Author's Notes: Not a new fic, but I thought I would finally post this here, too. Written for the 2007 lj spn summergen fic exchange, for swanseajill. Her prompt: "Humorous story about one of the more mundane aspects of life on the road." Set at no particular time; just a little peek at the in-between.

Standard disclaimers apply, including credits to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Aladdin. (Yup, I said Aladdin).

I think Tyranusfan was my only beta (thank you!), but just in case, let me give a shout-out to the usual suspects: Faye Dartmouth and kalyw. Even if you guys didn't have a direct hand in this one, your influence was and is always there.

--oo--oo--oo--oo--oo--

They did it all by rote: check into the motel, drive to the room, unload the car, claim a bed, unpack. They opened their duffels, unconsciously mirroring each other's movements, both knowing what was coming and silently getting prepared.

"Dinner first?" Sam 's hands poised over a change of clothes.

"After." Dean didn't wait for a reaction, knew without looking that Sam would agree.

They were ready and out the door in a matter of minutes. Sam stopped at the trunk, grabbed what they needed and jogged to catch up. Dean waited until he pulled even, then asked, "What's the magic number?"

Sam didn't hesitate. "42."

Dean did, eyebrow lifted in mock disdain. Then, "You're such a geek."

"Pretty lame trash talk, Dean. I think you're slipping."

"That's not trash talk, Sammy. That's pure and simple truth."

"You should save your energy for the game, Shorty."

"Yeah, coming from the Jolly Green Giant, that doesn't mean much."

"Whatever. You're just jealous."

"Says the man who lost by six points last time."

"Because you cheated."

"Excuses, excuses."

And back and forth it went as they followed the winding road to the junior high.

--oo--

It had started out as training, as most things had—a way for Dad to teach them balance and reach and competition while Sam was still too small to spar full-out. Basketball. One-on-one. Street rules as long as no one got hurt...at least, not too seriously.

They'd kept a basketball in the trunk, between the crossbows and the lighter fluid, and played whenever they could find an empty court.

The games were pretty lopsided in the beginning, Dean taller and stronger and wiser about how to manipulate Sam into playing the way he wanted him to. But Mother Nature tipped the scales soon enough, as Sam's height and coordination started to catch up. By the time Sam was fourteen, it was no longer a given, who would win. Even better, games were for fun now—a welcome release as training became hunting and sparring became fighting for their lives more often than not.

When the days came when they could barely speak to each other—the tension too thick as Sam and Dad fought with ever-worsening intensity, Dean stuck in the middle, losing whether he chose sides or not—they communicated on the court. Give and take. Ebb and flow. Put-downs laced with humor and praise. A shared endorphin high when the game was finished, a sated kind of tiredness that made the walk back to their motel or apartment amicable, full of points and plays and laying challenges for next time.

And then came the night even basketball couldn't fix, Dad delivering an ultimatum that had Sam walking out the door, seemingly forever, and Dean thinking he should have seen it coming, all along.

After Stanford, their rhythm was off, not just in hunting but in everything. It made sense after so long apart, with so many things between them now besides just four missing years. Fresh grief and fear now laced the same arguments they'd always had, the way they'd rarely come at problems—supernatural and not—from the same direction. Sparring, now, felt more like hostility; training like desperation.

Until the night Dean had come back from a dinner run with a new basketball in hand. He'd tossed it to a surprised-looking Sam and turned neatly on his heel, heading back out into the night. Sam followed him to a nearby park, where the asphalt court boasted two regulation hoops, fresh chalk lines, and lights—a rarity, especially in a town that size.

Dean was standing at the mid-line, one eyebrow raised as he brought his fingers up and motioned Sam closer, gently mocking. "Bring it on, little brother."

Sam did. And Dean did. And though they hardly spoke at all except to verify the score, it was the best conversation they'd had since before Sam left for Palo Alto.

--oo--

After months on the road, their rhythm was now long re-established. And while they played much less frequently, the games had become serious again, with an edge they'd never had, even when the Winchester men were boys. Rock-paper-scissors could only take them so far, after all; it took a full-fledged, all-out, last-one-standing game of hoops to decide who got stuck vacuuming the car, doing laundry, cleaning pistols, re-loading shotgun shells, and any of the other myriad mundanities of their lives.

Tonight's game was even more important. Sam had upped the stakes, thrown down a gauntlet Dean couldn't refuse: full command of the car's radio—tapes included—for a month.

The whole "driver picks the music" thing had lasted until just after Burkittsville, when five back-to-back replays of Hell Bent for Leather had finally pushed Sam over the edge. He'd held the tape over the Zippo he'd pickpocketed from his brother until Dean finally agreed to trade off every other day.

In truth, the music really didn't bother either of them as much as they claimed—the Hell Bent incident notwithstanding. Sam's tastes were mixed. He liked the emo-rock and faux-punk that made Dean roll his eyes (though he somehow usually knew most of the words), but also a bit of bluegrass and newer blues and some of the oldies Dad had favored. Dean was pretty monogamous to his hair bands and 70s classics, but—though he'd never admit it—Sam actually found the familiar tunes comforting. They were the sounds of brother, which had come to mean home, and sometimes even all is right with the world.

So, like many things between them, it really boiled down to principle: who was in control. A month would represent almost unimaginable power (in an itty-bitty living space).

They warmed up quickly, Dean dribbling while Sam tried to swipe the ball from his hands.

"So, what are we really playing to?" Dean spun the ball lazily on one finger as he took his position outside the three-point line.

"How about 11?"

"Win by three?"

Sam nodded.

"All right. Check it."

Dean bounce-passed the ball to Sam and Sam passed back, and it was on.

Sam played like he hunted: calculating, anticipating, focused, determined. Dean played like he drove: balls-out, pedal to the metal, a little wild and completely in the moment. Sam reigned over the outside shots, long arms giving him the advantage. Dean was lethal under the basket, holding onto the ball like a bulldog, taking shot after shot until it finally went in. The fight for rebounds devolved into flat-out wrestling matches, letting go the equivalent of calling "uncle." The only standing rule was no blood, no foul…and even that was pretty ambiguous, dependent on where the blood was coming from.

Sam took an early lead, 5-2, and the taunts began in earnest. "Getting slow in your old age, Dean-o. Better start taking vitamins." That earned him an elbow to the gut and Dean two quick points.

"All that thin air up there is messing with your head, Sammy. Watch and weep."

"I do that anyway."

"Keep it up, Francis." Dean hit a jumper to tie the game. "Just think—four whole weeks of Ace of Spades. We'll see who's crying then."

Sam stole the ball, went for a hook shot and missed. "Just goes to show that mullet crap will drive anyone to tears."

Another elbow—to the ribs, this time—and Dean was up 6-5.

Two air balls and a wrestling match later, and Sam had possession. He sunk the ball from three-point territory, blocked Dean's rebound, and picked up another point from the same distance. "I'm thinking a nice little medley of Willie Nelson and Fleetwood Mac."

"Hey, Stevie Nicks was hot! And Willie was one of those outlaw guys. He would've fit right in."

Sam just stood, ball in hand, staring at Dean incredulously.

"I'm a man of many layers, Sammy."

"And you call me a geek."

Dean grabbed the ball from his lax hands, barely looking at the basket before lobbing it over his shoulder. The net didn't even move when it went in. "Always."

Dean grinned and Sam scowled. And scooped up the rebound to sink one from off the line.

In the end, it was a hard-fought win for Sam. They were leaning on their knees, catching their breath, when Sam broke into a smile, remembering the other reason victory was so sweet. "Say it."

Dean glared.

"Say it." Sam chanted, drawing the syllables out.

"No way."

"Dean." Sam was all maddening calm and gleeful little-brother smirk. "It's the rule."

Dean huffed but couldn't deny it. After all—it had been his rule. "Sam is Supreme Ruler of the Court. I bow before his superior skills."

"And?"

Silence.

"Come on, Dean. Lay those sweet words on me."

Dean audibly grit his teeth. "Theradioisyoursforthemonth. Damn it."

Sam was laughing now, head thrown back. Dean plucked the ball from his hands, unchallenged. "Just don't you forget, Sparky, I taught you everything you know."

The laughter stopped and Sam tilted forward, looking Dean in the eye. "Yeah, you did."

Dean stared back for a second, then dropped his gaze to the ball, spinning it loosely. "Damn straight."

"Damn straight," Sam echoed, without even a hint of sarcasm.

Dean dribbled and the moment turned awkward, the way that kind of praise—gratitude—always did. "All right, enough with the Lifetime moment. Double or nothing?"

"And loser does the laundry." Sam swept by him, stealing the ball and sinking it from the free throw line.

Dean grabbed Sam's rebound, nailed a lay-up. Then caught his own rebound and did it again.

"Bring it on, little brother."

Fin

Check out the other posts from 2007 fic exchange as well as all of the 2008 stories! New fics will be posted beginning August 4th to: community (dot) livejournal (dot) com (slash) spn (underscore) summergen. No worries: I'm not in it this year!