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Surface Tension

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chapter 1

Surface tension—noun: the force that causes the molecules on the surface of a liquid to be pushed together and form a layer.

–Merriam-Webster Dictionary

 

It’s exactly two weeks past Sam’s fifteenth birthday, and the start of an unusually hot summer is already in full swing. School had ended for the year with a shrill bell signaling early release at lunch, and since then, Sam has spent the afternoon with his soccer team—the Centennial Bulldogs—playing one final pickup game before they leave behind the long days of classes for three months of vacation.

Living in the northern district of Las Vegas long enough to make the varsity team (even though he’s only a freshman) has made Sam feel like he fits in for once. That he has something more to his name than being the new kid. Sam likes feeling normal, despite the fact that his brother’s always telling him that normal is for boring people who can’t handle the truth. People who aren’t Sam and Dean Winchester.

The sound of squealing tires cuts sharply through the air, bringing the car of Sam’s childhood—the Impala—into the parking lot at exactly 5 P.M.

“Hey guys,” Sam yells, slightly out of breath, “I gotta go, my brother’s here.”

One of his teammates, a blonde all-American looking boy named Danny shoves him. “Big brother’s always got you on a tight leash, huh?”

Those kind of statements always rile Sam up, make him want to defend Dean until the offender goes down bloody and unable to speak. It takes all of his willpower to resist clocking Danny in the face. It’s not worth it, Sam tells himself.

“Actually, we’re heading out for a road trip. And I still have to pack, so…”

“Yeah, yeah. Just make sure you’re back in time for cross-country in fall, Winchester. With legs like yours we’re totally winning state.”

“Of course,” he answers non-committedly, not wanting to disclose that he’s got a better chance of winning the lottery than of being here when school starts back up in the fall. Hell, if he’s unlucky they won’t even be here through the weekend.

Jogging down the field Sam dribbles the ball, making one last goal before heading off the grass. After he hits the edge of the pavement, Sam strips the cleats and sweaty socks from his feet, trading them for a pair of flip flops that he stashed in his backpack before he left home in the morning. He takes off his shirt as an afterthought, baring his tanned torso for Dean to take in; his brother can’t tan to save his life. Dean burns on repeat.

“Hey,” Sam says, giving his brother a small smile. Even on his worst days he can scrounge up a little bit extra of himself for his brother. It’s always worth the effort to see his smile echoed on Dean’s face.

“Hey, kid. How was your last day of school? Ace all your finals this year?”

Dean’s leaning against the car, full jeans and a tee-shirt covering his body even though the temperature’s hovering near a hundred. Sam readjusts himself subtly. Over the last two years or so he’s gotten used to the way his body reacts to Dean’s. How it screams for Sam to lean in close and press his lips against his brother’s. Rationally, Sam’s brain knows that incest is wrong, but ever since his hormones kicked into overdrive, his body’s taken control. And it wants Dean. Bad.

“Sammy?” Dean asks, “You with me here?”

“Sorry. Spacing out I guess. Yeah. School was fine. Everyone’s glad to be done.”

“Let me guess, everyone but you?”

Sam shrugs. “Means we’ll probably be moving sooner rather than later.”

“Yeah. Probably,” Dean responds passively.

Sam hasn’t asked their dad when the next time they’re splitting town is. Dad, of course hasn’t offered any information either. Avoiding family time in general has been their father’s main tactic since Sam turned thirteen and learned he had a knack for making Dad livid.

“We ready to go?” he asks Dean, who’s staring at Sam with an unusual look on his face. One that Sam can’t quite place. It makes Sam want to take his brother apart piece by piece until Dean lets him in and tells him what he’s thinking. For now, Sam catalogs the look and lets it go.

“Just waiting for your slow ass. I brought back pancakes for you. They’re in the fridge for when we get home.”

Ugh. Pancakes. Ever since Dean got a minimum wage job working at the IHOP kitchen, all they’ve been eating—Dad included—is pancakes, French toast, and waffles. Sam learned the hard way that biscuits and gravy don’t keep well.

Sam groans as he squeezes his long body into the passenger seat of the Impala. His muscles burn with the strain of having run for almost ninety-minutes straight, and maybe tonight, if he smiles until his dimples pop and he compliments Dean, his brother will massage the strain out of them.

“Got plans for the afternoon?” Deans asks. It’s the same question that Dean asks him every day after school. Predictability and Dean are practically synonymous.

“Shower.”

“Good idea. You reek.”

His hand connects with Dean’s shoulder as he shoves him to the side, making the car swerve on the empty road.

“Fuck you, Dean.”

“You wish.”

It’s meant to be a joke. Something to lighten the mood. The thing is, Sam really does want to fuck Dean. Silence hangs awkwardly in the air when he doesn’t laugh.

“You’re an asshole,” he says, angling his body away from his brother’s. Houses blur by until they finally pull into the driveway of a rickety, one story house.

“Hm, looks like Dad’s home,” Dean observes as they get out of the car. “Maybe he brought something for dinner.”

“If you count a new six pack of Pabst as food,” Sam snarks, even though he can’t help but hope for something else to eat besides breakfast leftovers.

“Dude. Chill it.” Dean always protects Dad, even though he fights tooth and nail for Sam. It makes Sam’s insides bubble with anger that he has to share Dean’s loyalty. Someday, Sam tells himself, Dean’s devotion will be reserved for only him.

Although he’s still seething, Sam secretly hopes that Dad might have remembered by now that he’d forgotten Sam’s birthday the Wednesday before last. Of course, hoping only ruins reality.

He knows that something’s wrong after they step over the salt line that marks the entrance to their current home. Sam looks over Dean’s shoulder and down the hall to see his dad cleaning guns at the table. The way the ice cube in his dad’s tumbler of whiskey hasn’t melted, even though the alcohol is almost gone tells Sam that he can throw out any idea of a belated birthday present. His hackles start to rise as their dad downs the remaining whiskey.

Sam lets his backpack fall to the floor with a thud, making both Dad and Dean jump as the reverberation breaks through the silence.

“Boys,” Dad says, his voice rough with liquor, lack of sleep, and mixed with the sharp edge of authority. “Take a seat.”

Dean walks to the table and drops into a chair, following Dad’s words to the second hand of the clock. Sam smiles challengingly instead. “No.”

“Sammy—“ Dean says, his voice tainted with weariness at what’s obviously the start of yet another argument.

“It’s okay Dean, I’ll handle this,” Dad says, in a soft voice that’s reserved for his brother. Dean’s mouth closes without finishing his sentence.

“What the fuck, Dad?” Sam spits out.

“Language, Sam,” Dad states. Sam rolls his eyes in response.

“It’s a free country, I can say what I want.” It’s aimed to make his dad lose his cool. He’s not disappointed.

“Not under my roof, son. You’ll show me a little respect. Now put your shirt on and sit down.”

His father’s voice has already lost the quiet edge. Sam smirks at the challenge.

Sam hold his ground. He doesn’t move. “No.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. I said no. No, I’m not going to show you respect just because I share half of your genes. You have to earn that, and while being a drunken, absentee Dad might do it for Dean, it sure as hell doesn’t cut it for me.”

Dad makes a move to grab him by the arm, to physically force him to sit down, when Dean’s there, as always, right between the two of them.

“Whoa there, Sam, Dad. Let’s not get hasty.”

Dean smiles, looking back and forth between the two of them. His brother’s grin is infectious, and even though Sam knows from experience that it’s forced, he still struggles not to smile back at Dean. Sam’s got every right to be angry.

Dean pushes on Dad’s shirt-covered chest until their father’s sitting back down in the wooden chair and pours him another glass of alcohol.

“Here Dad, drink this. Sam, you go take a shower and get dressed. Then we’re all going to sit down and have a civil family meeting afterwards.”

Sam doesn’t really want to leave, but it’s his brother, and Dean’s looking at him through his long black eyelashes, eyes pleading with him to agree.

He nods. For as much as he wants to argue with his dad, Sam doesn’t want trade words with Dean. As always, the thought of disappointing his brother sends butterflies flapping to the pit of his stomach.

He lets out a breath that he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding.

“Ok,” he says.

Dean slaps Sam’s shoulder in gratitude. The sound of Dean’s palm hitting Sam’s sweaty shoulder makes a squelching noise.

“Good man, Sam,” his brother states. Sam can sense the careful calculation Dean makes in leaving the extra-syllable off of his name. “Now go shower that man-juice off of your scrawny-ass.”

Dad chokes on his whiskey, and Sam pushes his brother away from him. “God, you’re so gross.”

Dean flashes Sam the same winning smile he uses to charm every dinner waitress across the country.

“And that’s why you love me.”

Sam rolls his eyes and heads down the hallway. It’s only after he’s gotten under the cold water and his brain has shrugged off its heat induced fog that he realizes his brother had once again managed to defuse a near-apocalyptic fight. Only a trace of anger is left lingering across his frontal lobe.

--

Once he’s showered and cooled off, Sam feels infinitely better about the whole situation. He comes back to the table, where Dad’s polished off his second glass of whiskey, and Dean’s nervously tapping his foot against the floor, probably hoping to avoid another shouting match. Sam can’t guarantee that won’t happen.

Neither of them are talking, so Sam takes the initiative.

“So what’s up?”

Dad leans forward, but Sam can see Dean shaking his head, only the slightest movement out of the corner of his eye. Dad slumps back down with a sigh, and plays with the empty glass in front of him. What remains of the ice cube clinks around in the glass loudly.

Dean takes a deep breath, and says all in one go, “We’re leaving town tomorrow.”

It takes Sam a moment for the words to process through his head. They’ve been here for so long—four whole months—that Sam had almost forgotten his family’s propensity for vanishing overnight. Leave no trace could be their fucking family motto.

Sam huffs an unamused sound, and raises his eyebrows. “What?”

“Tomorrow morning, Sam. We’re leaving at five.”

“But I haven’t said goodbye, I haven’t packed...”

Dean shrugs and looks away. Sam knows that Dean probably has some loose ends that he’s not getting to tie up as well.

“Dad, that’s not fair. It’s only Wednesday. How about we leave on Friday, instead? What difference would it make to stay an extra day and a half?” he practically whines. Dad shakes his head.

“No Sam, we’ve stayed too long anyways. Don’t want to put another two weeks of rent down, and I’ve been hearing reports that the Oregon Vortex is starting to act up again. You willing to let people to die because you wanted to spend a few extra days with your friends?”

Sam bites his lip, drawing a tinge of blood to prevent spitting out that he doesn’t care about all the people he doesn’t know who might die. He’s fourteen dammit, and he should be busy trying to get high off rubber cement and jacking off in his bedroom, not deciding whether someone lives or dies. He stays silent for another few moments before saying, “No, sir.”

The tension in the room drains after Sam agrees to leave, and Dean suggests that they order pizza to celebrate the end of Sam’s freshman year. Dad hands over a twenty-dollar bill and splits, because there’s no way that he’s sticking around to eat cheese and tomato covered bread on the couch, watching the newest episode of Buffy on the television that Dean rigged to get cable. Sam’s unabashedly happy that it’s only Dean and him tonight.

--

The pizza arrives, and it’s exactly the type that Sam wanted, with all the vegetables and none of the creepy meat that Dean usually enjoys. Dean goes into the kitchen and pops open a beer for him.

“Cheers, kiddo, you deserve it,” he says while taking a bite into the pepper and olive covered pizza. Dean shudders as the toppings come in contact with his tongue. “God you’ve got disgusting taste buds, Sam. Don’t know where you got ‘em from but it sure as hell wasn’t from me. I raised you right on Spaghetti-o’s and Lucky Charms.”

“You could have ordered half-and-half,” Sam remarks. He’s secretly pleased that Dean hadn’t though. It makes him feel special, knowing that Dean will sacrifice his own needs in order to fill his—even if this time it feels like a reward for not fighting with Dad.

Dean just laughs. “Like you wouldn’t have eaten it all anyways. Nah, it’s your treat.”

Sam nods, because those are both true statements, and he always appreciates that with Dean, there’s no crap. It’s always straight to the point. He tips his head back and takes his first real drink of beer, because Dean has let him have sips before, but never a whole can. The bitter taste of hops dances across his tongue, and Sam almost spits it out, swallowing at the last minute to save face.

Dean pats his back. “It’s okay Sammy. I can always drink it if you don’t want to.”

He reaches for Sam’s can, but Sam knocks his hand away. “No. I want it, Dean. And for the last time, it’s S-A-M.

“Sure thing,” his brother says absentmindedly. He’s settled down into the couch, enjoying Buffy turning vampires to dust with a stake through the heart, all the while saying cheesy puns. They’ve never encountered vampires before. Dean says they’re not real, but Sam imagines that even if they were, they’d be harder to kill. And in real life, the cleanup’s always a bitch.

Out of nowhere, Dean asks, “D’you think she’s hot?”

Sam blushes. He’s drank through most of his beer, and clearly he’s a bit of a lightweight, because all of a sudden telling Dean his innermost thoughts seems like a good idea. Something about serotonin receptors and impaired judgment flits through his head, advanced reading from his biology class. It’s enough to make him pause.

“I dunno, never really thought about it. Why?”

“You didn’t answer the question, Sam. And I asked mine first.”

He knows that Dean is going to pester him until he gives an adequate response so he says, “She’s okay.” It’s better than, I’ve never thought about anyone but you since I learned what my dick could do. At least, that’s what part of his brain is telling him. His dick, however, is clearly rooting for him to tell Dean on the off chance that it might get a little attention that’s not from his own right hand.

“You gonna answer my question now?” Sam asks.

“Hmm?”

“My question. Geez Dean, were you even listening?”

“Uh, not really. Kinda thinking about everything we need to pack for tomorrow. What was it again?”

Sam sighs. Now that Dean’s brought up leaving, he feels sober again. Playing twenty-questions about his brother’s sex life doesn’t seem quite as much fun anymore.

“Never mind.”

When Dean doesn’t respond, Sam makes the move to get off the couch. He’s got shit to pack too. However, his quadriceps and hamstrings both shout loudly through his spinal tract what their feelings are on the situation of Sam moving, and he groans in pain before falling back down.

Dean reaches over and ruffles his hair. “Rough day, kiddo?”

“Mmm,” Sam responds, trying to formulate his next sentence. “I’m like, super sore from soccer practice this week. Any chance you could work on loosening my leg muscles, before we sit in the car for sixteen hours tomorrow?”

He specifically avoids using the term massage because that word shuts down his brother in under a second.

“Yeah, sure,” Dean says, but gets off the couch. Sam groans.

“Hold on, Sammy, I’ll be right back,” Dean shouts from the bathroom.

It feels like forever by the time he returns, and Sam can’t help but say, “Liar. That wasn’t right back.”

Dean ignores his snark, and tells him to hold out his hand. A tiny pill drops inside of his large palm.

“Tramadol,” Dean states, “Best muscle relaxant we’ve got here at the house.”

Sam sighs. “I know what it is, but I was really hoping that you’d use your hands tonight, Dean. They always works better.”

“Fine,” Dean agrees, and then pauses to finish the rest of his beer. “Legs up,” he says as makes himself comfortable on the couch, pulling Sam’s thighs into his lap. Once Sam’s thoroughly settled, Dean’s thumbs start to dig into inside of his thigh, moving upward, far past the hem of his shorts before dragging back down. The rest of his fingers work in tandem to rub his overused quadriceps back and forth until the muscles give in to Dean’s touch, releasing tension in the process.

It feels so good that Sam’s about to drift off when Dean states softly, “You know, Dad’s been done with this job for two weeks. The only reason we’ve stayed around is because he wanted to let you finish up the school year.”

“You should have told me,” Sam says back to him. “He should have told me.”

Dean shrugs. “Didn’t want to upset you. You really seemed to be enjoying it here. I wanted that to last as long as possible. And Dad wanted to avoid a few weeks’ worth of fighting.”

Sam doesn’t say anything. He knows that what Dean’s saying is the truth.

“On the positive side, it should be a little cooler in Oregon. Now move your long ass legs, bitch, I’ve got work to do.”

He reluctantly removes his legs and lets Dean go. Then he pops the pill, finishes off his beer, and devours the last slice of pizza before stumbling off into his bedroom. He knows that Dad will need the couch whenever he returns from the bar.

--

Sam doesn’t sleep well. He dreams of drowning, of gasping for air. The water that he’s inhaled turns to black smoke which funnels in a tornado-like fashion down into his mouth. He awakens with a start, drenched with sweat. Thump, thump, thud. It’s his own heartbeat echoing loudly in the darkness. The red lines that light up his clock tell him it’s 3:07 in the morning, and Sam knows that he’ll have to wake up within the hour. He lays back down on his bed, trying to calm his nervous limbs, but it’s no use. His body’s too amped up. So he does what he’s done his entire life, and pads down the hall to Dean’s room.

No matter that the door barely makes a noise when he opens it, when he enters, Dean’s sleep-soaked voice asks, “Sam?”

“Yeah, Dean. I had a nightmare. Can I come in?”

Answering with his body instead of with words, Dean scoots over and turns onto his right side, so that Sam can slide right in next to him. It’s still hot in the house, Sam guesses around ninety, and his bare back sticks to Dean’s chest. Dean’s left arm reaches around him, hooking onto his hip bone, and pulls him until he’s aligned with Dean’s body, from his ankles up to his shoulders. Soft puffs of warm air slide over Sam’s neck.

“Better?” Dean asks, his breath tickling Sam’s spine. Sam wiggles in response to the sensation, which moves his ass further into Dean’s crotch.

Dean groans, and Sam can tell that his brother’s turned on by what little stimulation Sam had given him. He can feel the evidence pressing against his back, which in turn makes his own dick jump in response. It takes all of his concentration to will it back down. Now’s not the time. Although with the look Dean had given him earlier, Sam can’t help but think, maybe soon. He pushes back again, teasing Dean a little bit more. Waiting for his reaction.

“Dude, you’ve got to keep still if you want to stay here.”

“Sorry, just trying to get comfortable,” he lies.

Dean doesn’t respond, and soon Sam’s lulled by his brother’s soft snores and the feel of his lips against the knobby protrusion of one of his vertebra.

--

When Dean wakes him up, barely under an hour later, Sam’s fucking grumpy. He turns over and tries to pin Dean down to the bed so that they won’t have to get up and leave. Sam hasn’t slept this well since the last time that Dean let him into his bed. Which was probably a month ago now. Sam’s been too busy with soccer, finals, and growing to bother moving to Dean’s room after the lights have been out for a few hours.

Dad’s rule since the first set of bed sheets were changed in the middle of the night after Sam went through puberty had been that Sam needed to sleep in his own bed unless he had nightmares. Sometimes Sam fakes them. His brother’s bad at denying him, even when he knows that Sam’s lying, and that he’s directly violating Dad’s orders. Deep down, Sam knows that Dean sleeps better when he’s tucked into his side too. Even if he won’t admit it. Even if he never seeks out Sam in the early hours of the morning.

Easily rolling Sam off of him, Dean does his best to placate Sam’s clearly less-than-stellar mood by sitting up against the headboard and pulling Sam’s head into his lap. He runs his hands through Sam’s hair in just the right way, and Sam can’t help but lean into the touch, nosing into his brother’s happy trail. He exhales through his nose and watches as the wiry hairs rustle with the air current that he’s created.

Dean pokes Sam in his side. “Dude. Stop it—that tickles.”

“I’ve got to breathe, Dean. Necessity of life and all that,” Sam mumbles, his lips moving against his brother’s flat, but soft stomach. It gurgles, loud enough that Sam could hear the noise even if his ear wasn’t pressed up right against Dean’s skin.

“Shuddup. I’m hungry,” Dean says before Sam can think to tease him. His brother’s voice is rough from sleep, and Sam knows from experience that it won’t lose the gravely undertones until after he’s had at least two cups of coffee.

Sam smiles into Dean’s body and his brother flicks his ear. It stings. Sometimes Sam forgets that his brother can be a full-on douche when he wants.

“Ow. That hurts, jackass,” he vocalizes.

“Well, wake up already, then. You know how mad Dad’ll be if we’re not on time.”

“Maybe he’ll still be too drunk to notice.”

“You know, you could actually try being pleasant for once. It’d be nice to have one freaking day where I’m not trying to defuse both of you.”

“I am pleasant. He’s just too busy to notice.”

If Dean disagrees he doesn’t say it out loud. He does, however, flick his middle finger against Sam’s upper ear cartilage again.

“Dammit, Dean.”

“Rise and shine, Sammy.”

His brother gives him another few minutes of snuggling before he climbs out of the bed. “Ok. I’m gonna go make us some eggs and sausage for breakfast. You work on getting your ass out of bed, and put everything you didn’t get around to packing last night into your duffle, got it?”

“Mmm,” Sam mumbles into the pillow. It smells like Dean, and Sam doesn’t want to let it go. Especially when he’s going to have to spend the entire day just out of reach on the passenger side of the car.

“I’m serious. You’re either up in ten minutes or I’m coming back in,” Dean says. He turns on the light as he pulls on a pair of threadbare sweatpants, leaving Sam alone in the room.

“Yeah, yeah,” Sam says, mostly to himself as he opens his eyes, and tries not to think about how Dean and him won’t sleep in this particular bed ever again. That it’s their last meal in this house, and his friends won’t even miss him until next September when they realize that a “road trip” for Sam meant never coming back. For all the times that they’ve done this, moved under the cover of darkness, it should be routine by now. To Sam, leaving a freshly and carefully cultivated life never seems to get any easier.

By the time that he makes it out to the dining room, dressed in jeans and a white wife beater, Dean’s already got coffee made and breakfast on the table. Dad’s nowhere to be seen.

“Too drunk to stumble home?” he asks Dean. He really wants to throw it in Dad’s face when he walks through the door.

Dean gives him a glare. “No. He’s out putting gas in the Impala and the truck.”

“Hm,” Sam says around a mouthful of eggs.

“Got your toothbrush?” Dean asks him, alternating in between slurping his coffee and loudly chewing bites of sausage with his mouth open.

Sam tries to ignore it, and settles for answering only when he’s swallowed his bite of food.

“Yup.”

“Deodorant?”

Sam nods.

“Socks, underwear, and pajamas?”

Sam glares. “I’m not eight anymore. I can take care of myself.”

He kicks Dean underneath the table for good measure.

Dean grunts in a moment of fleeting pain, but then gets back at Sam by laughing. Bits of egg and pork spew across the table; a few chunks fly onto Sam’s plate. He pushes the remains of his breakfast across the table to his brother.

“Here. You spit on it, it’s yours.”

Dean smiles. “You’re too nice to me, Sammy. Makes me get all tingly on the inside.”

Sam narrows his eyes at Dean and stalks over to the kitchen, grabbing the last box of Lucky Charms from the cabinet. He wraps his arms around the box of sugary cereal, holding it close against his sleeveless shirt.

“Ahh, I see what’s really important to you. Not your brother, but a box of cereal. Classy man.”

“At least it doesn’t put itching powder in my clothes, or spit on my food.”

“Touché.”

They sit in silence, Dean finishing his breakfast, and Sam watching him shovel food into his mouth until Dad walks through the door.

“Ready to go, boys?” It’s not really a question.

Sam notes that Dad’s already got a cup of to-go coffee in his hand. Most likely from the gas station. Sam hopes that it’s not half as good as what Dean had made for him.

Dean nods. “Just got to pee, then we’ll be ready, sir.”

“Sam?” Dad asks, wanting a response out of him as well.

“Yes,” he says, not looking up from the floor.

“Yes…?”

Sam grits his teeth, but manages to spit out, “Yes, sir,” before he stalks down the hall and waits for Dean to finish up in the bathroom.

Sam empties his bladder, covets Dean’s pillow as his own, and leaves the house without another word. He throws his duffle in the trunk, but keeps his box of cereal with him. They leave the dishes dirty on the counter. It’s not like they’ll be around to claim the measly deposit anyways.

Dean starts the engine and pulls out after Dad.

--

As the Impala hits a pothole in the road, Sam’s body jerks, his head banging against the glass window on the passenger side.

“Careful, Sammy,” his brother says, and then reaches out to run his hand over the smooth, black dashboard of his car. Dad had given the keys to Dean last year on his eighteenth birthday and Sam’s been riding shotgun ever since. Although at times like these, when Dean’s bitching about not wanting a scratch on his baby, Sam’s not entirely sure that it’s any better than driving with Dad.

“Hey, can we turn on the air-conditioning?” Sam asks for the third time in an hour, practically shouting over the noise of Black Sabbath that emanates from the stereo.

“Nope.” Dean says in a matter of fact voice. “If anything we’ll be turning on the heat soon. Suck it up, little bro.”

Sam knows the reason for not turning on the air conditioning. All of Dean’s car lessons haven’t gone straight through his head after all. But at this moment he doesn’t care if the engine overheats. He feels the sweltering temperature in his bones, and it’s torturing him.

“I’ll do anything, just turn it on for a few minutes.”

Dean raises his eyebrows, wagging them up and down. “Anything?”

Sam shouldn’t say yes, because clearly Dean’s got something up his sleeve, and it’s probably not anything that Sam will enjoy. Like, for example, daring Sam to give him road head. Because Sam would be across the bench seat in two seconds if Dean asked. But Sam won’t be that lucky. He never is.

He realizes he didn’t reply when his brother looks directly at him, one hand holding the car steady.

“Whadd’ya say? You still wanna make a trade?”

Sam leans forward, peeling his back from the leather seats, and Dean groans at the sound of moisture.

“Dude. You are so wiping down Baby when we get to Oregon until all of your perspiration stains are gone. And she better be fucking perfect when you’re done.”

“Could you try to pretend for two seconds that you’re not romantically involved with this stupid hunk of metal?”

Sam can’t keep the tinge of jealousy out of his mouth, but his brother doesn’t seem to notice. He’s too busy stroking the Impala’s dashboard and muttering, “He didn’t mean it sweetie, he just doesn’t understand our love.”

“You’re right. I’ve got no idea why you like this gas-guzzling old thing, besides the fact that Dad gave it to you.”

Dean grasps the left-side of his chest, clutching at his heart that’s buried deep beneath muscle and ribs.

“Wounded, right where it hurts,” Dean gasps out. “Alright. Just for that here’s the deal. Five minutes of air-conditioning followed by ten minutes off. It’s no use being cool if we get stuck on the side of the road from an overheated engine.”

He nods. It’s not perfect, but considering Dean can be as bull-headed as him, especially when it comes to his car, he’s willing to play.

“Fine. What do I have to do?”

“It’s simple, Sam. Nothing bad, I promise. Just be nice to Dad for the next twenty-four hours. No bickering, no questioning his motives, and no being disrespectful. Now, if I can follow those rules, a rhesus monkey could, too. So I know that you, as a capable, straight A-student and member of the homo-sapien species can manage that.”

Sam wants to state that it’s not him, it’s always Dad who starts the fights, but deep down, he knows that’s not entirely true. He also really wants to feel the cool air against his overheated skin. It doesn’t make agreeing to Dean’s conditions any easier. He grinds his teeth.

“Clocks ticking… the offer’s only on the floor for another five… four… three…”

Dean doesn’t make it to two.

“Ok,” Sam says, narrowing his eyes and staring down Dean, until Dean’s forced to break eye contact and look back at the road.

“Ok,” Dean repeats, before adding on, “but if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, you’re on bathroom cleaning duty for the whole summer.”

Sam’s lip twitches, but he’s not going to back down now. “Deal. Now turn on the damn A.C., Dean.”

He lets out a sigh of relief when Dean’s fingers push the small button located next to the volume controls. After the residual warm air is pushed out, the vents start exhaling cold air, and Sam breathes a sigh of relief.

“How long ‘till we hit Reno?” he questions Dean, once his body has self-regulated to a comfortable temperature again.

Dean checks out the time on the dash. “Well, we’ve been on the road for three hours already, so that leaves another four to Reno. And then we’ve got another six to the cabin that Dad’s rented us for the summer.”

“Where’s that, again?” Sam asks. He can never keep track of the endless towns and cities that they pass through in a year.

“Central Oregon. A few hours south of the supposed vortex that Dad’s checking out. Plus, one of his old marine buddies who lives close by said that I could get a job no problem if we stuck around for the tourist season.”

Sam grunts in understanding.

“Why don’t you take a nap kid,” Dean says to him. “We’ve got a long drive ahead, and you had a rough go of it last night.”

Looking at Dean from underneath his bangs, Sam asks, “Can I rest my head on your lap while you drive?”

Dean’s body makes an infinitely more comfortable pillow than the window, and Sam might actually get a few hours of sleep if Dean lets him. His brother scans his face, reading Sam’s widened, begging eyes with dark circles marring the undersides.

“Yeah, alright,” he says. “Grab your pillow, though. Don’t want your bony jaw smashing my junk if we hit a pothole.”

He smiles then, knowing that his brother’s a sucker for his dimples. “Thanks, you’re the best big brother ever.”

“Don’t you forget it,” Dean returns, and Sam lets him pretend that he isn’t preening under Sam’s flattery.

Then he places Dean’s pillow across his legs, curls his body into as much of a fetal position as the car allows, and lets Dean’s singing, along with the vibrating motion of the car, lull him to sleep.

--

Dean wakes him up when they pull into a gas station outside of Reno to fill up and grab some food.

“No beans,” Dean reminds him as he checks out the small section of pre-heated food.

“But—” Sam starts out, trying to argue that the bean and cheese burritos are literally the only half-edible looking food.

“No buts,” Dean interrupts him, “you’re toxic after you eat those. Go ride with Dad if you want one.”

Sam sneers, but passes up the burrito for a bottle of Gatorade, a couple of power bars, and the biggest bag of sunflower seeds that he can find.

“Could you get anything less healthy?” he asks Dean, when he sees that his brother’s only chosen three sugar-covered donuts and a bag of peanut M&M’s.

“Maybe later,” Dean dismisses Sam’s last dig about finding better quality food, and scrambles to hold onto all of his purchases as they each try to walk out of the door first. Sam wins by virtue of a well-placed elbow.

Sam slides back into the passenger seat and watches as Dean maneuvers his body into the Impala. The way that his surprisingly delicate fingers wrap around the circle of the steering wheel makes Sam’s breath hitch. He knows for a fact that Dean’s hands would look better wrapped around him.

Once they’re back on the road, Dean reaches into the small paper bag and pulls out one of his donuts. White powder covers Dean’s lips after he takes his first bite into the jelly-filled pastry. Sam desperately wants to lick it off.

When Dean makes a pornographic groan to accompany his demolition of the pastry, running his tongue over the outside of his lips to pick up the stray sugar, Sam can’t help but pop a boner in his jeans. He’s so hard it that physically hurts. Sam tries to cover it up with his newly acquired bag of sunflower seeds, but he can see the evidence of his erection pushing up, causing strain against both his jeans and the plastic. Luckily for him, Dean doesn’t seem to notice. He holds out the donut to Sam.

“Dude, this is like pure heaven. Want a bite?”

Sam doesn’t, but Dean shoves it against Sam’s lips until he’s forced to take a bite. It tastes slightly stale and way too sweet. Disgusting. Nothing like how he imagines that Dean would taste.

“Best thing besides pie,” Dean concludes after he finishes the first one, and starts into his second.

“Hmm…” Sam says back, not really wanting to argue with Dean’s poor taste in food. He crunches every sunflower seed hard enough to be heard; it helps him to slowly coerce the blood out of his dick and back up to his brain. By the time that he’s reached his two-hundredth crack, Dean’s the one on edge, tapping his fingers agitatedly against the steering wheel. He twitches every time another crack resounds through the Impala’s interior.

When Sam suggests for the second time in the day that he take a nap on Dean, his brother agrees without any hesitation.

--

Sam’s drowning. He’s underwater, and he feels certain that he’s going to die. He wonders where Dean is, where Dad is. They’re supposed to protect him, to keep him safe. Instead, he’s dying. If he only had gills, he could breathe. But Sam doesn’t, and he recognizes that he’s only a few minutes away from death. Or at least, from blacking out. His lungs will fill with water, his brain won’t get any oxygen, and as a result his heart will stop. No heartbeat, no Sam. He starts fighting then, kicking as hard as he can, arms thrashing, trying to get to the surface, where he can see the light making its way through the water. His feet work harder and he just needs to make it a little bit further until he can take a breath. He’s so, so close now. He feels the tips of his fingers surge forward, but his head doesn’t break the surface. When he looks up he can see clearly now that it’s Dean holding him down. He can make out Dean saying I love you through the opaque water, and it doesn’t make sense. If Dean loves him, then why is he killing him? Sam twists harder, trying to get out of Dean’s grasp…

Sam wakes up with Dean’s hands alternating in-between shaking him and feeling for the pulse in his carotid artery. He takes gasping breaths, like a fish out of water, and then not only Dean, but Dad as well comes into focus.

“Sam, you ok?”

“It was just a bad dream, you’re fine, Sammy.”

“God, I’m glad to see your eyes.”

“Geez, Son, you gave us a fright there. Are your nightmares getting worse?”

Everything’s a jumbled mess, and Sam can’t quite wrap his head around who’s saying what, and if they’re expecting answers to their questions.

“Nightmare?” he asks. It had seemed so real. Sam had been sure that he wasn’t going to make it. Dean’s grasp had been too tight.

“Yeah, Sammy,” Dean runs his hands through Sam’s hair, trying to calm him. “You’re ok now. You’re safe.”

Sam nods. “Thanks, Dean,” he says, before remembering their earlier deal. “And thanks, Dad. I know this must have slowed our time.”

Dad smiles gruffly, and as much as Sam hates to admit it, it makes him want to please his dad more often.

“No worries, son. I’m just glad you’re safe. Here. Drink some Gatorade and keep yourself hydrated. You’ll be fine in no time.”

Dad ruffles his hair affectionately, before climbing back into his truck.

“You’ll be alright?” Dean questions seriously.

“Yeah, Dean, as long as I got you by my side.”

Dean smiles. “You always got that. Always.

Sam doesn’t have the guts to tell Dean that in his dream, it’d been Dean who was killing him.

--

They stop twice more, both times after they’ve crossed the border into Oregon. Sam notices how there’s already a noticeable difference in the amount of trees, and that the clouds have moved in, dropping the temperature down into the 60’s. It feels cold, and Sam reaches back to put on a hoodie over his wife beater.

When Dean asks Dad if they can stop to pick up some new clothes for Sam because he’d outgrown all of Dean’s hand-me-downs, Dad surprisingly says yes. Although he only gives them half an hour. It’s more than either of them expected.

They part ways for a while in the southern town of Klamath Falls. Dad heads to one of the local bars to see if any news on the vortex has made it this far down in the state, while Sam and Dean hit up the local Goodwill.

After walking through the glass sliding doors, Dean disappears with a clap to Sam’s shoulder, and a semi-serious joke about Sam picking him up a copy of the Kama Sutra if he finds one amidst all the boring books. Sam’s thumbing through Kafka’s The Metamorphosis , having already picked out The Underground by Dostoyevsky, and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zimmerman, when Dean accosts him with a pile of clothes.

“You. In the dressing room. Now.”

Sam follows his brother to the back of the store and dutifully tries on every pair of jeans and shorts that Dean picked out for him. He tries to draw the line at putting on the bright blue tee-shirt that Dean picked out, on which two male my little ponies are touching hoofs. It says ‘Bro Hoof’.

“No,” he says, throwing the shirt at Dean’s face. “I’m not even sure why they’d make it in my size. Aren’t these like, for little girls?”

Dean shrugs. “I think you’d look good in it. Actually, I’ll pay for it with my own money if you’ll wear it.”

Sam sneers at Dean and changes back into his own, ill-fitting clothes before they leave to meet up with their dad, who’s already waiting in front of the store, shoulders against the back of the car.

“You boys find everything you need?” he asks, as if he’s genuinely concerned about the state of Sam’s jeans.

“Yes, sir,” Dean responds. When Sam doesn’t immediately join in, Dean places a well-aimed elbow into Sam’s ribs.

“Ow, Dean, what the hel—“and then he remembers his deal. Air-conditioning in return for respecting and obeying Dad. It’s easier said than done.

“Yes, sir,” Sam says in a flat voice.

“Alright then,” Dad concludes. “Next stop, Odell Lake. 100 miles north."

After they get back into the car, Sam riffles through his new clothes and books. He’s annoyed but not surprised to see a bright blue shirt at the bottom.

“Find anything you like?” Dean asks with a shit-eating grin on his face.

Sam decides to completely ignore his brother and stare out the window for the next hour and a half.