Observance

"I was thinking…"

Dangerous words, particularly when coming from Sam. Particularly right now. Dean rubs his eyebrow and anticipates the worst. "Yeah?"

"I was thinking we oughta do Christmas again this year."

Okay, didn't actually see that one coming, but he maybe should have. Things have been heavy between them lately, emotionally, what with all the lying and withholding information about what one may or may not remember of Hell and/or being bestest friends with a skanky demon BITCH, and Dean knows what Sam's trying to do. And no matter what his little brother has done recently, the sneaking around behind Dean's back, the lying and otherwise shady behavior…his slate is as good as wiped clean when he gets this look. Despite the hell they've been through, both literally and figuratively, all Dean sees is a lonely little boy staring at snow falling outside the window of another dark, dirty diner in a forgettable city during a really rough patch, and it makes everything about being alive harder.

Should've laid rubber for the west coast. Sunshine never depresses anyone. It's the snow that's got Sam thinking this way. The snow and the lights strung up in the diner. Dean's pretty sure they're tacky decoration and not specifically for Christmas, since that's still more than a month away, but with the snow to go along with them, the damage has been done. They've gotten the hamster wheel in Sam's giant head spinning.

"Do Christmas?" he asks, playing dumb, buying time. He doesn't look up from the stack of local newspapers he's scanning for a whiff of a hunt, feeling physically sick at the thought of having this conversation. They've been in some kind of unspoken competition for who's the best at pretending everything is fine and normal ever since Dean opened up about Hell, and right now it's a draw. He'd hate to be the one to bring reality back into play, but nothing good can come from this train of thought.

"Yeah. You know, have one. The past couple months haven't exactly been easy." Sam chuckles, a harsh, hollow sound. "Obviously. We should celebrate like we did last year. Nog, gifts, watch a game or something. Make a tradition of it."

Dean doesn't really classify anything that happened last year as a celebration. Serves him right for giving Sam that Christmas. It had been HIS dumbass idea, though, born from a bout of nostalgia because he'd been under the impression it was going to be his last Christmas and he was going to be DEAD, gone to Hell in a one-way ticket kind of way. If he'd known he was going to be topside before the close of the calendar year he wouldn't have made such a teary-eyed spectacle of himself. Probably. Anyway, now here he is, very much NOT dead, and Sam wants to make a tradition.

But Dean can't picture the two of them taking the night off and splitting a bowl of Sammy's Special Nog this winter. There's nothing to celebrate, no light-heartedness or holiday spirit. His eyes are without light, his laughter without humor, his life without any meaning that makes sense to him. There's nightmares and blood and darkness; that's Dean's life now and Sam needs to be exactly ZERO part of what's going on inside his head. Besides, if Sammy has his way it won't even BE just the two of them; he and Ruby are practically joined at the hip. Or other parts. Sam has put a black-eyed stain on every aspect of their lives, allowing her to live. Worse than allowing it, DEMANDING it.

Despite all of this, Dean doesn't know how NOT to give Sammy what he wants. He's never known, and he's not nearly as strong as he used to be. He wants to bolt, wants out of this conversation, out of this booth, out of this town and this snowstorm. He swallows roughly and tries to joke his way out of what is becoming an uncomfortably long silence. "You're gonna have me celebrating President's Day next."

"President's Day isn't actually a holiday. It's George Washington's birthday." Sam plays nonchalantly with the corner of his napkin, silverware jostling and clinking together. Might as well be a gong to Dean's ears. "And I don't think anyone CELEBRATES it. They observe it."

He doesn't mean it as an insult, probably, but he might as well wear that friggin' diploma on a chain around his neck. Like Dean will ever forget Sam's time as Stanford.

Dean looks out the window, rubbing his still-sore shoulder, trying to see what Sam sees in the snow gathering on the windowsill, but seeing only the inevitable water spots on the Impala after the flakes melt. "Yeah, I dunno."

"Come on, Dean. It's Christmas."

Like that means anything. "Then I get to pick a holiday, too," he says, like reading his lines from a cue card. "Something good. Mardi Gras or Superbowl Sunday. St. Patrick's Day." Defenses are a go.

Sam releases the napkin and crosses his arms. "Forget it."

"Come on, you started this. We'll CELEBRATE Christmas, then I'll OBSERVE St. Patrick's Day, and you can OBSERVE me drinking all the green beer I want."

"Green beer. That's all you want?"

"Hey, St. Patty's Day rules. I don't make them, I just OBSERVE them."

Sam rolls his eyes, sniffs. "You know it's not, like, GREEN beer. You know that, right? It's food coloring. Give me three bucks and I'll stop at any grocery store in the country and you can have green beer anytime you want. You can have any color."

Dean looks up from the paper. "Do you HAVE to ruin everything? You got a quarterly buzzkill quota or what?"

They're on thin ice as it is, and from the suddenly pitiful look on Sam's face Dean can tell he's gone too far, which really isn't fair because now Sammy's even managing to buzzkill Dean giving him shit for being a buzzkill. But they each have their conversational weapons and guilt is exclusively Sam's. He shakes his head. "I'm sorry, man. I'm just tired. I didn't mean it."

Sam's eyebrows detangle into two separate entities as his face relaxes from sour lemon mode. "No, I get it. It's cool. No worries." He glances at the kitchen and sips from his glass of iced tea. ICED TEA. "So what should we do for Christmas, do you think? Not nearly become human sacrifices again, obviously."

He's getting rambly, annoying in a way that makes Dean wish he could forget everything he's been through and everything he knows and times were really as happy-go-lucky as Sam's playing at. He's regretting his choice of black coffee to go with dinner. Which he ordered out of guilt, of course, because of Sam's oh-so-discrete near-lung-hack when he dared to touch the drink menu. That's NOT a conversation that's on the table right now. He was in HELL, Jesus, can't he have a beer or two or twelve when he wants it? Nope, not even with a pretty painful recently dislocated shoulder. Not even a green one to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Because every drink comes with a subtext to Sammy, and he's always looking to turn the subtext into very wordy text.

"Why don't you want to do this?"

Dean's not having a streak of luck when it comes to getting what he DOES want. He'd settle for their friggin' DINNER, but the waitress is nowhere to be seen. He squirms in his seat. "Sam, you say you want to celebrate but that's not how things will go down. It'll be all depressing and I can't go through that again."

"Dean – "

"I know you, Sammy. Even when you're hiding things from me. I know how you think and how you get."

"But last year…"

"Special circumstances, man. You really want to be treating every holiday and milestone all year, every year, like it's going to be our last?"

Sam's getting huffy. Rolling his eyes, puffing up his chest, but he doesn't deny what Dean's saying. "It's not like anyone knows which day will be their last, and that's something we tend to have to worry about more than your average Joe."

"You're just thinking about this apocalypse the angels say is coming," Dean continues. "I'm not going to let you turn every opportunity you see into some kind of one last hurrah. You wanna go out and have some fun every now and then, I'm game. The way things are shaping up, we're gonna need it. What I don't want to do is schedule days to be miserable every year. Hell, that's most days, as it is."

Sam lets out a long breath and uncrosses his arms. "You want green beer."

Dean lifts a shoulder. "Damn right, I want green beer. And so should you."

Their meals finally arrive at the table, and they eat in silence a solid ten minutes. Dean spends the time forcing himself to take his normal giant bites from his cheeseburger despite his sudden loss of appetite and wondering if he just did his own buzzkill all over the dynamic he's been trying to find all over again with his baby brother, something much more important than eating or sleeping.

"You're right, I guess." Sam twirls his fork in the middle of the pile of lettuce he calls a substantial meal. "And I guess a green beer every now and then never killed anyone."

"Probably," Dean says with his mouth full, since Sam seems so keen on keeping with tradition.

Sam grimaces and then sighs, resigned. "Yeah, probably," he says with a smile.

Dean washes down the bite of burger with a swallow of lukewarm coffee, and regards the dark liquid in the mug.

"There's really no such thing as green beer?"


Author Note: This was originally supposed to be funny. I've been thinking over the past couple of months that I'm not writing too much funny anymore, and while having a green beer with some friends on St Patrick's Day the bunny started nibbling. And then once I was writing, the funny started getting sucked out, little by little. But, I will continue to work on finding the funny again. PS. Working on a big'un, maybe halfway done, won't post anything until I'm done, or at least have the last bit that's giving me trouble outlined. I've made the WIP posting mistake before, and won't do that again.