Supernatural isn't mine.

So this is a fic written for Sam's birthday (today, May 2) and a tag to episode 2x19, Folsom Prison Blues. Warning: angst ahead! (Do I even need to warn for that any more?)

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When I Hear that Whistle Blowing

Sam doesn't really get the whole birthday thing until he turns eight and Dad gets arrested.

It's not like he hasn't heard of birthdays; he's not dumb, after all, and the kids at school are always going on about them, presents that Sam can't imagine wanting, parties that Sam doesn't get invited to, inviting clowns around, which Sam just doesn't. Get. But Sam is a kid, and a lot of things make no sense to him, like why the other kids all stay in one place all the time and why adults always give him that sad look that makes him want to comfort them when they find out his mom's dead. Sam doesn't really get the whole mom thing, either, just another one to add to the list, but he's pretty sure that by the time he's as big as Dean, he's going to understand everything, the way Dean does, the way Dad does; in fact, he's sure of it, he even has a plan in the back of a notebook, four years from now until then and then he's going to get it.

The birthday thing? It's when the CPS woman ruffles his hair and tells him she's so sorry something like this had to happen to him on his birthday. And Sam thinks huh, because it's never occurred to him that maybe birthdays are days when bad things weren't allowed to happen to your family, but now that she's suggested it, he thinks that's pretty awesome. And when Dad gets out the same day, he figures that's got to be it, that's what all the fuss is about, and the whole presents-parties-clowns thing is just a smokescreen.

Dad introduces him and Dean to this tall guy whose shoes are really shiny, says he's the one who got Dad out. Sam looks up and up and up and thinks this must be the guy in charge of birthdays. He decides right then and there that that's going to be him, one day, when he's even older than Dean is now, he's going to be tall and he's going to make sure that bad things don't happen to people on their birthdays, and maybe other days too, if he has time.

When they get back home, Sam gets out his notebook and crosses out birthdays, and it's satisfying. Then he starts a new plan, this one longer, because he figures you probably have to be a real grown-up before you can have shiny shoes and save the day, and even Dean isn't that big yet. Sam can wait, though. He has time.

----

Sam knew his eighteenth would be kind of lame, but he hadn't realised it would suck quite this much. It's his own fault, of course, getting involved in a fight when Dad and Dean were out of town, except for how he was just minding his own business when he got jumped, but he knows Dad's gonna chew him out anyway, gonna find some way to pin the blame on him. Shouldn't be drawing attention to ourselves, and Sam can't help thinking that if they didn't move every two months, people would pay a hell of a lot less attention to them.

"How old are you, son?" the cop asks, and Sam's considering not answering when he realises that if they think he's under eighteen, they're gonna call CPS, and wouldn't that just be the perfect end to a sucky day? So he answers, quick and sharp, first word he's said since they brought him in here, and there were a lot of things he was looking forward to being able to do once he hit eighteen, like voting and being technically legally in control of his own life (and yeah, OK, having sex), but being tried as an adult really wasn't one of them.

He clams up after that, because he's not enrolled in school right now and there are no records of him in this town, they've only been here a month and they moved too close to the end of Sam's senior year for him to finish it out, so they don't know his name, and he thinks it's best if they don't find out. He doesn't ask for a lawyer, and they ask him question after question, sometimes yelling, sometimes threatening, but he just lets it wash over him, pretends it's happening to someone else, because he's Sam, he's the good one, the one that gets good grades and doesn't want any trouble and no way has he been arrested, no way.

By the time they leave him alone for a while, he's fuming at Dad, and he knows it's not fair, if he's honest with himself, but here he is, eighteen and looking at repeating senior year, if Dad even lets him, with a town full of rich kids accusing him of shit he didn't do and no-one would believe him if he told his side because he's not respectable, and that? That's totally Dad's fault. They leave him in a holding cell over night, and Sam doesn't sleep, blinks burning eyes at the ceiling and makes a new plan, one where he doesn't live this life forever, one where he only has to finish out senior year and then he can take control of how people view him, he can be somebody who isn't afraid to give his own name to the damn police.

There's yelling in the morning, and then they come and let him out, the cop with the keys looking pale and sweaty, and Dean and Dad are waiting, Dean practically incandescent with rage, and Dad – Dad looks like Dad, mask on, but Sam knows who it was doing the yelling earlier and he raises a smug eyebrow at the guy on the front desk, who looks like he's seconds away from going for his gun.

Dean grabs him by the back of the neck, steers him out of the building, and Sam knows he's in for a dressing-down of epic proportions when they get home. Dean pulls his head down a little, whispers that he's gonna take him out for a beer later, when it's all over, maybe get him a stripper, but it's not Sam's birthday any more and he doesn't really feel like trying out any more of his newly-found legal rights, and anyway, he's pretty sure they'll be packing to move again by tonight.

Halfway home, Dad glances at him in the mirror, and Sam's surprised to see he doesn't look angry; in fact, he almost looks sad.

"Next time, ask for a lawyer," he says.

Sam shrugs, retreats into his mind and starts elaborating on his new plan. Next time, he thinks, I'm gonna be a lawyer.

----

Sam's twenty-second birthday falls in the middle of the Stanford Law School examination period. He's got a paper to write and no fucking time, and Jess wants to celebrate, pouts when he says he can't, so much that he almost caves. Then he sees the law school students pouring out of their exam hall, looking tired, worried, elated, real. He kisses Jess and spends the night in the library.

In two years, that's going to be him. Nothing can stop him now.

----

Sam's twenty-three when he goes to jail for the first time. By the time he gets out, he's twenty-four.

It's OK, he tells himself as they drive away from Green River, but he's not very convincing, and his heart rate's still hammering high, there's still panic thrumming through his entire body. It's been there since Dean came up with the stupid plan in the first place, and even though they're out now, back on the road, Sam doesn't think it's leaving any time soon. It's OK, God, it's OK, it was only a couple of days, it's not like you haven't done worse, been in more dangerous situations. And that's true, it's all true, but the panic's still there, and Sam hardly eats or sleeps for three days.

"You know," says Dean some time in that hazy period between their escape and Sam finally getting it together, "I should totally have got you to talk to the lawyer. You would have convinced her much better than me. Plus, you know all that lawyer shit."

Sam feels like his throat's constricting, and information floods into his mind, statistics, case files, definitions. He wishes it was gone, wants it gone, because it's no use to him now, not now, not ever again. He only saw their lawyer once, and he doesn't remember her face, but the shoes, he remembers those. Respectable shoes.

"Hey," says Dean, "I almost forgot. Happy birthday, bitch."

Sam tries to smile, but it's like his mouth's forgotten how. They're out of jail, and he wants to see it as a gift, because birthdays are the days when nothing bad's supposed to happen to your family, but he can't help feeling like maybe that rule doesn't count for him any more.

Two days later, he gets out his notebook and throws it in the trash.