1997


Sam stared as he watched his brother try on his graduation robe. It was supposed to be burgundy, but it looked red to him. Hopefully, they'd have a better shade by the time he graduated. "You look like a tomato."

"Shut it, dork."

"Seriously, after graduation we'll all be heading to salad bars."

Dean placed the mortar board on his head and preened in the mirror. "I rock even in my cap and gown. You're just jealous."

"Riiight. Anything you say, Mr. Tomato Head."

"The bear seems to like it."

alt=Sam stared at the white bear dressed in a red cap and gown which was sitting on Deanís battered backpack. A gift from a girl, of course. Supposedly, guys were the one who bought their girls trinkets and fuzzy things. But Dean had been receiving stuff like that since middle school. In fact, one Christmas he had donated a whole box of things to some childrenís charity.

"Why aren't you studying for finals or something?" Dean fussed with the angle of his cap.

"I'm tired of studying. Don't forget your honor cords."

Dean picked up the strands and draped them around his neck. "You? Tired of studying? Does the six-o'clock news know?"

"You can't be so mouthy at a military academy."

"It's West Point, dude, not some school for misbehaving boys."

Sam perched on the dresser, partially blocking Dean's view of himself. "Didn't you get enough of boot camp around here?"

Dean shrugged. "Go with what you know, right?"

"You could've gone anywhere. Somewhere you didn't have to follow orders all the time."

Dean sat on the dresser beside him. "Not all of us have your drive, dude. Some of us need to have someone pushing us from behind. Besides, my CYA alert hasn't gone off once through all the applications and nominations and crap. That should make you feel better."

"Dean," he sighed. "You don't do authority all that well, especially when it's authority among your own peers. Just--keep your head down, at least your first year."

"You worried about me, Sammy?"

Yes, but he wasn't going to tell Dean that. Dean would just call him a girl and ignore him. But this was something that shouldn't be ignored, and if he had to body-slam the knowledge into Dean's head, he would. "You took the president of the chess club to the homecoming dance because you were mad that Darla Stevens assumed the quarterback and the head cheerleader would go together. As president of the Student Council, you instituted demerits for everybody who pointed at, laughed at, or otherwise picked on the special needs students. Your best damn friends are a group of hookers. Your senior project was building a launderette for the homeless."

"I'm an awesome philanthropist," Dean said with a cocky grin.

"Listen to what I'm saying, bro. You attract, cultivate, and admire the fringe elements of our society. Now, you're going off to a place where there's absolutely no tolerance for anything remotely considered fringe. Either they're going to eat you alive, or you're gonna cave and become some kind of Stepford cadet, or..." Sam stopped and gave Dean a pointed look. "You do know this school's been around for almost two hundred years. It was a fort, I think. Built to withstand anything," he warned.

"Not like I'm planning to blow it up." Sam raised a "yeah, right" eyebrow. "What? I'm not an anarchist, for Christ's sake."

"You kinda are, Dean. You and I both know you would've been right there in the middle of Boston Harbor, throwing tea around and telling King George to go piss himself."

"Coffee, maybe."

Sam banged his head gently against the mirror behind him. "So not the point, bro. Anyway, the Academy's kinda stuck in a rut, or under a rock. They don't like change or 'different.' You realize some still haven't really accepted girls can go there?"

"You think it's because we haven't lived with girls that we don't have that built in hatred that other guys have?" Dean pondered. His cap was in his hand, and he was shaking the tassel like it was a rattle.

Sam took a minute to apply logic to the problem. And the tassel was sorta fascinating. "It seems to me exposure should increase tolerance, not decrease it. I just think they're assholes."

"You are a very wise fourteen-year-old," Dean praised.

"Wise enough to know you're gonna end up rocking the boat at the Academy and no one's gonna be there to back you up--which should concern you, but won't."

Dean sailed the cap across the room to land exactly in the center of his bed. Show-off. "One--I'm going to West Point not Annapolis so can the boat analogies. Two--I know you think I'm some sorta social revolutionist or whatever, but come on, Sam. Really, I'm just your average, red-blooded American guy. I'll blend in so well, the professors will have to call my name everyday because they won't even remember what I look like."

Sam laughed. Teachers were always asking him, some with excitement and others with trepidation, if he was kin to Dean Winchester. If the past was any indication, his brother would blend in like a peacock in a chicken coop. "Well, you all will be dressed alike," he conceded, just to make Dean happy.

"Little tin soldiers, isn't that what you said when I got accepted?"

Except Dean was gonna end up copper, brass or something else bright and shiny that stuck out like a sore thumb. But he was going to let his brother have his fantasies. Maybe it would protect him long enough to gather allies. "You're going to be so adorable in your cute khaki uniforms," he snarked.

"Only a girl would know they were khaki and not beige. Sure you don't want to start the application process to the Academy? With two Winchesters, we could kick twice the ass, and like you said, they accept girls."

"Kiss my ass, bro" Sam shook his head. "Me, at West Point? Then what? Join J.A.G.? --although I wouldn't mind being Harm to Catherine Bell's Mac. Sorry, man, but I'm going somewhere way more liberal. Maybe Stanford or Carolina. I've had enough stifling here in Kansas." And he was tired of being Dean Winchester's little brother anywhere. Except, you know, when it came in handy. Dean's rep had kept trouble away from him more than once.

Dean stood and peeled off his robe. "Speaking of stifling, how was your first official hunt with Dad last weekend? I was scared to ask."

Sam snorted. He'd wondered why Dean hadn't said anything, thought maybe he'd talked to Dad about it instead of him. "He sat on his ass and watched me dig for two hours."

"He was watching your back in case the ghost made an appearance."

Yeah, ghosts could be vicious bastards, but... "Dean, the ghost was just some guy who wanted revenge on his best friends because they knew his wife was having an affair and didn't tell him. He'd got them all, so he didn't care what we did to his bones and happily went off to wherever the dead are supposed to go." The only thing threatening in that cemetery were the mosquitoes. "And, ugh, by the way. That Vick's you had me rub under my nose didn't do a damn thing for the smell."

"Try it without the Vick's and let me know how that goes," Dean replied dryly. He put the robe on a hanger. When the zipper caught briefly, he gave a small curse. "It was kinda cool dropping the match in, wasn't it?" The zipper continued on its route without any more issues.

Sam looked from the zipper to his brother. "You know you have a serious problem with fire and explosions and shit, right?"

"You ain't gotta lie, bro. Turned you on, didn't it?"

Sam flicked a pen at Dean's head. "Shut up. God, how many more of these bonding salt-and-burns do I have to look forward to? At least you got to work a Phantom Hitchhiker."

"That was purely by accident. We were headed home from the cemetery, and I'd conked out after patching up the blisters on my hands--damn, that shovel needs some padding. Anyway, I woke up to Dad saying we got a visitor and something flickering in the backseat. Bitch nearly scared me to death. Glad she just wanted to see her family one last time before she crossed over."

He hung the graduation gown in their closet before turning back to Sam. "By the way, I suggest when you get a car, you put a baggie of salt under the driver's seat where you can get to it in a hurry. Mark it NaCl with a pen, though. That way, if the cops ever search your car, you can just say it was left over from your last science project where you were comparing the density of different liquids with additional salinity and trust me, the officer's eyes are gonna glaze over, and he'll be so glad to get away from you, you won't have to worry about sitting around waiting for the salt to be tested."

"Please tell me that's just a working theory." A shrug. "Man, is there anything you haven't done?"

Dean glanced at him mysteriously from lowered eyes. "Dude, that would be telling."

"Forget I asked," Sam said quickly.

Dean smirked and looked around for the paper sleeve the cap was supposed to go in. "Do me a favor?"

"What?" Sam pointed to where the cap's package lay on the other side of the bed.

"Don't pick on Dad so much while I'm away. You don't want to worry about me, and I don't want to worry about you two. I get that you don't see eye to eye, but cut the old man some slack, okay?" Dean bent to retrieve the sleeve and Sam had to strain to hear him. "You're too young to remember, but he was in a bad way after...after Mom's death. He could've left us, gone hunting full-time or climbed into a bottle. But he didn't, and although you bitch and moan a lot, we haven't had such a bad life. Can you remember that when he gets like he gets?"

"Yeah, I can do that." He hadn't really thought about being alone with Dad. Dean called them both prima donnas (not where Dad could hear, but still), and Sam was self-aware enough to know there was some truth in that. A little bit. More on Dad's side, of course.

Dean forced the cap into the paper square and stood. "Good. Because it ain't his fault, you know."

"His fault about what?"

"That I'm the beauty, brains, and brawn of this family, bitch."

"And the biggest jerk on the planet," Sam felt compelled to add. He also felt compelled to duck--which was a good thing since a paper ball smacked the mirror where his head had just been.

*****

"Sam?"

"Dean?" Sam tossed aside Dean's old chem textbook and settled the phone against his shoulder. Chemistry wasn't his favorite subject, so he was using the summer to bone up on it. It helped that Dean had scribbled notes all throughout the text--except for the ones about girls, sports practices, and some drawings he thought might be vaguely sexual. "Hey, man. They're finally letting you contact the outside world again and Dad's not here. He and Pastor Jim are in Cincinnati--vampires."

"Good, I'm glad he's not there. Sam?"

Well, that was a pathetic sound. An obvious ploy for sympathy. Did he realize whom he was talking to? "Yes, Dean," he said graciously.

"I wanna come home."

Sam laughed. He couldn't help himself. He'd told Dean what to expect at Beast Barracks--all the multi-mile hikes and drills and obstacle courses and hand grenade training with live grenades.... "Man, I thought you said you could take it. What was it again? 'I'm a Winchester, hear me roar'?"

Dean sniffed. "But you didnít tell me about the worst part."

"What? The gas chamber exercise?" Sam shuddered at the thought of voluntarily walking into a gas-filled room, taking off the gas mask, stating your name and cadet company, then walking--walking--out of the room. What was that supposed to teach? Blind adherence to stupid orders?

"Sammy, it's much worse than that."

Shit. What could possibly be worse? The murder of babies? "What is it, Dean? You can tell me," he said compassionately. Dean was just too nice for a place like that. He was a jerk, but he had a big damn heart. "What have they made you do?"

"We have to be at reveille at five fucking thirty in the morning, man!" Dean whined. "It's killing me, sucking out my soul like a zombie sucks out a brain."

Sam lost it. It was several minutes before he could stop laughing enough to reply. "Dude, that's so lame! We got up here at 5:30, before Dad slipped you the Impala and we didn't have to catch the bus."

"Yeah, but I didn't have to be awake, Sam. I was up, but, dude, I didn't wake up until like first period. Now they expect me to be fully functional, handling weapons and shit."

That sobered Sam up a bit. Dean--armed and asleep at 5:30 a.m. Not a good thing. Back-up. His brother had called for back-up and that was what he was going to get. "Listen, Dean, make time your bitch, dude. You only have to fight it for an hour or so and then you're good to go at 6:30, right, man? Sixty minutes. You can do it."

"Okay. One minute at a time, right?"

"Yeah, and just sixty of them. You can fake it until then. Pretend you're visiting with Mrs. Hastings. Just nod and do whatever they tell you to, even if it's just reaching on the top shelf to straighten some porcelain kitten or something. You've done it all your life, Dean. You can do it now. Just six weeks. Less now, in fact." Faking it. With assault rifles and live grenades. Oh, boy.

"Look, Sammy, they're signaling my time's up, so I gotta go. Thanks for the mini pep rally. I'll let you know if it works out, okay?"

"Okay. And, Dean?"

"Yeah, man?"

"Shave at night."

Dean laughed. "I hear you, bro."

*

"Dude, I'm so through."

Sam frowned at the telephone. "With what? The Academy?" Wow. That was quick. Had he blown it up? Nah. Surely that would've been on the news. He searched for the TV's remote control.

"No, man, with the 0530 bitch. Beast Barracks is history. I'm now officially a Cadet Private, Fourth Class, also known as a plebe. That sounds like something that might burst if you poke your finger in it, doesn't it? Anyway, now breakfast is at 0700. The bitch is tamed!"

"I'm so happy for you," Sam drawled. He hadn't been able to remember CNN's channel number anyway. "Now I won't have to listen to your whining."

"I don't whine, Sammy."

Sam laughed and handed the phone to his dad.

*****

"Sam?"

He looked up from his paper on the government's failure to protect troops in the Gulf War. Dean was probably going to kick his ass for it. "What's up, Dad?"

His father sat on the arm of the sofa and looked pained. "I--ah, I went down to the library to research a Liderc because I knew you were working on your paper."

"Thanks, Dad." So why was he interrupting him now? Dean hadn't mentioned that there'd be another "talk." The sex one had been years ago and the career/do better in school one would've been useless.

"When I came out, there was a--woman, well, actually a group of women standing near my truck. They asked how--Sweet D--was doing at West Point. I assumed they meant Dean."

Sam nodded. He could see where this was going.

"They were...working women, son."

"Charity and her girls," Sam supplied, hiding a snort.

"Yeah, I think she mentioned her name was Charity when she, uh, gave me a kiss to give to Dean. And, man, what a kiss it was." Dad shivered and turned red as he remembered. "Why is your brother on first name basis with a group of--"

"Prostitutes," Sam said, giving his dad a break. "It's a long story."

"You know about them?"

"I was there when Dean went underwear shopping with them. He was sixteen."

Dad stood abruptly and headed for the kitchen. "About that long story, Sammy," he called, halfway out the room, "I don't think I wanna know."

Sam laughed so hard, he got a headache.

Yeah, Dean was so going to kick his ass.

*****

John sipped his morning coffee and wondered at the amount of noise one more person in the house could make. Dean had been home for Christmas break for a little over a day and the difference around the place was very noticeable. Extra dishes. Extra laundry. Conversation and the TV well into the night.

Slamming doors.

"Morning, Dad."

John turned to watch Dean grab a glass of water. From the sweatiness and increased respiration, it was obvious his eldest had been out for a morning run. In the short time he'd been at West Point, Dean had grown broader in the shoulders and more muscular all over. He moved differently, with more fluid grace and power. The Army was making a man out of his boy. "Morning, son. How's the weather?"

"Cold, but sunny. Good football weather. By the way, you wanna go with us today?"

"Go where?"

"To the bowl game Kansas City managed to snag. What's it called? The Nabisco Bowl? Kellogg? Some food stuff. Anyway, I have an extra ticket." Dean finished the water and set the glass aside. It wouldn't be bothered--the striped glass had always been Dean's.

"I thought it was sold out?"

Dean did a couple of quick stretches. Something must've felt tight. "Yeah, but players get tickets for their families and Pinky gave me his. His mom doesn't understand the game, and his dad's so busy with his new family, he can't be bothered. The extra ticket was for him, but he called to back out. I warned him that this was his last chance to connect with Pinky, but the prick blew it off anyway."

John knew he should defend his fellow parent, but the truth of the matter was that Fred Bowman was a prick. He left his wife and son for his much younger secretary, and when the new wife gave birth to a set of twins, he'd basically ignored Pinky. John'd always made sure Pinky sat with Dean and him at the sports banquets the school held every year so the boy wouldn't look like he was sitting alone. "He'll eventually recognize his mistake," he said half-heartedly.

Dean sniffed his pits and grimaced. "Sure, when Pinky becomes a football star or something, and he wants his cut. Gonna be in for a hell of a lot of disappointment, though. Pinky's not gonna have anything to do with him."

I'll see to that, John heard, although Dean didn't say it. Normally, he'd tell Dean to back off, but Dean had been taking care of Pinky for so long, he knew it'd be a waste of breath. A football game sounded like fun, but... "Not sure if Sam'll go for me tagging along." Sam had been gushing about Dean coming home since Thanksgiving. He'd missed his big brother more than he wanted to admit.

"You two having problems?" Dean asked warily.

"Actually, no." John had been surprised at how well he and Sam had been getting along. "A lot less eye rolls than expected. I think he realizes he has to rely on me for rides to and from his after-school events now."

"Good. I'd hate to have to beat his ass for being a bitch to you!" he bellowed loudly toward their shared room. John had asked his sons to tell him when they wanted separate rooms; the request had never come.

"Why do your threats work and mine are muttered away?" John asked with honest curiosity.

Dean grinned. "That's simple--you hurt him, and it's child abuse; I hurt him, and it's just typical sibling squabbling. You're raising a legal genius, remember?"

John was impressed. "And here I thought it was because he knew if I touched him, you'd beat my ass."

Dean shrugged, providing no answer. "You don't have to worry about Sam today." He ambled down the hall, pulling his T-shirt off. "Sammy! Dad's coming with!" he called out.

"What'd you ask him for?" Sam whined.

"Two words, little bro--free snacks."

Sam even consented to let John ride shotgun to the game.

Onward to Infrangible Road 2001

U-Turn to 1995, 1993, 1991, or 1984, or Infrangible Road On-Ramp

Comment to LiveJournal?

Email Dayspring