Disclaimer: I keep checking, but it still doesn't belong to me.

A/N: A look at Dean and the dysfunctional Winchester life and family dynamic through key birthdays along the way. It's completed, just being edited, which is why it's being split into probably three parts; everything should be up in a week. I'm promising a happy ending! All reviews and critiques cheerfully accepted!


January 24, 1984

When Dean turned five, he learned you don't always get what you ask for on your birthday. When Mommy was alive, she and Daddy would always manage to find out just what Dean really, really wanted for his birthday. Sometimes they would just ask him, but sometimes, through some Mommy and Daddy magic, they would just know, and even though he would never remember actually telling them. Mommies and Daddies were really smart.

This year, he didn't ask Daddy for anything. He hadn't talked to Daddy since the night Mommy went away. He wanted to, because Daddy always looked so sad now and even sadder when Dean wouldn't speak to him, and because Dean was scared a lot and he wanted Daddy to make him less afraid. But he just couldn't. He couldn't talk to anyone except Sammy.

And there was no point asking him, was there?

He didn't talk to God at first, either. Mommy always told him about the angels that watched over them. Dean would ask God why the angel had been asleep when the bad thing had killed Mommy, but he never got an answer. Then he decided maybe it was his fault, that he hadn't been good enough and Mommy was taken away to punish him. So he worked really hard since Mommy left to prove he was a good boy. He did everything Daddy and Daddy's friend Mike and Mrs. Mike told him to do. He took care of Sammy because he had promised Mommy before Sammy was born he would be the best brother ever and good boys don't break their promises. Besides, he really did love Sammy, even if Sammy could be pretty stinky a lot of the time and even when he cried a lot.

Then, a week before his birthday, he talked to God again. He said he had been as good as he knew how to be and he was sorry if he had done something to make Mommy go away. He told God how much he missed Mommy and how much he loved and needed her, and how sad Daddy was all the time and that even little Sammy seemed unhappy so much, and he said he didn't want anything else on his birthday, just for Mommy to come back. Please.

On his birthday, he woke extra early, too excited to sleep, and he uncurled from around Sammy--because he wasn't going to let anything bad take Sammy away, too, so he slept in Sammy's crib--and he ran downstairs, calling for Mommy. But she wasn't there. Still, it was early, and maybe God wasn't up yet. So, he waited. All through the day. Daddy gave him a toy, and Mike and Mrs. Mike gave him a present and a cake, and he smiled and nodded, but all the time he kept looking for Mommy to come back.

By the time Daddy made him go up to bed--even though he said he shouldn't, he had to wait and didn't Daddy understand?--and he lay there, holding Sammy, he realized God hadn't listened to him, hadn't cared that he had been really, really good. God didn't care that he and Daddy were sad or that they missed Mommy. Mommy had been wrong: There were no angels watching over you.

Birthdays suck. And so did God.

As he lay there, warm tears sliding down his cheeks, he knew there was nothing and no one looking after you. He would never ask God for anything again.

January 24, 1986

When Dean turned seven, the Winchesters had been staying in a small town in Ohio. There had been a lot of bad things, Daddy had said, not just in that one place, but all around and Daddy could hunt them from one base (as Daddy had called the five-room house he had rented for them). Dean thought Daddy really stayed because of the old woman with the strange eyes. She had stared at him when Daddy had gone to see her for the first time, looking deeply into Dean's eyes until he wanted to run and hide behind Daddy.

But Winchesters didn't run, Daddy said (thought sometimes it seemed they did, when Daddy would toss everything into the car, hustling Sammy and him into the backseat, and racing away from wherever they had been staying), so Dean had raised his chin higher and stared back defiantly, even if his insides felt a little bit like the Jell-O Mommy used to make for him. After a few minutes, the old woman had surprised him by laughing and poking him in the tummy.

"Quite the little warrior," she'd said. "A good thing. You will need to be. Your road will be long, and often dark and hard." She had touched his cheek. "Hold fast, and you will find the way, child."

Dean had felt all shivery and Daddy looked at her in that angry way Daddy looked at most things since Mommy had died. Dean had never been taken to see her again. But Daddy had spent most of his time between hunts there, studying in the dusty old books. Daddy said the old woman had a lot to teach him.

Dean just thought she was evil.

Everything else had been good, maybe the best it had been since Mommy had died. For one thing, they had been here since the school year had started and for the first time in a long time, Dean had made friends, had felt he fit in. In particular, Tommy Bristow, four months older, one inch taller, gap-toothed and always grinning, had decided Dean was his new best friend. Dean, with two-year old Sammy in tow, ended up spending a lot of time at Tommy's house.

Tommy's mother had eyed him and Sammy uncertainly the first time they showed up at her door, but when she heard--because Sammy could never stop talking--that their mother was dead and they traveled a lot because of "Daddy's job," she had smiled and made tutting noises. And Sammy had grinned back gleefully and babbled on, and Mrs. Bristow had just seemed to melt into a puddle of goo.

She hadn't warmed as quickly to the warier Dean, who had learned over the last two years not to trust people too quickly--because they wouldn't understand about the nasty, dark things or why Daddy had to be away so much, and then there would be trouble--until Dean had told her Sammy would be with him when he came over "'cause Sammy's my sponsibility and I take care of him, 'cause that's what big brothers do." Then she had sniffled and handed him a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Mrs. Bristow made great cookies.

That was months ago and now Dean, with his Sammy-shadow, was practically a fixture at the Bristow house. When she had found out it was Dean's seventh birthday on January 24th, only two days after Tommy's, and that Daddy would be too busy to do anything special, Mrs. Bristow had announced she would give a joint party for Dean and Tommy, and she had invited lots of kids over.

Dean had pretended it was no big deal, but inside he was as excited about it as Sammy--then again, what didn't get Sammy excited?--who burbled on about "skweam and pwesents and games" (Dean was rapidly despairing of ever getting his younger brother to add the letter "r" to his vocabulary, but Daddy just smiled and said Sammy was only two and Dean shouldn't worry unless Sammy was still saying "pwesents" when he was thirty). It was his first real birthday since the bad thing had taken Mommy.

Dean had fretted for a while, knowing he wouldn't be able to get Tommy a gift. Daddy had simply shaken his head and said, "Sorry, kiddo. Things are pretty tight right now." And Dean knew it was the truth. Sometimes Daddy would pretend he'd already eaten but Dean knew better, knew there just wasn't enough.

Somehow, though, Mrs. Bristow had figured out what was worrying him and had smiled and whispered, "I know you probably want to get Tommy a gift for his birthday and he wants to get one for you, but I thought it would be best if neither of you brought anything for each other. Is that okay with you?

Dean nodded with a tremendous sense of relief, thinking Mrs. Bristow was really smart and really nice.

The day before the party, Dean was both happy and sad, though he wasn't quite sure just how that was possible. He only knew he was thrilled to have a real birthday party again, but very sad Mommy wouldn't be there.

Sammy had no such reservations and he had been bouncing on his toes all day. Of course, bouncing was Sammy's usual approach to things. He bounced off beds, walls, sidewalks and stairs (which sometimes led to minor disasters). Dean was willing to admit to himself Sammy was possibly a bit clumsy, but he tended to get fierce if anyone else laughed at the youngest Winchester.

Dean had finally gotten Sammy to get into bed and actually stay there, through the ruse of telling his two-year old brother that the sooner he went to sleep, the sooner tomorrow would come, because tomorrows were just sneaky like that. He was getting into his own pajamas when he heard the phone ring, once, twice, before he could hear his father's voice rumble, "Winchester." He could never say how he knew, he just did, and he was suddenly sure he would never get to the party.

A few moments later, his father appeared in the bedroom door looking, Dean thought, a bit guilty.

"Dean, wake up Sammy and start packing. We're leaving here tonight."

Dean just stared. "Tonight? But, Daddy, the birthday party is tomorrow!"

His father shifted his weight slightly, still looking guilty. "I know, kiddo, and I'm sorry, but all the research paid off and a lead came up. It's going to take a lot of time to follow it. I can't leave you guys alone here that long, even if I were sure I'd be coming back. And I don't think we will be."

It was as if he had been hit in the stomach. Dean suddenly found it hard to breathe. Not come back? But he had been happy here. He'd had friends, special friends like Tommy. And a party, and, and …they just couldn't go!

By the time Dean had finished his protest, he was blinking back tears, because tears are for babies and he was seven (since yesterday, anyway). He could see the exact moment his father's guilt rolled into annoyance, which was just one step away from anger.

"That's enough, Dean!" Daddy said sharply. "Stop acting like a baby. That's okay for Sammy; he's two, but I won't accept it from you anymore. I need to be able to count on you!"

Dean struggled with his emotions, caught between the child he was and the man he was to become. The man won, and somewhere in the distance, a door slammed shut forever on Dean's childhood.

Squaring his shoulders, his eyes now dry, he said softly, "You can always count on me, Dad." Because only little boys said "Daddy."

His father smiled and said, "That's my man." But when Dad turned back to study the road, visible out of Dean's bedroom window, Dean thought he caught a glimpse of shame and sorrow in his father's eyes.

Later, Dean didn't look as they passed Tommy's house. He had learned a valuable lesson. Never again would he open up to the strangers they would briefly live amongst. Never again would he make friends of outsiders. Never again would he set himself up to be hurt. Or hope for something outside of what hunting would allow.

'Cause the only people he would ever be able to count on were Dad and Sammy. He closed his eyes and ignored the treacherous whisper in the back of his mind, But what if they leave you, too?"

He would never forget again: Birthdays suck. And maybe life, too.

A/N: I should have part 2 up in a day or two.