Title: A Day Like Today
Category: Gen; angst, humor, crossover(ish) (Friday Night Lights)
Characters: Dean, Sam
Word Count: 3440
Summary: An impulsive observation of Dean's birthday brings both memories and a surprising meeting for Sam.
Note the first: This is loosely a crossover with Friday Night Lights. No knowledge of FNL is needed, other than there's a character named Tyra, who's played by Adrianne Palicki (aka Jessica). Though, that said, it's a great show in its own right - y'all should check it out. :)
Note the second: While the bunny is my fault, both geminigrl11 and fayedartmouth contributed to its eventual existence by betaing and plot discussing, respectively. Thanks y'all!
Disclaimer: Not mine. The pretty, snarky, angsty brothers belong to Kripke & the CW. Tyra and Dillon, Texas belong to NBC. No endorsement of Applebee's intended, Tyra just happens to work there. ;)
A Day Like Today
They had been in Dillon, Texas for a few days, chasing a ghost sighting that turned out to be false, when Sam looked at the calendar and did a double-take on the date.
"Dude. It's the 24th."
Dean looked up from his packing, jeans caught in mid-roll. "Yeah? So?"
"So it's your birthday."
That it was Jessica's also, he thought with a pang, went unvoiced. It had been strange, at Stanford, knowing she shared Dean's birthday. Now, he knew Dean was safe and relatively happy, thankfully, where as Jess... A familiar weight tightened his chest, making it hard to breathe for a moment.
Trying his best to shake it off before Dean noticed something was wrong, he added, "Anyway, we're not even in the middle of some ugly hunt for once. We should do something."
"No big deal, Sammy," Dean replied, finished with the jeans and moving onto a shirt. "Not like we ever much worry with cake and candles."
Now that he had realized the date, it was impossible not to think about the birthdays he'd spent with Jessica. He'd even surprised her with a cake and flowers that last year. At the time, he'd silently wished Dean a happy birthday as well, hoping he was safe - though he'd never told Jessica they'd shared the day.
Looking down at his own mostly-packed bag, Sam shrugged. "Maybe we should." It would almost be like commemorating hers, as well. They'd been too busy the year before; he'd only realized that he'd missed both of them well after the fact.
For a long moment they were both silent, no noise other than the sounds of fabric rustling against fabric, zippers being closed. Finally Dean said, "Dude, whatever's going on in that freaky head of yours, just stop it, okay?"
Bag closed, Sam looked up. "What do you mean?"
"I mean the emo look. It's just a birthday. No big deal." Dean slung his bag over his shoulder and began walking toward the door. Sam didn't respond, just dropped his gaze. Dean paused and looked over his shoulder. He'd never told Dean about Jessica's birthday, either, after all. "Sam..."
"Yeah, Dean. I get it." Sam watched as his brother turned and left the room, apparently appeased. "But I don't like it," he added silently, knowing Dean couldn't hear him.
Sam knew they didn't exactly have a ton of extra cash, which was more the rule than the exception most days. Never seemed to matter though, they always had enough to get by. Even the occasional night spent sleeping in the car wasn't too bad - they got by. He knew there was a twenty in his wallet, the last from a poker game he'd won, for once - he'd been saving it for laundry and other unavoidable debts - but in this case...
"You coming or not?" Dean yelled from outside. A second later, Sam heard the familiar noise of the Impala starting.
Sam grabbed his bag, giving the room a cursory glance to make sure they weren't inadvertently leaving anything behind. After so many years of practice, it was unlikely, but better safe than sorry.
Rolling his eyes - his brother could be the most patient person in the world on a hunt but give him a regular day and you'd think he was eight, not twenty-eight. Pulling the door shut behind him, Sam had to fight a grin at the thought. Dean was twenty-eight now, just that much closer to thirty.
Surely this was something too good to let pass unobserved.
There wasn't much to Dillon. The town seemed to revolve around the high school, from what Sam could tell in the paper. There was a small burger joint that Sam wouldn't mind seeing the last of - they'd gotten dinner there four nights running - and not much else, save an Applebee's that seemed oddly out of place.
He'd only been to one once, with Jessica when they'd gone to visit her parents back home. It felt fitting somehow, they might end up there for Dean's birthday. It wasn't hard to realize he was looking for connections to her where there were none, but he pushed that voice to the back of his mind.
Sam glanced at the clock and realizing it was almost five, and fought the urge to smile. "What do you say we grab dinner before we leave town? I'm starved."
"What?" Dean asked, glancing quickly over at Sam. "You can't tell me you want to go back to that place again. Even I can't deal with it, and I'll eat anything."
Shaking his head, Sam replied, "No, was thinking about over there." He gestured to the left with his chin. "An actual restaurant."
"Dude. Applebee's is hardly an 'actual' restaurant. No, thanks."
Willing to resort to pouting - it was for Dean after all - Sam turned sideways on the seat. "Come on, man. You said it yourself a while back. Sometimes it's nice to have a meal we don't have to microwave or eat out of a sack."
When Dean glanced at him, out of the corner of his eyes, Sam knew he was on the right track. "Sam... those places cost money, you know."
"Let me worry about that. It's your birthday..." Sam replied, his eyes as wide as he could make them - some tricks you never outgrew. "I just thought it might be nice."
He couldn't remember the last time they did anything for Dean's birthday - even before he left. And memories of Jessica or not, he was determined that this year would be different.
Dean sighed and Sam knew he had won, even though he might regret it later. "Fine, Sam," he said, pulling the car into the Applebee's lot. "You can have your frou-frou food if you must."
Grinning, unrepentant, Sam pushed the door open and climbed out. He heard Dean muttering under his breath, as he too climbed from the car. The disgruntled noises just made Sam want to laugh more. He was amazed how nice it felt to laugh; they didn't get to nearly often enough.
The parking lot was mostly empty, and once they were inside, Sam found that the restaurant matched it. There were couples, families, here and there, but for the most part, there were far more open tables than taken. Sam was grateful - it meant they'd be seated quickly and Dean would have less opportunity or reason to sneak back outside.
The greeter left them seated in a booth with two menus, and a promise of a waitress coming to take their orders "right shortly". Dean grimaced, poking at the menu like it might be possessed but Sam just smiled, taking it in.
He'd given up on the whole picket fence dream; he had buried that dream with Jessica. It still hurt, and while he knew Dean didn't believe him, he'd had to accept it or go mad. She'd helped him learn how to cope in the "normal" word, silly chain restaurants included. Thanks to that, he could enjoy watching Dean squirm surrounded by someplace so... normal.
"Dude, it won't bite," Sam said after a couple of minutes watching Dean fiddle with the menu.
Rolling his eyes, Dean glared at him, which just made Sam's lips twitch in a smile. "Shut up, Sam."
Grinning, the memories not quite so heavy, Sam opened his own menu and began skimming through the options. It was rare their food wasn't from a gas station or a greasy spoon. He hadn't been exaggerating when he'd reminded Dean of his own complaint back in Guthrie. And while this wasn't exactly the 'frou-frou' meal Dean had compared it to, at least it was something different.
Keeping in mind the lone twenty in his wallet - he'd told Dean he'd take care of it, after all - Sam skimmed through the menu looking for something fairly inexpensive. He just hoped Dean would avoid the higher-end items himself.
Before long, their waitress, an older lady named Carlene, was there, pencil and pad in hand. Sam almost laughed at the disappointed look on Dean's face that it wasn't some college co-ed working their table. Though the lack of a college nearby had made that unlikely from the get-go.
"What can I get for ya, sweetie?" she asked, facing Dean.
Flipping the pages back and forth, as if debating, Dean looked up with a grin. "Was thinking about the sirloin. And a Coke."
Doing his best to be subtle, Sam flipped his own menu to the steak page and checked out the price. Brow creasing, he flipped back to the front, looking for something within his budget. He had planned a couple of options, just in case.
However, Dean must have seen more on his face than he'd intended, because suddenly he was grinning at Carlene once more. "You know, I take that back. I could really go for a good burger right now."
Sam watched, pained, as Dean and the waitress discussed back and forth which burger was best. He knew what Dean was doing, even if he would just deny it if pressed. Sam fought the urge to sigh. This wasn't exactly how he had intended the meal to go.
"And for you, sweetie?" she asked, now looking at Sam.
Realizing he didn't have a clue what Dean ended up ordering, he glanced at the burger page - all cheaper than the steak - before grinning at her. "I'd like the Caesar salad please."
"Half order or full?" she asked, taking their menus, and sliding them under her notepad.
"Half," Sam said with a smile. "And water, please." Dean opened his mouth to say something, but Sam pressed his lips together and shook his head. His response - 'not now' - understood easily enough.
Oblivious to the silent conversation, Carlene grinned widely. "I'll be right back with your drinks, boys."
After she walked away, Dean said, "Sam..."
Fiddling with a coaster, Sam shook his head once more. "Don't worry about it. It's covered."
"And you're going to get some sissy half salad?" Dean asked, clearly unimpressed. "You'll be chewing on your shoe by the state line."
Straightening in his seat, Sam forced a smile. "After a week full of greasy burgers, I'm more than happy with a salad."
He could tell that Dean didn't completely believe him, but thankfully he didn't press. Sometimes he could make the littlest things difficult, if he thought Sam was being short-changed. Not that it surprised Sam, though, after so many years. Honestly, it got him through the day sometimes, especially after losing Jessica, having someone that cared so much. Not that he would ever admit it out loud - he'd never live it down.
Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, or risk stirring the conversation up again, Sam scooted to the end of the booth and stood. "I'm going to go find the bathroom. Be right back."
"But we just left..." he heard Dean say behind him, quickly followed by "never mind" when he didn't turn around.
The bathrooms were easy enough to find, but more importantly, the greeter's stand was out of sight from their table. When he'd been to Applebee's with Jessica, they'd seen someone having a birthday being sung to. While he'd been mortified, Jess had laughed like it was the funniest thing she'd seen in age. He'd forgotten all about it until a few minutes before, the memory making him smile.
Swinging by the lectern, Sam gave the teenage girl who was manning the station his best grin. "Was wondering. Do y'all do anything silly for birthdays?"
He hadn't known what the answer would be, maybe it was different some places, but when the girl smiled back he knew they were in luck. And if he was really, truly lucky, Dean might not kill him when it was all said in done. The little brother in him, who'd had to fight just to get him in here, didn't care. It'd be worth it. Jessica would approve, he thought with a small smile.
By the time he got back to the table, their drinks had arrived and Dean looked ready to bolt. "Dude, you fall in or what?"
Sam grinned, hiding it behind taking a drink of his water. Oh yeah, it would be worth it just for the look on Dean's face. Ignoring Dean's question, Sam looked out across the restaurant, wondering which direction it would come from. He sincerely hoped it would be from behind Dean, all the better to surprise him by.
A girl meandering through the tables toward the bar caught his attention, however. She was tall and tan, her hair was shorter, but... Today of all days?
He dropped his water onto the table, barely noticing when it sloshed over the rim and onto his hand. Sam couldn't blink, could barely dare breathe. His world narrowed to the girl across the room, who should be turning twenty-three that very day.
"Hey, man, watch where you're slinging the water," Dean muttered, grabbing several napkins from under the silverware. "What's your problem?" he asked a moment later. Unable to look away from the almost mirror image of Jessica, Sam barely noticed Dean turning around in his seat. "You checking out high schoolers now, Sammy?"
"What?" Sam asked. He turned to face Dean, barely managing around a gulp of air as she walked out of sight.
Gesturing toward where she had just been standing, Dean explained, "The blonde. I know you like 'em tall, bro, but she looked 17 at best."
Motion out of the corner of his eye drew Sam's gaze back toward the bar and he felt the blood drain out of his face. "Dean..." he whispered, once more unable to look away now that she was facing them.
"That'd practically be robbing the cradle," Dean began, before turning once more in his seat. He heard Dean suck in a breath, his words dying. "Dude." His head turned around to Sam so fast it was a wonder he didn't get whiplash. "Sammy?" he asked, his voice low and full of concern.
Sam, however, could only seem to stare. He dimly wondered at the odds the girl hadn't noticed it yet, but he was grateful for the small favor. She even had Jessica's smile, he noted with a pang and he wondered if the laugh would match, as well.
"Sam," Dean said again, more forcefully this time. "Snap out of it, dude."
It almost felt like something tearing inside, when he made himself look away from the mystery girl and face Dean. "Do you want to leave?" Dean asked, compassion softening his eyes.
Sam shook his head vacantly, his gaze drawn back to where she had been a moment before. He glanced around quickly, trying to see where she'd disappeared to, but had no luck. Sighing, Sam dropped back against the seat. Closing his eyes, he pressed his fingertips against them and took a shaky breath.
He could only wonder what the odds were of being in this town, coming to this restaurant and seeing some random girl that could have been Jessica, only a few years before. On her birthday. Seriously, didn't fate already hate him enough?
"I'm fine," Sam managed to grate out, several seconds later, hoping Dean wouldn't call him on the lie. "I know it's not her." He meant it, but the words, the feelings, were still hard. "Today would've been her birthday too, did I ever tell you that?" he asked, tearing the straw wrapper into tiny pieces. "I never told her that you had the same one."
Dean still had that pained look on his face, slightly more so at this latest admission. "No," he whispered. "You never mentioned that." There was a long pause, when Dean spoke his voice was rough, but sincere. "I'm sorry, Sammy."
"I know. It's not your fault."
Sam risked a glance at Dean who winced, before his face settled into his 'let me make it better' look. The one that Sam had recognized his entire life - only more so since the fire. He knew how badly Dean wanted to make it all okay. He wished that he could, like he had when they were younger.
He tried to smile, but knew it was shaky at best. "I can't run from every little thing, Dean. I'm okay." Judging by the look on Dean's face, it didn't sound any more convincing than it felt. "Really," he added, hoping to reassure them both.
Their food arrived before Dean could reply; a waiter Sam didn't recognize sliding plates onto the table before quickly disappearing. When it looked like Dean was going to continue protesting, Sam picked up his fork and gestured toward the food. "Eat, Dean."
Although he didn't look pleased, Dean nodded before digging into his burger. While they ate, Sam tried to force himself not to look around for the waitress. He didn't particularly want his salad anymore, but he refused to let the meal go to waste. Especially since he didn't know how long it'd be before he had something other than a burger again.
He was still picking at his salad, ignoring Dean's continuing glances, when he noticed a commotion among the waiters a few tables away. Dean had just picked up his last French fry - more catsup than fry - when the clapping started. It was halfway to his mouth when the clapping became accompanied by singing and the waiters began to move, en mass, toward their table.
Dean's hand twitched, the fry falling back onto his place and his eyes zeroed in on Sam. "You didn't." It wasn't a question. Even the memory of the Jess-not-Jess and birthdays missed couldn't stop the smile that quirked the edges of Sam's mouth. "Sam, I swear..."
Whatever threat Dean was about to dole out was cut short when the group arrived at the end of their table, carrying some sort of ice cream sundae - complete with candle. Dean quit glaring at Sam long enough to turn toward the group and dig up an utterly fake smile.
"Make a wish!" their waitress said, sliding the dessert in front of Dean, once the singing was over.
Another glance at Sam - this wasn't over by a long shot, it promised - and Dean quickly dealt with the candle, putting it out with his fingertips instead of blowing it out. The act earned him wary glances from a couple of the waiters. Sam couldn't help but notice - in fact, once he saw her it was hard to notice anything else - that Jessica's doppelganger, standing in the back, looked oddly impressed with the action.
She gave him a funny glance, as though she'd noticed his staring, before walking away with the rest of the workers. He watched she went back to the bar to retrieve her serving tray before disappearing in the far side of the restaurant.
When she was finally out of sight, Sam snapped from his daze and turned back to Dean. Only to discover that he was the recipient of Dean's glare, not the ice cream. It would've already melted, had it been.
"Sammy?" It wasn't a mere request for an explanation.
Shaken by seeing the waitress again, Tyra her nametag had said, Sam shook his head slightly. "Yeah?"
Dean's eyes softened somewhat, glancing down at the dessert and then back up at Sam. Seeming to relent, if only a bit, Dean grabbed one of the spoons and handed the other to Sam. "You just better be glad there was no silly hat involved, Sam. As it is, just remember one thing."
Pushing his spoon into the ice cream, but not scooping any out, Sam looked at Dean. "What's that?"
The smirk he received should've worried him, it probably would've scared any innocent bystanders, but Sam was hardly impressed. "I know when your birthday is, too." With that, he scooped up an obscenely large amount of the dessert and shoved it into his mouth, grinning all the while.
Sam couldn't help smiling at his brother's antics, right down to the chocolate sauce now dribbling down his chin. Noticing the glint in Dean's eyes, he wondered if that had been his intent all along. Yeah, knowing Dean, it was. Somehow, that made pushing the ghost of Jessica back into the shadows a little easier.
"Happy birthday, Dean." Happy birthday, Jess, he added silently, knowing she would understand moving on even if he didn't always understand it himself.
Dean smiled. "Thanks, Sammy."