Disclaimer: The boys are not mine, and in this case, neither is the story. I'm just the scribe.

Author's Note: This is from an idea that Cheryl had... She thought up the story, including the plot, and (as usual) the title. My main contribution to this has been deft use of the keyboard. ;-)

Summary: Set in Season 1. The boys have been back on the road together for close to three months now, and a very special day is coming up.


Touched by Love

Dean would have looked forward to his twenty-seventh birthday more if he hadn't known that it would also have been Jessica's twenty-second birthday if she'd been alive. It wasn't like birthdays had ever been a big deal in any case, and when you factored in the possibility that Sam would spend the day sniffling in the passenger seat and pretending it was because he had a cold...

Yeah. Dean wasn't looking forward to it.

He was prepared for it, though. He fully expected to have to spend the day trying to talk Sam out of a fit of brooding and self-blame. It sucked, but what the hell. It wasn't like he had other plans.

Sam had been weird lately...

Well, weirder than usual.

The kid had kept disappearing on Dean for the past couple of weeks. Not for long, never for long enough to make him worry, but more than usual. He'd be out when Dean woke up in the morning, the only sign that he hadn't been kidnapped by something supernatural a hastily-scrawled note (for a supergeek, Sam had awful handwriting) under a cup of still-steaming coffee. He'd be back just in time to prevent Dean from trying to track the GPS on his phone (and just as well – considering how computers tended to misbehave around Dean, he'd probably wind up crashing a slumber party and waving his shotgun at a gaggle of shrieking teenagers).

Dean wasn't worried, not really, but he'd have been lying if he'd said he wasn't concerned. Being concerned about Sam was as natural as breathing, and it became an irresistible urge when Sam gave him even half a reason.

Dead girlfriend plus Sam's endless capacity for self-blame plus mysterious disappearances constituted a lot more than half a reason in Dean's book.

There was no point talking to Sam, though. Oh, no. When Sam thought something was wrong with Dean, he was all Oprah, full of the healthy way of dealing with traumatic events, telling Dean to share and asking about his feelings. It was a miracle he didn't venture to pat Dean's head and tell him what a wonderful, special human being he was.

When it came to something being wrong with Sam? Then trying to talk to him was like trying to walk through a brick wall: pointless, foredoomed to failure, and by the time you were done, you had a headache but the wall was as impenetrable as ever.

So, yeah. Birthday. Dean wasn't expecting Sam to remember – in fact, he was kind of hoping Sam would forget, if that meant he wouldn't spend the day moping about Jessica.

That was why it came as a complete surprise when, a few days before his birthday, Sam, sitting across from him in a cheap diner, looked up from the wilted lettuce and soggy tomatoes he called dinner and said, "So is there somewhere you want to go?"

"What?"

"Tuesday, Dean," Sam said, with the air of long-suffering patience that usually drove their father crazy. (Dean could see why.) "Where do you want to go?"

"Dunno. You said there was a job in Texas."

"Dean!"

"I don't know, Sam. Maybe we should just take it easy... You know, with everything –"

"Don't be stupid. It's your birthday."

"Yeah, and it's also your girlfriend's birthday – which, you know, is kind of strange, don't you think, Sam? I mean, three hundred and sixty-five days in the year –"

"Dean –"

"Actually, wait. Wasn't Jessica born in 1984? That makes it three hundred and sixty-six days in the year, and your girlfriend winds up having the same birthday as your big brother. That tell you something, Sammy?"

"Yeah, it tells me you're trying to change the subject. Come on, Dean. I'm not going to ignore your birthday. What do you want to do?"

"We can do anything I want?"

"I'm not going to a strip club with you."

"Wasn't thinking of a strip club."

"Or letting you bring a hooker back to the motel."

"You don't know how to have fun, Sam."

"Is it twenty-seven you're turning this year or twelve?"

"That the best you can do? That's pathetic. You've gone soft."

"Dean."

This time Sam's voice was just imploring enough, his eyes just wide enough, his mouth turned down just the right amount –

Dean sighed. He should've known as soon as Sam raised the issue that he'd wind up giving in. It took more willpower than Dean had to resist Sam's pleading. It took more willpower than most people had; the only person who had, to Dean's knowledge, ignored the puppy-dog eyes on a regular basis had been their father. Dean did not want to turn into John Winchester, not where Sam was concerned.

But that didn't mean he had to make it easy. No need for the kid to know just how much of a pushover his big brother really was.

"First you want me to do something for my birthday, then you act all prissy about the things I want to do –"

"Dean!"

"Come on, Sammy, I thought you college boys know how to have a good time. What did you do when they had parties at Stanford? Shut yourself in the library and study all night?" Sam just looked at him. "Oh, God, you did do that, didn't you? College was wasted on you!"

"I'm sorry I didn't waste my time chasing girls, Dean. Now can we please move on."

"Move on to the hooker you're going to hire for me for my birthday?"

"Dean."

"For the record, Sammy, I prefer brunettes."

"Dean."

"But blondes are good, too. Maybe one of each –"

"Dean."

"Not every day you turn twenty-seven. You have to make the most of it. So that's settled, Sam? One blonde and one brunette."

"Dean!"


Blonde?

Nope.

Brunette?

No. No brunettes in sight, unless you counted Sam.

Freaking redhead?

No.

No, what he got for his twenty-seventh birthday was dinner with his brother. Not a really upscale restaurant – Dean hated those – but a nicer place than they usually went to, with crisp white tablecloths and silverware that gleamed so much it was practically an invitation to –

"Dean."

Dean sighed and slipped the fork out of his pocket and back on the table.

"I wasn't going to take it. I just wanted to see if anyone noticed."

"Just this one evening, Dean, can we please not get arrested? I know it's difficult not to help yourself to forks that are just lying on the table –"

"It was just asking to be lifted, man!"

"Keep in mind that the world is full of people who are perfectly capable of eating a full meal without feeling the urge to steal the cutlery. I can even introduce you to some."

"Sammy, there's nobody in the world who wouldn't steal a fork with the right incentive."

"Come on, of course there are –"

"I can make you take one."

"No, you can't."

"Yes, I can."

"Dean, I am not going to steal a fork."

"Is that a challenge?"

"I think we should order."

"How much are you willing to bet that I can't make you take a fork?"

"Nothing, because I'm not seven." Sam signalled to the waiter. "Now shut up unless you want to get us thrown out."

"No cake, right, Sam? That's the deal."

"You got it. No cake."

"No candles."

"Kind of hard to have candles without cake. Besides, I don't know if you can blow out twenty-seven candles. Getting a bit old there, big brother."

"Nice try. No candles."

"Fine." Sam made a face. "No candles. Killjoy."

"You know what? You are seven."

"Oh, look at you all mature."

"And nobody's singing for me, right Sam?" Silence. "Right, Sam?"

"Right, Dean. Nobody's singing for you."

"Sam, if you –"

"Shut up and order, Dean."

Dean looked at the menu, thanking God that Sam hadn't picked a place where the dishes had fancy French names. He would have preferred a diner with greasy burgers and greasier fries, but...

He stole a glance at Sam over the top of his menu. His brother was discussing something with the waiter, whispering in his ear, and Dean knew, just knew that Sam was going to have them sing for him, no matter that Dean didn't want them to –

But Dean couldn't even be mad about it. Dean could never be mad about something that made his brother smile like that, a patented light-up-the-room Sammy Winchester smile, dimples and all, when he might so easily have been moping over his dead girlfriend instead. Sam looked as thrilled as a teenager on his first date –

Oh, God, no. Not again.

The waiter already thought so. Dean could see it in his eyes and in the knowing half-grin that he was turning on Sam.

No. Not today. Sam was putting up a good front for him, but it was Jessica's birthday too, and Dean had a strong feeling that it wouldn't take much to set him off. He was not going to have some random jerk upset his little brother by reminding him of the girlfriend he didn't have any more.

Dean cleared his throat loudly. When the waiter turned to him, he said, "I'll have whiskey. On the rocks. And tequila for my brother. Tequila OK, Sammy?"

"Tequila's fine, Dean," Sam said, although he looked a little puzzled. "Is everything all right?"

"Sure it is." Dean smiled almost as brightly as Sam, especially when he saw the waiter's expression of dawning comprehension. "Come on, Sammy, you're the college boy. You do the rest of the ordering. And I'm telling you now, I'm not eating any wimpy rabbit-food."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Fine."

Surprisingly – or maybe not so surprisingly; Sam had always made a big deal out of Dean's birthdays – Sam didn't try to force Dean to eat salad or drink green tea or do anything else that was good for his arteries. Dean got steak, potatoes dripping with butter, and refills of his whiskey on the rocks until he was certain he couldn't drive (Sam, fortunately, had just had the one tequila). Best of all, Sam had them leave off Dean's side-salad, so there wasn't so much as a stick of celery on his plate to distract him from his dinner.

"Good, Sam," Dean said appreciatively as he put down his knife and fork. "So college boy does know how to order regular-people food."

"Shut up, Dean."

"Dessert?"

"Dessert's coming. Already ordered it."

"When?" Dean frowned. "I'm not that drunk, Sam. If you'd ordered dessert, I would have heard you."

"I ordered dessert."

"It's not some fruit salad anti-oxidant crap is it? Because I'm telling you, Sam, it's my birthday and I'm not going to eat anything that's good for me." Dean took a swig of his whiskey, and put the glass down a little harder than he had to. "I want dessert. I didn't want to do anything for my birthday. I. You did. But now that I'm here, I want – what the hell is that, Sam?"

That was the waiter who was coming towards them – it had to be them; there was nobody sitting nearby – carrying a small chocolate cake.

With a candle in it.

With four other waiters following him.

Sam didn't turn around, but the sudden flash of dimples Dean got before he ducked his head told him his little brother had been planning this all along.

"Sam."

Sam didn't reply beyond another grin, and now the cake was in front of him, the single candle flickering cheerfully. Dean stared at it, knowing there was no way out. The kid was watching him with that hopeful expression he always got when he'd done something that he thought would impress his big brother. Dean couldn't look into his eyes and refuse to play along.

He blew out the candle, feeling like a total idiot – but Sam's bright smile was more than enough to make up for that – and managed not to grimace when the waiters started in on the birthday song. Fortunately the agony was brief.

Dean forced himself to smile at the waiters when they finished. All of them left but one, who stood hovering in the background while Dean turned to Sam, who was contriving to look so much like the six-year-old who had brought his report cards to Dean instead of to their father that Dean just couldn't launch into the complaint he'd planned on and had to content himself with a half-hearted glare. Sam's smile got the tiniest bit wider, and Dean couldn't even summon up enough exasperation to glare anymore.

Damn little brothers.

"I hate you," Dean muttered.

"I know," Sam said, sounding unbearably smug.

"We done now, or is there anything else?" Sam's eyes flickered to the one waiter who was still standing there, and Dean groaned. "Oh, God, there's something else, isn't there?"

The waiter glided forward and bent to whisper to Sam. Dean thought he saw a package change hands under the table. Then the waiter straightened and went away, and Dean was left staring suspiciously at Sam across the table. Sam looked nervous now.

"Sammy?"

"Happy birthday, Dean."

Then Sam was pushing something across the table at him, something flat and rectangular wrapped in bright blue paper – at least the kid hadn't picked pink – and Dean took it, shook it, and poked at the side.

"Is it a book, Sam?" It didn't feel like one, but with Sam you could never be certain. "Because if you've given me –"

"Just open it, Dean."

Dean ripped the paper apart.

And stared.

It was a picture of their mother – in oils, from what Dean could tell, although God knew he wasn't an expert. She seemed almost alive, smiling at him from the cheap wooden frame, looking as though any minute she'd open her mouth and start talking.

"Sam, where did you – did you make this?"

"I... I'm sorry, I'm not very good," Sam said quickly. "I just thought you might like it – but I wasn't sure – and I should have paid more attention to Professor Addison anyway; whenever he started about pigment brands I zoned out and there was this really cute girl – before I met Jessica, I mean." Sam was scarlet. "Jessica didn't – but I only took the one course, and I never listened much. Maybe I could've – I don't know, he always said the brand made a difference. The exact shade. If you can see, that is. Sometimes you can't and then it's like Monet's red lilies – but that's not the point, what I'm saying is –"

"Sam, shut up." Dean tore his eyes away from the painting to look at Sam. "It's perfect."

Sam closed his mouth and looked at Dean uncertainly, but Dean had most certainly not been lying just to make the kid happy. He was sure there were flaws in the technique or execution or whatever (not that Dean could see any; but then he had always been biased where Sam was concerned) but they didn't matter. Sam had done it, and he would rather have this than a full-sized portrait by Leonardo freaking da Vinci.

"It's better from when you can paint from life," Sam said in a small voice. "I had to use a photograph."

"It's perfect, Sam. She would've loved it."

"Dean –"

"C'mon, I haven't even had my cake yet." Dean put the picture down as carefully as if it really were the Mona Lisa. He cut them each a piece of cake, told the waiter they'd have ice-cream to go with it, and silenced Sam's protest with, "It's my birthday, Sammy. I want cake and ice-cream, and I don't want to have to watch you sitting there eating watermelon or something and telling me about trans-fats, so you're going to have it to."

When the guy went off to get the order, Dean sat back and looked at Sam.

"Take a fork."

"He's cleared the forks away, Dean. Didn't you notice?"

"You're resourceful."

"I'm also not a kleptomaniac."

"Please, Sam."

"Dean!"

"Just one fork."

"Keep going and I'll poke you somewhere with a fork."

"I'm your brother."

"You're a jerk."

"Bitch."

"Idiot."

"That's pitiful."

Before Sam could respond, the waiter came back with their ice-cream.

When he'd gone, Dean looked at Sam. It had been one heck of a day. He wasn't sure whether the better present was the picture of their mom or the fact that Sam had been so cheerful all day.

Because, yeah, Sam had. He probably thought Dean hadn't noticed, but he had seen it. Dean didn't think it was likely or even possible that Sam had gone the whole day without thinking about Jessica at all, but he had kept it to himself. There had been no brooding, no frowning, no muttering about how everyone close to Sam always got hurt. For Dean's birthday there had only been smiles: the happy full-on grins that had utterly won Dean's heart when Sam had been a baby, the shy smiles that adolescence had taken away from Sam but Stanford seemed to have put back in place, the mirthful laughter that made Dean feel like he had come home.

He couldn't believe he was about to say it, but... Sam sure as hell deserved it.

"Thanks, Sammy. I... I know we don't do birthdays and stuff, but... this was... Thanks." Sam's expression turned a little shaky, and Dean hastily went on, "Now put one of the forks in your pocket. It's easy."

"Shut up, Dean."

"Please, Sammy. It's my birthday."

"Dean!"


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