Summary: Months after Dean's return from Purgatory, Sam and Dean are still figuring themselves out.
A/N: Slightly ahead of current canon (no spoilers because I don't really know what happens!) Slightly angsty birthday fic written for my darling cha. Happy birthday, bb! <3 Title from a song by Save Ferris.
The road stretches long and infinite under the wheels of the Impala, the silence inside the car broken only by the occasional rustle as they shift position or the click of the turn signal as Dean changes lanes to pass cars going slower than they are. They aren’t speaking, but they aren’t not speaking either, and Sam reminds himself to be content with even that small improvement in their relationship.
And it is an improvement. During the months that have passed since Dean’s miraculous return from Purgatory (and Sam’s stopped feeling stupid when he thinks this; after both of them spending decades in Hell, thoughts of Purgatory shouldn’t even make him blink) they’ve progressed from suspicion, to betrayal, to resignation, to indifference, and only now are onto this tentative kind of détente. It’s like some kind of fucked up Five Stages of Grief deal, except the only thing that died is their easy and unquestioning love for each other.
But it’s getting better now. With Benny and Amelia permanent footnotes in their collective memoirs, the bitterness and – Sam can admit it now – jealousy are starting to fade and the awful tension is starting to dissipate. Dean even made a joke yesterday. Sam was so surprised, he almost forgot to respond until the half-smile started slipping off Dean’s face, but Sam thinks he managed to come up with something appropriate in the end. Dean seemed to appreciate the effort, anyway, slapping Sam on the back before walking away.
So now they’re a hundred miles outside of Forks, Washington, on their way to kill a vampire. It’s completely absurd, and in the good old days this would have inspired no end of bad Twilight jokes from Dean. Sam isn’t sure if he’s more relieved or sad that there are none, but he suspects it’s the latter. As they approach Port Angeles Dean starts getting restless, jiggling his left foot up and down and Sam wonders if he has to pee or something. His lips quirk at the thought.
“What?” says Dean, and Sam is surprised that his brother is still so attuned to him that he caught even that small shift in expression.
“What’s got you so jumpy?” Sam asks, no derision in his voice, just amused curiosity. Luckily Dean takes it at face value and he doesn’t jump all over Sam for asking, just flushes a little and scrubs the back of his neck with his hand, looking adorably like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. Charmed, Sam can’t stop staring.
“I, uh, thought maybe we might stop in Port Angeles for the night. Rest up before we go after the bloodsucker, maybe get some food.”
At least some things never change. Dean and his insatiable appetite are one of the few constants in Sam’s life, so he gratefully nods his head.
“No problem,” he says amiably. “I could eat, myself.” Dean looks more relieved than he should, and Sam wonders if he expected some kind of argument.
Sam’s easy acceptance seems to relax Dean, and he even flicks on the radio and hums along to Bon Jovi, casting a look out of the corner of his eye at Sam and grinning when he sees Sam’s smirk. Just like old times.
When Dean pulls up at a restaurant in Port Angeles, Sam barely restrains his exclamation of surprise. It doesn’t have “Fast Food” or “Take Out” anywhere on the sign, for one, and the name is French. Sam wasn’t aware Dean knew French restaurants existed, let alone that he’d ever eat at one.
Dean must feel Sam staring at him, but all he says is “I hear the steaks are good.”
It turns out Dean is right, and the bite of steak he shares with Sam would have Sam jealous if his own salmon weren’t so delicious. It’s not often they get something that doesn’t come out of a cardboard carton, and Sam savors every bite like it’s going to be his last – in his line of work you just never know.
Conversation starts off slow but Dean sticks to general topics and they both loosen up after a few glasses of the wine that the restaurant owner recommends for them, and after a while Sam feels more comfortable than he has at any moment since Dean’s latest reappearance in his life.
At the end of the meal the server comes out carrying a huge slice of chocolate ganache cake and sets it in front of Sam with a flourish.
“I didn’t-“ he begins but Dean kicks him lightly under the table and he shuts up.
“Thanks,” Dean nods, and the server disappears silently. Dean looks at Sam for a while, and when Sam makes no move to eat he says impatiently, “Come on, Sam, chocolate’s your favorite, right?”
“Well, yeah, Dean, but…what is this?” Sam asks, bewildered.
“It’s cake, Sam. Don’t you know what today is?” Dean looks exasperated.
Of course Sam knows what today is. It’s May 2nd. A Thursday. His birthday. Not that he really knows how old he’s supposed to be at this point – he spent so much time in Hell that even though his days on Earth make him technically thirty years old, most days he feels a hell of a lot older. May 2nd is also the day Dean died – the first time – though Sam tries never to think about that and he’s pretty sure that’s not what Dean’s referring to. So what does it matter? But then Sam thinks back over the evening: Dean’s nervousness, the fancy French restaurant, the cake.
“Dean, is this – is this birthday cake?” Sam finally asks, incredulous. They have never done this. Aside from a couple times Dad tossed a pack of Ding Dongs in his lap, they’ve never really celebrated Sam’s birthday. To be fair, they’ve never really celebrated Dean’s either - it’s just not something Winchesters do. Only once – and Sam pushes the thought away, locks it away tight with his other memories of Amelia. Those days are over, and it’s for the best, really. Sam is where he belongs, even though most days it’s not the most comfortable place to be.
“Forget it, it’s stupid,” Dean says, flustered at Sam’s surprised reaction. “I’ll get the bill.” He makes as if to stand, and Sam’s hand shoots out preternaturally fast, gripping Dean’s wrist. Dean stills, and he settles back into his chair, waiting for Sam to speak.
“Dean. Why” And Sam wants to know the answer so bad he aches with it.
“Because you deserve it. Because it’s just you and me, probably always will be, so the way I figure it, it’s my job to try to make you happy. Because you like chocolate, dammit, so just eat the stupid thing, would ya?” That’s probably more of a chick-flick moment than Dean can handle, and Sam takes mercy on him. It’s more than he ever thought he’d get again, honestly, after the bitterness and jealousy of the last year.
“Thanks, Dean. Really. You want some?” he offers finally, holding out a forkful and the look of relief on Dean’s face tells Sam he said just the right thing.
“Damn right, bitch.” Dean grins, easy now that the pressure’s off, and leans forward to take the bite of cake off Sam’s fork. Sam forces his gaze not to linger on Dean’s lips as he licks the crumbs off. Now’s not the right time. He doesn’t know if the time will ever be right again, but after tonight he’s at least got reason to hope.
His mind drifts again to his last birthday, and this time he doesn’t immediately shove the thought away. That birthday was sweet, easy and perfect as any romantic dream. This one is slightly awkward, definitely not easy, and Sam can’t mistake it for anything but his reality. But he’s with Dean, where he’s always belonged, and it’s the best birthday he’s had so far.