the reluctant lobotomist (fourfreedoms) wrote,
the reluctant lobotomist
fourfreedoms

Gift to arlad

Title: The Craziest Thing
Author: fourfreedoms
Pairing: Sam/Dean
Rating: Hard R
Warnings: This is the thinnest freakin' premise on the planet
Word Count: 12,088
Summary: Sam and Dean find themselves de-aged back to 18. The only solution anybody seems to have is to go back to high school.
Notes: This is for arlad who likes high school and college AUs. I figured since I'd written my fair share of those, I'd write this here farce where Sam and Dean are back in high school under duress. Much thanks to memphis86, ignited, and cerberos and everybody else who helped in the planning process. If you gave me a prompt, check to see how I used it.



Sam hates his miserable existence. Not always, and not very often, but right now very much so with the opening riff of Cat Scratch Fever vibrating through the speakers so loud they buzz. Before that it was Wang Dang Sweet Poontang. And Dean says Sam has no taste. He's pretty certain this music is slowly but surely killing off his brain cells.

Dean’s arm hangs out the window, steadily browning. Sam tries to read through another one of the cheapie Penguin Classics Dean got for him when they went on sale at the Barnes & Noble. It had been an overdue apology for their last hunt, which had resulted in having to put peanut butter in his hair to get the chunks out. Now a whole library sits tucked in a plastic bag just behind Sam’s seat. It doesn't matter. Trying to read James Joyce with the hits of redneck rock playing at the same time is a Sisyphean effort.

Sam tosses aside the James Joyce and rummages through the bag to find something else. The first thing he comes across is a copy of Pride and Prejudice. He holds it up with a pointed glare. Dean grins, barely taking his eyes off the road, and says, “I thought you’d like that best.”

Dean is disgustingly happy, ecstatic even, over on the drivers’ side. They have another werewolf hunt lined up and despite the nasty way the last one ended, he’s pumped. Sam, on the other hand, worries about Lilith—things have been quiet from her end. She must be plotting something big. Tension sits on his shoulders like a lead cape, gradually tightening into an excruciating headache that he can’t shake off.

“Rejoice in the fact that she’s taking a break, dude,” Dean says, reading him, even with his eyes on the highway.

Sam looks up from his book. “That's your strategy? You’d suck at chess.”

Dean shrugs and slowly presses the engine over ninety. Sam sighs and reaches back into the bag for another book.

Since his earthly return Dean has ceased to care about things like the police or laws and city ordinances. Society’s dictates wash over him like water over the rocks. He is bound by nothing. That desperate hard-edged look that gradually crept into his eyes before the hell-hounds came is transmuted into something wild.

They do things by rote now. They are growing apart. And maybe that is healthy—to not be so frantically wrapped up in each other, but Sam is hard-pressed to say it’s better.

Sam does his best to focus on Volume I of Tristram Shandy. He’s completely unprepared when the entire car judders, a thunderous noise pulsing above Ted Nugent’s guitar solo.

*

Once Dean manages to slow the car to a halt, he bolts out the door, shouting, “What the fuck?”

Everything happened so fast that Sam is still holding his book up in front of his face. He throws it aside and tumbles out the door.

“No no no no no,” Dean moans. He prizes the hood up and rocks back at the sight of the smoking glowing engine. He looks like he’s fighting off tears. When he finally makes eye-contact with Sam, he says mournfully, “How...how?”

Sam blinks. There's something not quite right with his eyes. Dean looks airbrushed almost, well—he must be imagining things. And then his shirt slips off of one shoulder.

Sam looks down at himself and has to draw breath. His clothes don’t fit right anymore. Either he’s shrunk or…well, there’s no denying the shrinking. There are only two reasons he can think of that he’d be getting shorter and looking at Dean's smooth face, one is definitely out of the question.

“Dean,” Sam starts, voice wavering.

Dean replies with a sharp, “What?”

“Dean, I think…” He raises his hands in front of his face.

“Spit it out!”

Sam peers through his fingers at Dean and finally says, “I think we’re about eighteen.”

Dean turns to Sam, clearly about to tell him he’s crazy, but then he catches a good look at him.

“Holy shit,” he says slowly, mouth open. He reaches across the distance between them to trace grease-blackened fingers down Sam’s jaw. Sam lowers his eyes so that he doesn’t have to see the expression on Dean’s face. “You look just like you did when you packed up all your stuff and I—” Dean jerks back as if burned.

Dean’s skin is smooth and pale, his sunglasses dip lower on his nose and Sam remembers long forgotten taunts about Dean plucking his eyebrows. He stares at his brother for a second longer before turning and jogging back up the road to investigate.

He doesn't find anything. If something did this, it's gone now. There’s no glittering well of magic, just highway with a sign that says "Red Oaks, Next 3 Exits". A pulsing knot of unease forms in his chest, but the landscape reveals nothing. After a long moment, waiting for something, anything to happen, he finally turns back to the car. His pants are too long and he has to hitch them up. It’s like being in the 8th grade and wearing Dean’s hand-me-downs all over again.

When he gets back to the car, he finds Dean sitting in the dirt in front of the grille, elbows resting on his knees as he talks to Bobby. “I don’t know,” he says into his cell.

Sam scuffs a toe against the straggly grass at the side of the road. It’s hot for March.

“I don’t know,” Dean says, again, eyebrows turning down and mouth firming up in a frown that looks more like a pout on this newly young face. He sighs and says quietly, like he can't bear for the words to heard, “All right, Bobby.” He clicks the phone shut without saying goodbye.

Sam waits for Dean to volunteer Bobby’s instructions, but Dean's already moved on to dialing for a tow truck. When Sam crosses his arms, he says shortly, “Bobby says to stay put.”

Sam looks up toward the town. Its lunch time and the cars are few and far between. Shielding his eyes with his hand, he squints into the sun and replies, “Thought as much.”

Dean scrambles to his feet after telling the towing company where they are. He looks surprised by how easy it is, rolling his shoulders and shaking his legs out like it'll make his older body pop back into place. He keeps darting looks at Sam and then shaking his head. It makes Sam shuffle awkwardly, even though he knows Dean has legitimate cause to stare.

“We might be the same height now," Dean says, facing away from him, eyes peeled for the tow truck.

“I'm pretty sure I still have two inches on you.” Sam says with a shrug, not moving fast enough when Dean turns and socks him in the shoulder. It makes his entire right arm go numb. Dean always was stronger than he was as an eighteen-year-old. Still, he can't help laughing, “Ow! It's not my fault God is cruel.”

Dean jerks and looks up at the sky quickly, expression almost comically frightened. “Shh, someone might hear!” he whispers, eyes demurely cast downwards.

Sam purses his lips.

*

“You boys joyriding with this here piece of machinery?” the man who owns the local garage asks, voice colored with dislike. He’s got a barrel chest with BJ stitched over the pocket. The skinny little guy who towed the car cracks up as he gets back into the cab of his truck.

Dean is instantly outraged. His eyes dart between the two men. “WHAT? Me? Mistreat her? I’ve had that car since I was sixteen. She's family.”

BJ is nonplussed, stumping around his garage and clearly thinking pretty boy has been handed the keys to a car he doesn’t deserve. Sam can read it easier than the Sunday comics and has to swallow a smile. Dean makes it worse by bitching that BJ's going to bend the frame when they put the stops out for the hoist.

“Let me do my job, son,” BJ snaps, face twisted into an impressive scowl. He's already looked under the hood at the smoking engine block. His look of condemnation back at them says he’s got a shotgun and a shovel.

Sam spent the half hour waiting for the tow rapidly shoving every weapon they own, from the machetes to the plasma torch (that Dean will not give a reason for owning), into their duffels while Dean paced back and forth. Sam thinks Dean would’ve cried if Sam hadn’t been there to see it.

BJ comes over, wiping greasy and work-roughed hands on a rag while Dean rapidly feeds quarters into the vending machine. He’s already holding a pack of peanut M&Ms, a Snickers bar, and a Milky Way. Dean jerks around, fingers sliding over the buttons clumsily. He’s sickeningly worried, like a father seeing his kid off his first time in the emergency room.

“The engine’s overheated, but the cam’s turning, and I think we’ll be able to fire it up,” he says, softening a little at Dean’s expression. “That’s the good news. Your alternator’s fried, lord only knows about the ignition coil, the belts are frayed, and I think your suspensions all out of whack. And you could use new shocks.”

Dean’s face hardens into a scowl. “Don’t dick me around, old man, the suspension’s fine, and I replaced the belts my self not two weeks ago.”

BJ snorts, but he grants Dean a grudging smile. “It’s gonna be at least a week. Do you need to call your daddy to pay for it?” he says and gestures towards the payphone bolted on to the wall.

Dean, feathers ruffled, snaps, “Just order the parts and I’ll do it myself!”

“Dean,” Sam starts. They definitely don’t have a hoist and they lost the jack in the wreckage of the car accident two years ago. Dean keeps meaning to borrow one from Bobby, but they never remember. He’s been working by sticking his arms into the guts of the engine and hoping he can see the rest flat on his back underneath.

“All right, settle down, boy,” BJ says, “I trust you to pay.”

Dean’s mouth works like he wants to say no, but BJ’s tone and Sam’s face convince him otherwise. He swallows and says, “Alright, alright.”

BJ nods and walks back to the car.

“Asshole,” Dean mutters. He bends down to retrieve his last purchase from the vending machine. “Eugh, black licorice!” He chucks the package at Sam.

They walk out to the street, duffels hoisted over their shoulders. Dean’s young unlined face looks hopeful in a way that Sam never remembered from their childhood.

“Guess we’ll have to walk to a motel,” he says, squinting against the sun. Sam runs a hand through his hair and nods.

“This is not where I expected to find you,” a voice comes from behind them.

Dean whirls around, jumpy. Sam slowly turns to look over his shoulder. As he expected, Castiel leans purposefully against a telephone pole, like he was waiting all along for them to step outside.

Castiel’s eyes widen, taking in their newly smooth faces and Sam's precipitous decrease in height. Sam thinks it’s the first time he has ever betrayed surprise. Castiel ruins it when a snort escapes his lips that turns into a chuckle and from there into a full-out belly laugh. He's still trying desperately to hide it behind a hand because he rarely stops being polite, but Dean's murderous look only seems to be making it worse.

Sam waits for him to calm down. “Can you fix it?” Sam asks, his eyes on Dean.

Castiel tries to pull together some semblance of a straight face, but he’s still chortling. He shakes his head. “You’re so—” he says to Dean.

Dean crosses his arms. “If you say pretty so help me God, I will kill you.”

Castiel raises an eyebrow. Sam wonders if they’re about to get another lecture on blaspheming. Instead he says, “I was going to say girly.”

"Hey!" he cries, "You shut up!" he says to Sam's laugh.

But Sam wouldn't be a brother if he just let it go. He walks over to Castiel, slinging an arm around his shoulder. “Look at that, Dean, you can be a good influence.”

*

Castiel has no clue how to turn them back.

“I’ve never found occasion to make someone older,” he says thoughtfully as he walks them to the nearest motel. “You might find a Trickster.”

Sam snorts and colors. “Yeah, I wouldn’t bet on that.”

Dean and Castiel trade looks and Sam’s stomach roils. They walk a few steps ahead of Sam and he avoids Dean’s glance when he looks back in the direction of the garage like he’ll never get to see his car again.

Castiel leaves them when they find a little bed and breakfast off Main Street, knocking off an irreverent little salute before disappearing. Dean shakes his head and mutters under his breath.

“Are you sulking?” Sam asks, pushing ahead of Dean into the B&B main office. Dean sighs and doesn’t reply.

There’s an elegant mature woman behind the counter. She has only a raised eyebrow and a slight grimace for them, before she turns back to her double acrostics.

They’re not overly confident that this place will have an abundance of rooms, so Dean asks for a room for two.

“We can’t sign you over a room without parental permission.”

Dean’s eyebrows descend over his eyes. “What the fu—”

Sam shoves Dean aside before he gets them in bigger trouble and says, “We lost our parents this last week, my brother and I. We have no other relatives to take us. He’s my legal guardian.”

Hopefully, Dean’s tight-lipped annoyance is a close enough cousin to grief-provoked anger. She searches Sam’s face and he drops his eyes, trying to look mournful. The lady sighs, put upon, and sets her crosswords aside.

“How long?” she asks.

*

They grab dinner from McDonald's. Sam desperately craves French fries as he hasn’t for years.

The air holds the heat of the sun despite the breeze, and they go to a park to eat. Dean is startled when a forward fifteen-year-old girl strays from her group of friends and walks by them, parading. She’s joined barely minutes later by a chorus of giggling teens.

“Shit, man, I’m 18,” Dean says, splaying his thighs and sucking hard and suggestive at his coke.

Sam snorts and looks away, his cheeks burn with a blush. A group of skateboarders come through, oversized shoes and ball caps dipping haphazardly over their faces and the girls are distracted.

Dean calls Bobby as they walk back. “Do you have anything for me?” he asks and Sam waits with bated breath. It's not bothering him as much as Dean. Aside from the fact that they’re not being accorded the respect that any age greater than 18 grants, being younger is not that troubling. It’s the why that's getting to him.

Dean glances over at him, putting a hand over the receiver to tell him, “Bobby says he’s only ever come across people being turned into crones or babies.”

Sam shrugs. He could think of a lot of people who wouldn’t mind being 18 again.

Dean mostly uh-huhs into the phone and Sam drifts off. He doesn’t know how things changed after he left for college. Dean hasn’t volunteered and he’s almost afraid to ask, but even at 22, Dean didn’t go on hunts without Dad. He doubts that it had anything to do with Dean's competence in a fight. Now, there’s no way they’re going to be able to talk to people in the capacity of FBI agents or police officers or even park service rangers. He can just envision the stay-at-home Mom asking where they’ve misplaced their diapers and then slamming the door in their faces.

“I feel like Nancy Drew!” Dean tells Bobby, echoing Sam’s own sentiments. “Kiddy detective!”

Sam’s unlocking the door to the cottage the lady gave them when Dean huffs and shouts, startling him.

“No way, no how!” he says, like he’s been asked to execute the order for death by firing squad.

Sam darts his gaze back to Dean, hand frozen on the lock. Dean's got an outraged expression on and Sam can hear the tinny droning of Bobby shouting on the other end of the line.

"What?" He raises his brows meaningfully.

Dean meets his gaze and shakes his head. “Let me put Bobby on speaker so you can hear this madness!” He gestures for Sam to let them inside.

“Dean!” Bobby says, voice crackling out over the speaker like a whip. Dean sets his phone down on the nightstand and crosses his arms, looking at Sam pointedly.

“What is it, Bobby?” Sam asks, pitching his voice louder for the phone.

Bobby sighs. “I was telling Dean you should go to the high school.”

Sam blinks at Dean, wondering what this big production is all about. “Is there somebody to interview?”

Bobby makes a disgusted noise and replies, “No, you’re both suddenly 18 the minute you hit a suburban town that has no history whatsoever of haunting or paranormal happening. A town that literally is only of note because its public high school is ranked number six in the nation.”

Sam glances back at Dean who raises his palms in supplication. “Uh, I’m not following.”

“I think whoever turned you clods into youngsters again is trying to send you a message! You’d best play along.”

Dean shoots back, “That’s it? No research? No talking to anybody?”

Sam sits down hard on his bed. “I don’t—can that—”

Bobby interrupts, “What are you going to say during these interviews? ‘You know anything about people getting younger in these parts?’”

"Well, why not?" Dean shouts, "I've heard of worse things!"

"Grow up," Bobby tells them, making them both wince. That's all they get before the definitive click of a phone being hung up comes down the line.

“Shit,” Sam says, already knowing when he looks up to meet Dean’s gaze that they’re going to do it.

*

It feels a bit like the first day of kindergarten. They wear stiff new clothes, because none of the old ones fit. There’s a fake ID in his pocket disclaiming his blood relationship to Dean. But even if he weren’t legally dead, he’d have nothing to worry about. He’s three inches too short and several years younger than Sam Winchester’s description.

He feels a little like he doesn’t actually exist. It set in some time around when he drew up their new identities.

“You’ll forget to answer to Jimmy Paige after a while,” Sam reasoned, fiddling with an X-acto blade and printer paper. “And we can’t pass for twins, so why bother with the same last name.”

Dean shrugged and fell back on his bed. He blinked when Sam handed him Dean St. James.

“Clever,” he said dryly.

Dean took charge of the schedules. He spent thirty minutes arguing on the phone to get their lack of paperwork shoved through. Sam doesn’t know what he expected Dean to come up with, but he feels a bit warm inside when he looks down at the row of APs.

*

He’s never had a class with Dean before, but now they’ve got B period AP psych. They sit in the same tablegroup in the back of the class. Dean tips his chair back, foot on the floor, absentmindedly setting himself up as class badass.

“St. James, Dean,” the teacher says, taking attendance. He glances up from the roll-sheet and coughs a little at the name. Dean gives him a dirty look to which he only shrugs innocently.

After going through the roll, the teacher asks them to fill out their contact information on a green half-sheet of paper and then hands them each a heavy textbook.

“Where were you in your last class?” the teacher asks.

Dean blinks, surprisingly at a loss for a lie, and Sam has to jump in, “Uh, we were just past Freud.” Wincing when he realizes how implausible it was that two unrelated people who knew each other showed up at school on the same day.

The teacher looks too surprised at how advanced Sam's made them out to be to notice. He says, “Good, you won’t have to catch up.”

And with that he goes to the front and starts reading the stages of childhood development directly off his notes.

“Aww man,” Dean moans, leafing through the text book.

Sam has a shiny black five-subject notebook open to a free page. “Why’d you sign yourself up?” he whispers, furiously scribbling along as the teacher talks.

“When I was in high school, only the retarded loser idiots took regular psych," Dean whispers. "I'm not fucking stupid."

Sam snorts and holds back a laugh. The two other kids at their table flick curious glances at them and Sam ducks his head, focusing hard on notes he remembers taking a lifetime ago.

*

“You two are new?” a girl says at lunch, staring down at them. She has dark green nail polish and a bag lunch. Before they can say anything she sits down.

“Hi,” Dean says, leaning forward into his seat, smile curling slowly over his lips.

She grins back. “I’m Allison, student body president. I’m here to say welcome.”

“I’m Dean and this is Sam,” he tells her, never taking his eyes off her.

“It must be hard transferring in as second semester seniors,” she leans forward and lowers her voice. “Were you kicked out?”

Dean shoots him a confidential glance and then tells her, “Sam wet himself in front of the entire school and said he’d kill himself rather than go back. It seemed mean to leave him all alone. But that’s strictly on the down low.”

“Shut up, Dean,” Sam says flatly.

She looks back and forth between them like she doesn't quite know whether to believe it. “So do you guys know where you’re going to college?”

Dean opens his mouth and Sam interrupts. “We haven’t decided yet, we’re both still getting acceptance letters back.” Their knees knock under the table and Dean looks quickly down at his lap before glancing back up at Allison.

She nods and takes a bite of her sandwich. “I’m choosing between Barnard and Tufts.”

“Oh, uh, that’s cool,” Sam tells her. Dean's already distracted by a slender cheerleader walking across the cafeteria. Sam doesn’t even have the energy to be annoyed.

They make small talk for the rest of lunch, Dean popping in and out of the conversation. Sam gets the feeling that she’s digging for a scoop on them, because she reveals later that she’s one of the senior editors of the paper. She’s still nice though, so Sam doesn't tell her to get lost, and she tells them what to expect about the teachers they haven’t had yet.

“I’ll see you around,” she says, glancing down at her watch five minutes before the bell.

Dean nods perfunctorily and Sam gives her a little wave. “Nice to meet you.”

His smile disappears when a blush spreads across her face. Maybe not interested a scoop, maybe just interested. He looks at Dean when her back is turned and shrugs.

“I was going to tell her I was going to Annapolis,” Dean says, wadding up his napkin and tossing it at the trash can. It whizzed over a table of freshman before bouncing inside.

Sam laughs and says, “I know, saw that coming a mile away.”

*

He makes a friend in AP physics. He’s a little at his wits end, mostly because all of his calculus is gone, and while he knows everything the teacher is talking about, he just can’t understand how to make it work anymore.

This kid, Ben, with virulent freckles dusted across his nose and cheeks like cayenne pepper, is assigned as his partner when they break for practical applications.

He scrawls out a football on Sam’s paper and describes the forces in motion. When Sam shakes his head at him, he says comfortingly, “There’s still two months to APs, you’ll get caught up.”

Sam shrugs, unworried. Now that they’ve done the work they get to toss a football back and forth for the rest of the period. There’s a group of girls in the shade who are throwing in perfect spirals, the ball landing neatly in hand without a problem. He hopes Dean can’t see them. He'd be after them like bees on honey.

Sam hasn’t done something like this since his sophomore year of college, before they ripped up the lawn near to the law school to build a parking lot.

Ben asks him if he plays sports and Sam answers something noncommittal about soccer. Turns out Ben plays striker on the team and is a kicker for football in the fall. He talks a lot.

“It’s too late to play for the team,” he says, shouting over the distance between them. “But we sometimes play pick-up games on the lawn during lunch. You should come.”

Sam nods, shading his eyes against the sun. “Yeah, maybe I’ll do that!”

*

He meets Dean by the flagpole at the last bell so that they can walk back to their room together. Dean leans against it, hands deep in his pocket. “A girl told me ‘bad boy was soooo out,’ today," he says in a parody of a girls voice.

Sam snorts. “You went to high school in the right decade then.”

“Yeah whatever, look,” he flicks his cell-phone open. Sam looks down at least five new numbers, all with girls' names above them.

“Dean, you’re not actually 18!”

Dean’s slow grin resolves itself across his face and he rolls his shoulders. “They stare at us, you know?”

“What?”

Dean makes a face at him. “The other students, fool!”

Sam blows out a breath. “Probably only because we’re not really 18 and they can tell somethings off.”

“Hey, Sam? You want to come with us to the creamery?” Ben shouts, surrounded by a group of guys.

Dean gives him a pointed look. Sam knocks their shoulders together and answers, “Can I bring my friend Dean?”

Dean looks almost annoyed at the prospect of Sam inviting him along.

Ben nods excitedly. “The more the merrier!”

Sam turns back to Dean and cocks his head. “I guess you’re stuck.”

*

Sam manages to get shotgun in the van and Dean mournfully climbs into an ancient station wagon, but he straightens right up when a girl in painted-on-jeans slides in right next to him.

Sam’s car arrives at the diner first, and they wait in the parking lot for the station wagon to get there. A girl winds a loop of string around her fingers and sets up cat’s cradle. She holds out her hands to him.

“I’m not sure I remember how to do this,” he says, slowly. He reaches forward and pinches the Xs down and under.

“Sweet,” she says, and smiles at him, and they wind the thread back and forth. “I’m Celia by the way,” she tells him as he pulls the string underneath so that it twines about his own fingers.

“Sam,” he says back. The other car screeches into the lot, but Sam is too busy wondering how people can do this for hours and hours.

He hears Dean roll out of the car rather than seeing it. “Hello, princess,” Dean says to him, looking down at the game. “I leave you alone for five minutes and you’ll start wanting to put on dresses and frilly socks.”

“Shut up,” Sam says without heat as the girl takes the string off his hands for the last time. Dean cackles and whacks him on the ass before following the other guys into the diner. As always, Dean’s stomach takes primacy over his discomfort.

“What a dick,” the girl says, balling the string up and sticking it in her pocket.

Sam’s lips quirk. “Part of his charm.”

“These clowns were listening to Yaz in the car! Fucking Yaz!” Dean says when they’re all shoved into seats in the back.

The other teens take the ribbing with aplomb. “The 80s are awesome,” the girl who sat next to Dean in the station wagon says.

Dean makes a comical face. “If I never have to hear Alison Moyet again…”

“Who’s that?” she asks.

“The lead singer of Yaz!”

They all laugh. The girl says, “Speaking of the 80s, there’s a late night screening of Never-ending Story at the Park theater.”

Dean turns faintly green. “Sam and I will have to take a rain check.”

Ben looks at them both, “How long have you known each other? I thought you were new.”

“Ages.”Dean chuckles. He lays his head on Sam’s shoulder, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Sam wouldn’t survive without me.”

Sam’s lips twitch, but he says nothing, acknowledging it for the truth it is. Dean’s eyelashes sweep over the hollow just above his collarbone and he feels his steady breaths. This is a first. For years now, Dean has only used touch for physical reassurance. It’s not something casual or spent freely.

He finally shoves Dean off, catching Dean’s laughing eyes.

The waitress comes for their order and Dean loses himself in praise of cheese fries with one of Ben’s friends. Sam wonders if this is how things would’ve been like, if things had been different. He quickly tamps that thought down, because he’s spent years traveling down that road, and it rises up in his stomach like an old friend.

There’s a flicker out of the corner of his eye, something flapping, like dark fabric. When Sam turns his head, he sees nothing.

Dean’s too busy making eyes at the milkshakes being carried to another table. For the first time in ages, they’re surrounded by people who have no idea what their reality is and Sam doesn’t want to mess up the moment.

*

“I think high school has gotten better since we had to suffer through it,” Dean tells him as they walk back from the diner. The sun is low in the sky and Sam starts pulling his sweatshirt on in anticipation of the cold.

“Well, this is also a better high school than any of the ones we ever went to,” he says, when he pulls his head through the top.

Dean lifts his shoulders. “I have autoshop tomorrow. I gotta chance to sneak into the garage today between freakin’ Stats and English. They have four hydraulic lifts, a sandblaster, and a plasma cutter!”

Sam shoots Dean a dry look. “Oh, goody. I hope you come back tomorrow night with all your fingers.”

“Yes, Mom!” Dean mocks.

Sam flips him the finger and shakes his head. Four years ago Dean wouldn't have said something like that to him, not even two years ago. Mom had been too painful, too anathema a subject for too long.

“I have a thought,” Dean says.

Sam looks over at him. “Huh?”

Dean tackles Sam before Sam can cry foul and only some quick footwork saves him from landing flat on his back.

“What the fuck?” he brings both arms up to block a punch.

Dean grins, a manic edge in his eyes and follows up with two sharp jabs aimed to distract and then a wicked left hook that Sam catches on his shoulder. “I was just thinking,” he says, as Sam desperately tries to fend him off, “no more weight advantage!”

He gets in under Sam’s guard and they tumble to the ground.

Sam manages to connect an elbow to Dean’s sternum, but Dean buries a fist in his gut and then grabs his arms, pinning them to the pavement. “I am the champion!”

“I hate you,” Sam wheezes. He wants to say ‘go to hell,’ but they don’t do that now. Dean won’t talk about it, but Sam knows, that word has become a rarely invoked execration.

Dean shakes him. “I’m gonna punch you again if you keep going off to emo la-la land.”

“Get off me,” Sam says, shoving at him. When Dean lets him up, he dusts himself off and says, “What is emo la-la land exactly?”

“I don’t know, a place with a safety pin store and Nine Inch Nails’s Hurt playing on repeat.”

Sam looks up from pulling leaves off his sweater, affronted. “I am not like that!”

“Thank god, or Lilith wouldn’t have to worry about you,” Dean smiled. “I’d kill you myself!”

“Nooo, I bet you’d be all secretly proud of your deep insightful emo brother,” he says, tongue in cheek, “‘look, someone who understands the nuance of emotion! I wish I knew how to plumb my hidden depths!’” He finishes the sentence up, a dark spot flashing in the corner of his eye. When he gives it a second glance it's gone.

Sam forgets what he was thinking about when Dean tells him to shut up.

“Make me!” He sticks out his tongue and Dean lunges after him.

*

Dean gets a phone call in the morning to tell him the parts are in, and Sam knows that Dean has one moment where he definitely wants to tell them to drop it off at the school’s auto yard and go screw. But Dean hesitates and then finally says, “Thanks, tell me when you finish,” he sighs and Sam knows how much restraint that took.

He gives him a hopeful grin.

“Shut up,” Dean says.

Sam beats him for first shower, but Dean figured out on the first night that you can fuck with the water heating if you flush the toilet at the same time, so he knows he has to book it. Dean’s still lying in the bed when he comes out toweling off. Cartoon Network blares on the tv, but he looks both rapt and relaxed at the same time. He’s beautiful.

For one moment Sam is transported right back to his adolescence and then he quickly scrabbles clothing together and races out of the cottage.

Sam buys Dean a chocolate peanut butter smoothie at Jamba Juice while he’s out. When he brings it back to him, Dean stands around in his unbelted jeans and sucks desperately at the straw. He pulls his lips away and licks at them before saying, “ 'Shelly used to care about the simple things that I thought didn’t matter, now I know—nothing is simple.' ”

“Did you just quote The Crow?” Sam says incredulously. “I think if you’re trying for thank you, perhaps The Crow isn't the way.”

“Whatever, in Emo La-La land they do it all the time.”

“You know, I’m starting to think Emo La-La land would be perfect for you!” Sam says and throws the boxers Dean discarded on his bed right in his face.

*

“They weren’t kidding about that 80s comeback,” Dean says at lunch. He’s got grease under his fingernails that the strongest soap won’t get rid of, but he’s flushed and happy.

“What do you mean?” Sam asks. They picked lunch up at the supermarket on their way to school and Sam got himself a plastic container filled with sushi and bottled water. Dean, meanwhile, has a bag of chips, Walker's shortbread, a can of Mountain Dew: Code Red, and sour Peach-O's. Sam steals one while he’s not looking.

“They were playing Prince on the overhead in the shop,” Dean says, wiping greasy fingers off on his pant leg. "I wanted to deafen myself. ‘Little Red Corvette’ over and over!”

“You could try bringing in your own music,” Sam says, smirking.

Dean sighs. “I would, but…I don’t think they have a tape deck!”

Sam still chortling when Ben and his friends find them. They swarm the table, slamming lunches down and talking loudly. Dean shoots Sam a put-upon look, but Sam leans back in his chair, ignoring him. He knows Dean loves the attention.

“There’s this girl in my auto class,” Dean says, leaning forward, “she changed out a car battery in under a minute. Magnificent.”

“What period do you have auto?” Ben’s friend, Noah, asks, looking suspicious. Sam wonders if it's his girlfriend.

“C period,” Dean eyes go far away like he’s thinking of car battery girl.

“C period? That’s my sister!” Noah says, affronted.

He's obviously waiting for Dean to do the back-off dance, but Dean only smiles. “You’re lucky then.”

“I’m not going to perv on my sister!” Noah yells, outraged.

Sam wants to put his head in his hands. He looks at Dean, shaking his head, and sees something odd flash across his face. Dean’s eyes flick back to Noah. “Relax, man, I don’t have designs on your sister’s virtue, or whatever.”

“Good, how would you like it if I perved on your sister?”

Dean gets a satisfied expression on his face, something almost akin to triumph. He rocks his chair back from the table in his traditional two-leg balancing act. “Maybe she’d finally get laid.”

Sam narrows his eyes at him, promising revenge later. In the mean time Celia has heard from down the table. She leans so that Dean can see her and says, “You are such a dick.”

*

After school there’s nothing to do, especially with no hunt they can follow. Bobby is being firmly close-mouthed. Without telling them he set another hunter friend on the werewolf job, and the papers aren’t betraying anything malevolent.

“I think he’s using this as an enforced vacation,” Sam thinks aloud.

Dean nods. “I get the feeling he’s not researching at all.”

They walk home, slowly. Dean bitches about boredom.

“You could do your homework,” Sam says, shifting his book bag to the other shoulder.

Dean stares at Sam. “Please, I didn’t do homework when I was actually in high school.”

“Well then I don’t know!” Sam says, frustrated. “Go commit some crimes with cheerleaders.”

Dean grins like he’s thinking about it. Sam rolls his eyes. They have to cut through Downtown to get back to the cottage. Sam kind of enjoys the fact that they aren’t knocking down people’s doors, asking them questions they don’t know how to answer and don’t understand.

They’re walking past an alleyway between restaurants when Dean stops. Sam finds himself a couple of steps ahead before he realizes.

“What?” he says shortly. If Dean is wasting his time to stare at some high school girl walking around town, he will have a shit fit and won’t even feel sorry about it.

“Did you hear that?” Dean asks.

Sam backtracks to where Dean is standing and listens. “I don’t—” He’s interrupted by a high-pitched sound. “Yeah, I definitely heard that.”

They go slowly down the alley way. The cries get stronger. Dean gives Sam a worried look.

There’s a cardboard UPS box behind the dumpster. They stop and stare, waiting for something to happen. One of the top flaps bounces back and Dean looks unnerved with the fact that he doesn’t have a gun on him what with Zero Tolerance school policies.

A head pops out of the opening at the top and Sam is down on his knees by the box before Dean can stop him. “They’re kittens,” he says, pulling the flaps back. There are at least five of them, squirming together and mewing from empty bellies. One starts mewing especially desperately when it catches sight of Sam looming over them.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Dean bends down beside him.

Sam picks one meowing ball of fluff up under its arms and cuddles it close to his chest. Before he can even think about asking, Dean says, “We can’t keep any.”

The cat head-butts Sam under the chin and starts purring. The poor thing fits perfectly in one palm.

“Sam,” Dean says slowly, stretching the syllable out. Sam doesn’t look at him.

“So I did some asking around,” Castiel’s voice breaks in and Dean falls back against the pavement in surprise, shouting, “Jesus!”

The angel stands on the other side of a dumpster, arms at his side. Dean keeps cursing, doing his best to cover how badly he’s been startled with anger.

Sam stands, petting the kitten, as Dean pulls himself to his feet. Dean glares at Castiel. “You’ve really got to stop sneaking up on people!”

Castiel blinks at him, expression placid. Dean makes a disgusted noise at the back of his throat. “If you are quite done?” Castiel says. Dean’s eyes get narrower in his face, but he lets Castiel continue. “I did some asking around, and some of the host are of the mind that exsanguination would restore you to your natural forms.”

Dean shudders. Sam knows his own face looks dubious. “How exactly would that work?” he says.

Castiel shrugs. “Drain out the new, to be filled with the old.”

Sam and Dean share a look. “That seems less than scientific,” he says, setting the cat back in the box.

“It’s hardly a sure thing,” Castiel says nonchalantly.

“Well…thanks,” Dean says, fiddling with the cuff of his jacket. “Can you tell Sam we don’t have room for a cat?”

“That would be a falsehood,” Castiel replies, “But I can see how it could be less than advantageous.”

“If we take them to the shelter, they’ll put them down,” Sam says, trying not to adopt teenage petulance to go with his young face.

Castiel inclines his head. “Perhaps, in this instance, I could be of assistance.” He bends down and sweeps the box off the floor.

Dean looks delighted. Sam sighs and turns to walk back out the alleyway again.

Part 2
Tags: crack, fic, high school, sam/dean, spn_j2_xmas
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