Title: Run

Oneshot, Gen, little bit of pre-series flashback

Rating: M for language

Spoilers: Through 4.14

Summary: "Hey Sammy, wanna race?"

Word count: around 3,500

Notes: 4.14 fic

All mistakes are my own. I humbly beg your forgiveness.

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It's been about a week since the thing with the siren. Five days, but who's counting? Dean's been keeping a low profile. His conversations with Sam and the few phone calls he's had with Bobby have been all business. He's stopped skipping meals. He hasn't even been drinking, unless you count a few hits off the 'ol flask as drinking, and Dean doesn't. It's fucking medicinal is what it is.

He hasn't even used the word "Hell". Not even as an expletive. Eat it, Sam. Fuck. Ask a guy to open up and then call him a pussy. Fuckin' A.

The both of them have been avoiding the subject of Nick and his killer Spanish fly like the plague. Dean sure isn't going to be the one to bring it up. What's he going to say? Hey, you really hurt my feelings, bro. Sorry I tried to break your arm and take your head off with a fire axe. Bygones.

Whatever happened to fire extinguishers in that hallway? Huh? Or a fire hose? That's what Dean wants to know.

Dean has actually been feeling a little better, physically anyway. Sleep debt, too much drinking and not enough food can really wear a guy down. Since he's gotten himself on something like a schedule, or as close to it as they can manage, he feels some of his energy returning. Still, he's as shocked as Sam looks when Dean finds himself sitting on the end of his bed at the Lazy Daisy Motel at five in the morning in a t-shirt and gym shorts, lacing his old Asics onto his feet.

"Hey," Sam says, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Or maybe he's rubbing them in disbelief because this is the first time Dean's been up and dressed before him in months if not years. The nights Dean never went to sleep don't count.

"Hey," Dean says. "Wanna go for a run?"

And that's how Dean finds himself pounding the pavement beside Sam at five-thirty in the morning, jogging around a small lake in the Rocky Mountain town of Nowheresville, Colorado.

Dean estimates that the lake is about five miles around. By the end of mile one he's wondering whose crap-ass idea this was. His lungs are burning with January-cold air, his calves are screaming and his knees are going to hate him later, even more than they do right now. Dean hasn't been up this early to run since Dad stopped assigning him PT in his early twenties.

Meanwhile, Sam's cruising along so smooth he might as well be on roller skates. They've never done fitness the way normal people do. Most of the running that they do is, well, running for their lives. Strength training was limited to digging graves, scaling fences and the odd set of push-ups and sit-ups in shady motel rooms. So how the fuck did Sam stay so fit? Maybe it's the whole demon blood thing: better, stronger, faster, all of that crap. Or maybe Sam's been sneaking off to aerobics classes with Ruby this whole time.

God, he cracks himself up.

Still, the little shit hasn't even broken a sweat. And here's the kicker: he turns to Dean, and in his best Concerned Sam voice he asks, "Doin' alright there, buddy?"

Ho-lee shit.

"Just tryin'a go easy on you," Dean tells him. It takes a lot out of him not to pant when he says the words. It takes a lot more effort to hit the gas, pulling in front of Sam just enough to make a point, but he does it anyway. He calls over his shoulder, "Dig deep, Sammy!"

The first time Sammy beat him in a footrace Dean was pissed. Yeah, he'd slapped the kid on the back and let him have his moment. He'd hinted that he'd let Sammy win, but the length of Sammy's legs and Dean's heaving chest called Dean a dirty liar.

"He's got it easy," Dad told him. "Look at the kid's hands. He's gonna be a giant. He's already got you on height. One day he'll have you on weight too."

Sammy was maybe thirteen at the time and the poor kid was all skinned knees and bruised elbows, awkward and pimply. It was hard enough not to feel sorry for him, let alone think of the kid as a threat to anyone other than himself.

Dad, though, he seemed to see something else when he looked at Sammy. When Dean took off his big-brother glasses and looked at Sammy the way he'd look at some stranger's kid, he saw it too.

Sammy had always been smart. Books, homework, games, those goddamn crossword puzzles whenever they were able to get their hands on a New York Times. It all just came so easy for him. Crossword puzzles were never Dean's thing. He was more of a comic-section kind of guy, so he couldn't find it in him to be jealous.

Sammy brought home straight A's. Dean just hid his own report card, or tore it up or tossed it in a storm drain. He ruffled Sammy's hair, called him a nerd. Dean wasn't book-smart like Sammy. He was a different kind of smart. Savvy. He was the kind of smart that served him better on the streets and in tough spots, not in a classroom. When the principal called Dean into her office and told him that if he didn't shape up he'd have to repeat the twelfth grade, he wasn't worried. He honestly didn't think a high school diploma would matter too much in their line of work, but Dad wasn't smiling when Dean casually broke the news. Dad just shook his head and looked disappointed in a way that Dean really hadn't expected. He said, "You've got to try harder, Dean."

Being tutored by your fourteen-year-old brother is mortifying. Dean made Sammy swear on penalty of abject humiliation followed by slow, painful torture and finally death that he'd never tell. The only reason Dean finished high school was because of Sammy, and to this day the little douche has never breathed a word. Honestly? Dean's a little pissed. He could have used the excuse.

"You've got to try harder," became Dad's mantra for Dean after high school was over. Dean had always assumed that he'd never go to college, but he learned pretty quickly that continuing education wasn't the only path to self-improvement.

For the last two years that Sammy was with them Dean did two hours of self-imposed PT outside of the two hours per day that Dad mandated. He forged gym memberships and lifted weights like a maniac. He ate everything made of meat in sight and gained twenty-five pounds of solid muscle.

Dean went on every hunt that Dad ever found, and even put in a few solo hunts when Dad was laid up with a broken arm and a busted clavicle. School was so far in the rear-view mirror that Sammy's straight A's were a source of pride, not a cause for jealousy. Hey, not that he was ever jealous, but still.

In spite Dean's extra efforts, by the time Sammy was a high school senior he could still beat Dean in a footrace. Dean's constant training was no substitute for the extra length in Sammy's legs. As sparring partners they were pretty evenly matched, but if the fight lasted more than a few minutes Dean's chances of winning went right down the tube. Sammy had him on stamina.

"Kid's a machine," he told Dad by way of an excuse.

That's when Dad gave him some advice: "Quit holding back."

Dean was almost insulted. Yeah, it was mostly frustration. Holding back? He wasn't about to break Sammy in half to prove a point. He knows that sometimes he's not too quick on the uptake, but Dad could really be a cryptic bastard when he wanted.

He didn't catch on until about a month later, and by that time he'd almost forgotten that Dad had said anything. Dean and Sam were sparring in the backyard of a place Dad rented up in Boise: a three-bedroom split-level that smelled like wet dog. Sammy had gotten Dean into a solid arm-bar, face planted in the wet grass where God knew how many Labradors had done their business. Call it an epiphany. Call it reckless. Dean saw that his only options were to eat dog shit or tap out, Dad's words came back to him, and he suddenly realized that there was an option C. Dean pushed up. Hard. There was this horrible popping sound as he dislocated his own shoulder, but it worked. He broke Sammy's grip and the kid was too stunned to counter when Dean wrapped his good arm around his brother's skinny neck and choked him out.

Dean remembered Sammy's shocked "Dude!" and the way he scrambled away when Dean let him go. "What the hell is wrong with you?" It made Dean feel superior in a way he hadn't in a very long time. It was totally worth the pain.

Dad was working part-time at a garage down the street, and neither one of them wanted to call him. Dean sat himself down on the couch in the least agonizing position he could think of and waited. He was still in the same position when Dad came home four hours later. In all his life Dean had never been so glad that Dad hadn't stopped for a beer at the local tavern.

Dad put his shoulder back in, taped him up and fed him codeine. As Dean slipped into a drugged sleep that night, Dad sat on the edge of his bed, patted his knee.

"You mad?" Dean asked him.

Dad shook his head. "No son. I'm not mad."

"Messed up my shoulder," Dean mumbled. "How come you're not mad?"

Dad answered him slowly, like he had to taste each word to find out if it was right, "Sometimes you have to push yourself past your breaking point. Then you find you have a new breaking point."

"I know that, Dad."

Dad just kept talking like Dean hadn't said a word, "When you're not the biggest and the strongest, or even the smartest, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes. You have to be willing to do what the other guy won't."

Dean smirked, "Yeah, that'll work if the other guy's not a werewolf or a revenant."

Dad looked at him, almost sadly. In a surprisingly tender gesture, he ran a rough hand through Dean's hair and Dean was too stoned to turn away. Dad said, "They won't always be."

Dean's shoulder got better, and when it did Sam had to work a lot harder to beat Dean in a footrace. Unlike Sam, Dean never held anything back, even if it made him cramp up or puke his guts out in the bushes when he was done.

Then one day Sammy left for Stanford and Dean didn't have to push himself like that anymore.

He's missed it.

He's missed this.

Over half of the trail has disappeared behind them, lost in the steady rhythm of pounding feet.

Dean runs. Sam effortlessly keeps pace with him, eyes front, arms held close to his body. Kid's a machine after all.

Dean turns to him and says, "Hey Sammy, wanna race?"

The corners of Sam's mouth turn up in a little smile, and then it's on like Donkey Kong.

Dean runs like he's Robert Johnson and there's a pack of Hellhounds on his heels. He runs like his life depends on it: chin to chest, arms pumping, sides heaving. He's worked himself to the inside edge of the trail and steadily, he starts to pull away from Sam.

Over the roaring of the wind in his ears and the steady pounding of his feet on the pavement Dean imagines he can hear his father's voice, spurring him on. It makes him knuckle down, dig deep like nothing else can, not even the thrumming sound of Sam's footfalls right on his heels.

In Hell Dean had clung to Dad's training, to all the Marine Corps values John Winchester tried to instill in his boys. Dean would try to remember the sound of Dad's voice and the way that Dad could sound angry and proud at the same time. Dad's approval was a well of strength, but every well runs dry eventually. After thirty years the only voice Dean could hear was his own, and it was screaming, begging for the pain to stop.

He's ashamed of himself, of the things he did there. When he got out -when Castiel pulled him out- the shame welled up, filled a hole inside him as deep as the Pit itself. He could either draw from it or drown in it.

Dean's been drowning for months.

The wind is strong, pushing on the flat planes of Dean's body, and Dean pushes right back. Euphoria gradually replaces the sensation of struggling, of drowning. Dean is outside of himself, cut off from the harsh sound of his breathing and the swinging weight of his limbs. Sam's footfalls behind him become quieter and quieter until it might as well be just him on the path, alone and free.

He's flying.

Dean rounds the last curve and the Impala swings into view, parked outside of the motel where he and Sam are staying. She's shining with early-morning dew like first prize.

Dean is so focused on his goal that he doesn't see the deep crack in the poorly maintained asphalt of the parking lot. He trips, goes down like a felled tree, not even able to turn the force of his fall into a roll the way he's been trained. He lands with a loud slap, a hundred and seventy plus pounds of meat hitting the pavement and sliding to a stop. His jaw clicks shut as his chin touches down and a blast of white light blinds him for an instant.

Once his body's inertia is spent, Dean spends about a half a second cataloguing his injuries before he gets to his hands and knees, body too warm, wetness trailing from his chin down his throat. There's gravel imbedded in his palms and knees, burning like little white-hot nuggets of brimstone.

Then he hears Sam's footfalls behind him, hammering the pavement, closing in. One second Dean's on his hands and knees, spitting blood and maybe gravel or pieces of teeth. The next he's running again, picking up speed like a locomotive.

Dean barrels toward his goal, not caring about the pain shooting through his jaw, throbbing in time with the beating of his feet against the ground.

Dean's hands slap the side of the Impala and slide down, leaving a watery red trail. He leans forward, rests his head against his baby, lungs heaving. A dozen yards away he hears the tempo of Sam's footfalls slow to a jog and then a walk until he's standing next to Dean, breathing hard but looking energized, like he's got a few miles in him still. His t-shirt is stained with sweat around the armpits and collar. Dean's is soaked all the way through on the chest and back. He wants to start coughing, but he knows that if he does, he might never stop.

Sam wanders over to him, rolling his shoulders in big circles, looking totally unperturbed by his loss. He's smiling. He looks happy even. "Good run," he says. Then he puts his palms against the Impala, looks like he's trying to push her over as he stretches his calves. She even rocks a little on her tires.

Dean's not sure if Sam saw his spectacular wipeout until he straightens up and Sam asks, "Dude, what happened? Did you bite it back there?"

Dean has to pause to spit blood on the pavement before he answers, "No big deal."

Sam's not smiling anymore when takes Dean's chin in his hand and puts his big Cro-Magnon head right up close to Dean's face. "You're gonna need stitches."

"So grab the kit, Francis," Dean says, tossing the keys at Sam's chest. They leave little dots of blood on the gray cotton where they hit.

After Sam digs the first aid kit out of the trunk and tosses it to Dean.

"Thanks."

"You want some help with that?"

Dean points. "And trust this face to your big clumsy hands? I don't think so. I call first shower."

"Dude, try not to bleed on all the towels."

He staggers inside the motel room heads straight for the bathroom. His chin is busted wide open along the bony part of his jaw and the flesh is already puffy, swollen to Leno-like proportions. It takes twelve stitches to get the edges back together and he has to work quickly. The skin keeps pulling apart and it's slippery as fuck with blood. His t-shirt is a gory ruin by the time he finishes his chin, so he strips it off, balls it up and uses it to stop the bleeding on his knees. They aren't too bad, but there's a fair amount of gravel imbedded in his skin that he has to pick out with tweezers. The little bits of rock make tinny "plink" sounds as they land in the empty metal trashcan. After he's stitched and showered and disinfected, Dean limps back into the room in a cloud of steam and a haze of stinging agony.

He finds Sam staring at a newspaper, red pen in hand. His shirt is clinging to his back and his hair is stringy with drying sweat. "All yours," Dean tells him, lobbing a damp towel at Sam's head. Sam catches it with the tip of his pen.

Dean tells him, "Dude, relax. I didn't get blood on it."

"It's not the blood I'm worried about. It's the other bodily fluids that you produce behind closed doors."

Dean gives him a toothy grin. Sam makes a disgusted face and tosses the towel onto Dean's bed. Dean shrugs and collapses next to it, feet planted flat on the floor. He'll be stiff as hell in about an hour but right now he doesn't care. His whole body is humming.

"We should do that again," Sam suggests.

"Want a rematch, Sammy? Can't get enough?"

Sam sounds a little exasperated, "You know, we don't have to race. We could just run."

Sam's extending an olive branch, but Dean can't help himself. "You afraid I'll beat your ass again?" he asks with a smile.

Sam shakes his sweaty head.

As he passes by Dean on the way to the bathroom, he pauses. "Hey, do you want some ice? For your chin?"

Dean gives him a dismissive wave. "I'll get some in a little bit. Go take your shower."

But Sam doesn't move. "Are you okay?"

"Spectacular."

The bed dips as Sam parks his butt on the edge of the sagging mattress. "Is this about…? I didn't mean what I said. You know that right?"

"Sure, Sam. What are we talking about?" even though he has a pretty good idea.

"Back there, with the siren. You don't have to prove anything to me."

Dean knits his fingers behind his head. "Okay."

"I don't think you're weak," Sam says with conviction, like maybe if he says it just right, that'll make it true.

Dean doesn't want to do this. He wants to pretend it didn't happen, bury it deep down with all the other shit he wishes hadn't happened until it gives him an ulcer.

"Yeah you do, Sammy," Dean says. He keeps his eyes on the ceiling, listening to Sam breathe. "But you're wrong."

Dean can feel the weight of Sam's gaze on him for a long moment afterward.

Finally, "I don't want you to get hurt." It's a small, sad sentence, but it's the most sincere thing he's heard out of Sam in a while.

Dean thinks about brushing him off, leaving the emo bullshit at the door and dealing out a few petty, childish insults that will lift the tension and reinforce the status quo, but right now he can't think of a damn thing to say.

Sam sucks in a shaky breath, pinches the bridge of his nose like he's got a headache. He gets up. "Listen, I'm going to take a shower. I was looking in the paper and I think I found something in Des Moines. When I get out we'll take a look, alright?"

"Sure thing, Sammy."

"Good," Sam says gently.

As the bathroom door shuts, Dean says quietly, "Don't let me hold you back."

Dean lies there, waiting for a retort that never comes. After a moment he hears the pipes creak and the shower come on.

Dean knows that Sam is smarter and stronger than him. He's known that for a long time. Dean also knows that the day is coming soon when Sam won't want him around anymore, and Sam will leave him behind. When that day comes, Dean will run as far and as fast as he needs to in order to catch him.

End.

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