How I Learned To Ride A BikeAuthor: littlealexRecipient: hanahapRating:
Thanks to gestaltrose
for the prompt beta, and to my darling friend spacetiger
who really held my hand through the whole writing process and made me do power hours. The prompts were great, which always makes it easy to write, so thank you to hanahap
Sammy really really
wants to learn how to ride a bike. Only trouble is, he doesn't have one."Winchester, you coming?"
"We're going to bike over to the old Macarthur house and throw rocks through the windows, you coming or not?"
"Oh... well, I don't have a bike."
"That's cool, Jesse has a spare one, you can borrow it."
"Oh... no, thanks. I've got to... well, I've got this homework to do."
"It's Saturday, Winchester!"
"Yeah, I know, but I've got... church tomorrow, and stuff. Maybe next time."
"Whatever, Winchester, you're the one missing out!"
Sam Winchester was eight years old when he decided to teach himself how to ride a bike.
As far as he could tell, he was the only one in the universe who didn't know how to ride a bike, except for babies who couldn't stand upright, let alone walk or ride a bike. All his friends could ride a bike, his older brother Dean could ride a bike, and he was pretty sure that his dad could ride a bike even if he'd never seen him ride one (but Dad could drive a car, which was just the next step in transportation). He didn't know how everyone else had learned to ride a bike, but they all seemed to glide around on two wheels like it was the most natural thing in the world, so he figured it couldn't be that hard to teach himself.
The only trouble was, he didn't have a bike. Dean didn't have a bike, either. When Sam had asked, he'd said they used to have one in Kansas, but Dad had sold it because it was too big to fit in the trunk of the car.
So he couldn't borrow a bike from anyone at school - he'd only been there a couple weeks, and they could all bike and he didn't want them to know he couldn't - and Dean didn't have one. He toyed with the idea of asking Dad if they could get one, but he figured that it would still be too big for the trunk. Besides, he couldn't even get Dad to buy him a proper lunchbox, how was he meant to get a bike? Even if he asked for his birthday, which was forever away, he still wouldn't get it.
Two days after making the decision to teach himself how to ride a bike, things were getting a little desperate.
"Dean," Sam asked, sidling up to his older brother casually, grabbing the box of Lucky Charms off of the counter and looking for a bowl. It wasn't breakfast, but Dean ate them all the time, even straight out of the box. "Do you know where I could get a bike?"
Dean looked up from his homework and gave him a look that Sam recognized as the 'annoyed older brother' look. "What do you want a bike for, Sammy? You don't even know how to ride one."
"Yes I do!" Sam protested, feeling heat rise to his cheeks. Just because it was true, that didn't mean Dean had to say it like it was a bad thing. Even if it was.
"No you don't," Dean said flatly. Sam pursed his lips together and slammed the box of Lucky Charms down on the counter, a few of them popping out of the top with the force.
"You don't know everything, Dean!"
As it turned out, Dean really didn't know everything.
The next day, Sam was walking home from school, trailing along behind Dean and his new friend Mike, staring at the sidewalk beneath his feet as he took long, slow steps. He wasn't listening to what they were saying (something about cars, and Sam thought Dean sounded like Dad), and definitely didn't listen when Dean told him to hurry up (he pretended not to hear); all he could think about was the fact that he was no closer to having a bike than he was before. It was like everyone in the world was ganging up on him, making sure he wasn't going to get a bike, and he could close his eyes and wish on the first star of the night as much as he wanted, he still wasn't going to get one.
Except that when he looked up (just to check that he wasn't going to walk into the mailbox), something caught his eye. Well, the corner of his eye, and he turned to look at the empty lot he was walking past, overgrown with weeds and shrubs, and stopped when he saw it. A bike wheel, poking out of the scrub, and Sam couldn't believe his eyes. He looked up ahead of him at Dean and Mike, who were about to cross the street, and then back at the bike wheel. It was still there.
"Sam! Sammy, you idiot, what are you staring at!" Dean's voice cut through Sam's reverie and he tore his eyes away from the bike wheel and ran to catch up with the older boys.
"Sorry, I had to... tie my shoelace," Sam said, his heart racing in his chest and his mind racing forwards to tomorrow. If there was a bike wheel, maybe there was a bike. All he had to do was rescue it from the lot, take the weeds out of it, and then he could start teaching himself how to ride it. The idea was exhilarating, and it was all Sam could think about until he fell asleep that night.
Over the next twenty-four hours, there wasn't much else occupying Sam's mind except for the moment the empty lot and the promise of an abandoned bike. If he wasn't thinking about the shape of the wheel (it hadn't seemed bent or anything) or the fact there hadn't been too many weeds growing through the spokes, he was thinking about how he was going to get Dean to leave him alone for the afternoon. He'd rehearsed his lines over and over in his head, so much that he was almost convinced he was telling the truth when the moment came.
"What do you mean, you have a group project?"
"We have a group project about the civil war. We have to put on a skit, I'm going to be a worker on the underground railroad." Sam's class wasn't even studying the civil war or the underground railroad - he wasn't even sure most of his class even knew what that was - but he'd read a book about it over the summer and it wasn't like Dean paid any attention to what he was reading.
"And the teacher is staying after school with you? Why can't you do it in class?"
"I don't know, Dean! I don't make the rules." Dean looked skeptical for a moment, like he was going to push the matter, before Mike called at him from across the parking lot.
"Dad'll want to come pick you up after work," Dean said with a huff, like Sam's school projects were the biggest pain ever. "When will you be done?"
"About five o'clock."
"All right. I'll tell Dad. You wait right here at five o'clock, okay?"
"And next time, tell me the day before you have to stay after school, okay?"
" Sam said in a strained voice. He couldn't help but hitch his backpack up nervously, his body jittery with anticipation.
Dean hesitated a moment, looking at Sam through the slits of his eyes as though that would make him see better, and then shoved his hands in his pockets and took a couple of steps backwards. "You'd better go meet your group," he said in a hard voice before turning and walking back over to Mike.
Sam just grinned to himself as he watched his brother run to catch up with Mike, waving when Dean looked back one last time.
Now he just had to wait.
It was the longest five minutes of his life. Sam tried to spend the time reading a book for English class, but he didn't remember anything from it once he put it down because he had been checking his watch obsessively. The second five minutes was up, he picked up his bag and tried to walk at a regular pace to the empty lot. It was difficult not to break into a run, but Sam managed it. At least, until the last block.
When he rounded the corner to the block with the empty lot, he made sure the coast was clear of Dean or Mike and then sprinted to where he had seen the bike wheel. Sure enough, the bike wheel was attached to a rusty old bike that had been deserted in the middle of the lot for no discernible reason. Sam tugged at the handlebars, lifting it out of the weeds and tall grass and dirt, and it looked fine to him. A bit dirty, a bit rusty, but nothing was broken. The wheels weren't bent, the pedals were steady, the chain was detached but still in tact, and the seat was just a little torn. The handlebars were bare, but that didn't matter. As long as the wheels moved, it would work, and Sam would finally have a bike.
He wheeled the bike all the way back to school, past the field and into the thick brush and trees. He'd found a clearing there at recess during his first week, and over the last few days he'd gathered some large, leafy branches to help cover up the bike when he wasn't there. Now, though, he cleared the area again and lay the bike down on its side and dumped his backpack a few feet away.
His palms were sweaty and he felt a little thrill rush through him as he realized that this bike - discarded piece of junk or not - was his now. He checked his watch feverishly to see how much time he had bought for himself. It was just a little after four, so he had a whole hour before Dad was going to come and pick him up, and it took a moment before he could squash the excitement down and get to work.
He hadn't busted Dad's tool kit out of the trunk like he'd wanted to, but he'd managed to sneak the cleaner out from under the kitchen sink. He dug it out of his backpack - along with his own washcloth - and got to work.
"Sammy." Sam looked up from his book at the sound of his father's voice. He'd come to sit on the steps of the school ten minutes before he was meant to, just in case his Dad was early and went looking for him and the group in the library. Not that Dad had ever looked very comfortable at any of the schools Sam had been to, but the risk was too much. Sam knew he'd be in deep trouble if his father found out there was no group project, so he couldn't be too cautious.
"Hi Dad!" Sam said brightly, slipping a bookmark into his book and taking the steps down to the car two at a time.
"Well aren't you chipper? Have a good group meeting, then?" Sam could see his father looking at him with those same squinty eyes Dean had used on him earlier, and he knew his Dad was trying to catch him out, but Sam wasn't going to let that happen.
"It was okay," Sam replied with a shrug. "Miss Halpert helped us a bit with the writing. I don't think Kirk understands that he has to pretend to be a black person." He'd seen Dean lie to their Dad before, and he knew how it was meant to work. If Dean talked too much, Dad knew he wasn't telling the truth, but he could also figure it out if Dean didn't say enough. This was the biggest lie Sam had told so far, and he could feel his heart thumping hard in his chest as he waited to see if he had got it right.
The squinty eyes disappeared, though, replaced with a soft laugh and a clap on the shoulder. "Well, hopefully he'll work it out by the time you have to do your skit. Come on, into the car, Sammy. I brought cookies home and we shouldn't leave them and your brother unattended for too long."
It took Sam a couple of days to get the bike working well enough to ride it.
The dislodged chain had been the hardest part by far. He'd had to take it off, scratch off the rust from the outside with a screwdriver, wash it in soapy water, make sure it was completely dry, and then do the same with the place he had to hook it onto before he could douse it with oil (he'd pinched the vegetable oil from the pantry at home, but Dad never cooked so it didn't matter) and reattach it.
The rest had been easy in comparison. He'd scraped off all the rust so that the frame was a mottled sort of color, blotchy where the paint had chipped and peeled away to reveal the metal beneath. He'd patched up the seat with a roll of packing tape he'd borrowed from the art room at school and put a spare navy-colored washcloth he'd found in the bathroom cabinet over it, attaching it with more packing tape. He found a couple of pieces of felt in the art room, too, and wrapped them around the handlebars - one green and one red.
The wheels were the last thing that needed to be fixed, so on the third day he made sure that everything else was okay and wheeled it out of the school and down a few blocks to the nearby gas station. He'd seen the other kids pump up their bike wheels there, so he went over to the air hose like it was the most natural thing in the world. This was his
bike, after all. Even if someone knew there had been an abandoned bike in that empty lot, they wouldn't recognize it with all the extra pieces of material on it, and so he didn't have to worry about anyone accusing him of stealing.
After a few false starts, he managed to pump up both wheels, pressed down on the frame to test them - making sure they weren't about to deflate any time soon - and left again when he was satisfied. He wasn't about to start teaching himself to ride the thing in plain sight, so he wheeled the bike back to school.
He'd scoped out the perfect place to teach himself how to ride before he'd even gotten the bike, and he was finally ready. The parking lot was practically empty after four in the afternoon, and there was a tall wire fence around it that he could hold onto. Now that everything was ready, he could feel the butterflies rushing around his stomach, batting their wings against his insides, but it was the same nervous-excited rush he'd gotten from lying so successfully to Dean and his father, and it was only when he stopped just inside the parking lot that he realized he had practically run all the way back to the school.
It was almost half-past four, and he didn't want to waste any more time. He positioned the bike just right, close to the fence but not so close he would bump into it, and then climbed up onto the seat. It was difficult, trying to balance the bike with just the seat beneath him, one hand on the handlebars and the other on the fence. The handlebars seemed to naturally shift towards the fence, but it was more steadying with the wheel against the curb. Sam wasn't sure how he was staying upright, but he was.
That in itself was enough of an accomplishment for most people, but Sam wasn't going to be happy until he was whizzing around the parking lot without holding onto anything.
He wasn't going to rush it, though. He waited until he felt steady enough just sitting there, holding onto the fence so tightly his knuckles were going white, and then twisted the handlebars slowly until the wheel was pointing straight ahead. He held them firmly there, feeling the bike wobble beneath him and he reached his foot off the pedal, but his toes only just grazing the curb so he snatched his foot back. The whole balance thing was harder than it looked, but it wasn't going to deter him.
Once he felt steady enough with the wheel pointing forwards, he figured he was ready to start pushing the pedals. That's all there was to it, as far as he was concerned. Everyone else just seemed to hop on their bikes, push the pedals, and away they went. Surely there wasn't any more to it.Come on, Sam,
he thought to himself, staring hard at the handlebars. Stop being such a wimp. If Dean can ride a bike, you can too. Just push the pedals, let go of the fence, it'll be easy!
Sam wasn't about to be a wimp, and after telling himself a few times that it was going to be easy, he believed it. So he just took a deep breath, counted down from five, and pushed down hard on the pedals. The bike lurched forward and Sam's stomach leaped up into his throat, his heart thudding harder and faster in his chest as he let go of the fence and he was propelled forward. Before his hand could reach the handlebars to balance out the other one, though, the front wheel somehow careened off to one side and Sam felt the bike wobble and tip beneath him but there was nothing he could do about it. He tried to stick his foot out to catch himself, but he wasn't quick enough and the bike and all of his weight fell hard on the asphalt.
It took a moment for Sam to untangle himself from the bike, kicking at the frame, but he managed to get back up and brush himself off, assessing himself for any injuries. His shoulder hurt and he was pretty sure his leg was scratched up, but nothing too bad, so he just picked the bike back up and let out a huff. This was meant to be easy. Just push the pedals to make the wheels go around, steer with the handlebars, and keep going. Dean could do it - Sam had seen Dean ride a bike without even holding onto the handlebars - so why couldn't he? He was big enough, he could reach the pedals and everything, so what was the problem?
Sam wasn't going to let it stop him, though. He'd put too much work into getting this bike, too much effort into hiding it and fixing it up, and he wasn't going to just let it all go to waste. So he picked up the bike again, climbed up to the seat, and started all over again.
He didn't count the number of times he fell over, because they were too many to be counted. It was a pattern that was beginning to form, and even though Sam tried his best to keep the same thing from happening, it didn't seem to work. He'd get on the bike, steady himself, then push off with the pedals, and a second later fall down. He tried letting go of the fence before pushing off, but that just made him fall down before he even started. He tried pushing the pedals faster to push off, but that just resulted in his hand being stuck to the fence and the bike going out from under him. He tried everything he could think of, but all he ended up with was a lot of scrapes and bruises.
It was frustrating, but Sam persevered. Every time he pushed off, he made it just a little further before everything got out of control, and he could practically taste the moment when he would be able to just keep cycling the pedals and ride all the way to the other side of the parking lot. He knew he would get there, but he couldn't make it happen. Every time he fell to the ground, he could feel a weird tension building up in his chest that made him want to hit something.
It didn't make him stop, though. In fact, it narrowed his focus, so that all he could think about was the bike and getting to ride it. He didn't care about anything else except getting a few inches further before falling over, and after what seemed like forever, he was making it at least a foot or two before the bike started to wobble and fall over.
The only reason he stopped was the beeping of the alarm on his watch. His father would be there any minute, and whether he was making progress or not wasn't going to matter if his Dad found out. So he wheeled the bike as fast as he could to the other side of the school, dumped it under its leafy protection, and made it back to the steps of the school just in time to see his father pull up.
Over the weekend, it was much easier to practice by himself. Dad was going to see his friend Caleb in the next town over, so Dean was the one in charge. Sam didn't usually like it when Dean was in charge, but he knew that Dean wouldn't want him around when he was hanging out with Mike, so it was easy to say he was going to a friend's house. Dean gave him the squinty-eyed look but let him go anyway, making him promise to be home before sundown.
He promised, and practically sprinted all the way to school. The bike was still there, the parking lot was empty, and even though it was only the second day, Sam knew he was going to learn to ride a bike today. He had to.
It started out the same as before, going for a foot or two before the bike wobbled and fell, but it started to get easier. As much as Sam had no idea how he had managed to stay upright the first time, he couldn't explain why or how it got easier, but all he knew was that after what seemed like an hour, he was getting more than a few feet. He was managing yards now, and it all came to him slowly but surely, but before he knew it he was able to ride across the length of the parking lot in one, fluid motion.
He didn't care that he didn't know how to stop except to practically jump off the bike before it fell over, he just knew that he was riding the bike. He wasn't sure he could make turns, and the crashing-to-stop thing wasn't really a long-term plan, but it was something. It was enough to make him keep going, now that he wasn't toppling over every other minute, and he rode in straight lines back and forth across the parking lot until the sun started setting.
It was as good as he was going to get for the day, and as much as Sam wanted to keep going until he could ride the bike all the way home, he couldn't. So he stashed the bike once more and vowed to come back the next day to finish what he had started. He'd ride the bike home tomorrow, triumphant, if it was the last thing he did.
Dean didn't seem to care that Sam had been out all day. He asked Sam idly over yet another Spaghetti-O dinner (that was all
Dean could cook) what he had done with the friend he'd made up, and Sam had given him some halfhearted answers about playing Scrabble and jumping on a trampoline for three hours, but that was all he needed to do. Dean made him finish all his dinner, they washed the dishes together (Dean washed and Sam dried), and then they watched Who's The Boss?
and Growing Pains
and then Dean sent him to bed for the night.
Not that Sam could sleep.
Sam wasn't sure how it happened, but he woke up feeling as though there was nothing that could stop him. He had dreamed of riding his bike up and down a street he had only seen in photographs, in front of the house Dean knew when he was even littler than Sam was, round and round a massive, mangy tree in the front yard and down the road, away from everything. Sam knew that wouldn't all come true, but he was pretty certain that he would be able to ride his bike by the time the sun went down.
Dean's squinty eyes were worse than they had been the day before, and Sam kept his fingers crossed under the breakfast table as he told another lie about going to Kirk's house to study for a Math quiz they had on Monday. Crossing his fingers must have helped, because even though he tore his eyes from his brother's probing look to take another bite of his cereal, Dean still gave in.
"Yeah, okay. I was going to Mike's house anyway. Didn't need you tagging along."
When Sam got to the school parking lot with his bike, it was much easier than he expected. It was almost like he had learned how to ride the bike in his sleep, his dreams helping him along and teaching him what he needed to do, because as soon as he got on the bike he knew what to do. Within no time at all, he was riding around the parking lot in circles. He still didn't know how to stop, and he needed to lean against something to get on the bike again, but apart from those small details, he was doing just fine. Better than fine, he was riding his bike
, that's what he was doing, and there was no way anyone could tell him any different.
After what felt like forever, Sam was bored of the parking lot. He'd worked out how to stop (completely by accident, when he pushed back hard on the pedals and the whole bike stopped, leading to a very painful fall to the asphalt) and was now able to hitch himself back up into the seat without too much difficulty (he had to go straight away or else he'd just topple over), so there wasn't much left. He was sure he'd be able to refine his techniques eventually, but for the moment it was good enough to get out of the parking lot.
The ride back to their house was relatively flat, but that didn't mean it was easy. The first corner after leaving the school, Sam nearly fell over into the grassy patch of the sidewalk, but he managed to steady out the wobble and continue down the road. He could feel the nerves rushing through his body, his heart racing faster and his knuckles going white over the handlebars, and even though he knew
he was going to be okay and could ride his bike, he couldn't help but feel his heart jump into his throat every time he crossed a driveway.
It wasn't really nerves, because he knew he could do it; it just all felt a little more real
outside of the school parking lot. He was really riding a bike, just like all the other kids, just like Dean. It wasn't just something he was pretending to do, he was really doing it, and it was freeing. But the freedom made him skittish, and even though he kept his speed constant and made sure to look out for people and cars and things that might randomly fall in front of the bike, he couldn't help but feel as though it was all going to be pulled from him in a second. He wasn't used to feeling like this - feeling like he could get around without help from Dad or Dean, without someone watching him like a hawk - and it made him jumpy, sure, but each time he turned a corner or got back on the bike after crossing a road, he felt a rush
of warmth spread through him that made it all worth it.
He made the ride back home without too much trouble. He fell over once; after slamming on the breaks to stop from running over a squirrel, but other than that the worst he did was wobble around a few uneven spots on the sidewalk. The nervous excited feeling didn't leave him the whole way, even though the jittery feeling in his chest went away after a while, and he whizzed down the driveway at home with a supremely accomplished feeling. His heart swollen to practically bursting with happiness that he had made it all the way home, he didn't even notice that the car was back in the carport, didn't hear his Dad's booming voice from inside until he opened the door.
"Dean, I told
you I can ride a bike!" Sam burst through the door yelling at the top of his lungs, but it was quickly drowned out by the tail end of an expletive bursting from his father. Sam looked into the kitchen and saw, for a split second, his father holding a handful of Dean's t-shirt in his hands, glaring angrily at Dean, whose eyes looked red and puffy even though there wasn't a single tear marking his cheek. Sam's voice died in his voice as his father turned to him looking angrier than Sam had ever seen him, and he backed up against the front door as his father dropped Dean's shirt from his grip and started towards him.
"Samuel Winchester, where in God's name have you been?" Dad's voice boomed, even though it wasn't very loud, and Sam glanced over at Dean for help, but Dean had turned around to stare at the kitchen sink and wasn't looking at him. Sam looked up at his father, now towering over him and Sam knew that Dad hadn't spanked him since he was six years old but he sure looked as though he was going to this time.
"I... I was at... at Kyle's house... st- studying for -" But he was cut off.
"No you weren't, Sam. I've just called Kyle's parents, and not only do they not know anything about a math quiz tomorrow, but they never heard anything about the history project you were doing after school last week about the Underground Railroad. Now, explain yourself." There was no threat in what he said, but Sam knew that there was a whole world of awful he didn't want to get into if he didn't tell his father what he had been doing. He glanced at Dean again, but Dean still wasn't looking, just washing his face as though it was time for bed, so he looked up at his father again.
His legs felt like jelly, like he didn't have any bones, and his fingers were shaking at his sides. Any happiness he might have had about biking home on his own bike had been flushed from him, replaced with a sickening sinking feeling that he was going to suffer Dad's wrath. He wasn't sure there was any way out of it, but Dad always told him to tell the truth, so he figured that it was going to get him the best result.
"I... I found a bike. In the empty lot a block or two away," he began, his voice shaking even as he looked at his father's shoulder instead of his eyes. "And so I took it back to school, fixed it up after school. It wasn't too broken, just a bit rusty, but I cleaned it off with soap and water from the bathrooms. Filled up the tyres, put some felt on the bare handlebars. Then... then I taught myself to ride it... in the parking lot at school. Just rode around a bit."
He chanced a look up at his father's eyes, and they weren't quite as scary as he thought they would be. Still, his heart raced in his chest and he glanced back over at Dean, who was watching now, his eyes still red but less puffy, before looking back at his Dad's shoulder. Sam knew his father didn't like it when he didn't look him in the eye when he was speaking, but it was close enough, right?
"I didn't tell Dean. I... I wanted to surprise him. He made fun of me for not being able to ride a bike, so I wanted to show him I could. And so I taught myself. And then, today, I was good enough, so I rode all the way home."
Sam braced himself as he looked up at his father. He knew he was in deep trouble - the deepest trouble he'd ever been in in his life
. Even if Dad didn't look as angry as he had before, he was pretty sure he was going to be punished, and the few moments of not knowing what was going to happen had his whole body tense and his insides twisted.
It was only a few seconds, but in those seconds, Sam's mind ran through all the things his father could do to him to punish all the lies he had told. Doing all Dean's chores for the rest of his natural life, getting a spanking, sending him to his room without dinner let alone dessert, no television for a month, sleeping in the backyard like a dog, sending him to boarding school, the list went on in the few seconds it took for his father to react to the truth of the situation.
"Well, Sammy, if you rode a bike home, where is it?"
Sam felt a tentative rush of relief as he saw his father's mouth break into a small smile.
"It's... oh, it's in the front yard. I'll move it into the carport if you want me to, I was just -"
"Show me the bike, Sammy. I want to see the bike you fixed up and saw fit to teach yourself how to ride on."
The relief was palpable, and Sam could feel everything tense about the moment slip away, switching into jittery excitement all over again and he grinned up at his father. "Okay, Dad, just a sec," he said, and turned to yank the door open.
"Oh, and Sam?" Dad's voice stopped him just before he ran out to get his bike.
"Yeah, Dad?" Sam looked back at Dad, sneaking a glance at Dean, who was crossing his arms and glaring right at him.
"You're doing all the chores for the next two weeks." Sam looked up at his father, whose voice told him it was time to be serious again (even if Dean was now grinning and Sam could see it out of the corner of his eye). "Don't you ever lie about where you're going, okay? Not to me and not to Dean. Not for a surprise, not for a joke, not for anything. I ever catch you in a lie like this again and it'll be worse than chores, you hear?"
Sam nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Atta boy," Dad said, smile returning and he ruffled Sam's hair fondly. "Now, go get this bike of yours. I want to see my boy's handiwork."
The grin returned to Sam's face as he rushed out into the yard to retrieve his bike. Now he could ride circles around Dean if he wanted to.