a love story told in road maps, bars, and graveyard dirt
The Winchesters’ story starts out a bit like a romantic comedy written by Nicholas Sparks, only with more monsters--two lovers, a boy and a girl, one just back from the war and the other trapped by her family, run away together and start their own family. Everything is happy, life is perfect, and then six months after their second child is born, the woman burns to death on the ceiling and the man sets out to avenge her.
Sparks has a thing for tragedy. They say it’s why he’s so popular--people just can’t get enough of watching fictional characters suffer.
But the Winchesters are not fictional. They are real, and the demons that chase them are real, too. The people that they save from certain death are real, and the bond between two boys that will one day transcend everything in the known universe is real.
The building blocks for Sam and Dean’s insane, twisted, fucked up, and erotic codependency are two people very much in love and the lengths they would go to for each other. Their atoms are made up by the road, by shiny bright diners and smoky bars, by holding their breath when they pass by cemeteries in an attempt not to breathe in an evil spirit, unaware that they already have demons hiding in the recesses of their souls, planted there before they were even born.
It’s no surprise, really, that the brothers would grow up to be just like their mom and dad--they are family, after all.
Sammy is four the first time he consciously decides that he wants to be just like his big brother. Dean is helping John clean the Impala at a carwash by a gas station while Sam pokes at bugs in the dirt at the edge of the parking lot. John is telling Dean something Sam can’t hear, something about the car, and pointing to a spot that Dean missed wiping with his rag.
Sam is jealous. He wants to be the one John teaches about the car. Bugs are cool, but the Impala is infinitely cooler.
John crouches down and says something to Dean, gesturing to Sam. Dean looks solemn, nods. John walks away, toward the gas station, and when he’s out of sight, Dean drops his rag in the bucket and trots over to Sam.
“Hey, Sammy,” he says. “Didja find any cool bugs?”
“Come with me,” Dean says, and grabs Sam’s hand, pulling him toward the car. “Dad said I have to keep an eye on you. I wanna show you the Impala.”
“‘ve seen the Impala,” Sam says, concentrating on not stumbling over his feet in his attempt to keep up.
“Not like this, y’haven’t. Dad says keeping a car clean is important if you want her to be happy. See, you wipe off the dust and stuff like this.” He demonstrates. “You try.” He hands Sam the rag, and Sam carefully wipes away mostly imaginary specks of dirt from the side of the car, going over and over the same spot. “Nah, Sammy, you have to get more than one spot,” Dean mentors.
“Okay,” Sam agrees, moving to the right.
“Dad says the car is real important to our way of life, and if we lose the car, we’re screwed,” Dean continues while Sam moves in concentric circles across the chrome. It occurs to Sam that Dean is repeating everything he hadn’t been able to hear John say. It makes him happy, and he smiles up at Dean. Dean smiles back, then says, “I have an idea.” He crouches down and takes the rag away from Sam, putting it back in the bucket. “You know how we write our initials in our school stuff?” He waits for Sam to nod. “We should write them on the car, too, so that we don’t lose her.”
It makes perfect sense to Sam, so he nods excitedly.
And that’s how the Impala ends up with S.W. D.W. carved into it with a Swiss army knife while John Winchester stands in an annoyingly long line for a shitty gas station restroom, and how Sam comes to the conclusion that the Impala is cool, but Dean is infinitely cooler.
Dean is bored. Pastor Jim is at the front of the congregation, talking about something like respecting your neighbours, telling a story from the Bible--Dean doesn’t know because he tuned out a good ten minutes ago in favour of staring at the stained glass window.
He’s always liked stained glass windows. He likes how the light looks when it’s filtered through them, broken into colourful pieces. He doesn’t really care about the scene it’s depicting--the one with Jesus and the sheep and the quote about lying down in green pastures--preferring to instead admire the sort of craftsmanship one obviously needs to make something like that. He fancies that one day, when he’s older, he can create stained glass windows with impressive scenes on them, the kind that everyone likes, not just people who go to church.
Beside Dean in the pew, Sammy wiggles in his seat, mumbles something to himself. John, on his other side, shushes him. Sam pouts. Dean can tell he’s on the verge of having a breakdown in the middle of the sermon.
Dean leans across his brother and taps John on the thigh. “Can I take Sam out in the lobby?” he whispers.
John looks over at him, down at his watch, sighs and nods. “Don’t eat all the cookies this time,” he warns.
“Cookies!” Sam stage whispers.
“We won’t,” Dean assures his father, taking Sam’s hand and helping him hop off the pew. They make their way across the back of the church to the exit, ignoring the looks they get from a few people.
“Cookies?” Sam says again when they’re in the lobby.
Dean nods. “They’re over here,” he says, tugging Sam over to the refreshments table. He grabs an oatmeal cookie off the tray and hands it to Sam, then digs a sugar cube out of the box next to the coffee pot and pops it into his mouth.
“Hey, Dean?” Sam asks through a mouthful of cookie.
“Swallow before you talk,” Dean says. “What?”
“The girls at preschool were playing at getting married, and Cassie wanted to marry me,” Sam says. “But I didn’t want to get married to her and when I said that she asked who I did want to marry.”
Dean scrunches his eyebrows. “Yeah?”
Sam nods. “Yeah.”
Dean waits, but when Sam doesn’t say anything else, prompts him with, “Who did you say you wanted to marry, then?”
Sam frowns. “I said you, and Cassie said Dean sounded like it was a boy’s name and I couldn’t marry a boy.”
Dean stares at his little brother. “You can’t marry me, Sammy.”
Sam’s face falls, as if he had been expecting Dean to contradict what Cassie had told him. “Why not?”
“Because I’m your brother. It’s illegal.”
“Because brothers aren’t supposed to get married,” Dean says. “You can’t tell anyone about that anymore, okay, Sam? It’s like when we live in a motel and we can’t tell anyone because they’ll think Dad’s a bad parent, okay?”
Sam looks upset, but he nods. “Okay.”
“Do you want to go out in the cemetery and play hide and seek? Dad will be in here talking to people for a while after the service is over.”
“Can I have another cookie first?”
Dean smiles at the hopeful look on Sam’s face. “Sure,” he says. Anything to keep that smile on his face, he thinks as he hands over another cookie.
They’re sitting at the table in the motel room, The Flintstones on the TV in the background, their homework spread out in front of them. Sam is staring at the TV, chewing on his thumb, and Dean is staring at his worksheet, wondering who decided any of this was relevant to anything. It’s definitely not going to help him kill the things that go bump in the night.
“What’ve you got for homework?” he asks Sam.
Sam looks over to him, sits up and flips his paper around so that Dean can look at it. It’s a matching worksheet about colours, which colour with which colour makes another, basic first grade art stuff. Dean is finished doing it in his head by the time he’s read it. He wishes his homework was that easy.
“Do you need help?” he asks. Sam shrugs, takes his paper back and flips it around. He starts doodling on the paper, shading over the green circle with his pencil. Dean watches him until he gets halfway across and then says, “Sam? What colours make green?”
“Blue and yellow,” Sam says immediately.
“Blue and red.”
Dean frowns. “If you know how to do the worksheet, why aren’t you finished with it?”
“‘Cause it doesn’t matter,” Sam explains. “The teacher is going to go over it in class and we’ll all get three outta three, so whatever.”
“I wish school was that easy for me,” Dean says.
“It’s just art that’s dumb like that,” Sam says. “My other homework is actually marked by the teacher, but I finished everything else in class. What’re you working on?”
“Social studies. Aztec civilization.”
“Sounds cool,” Sam says, and then goes back to watching The Flintstones.
Dean sighs. He wishes his biggest concerns were watching TV and not doing a worksheet that will take no time just because he thinks it’s pointless, rather than what they’re going to have for supper later and when or if their father is going to get back.
He stacks his homework neatly and tucks it back in his bag. He’ll work on it later, when Sam is sleeping, maybe. “Do your homework,” he tells Sam. “I’m going out to get supper for later. Don’t move from that chair.”
“Okay, Dean,” Sam says, still staring at the TV.
“I mean it, Sammy,” Dean warns from by the door.
“Okay, Dean,” Sam repeats. Dean can tell he’s just doing it to be a brat, so he ignores it and leaves.
He shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket, hunches against the cold autumn breeze, and wishes he didn’t have to be the one who told Sam to do homework and worried about everything. He wishes he could go back to when he was little, back to when he had a house and a mother and a father who might leave for work in the morning, but always came back at the same time every day.
It’s dusk and they’re in a graveyard. It should be scary--the trees and the stone monuments to those long dead cast shadows across the cemetery and a cold wind is blowing--but Sam is sitting calmly under a tree, watching his father and brother dig up the grave of a violent spirit that’s been haunting a restored house on the edge of town. He’d offered to help, but Dean had sat him under the tree and told him to read his book. There’s a shotgun within reach. Sam’s not supposed to take an active role in the hunt, but there’s an unspoken order (from both his brother and his father) to shoot if he has to.
His book isn’t very interesting--he’s already read it, a year or so ago, and he hadn’t liked it then and he doesn’t like it now that he has to read it for class. It isn’t very interesting, so he’s been on the same page for ages now, and he’s watching Dean instead of reading. He entertains the idea of trying to figure out how much of his life is taken up by watching Dean, but quickly abandons it. It would be hours, days, months, the entirety of the time his eyes are open.
Dean hauls himself up out of the grave, claps his hands together to brush off the dirt, and swaggers all sixteen years of his gangly form over to Sam. “How’s it going, little bro?” he asks, pulling a water bottle out of the bag resting next to Sam.
“It’s going,” Sam replies, struck by a sudden fascination with Dean’s hands. They’re black with dirt, but the patchwork colour serves to accentuate the structure of them, the delicate bones framed with strong muscles. Strong hands that can dig up graves, fend off bullies, shoot with respectable accuracy. Tender hands that sometimes still tuck Sam into bed at night, doodle graceful patterns in the margins of Sam’s homework, dance across Sam’s skin in cautious comfort when he’s sick or injured or upset.
“What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” Sam says. “Your hands.”
Dean nods, caps the water bottle and tosses it back in the bag. “Pretty gross, huh? Lucky you, sitting over here all clean.” He moves toward Sam, hands outstretched as if to remedy that problem, and Sam ducks away.
“Dad’ll be mad,” Sam warns. Dean snorts.
“Just a little dirt,” he says. “Never hurt no one.” As if to prove it he moves, quick, and smears dirt on the tip of Sam’s nose. Sam crosses his eyes to look down at it and wrinkles his nose.
“Anyone,” he corrects, wiping at his face. “Never hurt anyone.”
“Smart ass,” Dean says, but he’s smiling, as if Sam being a smart ass is his own personal accomplishment. "We're almost done. Bitch'll be ashes soon. You keep a lookout, okay?"
Sam nods at Dean's retreating back, glances at the shotgun out of the corner of his eye just to make sure it's still there. He watches as Dean stops at the edge of the grave, looking down. The breeze blows conversation at Sam, but the syllables are mixed up so that Sam can't hear the exact words. John hauls himself out of the grave and a shaky image of a girl long dead flickers into existence, closer to Sam than John and Dean. He jumps, fumbles for the gun as she shrieks something about her revenge and flashes in and out of sight as she moves toward Dean, who's digging in his pocket, for matches, no doubt, and the ghost disappears two yards from her grave, salt round from John’s gun through her chest.
Sam’s hands are clenched around the shotgun; he’s standing now, rolling forward on the balls of his feet in anticipation. Dean is trying to strike a match, cursing, and John is standing guard next to him, gun at the ready.
The ghost appears again, just behind Dean now, arms outstretched, and before he’s consciously thought about it, Sam is shooting, and Dean’s match catches fire and drops onto the bones. The ghost goes up in flames to a chorus of screaming and Dean whooping, hands upraised in victory. Sam breathes a sigh of relief, grip on the gun loosening.
“Good shot, Sam,” John tells him later, back at the motel. “It’s a good thing we had you for back up when my gun jammed.”
Sam hadn’t even known John had tried to fire a second time, but he nods anyway. He can’t think of any place he’d rather be than backing up his family, can’t think of any reason he would be somewhere he couldn’t be Dean’s hands when his own failed him, so yes, that he was there is a good thing, will always be a good thing.
The fireworks are blue, purple, red, bright and flashing and beautiful. They don’t even compare to the smile on Sam’s face, the way Dean’s heart flutters unnaturally when Sam looks over at him.
“Ready?” Sam asks, lighter in one hand, leaning down to the firework he’s set up carefully. “It’s the last one.”
“Light ‘er up,” Dean says. Sam flicks the lighter, holds it to the firework until the spark catches, and then steps back, covers his ears. Only the firework doesn’t shriek into the sky--it fizzles and pops, and then suddenly the grass is on fire and Dean is swearing and pulling at Sam’s arm. They run to the edge of the field, looking back to see flame spreading across the ground, black smoke drifting upward.
Dean glances at Sam, sees that Sam is looking at him with eyes open wide in shock, and Dean laughs because he’d said, he’d made Sam promise that they’d be careful with the fireworks, it had been part of Sam’s reasoning as to why Dean should buy them, they had been determined not to start a fire, and then the very last one sets the fucking field on fire.
“Are you okay?”
“We set it on fire,” Dean gasps out in the middle of his laughter. “We set the damn field on fire.”
Sam stares at Dean for a moment, wonders if Dean has maybe inhaled some sort of grass fumes--and then he starts laughing, too, because plain old grass doesn’t exactly give off fumes.
Dean slings an arm around Sam’s shoulder, still chuckling a bit. “You’re so stupid, Sammy.”
“What? You’re the jerk who bought the fireworks,” Sam says indignantly, pushing at Dean’s side.
“Shut up, bitch, I’m not the one who couldn’t light them properly,” Dean shoots back. “Besides, you begged to be allowed to get fireworks.” He pitches his voice into a high falsetto. “‘Come on, Dean, it’s the fourth of July. Everyone else gets fireworks! Dean, I wanna set off fireworks! Dean, you’re eighteen, buy fireworks!’”
“I do not talk like that.”
“Yeah, you do.” Dean looks at the field, then back at Sam’s face, now set in a pout. “Cheer up. You just set a field on fire. How cool is that?”
Sam looks at the burning field thoughtfully. “It is pretty cool,” he concedes, then coughs on a breath full of smoke. “We should probably get out of here.”
Dean brushes away a smudge of soot on Sam’s cheek, admires the way the distant flicker of the firelight plays across Sam’s face, has to blink and remind himself that he can’t take advantage of his little brother no matter how much he wants to.
“Dean?” Sam’s voice is quiet, questioning, and Dean is immediately on guard.
Sam shrugs out from under Dean’s arm, wraps both of his own around Dean’s waist and rests his head on Dean’s chest. “Thanks for the fireworks.”
Dean hugs Sam back, rests his cheek against the top of his head. His hair brushes roughly against Dean’s cheek and a lump builds in Dean’s throat, thinking about how he’s so lucky to have Sammy, how he’s so unlucky that he can’t have Sammy the way he wants.
“You’re welcome,” he tells Sam, and he means it, thinks that if he had a choice between his Sam and a different Sam, one that wasn’t his brother, he’d pick his Sam every time, even if it hurts.
Sam is fourteen. He’s going to be turning fifteen in two weeks, but right now he’s fourteen and he’s standing in a gas station, the kind of gas station with lights that flicker overhead and permanently dirty floors that are coated in various sticky substances. It’s five blocks from the rundown trailer they’re staying in on the wrong side of town until John decides to take a job cross country and forces them to move. That blessedly isn’t going to happen anytime soon; John left for a hunt he’d found in the city that morning.
Sam’s standing in front of the rack of chocolate bars, staring blankly at them, sneakers squeaking against the floor because he can’t stand still, and he realizes what he really wants, what he really wants, is to press Dean up against the corrugated metal on the outside of the building and kiss him and kiss him and kiss him.
He keeps standing where he is, the exact spot he realized beyond a doubt what he’s known all his life: that Dean is the center of the universe and Sam wants him, he wants all of him tucked into his back pocket for safekeeping. He wants to be tucked under Dean’s protective arm forever.
“You know what you want yet, Sam?” Dean asks. He’s standing by the counter holding a bottle of soda, and the cashier is a blonde with legs up to there, tits and a smile to match. Sam watches as Dean shoots her a wink.
“Yeah, I know what I want,” Sam says, grabbing a chocolate bar at random. He waits impatiently just behind Dean while he pays and flirts with the cashier--BRIDGET, her name tag declares. Sam, in that moment, hates Bridget.
Dean is looking at the chocolate bar Sam picked as they walk out of the store, shiny gold wrapper crinkling under his fingers. Twix--Dean’s favourite. “Dude, you’re going to share this with me, right?”
Sam isn’t really paying attention. He’s too busy noting the perfect blue sky, the way the sun beats down on the pavement but the air still has a bit of chill to it so they don’t bake, the quiet hum of small town streets around them. It’s the perfect spring day to realize you’re in love with your brother.
It occurs to Sam that it’s also the perfect spring day to kiss your brother, and instead of answering Dean’s question, he grabs his coat sleeve and pulls him around the corner of the gas station, pushes him into the metal, and makes his fantasies into real life.
He’s not even surprised that Dean immediately kisses back for a moment before pulling away. “Someone could see,” he says, the words tripping over his tongue in their effort to get out.
“No one knows us,” Sam says, and kisses Dean again.
“Was that a yes?” Dean asks when they break apart for the second time, holding up the Twix with two fingers and smirking.
“You can have the whole damn thing,” Sam says. Dean grins.
When you live your life on the road, highway signs practically become a way of life in and of themselves. They vary in size and shape, from orange warning signs to white speed limit signs to huge green signs telling you what city you’re driving into and what services it provides. After a while, John doesn’t even have to be paying any particular attention to the sign to be able to take in exactly what it said and remember it later, and if he didn’t see it, one of the boys did.
Sam teaches himself to read and count with road maps and mile markers, and he starts reading signs out loud for the whole car to hear. As he gets older and can start reading actual books in the car, it stops, but sometimes he gets bored and stares out the window and reads signs.
“Adopt a highway, next two miles,” Sam reads. And then, “Paintball USA, next right.”
They’re not going anywhere in particular--it’s midsummer and they’ve just ditched town after John finished a job that got him police attention, so they’re just driving down the highway, putting distance behind them, and that’s how they find themselves at a paintball park.
“You look ridiculous,” Dean says, laughing at Sam’s gear.
Sam glares at him as he puts on his helmet. “You don’t look any better.”
“Boys,” John says, all business. They shut up and listen to first a bored looking girl spout off the rules, and then their father talk strategy at them. “Every man for himself,” he finishes. “Let’s go.”
Dean waggles his eyebrows in Sam’s direction before snapping his mask over his eyes. Sam makes a face and gestures I’m watching you at him.
There are two other groups playing with them, one of six and another of four, and they look like they’re just there to have a good time.
Ten minutes later, Dean sneaks up behind his brother, who’s hiding behind a barricade in a corner, and pokes him in the back with his paintball gun. “Dead,” he whispers.
Sam glares over his shoulder. “Rules here say you have to actually shoot me.”
Dean shrugs, crouching next to Sam. “How many are left?”
“Dad and one other girl,” Sam says. “You suggesting we team up? Dad said--”
“If you cared, you would have shot me by now. I figure if we wait another minute or so, Dad will get the other girl and then you and I can blindside him.”
Sam nods, moves so he’s sitting on the ground with his back up against the blue plastic. Dean peers around the edge for a second, then says, “How many did you get?”
“How many did you get?” Sam shoots back.
“Four,” Sam says smugly.
Dean punches Sam in the shoulder. “Bitch,” he mutters. “Oh, the chick is walking off. Christ, she’s clear on the other side.”
“Where’s she hit?”
“Headshot. Left side.”
“Think Dad knows where we are?”
“He didn’t see me move over here for sure,” Dean says.
Sam nods. “I’ll draw him over to where you were before.”
Dean fills in the rest of the plan in his head and claps Sam on the shoulder. “Godspeed, little brother,” he says solemnly.
“You’re so full of shit,” Sam says, shoving Dean over and running out onto the field. Dean picks himself up, watches as Sam ducks behind a barricade across the field and just ahead of the one he’s behind.
It takes a minute, but Dean catches sight of John weaving between the barricades, watches as he makes his way from the middle of the field to the other side of Sam’s, where he ducks down. Dean moves out a bit, gestures to Sam to move back.
John starts moving around the side of the barricade. Dean wastes no time in running across the field, takes no care in how much noise he makes, and John hears him just as he gets in range, turns from where he’s aiming at Sam in time to get hit smack in the right side of his chest by Dean’s paintball.
Dean whoops, punching a fist in the air. John rolls his eyes, clicks the safety on his gun on and walks past Dean to exit the field.
“Just you and me now, Sammy,” Dean says. Sam’s standing a good ten or eleven yards away, gun held at the ready. “Gonna shoot me?”
Sam grits his teeth, pulls the trigger. Dean shoots a fraction of a second later, and they stand there staring at each other, matching bright orange splotches of paint over their hearts.
“Dead,” Sam says.
“Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am,” Dean says.
Sam snorts, walks over to Dean and catches him by surprise by hugging him. “That’s later,” he whispers in Dean’s ear, all pressed up against him, and if Dean had thought he was sweating in the California heat earlier, he didn’t know what he was talking about. Sam pulls back, slaps Dean on the shoulder with a grin, and Dean hates his brother.
Later, after they’ve played a couple more rounds and found a motel room to clean up in as well as a diner to eat supper at, John gives them a lecture about listening to what he says while simultaneously complimenting their teamwork. Dean and Sam only half listen, calves pressed together under the table, feet bumping together in their own form of silent smiles that promise so much more.
Dean doesn’t put a tape in the cassette deck of the Impala, but the darkness starts to press in around the car where the headlights can’t reach, the silence taking up more space than it deserves, so he turns on the radio. It’s set to some Top 40 station, crooning out a country pop ballad that doesn’t mesh well with the steady roar of the car’s engine. A study in contrasts, like the way John’s eyes told Sam to stay and his mouth told him to walk out that door and never come back, like Dean isn’t saying anything but is screaming don’t leave, I love you, so you can’t leave, because I love you.
Sam sits, a statue in shotgun, hands folded over the duffle on his lap, and that’s a contrast, too, so different from the picture of anger he’d been not fifteen minutes ago. Nervous, at the start, not sure what their reaction would be to this secret he’s been keeping for months, and then yelling, trying to explain that he wanted normal, he wanted to be normal, he wanted to be like everyone else.
But we’re not like everyone else, Sammy, Dean thinks, but doesn’t say. We’re not like them. Am I not enough for you?
He knows he’s not, doesn’t need to ask. Doesn’t want the confirmation, doesn’t know if he could hear it out loud.
He pulls into the Greyhound station parking lot, puts it into park and idles for a moment before shutting it off and looking over at Sam. He’s already getting out of the car. Dean’s heart sinks, his hands shake when they reach for the door handle and miss the first time. He gets out of the car, stares at Sam’s back on the other side of it. He’s not walking away yet, it could still be a joke.
It’s not a joke, he knows, but he doesn’t want to.
Dean walks around the Impala to Sam, touches his shoulder with a tentative hand. “Sammy,” he says, and then he’s being crushed by arms still a bit too long for the body they’re attached to, still a bit awkward, not grown up entirely, but old enough. Old enough to leave. He hugs back, holding on tight like that might make his little brother get back in the car.
His little brother doesn’t get back in the car. He disentangles himself from Dean, nods at him, and walks away.
It’s not a joke. Dean knows.
Dean knocks back another shot, grins up at a mostly naked girl in front of him and leans forward to tuck a dollar bill in the straps of her stiletto shoe. It doesn’t work out so well, the straps are too tight, but she leans down and takes it from him, flashes him with a smile and her tits, so he counts it as a win.
He’s well on his way to totally fucking wasted and feeling pretty great about it. Who needs a little brother? Who needs a father? Who needs--well, actually ganking sons of bitches is pretty great, so he’ll keep that. That and hot chicks. Mmmm, those curves.
Sammy doesn’t have curves. Sammy doesn’t have curves because he’s an asshole... with a great ass.
Dean shakes his head, steps away from the stage and pushes his way through the crowded club, purple strobe lights illuminating blurry faces. He needs some air, like right fucking now, and these people are not helping. “Move,” he grunts, his shoulder knocking into a guy who’s at least half a foot taller than him and twice as broad. He looks nice enough, really, but Dean can’t get past him, so he’s stuck with his face nearly crushed into this dude’s back. “Jesus Christ,” he slurs, “you’re taller than Sammy! What are you, a giant?”
Unfortunately, the guy takes offense to that, and Dean finally gets a noseful of fresh air after he gets a nice fist to the face. Fuckin’ bastard, Dean thinks, spitting on the sidewalk and wiping at his nose. He’s bleeding. Fucking fantastic.
He stumbles over to the side of a building, leans his forehead against the brick. He’s starting to feel like being drunk is not so fun, is maybe the stupidest idea he’s had in a while. He looks around--the street is practically deserted save for him and group of women talking down the street a bit.
Fuck it. Dean lies down on the sidewalk next to the building and covers his eyes with his hand. He wonders what Sam is doing--it’s a Wednesday night, so he’s probably doing boring college shit, writing a paper or something. Maybe Wednesday night is study group. Maybe he went out for a nice dinner date earlier.
Whatever he’s doing, it’s a far cry from lying piss drunk on the sidewalk outside a strip club in middle America.
“Are you okay?” A female voice above him, worried. He peeks through his fingers, sees her peering down at him.
“M’fine,” he says, closing his eyes. “Thanks.”
Dean shoots her a thumbs up, lets his arm fall down to his stomach heavily. He hears her shuffle away to rejoin her friends and drags his hands down his face. So much for being a role model for anybody, much less his little brother. Fucking fine job he did there, honestly.
Sam is sitting in the passenger seat of a red Porsche 911, flipping through what looks like a textbook. His girlfriend--or who Dean presumes is his girlfriend, even though she’s a blonde bombshell who is way out of Sam’s league--is inside paying for gas, and Dean is parked around the other side of the station, out of sight, staring at his brother.
He’s supposedly in Virginia right now, hunting a poltergeist, but there isn’t a poltergeist in Virginia that Dean knows about. He’d told his father that so that he didn’t know he was in Palo Alto, visiting his brother. Not that he’s actually doing much visiting. He’s been sitting in this parking lot for hours now, trying to psyche himself up to show up in Sam’s new life and hopefully not ruin it.
He can’t even think of a reason he wouldn’t be ruining it, since Sam had already left him behind, clearly not wanted him, and seeing Sam sitting in that no doubt brand new car, reading his fancy university textbook, living in one place with actual friends and no monsters, doesn’t do anything to reassure him. There’s no place for him here, no matter how much room there is next to him in the Impala or how much he feels like there is a part of him missing.
Dean watches as the girl comes back out of the gas station, jogs over to the car and gets in the driver’s seat, handing Sam a bottle of something. Dean can’t see what it is, but it makes Sam look up and grin at her, and Dean thinks he can hear his heart being ripped out and stomped on. It sounds like the pop music playing the stereo of the Porsche when the blonde turns it on and the phantom laugh of his brother at something his girlfriend said.
They pull out onto the road and in barely a minute Dean can’t even see the Porsche anymore. He feels, all over again, like he did in the parking lot of the bus station when he watched Sam walk away from him.
There’s no way Sam needs him here, and maybe that’s all Dean needed to find out. Maybe he didn’t really need to talk to Sam--just seeing him was good enough, seeing that he was smiling and laughing and living.
It doesn’t feel like enough, though. There probably won’t ever be anything that’s enough, except maybe Sam sitting in the car next to Dean again, fighting side by side with Dean again, being with Dean again. That’s what Dean wants, but if he’s learned one thing in his life, it’s that you can’t always get what you want.
It’s a truth Sam knows all too well, too, and if he thought he spotted the Impala out of the corner of his eye parked beside the gas station, well, he must have been making it up, because Dean isn’t here no matter how much Sam wishes he were. He’s got a girl friend that’s maybe going to be more than just a friend sometime soon handing him his favourite drink, just like he’d told her, and he’s laughing at a joke she made about the cashier hitting on her, but he can’t help but dwell on the fact that he didn’t really want soda right now, he wanted water, and Dean would have known that, and his laugh comes out sounding hollow, and he twists around in his seat to look back even though he’s not really sure why and he can’t even see the gas station anymore.
The table Sam is leaning against is digging into his back, but he doesn’t really want to move. Jessica’s hair smells like lavender and comfort, and he’s quite content to remain here with his nose buried in it.
Jess giggles at something someone said and turns her head to look up at him, smiling. “Are you smelling me?” she asks.
Oh, she was giggling at him. “Yeah,” Sam says. “You smell good.”
She giggles again, tugs herself free of the arms around her waist. “I’m going to get more drinks. You gonna wait here?”
Sam nods, watches her walk over to the bar. He’s pretty sure she doesn’t usually sway her ass like that, but it’s working in that little red dress, so he’s not complaining. She reaches the bar and he lets his eyes wander over the room, triple checking the exits and assessing the patrons for potential danger--just in case. His eye catches on a leather jacket sitting at the bar, male hand wrapped around a glass, spiky brown hair tufting up on his head. Sam frowns. Dean?
He pushes his way across the room, apologizing to people he bumps into. “Sam?” he hears Jess ask from behind him, confused. He ignores her, intent on his goal, and claps his hand down on the leather jacket’s shoulder. “Hey--”
And then the guy sitting at the bar turns around, and Sam’s heart sinks back down, dislodging from where it had been stuck in his throat.
“What’s up, dude?” the guy asks, brown eyes quizzical, thin lips quirked in question.
“Sorry,” Sam says. “I thought you were someone else.”
“No worries. Happens all the time.” He turns back to his drink and Sam turns the other way, heads back to where Jess is standing with their drinks, staring at him.
“What was that?” she asks, handing over the glass in her right hand.
Sam takes a sip of his drink. “Nothing. Thought I knew that guy over there. I don’t.”
Jess frowns. “Who did you think he was?”
He sighs, looks down into his glass. “My brother.”
“Your brother? But--”
“It’s no big deal,” Sam interrupts. Jess looks at him. He knocks back the rest of his drink in one go, puts the empty glass on the table, taking away Jessica’s and putting it in the same place. “Come on. Let’s dance,” he says, pulling on her hand.
She follows even as she still tries to protest. “Sam, you need--”
“Shh,” Sam says, pulling her in against him and swaying, a bad mockery of the kind of dancing one should probably do to the type of dance pop music that’s playing. “You’re what matters,” he tells her and himself. “You’re what makes me happy.”
“Okay,” Jess agrees, “you make me happy, too. But what about your family?”
Sam thinks about what family means to him, thinks about being there to back his father and brother up, thinks about Dean ruffling his hair and calling him Sammy. Thinks about a .45 meant to kill the monsters in his closet when he was nine, thinks about John telling him to stay gone if he wanted to go, thinks about Dean letting him walk away.
He puts his nose in Jess’s hair, breathes in, doesn’t answer. He’s trying to forget someone who smelled of fire and gunpowder and home.
Dean dreams of motel rooms a lot, the kind of dreams where everything is sort of distant and he’s not really sure what’s going on, especially once he’s woken up and the dream starts to dissolve. Sometimes, after a long day of driving, he’ll have the same kind of dream about the highway, cars cutting him off on the freeway, vehicles crushed by the side of the road, upside down, tires still spinning, but that’s really more Sam’s thing. Dean’s conscious mind focuses on the open road while his subconscious focuses on one place, while Sam is reversed, a mirror image.
The motel room never looks quite the same in his dreams--understandable, considering the amount of motels he’s stayed in over his lifetime--but the defining features are constant. Two beds, both made up with scratchy cotton bedspreads in tacky prints, a table or a desk, a TV, sometimes broken or nearly with only one fuzzy local channel and sometimes in perfect condition with a comparatively gigantic variety of channels. Varying degrees of flooring, cracked to polished tile in the bathroom, carpet in the rest of the room fraying and scratchy to clean and plush. He often wakes up with the scent of flowery motel shampoo in his nose only to discover upon taking his morning shower that it isn’t the same kind they have at this motel.
He dreams of lining the windows and doors with salt, of dismantling guns and cleaning them and putting them back together while the local news plays on the TV in the background. He dreams of fighting off monsters that have come to them, of patching up battle wounds with whiskey and gritted teeth. He dreams of twisted and sweaty sheets, of water from a low pressure shower head dripping over two bodies instead of just one.
Sometimes, and these are the worst times, there’s only one bed. He wakes up from those dreams unsettled, reaching out for Sam, because one bed means he’s on his own, reminds him of Sam being distant and unreachable in a physical way rather than just a mental or emotional one, which, if he’s honest with himself, is pretty much always.
Once he dreams that he’s trapped in a motel room with Sam, and they are looking for a way out, rattling the doorknob and trying to smash the windows open, because the taps in the bathroom are all on and they can’t turn them off and the sink and tub are filling up, overflowing, and the little rubber duck Dean stole from a garage sale for Sam when they were little is floating in the water on the floor, bobbing along without a care in the world while Dean slams himself repeatedly against the door, trying to break it down. Sam turns to Dean and says there’s no way out we’re trapped only Dean can’t really hear him, just the sound of the water rushing in his ears. They stand at the foot of the bed, staring at each other, while the water fills the room faster and faster and the lights flicker and Dean thinks of ghosts and tastes salt on his tongue as the light bulbs in the lamps explode and the rubber duck gets stuck under the desk and Dean watches until the water covers it and it drowns and Sam is looking at him and saying Dean, Dean, we’re going to die, Dean, Dean...
And then he wakes up, disoriented, with an uncomfortable feeling that Google tells him is reja vu, the feeling that something that has happened will happen again in the future, and whenever someone mentions weird dreams, he always thinks of that dream even though he tries desperately to forget about it.
If there’s one thing Sam is used to, it’s waking up in the middle of the night because he thought he heard something. When he was little, he made up stories about monsters out there in the dark and scared himself silly--and then he got older and found out they were real, that there were ways to protect yourself from them, and, well, that actually didn’t help much with the being scared thing. Just made it more manageable, maybe. Even after four years with an actual place to call home that isn’t a motel room, he still finds himself jerking awake in the early hours of the morning, ears straining for the telltale sounds of something amiss. It’s usually nothing, just the building shifting and creaking, the heat kicking in, something mundane like that, and he remembers that he’s not in the life anymore, the supernatural isn’t supposed to be chasing him now because he’s not chasing it.
This time is different.
This time he recognizes the noise, and that’s not new, but he recognizes it as someone walking around in the kitchen, and Jess is still lying next to him, so that’s definitely new.
He gets out of bed, walks quietly, mind racing a mile a minute--monster? robbery? serial killer? stop being stupid, Sam--and when he catches sight of a silhouette, he lunges for it.
And then he’s on the floor, Dean hovering over him, easy, tiger, and that is somehow both new and old, like new furniture bought at an antique store and Sam besting Dean in a fight like he’s been able to do for years in his apartment where Dean has never been.
Of course, wishing that Dean is just making a social call past two in the morning is useless, as much as Sam would like it to be true. No, Dean wants Sam to help him find Dad, like Sam doesn’t have a life he needs to live, like he hasn’t done all right on his own for four years, like the last thing John ever said to Sam wasn’t to stay gone. Like he just expects Sam to drop everything and go with him without question, family business to deal with, pack up, Sammy, let’s hit the road.
But if there’s one thing Sam is used to, it’s doing what his brother tells him to do. It may have been a long time since he saw that look on Dean’s face, but he knows it like the back of his hand, that look like all he needs is for Sam to take some of the weight for a second, just for a minute, and then he’ll be ready to keep going.
So Sam says he’ll go, just for the weekend, not putting my life on hold for you, and he slides into the car next to Dean and breathes in and it’s both new and old, new like an undergrad degree and old like the feel of worn leather under his fingertips and the sound of rattling in the vents.
It takes years for Sam to realize, and when he does, when he finally gets it, he has to lock himself in the bathroom and splash cold water on his face, stare at his face in the mirror and hate every feature, every drop of water that drips off his face to land in the sink.
Jess is gone. She’s dead, burned to ash on the ceiling, just like Mary, and Sam never knew his mother, but he did know his father, and he thinks that, actually, maybe he didn’t. Not until this moment.
He understands now. His father didn’t know what to do. His whole life was ripped away from him, the love of his life wasn’t there anymore, and he was left with his boys and his determination, and he used them. John did his best.
Sam imagines what it might be like to lose the center of your world, thinks it might feel like this only magnified tenfold, thinks that if Dean died and he had to live alone, he would snap. He splashes more water on his face, presses the heels of his hands into his eye sockets, digs his fingers into his hair.
He thinks that John Winchester was the strongest man he has ever or will ever know.
He fought with his father far too much, yelled at him and was yelled at, lamented the fact that even with all the importance of family shit John taught them, he still went off by himself, and had days when he didn’t even want to look at him. He hated his father sometimes, most times, wanted to sock him in the face for never being there for Dean or for him.
But Sam knows now, knows that John was protecting them to the best of his ability, was never going to let the last pieces of Mary he had left get hurt, even if it meant dying himself. And he was never going to let Mary’s killer get away unpunished. It was the balancing of the two that was the problem.
Sam grits his teeth, dries off his face. He is not, he will not be like his father, no matter how much he understands him now. He has his priorities straight--family is number one. Dean is number one, and he won’t be blinded by his rage and end up pushing him away.
They’re in a diner in Nevada, the kind that’s on the side of the highway right at the town limits, luring in tired travellers with its battered sign promising home cooked meals. The walls are panelled wood that morphs into gaudy patterned purple and white wallpaper halfway up, matching decorative photographs lined up in an attempt to be classy that comes off as pretentious and tacky. The blinds are shut, so the lighting is dim and the atmosphere is quiet, giving off the impression that the air is filled with cigarette smoke.
Their waitress is an older lady with pinned up greying curls and a no-nonsense attitude, who pours coffee in the mugs they’ve flipped over and tells them she’ll be back for their order in a few minutes with no regard for Dean’s attempt at a flirty smile.
“They have pie,” Dean says, smiling at his menu like an idiot now. “Look, all kinds!”
“Yeah,” Sam agrees idly. It’s good to know that some things never change, no matter how long you leave them for.
The waitress comes back. Dean continues to try to flirt with her, making his order of a bacon cheeseburger sound like a proposition, and she continues to have nothing of it, just turns to Sam and asks what he’d like, sweetie, and Sam smirks at Dean and orders a barbeque ranch chicken salad, and could I get some iced tea, too, please? Thanks.
“Why are you sweetie?” Dean complains when she’s gone again. “Just because you’ve still got that whole little college boy face going on... fuckin’ jail bait, that’s what you are.”
Sam laughs. “Not anymore,” he says, winking exaggeratedly at Dean.
“Oh, shut up, sweetheart.” Dean takes a sip of his coffee, makes a face and adds more sugar--puts the dispenser down too hard, little white specks of sugar falling across the green laminate table top. Jess would hate that, Sam thinks, and the dark ocean of hurt inside him pulses in protest.
“So, what do you think we’re going to be dealing with?”
“Dunno,” Dean says. “Looks like a ghost, probably. Thought we were going to discuss this more when we got there? You doing okay?”
“I’m fine,” Sam says, and they both know he’s lying. Dean always knew Sam best, will probably always be the only one to know all of Sam.
“Iced tea,” the waitress says. Sam thanks her, gets a nod in return.
“You know it’s gonna get better,” Dean says. Sam’s turn to nod, gulp down half his glass of tea in one go.
“It’s just not so great right now. Helps that we’re working toward revenge, though.” He pauses, runs his finger through the condensation on his glass. “Helps that I’ve got you.”
Dean rolls his eyes, but his expression is otherwise serious, the set of his jaw a promise.
When their food comes Dean raves that the cheeseburger looks ‘melted to perfection indeed, honey, this’ll be just great’ and immediately steals a cucumber out of Sam’s salad. Sam shakes his head in exasperation, thinks that if losing Jess is the ocean, Dean is the bridge over it.
They’re hunting a shapeshifter and he’s wearing Dean’s skin, laughing mockingly at Sam in Dean’s voice, calling him little brother and using all the same fighting techniques that Dean does. Sam’s got his hands wrapped around the shapeshifter’s biceps, and for a second, when it grins at him, all Sam can see is Dean mock fighting with him, about to take Sam out and then jump to his feet, laughing and saying that Sam needs more practice, come on, let’s go again.
And then the moment passes as the shapeshifter twists its face into a jeering smirk, and Sam punches it in the face, feels the skin give way under his fist. The shapeshifter slams them down onto the coffee table, rolls to the floor, grunts, twists itself so that it can get its hands on Sam’s throat, and then Sam is choking, can’t breathe, at least the last thing he’s going to see is Dean’s face even if it isn’t really Dean...
Sam can hear Dean’s voice, and then the shapeshifter is gone and he can breathe, and Dean shoots the shapeshifter through the heart, once, twice, and Sam tries not to look, because even though it’s not Dean, it still looks like him, and Sam can’t handle seeing his brother dead.
Then he looks anyway, because that thing pretended to be Dean, that thing thought it could take them out.
It was wrong. Things are always wrong.
Between cases, Sam and Dean travel the same way they always do, moving from motel to motel, scanning newspapers to decide which way to go, stopping at roadside diners just like always. The difference is that when they’re not on a case, they’re free to talk about things that aren’t monsters.
Not that they don’t still talk about monsters, because with a job like theirs, monsters are hard to avoid. But there’s a distinct lack of stress to their conversations, and sometimes they spend hours killing time at the same table, topping off their coffee and ignoring glares from waitstaff, talking about anything and everything. They reminisce about their best hunts, argue about the headline article of the newspaper spread between them, and make crude jokes about other people in the diner, leaning toward each other through it all because their gravities center on each other.
Sometimes they even have meaningful conversations about their feelings that end in them smiling silently at each other, ankles looped together under the table, until Dean rolls up the newspaper and hits Sam over the head with it, declaring the chick flick moment over and that it’s time to hit the road, you big bitch. Sam tells him he’s being a jerk, and they both know that it means I love you, just like it always does.
Sam is sitting in shotgun and Dean is driving the Impala, just like always, his fingers tapping along with the Metallica blasting from the speakers, matching perfectly with the place where the tape has been skipping for years. Sam keeps making a note to get Dean a new one, but he knows he never actually will. Dean wouldn’t use it, anyway, would say it sounded wrong without the skip, and Sam is inclined to agree.
He’s flipping through a guidebook to the attractions of the continental USA. It’s all marked up, pages folded over, comments made next to things on the maps like ‘stupid’ and ‘really great food’ and ‘really hot girls!!’, most of them made by Dean, some of them penciled in by John, a few entries scrawled next to in Sam’s handwriting, usually the museums. Sam’s always liked history, thought it was cool how they’d ended up here, thought it was useful to know for hunting, which was a win-win where he’s concerned.
“Wanna check out Telluride?” Sam asks, picking from the guidebook at random.
“What the fuck is a Telluride?”
Sam reads further. “A ski resort, apparently. Do you even know how to ski?”
“Of course I know how to ski,” Dean scoffs. “Do you?”
“Well, it looks really easy,” Sam says.
“Exactly,” Dean agrees. “I’ve always wanted to shack up with a ski bunny. Maybe we should go there.”
“Maybe we’ll find the abominable snowman,” Sam suggests.
“Oh, come on, you know that doesn’t exist,” Dean says, rolling his eyes. “Ghosts, wendigos, sure. Bigfoot, no. Hey, maybe the resort is haunted. I’m itching for a good salt and burn, lemme tell you, Sammy.”
“You’re just scared of Bigfoot, admit it.”
“It’s not real, Sam! I can’t be scared of it!”
“Uh huh, sure.” Sam hides his smile at Dean’s infuriated scowl behind his hand, is struck by a sudden urge to tell Dean he loves him.
Dean looks over at him, sees him smiling, huffs and looks back at the road. Sam laughs and laughs, and finally Dean cracks a smile, even laughs a bit with Sam, and Sam never does tell him he loves him, because why would he do that when everything he does spells it out for him, why would he ruin it by needing to say it out loud.
Sometime after Sam gets mojo’d by the freaky asylum spirit and tries to kill Dean, and after he tries to split up with Dean and go to California and changes his mind and ends up saving his ass, they’re in a bar killing time and getting cash. Sam is leaning against the pool table, watching Dean take his shot. He’s been laughing at his brother’s terrible pool skills all night, loudly, telling anyone who would listen how his older brother probably doesn’t even have the same genes as him he’s so bad, and Dean has been, up until this moment, proving him right. The betting pool is large, and Dean is about to clean house. Sam watches as he sinks one ball, then another, another, and he’s won, and everyone who had bet is groaning and shelling out the cash, and Dean is crowing at Sam about how he told him he didn’t suck, shut up, asshole!
Sam laughs and claps Dean on the shoulder, tells him it was chance, you loser, whaddya say we end the night on a high note? He shoots Dean a quick wink and Dean grins.
The second they’re back in the motel room Sam pushes Dean onto the bed, kisses him, undoes the buttons on Dean’s shirt and pushes it off along with his jacket to land on the floor. He ditches his own coat, kicks off his shoes, and crawls onto the bed next to Dean.
Dean looks at him, head tilted slightly, smile sprawling across his face. “What’s up with you?” he asks, bringing his feet up to him to unlace his boots.
Sam shrugs. “Just think you’re great.”
Dean snorts. His boots drop to the floor with a thunk. “Just think I’m a hot piece of ass, more like.”
Sam shakes his head, puts a hand on Dean’s cheek. “Think you’re amazing,” he corrects, leans in. Dean kisses him, bites at his lower lip a bit. Sam pulls back, starts dropping kisses down Dean’s neck, shuffling his body closer to Dean’s so that they’re pressed up together. “You’re not pathetic,” he says softly between kisses. “I’ll never be sick of you,” he says before pushing his hands up under Dean’s shirt, pulling it up and over his head and throwing it on the floor.
Dean wraps his own hands around Sam’s waist under his shirt, pulls him closer and kisses him again. “What about desperate?” he asks, thrusting up against Sam’s thigh. “Am I desperate?”
“No,” Sam says, trailing his hand down Dean’s chest and stopping at his jeans, unbuttoning them before continuing downward, moving his hand the way he knows Dean likes. Dean groans and flips them over, kisses Sam like he’s drowning and Sam is a life line.
“Sammy,” he says, pushing against him.
“Dean,” Sam says, measured and calm.
“Get out of those clothes so we can fuck,” Dean snaps, and Sam is instantly one hundred and ten percent more turned on than he already was and also laughing, because his brother is so fucking bossy.
He loses the clothes and loses himself in Dean, in the way Dean moves against him and the way his eyelashes spread against his cheek when he closes his eyes and the sounds he makes when he’s about to come and Sam buries his face in Dean’s neck and whispers you’re not desperate, you’re my brother, you’re mine.
When Sam comes, every object in the room that isn’t bolted down moves an inch to the left. Neither Dean nor Sam notice.
Dean is not going to die. The doctors keep telling him otherwise, Dean keeps telling him otherwise, lying in his hospital bed with purple bruises staining his face, eyelids hooded, lips saying I’m tired, Sammy.
Sam doesn’t care. He’s not going to let Dean die, and maybe he’s selfish because of it, maybe he should let him go because everyone has their time, but it doesn’t matter, this isn’t Dean’s time, he won’t let it be. A little electricity can’t stop a Winchester like it can stop a monster.
Dean shows up at the motel room door because he’s a stubborn motherfucker and of course he’s not going to lie back and die while watching daytime television in a hospital. Sam gets that, thinks that Dean can’t be that tired if he’s still fighting, even just that little bit.
Sam tells Dean he’s figured out a way to maybe save him. Dean says no. Sam doesn’t listen.
Of course, it was always too good to be true, a faith healer that could actually heal with the power of faith, no matter how much Sam depends on faith to get him through the day, to reassure him that the world isn’t just darkness, it’s also light. Of course it turns into a hunt, and of course Dean shoulders all the guilt of someone who thinks they should be dead, who thinks they deserve to be dead more than the pretty girl who only has a couple of months left.
Sam feels a little guilty, too, but he figures it’s worth it to keep Dean alive and kicking. Anything would be worth that.