Thanks to everyone who offered prayers and well-wishes for my recent surgery. It went well and though the recovery has been long and is still ongoing, I know it's a blessing that I'm doing so well. I really appreciate your thoughts and prayers. And thanks to those who've left reviews on my stories—it always makes my day to see a review come through!

For those who are wondering, the title comes from a traditional New Year's song, "Auld Lang Syne."

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and have a happy New Year's!

A Cup O' Kindness

New Year's Eve, 1990

"But Deeeean, we hafta watch it!" Sam whined, giving his big brother the puppy dog eyes he'd been perfecting over the past seven years.

"Aw, Sammy," Dean complained, feeling put out. "Why would we wanna watch a big ol' ball drop down a pole? Sounds lame," he scoffed.

"'S not lame, Dean," Sam protested, hazel eyes wide and pleading. "It's a tradition. Teacher said so. 'N' a bunch of kids in my class said they do it every New Year's Eve. Pleeeeeese, can we?" he begged shamelessly.

Dean heaved a heavy sigh. He knew, and Sammy knew, that he'd give in. Stinkin' puppy dog eyes. But it didn't mean he'd go down without a fight. "C'mon, Sammy," he wheedled, "wouldn't ya rather, I don't know…watch a movie or somethin' instead? We could have a movie marathon," he continued, warming to the idea. "I'll even make us some popcorn," he offered, knowing how much Sammy loved the stuff.

Sam looked doubtful. "I dunno, Dean. Watchin' the ball is what everybody does. It's tradition," he stressed again, a hint of longing in his voice.

And Dean knew that was really the issue right there. Sammy wanted to be just like all the other kids. He'd noticed how different their lives were from the lives of the other kids in his class at the various schools they went to, and he'd begun to crave anything he saw as normal.

Sammy had also become completely obsessed with traditions lately. Dean had thought about it, a lot, and he figured, in all his pre-teen wisdom, that it was because traditions represented stability to Sammy. Something that would always be the same in a life that changed dramatically from day to day. Dean could understand that. Though he'd never admit it, he sometimes longed for some stability, too. He just found it in different ways—the sameness of the motel rooms they stayed in, the constancy of his family around him, the routine of looking after Sammy, his dad's single-minded focus on the hunt, the never-ending quest to find the thing that had killed his mom, the familiar purr of the Impala. It might be a little twisted, but all of those things made Dean feel more secure. They were constants in his life, things he could count on. He knew what to expect from them. He figured that, in his own way, Sammy was looking for something like that. Something that would stay the same, no matter what else changed. 'Course Sammy already had things in his life that were constant—Dean, for one—but he didn't seem to see those.

"We could make our own tradition, Sammy," Dean offered, cajoling. "Somethin' way cooler than watchin' some boring old ball drop."

"C'n we do that?" Sam wondered. "Just make up a tradition?"

"Sure," Dean responded confidently. "People do it all the time. Somebody had t' come up with the ball thing, didn't they?"

"I guess so…" Sam responded hesitantly.

"Good, then it's settled. We'll make up our own New Year's Eve tradition," Dean said definitively, looking pleased with himself.

"And we'll do it every year?" Sam checked.

"Sure, Sammy," Dean agreed easily. "It'll be the official 'Winchester New Year's Eve Celebration.'"

"No matter where we are?" Sam reiterated, wanting to be sure.

"No matter where we are, Sammy. Promise," Dean said solemnly, knowing this was important to his kid brother.

"Well…I guess that'd be okay," Sam conceded, knowing Dean never broke his promises. "But it's gotta be somethin' good," he stipulated. "Teacher said whatever we're doing at midnight sets the tone for the whole next year," Sam relayed earnestly, his gaze solemn as he explained. "Ya know, what it's gonna be like, what we'll be doin'."

Dean thought about New Year's Eve last year, and how he'd spent it watching Sammy sleep while he'd paced the floor, worried about their dad, who'd been late getting back from a hunt. "Huh…" Dean pondered that for a moment. Maybe Sammy's teacher had a point. "Okay, how 'bout this: there's a frozen pizza in the back of the freezer I've been savin', we could eat that. I'll make popcorn, too, and we'll watch a movie. There's one on I've been dyin' to see. It's called Die Hard and it looks totally awesome—lots of explosions 'n stuff when he takes down the bad guys. Really, you're prob'ly too young to see it…" Dean baited the hook.

"Deeean!" Sammy whined, right on cue.

"…but I guess it wouldn't hurt just this once, since it's a special occasion," Dean allowed graciously.

Sammy looked excited at this venture into pre-teen territory. "An' we can stay up till after midnight?" he pressed. Dean and his dad never let him stay up that late normally.

Staying up all night really wasn't that big a deal to Dean, he did it all the time—watching over Sammy when he was sick, waiting for their dad to get home so he could make sure he was okay. But it would be a big deal to Sammy, who'd never been up that late before. Dean hesitated for a minute, like he was giving it serious thought. He wanted the kid to feel like he was winning something big. "Okay, you can stay up to see the New Year in. But only cuz it's a holiday." He pointed a stern finger in Sam's direction.

Sammy beamed like a lit-up light bulb. "Yay! This'll be the best New Year's Eve ever. And we'll do it every year—no matter what—right, Dean?" He looked to his older brother for reassurance.

"Right, squirt."

And so New Year's Eve found them sitting together on the old battered couch in their rundown apartment, eating frozen pizza and sharing popcorn and watching Die Hard, which neither of them had seen before. It was even more exciting than Dean had imagined, and he and Sammy had a great time talking about how they'd take down the bad guys if it was them in that building, and making various shooting and explosion noises to go along with John McClane's escapades.

It was nearly midnight and Sammy, who'd started to get tired, had settled in close to his big brother's side. The movie was nearly over, all the bad guys dispatched and McClane making goo-goo eyes at his wife, when Dean looked at his watch to see it was one minute to midnight. He turned to tell Sammy to get ready for the New Year, and found his brother sleeping peacefully against his shoulder, soft snores escaping him.

So Dean just sat, watching the credits roll as the New Year ushered the old one out, the weight of his kid brother warming his side, and the companionship of the evening warming his heart. He wished their dad was there, but if this was how the rest of the year went? Yeah, he'd take it.


New Year's Eve, 2005

Sam looked up in surprise when Dean came into the motel room, carrying what looked like a pizza box in one hand. "Hey, what are you doing back so early? It's New Year's Eve, man. Thought you'd be out partying."

"Nah." Dean set the box in his hand down so he could shrug off his jacket carelessly, not clarifying.

Sam just stared at him, perplexed. "Seriously, Dean, what's going on? Couldn't find any hot chicks to hit on?" Sam teased.

"Dude. There are always hot chicks to hit on." Dean gave him a reprimanding look, as if Sam really should know better. "As a matter of fact," he continued smugly, "a hot little blonde did invite me back to her place."

"And?" Sam prompted.

"And, what? Told her I had plans with my kid brother." Dean shrugged. "Just felt like comin' back here. Thought we could do somethin'—eat some pizza, watch some Die Hard movies—y'know." He tried to act nonchalant, like he hadn't been looking forward to this all week. "Picked up some microwave popcorn at the last gas station we stopped at. I could pop us some," he offered, turning to dig in his jacket pocket for the small packet. He emerged triumphant a few moments later and happily went over to the microwave in the corner to put the bag in.

Something about this scenario niggled at the back of Sam's mind. It seemed…familiar. Sitting in a rundown room with his big brother on New Year's Eve, watching action movies and eating pizza and popcorn…

No matter where we are, Sammy. Promise.

The voice seemed to float to Sam on a current of memory, bringing with it the recollection of a promise made long ago and flashes of countless holidays spent just like this. He'd forgotten—with all of their years apart, and the recent events of his life taking precedence in his mind, he'd forgotten about that promise made so many years ago. But Dean hadn't. Dean never forgot when it mattered.

Sam snorted softly, thinking of the child he'd been, grasping at any thread of stability, for anything in his world that would be constant. He hadn't realized that he'd already had something constant, and that it was way better than any holiday tradition, far outweighed living in the same house year after year—he had his big brother. Dean would always be there for him, he'd proven that over and over. Sam had his brother's love, and his brother always had his back. What else was there?

When he'd been at Stanford, Sam had actually gotten the chance to have his "normal" New Year's Eve, spent just like everyone else—watching the ball drop, partying, kissing someone at midnight. And it had been…disappointing. Empty. Spending it with Jess had been good, but in the end, the ball was just a ball—boring, just like Dean had said it would be. And Sam had missed his brother fiercely on those occasions, wanting nothing more than to hole up in a crappy motel room and watch action movies while eating less-than-mediocre pizza. Wanting something that he couldn't quite define, but which seemed to perpetually elude him.

"Sounds good, Dean," Sam replied, meaning it. He put away his laptop, putting his search for their dad, the quest for Jess's killer, and all of his brooding aside for the rest of the night. They didn't get enough chances just to hang out and be brothers, and that was what the Winchester New Year's Eve Tradition had always been about. "After all, we've got a tradition to uphold," he returned lightly, smiling a genuine smile for the first time in days. Maybe for the first time since Jess had died.

But then Sam frowned as a thought occurred to him. "Wait, do we even know if Die Hard's on?"

"Dude." Dean looked at him as though he had just suggested they paint the Impala pink. "It's Die Hard—the greatest action movie ever made. It's always on somewhere." And just in case it wasn't, Dean had a DVD stashed in the bottom of his duffel. But no need to mention that to Sammy. Kid needed to learn to have a little faith.

Conceding that Dean had a point, Sam grabbed the remote and started searching through the channels. He found the right station while Dean popped the popcorn, then they both dug into the large, gooey pizza Dean had brought with him. It was still hot, and surprisingly good. When they were done eating, they settled against the headboard of one of the broken-down beds to watch the rest of the movie, shoulder-to-shoulder.

And if, before the end, Sam fell asleep, his head lolling onto Dean's shoulder, and slept without nightmares of Jess burning on the ceiling for the first time in nearly two months, well, that was just the Winchester New Year's Eve Tradition working its magic.

Dean sighed in satisfaction and munched another handful of popcorn while he watched the credits roll.