The view is different from the front seat, but it doesn't feel right for him to be up here next to Dad while Dean is in the back. He knows better than to mess with the mirrors when Dad is driving, so he twists as best he can and looks at Dean, who is sprawled awkwardly, his cast propped up on the seat, his face pressed up against the window as he murmurs in his sleep.
Sam looks at Dad and judges from the loose set of his jaw and the presence of only one hand on the steering wheel that it's safe to turn on the radio. He flips the tuner past static and hits a high squeal that makes him dive for the volume knob. Too late. Dean's awake, clumsily shifting his broken leg and popping his neck.
"Dad," Dean says through a yawn, "why didn't you wake me up?"
"Thought you needed the sleep," Dad says, sounding pretty tired too. "Plus you've still got twenty-three hours."
Looking back and forth from one to the other, dread building in his stomach, Sam finally asks, "Dad? What's going on?" He needs to know what they're heading into.
Dean laughs and pulls something from one of the pockets of his leather jacket, draped over him like a blanket, and tosses it expertly onto Sam's lap. "Happy birthday, genius," he says, smiling.
Sam looks down and sees a wallet - real leather, just like Dean's, no more baby canvas-and-velcro - on his lap. "Open it," Dean says, sounding excited, and Sam flips it open to see a fake ID already tucked into the plastic-covered slot; it says that Sam's eighteen, old enough to drive in any state in the country. In two years it'll be true, and by then Dean will have made him an ID proclaiming him to be of legal drinking age.
He slips it out and examines it. Dean's done a good job, got the hologram and laminating just right, and he even picked a decent picture. He slides the hard rectangle of plastic back into place and brings the wallet up to his nose, inhaling the smell of the leather. "Thanks, Dean," he says.
Dad looks over at him and shifts his butt up to reach into his back pocket, pulling out his own wallet. "Here, Sammy," he says, pulling out the only bill inside. "Whatever you want. On me. I know you didn't want to have to move on your birthday."
He nods at Dad, tongue-tied, and Dean thwaps him gently on the back of his head.
Dean shoos him out of the house with a smile, already enthroned upon the long, plush couch - nicer than any of them expected - with a stack of notes on werewolves next to him. Sam makes sure the little boombox Dean's toted around since Dad got it for him for his thirteenth birthday is within easy reach and then walks out the door.
Dad's fifty is burning a hole in his pocket, and he sets off for the tiny shopping center he'd been surprised to see as they drove into town at dawn. The town itself has only two stoplights, one at either end of Main Street, and it's kind of quiet, even at two on a Saturday afternoon. Dad and Dean are going to go crazy here.
There's no bookstore, but the pharmacy has a decent number of paperbacks. He browses through them, finding nothing but glitzy Danielle Steeles and stark Tom Clancys. He looks out the window and sees the "SALE!" sign in a shop across the parking lot. He puts down the black-and-red spy novel and walks over. The place is neat, nearly empty, and he looks around, more killing time than actually shopping, until he spots the stack of jeans. He's been wearing Dean's hand-me-downs his whole life, and even that's better than wearing some stranger's, bought at Goodwill, but now that he's taller than Dean, that's just not going to work anymore. He wants new jeans, a pair that's entirely his, fitting him just right and with a faded spot on the back pocket he'll make with his new wallet. He sorts through the pile, looking for his size, and finds a pair almost immediately.
The dressing room is basically a dark little closet with a curtain that covers about half the doorway. He slips out of his sneakers and shoves his pants down hastily, not needing to look to know the patterns of the bruises on his legs. The new pair slides on like a glove, room to grow and everything, and he steps out of the closet to find a mirror, savor the whole experience. They even look right on him, flattering, making him appear more muscular than he actually is. He checks the tag and feels a smile creep across his face when he realizes he can afford them.
Suddenly there's a girl standing next to him. She's wearing a nametag that says Krista. "They look good on you," she says, and he looks at her to see how hard she's trying to make the sale. But she seems unconcerned about that, instead appraising the fit, stepping back and tilting her head. Her long dark ponytail swings a little. "Do you have a belt?"
"Yeah," he says, pointing instead of getting his legs moving, "on my old pair."
She bounces off to retrieve them and he reaches for the belt to pull it free. His wallet falls out of the pocket.
"I got it," she says, bending down to pick it up, lying open on the ground.
She smells really good, like some expensive shampoo, and she's standing so close. It takes him a few tries to get the belt through all the loops with her watching. He does up the buckle, not meeting her eyes.
"Oh, yeah," she says when his hands drop nervously back to his sides, sounding genuinely appreciative. "That's much better."
She's still holding his wallet and his old jeans and he follows her out of the changing area to the cash register. "Cash or charge?" she asks, handing back his wallet, and he pulls out the fifty and gives it to her. "Do you want to wear the new ones out or change back?"
She makes it sound like a magic spell. "The new ones."
"Okay. Hang on a sec," she says, reaching for the scissors sitting in a flowered mug on the counter. She slips her warm hand into the back of his waistband, her cool pink nails sliding smoothly against his skin, and he can feel himself flinching from the unexpected touch. She fishes out the tag, snips it off, and turns him once with her steady hands. "All set."
She turns back to ring him up and he remembers his sneakers are still in the changing room. By the time he gets back, she's counted out his change and found a bag for his old jeans.
"So . . . Sam," she says, slowly, giving him time to realize she read his name off the license Dean manufactured, looking up at him with pretty brown eyes, "are you starting school tomorrow?"
"Um, yeah," he says, trying to look like he's not smelling her hair.
She leans over the counter a little, and his eyes drop to the low neckline of her blouse. "I could show you around, if you want," she offers, and he doesn't think he's imagining the suggestiveness of her voice. He'd never admit it, but he's paid attention to the way Dean treats his girls, and he smiles back and rests his forearms on the counter so that their faces are close together.
"That sounds good," he says and she giggles, the sound high and light and sweet like cotton candy. He feels warmth pooling in his belly, pride that he's the one that got her to sound like this, and he decides not to push his luck by improvising. He scoops up his stuff and says, "See you then," and walks out the door.
When he walks back into the house wearing the new jeans, Dean wolf-whistles and shifts to make room on the couch. He opens his book and tries to ignore Dean, who's giving him a knowing once-over. He frowns down at the page, betting that Hermione Granger smells nowhere near as good as Krista.
"Sammy," Dean says, and he braces himself for a round of teasing questions. "Having a good birthday so far?"
Surprised, he looks up and nods. They share a smile, and then Dean leans forward and whispers, "Talked Dad out of trying to cook. Pizza sound good for dinner?"
"Yeah," he says, and gets comfy, opening his book again and stealing a sip of Dean's water. Maybe later he'll ask Dean what to say to Krista in the morning.
Krista pulls him into a hug when he meets her by the flagpole, then steps back and runs her hands over his shoulders and arms. He looks around, but no one's paying any attention, and he relaxes and takes a good look at her, glowing pink and tan in her little green-and-white cheerleading uniform. She holds his hand, her smile stretching the green initials painted on her cheek, and starts the tour. "This is the guidance office. This is the language lab. This is the cafeteria." He doesn't stop her, doesn't tell her he could give her this tour blindfolded, because he's seen every school there is to see. "And this is the senior wing," she says, and he ducks underneath a drooping banner for the prom, a few weeks away.
"You know," she says, looking around the empty hallway and then back up at him, her eyes sparkling, "you didn't give me a chance to say happy birthday yesterday."
There is no way this can be happening, no matter what Dean said, but it is, because he sees her get up on her tiptoes, feels her wind her arms around his neck, and then she's kissing him, shy and soft. He kisses back the best that he can, his right arm looping around her waist, his left finding her bare thigh.
She smiles against his lips and gives him another quick peck. "Meet me at lunch?" she asks, and he nods dumbly.
She sees him as Sam, eighteen and exciting. He's never going to tell her about being fat little Sammy the nerd, immune to bullies only because of his big brother's protective gaze.
Aside from Dean, no one's ever laughed at his jokes; no one ever figured out that he was even trying to tell a joke, most of the time. But Krista giggles when he says something smart, crowds into his space when she does, and just gives him her undivided attention. She sticks by his side like it's the best place she could ever be. He's dazzled.
It takes him a couple of days to ask why they always eat alone. She looks at him as the smile falls off her face, sizing him up, and then she sighs, her ponytail bobbing as moves. "About a month ago," she says softly, and he leans in to hear her, "I got drunk - really drunk - at a party and I made out with Cal." She points to one of the jocks, a big guy with short brown hair and a letterman jacket. "I thought he was my boyfriend Brian," she continues, pointing at another big guy with the same conservative haircut, "but no one believed me, and everybody loves Brian, and so here we are." She eyes him like he's going to slap a scarlet A on her chest and bolt.
He's never been anyone's savior before. "Brian looks like a jackass," he says, and she looks at him, puzzled. When he adds, "Cal too, no wonder you got them confused," she starts to laugh so hard she clutches helplessly at her stomach.
Dean will know what to do. And if he doesn't, he'll know how to fake it. Dean is good at that.
"Dean!" he bellows, before remembering that with a cast nearly up to his hip, it's unlikely that Dean's upstairs or traipsing around town, or anywhere except the stupid couch.
Dean looks up at him with his eyebrows raised. "Yeah, Sammy?"
It comes out quick, one panicked breath. "Theheadcheerleaderaskedmetotheprom." That's probably a word in German.
Dean gets it, of course, the same way he got it when Sam had decided one day to make up his own language and spent hours conjugating verbs in a notebook he had to consult constantly for the next six weeks. "Nice," Dean grins. "And?"
What does he mean, And? "And, and, money for the ticket and a tux and a limo and . . . shit, Dad's not going to let me go, is he?"
"Do you want to go?" Dean asks calmly, sitting up a little like he's finally taking this seriously.
"Yes!" It's out of his mouth before he really thinks about it. It's not something he ever imagined, but now that it's his, he finds himself clinging to it. Krista wants him, not Dean's little brother, not anybody else. She asked him, and he feels giddy and terrified. Dean's still looking at him patiently, so he lowers his voice and repeats his answer. "Yes."
"Okay, then. Here's what we'll do."
And Dean lays it all out for him, and it is beautiful in its simplicity. He tries to say thank you by making dinner, letting Dean stay off his bad leg for a little longer, but he burns the lasagna.
He gets back from another long day of mowing lawns with wads of cash jammed into the pockets of his old jeans, and he walks into the house to find Dad polishing the black shoes he wears when he wants to look like a plainclothes cop.
Dad looks up, nods a hello, and starts talking like they were in the middle of a conversation. "So your brother" - he gestures with one shoe-covered hand at Dean, who's down on the floor sweating through push-ups like a masochistic idiot - "thinks my shoes will fit those boats you call feet."
All Sam can hear is Dean's steady grunting; he wonders what his brother said to make all of this so easy for him.
"Yeah," he says, a little dazed from how smoothly everything is going. "I, I think I've got enough for a tux and corsage and my ticket right now, and, um, maybe one more weekend and I'll have enough for the limo too. Thanks, Dad."
Dad shrugs uneasily, looking as awkward as Sam feels. "A prom," Dad says, scrubbing at his chin with his free hand and leaving a dash of black polish along the line of his jaw. "That's . . ." he trails off and Sam starts to leave, thinking he should grab a shower before Dean claims the bathroom and takes forever trying to maneuver in the tiny space with his cast. But Dad suddenly makes a comeback. "That's pretty grown-up stuff," Dad says, like Sam hasn't been holding a gun since he was nine years old.
He can hear Dean slowing down, finally, but it seems like he's doing it more out of curiosity than fatigue. When Dad clears his throat uncomfortably, Dean stops completely and rolls over onto his back, his face shiny. "Son, maybe we should talk, uh, about . . . sit down, would you?"
Sam pulls out one of the chairs tucked underneath the kitchen table and drops into it.
Dad stares at him like he wonders if Sam can see that he's going crazy. "No, no, stand up," Dad says hastily, so Sam jumps back up without even daring to look sideways at Dean. Dad takes a deep breath and starts again. "Proms are, uh, usually a time when, uh," he falters again, and Sam's on the verge of whispering Christo when Dad brightens and says, "young men like to . . . rent hotel rooms."
What a euphemism. It's just spring in the air, this crazy urge to rent hotel rooms. Give me a break, Dad he wants to say, but Dad is clearly gearing up for a long talk, now that the ice has been broken. "See, sometimes, there can be pressure to engage in sexual intercourse, and I want to know that you're prepared . . ." Sam can feel his eyes bug out a little; is Dad giving him permission to . . . rent a hotel room?
Dean is making little choking noises, and Dad hands him a glass of water without breaking the flow of his talk. "It can be confusing," he's saying when Dean sputters and interrupts.
"Dad! I got it. Sammy and I will have a nice long talk all about it, okay? You're off the hook."
Dad slumps a little and then smiles gratefully at Dean. "Thanks, son."
It's the first time he's had something to focus on that wasn't school or hunting, and he doesn't know how to deal with the jitters. Just walking down the hall is a challenge because he keeps looking at his feet, trying to determine if they've grown, if he won't be able to wear Dad's shoes after all. Lunchtimes with Krista are the only moments of relaxation he gets, the peace of being ostentatiously ignored by the entire senior class a soothing balm.
She says she feels the same way. "I'm leaving this town the minute I graduate. What do I care what they think of me?" Her bravado slips a little and she kisses him, her hand sliding into his hair. "I'm so glad you moved here, Sam."
Dean sounds bitchy enough to be one of the cheerleaders on Krista's squad. "This is why I told you to get a tux with a vest! What the fuck is the point of a cummerbund?" The article in question sails across the room, where Dean conveniently can't get to it.
He sighs and retrieves it. "The tuxes with a vest cost more," he says, shutting Dean up.
"Let me give it another go," Dean says, and cinches it just right. "Alright, you showered, you shaved, you brushed your teeth, you slathered on deodorant and aftershave. Combed your hair - tried, anyway. Points for effort. I think you're good to go."
"Dean," he says, turning so suddenly that Dean has to hobble to a halt to avoid crashing into him. "Thanks, man."
"Forget it. Just remember what I taught you."
Dean's lying on the couch watching TV, but his hearing must be particularly attuned to the sound of an engine - any engine - because he turns off the TV suddenly and says, "She's here."
Sam's hands start to sweat and a couple minutes later, there's a knock on the door, and he opens it to find Krista standing there in a white dress, her dark hair spilling down her back. "Come in!" he says, feeling like some idiotic game-show host, much too hearty, but she doesn't seem to notice.
"Can I just use your bathroom really quick?" she whispers, and he points the way. She has to walk by the den to get there, which means that Dad and Dean got a good look at her. He groans and hangs his head and walks in there, waiting for the verdict.
Dad's grinning like Sam's never seen. "Have fun tonight, Sammy."
Dean's regarding him solemnly. "Hot. Definitely hot. But. Poofy skirt, Sam." He shakes his head and Sam wants to sock him. He makes a sweaty fist, but then they all hear a flush, and Dean stage-whispers, "Just remember what I said!" before flopping down on his back and pretending to be asleep.
Dad leads the way back into the foyer and they wait there for Krista. She shakes Dad's hand politely and calls him "sir," and Dad looks impressed and says he wishes Dean were feeling better, because he guesses they'd probably get on real well. Krista insists on at least seeing Dean, so Sam walks her to the sofa, where Dean is still busy feigning sleep.
"He looks nice," Krista whispers, and Sam nearly snorts, thinking that Dean looks like a great big phony and a pain in the ass, for sure, but nice might be pushing it.
Dad's still standing by the front door, and Krista says, "I'll have him home by two, sir."
Dad smiles and jokes, "Glad I can trust one of you," like he's just a normal dad, and as he turns to go he sees Dean giving him a huge wink.
He's not much of a dancer, could never let go of feeling self-conscious long enough to just move to the music the way Dean does. But the DJ plays mostly slow songs, and he figures he can handle that, especially if it means he gets Krista nestled in his arms, her head resting on his chest. Her hair tickles his hands, locked around her waist, and when he bends to kiss her she smiles and closes her eyes.
One of the prom chaperones hustles over to them and pulls them apart by the shoulders; she looks offended when they burst out laughing. His nervousness dies completely right then. He's there, at the prom, tux and cummerbund and dress shoes, with a beautiful girl wearing the corsage he picked out for her. Nothing is going to take this night of triumph away from him.
"Sam," she says, three songs and two cups of punch later. "Kiss me again."
He is completely on board with this plan, but he looks around for the chaperones anyway. Instinct, really; always check for lookouts. She grabs his hand. "Let's get out of here."
He follows her out of the ballroom, out of the mansion, and into the warm evening air. She stops when they get to the side of the building, where there are vines and shrubs waving prettily against the stone facade. "Here we are," she says, and then he's kissing her, and she's kissing back, frantic in a way she's never been before, and it seems like he needs the wisdom Dean imparted after all.
He takes one look at the top of her dress - some complicated arrangement of pearl beads and lace and flimsy straps that go nowhere - and dismisses any notion of second base. But the skirt - big and soft - should be easy to get past once he figures out how many layers it's got. He crouches down a little, finding the hem of the skirt, and gets past it until his fingers hit her calf. He slides them up to her knee, as he stands, her skin feeling warmer the higher he goes. When they hit her thigh, she tips her head forward, her hair shadowing her face. "Wanna watch you," she mumbles, and leans back against the stone wall.
He braces himself with one palm against the stone, his arm straight and stiff right next to her head. With his other hand he traces her thigh delicately. The white fabric of her skirt spills over his tuxedo arm, strangely stark like a black-and-white photograph, but her face is growing pinker by the second. Moment of truth. He flutters his fingers at her leg, at her waist, and peels her underwear down her thighs. He watches her face, easier now that her head has fallen back and her neck is one long straight line, and slips his fingers past her curls into a wet sucking heat. She's gasping and her hands come up to grip his arms. She stutters his name, and he keeps his fingers moving, keeps checking her reactions. Her hands get unbearably tight and she moans and clenches around his fingers; a moment later and her head lolls helplessly on her neck. He's about to pull his hand out from under her skirt when the same bulldog chaperone finds them. "No students outside!" she insists, looking relieved not to find them kissing. He prays that she can't see the position his hand is in, and apparently the folds of the skirt keep her from realizing. He pulls free as discreetly as possible and stands in front of Krista to give her time to adjust her underwear.
She marches them back inside like naughty toddlers, and they end up laughing again, all the way through the prom theme neither one of them chose.
Dean's waiting up for him, surfing restlessly through the same six channels. He looks up questioningly. "Yeah," Sam says, and laughs.
Dean scoots closer to the sofa back to make room for him, and he lies down. He can smell his own aftershave and Dean's skin, can feel the cold plaster of Dean's cast against his leg. Dean finally picks a black-and-white movie, the volume down low, the voices mere murmurs. He falls asleep in his tux, lying on the couch next to his brother.