I have to stay here, Dean should, too."

John exhaled, smoke filling the air between them. "Dean has to learn how to protect himself."

"What do you care?"

His father's gaze turned on him, cold and angry, and the voice matched. "You think I don't care about you boys?"

"You didn't care about my birthday!" Sam hadn't meant to say that. He hadn't meant to let on that his feelings were hurt or say anything about the significance of the day to his father, but it just slipped out.

"So now it's all about you? I thought you were worried about Dean."

I am, he thought. I do. But the implication hurt him, and all he could say was, "I hate you! I want a normal family!"

John dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his boot heel. "You watch your mouth, boy. Better yet, go watch your brother. I'm going to get some coffee."

John opened the door of the Impala and got in, so Sam turned around and walked back to the room. He climbed up on the bed next to Dean and watched him sleep. The cut on Dan's head was going to be one huge bruise come morning, but he was going to be okay. Dean being okay pretty much beat cupcakes and beer as far as birthday presents went. Eventually, the long night caught up with him, and he stretched out next to Dean and fell asleep.

May 2, 2002

"Sam! You're coming over to my dorm to study for the Bio exam, right?"

"Yeah, man, I'll be over around six."

"Better be."

Steve rushed off toward his next class, and Sam went back to his own dorm. He went right to the wall of mailboxes, but his proved to be empty. Again. Well, he figured, it was his own fault. When he left, he told his dad and Dean to leave him alone, so he really shouldn't blame them for taking him at his word.

He spent the rest of the afternoon studying for the coming exams. He'd wanted to go to college so badly, after all, and he was determined to do it right. He grabbed his bio book and notebook just in time to rush over to Steve's dorm. When he got up to Steve's room and knocked on the door, Steve's roommate answered. "Oh, hey, come in."

As Sam walked through the door, he noticed that the lights were off, and suddenly he wondered if something bad were going on here. He didn't have a weapon on him…

"SURPRISE!"

The lights came on, and half a dozen people jumped out from behind Steve's desk. Sam reeled back toward the doorway, feeling his heart thump in his chest. "Oh my god."

"Happy birthday, Sam!" That was Kelly, Sam's girlfriend. Her cute friend Jess was there, too. And the rest of his friends, too. Adam. Ki. Jennifer. He looked around and realized that there were balloons taped to the walls and even some streamers hanging around the room. A birthday party.

Jess came up to him and smiled, her chest brushing up against his arm a little. Maybe by accident. "Hey, I hope you like ice cream cake."

Because, wow, there was a cake, a big one, with his name written on it in green icing, "Happy Birthday Sam," and a whole lot of candles burning away above it. Sam felt like he was in a TV show, having one of those birthdays that he'd always imagined. Not quite real, not quite connected to him. He felt out of place here, standing in this totally normal room, but he forced himself to smile. These were his friends, after all, and they were giving him something he'd always wanted.

"Thanks, guys! You didn't have to do all this."

"Of course we did!" Kelly laughed.

"It's a good excuse for cake," Steve said. "Now blow out the candles before it melts."

"And make a wish!" Jess added.

Sam blew them out gamely, thinking of cupcakes and motel bathrooms. I wish… I wish I could have Dean AND this, he thought, and blew out the candles.

"Hey, how did you guys even know it was my birthday?"

"We looked at your ID when you fell asleep at the library." Steve started cutting up the cake and handing it on little paper plates. "Hey, there's soda if anybody wants any."

Sam ate his cake gamely, smiling at everyone and thanking them. When the cake was gone,and people started leaving, he made his excuses and headed back to his own dorm, feeling strangely empty in the wake of this ordinary experience that he'd wanted for so many years.

"Winchester! Hey, there's a package here for you." The guy who did work study in the dorm office waved him over and handed him a taped-up brown box with no postage, no return address, just his name written on the top. "I hope it's not a bomb."

"Is it ticking?" Dean asked, frowning to himself, wondering what the package might be.

"Nah, I think it's okay."

"Thanks," Sam answered vaguely, taking the box and heading up to his room.

His roommate was still out, thank God. Sam sat down on his bed and pulled the tape off the top of the box. The first thing he saw was a mess of crumpled up newspaper, and when he pulled that out, the first thing he noticed was a six pack of Budweiser. And, next to that, a package of Hostess cupcakes, a baggy of rock salt and a bottle of what had to be holy water.

Dean. Sam felt his head spin a little at the realization that Dean must have been here to deliver this.

Underneath, he found a postcard ("Beautiful Historic Palo Alto"), with a couple of lines scrawled on the back in Dean's familiar handwriting.

"Sam--

Just a few supplies I thought you might need.

I hope your first birthday at college is going alright."

I miss you, too, Sam thought. He got up and put the beer in his mini-fridge, then pondered the package of cupcakes. These are meant to be shared. He considered taking a walk around, looking for a black Impala in the parking lot, but he knew it wouldn't be there. Dean wouldn't have wanted to stick around long enough to find out if Sam would come looking for him. Or not.

Sam put the cupcakes on his desk and tucked the salt and holy water away in his drawer because he seriously didn't want to have to explain them to his roommate. He walked over to the window and stood looking at the campus, at the walkways outside, and imagined Dean walking out there in his sunglasses and black jeans. In some odd way, Sam figured, he'd got his wish after all.