The first time it happens, Sam thinks it's a fluke. Dean's been acting weird the last couple of days, anyway; ever since Dad dropped them both off at Pastor Jim's, instead of just Sam. Sam still remembers Dean's dismay at being excused from an activity any normal person would avoid like the plague.

"You want me to stay here." Dean said it again, just as their father was tossing his bag into the backseat of the Impala.

"Dean, we've been over this. I'll be gone a week, tops. Consider it a well-earned vacation."

"But you might need me. You said yourself I'm a good shot."

"Collins will have my back."

"But, Dad, if you don't know this guy, how do you know you can trust him?"

"I don't; that's why I want you here."

So, yeah, maybe missing a hunt has Dean a little bent, but this isn't the reaction Sam expected.

"What are you doing?" he asks, frowning at finding Dean stretched out on his bed with a book. Sam's seen a lot in eleven years, spirits and changelings and even a werewolf, but he's never seen his brother read anything voluntarily. Well, anything other than an occasionally smuggled Busty Asian Beauties. Christo.

Dean doesn't so much as glance up from the copy of The Great Gatsby in his hands. "Reading."

Duh. "Yeah, I know… Why?"

"Huh?" Dean blinks, looking up as if noticing Sam for the first time. "Oh. Molly lent it to me; said I should read it."

"Molly?" Sam waits for the punchline, but Dean only stiffens, brows knitting together.

"Yeah?"

Sam shrugs, not wanting to invite an argument. "Never mind."

"Is Dean going to watch television with us?" the pastor asks, when Sam returns to the kitchen.

"He's reading," Sam says, watching the man pour melted butter into a bowl of freshly-popped corn.

"Is that so?" Instead of sounding shocked, there's actually a faint curve to the man's mouth, and Sam leans against the kitchen table.

"Who's Molly?"

"I introduced Dean to her at this morning's service. I thought she might provide your brother with some – distraction," Pastor Jim supplies, lightly jostling the popcorn to distribute the butter.

Distraction from what? Distracted is Dean's usual state. "You do know what Dean is like, right?"

The man smiles, turning toward Sam and tucking the bowl under one arm. "Now, Sam. I know your brother has a reputation of being something of a ladies' man with the girls, but I have every confidence he'll conduct himself honorably."

Sam snorts, then notices the pastor's raised brow and frowns. "Seriously?"

For a moment the man looks like he might roll his eyes. Then, "Come along, Sam; Jeopardy's about to start."

***************************************

Two days later, Sam is bored. The state is in the middle of a heat spell, and the air outside is nearly suffocating. He's tired of reading, tired of watching television; tired of all the usual things he does to entertain himself while Dad and Dean are away. If the Winchesters were any kind of normal family, Sam would have friends to do things with. Friends my own age, he amends, slightly ashamed. Because Pastor Jim is great for Scrabble or the occasional philosophical debate. It's just that Sam wants to do something.

This sucks. Usually his brother would be bouncing off the walls right now, pestering Sam until he has no choice but to give into Dean's demands for excitement. But Dean is right here, and Sam's just as bored as he would have been by himself. Sighing, Sam wanders into the small bedroom they're sharing, pinning Dean with a pleading stare.

"Wanna kick the ball around with me?" Sam's even willing to brave the heat if it means getting out.

"Maybe later," Dean replies, without a glance for Sam's pout.

"You've been reading that book all day," Sam accuses, and okay, he's not proud of it, but since when does Dean ignore him?

"Gotta have something to talk to Molly about." Dean shakes his head. "Man, chicks dig some weird stuff."

"Yeah, no kidding," Sam mutters. The disappointment must be written all over his face, because Dean finally looks up and huffs in surprise.

"You really got the cabin fever, don't you?

"A little," Sam confesses, relieved he finally has his brother's attention.

"You wanna blow this joint?"

"Really?"

Dean slaps the book shut, flashing Sam a grin. "Yep. Think I got an idea."

********************************************************

Sam grips his soda and tries not to scowl as Dean steers Molly down the aisle of the theater with an arm around her waist, murmuring at her ear. The blonde is nice enough; nicer than most of Dean's dates. The smile she gave Sam in front of the cinema was genuine, and Sam weakly smiled back. After all, it wasn't her fault Dean didn't mention she was coming, Sam thinks, watching as Molly slides down into a seat. His internal grumbling is interrupted when Dean's hand on his chest brings him to a halt.

"Not this time, kiddo. You'll get a better view a few rows back."

Molly glances over, smiling even as she scolds. "Dean. He's your little brother."

"He likes sitting by himself. Right, Sammy?" Dean prompts.

"Sure," Sam says glumly, but Dean only smirks and slaps a box of Whoppers into his hand.

"Knock yourself out."

********************************************************

"Come on, Sam. It was a crappy movie, anyway," Dean tells him on the way back to Pastor Jim's. A truck rumbles past on the rural highway, and Dean tugs Sam to the side.

"How would I know?" Sam demands, shirking his brother's grip and ignoring the consequent grin. "I couldn't see anything through that guy's Mohawk."

"Heh." Dean chuckles at the memory, then quickly contains himself at Sam's fulminating glare. "What? Are you pissed because I sat with Molly?"

"I don't know why you're hanging out with her, anyway," Sam continues, taking a kick at some loose gravel. "It's not like she's going to let you feel her up or something."

"Hey," Dean snaps sternly, bringing them both up short, and Sam flushes.

"Sorry," he mumbles.

"S'okay," Dean says after a moment, sharpness gone from his voice. "It's just – she's cool, okay?"

"Yeah."

"Man, can you believe this heat?" Dean says, falling into stride again. He brushes the sweat from his brow with the back of his forearm, glances over at Sam. "You want to hit the swimming hole tomorrow?"

Sam eyes him suspiciously. "Just you and me this time?"

"Just you and me," Dean promises.

And just then, Sam doesn't mind missing the crappy movie at all.

****************************************************

"Come on in," Sam calls to his brother. Dean might have brought Sam to the river, but he hasn't made any effort to swim. Instead, Dean's parked himself on the grassy shore, still in his jeans and old AC/DC t-shirt, his fingers curled around Molly's copy of The Great Gatsby.

"After I finish this chapter."

"Even Gatsby took a break," Sam points out, treading cool water.

Dean huffs in disbelief. "This guy's a loser; why doesn't he just kick Tom's ass?"

"It's a tragedy, Dean," Sam tells him. "He spends his whole life trying to win the love of someone who's loved him all along."

"Loser," Dean repeats, and Sam rolls his eyes. He hefts himself from the deep pool and up onto a rocky shelf, then cannonballs into the water, pleased with the sizeable waves that follow.

"Thanks," Dean mutters sarcastically, brushing some water from his face and the open page of his book. His brow furrows as he glances over. "And stop fooling around. You stir up some titan under there, I'm not jumping in to rescue you," he warns.

"Sure you are," Sam replies, unfazed, and continues to splash around. The air is sweltering, and he's sure Dean must be feeling it, too. Suddenly Sam has an idea, and a mischievous smile pulls at his lips as he climbs out of the water again, making a show of stretching and shaking off. When he's certain he has Dean's attention, Sam somersaults into the deeper water. Only this time, he doesn't come up.

Sam's only underwater for a minute, maybe two, until he hears Dean's muffled shout from above the surface, then the current spins around him as Dean dives into the water, his searching hands grappling. Moments later, Sam's arms are seized and he's being pulled from the depths, then half-dragged, half-carried to the shallows.

"Sam? Sam!" Dean barks, giving Sam a desperate shake, and Sam can't suppress the laughter bubbling in his throat. He opens his eyes to Dean's curiously pale face, each freckle standing out in stark contrast.

"Got you - you should see your face!" Sam giggles again as Dean yanks him to his feet, stumbles forward as Dean hauls him up the embankment and to the shore. Water pours from his brother's soaking clothes, puddles the ground beneath them. "See how good it feels?" Sam pants cheerfully, shaking the hair from his eyes. "Don't you want to come in now?" he asks.

Dean doesn't answer, and then he's dropping down into the grass and yanking on Sam's wrist, sending Sam sprawling over his lap. An arm falls to Sam's back like a weight, and then a loud crack splits the air. A second later sting erupts on Sam's backside, and then Dean is really spanking him, the resounding slaps and hollers from Sam startling birds from the nearby trees.

"Ow! Dean, stop!" Sam struggles, squirming to get away from the unexpected assault. He can't believe how much the smacks hurt over the thin seat of his wet trunks, or that Dean is spanking him outside, where someone might see. "Dean!"

Sam bursts into frantic, upset tears, yells again as Dean swats even faster, setting impossible fire to Sam's damp skin. Sam sucks in a ragged breath, ready to wail, when suddenly the spanking stops, and he's shoved abruptly from Dean's lap and into the grass. He lies there for a minute, gasping for breath and hiccupping sobs, feeling utterly betrayed. Dean never hits him. Not even when Sam accidently breaks Dean's tapes or tattles on him to Dad. Not even when Sam might actually deserve it. He knuckles his streaming eyes, trying to ignore the heat blazing from his ass.

He hears Dean climb to his feet. "Get your shit; we're going," his brother grinds out, and Sam numbly obeys, climbing stiffly to his feet and shuffling over to his nearby clothes. No way he's putting on the jeans, but he pulls the t-shirt over his head and slips on his sneakers, carrying the soft denim as he follows mutely after Dean, who's already picked up his book and stalked off toward Pastor Jim's. Sam sniffles and swipes angrily at the tears streaking his face. Bad enough that Dean's ignored Sam all week, and ditched him at the theater, but this is adding insult to injury. Or injury to injury, Sam thinks bitterly, pausing a moment to rub the seat of his swim trunks. His ass feels sunburned.

"Keep moving," Dean orders curtly from a few yards ahead, and without a backward glance. Sam blinks back fresh tears of hurt and resentment, but bites back a sharp retort, unwilling to risk another spanking. They walk the rest of the way in silence, trudging grimly through the heat until they reach Pastor Jim's. Dean walks straight through the hallway and into their room, dripping all the way. Sam jumps as the door slams behind him, starts guiltily at the pastor's voice from the adjacent doorway.

"Sam? What happened?"

And the concern in the man's voice is all it takes; Sam crumples like a soggy napkin. "Dean hit me."

"He what?" The pastor cups Sam's chin in his hand, troubled eyes moving over his flushed, tear-stained face as if checking for bruises. "Where? Why?"

Sam bites his lip. He hasn't expected to have to elaborate on that. "He just did, okay? He pinned me down and he hit me."

Frowning, the man guides Sam into the kitchen with a gentle hand to the shoulder. "Sit down, Sam."

"Uh, no thanks," Sam declines politely, his hands twisting nervously in the jeans he's carrying.

Pastor Jim's eyes narrow, and Sam sees comprehension dawn on the man's face. "That wasn't a request, young man," the pastor informs him, waiting for Sam to gingerly take a seat at the table before taking a chair opposite. "Now let's try this again," he says firmly. "Tell me what happened. And this time, don't leave anything out."

Sam heaves a trembling sigh, brushes his arm over his damp face. "We were supposed to go swimming. Together."

"You didn't go swimming?" The pastor looks confused, obviously having noticed the drenched state of his charges.

"I did. But Dean wouldn't come in; he was still reading that stupid book of Molly's."

The bushy brows shoot up in surprise. "Since when are books stupid?"

"Dean doesn't even like books!" Sam blurts in frustration. "He's only pretending to read it because he wants in her pants or something, and - "

"Samuel."

"Well, it's true," Sam maintains, eyes welling at the rare censure. "He's not even like Dean anymore. All he thinks about is hunting and girls and getting his own car, and - "

"I get the idea, Sam," the man says wryly. "So what happened at the river?"

"I swam by myself for a long time, but he still wouldn't come in. I thought maybe if I…" Sam trails off guiltily. "I was only underwater for a minute or two – it was just a joke…"

Pastor Jim blinks. "You let your brother think you were drowning?"

"It's not like I told him I was drowning or anything," Sam replies defensively. "I wasn't even sure he'd notice. It was supposed to be funny…"

"Mmm." The pastor appears to contemplate Sam's response. "Did Dean think it was funny?"

"No. He dragged me out and hurt my arm and then he hit me!"

"You mean he spanked you."

"He's not my dad!" Sam insists.

"No, he's not," Pastor Jim agrees. "Your father wouldn't have time to take you swimming." The implicit truth of that statement has Sam shifting uncomfortably in his seat, and this time it's not just due to the recent spanking. "Isn't Dean the one who takes you to the bookstore when you want to go? And makes sure you have supplies for your school projects?"

"He doesn't have time for me anymore; he never wants to do anything with me," Sam confides, gaze falling to the table. "He only brings me along because he has to."

"I know it probably seems like that right now, Sam, but your brother's at a difficult age."

"Tell me about it," Sam mutters.

"He shoulders a lot of responsibilities for a fifteen year-old; it's not very often he has time for fun. And sometimes he's going to be interested in things that don't interest you."

"You mean girls," Sam says sourly.

"Among other things, yes," Pastor Jim replies, with a hint of a smile. "In a few years, the age difference won't matter at all, but right now, you may have to give your brother some space, and try to understand."

Sam shrugs. "He doesn't want me around."

"Hmmm." The man considers. "I suppose that could be true, but he did take you to the movies with him, didn't he?"

"Yeah," Sam grumbles reluctantly. Even if he hadn't actually got to see the movie.

"And took you swimming?"

"I guess. But he still shouldn't have hit me," Sam contends. "And he wouldn't talk to me the whole way home."

"Did he seem angry to you?" the pastor asks.

Sam's brow furrows. "Did you see him?"

Pastor Jim closes his eyes briefly, like Sam often sees his father do during these conversations. "Of course he was angry after the fact. I mean when Dean fished you out; was he angry?"

Sam thinks back, remembers his brother's white face and the bruising grip of his fingers on Sam's shoulders. "No. He actually looked more…"

"More what?" the man wants to know.

"Scared." Sam frowns. "Dean doesn't get scared."

Pastor Jim presses his lips together thoughtfully. "Have you ever heard of a blind spot, Sam?"

"Like when you're driving?"

"Something like that. You can see what's right in front of you, and what's in your mirrors, but there's always those few feet of road you can't presume to know."

Sam offers a blank stare. "Okay."

The response causes a small smile to pass the man's lips. "You and Dean are close; closer than most brothers," he explains. "And sometimes that kind of closeness can trick you into thinking you know everything about someone."

"You think Dean was scared?" Sam asks, shame starting to settle sickly in his stomach.

"Would you be?"

Sam thinks about it, how he lies awake night after night when Dad and Dean are on some crazy hunt, wondering if this will be the job that finally claims the rest of his family. The way his palms sweat every time he considers the possibility that one of them won't make it home alive.

"Guess I should apologize, huh?"

"It might be a good place to start," Pastor Jim concurs, offering Sam an encouraging smile. "Oh. And Sam?" the man asks, as Sam pushes back for the table and heads for hallway. "Do me a favor?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Dry off first? I think we've seen enough water for one day."

****************************************************************

After taking a quick swipe at the pastor's hallway with a towel, Sam ducks into the bathroom with his jeans, wanting to be dressed for the talk with his brother. He drops the clothing onto the lid of the toilet seat and cautiously peels the wet suit down his scorched behind to survey the damage. Sure enough, the tender skin is flushed pink, with two or three darker finger marks where Dean really whacked him.

Sam twists for a better view in the mirror, and the fabric slips from his fingers, the elastic snapping back against the injured area. Hissing, he settles on carefully pushing the swimsuit down his legs and wringing it out in the sink. Sam then eyes the garment warily. The damp material might feel soothing against his burning backside, but if he ever wears a swimsuit again, it will be way too soon. Instead, he takes a page from Dean and goes it commando, easing up the worn denim and leaving the button unfastened. It's not exactly comfortable, but Sam guesses he deserves that.

When he pads into the bedroom, he finds Dean on the bed again; this time listening to his Walkman and reading, which Sam thinks explains a lot of Dean's trouble with books. His brother's changed, too, into another t-shirt and a pair of faded sweatpants, his damp hair the only evidence of the unfortunate swim.

"Dean?" Sam ventures tentatively.

"Leave me alone, Sam." Dean sounds oddly hoarse, like he's coming down with a cold or something.

"But, Dean…" Sam gives his brother his most beseeching look, the one that usually gets him the comic or candy he wants.

Dean sets the book aside and lowers the headphones, brows drawn together in annoyance. "What?"

"M'sorry about earlier; I was just playing around, and I didn't think - "

"Didn't think what?"

Sam squirms under the hard stare. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Something like regret flashes on Dean's face, just before the older boy scoffs. "You didn't scare me."

"Right." Sam frowns. "But it was a crappy thing to do; I was a jerk, and I promise I won't do anything like that again."

Dean's green eyes move assessingly over Sam's face. There's a quiet moment, and then his brother's expression appears to soften. "Well," Dean says gruffly. "That's good."

And that seems to be the end of it. Sam scoots toward the door, loath to press his luck.

"Hey, Sammy."

Sam pauses, glancing over his shoulder. "Yeah?"

"You know anything about this Fitzgerald guy?" Dean taps the book with his fingers.

"Sure."

Dean smirks. "You wanna come translate for me? I don't speak geek."

Sam rolls his eyes, but climbs onto the bed next to his brother, reassured when Dean's right arm falls easily over his shoulder as Sam begins explaining the plot. At one point, Dean's chin rests on his head, just briefly enough that Sam might think he's imagined it. Only this time, he knows better.

************************************************

Dad shows up that Thursday; Dean doesn't even have time to say goodbye to Molly. The orders are to pack it up and get on the road, which is why Sam and Dean are both making their way out the front door, duffels slung over their shoulders.

"Sorry about Molly," Sam says, having seen Dean reluctantly hand The Great Gatsby over for Pastor Jim to return.

Dean shrugs off the sympathy. "Don't worry about it. No shortage of girls for this guy," he boasts, but it's half-hearted at best.

Sam huffs his disbelief. "Yeah, okay."

"And that book sucked," Dean adds, shaking his head. "Those morons couldn't even handle a simple salt and burn." He quirks Sam a lopsided grin. "Besides, I always got you; right?" Dean thumps Sam on the shoulder for emphasis.

Sam opens his mouth to reply, but his brother is already pushing past him down the steps, gaze locked on the Impala, their father; the open road in front of them. Dean has no idea how much Sam hates what's ahead, no idea that Sam was going to say anything at all. And maybe it's just as well.

Dean has his blind spots, too.

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