Disclaimer: The boys, the car and the concept belong to Kripke, the love belongs to us.
Beta'd: By Phx who gave me some awesome feedback and Muffy Morrigan who corrected my meandering ways. You guys are the best! I played and tweaked after they beta'd, so as usual any and all errors are mine alone.
Dedicated: To Carocali – Merry Christmas, my fellow-geek and friend!
Time Line: Mid April, 1998. Dean is 19, Sam is almost 15.
The quiet, suppressed whimper was what woke him. It was pillow-dampened, barely audible, but a part of him had been waiting for this moment. Sam's day had been pretty rough. Dean lay quiet, hoping his brother only needed a little private cry to feel better, but when the whimper grew to a moan, he knew it wasn't going to happen.
Dean had sparred with Sam that afternoon, teaching him some moves under their Dad's watchful eye. Dad had been critical and demanding, yet correct in his observations. Sam needed to focus, strengthen his muscles, and hone his skills. His little brother had been small for his age, his late growth spurt leaving him even further behind Dean. The problem was he had recently grown at the phenomenal rate of nearly a half an inch every two weeks for the last three and a half months.
Sam had shot from not quite five foot five to almost five foot nine virtually overnight and his longer, gangly limbs were something he didn't seem in control of half the time. He reminded Dean vaguely of a black Labrador puppy he'd played with in one of the countless towns they'd passed through.
The moan ended with hitched breaths and Dean couldn't pretend any longer. He'd never really believed his Dad when Sammy was an infant either. Dad said crying was good for the baby and that he needed to learn to comfort himself. Dean always figured that's why Sam had a big brother.
He couldn't ignore the baby then, and he certainly couldn't ignore the kid now, no matter how big his brother had grown or how much the teen angst and sulking drove Dean crazy. "Sammy?" he whispered.
"I'm fine," Sam whispered back tersely.
"You sure?" Dean asked, propping himself up on one elbow to get a better look at his brother. "I mean, you were getting up close and personal with the mat a lot tonight. You should learn to stay on your feet."
Dean expected a growled 'whatever' or a sarcastic comeback to his jibe. So, the low groan took him by surprise. He was out of bed, hovering over Sam before his brother's protest registered. "Go back to bed, Dean, I'm fine."
"So you've said," Dean said, his tone growing firm. "Then there's no reason I can't take a look."
"Dean, really I, aaagghh," Sam said, the last of his argument morphing into a groan of pain. Sam curled his body inward, his chin resting on his chest, arms hugging his midsection. "Oh, God."
"Sam?" Dean whipped the blankets off his brother, turning on the small lamp on the bedside table. His brother's left leg twitched, his foot curled back towards the heel. "Aw, Sammy."
"Dean, it hurts," he moaned, straightening his entire body, fists clenched tightly by his sides.
"I know, kiddo," Dean replied, softly. He attempted to flex Sam's foot, toes pointing upwards, but the muscle was too tight. Sam's moan turned to whimpering pants. Dean gripped the bunched calf muscle, gently kneading the large knot with one hand, carefully flexing the kid's foot with the other. "It'll be okay, try to relax."
Sam huffed, the escaping air sounding suspiciously like a sob, but Dean wasn't about to call him on it. "Dean." Desperate fingers on one hand latched onto his t-shirt, the ones on the other clenched the bed sheets. "Please."
"It'll be okay," Dean said. "You just have to ride it out." He continued to massage his brother's calf. Then, as suddenly as it began, the muscle loosened. Sam visibly sagged in the bed. "That's it, just relax," Dean soothed, continuing to knead the quivering muscle.
Sam's breathing switched from rapid and shallow to a deeper, slower cadence. He blinked lazily at Dean. "Sorry." His little brother's eyes were damp and shiny in the meager light.
"What for?" Dean asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed. He didn't stop his ministrations, just softened the touch.
"Waking you up," Sam said, turning his head deeper into the pillow, obscuring Dean's view of his face.
Dean ran fingers through Sam's sweaty locks, soothing his brother, trying to reassure him. "Dude, you've been waking me up in the night since the day you were born. It's nothing I'm not used to."
The tightly wound fingers extricated from his t-shirt, the hand batting weakly at his arm. "I'm serious."
"So am I, Sam," Dean said. "Why the sudden concern for my sleep?"
"I'm not just sorry about waking you up," Sam said in a tone that suggested concern for Dean's lack of intelligence. The older hunter tried not rolling his eyes at the emotionally turbulent teen his brother had evolved into, but failed, miserably. "I'm sorry I suck at hand to hand, Dean. I've waited so long to really train with you and I'm getting worse, not better."
Dean nodded his head, pinching his lips with his thumb and forefinger. "That's true."
Sam angrily brushed moisture out of his eyes with the back of his hand. "Nice. I'm glad my own brother thinks I'm a failure and a liability."
"I never said that," Dean said sharply.
"You said I sucked." Sam's brow pinched, forehead frowning.
"No, I agreed with you," Dean replied. "You said you sucked." Sam opened his mouth, but Dean continued, not giving his little brother any time to interrupt. "What I agreed with is that you're not getting much better."
Sam's entire face puckered in a grimace, he let his head fall back to the pillow with a light thump. "Thanks."
"Hey," Dean said, shaking his brother's shoulder. "Look at me."
He opened his eyes, turning his face towards Dean. "What?"
"The truth is, you went from brine shrimp to baitfish in four months." Dean patted Sam on the head. His brother rewarded him with another half-hearted swipe. "You haven't learned to control the new and improved Sammy height yet, but you will."
Sam's dark expression clearly conveyed his disbelief.
And just like that, his little brother wilted, turning again from frustrated teen to vulnerable seven-year-old before Dean's very eyes. "I dunno, Dean," Sam said, his tone skeptical.
"Well, I do." Dean slapped Sam lightly on the chest. A dimpled grin appeared, the teen's eyes shone with relief. "Wait here."
"Nuh-uh," Sam protested. "I have to use the bathroom."
Dean rolled his eyes. "I told you not to drink that whole bottle of POWERade before bed."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Sam muttered, fighting his way loose from the blankets. Dean winced, watching as the teen limped slowly and painfully from the room. Dean followed as close to his little brother as he dared without alerting Sam to the fact that he was, indeed, hovering behind him.
Dean turned left when Sam turned right towards the bathroom. "Take some Advil while you're in there," Dean called over his shoulder. He didn't wait for an answer; reasonably certain he wouldn't like it anyway.
He paused at his father's door before rapping once solidly on the door. "Come in," his father commanded. Dean twisted the knob and walked in the dark room.
"Sorry, just looking for the heating pad," Dean apologized.
"Thanks." The chair thunked against the desk when Dean's little toe connected with the leg. "Son of bitch," he groaned. "Damn, that hurt."
"You okay, son?" his dad asked, flicking on the light beside the bed.
"Yeah," Dean said, grabbing the heating pad.
"Is he?" John scrubbed a hand down his face, his eyes reflecting concern.
"Leg cramp," Dean explained. "I'm not sure if it's from the workout or just from growing so fast, but it was a bad one."
"Maybe both." John sat up further in the bed. "Need some help?"
"Nah," Dean replied. "I got it."
"Okay, goodnight, Dean."
"Night, Dad." Dean slipped out the door without managing to stub his toe on anything else. As he headed down the hall he noticed light escaping from under the bathroom door. "Hurry up, Sammy!"
Dean couldn't make out the muffled response, but the derisive tone adequately conveyed his brother's message. Dean chuckled. He would wait for Sam in their room.
Sam sighed. He sat, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. He had tried to stand, but his leg shook so hard, it nearly dumped him headfirst into the toilet which would have been a good sight more humiliating than just having to sit and do his business like a girl. And didn't that just bring back wonderful memories of when he'd been younger and got trapped in a woman's restroom all because of the stupid wording on the door. "Mares, my ass," he muttered.
His toes twitched, a muscle spasm running up the back of his leg. "No, no, no," he whispered. If he couldn't make it back to the bedroom and Dean had to rescue him from the bathroom, he'd never live it down.
The spasm quieted and Sam breathed a sigh of relief. He stood with the majority of his weight on his right leg, his left resting gingerly on the floor. He could do this. It was only a little muscle soreness. He just needed to walk it off. Sam took one hobbling step forward. "So far, so good," he coached himself. On the next step, he put more pressure on his left leg and the muscle screamed in protest.
Sam didn't bother flushing or washing his hands. He concentrated solely on getting back without making a fool of himself. By the time he reached the bedroom, Sam was wiped out. Sparring with his older, bigger, more experienced brother was usually harder on his ego than his body, mostly because Dean went easy on him, but tonight his body was putting up a good argument. He rested a hand on the doorknob, taking a deep breath to steady himself, and opened the door.
Dean looked up when the door opened. He looked guilty, shoving a magazine under his mattress. Sam resisted an eye roll; it wasn't as if he didn't know about Dean's skin mags. He took a step into the room and his leg seized up, sending the floor rushing up to meet his face. Sam heard Dean call his name as he prepared for impact.
It never came.
Instead, strong arms gripped his, saving him from the floor. "Geez, Sam," Dean chided. "I thought you'd mastered walking years ago. My bad."
"Whatever," Sam grumbled. He tried to get his legs under him to stand again. "Ouch."
The grip on his arms tightened, hefting him upwards until Dean's arm slid under his. "I got ya." Sam swallowed down his embarrassment, accepting help from Dean to get back on the bed. "I think you've gained twenty pounds," Dean groaned.
"And three inches," Sam said. "Finally." Dean turned him towards the wall, kneading the twitching muscle again. It hurt, a lot, but Sam gritted his teeth determined to keep any further humiliating moments on hold until tomorrow at the earliest. Dean's thumb hit a knot, Sam's leg jerked, and a low moan whistled past his lips. No such luck.
"Sam," Dean said, his voice low. Sam squeezed his eyes shut, trying to keep his mortification a secret. Pathetic didn't even begin to describe how low he felt. "Do you remember that apartment we rented in Indiana?"
"The one with the pool?" Sam asked, his surprise at Dean's question temporarily taking his mind off his inadequacies.
"Yeah, that one," Dean said. "You were ten."
That Sam remembered. It was only a few short months after he'd learned the truth about what their dad really did when he went away on business trips. "I remember you trying to impress that girl Candy, with your diving."
Dean laughed, the massaging action stopped while he fiddled with something. Sam felt a pad draped over his leg, then warm heat. He sighed, relaxing into the bed. Dean chuckled again. "Yeah, well, you missed my grand finale."
Sam opened his eyes, looking over his shoulder at Dean. He furrowed his brows. "What grand finale?"
"I decided to do a somersaulting dive off the high board," Dean said. He reached down, pulling the covers up over his younger brother, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Which I executed perfectly, I might add."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Of course, you did." He started to turn back over, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"That wasn't the finale," Dean said, releasing Sam's shoulder. "I don't know if it was my recent growth spurt, the big lunch I'd just had, or the dive itself, but I cramped up. I couldn't move. I thought I was going to drown in the stupid community pool."
Sam's eyes were wide. "Where was I?"
"Playing with that kid in 7b, some paste-eater," Dean said.
"Oh," Sam said, remembering. "Gerald, and he wasn't a paste-eater, he was good at math." Dean shrugged. "What happened?"
"I really thought I was going to drown, and then I heard someone jump in the pool. They pulled me out." Dean made eye contact with Sam. "I remember thinking I was going to die of embarrassment."
"You were alive," Sam said. "That was all that mattered."
"It sure didn't feel like it at the time though," Dean said. "I was glad you wouldn't be walking by on the way home and find me floating in the pool, but I was humiliated. I was lying on the concrete trying to catch my breath and when my rescuer spoke, I wished I was back in the pool."
"Why?" Sam dug his fingers into Dean's leg. "Was it Dad?"
"It was Candy," Dean explained. "I wanted her to be impressed, to think I was a man, and instead, I almost drowned in the pool, and she had to save me."
"I'm sure she understood," Sam said, relaxing the grip he had on his brother. "What'd she say?"
"Nothing beyond asking me if I was okay," Dean said. "I practically ran away from her at that point and avoided her at all costs until we moved."
"I remember her trying to talk to us a few times. You always made some excuse." Sam felt his toes twitch once, but settle. The heat was helping.
"Yeah," Dean said. "I was so afraid about what she thought of me, I couldn't." He reached under the blanket, carefully probing Sam's leg. "I think you'll be able to sleep now."
Sam yawned, the mere mention of sleep caused him to remember how tired he truly was. "I think so, too." Dean smiled, moving off to his bed. "Hey, Dean?"
"Did you ever talk to Candy again?"
"Once, when we were leaving," Dean said. He turned off the light.
"She told me she liked me and that I'd really hurt her feelings by avoiding her," Dean said, regret permeated his tone.
"I'm sorry," Sam said, turning on his back. He reached down to adjust the heating pad under his leg.
"Yeah, so am I," Dean said. "But I learned something important that day. You can't ever assume what people are thinking or how they feel. Here I was trying to get her to like me and she had a crush on me already."
Sam realized with startling clarity that he'd been tricked into a story with a pertinent moral. "I don't have a crush on you, Dean," he dead-panned. A pillow sailed out of the darkness, hitting him square in the face. Sam laughed tucking the extra pillow behind his head. "And I guess you don't think of me as a liability."
"Never," Dean replied, his voice firm. "You're just my pain in the ass little brother, Sammy, and you always will be."
"Jerk," Sam said, nestling deeper into the pillows.
There was silence for several long moments. "Bitch," Dean countered; his voice so quiet Sam thought he imagined it at first.
"What?" he asked, indignantly. "Dean, I swear, sometimes you're so immature."
"Whatever, Sammy," Dean said. Sam swore he could hear the smirk on his brother's face. "Get some sleep." Soft, even breaths came from the next bed only moments later.
And ever following his brother's lead, Sam closed his eyes and nodded off to sleep.
AN: Thanks for reading!
Hey, Carocali, I'm sorry for posting your fic before Christmas. I was literally at work from 07:45 to 22:45 today, the last seven hours stuck in a meeting from hell. I'm not sure we got anywhere, I'm really not, and I'm too brain dead to even care anymore. So, I'm posting early to prove I can get something accomplished today. Oh shoot, it's after midnight. I guess I'll have to settle with starting today off right! LOL
Merry Christmas, girly. Thanks for jumping into the llama infested waters when I needed help. And thanks for being a friend.