Title: High Wire
Author: Candle Beck
Summary: Nine-month skid.
Warnings: 16 year old Sam. I believe the word is ‘jailbait.’
By Candle Beck
In Indiana, in another motel room, dirty windows flooded by headlights from another highway, Sam is brushing his teeth.
Sam is sixteen years old, all feet and hands and his hair crashing in front of his eyes. Dean is mostly asleep, trying to listen to a football game through the static. Their father has left them here for the night.
“Dean,” Sam says, foam-rabid.
Dean sleepily bares his teeth at him. His eyes are half-closed, and Sam is skinny and too tall and his elbows look like blades. Sam vanishes into the bathroom, spits, comes back out.
“Let’s go out. Let’s. Get out of here.” Sam grins, mint white, making Dean’s head hurt.
“Can’t,” Dean tells him, rolling his eyes. Sam knows this already. There are salt lines on the window sills, catching crystalline blue and red as a cop car screams by outside. “Anyway, you just brushed your teeth.”
Climbing onto the bed, Sam pokes Dean’s shoulder. His knees fold up along Dean’s side. “So I’ll brush them again. C’mon. There’s that bar down the road. We’ll go, we’ll be back before he is. He’ll never know.”
It’s treason. Dean snap-grabs Sam’s wrist, twisting it enough to make silent creases of pain form around Sam’s mouth. “No.”
The game is almost gone, static-muffled and a dim mariachi song fighting through. Sam shifts up and resettles with his knee pressing into Dean’s stomach, leans his weight until Dean lets his wrist go and shoves Sam off. Sam sprawls like a broken toy, glaring at Dean from behind his damp hair. Dean sighs.
Sam won’t give up, because Sam doesn’t know how. Dean spends the rest of the night fending off his attacks, slowly choreographed, foreknowledge of how Sam will come, low with his right, short and hard with his left. Dean pins him down by his shoulders on the bed, sees Sam shake his head and futilely blow up to get his water-heavy hair out of his eyes. Sam’s eyes are a strange fall color that Dean has not been able to place.
Dean badly wants to go with Sam to the bar down the street. He could teach Sam how to take shots, fist a hand in Sam’s shirt and wrinkle it beyond repair. Play pinball or pool and let the smoke take over his mind. He could carry Sam home on his back.
Their dad told them to stay, though. Sam is so warm beneath him, his fingers scratching on Dean’s arms, smelling like cheap shampoo and toothpaste. Dean can feel defiance in him like a sickness, wondering where it comes from. Sam spent the first fourteen years of his life trying to be like Dean. Now he just tries to be better than him.
Pushing off him, crawling back to the other bed, Dean lies down and stares at the ceiling. Sam rises in his peripheral vision, confused brown-haired Sam-shaped blur.
Dean smiles at nothing, wishing they were still wrestling. Something howls out beyond their protected windows, small cracks spidering the glass.
“Go to sleep, Sammy.”
“Fuck you, Dean.”
Dean closes his eyes, laughing.
In the woods of upstate New York, white heart of winter, John leaves his sons at a diner and tells them to be there when he gets back. Dean says, “yessir,” by reflex, ignoring Sam’s pitched and meaningful silence.
Snow piles up outside. Cars and mailboxes are buried. People shouldn’t be allowed outside in this kind of weather. Sam is sitting across from Dean, hands folded on the table, motionless. Sam isn’t calm by nature, energy burning under his skin, but he was well-trained. Keep still. Walk soft. Don’t make a fucking sound, boys.
Dean drinks coffee and flirts idly with the waitress, staying in her good graces in case they have to stay here all night. It’s happened before.
“Do you have the cards?” Sam asks.
Dean checks his pockets, shakes his head.
“Great.” Sam slumps back in the booth, raising a whine from the vinyl.
Indian ghosts are out in force tonight, barefoot on the snow, blood soaking in their black hair. Dean spent the day in the library with Sam correcting his pronunciation of Iroquois names. He’s got paper-cuts on his fingertips and Sam is right here.
“Why couldn’t we go with him?”
Sighing, Dean moves his shoulders in a half-shrug, momentarily rattling his fingers in a modified drum solo. “He didn’t need us this time.”
Sam scowls, thin face and sleepy shuttered eyes. He’s got a brush of sugar on the side of his mouth. “He’s always talking about how we have to stick together, and then he just goes off and leaves us.”
“Knock it off,” Dean tells him tiredly.
Dean blinks. Sam flashes a match-stick of white teeth, briefly in the air. Dean grins, kicks Sam under the table.
“You’re so lame.”
Sam kicks Dean back, bruising Dean’s shin. He rests his knee against Dean’s own, unearths a pen and draws a hangman gallows on the paper placemat. Dean guesses vowels first, little doomed stick figure sketched out piece by piece under Sam’s hand.
Dean concentrates on Sam’s bony kneecap, his long fingers and the sugar on his face. Their father could be dying or dead, somewhere out in the raffling night, but that thought is far away, and Dean is able to pretend pretty well that he believes death is not the end of anything.
The storm works well to wash him clean, numb him from the inside out. Dean dreams of Sam with snow in his hair, ice-blue hands, shivering and leaving slick frozen paths on the skin of Dean’s neck. He awakes, his head cradled on his arms on the table, to Sam saying, “hey man, hey dean, hey,” thumb moving high and slow on Dean’s forehead.
Sam is bleeding.
Iowa flies by outside the car, or maybe Nebraska, Dean doesn’t know if they’ve crossed another border. It’s too dark, he can’t tell. Sam is bleeding. Dean is screaming at John.
“Pull over, Dad, for Christ’s sake!”
John won’t. They’re going so fast the car is rattling, coming loose from its fittings. Sam’s shoulder has been torn open. Dark blood turns the shreds of his blue shirt black. Dean’s hands are slippery with it, he can’t keep a grip. Sam’s eyes roll white and he gasps between his teeth, his hand scrabbling weakly at Dean’s chest. Sam is caught in Dean’s arms in the backseat and Dean is trying to hold the blood back with the palms of his hands, feeling Sam jerk and moan, feeling Sam go into shock like sinking underwater.
Dean needs his father to stop driving. They’re running away, maybe being chased. Demon in the corn. Sam’s blood on Dean’s throat, hot as nickels left by the fire.
“Please, Dad, I need to stitch him up, please.”
Hospital, in the name of everything holy, please. Because Sam looks like this, gray and struggling to breathe against the pain. Hospital, just this once, even if they ask for ID or there are cops, because Sam is. Quite possibly dying.
But John only goes faster, tells Dean hoarsely that he’ll have to do it back there, they can’t stop. John tosses him the kit, his eyes huge and terrified in the rearview. Dean curses him under his breath, presses his face into Sam’s and whispers to him, “Gonna be okay, Sammy, hold still.”
He rips Sam’s shirt the rest of the way off him, hating the way the blood looks on the pale skin of Sam’s stomach. Demon in the corn, something with claws and copper teeth, arms like wings, wild harvest-moon eyes. Came flooding at Sam through the stalks and knocked him down, tore him open. Dean shot silver into it until his gun clicked empty, knelt beside Sam’s body on the soft dirt.
Dean pops open the first aid kit with his teeth. It’s too dark. He can’t do this. Sam is moaning, saying his name, dean, dean. Dean presses a kiss to Sam’s uninjured shoulder without thought. A hundred and twenty miles an hour, John is crying from the front, hurry, he’s lost too much blood.
And Dean wants to scream back at him, how the fuck would you know? His hands are slipping, painted and drenched red, and he can’t hold it back.
Sam is shaking. Dean tells him, over and over again, “Gonna be okay, got you now, we’re getting out,” with the needle between his teeth and the invisible thread cutting off circulation in his fingers.
Sam doesn’t look sixteen right now. Eight years old in the bite of his teeth into his lower lip. Seventy years old in the resignation in his eyes. Fourteen years old in the way his hand trembles and latches onto the back of Dean’s neck, in the instant before he loses consciousness.
In Utah, trying to live slowly for a few weeks, Dean and Sam go to the arcade. It’s frighteningly clean. Sam still loves the racing games, which makes no sense to Dean, because they could both play Area 51 for hours on the strength of two quarters.
He likes the way Sam races, though, all locked-in with his long legs shifting as he hit the pedals. Hands bruised across the knuckles and tight on the wheel. The arcade is spastically lit and Sam looks like he’s in a sci-fi movie.
They’re drinking Cokes in the snack-bar and Dean feels completely out of place. Normal teenagers with normal families. Sam scans the passerby like he’s taking notes.
“We should do this more often,” Sam says.
Dean gives him a vaguely confused look. This is a vacation, nothing that can be decided on as routine. “Dude, are you serious?”
Sam looks down at his soda. “Yeah.”
His eyebrows hunch down like when he was twelve and would sooner cut off his own arm than look stupid in front of Dean.
Dean shakes his head and scruffs Sam’s hair. Sam dodges out from under his hand. They play until they’re out of money, enough for six weeks of Ramen noodles gone in four hours, and Dean gets Sam’s solemn promise not to tell Dad.
In the parking lot, the air is frozen and dry, sharp alkali scent in the air. Sam tucks his hands under his arms and lifts his shoulders up to his ears. They get to the car and Sam crashes in, shivering.
“Fuck, Dean, the heat.”
“Fuck, Sam, gimme a minute.”
He takes his gun out of his belt and tucks it in the glove compartment, fixes the mirrors, and turns on the car, telling Sam with a sideways look, “Buckle your belt.”
Their dad’s gone when they get back to the motel room. There’s a note telling them to go to bed and be ready to train at dawn. John won’t be back tonight, didn’t mention where he would be. Dean doesn’t ask anymore, doesn’t really want to know.
They still share a bed, because motel rooms only have two, and Sam is laid out, telling stories in the dark. Dean can’t find anything to watch on television, and he can’t get Sam to shut up. Sam touches Dean’s arm when he wants his attention. Dean is falling asleep, aware of Sam’s fingertips on his heroin veins in a weird way.
He barely notices when Sam’s hand stumbles off his arm and onto his stomach, nervously pushing up his shirt. Sam’s hand, big warm hand, and Dean is spooked by the idea of something about Sam being unfamiliar to him.
Sam opens his mouth on Dean’s shoulder, wetting the fabric of his T-shirt. He touches the waist of Dean’s boxers and Dean is awake now, wide-eyed, wondering if he’s drunk.
Down in Mississippi, they both have trouble sleeping. Their circadian rhythms are all fucked up again, two weeks of catching three or four hours in the car between jobs, and Dean doesn’t want to look at Sam anymore.
Sam shifts in the bed and Dean goes perfectly still, watchful even though all he can see is the white field of the sheet. Sam isn’t asleep; his breath hitches when he’s asleep. Dean is stuck remembering Sam’s hand pushing into his shorts, scratch of nails on the place where his leg meets his stomach.
Their dad is snoring, a wavering blue reflection of the pool water outside reflected on the ceiling. Dean is getting seasick, dumb with memory of Sam disentangling for a second to lick his palm. Sam’s two feet away from him, under the same sheet.
At two in the morning, Sam gives up and rises with a frustrated exhale. Dean hears him crossing the room and sliding open the glass door to the patio. A moment later, the pool’s reflection splashes apart, and Sam’s silhouette swims across the ceiling.
Dean is clean of thought. He stays that way for ten minutes or so, then stands and follows Sam.
Dean sits cross-legged at the edge of the pool, the world blackened and night-humid. Sam cuts neatly through the water, all brown arms and long back. He’s swimming in just his boxers, his shirt a clump next to Dean.
When he gets close, Dean can see the pink shape of the crooked stitches on his shoulder, half-healed scar.
Sam surfaces for a breath and latches onto the side of the pool, casting Dean a suspicious look.
Dean shrugs, wanting to push Sam’s soaked hair out of his eyes. Sam looks up at the sky as if checking for spacecraft. Nothing town in the middle of Mississippi, silent enough that Dean can pick out their separate heartbeats. Sam rests his forehead on the concrete lip of the pool, exposing the back of his neck to Dean.
“Look, I’m sorry,” Sam tells him, speaking into the water.
Dean nods. “Yeah,” he says, not really paying attention, counting the notches of Sam’s spine as far down as he can see. Strange little brother, without question the single brightest thing in Dean’s universe.
“It’s just been a. A really long year.” Sam’s voice cracks. Dean slips into the pool, ninja-quiet but Sam’s smarter than that, and his head yanks up in shock. “What are you doing?”
The water’s up to Dean’s throat, Sam’s shoulders, and Dean takes off his shirt, dropping it wetly beside Sam’s own. Sam’s eyes widen and Dean puts a hand on his chest, pushes him against the wall. Tracks the dents of Sam’s ribs and touches his hipbones. Sam swears under his breath, wrapping an arm around Dean’s waist.
Sam’s skin is all chlorine and soap, cleanest boy on the planet. Dean bites him under his jaw and presses full against him, one hand in Sam’s hair and the other on his stomach. Sam arches, comes back gnashing and kissing him so hard Dean tastes blood.
Dean holds him down. Sam seems to like that.
In the Everglades, in the thick of summer, Sam comes into focus and Dean’s life narrows down. Something ageless in the wet green forest, and Dean tracks it on autopilot, keeping his father in sight in front of him. Sam is behind him, making the hair on the back of Dean’s neck stand up.
It’s approximately four thousand degrees. Dean feels like he’s melting. He hallucinates fitfully of ice caps and Otter-Pops. They’re two days into the wild.
They set up camp when the sun goes down, and sleep in shifts, John keeping watch first and then Dean, who thinks about Sam for an hour or so, sitting on a log, gun cradled in his lap. Sam crawls out of the tent as if he could feel it, dragging a sweatshirt with him and muttering.
“Hot, so fucking hot in there.”
Dean nods, though Sam is mostly asleep, moving his mouth stickily. Sam curls up next to Dean’s feet, forming the sweatshirt into a pillow and sighing as he lies down, his hand on Dean’s ankle.
Dean watches the sweat roll out of Sam’s hair and down his neck. The forest rustles and hums around them. Dean’s grip on his gun tightens. Sam’s snuffling and rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. It’s been four days since Dean’s had a hand on him, four days since the bathroom in the bar outside Jacksonville, when Sam had sucked him off, washed his mouth out at the sink, and smiled before kissing him.
Dean can’t remember the last time he slept.
Sam is talking in his sleep, rough and low. Dean should pay attention, take notes maybe, because Sam has told them coordinates from a dream before, the right incantation, whether silver or rocksalt or iron is needed. There’s something in Sam, like his ability to sense a punch coming from behind, to find roads that don’t exist on maps.
It’s so slow out here. Dean traces infinity symbols on the side of Sam’s neck, waving at mosquitoes with his free hand. He’ll probably lose a half a pint of blood tonight.
Dean doesn’t know what's happening to him. He can’t stand Sam these days, the impossible speed of his pulse, the shut-down of his throat, the way seeing Sam first thing in the morning is like having the wind knocked out of him. He wants to fuck around with Sam all the time, pop Sam’s knuckles and lick his collarbone, push Sam’s legs apart and bite at his mouth. This is the worst thing he’s ever done.
And Sam looks at him sometimes like Dean is the only thing he can see in color.
Dean loses track of the time and his watch beeps loudly, making him jump. Sam’s hand clenches on his ankle, flash-awake like that, and he blinks up at Dean with his eyes shockingly clear.
Dean offers him the gun. Sam takes it and sits up. He puts his hand on the side of Dean’s face, fingers hot over Dean’s ear, and angles up to kiss him swiftly in the weighted heat, the fresh arsenical scent of the trees.
“I’ll stay up with you for a little while,” Dean says against Sam’s mouth. “Just. In case.”
Sam’s hand leaves a streak of mud on his cheek. Sam snickers when he pulls back and sees, uses the side of his hand to wipe it away.
Sam and John are fighting. Dean sits in the yellow grass with his back against the car’s wheel and tips his face up into the sun.
Sam wants them to stick around for a while, he wants to go back to high school. This long trip started during Sam’s Christmas break, when one job fell into another and soon enough they were two thousand miles and five months away, and Sam had forgotten all he’d ever known about calculus.
The summer is almost over. They’re somewhere in the middle of California, baked farm town. Sam and Dean are supposed to be handfighting, but instead Sam is saying, “This is stupid, Dad, it’s just one more year.”
Dean’s heard this before, plainly reads the meaning in Sam’s drawn-up shoulders. Dean wishes they were trading punches, wishes they were back at the motel room and Sam’s hand was on his stomach.
John points at Dean, he never graduated high school, what’s the big deal, and Dean winces when Sam’s eyes crash fiercely on him.
“Leave me out of it,” he tells them, sick of this. They fight all the time.
Everything you need to learn, you learn out here, John is saying. Sam’s forehead is swept clean, straw-like pieces of grass in his hair.
“Not everything.” Sam glances at Dean again, the sun positioned exactly behind him, blinding out his features.
John shakes his head in disgust, turning his back on them. Pushing a hand through his hair, Sam’s mouth twists. Dean gets distracted for a moment, thinking of how Sam looks when he’s losing consciousness, all ashen and scared.
“Just really fucking tired, Dad,” Sam says softly. Dean braces in shock; they don’t swear in front of their father, unless badly injured or senseless with fear.
John’s back stiffens, and Dean wills Sam to look at him again, his face shrouded by the sunlight. The days have gotten so long, and Sam is even taller at this angle.
Their dad turns to face him and nods a little bit. Just from that, Dean knows that Sam’s won, and they’ll sleep in the same beds for a whole season again. Dean tries to remember if Dad has ever given in to one of them before. Dean thinks about some clapboard house somewhere, dirt-cheap on the edge of town, and he and Sam might share a room. He might have months of Sam every night, a wooden chair jammed under the knob and crucifixes hammered in over the doorframes.
Sam’s shoulders fall as he exhales. Dean is happy that everyone is still alive. He leans his head back against the side of the car, closing his eyes. A moment later, Sam’s shadow washes across his body.
Dean squints and Sam kicks his shoe. “You gonna fight, or what?” Sam stretches his hand down, and Dean takes it, allows himself to be pulled up.
So they come right home to Kansas. Not Lawrence, but nearby. Dean gets an attic room all to himself, lying awake straining to hear through the floorboards, the things Sam says in his sleep. They still salt the windows and doors every night, habit more than anything else. Sam begins his senior year, seventeen now and his hair cut out of his eyes.
Their father is only there half the time. Dean would be with him, but for the one rule Dean has lived by since he was four years old: Sam doesn’t get left alone.
He drinks beer on the couch while Sam does his homework at the kitchen table. His hands are itching, the back of his neck tight. Nine months on the road and he can’t tell if he’s missing it or still paying back its injuries.
Sam mutters at his textbook. Dean wants to go kill something.
“Hey,” Sam says. Dean tips his head back, looks at Sam upside-down. “Can I have one of your beers?”
Lifting an eyebrow, Dean smirks, the blood rushing into his face. “Math’s harder when you’re slammed.”
Sam rolls his eyes, and goes to the refrigerator. “I’m having one beer. It’s called a study break.”
Dean lets his head fall forward again. Sam, the slightly rebellious underage high school student, should bother him, spotlight the four years distance between them, but Sam looks oddly grown-up doing his homework at the kitchen table. Put the beer next to him and he could be doing his taxes.
Sam comes bobbing into Dean’s side view, climbing over the back of the couch and collapsing beside him. He pops the top off his beer with his lighter, and Dean taught him how to do that three years ago, the first time he got Sam drunk.
Sam sighs and leans into Dean. John is somewhere in Canada, and the not-Lawrence town is quiet enough to break. Dean lets Sam rest his weight against him, both their legs propped on the cinderblock-and-plywood coffee table. Dean watches him licking at the mouth of his beer.
They don’t say anything for a long time.
“I was looking at the microfiche in the library today,” Sam says eventually.
Dean jumps at his voice. “That’s the um. The old newspapers, right?” He never remembers the names of things.
Sam tips his head to the side, his too-short hair rustling on Dean’s arm. Dean can feel his smile. “Ding ding ding. How’s that not-graduating-from-high-school thing working out for you?”
“How ‘bout you bite me?”
But Sam doesn’t, just presses his teeth briefly into the bend of Dean’s elbow, and continues, “There’ve been these weird fires.”
Dean goes still. “Hm?”
Sam’s hand goes through the air. “All over town. Going back almost a century, 1921, 1947, 1953, 1965, all the way up until three years ago. Streets, lakes burning. They had photographs and everything. Nobody’s been able to agree on what’s causing it.”
Dean slips his hand down and into Sam’s shirt, warm sleek skin of Sam’s side. Sam shivers. “But you figured it out.”
He bites Sam’s ear. Sam’s stomach twitches under his hand, Sam’s throat exposed. Dean feels like he’s doubled the speed limit. Sam has homework. Sam has a cold beer resting on Dean’s thigh, seeping a perfect circle through his jeans. Dean doesn’t remember the reasons for why he’s got to stop doing this.
“No,” Sam breathes out. Dean thumbs open the button of his fly. “No pattern. No history. Nothing to follow.” His back curves like a bow, eyes flashing here and there in Dean’s perspective. “Anyway. It wasn’t too interesting. I was just bringing it up for conversation.”
Dean fists a hand in Sam’s hair and drags his head back, licks into his mouth and hears the beer clonk and spill and they’ll pay hell when Dad gets home, but fuck it, fuck it.
Sam’s arms are tight around him and Dean can’t think right. There’s a half-moon over Kansas tonight, fingers on Dean’s throat, something cracking in the rafters of the house.
Dean tries to push Sam’s hair back, but it’s too short, and he is abruptly stricken with hatred for the change that has come over them, this nine-month skid that has stolen his little brother from him. He hates the way Sam is now, the way Sam cripples him, the way Dean can’t sleep in a twin bed or breathe normally anymore.
There’s nothing for it. Sam is in him like blood, and anyway, this is just a fever dream. Never in a million years would Dean let Sam do this to him.