Even their home.
The only difference was no one could treat her the way they treated their blue jeans.
For his seventeenth birthday, John buys Sam a book. Sam doesn’t deny the suspicion that crawls in his chest and climbs towards his mouth, until his eyes catch up and read the title. Music Theory Vocabulary.
What is he supposed to do with this?
Instruments—even secondhand—have never been allowed. Take up too much space. Not worth the trouble of learning. Grandioso. It’s the first word Sam flips to. Sitting down on his spongy motel bed, he reads the definition and its examples. John takes the lack of Sam pitching the book across the room as acceptance of the gift. He also takes it as permission to walk away from his youngest.
Four wide, heavy steps over shag carpet follow.
Some of the noises between the three of them seem secondhand. There’s the telltale shift of John’s belt, pushed below his paunch, and the confident grip of his right hand closing around circular aluminum. It used to be fun collecting the pop tops from those cans and taking them to school. There was a contest. Must have been back in the fifth grade. Whoever brought in the most pop tops received a coupon for Dippin’ Dots ice cream—ice cream of astronauts.
Sam won. But all his pop tops smelled like beer.
And the vanilla Dippin’ Dots tasted like chalk.
The couch cushions play their own tune—every morning, day, and night. They’ve stayed at this motel, some Midwestern cornfield Green River soda place, for about three months. The trio of maids on staff gave up on their room two weeks in.
“This place reeks.” Dean doesn’t have to use a key to get in. They don’t bother locking the door anymore. Anything worth defending themselves against won’t inch past the salt barriers or symbols they haven’t bothered to disguise. Anything or anyone else can help themselves to the view.
Kicking the door shut with his foot, Dean walks over to Sam, his movement all shoulders.
“You hear me? Get your ass in gear.”
Dean’s jeans hang from him, practically in strips. He’s got a few other pairs, but they’re sitting in the bathroom sink with a dash of whatever was left in that sample box of Tide. These are his favorite pair. Sam can tell from the stitching on the back pockets.
“We’re going out.” Dean stands in front of the television. John grunts and tilts his head to see the screen. “I’m taking my Colt.”
Fingernails scratch against the cotton stretched over John’s middle. “Don’t keep your brother out late.”
“Like you’ll be up to know.”
“You wanna say that a little louder, soldier?”
“…I’m taking him out.”
Pressing his palm in the space between Sam’s shoulder blades, Dean eases him out of the room. The music book joins them on the journey. Sam reads it in the Impala, sitting in the front because they’re going through these intervals. These intermissions. These periods of time someone on the outside might call depression. But that word isn’t big enough. It doesn’t describe everything, not even a fraction.
The Impala stops on a parking lot that isn’t made of gravel or potholes.
This morning, Sam woke up to find Dean gone and John asleep on the coffee table. He was sprawled over it, dwarfing it, mouth open and forehead wrinkled.
A brass key appears from Dean’s right pocket. The house looks old. It fits in with the rest of the town. Shutters hang off their hinges. The inside matches the outside. Old furniture. Old rugs. Old copies of National Geographic on the kitchen table. Stairs near the landing lead to a second floor, while the dining room and kitchen stare back from their left. On their right, the living room couldn’t care less.
Dean moves forward down the hall. He mumbles, “We got four hours.”
With the music book under his arm, Sam awaits instructions. Another door opens, pushed in much the same way Dean propelled Sam forward earlier.
Except his hand lingers. Held up against the flimsy sand dollar door the scar across Dean’s knuckles stand out. It’s a clean line, though it rises and falls across those delicate bones. The gash was a river of blood last summer. Now it’s the outline of mountains.
Short, round fingernails provide a hints to their lives, here in this house, standing on an amber rug. He’s got no gunpowder under the beds. Most nicks and splinters carry on with what might be normal work—threading together cells to form bridges just half a shade darker than the rest. And though these hands are far from scrawny, his fingers look smoother, less inflamed. That second knuckle on Dean’s first finger of his right hand—it recognizes Sam even when it swings away.
From floor to ceiling, side by side, the door exposes a room filled with books. Where shelves and desks failed, the carob floor blossomed. Stacks and stacks of books create fortresses of information, clandestine chambers, and vast valleys in bloom no matter what time or place.
Sam inhales air considered precious for its tinge of possibilities.
Practical, peaceful footsteps settle in the center of the room. An oceanfront of clean, soft towels lap at the edge of Dean’s boots. Two pillows. A washtub filled with water. Mismatched blankets set to the side, tucked into a relic Dean found on their third day in this town. Secondhand everything.
“You like it?”
“I cleaned it.”
“How far apart?”
“You should eat.”
Careful hands help Sam squat down on the singular, salmon colored couch in the room. It isn’t very big. A loveseat, maybe. Legs spread and taking up more space than he’s comfortable, Sam shifts around on the weathered cushions. He eyes the frayed hems of Dean’s jeans, and the slight rip near his left thigh. There’s thread and needle back at the motel—or in the vertebrae of Sam’s spine, spidery and splintering its way towards his pelvis.
Two donuts plop out of a crinkly paper bag and into the wide plane of Dean’s palm. Sam shakes his head. He’ll throw them up.
“Breathe,” Dean murmurs, donuts tossed aside. “Make sure you breathe.”
Harsh words knock against Sam’s molars. He swallows them before they seize the opportunity to escape. Pain builds an uneven tower in his hips. The couch creaks. Muscles in his shoulders ache.
“Walk,” blurts out of his mouth.
Hesitant hands clasp his. Digging the heels of his navy sneakers into the mulberry rug on the floor, Sam rises with effort, his back arched in an unnatural way. Powder from the donuts softens Dean’s grasp.
With help, Sam paces in uneven circles. Eyes closed and mouth open, he resolves the quarrel in his mind. Let Dean see him this way. Let him see now while pain dwells as a dull ache and a distant flare. This is one of many results. They could have rented out another room. Could have waited another few years.
An hour steams past, a locomotive into the permanent past.
“It’ll help, Sam.” Water sloshes against a silver edge. “I’ll add more in.”
Sam turned seventeen this morning. Ambitious, persistent, inexperienced, and overdue. Six days past that first prediction.
The wide, ripe mound of Sam’s middle seems to float at the surface of the water. Beads of water accent each of the numerous, unmistakable stretch marks. He’s felt heavy since the start. The weight of another person, no matter their stage of thriving, has been detectable from the beginning. Dean adds a few cups of hot water, followed by a pitcher of warm. He situates Sam’s legs. His belly bobs in the basin. It looks like a pink, smooth apple.
Getting out of the basin demands more effort. Sam huffs and groans from the burden placed on his shoulders, feeling the underside of his belly sway, hanging lower.
Why a music book?
What could be more frivolous now, six days late and only fifteen minutes of time between uncomfortable breathing and painful breathing?
“…rub your back?”
“You want me to rub your back?”
“No. I… I wanna lay down.”
Pressure tilts. Flat on his back, legs spread and knees drawn up. Dean kneels on Sam’s right.
Concern reforms Dean’s features.
He’s seen it move before. Close quarters. Hard not to notice. It seems strong. It can knock off ketchup packets and shotgun shells, and leave Sam winded.
Dean finely tunes the velocity of his movements. He is neither too fast nor too slow.
Shapely lips brush against Sam’s.
Angling his jaw, dipping his tongue into warmth, Sam kisses back. Not a single spring squeaks; this is not there. The blankets are clean, for the moment, lightly scented like brand name detergent. Longing sweeps pain into recesses. Dean kisses the hell out of him. Filthy. Hungry. Rough.
Sam palms the peaked tent in well-worn jeans. He fingers the graphite zipper and loses track of how the earth orbits the sun.
This isn’t new. With a lift of Sam’s hips and the snap of cap flipped open, all movement occurs in perfect synchronization. The blunt, rounded tip of Dean’s middle finger rims the ring of muscle that refuses to dilate. Slipping in, nudging past, pushed to the second knuckle, Dean fingers Sam with care. Exposed, Sam blushes. It feels good.
Tucked inside, Dean curls his finger. Sam lets out a noise. His cock responds, curving hard and bloated against the heavy swell of his belly. The tip pulses out a pool of come. Dean’s left hand slopes around Sam’s broad side, fingertips immersing and spreading out the next pump of come.
On a breathy exhale, Sam rolls his hips forward. The magnitude of this cancels out most of that.
Dean works his finger in deliberate circles. Clockwise. Counterclockwise. He rubs the sensitive, contracting walls of Sam, drawing out blissful pleasure. It’s always been like this. Consuming. Seductive. Obsessive.
Thighs shuddering, Sam breathes out, his chest heaving. His middle pushes out, providing an explicit display of the immense mound between them. Dean’s hand trembles. The finger inside Sam presses against a bundle of nerves.
“More,” Sam cries out.
Green eyes meet his. A green unlike the rugs, carpets, bedspreads, and moldy ceilings of their accustomed surroundings. “Say it.”
Desperation modifies Sam’s natural response to resist. He murmurs, “Please.”
The second finger burrows deep inside Sam, thrust in with one overwhelming push. Sam clenches around Dean’s knuckles. Hitched one to another, Dean moves. He wastes no time. Takes no pleasure in teasing, remaining aware of the time. Driving his fingers forward, he fucks Sam steady and intense. Both fingers inside—Sam feels full. He opens himself up, a barricade crumbling, moaning louder. It feels good. Dean feels so good.
Without warning, Dean places his left hand over Sam’s belly.
Sam shouts. “Yes.” His face scrunches. “Fuck, yes.”
Their pace quickens. Dean’s fingers rotate and curl and pound, increasing in force, applying electric pressure against… “There,” Sam cries, “there, right there! Yes, yes, yes…”
He opens his eyes and focuses on that left hand.
Solid, thick fingers. Callused. Scarred. Weathered. Scraped like a boy amplified to warrior. Firm and vigorous, Dean strokes Sam’s vast, rounded middle. The skin there responds, highly sensitive. Dean kneads his fingers in, nails lightly scraping across blushing marks. He massages and applies careful pressure—adding more come until Sam’s belly shines as it heaves and sways. Dean’s left hand circles slick. His fingers plunge into Sam with a squelch.
“Dean. I’m coming.”
“Oh, oh, fuck! I’m coming! Dean! Oh god, Dean!”
Sam comes hard enough to shoot over the top of his stomach. Rope after rope of come stripe his belly. He takes a gulp of humid, heated air, sweat lining his forehead, and arches up, toes curling. Dean’s fingers haven’t stopped fucking him. The sound of his fingers, the sight of his left hand splayed over the rapidly rising and falling mound covered in come—Sam comes over Dean’s fingers again, wrecked, rocking, revering.
“Out,” Sam punches out, eyes opening to the sepia ceiling. “Pull out…!”
Dean sees it. Sam hears it.
A gush of water hits the blankets, creating a puddle, causing Sam to lie back down. Wet from sweat, tears, come, and his water breaking, Sam’s eyes flutter at the chase of pain.
In disbelief, Dean stares at his hands for two seconds, acting immediately as an agonizing moan from Sam echoes in the room. They couldn’t play instruments, but their father taught them CPR. He also took them to a farm last year, where Sam watched Dean help deliver puppies.
Hands washed, Dean kneels at Sam’s hips again.
After six days waiting, the baby drops within five minutes of Sam’s water breaking. It crowns after wrenching Sam open, forcing itself through, fighting against Sam’s piercing screams. He bears down. He yells. He braces his feet on the blankets, hands on the backs of his thighs, and pushes.
The head shifts forward an inch.
Then it slips backwards.
Forward. Backwards. Dean’s hands come up crimson. Forwards. Backwards. Sam sobs for an hour.
He turned seventeen this morning.
Color drains from his face. He can feel it seep out. More than that he can feel the baby stuck, helpless, threatening to tear him apart like a gunshot.
Lost in this accumulation of distress, Sam remotely comprehends the presence of ten small objects pressed against the baby’s head and the inadequate stretch of his muscle. He turned seventeen this morning. Why a book of music terms? Why not that barn at the crisp end of fall where they rolled in hay and slept out in the field one night nothing between them but a plan and a promise.
“PUSH!” This is not John’s voice. “SAM, PUSH!”
Dean nudges his fingertips slightly inside Sam, guiding the baby.
Sam pushes the head out. The first thing it feels is the secure hold of Dean’s hands.
Sixty minutes after their time runs out, Dean carries Sam out to the Impala as he continues to bleed.
Dean’s jeans are ruined.
There’s no more patching them up. Not enough needle and thread to fix them up like that. Not with blood, sweat, amniotic fluid, mucus, and tears all over them.
One hand on the wheel. Second hand on Sam’s stomach, pressing down. Weightless, all four of them become wingless birds. They drive north for the summer. And for every season after.
Sam cries, cramped, confused, and tired.
She cries too. The queen of spark.
Sixty. Seventy. Eighty.
Dean’s foot on the pedal guarantees the first tendrils of sunset in her hair.
They ascend. Twenty-one. Seventeen. And sixty minutes old.