Title: Paradise by the Dashboard Light
Genre: Pre-series, gen or (pre-)wincest depending on which goggles you wear
Word Count: 1,330
A/N: Title taken from, and fic inspired by, the Meatloaf song of the same title. This started off way more wincesty in my head (listen to the song, you’ll know why) but I don’t really write wincest and somehow it just morphed into something a little heavier.
Summary: Dean does what he can to alleviate Sam’s growing pains, but it’s probably not enough.
Sammy’s grown at least a foot this year, maybe two or three. He’s always been a snot-nosed pain in the ass, but suddenly there’s so much more of him to sulk around. Dean sure as hell told him to quit his whining when he first started complaining about long days in the Impala, and he wasn’t the only one. Except, Dad’s telling-sos usually lead to more whining, even if they weren’t in range of his hearing or about the car any longer, so usually it was Dean who told him to sit down and shut up.
That was only until it started happening at night, though. When Sam was comfy like a cat all stretched out in the sun, taking up as much room as possible until his toes hung off the bed, dead to the world but still groaning softly in his sleep.
“Sam,” Dean had hissed. Time was, he would have been lying right there, could have just rolled over and shoved him, but they didn’t do that anymore. “Sam!”
He’d snorted awake, twisted onto his back and whined some more. “Dean.”
“What? What is it?”
“It hurts.” His voice had been quiet and raw, too much like the last time he’d wiped out during drills on the asphalt and shredded up his back like some careless motorcycle accident. But all he was doing was laying there, panting silently at the ceiling.
It had been Caleb who’d figured it out, one day when Sam was hiding his face behind Dean so he could lean down to rub at his shins in peace. “Growing pains, eh?” he’d said. “Ain’t you a bit old for those?”
No matter how he tried, Sam never could do things like the other kids. He’d been a stumpy brat through most of high school, and had never really warmed up to having the top of his head used as an arm rest, either. Now his legs reach almost all the way across the front seat. He can even press his soles flat against the opposite door if he slouches a little. He does that a lot – the stretching seems to help – and Dean makes fun of the way his legs barely touch each other until they get to the knee. It makes him look knock-kneed and backwards, but the truth is he’s just scrawny. Scrawny and growing like a weed in summer.
They’re parked out on the edge of a massive corn field. Somewhere in the middle of it there’s a scarecrow, wearing good folks’ eyes and skin so it can peep in on his wife’s new family, but Dean and Sam are sitting this one out. Sam’s got his back straight up against the passenger side door and his toes pointed all the way down ‘til they touch the other door handle, trying to be as long as possible. Dean’s told him it’s the getting longer that’s hurting so much, but Sam says it helps anyway.
His ankles are in Dean’s lap, insistent and warm, even though the sun set four hours ago and the shorts of this afternoon are starting to seem like a fool’s idea. Dean’s got one calf in each hand, squeezing and kneading them as the streaks of headlights driving past mark the passage of time. Sam’s got one cheek pressed up against the window’s glass, turned away like he can’t bear to look, but doing this helps too. Dean knows. Just like he knows it still hurts anyway, but he does what he can.
He digs his thumbs into the lean muscle, and warms the shins with brisk passes of his palms. He works them from top to bottom, seeing to every inch from his Achilles tendon to the hidden space behind his knees. Dean reminds him there’s no muscle back there, but he rubs them anyway when Sam whispers hurts anyway and please. Dean wishes he would open his eyes, if only to interrupt the harsh, pained line of his brow, but says nothing.
Dean should have turned the car off hours ago. They shouldn’t use up the gas – might need a quick getaway, never know – and if he runs down the battery Dad’ll kill him. Those hard rubber batteries are a pain to find these days, especially for a one-of-a-kind beaut like the Impala, but Dad never really understands that growing is the kind of thing that can hurt. The heat keeps Sammy’s muscles limber and relaxed, and Dean knows for a fact they filled up not even sixty miles back.
While Dean works, Sam is nothing more than lime green outlines in the dark, forced into relief by the reaching glow of the dashboard. His eyelashes make a little half-moon against the one cheek Dean can see, and his nose is perpetually scrunched. Dean’s thought about taking Sam on the road solo, shifting gears across miles of blacktop and using the cranky twist of Sam’s mouth like a divining rod, always seeking out someplace better. He can picture nights marked by truck stops and gas stations in the dark, and the soft glow reminding him of his brother sleeping within reach.
“Gotta turn the car off soon,” Dean says, and Sam scrunches his nose even higher.
“It’s cold,” he says back without looking. But when Dean tells him they can’t let the gas run low, he concedes. “Fine.” Only, Dean doesn’t pull his hands away to reach for the keys.
Finally, when Sam’s as loose as he’s going to get and his head is sagging against his shoulder he mumbles, “Don’t tell.”
Dean knows exactly who he means – exactly who thinks he’s a lazy, insolent boy who’d rather let innocent people die than participate in the family business – so he doesn’t answer. Not out loud. But he says okay with the way he corkscrews a knuckle into Sam’s poor flesh, just like he likes. With the way he leaves the heat blasting and guzzling up gas, and the way he slides his hands up into the baggy cargo shorts, well past the bottom edge of Sam’s boxers to dig into his thighs. Dean knows it hurts there too, all the way up from ankles to hipbones, and it’s not hard to get a whole chicken-leg hamstring into each hand. No, he won’t tell.
That Sam was a late bloomer is a given, but sometimes Dean takes a whole thigh in his hands, ten fingers wrapped clear around to squeeze and knead until Sammy groans in relief, and wonders how such skinny legs can hold up his big little brother.
Sometimes – sometimes – Dean thinks this is what Sam gets for using his deceptively strong legs the way he does. For kicking at the door after Dad’s stormed out, for walking to school when Dean’s told him full well that he’ll drive him. For carrying himself away, out of the protective reach of family, all the way to California. Just this week, Sam got the big envelope in the mail that says he will.
Or maybe this is what Dean gets. He raised those legs to be strong, strong enough for anything, even this. It’s what they always say – that there’s nothing anyone can do to you worse than what you can do to yourself.
Sam whimpers when Dean’s pressure turns sharp, the aborted jerk of his legs jarring Dean back into focus. “Sorry,” he whispers, “sorry,” and soothes up and down the expanse of Sam’s traitorous, pain-bearing thighs.
Sam’s brow evens out, chin dipping even lower until the dash light just barely catches the sharp sweep of his cheekbone and the unkempt hair that’s blocking his eyes. Dean continues to work until Sam’s left consciousness behind and the only movement in the car is the shallow rise and fall of his illuminated chest. At that point Dean pulls his hands back, leaving them to rest on Sam’s bare ankles, and waits. Waits for Sam to wake, to stretch gratefully, and take advantage of his newly-rehabilitated legs.