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Which Usually Comes After

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It's not like Sam notices every week. Not even most weeks. Not for years. It's been so long (four-hundred-seventy-eight Wednesdays, which usually come after Tuesdays, always have, ever since) that he doesn't even remember all the lyrics to that stupid fucking song (though he still changes the station, whenever Asia comes up on the radio.)

But occasionally, a couple of times a year, he'll wake up on Tuesday morning with a knot in his stomach. A lump of ice in his gut that the hottest coffee can't melt, or the strongest whiskey. That doesn't go away until the clock ticks over to midnight.

If Dean notices, those occasional days that Sam stands a little closer, is a little more likely to suggest they need more research on a case and should maybe spend the day in a library, a little quicker to draw his gun if they do go hunting—he's never said anything about it.

This Tuesday isn't one of those. Possibly because Sam never actually wakes up on it. Since Cas disappeared with Kelly they've been buried in non-stop research, Sam trying to figure out how to track a nephilim's grace while Dean goes through traffic cams and crime reports and whatever else he can think of. So it's Monday evening, and then the next time Sam looks at his watch it's past 4 AM, which means he should go put on another pot of coffee.

He doesn't register the day or the date until late that evening, when his phone buzzes with a call. From Mom, the first they've heard from her in days, and Sam grabs it, asking, "Hi, Mom? What is it? Anything wrong?"

"Sorry it's so late," Mom says, "we were hunting a pair of wraiths, I lost track of time."

Above his laptop screen, Dean raises inquiring eyebrows; Sam shrugs, shakes his head to the silent question as he says into his phone, "That's okay, what did you want to talk about? Do you have any leads on Kelly, or...?"

"No, sorry, nothing," Mom says, "but we have been lookingI wanted to come in person, but it's been so busy"

"Come for what?"

His mother pauses a second, then says, "For your birthday? I was going to ask what you were going to do to celebrate, but then"

"My—?" Sam reaches for his tablet, squints down at the corner clock. Tuesday, May 2, 2017. "My birthday, right, of course."

Across the library table, Dean sits up straight, a jerk like he's been hit with an electric shock.

Sam shoots him a puzzled frown, but then Mom starts to apologize, so he cuts her off, "No, don't worry, actually we didn't plan anything, so..."

Dean pushes back his chair, strides out of the library with such purpose that Sam reaches across the table to snag Dean's laptop and turn it around. But it's just processing search strings and completing a hack of Wyoming's traffic database, nothing obvious.

Sam chats for a few minutes with his mother—that has yet to stop being surreal, if not in a bad way. But when she signs off with a, "Happy birthday, Sam, I love you," and he says, "Thanks, Mom, me, too," it's like he's fifteen years younger, at Stanford, listening to his roommate's completely, painfully normal conversations back home and not sure if he's jealous or just astonished, that it could be that simple for anybody.

Dean's not back from wherever when Sam hangs up. He didn't hear the door to the garage, so his brother must still be around. It's past ten; maybe Dean just went to bed. After the previous all-nighter Sam's eyes are feeling pretty gritty himself. But it's fine; he blinks them clear and goes back to the demon-angel energy parallels treatise scanned and uploaded onto his tablet.

Except the date is glowing silently in the corner of the screen. Where it's been all day and he hadn't noticed. But now it's there, Tuesday, and Dean is—is in the bunker, one of the most magically safeguarded places on the planet, even from asshole archangels who are long dead anyway. Sam's got way too many things to actually worry about now; he's freaking thirty-four years old, and that was four-hundred-seventy-nine Tuesdays ago, that's long enough—

But when he glances down at the corner of the screen, it's only 10:13 PM; still Tuesday, for another hour and forty-seven minutes, and Sam drops the tablet and shoves up out of his chair.

The pit in his stomach doesn't settle but at least slackens, when he hears the clatter from the kitchen. No running water, so Dean's not doing dishes. Maybe he's grabbing a snack, or more likely a drink—he hasn't had much besides beer since Cas ditched them, with all they've had to do; but Sam's been expecting Dean to take a night off, sooner or later. And that he can do something about, offer water and Advil if nothing else, or else join his brother for a few rounds.

He's almost looking forward to it, in a resigned way, such that when he walks into the kitchen and sees what's actually on the counter, it takes him a few seconds of open-mouthed blinking to process. "Uh, Dean?"

"Yeah?" Dean says, not looking up from the little brown bottle he's measuring out of, into one of the silver teaspoons they use for preparing spell ingredients.

"When did we get a stand mixer?"

"Last summer. Ordered it off Amazon," Dean says, and dumps the vanilla into the mixer's bowl, already full and busy blending batter.

Sam frowns down into the bowl, then across the counter, trying to make sense of the ingredients scattered there, flour, brown sugar, oats—"What are you doing?"

Dean rolls his eyes. "I dunno, changing a flat tire? What does it look like I'm doing?"

"It looks like you've been possessed by the ghost of Martha Stewart."

"The bunker's warded against outside spirits. 'Sides, she's still alive, last I checked," Dean says. He picks up his phone off the counter, pages through the text note there and turns to the cabinet. "Chocolate, not raisins, right?"


"You don't like raisins in your baked goods, right?"

"Yeah," Sam confirms, then watches in slightly nervous silence as Dean shakes out a couple cups of chocolate chips from a bulk-sized bag and dumps them into the mixing bowl. "Uh, Dean...why are you making oatmeal cookies?"

"Because it's too late to do a cake," Dean says, "and anyway you never were much for frosting, because you're crazy."

It's true, when they were little, Sam used to scrape off most of the frosting on cupcakes and give it to Dean. Dean would give him the cakey bottom of his cupcakes in return, so it had been a satisfying trade on both sides.

And oatmeal cookies are Sam's favorite. Especially with the cinnamon and nutmeg he can see on the counter behind the flour. Still. "Dude, why are you making me cookies in the middle of the night?"

"First of all, it's not—" Dean checks his watch, "even eleven yet, so it still counts as evening." He turns back to the cabinet. "And second, because I forgot to make them last night. Or a cake, or—dammit!"

Sam starts. "What?"

"We're out of walnuts! Oh, wait—shit, no, these are pecans." Dean shoves the offending bag back on the shelf, shakes his head and reaches into his pocket for his keys. "Okay, I gotta make a run—the supermarket down the street should still be open, it's a Tuesday night—"

"Dean!" Sam moves to block Dean's way to the door. His brother frowns up at him as Sam tries to school the blind panic making his heartrate double, into something more expected, like amusement, or exasperation. "It's—we don't need walnuts in the middle of the night."

"Evening. And you do if you're making oatmeal cookies for weirdos who like their nuts," Dean says, mouth quirking in a teasing grin, trying too hard, but only a little. "I'll be back in twenty minutes, the batter will be fine—"

"Dean, you don't—I don't care about nuts," and Dean's eyebrows go up like they do when he's trying to find the dumbest way to point out innuendo, but Sam's mouth is still dry, even if his heart is slowing, just thumping instead of pounding against his ribs. "The cookies will be fine, I don't need to go out. Not today."

Dean rocks back on his heels. "Okay," he says, blinking up at Sam's face; and sees something there that makes his own brow clear. "Okay," he repeats, more softly, "sure, Sammy." Then the edge of a smirk. "Anyway, you're the one who's gotta go nutless."

Which innuendo even Sam can see, but fortunately it doesn't require more than a grimace, which is all he's up for.

Dean goes back to his mixer, evaluates the churning of the chips into the batter and then gets out two baking sheets that Sam also has no idea where they came from, but they look too shiny and modern to be from the original facilities. He apparently needs to take a more thorough inventory of the kitchen.

He watches in bemusement as Dean starts portioning spoonfuls of batter onto the sheets. Waits until he's filled one and put it in the preheated oven before he finally asks, "Dude, seriously. When did you start trying out for the Great British Bake Off?"

Dean checks baking times on the recipe on his phone, sets his alarm and starts preparing the next tray. He's halfway through it before he finally says, "Mom—when Mom was back. The first couple of...before she left. I was thinking we could do, you know, all of it. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, all that." He shrugs, shoulders bent over the cookie sheet. "And then, it didn't work out like that, whatever, shit happens."

Thanksgiving Sam's not sure about; what were they doing in November? But then Christmas, and Dean's birthday after that—Sam didn't know when either had happened; he hadn't been bothering to keep track of the days in that place, when he knew it would just make them seem longer. And by the time they escaped—Dean was another year older but they were both still alive, and that's what counted.

"So now you're making me birthday cookies," Sam says. "Instead of cake."

Dean shrugs again. "Yup." He finishes doling out the last of the batter, checks the time on his watch again. "Once they've cooled off enough, you still should have time to eat them. And there's milk. Or Bailey's, whatever you want."

The carton of milk is one percent, not whole, and Dean only curls his lip a little when Sam pours him a glass. Though Dean was the last one to pick up groceries, so he knew what was coming.

They sit at the kitchen table and clink glasses before they start dunking the cookies, which are still warm enough to crumble in the cold milk. Sam eats five, fishing broken pieces out of his milk with his fingers.

Dean keeps checking his watch as they sit and talk. At a minute to midnight he gets up, pours them both a finger of the good Scotch they keep on the back shelf and raises his tumbler to Sam. "Happy birthday, little brother."

The whiskey is so smooth that Sam doesn't even remember to hold his breath, while Dean looks down at his watch, watching 12:00 AM click over to 12:01. "And happy Wednesday," he adds.

"Which usually comes after Tuesday," Sam says, and smiles as he watches Dean drink, tired and dusted with flour and breathing and alive, through one more day.