Disclaimer: Not mine, not ever.
Pairing: Sam and Dean (Gen)
Summary: Dean’s birthday is coming, and that’s a challenge beyond witches or warlocks.
Author’s Notes: Originally written for 60_minute_fics (“Birthday” prompt). This updated version has Dean’s birthday moved to the month canon tells us it's probably in (thanks to silvarafire/delfeather for that info). Though he still seems like a Leo to me...
The snow-filled fields of Illinois roll out to the horizon as the Impala roars through the still morning air.
Sunlight flashes in through the windshield and a billboard looms up in the distance. “NHL All-Stars’ Game, United Center January 20” it reads, a testament to another big event they’ll never see.
Sam looks over at Dean, who sits silently beside him. Dean is watching the road pensively, one hand on the wheel and the other pulling at his lower lip. He avoids looking at Sam, confirming what Sam has already guessed.
Dean’s birthday is in January. And for years, it has made him moody.
Their birthdays were hit-and-miss as children. Some years John would surprise them with a cake from the store, with balloons and ice cream and presents. Once they’d even gone roller-skating with Sam’s best friend. But other times, the day might come and go without fanfare. An offhand acknowledgement, a promise to make it up to them. And there was no way to fix the birthday Dean spent in the hospital. He was twelve years old, with a blood infection from a werewolf’s claws. John and Sam had huddled together against Dean’s bed, watching his pale, feverish face and wondering if he’d live to see thirteen.
Only the Winchesters could turn birthdays into mine fields. The rules were indecipherable, like some forgotten military code. Overemphasizing its importance brought down disapproval. Forgetting was acceptable-- or unforgivable-- depending on the prevailing winds. After leaving home, Sam was relieved to find that other people generally enjoyed their birthdays, and that he no longer had to watch for clues in the weeks leading up to the date to decide whether to acknowledge the event or not, whether to find a gift or just grunt out some kind of greeting.
It’s not looking promising for Dean’s birthday just now. But it doesn’t take long before Sam thinks, Oh what the hell. Dad’s not here, and Dean flip-flops on a daily basis between feeling unappreciated to rejecting Sam’s every show of kindness. Sam thinks the secret message probably lies in the first part, and the worst that can happen is that Dean makes fun of him or evades Sam’s efforts at giving him what he wants. In Sam’s opinion, Dean needs to get over all that really soon before Sam personally kicks his butt. So they might as well start somewhere.
Living on the road means daily hassles and unpredictable offerings. It means deathly dull hours spent in Laundromats and using a toiletry bag instead of a toothbrush holder.
In Sam’s case, it also means going day in and day out with the same person always in your orbit, to the point where getting ahold of extra money and then secretly shopping for a present becomes a stealth operation worthy of the C.I.A.
Dean doesn’t know that Sam has ways of earning money too, that research is not the only thing he does in libraries or student unions. Sam does on-the-spot tutoring and editing— helping college kids with their papers and essays, organizing outlines and reshaping aimless, bloated prose. For twenty dollars a pop (more in the upper-end neighborhoods), Sam makes students feel like geniuses by drawing out their knowledge and showing them how to use it.
They’re headed to Madison right now, and Sam’s already planning how to stretch his “alone time” to make all this work. He’ll be hanging out in a lot of coffee shops soon, and will probably revisit The Age Of Enlightenment or Postmodern Deconstructionism more times than his stomach can tolerate.
In Louisville, there’s a pawnshop on the East side of the main drag. Sam stops off on his way to do laundry while Dean tinkers with the car. There are only a few days left before Dean’s birthday, and Sam’s been racking his brains for ideas since the Martin Luther King Day parade they saw in Kansas City.
His eyes pass over guitars hanging from the ceiling, they mull over the knives in locked cases against one wall and the secured guns against the other.
It’s not until he stumbles across a low shelf to the left of the cash register that Sam notices the red airplane and the control set lying beside it.
“Is this a remote-control plane?” he asks.
“Yep,” says the stringy-haired proprietor. “And it works.”
Thirty dollars later, Sam clutches his prize in a brown grocery bag. He only hopes Dean takes it in the spirit in which it is given.
This airplane is the childhood Dean never got to finish.
It’s a gift that tells everything Sam isn’t allowed to say.
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