Disclaimer: Sadly, I have nothing to do with Supernatural, other than being a focused fan. I'm not making any money from them; I just like to take the boys out to play sometimes.
A/N: I had the idea of a birthday fic a while back and decided after a couple of pretty intense stories, I'd do something a little lighter. Hope you enjoy it. Thanks, as always, to Kelli for her encouragement and typo-hunting skills.
Happy Birthday, Sammy
Sam and Dean Winchester rarely spent more than a few days in any one place. They would arrive in town to investigate some paranormal event, destroy whatever evil resided there, and move on to the next job. This is what they had been doing most of their lives and they were pretty much used to it. But that didn't keep it from getting old sometimes.
Sam scanned the candy rack at the gas station convenience store where they stopped to fuel up the Impala. He wasn't hungry, but he wasn't anxious to get back into the car. He noticed his brother was taking longer than normal to check the oil and other preventative maintenance tasks he performed at most fill-ups.
"Thanks." Dean said as Sam joined him at the car and handed him a canned soda. They leaned against the back of the car and looked toward an empty lot across the street.
"There's a town about eighty miles up the road." Dean began, breaking the silence. "I've been there a few times; it's not real exciting, but there's a good garage there. I'd like to get the Impala a tune-up."
"Might take a couple of days."
Dean glanced at his younger brother. "Something wrong?"
"No. I'm just tired."
"Come on, then. Let's get there and we can turn in early tonight."
Dean had an ulterior motive for wanting to take some time off. Sam's birthday was coming up in a few days and Dean wanted him as far away from the job as he could get. Sam didn't particularly enjoy his birthday, but Dean always tried to make it special for him. Even when they were separated while Sam was at school, a plainly wrapped package would arrive for Sam. There was never a return address and never a message, but Sam always knew, whatever the gift was, that it was from his brother. And even when they weren't speaking, it would always be something that Sam really wanted. He sometimes wondered if Dean was in touch with one of his friends, but chose to believe that his brother knew him well enough to always pick out the perfect gift. Of course what Sam didn't consider, was that any gift from Dean would be the perfect gift.
"Happy birthday, Sammy."
Sam opened his eyes to see his father sitting on the edge of the bed. John smiled at him. "Do you know what today is?"
"I'm five today!" Sam said, his grin revealing missing baby teeth.
"That's right. How does it feel to be five?"
Sam rolled his eyes. "I don't know; I just woke up!"
John laughed, smoothing Sam's always unruly hair. "Well, how about some breakfast while you think about it? Dean made you some chocolate chip pancakes."
"Dean only makes cereal."
"Well, maybe I helped a little bit." John pulled the little boy from under the covers and a few minutes later, they were in the kitchen.
Dean smiled at his brother as John got him settled at the table trying not to look at his bandaged ankle. Two days ago John left them alone to meet with one of his contacts and Dean's attention was more on the television show he was watching than on his brother. Sam fell off the porch, spraining his ankle. John had been angry with Dean and the boy still felt the sting of that anger. John knew Dean was extremely responsible and capable, but sometimes he forgot the boy was only nine.
"Happy Birthday, Sammy." Dean said, putting a plate of pancakes in front of him.
"Thanks, Dean." John stood aside and watched his sons. He saw the look of adoration Sam gave to his big brother and the care and patience Dean had with Sam.
He remembered coming home to find Sam on the couch, an ice pack on his ankle, and Dean hovering over him. At first, the concern for his younger son took precedence over everything, but after determining the injury was nothing more than a sprain and getting the little boy into bed, he turned his attention to Dean. He cringed inwardly, remembering the anger that spilled out of him; the words he used with his son. He knew that there was nothing more important to Dean than his brother and he would never intentionally put the younger child in danger. John knew he could depend on Dean, so it made him all the more angry when Dean didn't live up to expectations.
Joining his boys at the table, John put his hand on Dean's shoulder before he sat down. Dean looked at him, not sure what the gesture meant, but returned the smile he saw on his father's face.
John planned to take the boys to the zoo after breakfast, but he didn't want Sam to put too much pressure on his ankle so soon after the injury. Instead, they went to the nearby park for a while where the little boy could swing and play in the sand box.
It wasn't often that John took a whole day off to spend with his sons. There was too much work to be done; too many monsters to learn about and hunt. There was too much research to be done that would eventually lead him to the thing that killed his wife. He kept telling himself it would happen soon; he'd figure out what killed Mary and he would destroy it. Then he would get a real job and find a real place for his boys to call home. Every birthday he celebrated was another year of his sons' childhoods wasted.
"Daddy?" Sam asked as his father tucked him in that night. He'd had a full day of playing the board games he got from Dean, John reading him stories, and the constant attention of his father and brother.
"Are you still mad at Dean?"
John looked at his son. "What do you mean?"
"I heard you yelling at him the other day – after I hurt myself. Daddy, it wasn't Dean's fault."
John touched Sam's hair. "I'm not mad at Dean."
"He felt really bad, Daddy. And he took real good care of me."
Tears sprang into John's eyes. "I know he did."
"He's the best big brother." Sam said as his eyes fluttered closed.
John leaned over to kiss his forehead. "I know."
Dean dropped the car off at the garage, then joined Sam at the diner halfway between the garage and their motel room. He watched him for a moment from the door before joining him. Sam was hunched over a cup of coffee, sitting in a corner booth,. They ate breakfast in a comfortable silence while reading the newspaper. Dean would occasionally sneak a glance at his brother, but each time, Sam was concentrating on what he was reading.
"What do you want to do now?" Dean asked as they left the diner.
"I really want to just go back to the room and relax for a while; maybe try to get some more sleep."
Dean looked at him, trying to mask his concern. "Okay. I think I'll walk around a little. You want me to pick up anything for you?"
Sam shook his head. "No, thanks."
"Okay. I'll meet you back at the room in a little while." Dean watched as Sam walked toward the motel, his head down and shoulders hunched.
Dean wandered around town, looking for ideas of how to spend Sam's birthday. He had a gift for him already; in fact he'd had it for nearly three months. They spent a few days in Boulder and after finishing the job, Sam unwound as he often did by browsing around a bookstore. From the sidewalk, Dean noticed him looking at a first edition of The Trial by Franz Kafka. He looked at it, walked away from it, and looked at it again before finally leaving the store. Dean negotiated a price with the store owner and asked him to hold it until the next day. He played the best pool of his life that night to earn enough money for the book and snuck back to the store to get it before they left town.
There weren't a lot of options for entertainment in the small town, but Sam could be entertained for hours with a good book. He knew Sam wouldn't really enjoy spending time at the bar, so he decided he'd rent a few movies they could watch over dinner in their room. Sam liked to keep to himself, but Dean tried to get him out with people; even if they were strangers. For Sam's birthday though, Dean would plan what he knew Sam would feel comfortable with. He ordered a small birthday cake from the grocery store bakery before going back to the motel. Sam was sleeping when he opened the door, so he busied himself with a game on the laptop.
Dean sat outside the library waiting for his brother. He dropped him off there a couple of hours ago before meeting some of the guys from school to play basketball. They'd spent almost the entire school year in the Montana town, allowing both boys to make some friends. That came a little easier for Dean than it did for his younger brother; he was good with people and was able to feel at home almost anywhere. Sam wanted more than a random connection and kept himself guarded most of the time. He didn't let people get too close because he knew the Winchesters would only leave, having to let go of any everything.
John called that morning to wish Sam a happy birthday and apologize for not being able to make it home in time to celebrate with him. His friend, Caleb, called two days ago asking for help with an exorcism. It was supposed to be over so that John could be home for Sam's birthday, but things didn't go as planned and he wouldn't get back until the next day.
Sam came out of the library a few minutes later. He broke into a smile when he saw his brother.
"No books?" Dean asked as they walked toward their small house.
"No. We need to move to a place with a bigger library. I think I've read them all here."
Dean smiled. "Dad told me where he left some extra money when he called this morning. You want to get a birthday pizza?"
Sam's smile faded and he just shrugged.
"Maybe we should wait until Dad is back. That's just tomorrow, right?"
"Yeah, it's tomorrow. But today is your birthday. It's not every day you turn nine."
Sam shrugged again and they started to walk home.
"Pepperoni and extra cheese." Dean said in a taunting tone. "Come on, Sammy."
"Whatever." Sam said as he mounted the steps to their front door. Dean unlocked the door, but let Sam go in first.
"Dean –" he looked around the dingy living room. "Did you do this?"
He looked at the balloons and streamers hung in random places throughout the small room. A box, wrapped in the Sunday comics, sat in the middle of the coffee table.
"Happy birthday, Sammy."
Dean called to order the pizza before Sam could talk him out of it, then sat down on the couch with him. "Dad got you something, too, but he told me to wait until he was home."
Sam eyed the box. "It's probably another weapon."
"You can open it." Dean smiled.
Sam grabbed the box and ripped off the wrapping. He inhaled deeply when he saw what the paper had been hiding. "Dean!"
Dean watched as his little brother pulled the toy carefully from its box. "Optimus Prime! Thank you, Dean!"
"You're welcome, Kiddo."
Sam threw his arms around Dean. "You're the best big brother!"
Sam jerked awake, denying he'd had a nightmare. He didn't have many dreams about Jessica anymore, but he still had premonitions that came in the form of dreams. Those he readily told Dean about because it meant another job and people to help, but the occasional dreams about Jessica he kept to himself.
"I don't need a babysitter, you know." Sam grumbled as he went to the bathroom.
Dean recognized the signs; he'd seen them coming for days. Sam was grumpy and itching for an argument, but not because he was angry with his brother. He was tired, frustrated and dreading his birthday. Dean knew it would be best to leave him to his mood for a while, so when Sam announced a few minutes later that he was going for a walk, Dean didn't try to stop him or offer to go with him.
Sam recognized the signs, too. He knew he was being difficult, but he couldn't stop himself. He hated his birthday. It wasn't that they had all been unpleasant. For years, John actually put his sons first on their birthdays and took time off from hunting or researching to spend the day with them. And no matter what was going on, Dean tried to make the day nice for Sam. Even if they were on a job, there was always a gift and always some special meal. Sometimes all he could manage was a shared cupcake, but somehow Sam felt al the more grateful for those times. Sam didn't think Dean understood what made him hate his birthday so much. They weren't sad as he was growing up, but they marked another year of hunting. Another year without a home. Another year without a real life. He thought that was over when he met Jessica, but with her dead and him back on the road with his brother, this birthday seemed all that much worse.
The few stores Sam walked past held no interest for him so he avoided them and kept his head down as he navigated the mostly empty sidewalk.
Sam crept quietly through a hallway, following his father. Dean was bringing up the rear, keeping a careful eye out so nothing could sneak up behind them. They were in upstate New York trying to rid a small apartment building of the angry spirit haunting it. During construction, workers were hurt in seemingly impossible accidents, and many walked off the job. The initial tenants were plagued by frequent interruptions in power or power surges; the water was often brown instead of clear and most complained of strange noises. The owner couldn't get people to stay for more than a few months and he was about to lose everything he'd put into the building. John heard about the problem through one of his contacts and, since school was out for a couple of days, he brought the boys with him.
Sam researched the history of the land and found many possibilities for what was haunting the building. Instead of trial and error, John decided a purification ritual would probably take care of everything. They were nearly finished.
John heard Sam yell from behind him, followed closely by Dean's voice. He turned to see Sam being held several feet above the ground.
"Stay with him!" John yelled as he ran down the hallway.
"Stay with him!"
The ritual called for specific phrases to be repeated in precise locations within the building. It had to be done sequentially and not all at once so they had stuck together. Part of the reason John chose this particular ritual was that they had to stay together and he could keep an eye on his sons while giving them some on-the-job training.
John reached the last location and chanted the final part of the spell. He could hear the screeching of the spirits while bright blue lights pulsed through the dark building. He rushed back to where he'd left the boys and found them on the floor, Sam's head being cradled in his brother's lap.
John and Dean carried him out to the street; they were outside before the lights and noise stopped. Sam regained consciousness as he was laid on the ground a safe distance from the building. It was quiet and on the street and they were alone. John expertly examined his son and decided he probably had a slight concussion. A hospital could do nothing that John and Dean couldn't, so they carefully put him into the car and took him back to the motel where they were staying.
"How do you feel?" Dean asked later as he sat on the edge of his brother's bed. John had gone to the vending machine for ice and sodas.
"I have a headache, but I'm okay."
Dean glanced at the clock. It was just after midnight. He reached under the bed, then handed Sam a wrapped package.
"Looks like you'll be spending your fourteenth birthday in bed."
Sam couldn't help but smile at the box in his hands, "Dean –"
"Just open it."
Dean watched as Sam pulled the paper off the package. "You might not feel like reading it right away, but I know it's one of your favorite authors."
Sam flipped through the pages of the book. "I didn't even know this was out yet. Thank you."
"You're welcome." he returned his brother's smile. "If you're up to it tomorrow, we can watch the movie that Dad got and get pizza or something."
"That sounds great."
"Happy birthday, Bitch."
"You're a good brother, Jerk." Sam smiled. "Thanks."
Sam woke up the morning of his birthday in a bad mood. Seeing that Dean was still asleep, he dressed quickly, exiting the room without even leaving a note. He got a cup of take-out coffee from the diner and walked toward a park he had seen the day before.
Sam sat on a bench, thoughtfully sipping the coffee. He felt somewhat guilty for not leaving a note, but he hadn't wanted to risk waking his brother. He wanted – needed – time to himself. Dean had asked him a lot of times over the years why he didn't like his birthday, but Sam was never honest with him. The reality was, he didn't remember exactly when his birthday started to bother him.
"Happy birthday, Sammy!" Dean smiled as his brother walked into the kitchen.
"Thanks." Sam said, forcing a smile.
"Dad left that for you." he nodded to an envelope on the table. "He had to take off."
"Again?" Sam was disappointed. "He just got home."
"Yeah, I know." Dean said as he put two bowls on the table. "How about we go out somewhere tonight? I'll take you to that drive in place across town."
"Let me drive and you're on."
"I don't know if you can handle my baby." Dean poured cereal into his bowl. "You've only been seventeen for a few minutes."
Sam looked at him with the little brother expression that always made Dean cave.
He sighed. "Fine. But consider that your present"
Sam smiled. He knew how important Dean's car was to him, but he also knew the perfect gift was waiting for him.
Dean waited outside Sam's high school waiting for him to get out of his last class. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel and watched as kids started to file out of the front door. He saw Sam and reached into the back seat for the gift he put there earlier.
Sam opened the door and smiled. "Dean –"
"Happy birthday, Kiddo. How was school?"
"Good." Sam moved the box and sat down. "Can I open it now?"
"Sure. You can do whatever you want on your thirteenth birthday"
Dean watched as Sam ripped into the package. "These aren't classic rock." he smiled, seeing the CDs inside.
"That's because they're not for me."
"Thanks, Dean. These are the ones I wanted. How'd you know?"
"Because I'm your big brother." Dean said, pulling into traffic.
"Where's Dad? Is he meeting us at the pizza place?"
"I'm sorry, Kiddo, but Caleb called this morning and he had to go."
Sam's smile faded.
"Hey, kid." Dean gently shook his sleeping brother. "It's time to get up."
Sam opened his eyes and saw a balloon floating above the bed. He smiled and sat up.
"Happy birthday, Sammy. How does twelve feel?"
"I don't know yet." Sam rubbed his eyes.
"Well come and figure it out over breakfast. I've got to get you to school."
The phone started to ring as Sam walked into the kitchen. "Hello?"
"Hey, kid, happy birthday."
"Hi Dad. Thanks."
"Dean taking you to school?"
"Yeah, he's on it. Are you going to pick me up?"
"I'm sorry, Kiddo, but I'm stuck here for another couple of days."
"Oh." Sam said, disappointed. He held out the phone to Dean when he walked in. "It's Dad."
Dean found Sam in his bedroom a few minutes later. He was sitting on the edge of his bed, holding his tennis shoes.
"He's sorry, Sam."
Sam nodded. "He's always sorry."
"He's helping people."
Sam looked at him. "I'm people."
"Aw, Sammy. Don't do that." Dean sat down next to him and put his arm around his shoulders. "You've got me. I'll take you out for something to eat after school. I made some money helping Old Man Turner with some yard work."
"You don't have to do that."
"I want to." Dean said. "Come on, it'll be fun."
"Look under your pillow." Dean said as he stood up. "Then put your shoes on. We need to go soon."
Sam opened the package he found under his pillow and found the exact comic books he decided he wanted only the day before.
Sam sighed. He never consciously thought about how many birthdays were spent without his father, but somewhere inside he must have realized it. Every year, though, Dean was right by his side doing what he could to make him feel better. Every year until Sam walked out on him.
His first year at Stanford, no one knew it was his birthday and Sam was just fine with that. He was on the road to a new life, but still didn't feel comfortable with it. He wanted to let the day pass without celebration and without comment. He almost fell over when he walked into his dorm after class and saw a plainly wrapped package sitting on the coffee table. His roommates were gone, but he took the package into his bedroom and left it on his bed while he went about his normal routine.
Later, he sat on the edge of his bed and ran his hand over the address. He recognized his brother's precise handwriting the moment he saw it. He hadn't been expecting anything from Dean and was surprised at how seeing the box made him feel. He considered calling his brother, but knew he wouldn't.
That night, he fell asleep holding the digital recorder Dean sent him and thought about his brother every time he recorded a lecture.
"Happy birthday, Sam."
Sam watched as Jessica walked out of her parents' kitchen carrying a large sheet cake. He smiled, embarrassed as her family started to sing "Happy Birthday" and kept his eyes on Jessica.
The day had been perfect. He and Jessica spent the day together as she showed him some of her favorite places growing up. He spent a couple hours talking to her father about his law firm as Jessica and her mother cooked dinner. He opened presents from the family that made him feel welcome from the first moment they met him and thought he'd fall asleep with no problem that night.
But something was missing. At first he didn't know what it was, then he realized he'd been thinking about Dean. He heard a knock on the guest room door and Jessica stuck her head in.
"Hey." she smiled.
She walked into the room carrying a plainly wrapped package. "This came for you at the apartment before we left. There's no return address."
He sat up and took the box from her. "It's from Dean."
She smiled. "Your brother?"
Sam nodded, holding the box securely.
"I'll leave you to open it in private. I'll see you in the morning." she kissed him gently. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
She paused at the door. "Happy birthday, Sam."
Sam smiled after he opened the box. It was an updated version of the Transformer Dean had given him as a child. He put it on the table beside his bed and touched it lovingly. "Good night Dean. You're the best big brother ever."
Sam walked back into the motel room and smiled to himself. His brother had been busy. There were balloons, streamers and even a happy birthday banner hung over Sam's bed. A wrapped package sat in the middle of the small table next to a selection of movies Sam knew Dean would probably hate.
He sat down on the bed, overwhelmed.
"Hey." Dean said, a little uncertain, as he walked into the room carrying a cake box. He put it down on the table and slipped out of his jacket. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks, Dean." he said, his voice cracking.
Dean sat on the edge of the other bed and looked at his brother.
"Why do you do this?"
Dean felt like he was about to get lectured. "What?" he asked quietly.
"All this. Every year you go out of your way for my birthday and every year I treat you like crap."
"You're my brother." Dean shrugged.
Sam shook his head. "I'm sorry, man."
"How I've been acting. For years."
Dean shrugged. "It's okay, man. You want to tell me about it?"
"You're asking for a chick flick moment?" Sam grinned.
"Hey, it's your birthday."
Sam shrugged. "It's just kind of a reminder, you know? One more year of hunting. One more year of not knowing what killed Mom. One more year of Dad –"
"Of Dad what?"
"Of Dad not being there." Sam continued quickly. "But I realized something. You've always been there. Every year on my birthday and every day that it wasn't. You're a great brother, man."
"Bullshit." Dean said, then grinned. "I'm an awesome brother."
Sam laughed. "So what's in the package over there?"
"Get your lazy ass over there and find out."
"Dean –" Sam looked at him, shocked, when he opened the package. "When did you get this?"
"A few months ago. I saw you drooling over it in Boulder."
"I don't know what to say."
"Happy birthday, Sammy." Dean said then reached for one of the balloons. "But you better think of something to say, cuz we've got a lot of helium here and I want to hear you sound like a chipmunk."
Dean handed him the balloon. "Chipmunk."
Sam smiled and took the balloon. Maybe his birthday wasn't so bad after all.