OH BOY, kids. This fic is, like. I don't even know. Sometimes you get an idea, and it just... nags at you, and you're left chewing on your fingers until you get the whole thing out. And then you go, WTF? Why did I care so much? At least, I do. Plot devices and porn are a lethal combination.
Waiting Games. Sam/Dean, NC-17. 14,466 words. The bad news is that Sam's ability is changing. The worse news is that he's having visions of him and Dean. Doing that.
In Sequoia Falls, Minnesota, they waste a poltergeist. It's not a clean fight.
The air is thick with smoke, and everything's bathed in red light from the cop cars. It's like the night Jess died, all over again. His shoulder's bleeding - it throbs in the cold, and one of the passing paramedics yells for him to go to an ambulance, get checked out. He doesn't. Someone shoved a rough, thin blanket at him when the authorities showed up, and he draws it around his shoulders more.
"Well, we sure fucked the dog here," Dean says, folding his arms. His mouth is pressed into a thin line, his gaze fixed on the house. There's a streak of blood running down his cheek, but it doesn't seem to be his. Sam sways a little on his feet. "Dude, you okay?" he asks, hand flying out automatically to grip Sam's arm.
"Yeah, I just - " Sam's voice falters. They wheel out the father on a stretcher, a kitchen knife sticking out of his torso. He's still breathing.
"Hey." Dean's eyes are dark and large. "Man, don't do this. You are not gonna blame yourself. It was just - just a fucked-up hunt, okay? I didn't give you enough cover. You wanna blame someone, blame me."
Sam just looks at him. Pain seems to radiate from that point in his shoulder, working its way down his arm and up his neck. Neighbors are gathering at the edge of the lawn, bleary-eyed and concerned. "Dean."
He just shakes his head, like he's trying to not hear something. "We did the best we could, Sam. That's all we can do. Hey." He gives Sam a little shake, like he's trying to snap him out of a daze. "I'm serious, man."
Sam's going a little dizzy from cold and blood loss, and Dean's got his hands on his shoulders, and then his face. He kind of nods, shutting his eyes against the freezing wind that suddenly picks up.
"Fuck," Dean mutters, the edge of his thumb brushing over a cut under Sam's eye. He cups Sam's cheeks like he's trying to keep his face warm, like he's not shivering, too - and then he leans in and presses his mouth against Sam's.
That's the first time it happens.
Sam sits all the way up in bed, like he's forcibly shoved out of the vision - halfway off his pillow before his eyes even open, the bedsprings clanging under him. The sirens and voices are still ringing in his ears, but there's nothing in the chilly little motel room. Just the sounds of Dean's breathing and the faint tapping noise in the walls of the air conditioner turning over. He's vaguely aware of how hard his heart is beating, of the dull ache pounding through his skull, but it seems very secondary to the fact he can still see it, bright and real. Smoke in his hair, the shooting pain down his left arm, and Dean kissing him like he was going to make everything all better.
He doesn't fall back asleep.
"Dude, you look rough," Dean says at breakfast. "I heard you bangin' around last night. You have another nightmare?"
Sam shakes his head, touching his forehead involuntarily. "Just a weird dream."
"Huh." Dean dunks his doughnut into his coffee and stuffs the entire thing in his mouth, sparing a full-cheeked smile for the passing waitress. "Seems like the last time you had a weird dream, some guy in Bumfuck, Michigan was sendin' people to the cornfield."
Sam slouches down further in the booth; it's not easy, since his legs don't really have anywhere to go. "Not that kind of dream," he mutters, and dumps another packet of creamer into his mug.
The southwest blurs by the windows, all craggy canyons and dry, red earth. It reminds him of a Flintstones backdrop, repeating for hundreds of miles. Burned-out farms and collapsing homesteads loom every now and then, eerie and unsettling in the bleached-out sun. Everything's too bright in the day and too dark at night, the sharply contrasted blues and oranges fading into nothing - thick black that the headlights barely seem to cut through.
Dean has elaborate systems for what music is supposed to be played where. Late night driving while Sam slumps into a wadded-up jacket and gets zipper lines smooshed into his face - those are the times for Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on repeat. Deserts are Led Zeppelin, always Led Zeppelin II, so its songs just feel like another part of the scenery, like the tickle of sweat dripping down between his shoulder blades and the hot New Mexico wind in his face.
The music pounds out, overwhelmingly loud. It rolls over him, sliding from one side of the speakers to the other. He shuts his eyes, and the car moves around him, thrumming and thudding and kicking up gravel and sand into the undercarriage. It's too hot to think straight, and he winds up muddledly wondering what would happen if the car broke down out here - would their cell phones work? Would they wind up like those cattle skulls, just bleached bones in the sand? He tries to remember what state all those Saguaro cacti are in, but he can't.
It slips in dully this time, like just another one of his dreams - hot, sticky flashes of finishing a job in some desert town. Dean grinning over at him, Dean pushing him up against the side of the car. Black paint hot under his fingertips as Dean's tongue shoves past his lips in hot, wet flicks. It's wet and sloppy and nothing like Minnesota, all spitty and grinding. The chafe of denim against denim is visceral, and then his hand is sliding down the front of Dean's jeans.
He opens his eyes sometime later, and it feels too hot to be alive, much less awake. Beads of sweat have collected along Dean's collarbone.
"Where're we?" Sam mumbles, pulling on the front of his shirt. It's plastered to his chest. He reaches for his Coke, but the ice has apparently long since melted; it's just warm and syrupy.
"Ninety miles outside of Ludlow," Dean says, voice heavy. He takes his cheap gas station sunglasses off when he glances over at Sam, his eyes looking naked and vulnerable in the harsh light. "An', like, a hundred from the next collection of shacks that someone decided to name."
"God," Sam mutters. His head's swimming thickly, throbbing with a tight ache. "The motel we stop at better have a pool."
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Dean says, but his heart isn't in it. "Next time we're leavin' this Hopi shit to the experts."
It's not fair for this to happen right now; not when things have been plodding along evenly for months. Nothing is ever normal for them, but this - this steps pretty far over the line. Between the getting-possessed thing, and the having-no-way-to-find-the-other-psychic-k
He does his best to not think about it - which is easier said than done, because it creeps up every time his mind starts to wander. Every time he turns around, there's a fire truck, or one of those ugly little ranch-style houses, and suddenly he's right back in the vision.
The third one comes a week later, in a little motel in Aimsburg. It's hazy, hemmed in by normal dreams, but - yeah, it's definitely not normal. Just the same scene, echoing over and over - Dean's arm, strong and muscled and dusted with those sandy hairs, sliding right down into Sam's jeans. Tendons twisting, stretching as he fists Sam's cock. He leans in, across the car seat, and drags his mouth up Sam's jawline. "Come on, Sam," he whispers, urgent and rough. Sam's hips jerk up into the fist, and Dean grins, warm and bright.
Sam's always had nightmares, is the thing. He didn't always dream about ceilings and flames, but it's always been grizzly, weird crap. He's too soft; jobs stick with him for weeks after they're done. By the time he was ten he'd seen more dead bodies than he could count, in various states of rot and decay. He'd watched human skeletons burned, seen water-logged corpses fished out of rivers, and peered between his fingers as spirits stepped into the light and took on the appearance of their physical form. Night terrors were a fundamental part of his childhood.
When he stops indulging in self-loathing long enough to be honest with himself, he knows the Jessica thing wasn't entirely his fault. He didn't give it a due nod because it was par for the course; certainly not the first time he'd dreamt of his loved ones dying in some brutal way.
He knows better now. Parsing them isn't easy, but there are definitely differences. His dreams are always hazy and indistinct, never coming back to him with clarity, never tangible. In his visions, it's all bright and crisp and clear, and he remembers them like real events. Max Miller never killed his step-mother, but Sam has it burned into his mind like he was standing right there, watching. Dean never told him to come, but he can still remember every breath, every jerk, like it actually happened.
"How do you think these premonition things work?"
It's one in the morning and they've stopped at a diner. They finally breached the edge of the desert, but the air conditioning in this place feels like a godsend, anyway - enough that Sam can forgive the harsh florescent lights. It's an all-night place, and judging by the shape of the sign, was a Denny's in another life. It's Darrell's now. Might as well be called Shangri-La.
"I mean, if I see the future, how can I change it? How is that even possible? It's - it's not really the future, is it? It's just a possibility of the future. If that was really what was going to happen, I wouldn't be able to change it. Or I'd see myself stopping it."
Dean shakes out a packet of Sweet 'n Low and dumps it into his coffee. "Uh, I guess. That's how time travel and stuff always works in the movies, though. You see it one way, you change it."
"But if it never actually happens," Sam presses, tapping the tip of his finger against the cold formica table, "how can I even see it? Once I change things and make it not a possibility - it's no longer something that exists. So how am I seeing it? Maybe sometimes these things don't happen the way I see them."
Dean looks at him sharply. "Is this more of your destiny crap? Jesus, Sam. It doesn't work like that. There's not one way for things to go. You have friggin' free will, all right? No one decides what happens in your life but you."
Sam can feel himself grimacing, and he finishes off his coffee in three hot, burning pulls.
He knows Dean doesn't respect him. That's really what it boils down to. He's convinced that because Sam knows how to talk to people - because he's not a total asshole - there's no reason to take him seriously. There's always been this implicit understanding there that maybe if Sam knew how to crush beer cans on his forehead, or something, he'd finally stop seeming like a kid.
They're halfway through Ohio when he realizes that this whole thing has to mean Dean's got a some kind of thing for him, and that makes his heart thud harshly. A kind of smugness twists through him, before he goes back to feeling guilty and weird.
Still, though. It has to come from somewhere, and the idea that he wants it - that it's something that has passed through the scotch-taped collection of pick-up lines and heavy metal lyrics that is Dean's brain - is pretty fucking unbelievable.
He starts watching him, now that he knows what he's looking for; surreptitiously peering over menus, over coffee cups, out of the corner of his eye. But no, he hasn't wandered into Bizarro World, where Dean's giving him pining looks and reading VC Andrews novels while Sam's looking the other way. Dean acts the way he always acts, checking out asses on girls who walk by, chewing on pens as he reads the newspaper, and wiping sulphur and blood and ecto-fucking-plasm on Sam's shirts.
The only thing that has really changed in their equation is Sam, who suddenly can't stop noticing every pointless thing they do. He's sharply, uncomfortably aware of all the simple stuff that he's supposed to be taking for granted, as though the curtains have been thrown open and light is spilling across their relationship. All of the normal things, like brushing bare shoulders in the bathroom doorway while switching off turns at the shower, like the way he knows Dean's sexual encounters all take about twenty minutes, like the way they can exchange words with one steady glance and an imperceptible jerk of the head. Now he's just staring at them stupidly, wondering if they're normal, if they're okay. Maybe lines have started to blur; if they've crept further and further away from normal in the last year, he'd never have noticed. But using the same stick of deodorant when one of them runs out isn't the same as wanting to swap spit, he's pretty sure of that.
The thing is, he knows he loves Dean. He's never questioned it, never wondered what it might translate to, or how far it could stretch. It's just the same thing as breathing, as waking up in the morning and knowing he's still alive. He loves Dean for a thousand reasons, but pinning just one of them down and explaining it to himself seems like the hardest thing imaginable.
They make figure-eights through the heartland, always aware that they're rubbing shoulders with other hunters. Dean might wish they never found the Roadhouse, might gnash his teeth about those people and the threat that now hangs over them, but Sam doesn't. It feels to good to know they're not alone. For so long, he thought it was just them - just the three of them, and that handful of Dad's aging friends. It was a blessing to know that more stood against the darkness. That maybe, by some standards, they weren't that strange.
Dean's just not like that. He's too much of a loner, too embittered by the life. Sam will never know what made that difference in them, but it's always been there - like a physical gap they can't quite cross. Sam wants to feel like he's a part of something bigger, wants to think he's not terribly alone in all of this. Ever since Dad's death, it's been like an open wound inside of him, the irrational fear that they could go up in smoke the next day and no one would know. The road - as much a home as any they've ever known - is suddenly bigger, more sinister. There's no chance anymore that Dad is in that town up ahead, or manning the headlights that burn into the rear-view mirror. They've lost the possibility that help was always at hand, that America wasn't big enough for them to totally get lost in.
Sam likes the Roadhouse, and he likes other hunters. He likes feeling like they could just stretch out their arms and find a whole host of people who know all the same tricks, who fight all the same battles. And if those people want to hunt him down, hold him responsible for something, that's a price he'll willing to pay. It's not like they're ever actually going to say uncle and ask for the help - and anyway, those people are just doing their jobs.
In a Chinese restaurant in Colorado, they stand around in the foyer waiting for take-out. Sam watches the token collection of koi swim around in a cramped aquarium. A big reddish one stares at him, opening and shutting its mouth.
"Have you ever heard of demons possessing animals?" he asks.
Dean turns around from the zodiac chart on the wall. "What, like Jesus castin' 'em into pigs, or whatever?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Uh-uh. The only ones I've seen seem a bit too, uh, high-maintenance for that. Might be a smart way to hide, though."
Sam watches the fish, feeling like he's having a staring competition. "Yeah, it would be."
They found a decent motel this time, the kind with little free-standing cabins. It's weirdly homey, more like staying with someone than renting a room for a night. They sprawl across Sam's bed with chopsticks and steaming cartons, stealing half of what they eat from each other's boxes and bitching royally at each other for doing it. Sam tosses Dean one of the fortune cookies while he's busy discovering there's nothing on TV, and he dutifully cracks it open.
"Help, I'm trapped in a fortune cookie factory," he intones around half of it, peering down at his slip of paper.
It's an old joke, but Sam grins anyway, because it's infinitely preferable to the cream of sum yun gai one. He doesn't bother to read his, just pulls out his wallet out and stuffs it in. He's got a decent collection of them - they replaced the Bazooka Joe cartoons he used to keep in the armrest ashtray on his side of the car. Sometimes, when he's really bored, he'll pull them out and shuffle through them. "You will be fortunate in the opportunities presented to you. Friends are like flowers, give them room to grow." They're stupid, but he likes the idea that some kind of sage message could be delivered with take-out. The world seems to say, "Fuck you," to him a lot more often than it says, "Keep a look out for the bright things in life."
There actually isn't anything on TV, so they wind up sitting on the porch swing and drinking too much cheap beer. Fireflies rise up out of the grass, and it feels strangely peaceful. Stillness doesn't come easily to Dean; he jiggles his legs and pops his knuckles if he spends too long without doing something, but even he seems at ease here. It's like maybe everything can just slide away for awhile, and they can just be two guys - two brothers in a little town. They could be anybody.
Sam hooks his foot around the lattice along the edge of the porch, and swings them a little.
"You know," Dean says, four beers into the evening, "I was happy for you, when you left."
"School," he says. "I don't think I ever told you that. I really - I wanted that to be good for you. I wanted you to go... climb every mountain, or whatever."
Sam doesn't really know what to say. "No, you didn't tell me that."
"Well, I'm tellin' you now."
There's an undefinable ache in his chest, but Sam doesn't want to ruin it all by saying something sappy, something that will make Dean close back up. "Thanks," he finally says. It's the most neutral thing he can think of.
Dean looks over at him, eyebrows raised a little and mouth wet with beer. He just studies him, kind of passively, chest moving in a slow roll that comes from lazy, borderline intoxication. He doesn't look sad, because those moments are few and far between. But he looks wistful, maybe. It's the side of Dean that Sam's pretty sure no one but him has ever seen, and Sam likes knowing that. Dean's mouth curves up at the corner a little when Sam catches his eye.
And in that moment, everything starts to make a horrible kind of sense.
He spends the next thirty minutes locked in the bathroom. Ostensibly brushing his teeth, but really just sitting on the shut toilet, face in his hands.
This thing has been like a sore tooth - a dull ache he can ignore, most of the time, until some particularly harsh thinking brings it into sharp, painful focus. And then all he's left with is, Jesus Christ, I'm having psychic visions about hooking up with my big brother.
"Dude, you okay in there?" Dean finally asks, beating on the door with a shave-and-a-haircut knock. "I'm about to send in reenforcements."
"I'm fine," he says. "God, Dean, go away."
He fights down the nausea as best he can, fingers going pasty and white as he grips the marbleized counter. He sucks in deep, even breaths, and by the time he steps back out into the main room, he's okay again.
If they were going to do something, of course they'd do it all the way. Charge down the field, tackle it to the ground. It's how they are. It's what Winchesters do.
He tries to be comforted by the logic of that when he wakes up in San Antonio, flushed hard under the sheets.
He'd been sitting on Dean. Sitting on him, in a bed just like this one, thigh spread open, prick achingly stiff. Sitting. On. Dean. Who had this look on his face like it wasn't just okay, like it was something he'd call awesome. He had been sprawled out on his back, mouth open and red and wet. His hands clutching at Sam's hips, gripping him and rocking up, and Sam had felt him inside. Dean's cock. Slipping around inside of him, slow and sweaty. He can remember every detail of it, right down to the warm of ache of lust in his belly, the white-hot sparks of pleasure when Dean would move a certain way. Dean had been panting and called him Sammy, which should have been the most revoltingly unsexy thing in the world, but just sounded so breathlessly hot that he had to reach down and grip his own cock. Nothing about it seemed weird or awkward or - or disgusting, like it should have. It just seemed overwhelmingly good.
He punches his pillow in frustration and refuses to jerk off.
For the whole next day, he's closer to saying something than he has been. His whole body feels like it's on edge, and he's sick and angry and curious all at the same time. He wants to lay into Dean, dump all of this at his feet, but he doesn't know where to start. He can just fucking see it - cruising down some congested stretch of highway, fiddling with the radio and saying, "So! I guess you want in my ass, huh?"
That would go great.
Everything in the south is haunted. White marble graveyards and old plantation houses. Forests thick with Spanish moss, rife with spirits. There are too many victims to count down here, but most of them don't cause trouble, and they only stop for the ones who do.
In Tennessee they lay a mylar to rest. It takes them two days to find the body, small and curved in on itself. The lore for children's spirits is all pretty convoluted, but it's not the usual salt-and-burn gig; they've got to wrap the remains in a white sheet and put them in the ground with all the pomp and circumstance of a real funeral. The air hangs thick with gnats, like veils that move around them, sticking to sweaty skin and itching. The grave needs to be marked - it's the only way to guarantee the spirit won't come back - which results in a brief squabble. Sam winds up spending forty minutes laying stones around the pile of dirt, and sets a fistful of wildflowers on top of it, all while Dean leans against his shovel and shakes his head. Sam goes quiet for the rest of the day.
"You're a friggin' jerk, you know that?" he finally says, four hundred miles away.
"Eat your fucking hash browns."
"No, Dean, seriously. What's your fucking problem? Why can't you - why can't you care about anything?"
"Care?" Dean's mouth sets in that line that Sam knows too well. It's the get-your-ass-to-bed-you-punk line. It's the don't-think-I-won't-flush-your-head-down-t
That hits a little too close to home, and Sam stabs a sausage link. When he looks back up, Dean's face has gone a little softer.
"Look, I'm not sayin' you aren't entitled to your--" he gestures with his coffee cup, "moments of emo, or whatever. Just don't ride my ass because I've got better things to think about than some dead kid from the eighties."
"How can you even say that?" he asks, folding his arms. "Knowing what we know - that kid wasn't gone, not really. He was a spirit, which we've finally helped, and--"
Dean eyes him so sharply that Sam cuts off. "We don't help spirits, Sam. Those things aren't people anymore. They're just the fucked-up remains. We help the people who are still here, gettin' tortured by those things."
"What about Mom?" he finally says, a little triumphantly.
"What about her?"
"You could have wasted her? Like any other--"
"Yeah," Dean says, before he can even finish. "Yeah, Sam, she was a spirit."
"She was her, Dean. She was our mother. She knew us."
Dean just shakes his head and stares out the window.
He knows that Dean's not the type to stop and think about things. Everything that exists in their lives, that exists between them - they're just moments in time. The past is in the past, but that's not how Sam is. He likes to take moments off the shelf and examine them, try to remember the way they were, try to understand why they happened. It's how he knows he would've shot, given a second chance (Dad was going to die anyway), and that knowing the price for Dean's healthy heart wouldn't have changed any of his actions (never, ever, ever, ever). There are times he finds it irritating that Dean obviously doesn't give that kind of shit a second thought. It makes him want to just point-blank ask if he ever thinks about the fact that when they thought he was dying, they slept wrapped around each other on the same damn bed.
"I want to drive," is what he finally says, dropping his frayed napkin in the center of his plate.
Up in Maine, Sam says, "My hand hurts."
"My hand hurts," he repeats, rubbing against the joint in his wrist. "I think that means it's gonna rain."
Dean taps his thumbs against the steering wheel along to that drum part of "Suffragette City," and looks unimpressed. "Yeah, or it means you're jerkin' off too much. Man, don't you have enough psychic crap in your life without tryin' to tell the weather with your bones?"
"Yeah," Sam says, pulling a little on his wrist. "I really do."
"So what's the deal with that, anyway?" Dean glances over at him. "Your spooky demon radar goin' off lately?"
Sam shakes his hand out and picks at the label on his Coke. "I'd tell you if it did."
"Yeah, you better."
His headaches are pretty much constant now, and it's almost nice to feel something other than ache behind his eyes. He's pretty sure it is weather related; aspirins actually help, which is more than he can say for his other ailments.
They hang around Cramden for a week, poking around lobster boats and look for activity on the EMF meters. They finally declare the whole thing a bust, and Dean goes home with some girl in a bar on the last night they're there.
"Don't wait up," he says, clapping Sam on the arm before taking off.
He does, though. He lays there, awake and anxious, for something like three hours. If he were to tabulate up how much of life was spent sitting in motel rooms, waiting for Dean to get back from some booty call, it would have to be in the months. But this feels different. This makes him feel agitated and pissed off, like he wants to wait up just so he can say something snide when Dean gets back.
He keeps them at bay for as long as possible, but eventually his thoughts circle back to his visions. They're all right there, right under the surface. He counts them off and remembers the details; he can taste the smoke in the air, he can feel the hot paint of the car under his fingertips, he can see Dean's face as he thrusts up. Yeah, it's right there, fresh and bright and hot in his memory. Headlights move lazily across the walls, and he knows - even before he slides his hand into his boxers and grips his cock - that he's totally fucked.
He comes in his fist, chest heaving and prick jerking, wet and hot.
They work a case in Maryland. Sam hates the east coast; the haughtiness reminds him of the people he disliked at school, and Dean's belief that the only answer for it is Quiet Riot makes him half-crazy. Everything seems rainy and cold, like February's not quite ready to let go. He turns up the collar of his winter coat and stomps his feet to get the circulation going. They spend most of the day wandering the too-precious downtown area of this village. Apparently there's a vengeful spirit lurking in a local church, although people are pretty tight-lipped about it.
They linger outside the brick-walled library, breaths visible in the cold air. "Okay," Sam says, rubbing a hand over his face and trying to get some feeling back in it, "you go talk to Mrs. Bronson. I'm going to see if I can find any other disappearances in the local paper."
"Man, no. I'm not doing that alone. You're the one with the magic tell-me-your-secrets touch. You just bat your eyes at people and suddenly they're thinkin' about the dog they wanted when they were ten, and spillin' their guts."
Sam pauses, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets. "I remind you of Patches?"
Dean gives him a smarmy little smile, shoulders hunched in the leather jacket he won't trade for something more sensible. "Well, you aren't good for much other than eating and pissing."
He claps Dean on the shoulder. "And just for that, you get to talk to the widow alone! Have fun, man."
They play half-assed poker in the motel room that night, until Dean flatly refuses to keep going. Sam knows how to work his expressions. He won Paul Hallford's iPod sophomore year that way, and when Dean loses his last clean shirt, he throws his cards down and mutters something about freaky genius brains. Sam watches the lamplight play across the bridge of his nose.
They wind up settling on Go Fish, which Dean has creatively retitled. It's the most dull game in the world, but Slap Jack always ends in bruised knuckles.
"Got any... eights?" Sam asks, catching an Old Navy commercial from the corner of his eye.
"Nope! Go fuck yourself."
It's a long night.
Ninety miles outside St. Louis he dreams about fucking Dean's ass, and wakes up pumping precome into his boxers. He's suddenly twelve again, awkward and embarrassed over the things he's doing in his sleep, over the memories he's left with in the morning of all the wrong people doing all the wrong things. Trying to figure out if the look Dean gives him when he comes out of the bathroom means he blurted out something horrifying while he was asleep.
It's lodged in his memory, embarrassingly detailed - he can remember the curve of Dean's spine, slick with sweat. The way he'd bowed his head down to the pillow, the litany of cuss words he was spitting out as Sam settled deep into him. It's burned into his mind, every hot inch push in, the way Dean's body just opened for him, like it was nothing.
He feels hollow and giddy inside, and he really wants to screw something up - something evil, maybe, or Dean. The nearest thing is himself, though, and he eats the most disgusting thing on the breakfast menu in one swift push.
"Oh god," he groans afterwards, thudding his forehead against the car window and thinking about bacon-wrapped sausage and what a retard he is.
"You doin' okay, princess?" Dean asks, looking over at him with skeptical expression. "Any pukin' you do better be out the damn window."
"Why'd I eat the pancakes?" he grumbles, pulling up the hood of his sweatshirt.
"Because you're a growin' boy who needs his strength," Dean says, turning up the stereo. Sam finds himself blessing Dean's total inability to notice obvious shit.
Sometimes he tries to put his life into words, so he'll be able to remember it better. It was always hard to explain things to Jess and Zach and Becky and all of his friends at school. He'd try to talk about Dad and Dean, or his childhood, and everything would seem too vast and thin and empty. So now he tries to remember, as if by rolling concepts around in his mind he can make them more permanent.
Being sunburnt and having motel pool water run down his arms. The too-cold feeling of an air conditioner at four in the morning. Vinyl under his hands, thick and slippery and catching his skin when he sweats. The blur of heat coming off the cement in San Clemens, Nevada. Truck stop eggs with Tabasco, scalding so hot that his coffee is harsh on his raw throat. Gun metal going warm in his hand from body heat. Early spring skies in the midwest, bright and the color of nickels. Girls smiling like sunrises because their fathers, their children, are safe.
Dean doesn't fit into that, though. There's no one sentence that sums him up, that explains all the little ways he's the most irritating person Sam has ever known, and the most reliable. Sometimes it's hard to look at him and remember they're both the same, at some base value. Dean became a different person while they were apart - and maybe he did, too. He sure wasn't this confident, this sure of himself, back before he pulled straight As and dated a gorgeous girl who talked about Kant and Kierkegaard and got all his jokes. He grew up, he guesses, whereas Dean just grew older.
Dean's dug into himself deeply, become this tricky maze of raised hackles and sensitive spots that he's starkly open about. So open about, in fact, that it's like they've been worn into calluses, like they aren't even vulnerabilities anymore. He can bark out at Sam that he's the most important thing in his life, and it doesn't sound like he's admitting something private - it's just the same way he'd say, Give Satan my best, before ending a spirit. He picks and chooses the things he's embarrassed by, the things he lets become issues, and the way he feels about Sam isn't one of them. It's not a bruise that can be pushed on - maybe it was, once, but in the time Sam was off going to keggers and building a fort of textbooks and love letters, Dean just cemented it into one of the things that drives him. Mom's death, Dad's pain, Sam's love. Those are the things that make Dean up, and there's something terrifying about the fact that Sam knows it. It means someone else might, too.
There are times when he misses the back seat. That's where all of his memories of this car are - he never got to ride shotgun, except on the rare occasions Dean fucked himself up badly enough to need the whole back to stretch out in - and it's what he clings to as their shared past. It was always their space; when he was eight and Dean was twelve, a duct tape line ran down the middle. "Your side, my side," Dean said, jerking a finger back and forth across the silver barricade when Sam's toys would creep too close. In lieu of bedroom walls, he taped pictures of hot chicks and hot cars to the back of the passenger seat, and Sam taped the periodic table of elements to the back of the driver's side.
Later, when Sam's limbs were getting too long to keep in check, Dean gave up and let him spread out as much as he needed to. He'd wind up with one leg stretched over into Dean's footwell, or his aching, too-long arm running the length of the headrests. Half the time when they slept, it was a tangle of limbs and seat-belts and magazines, and they'd wake up tired and damply sticking to naugahyde and each other. Another town, another state, another roadside attraction.
There are times now when those things seem so far away that they're damned near untouchable - Dad and Mom and the thin threads of a shared childhood. Just more chapters of his life, gone up in salted flame. It's almost easier to pretend that their relationship began a year ago, in the front seat, as two people with a common goal. And then something will happen like Dean saying, "Hey, remember when you were ten and would only talk with a British accent for, like, a month?" and there's no pretending that Dean's anything but Dean, his irritating older brother.
"Are we friends?" he asks in South Dakota, as they make their way through a dilapidated building. Five kids disappeared inside in the last twenty years.
"Oh, we're BFF," Dean says, fiddling with the dial on his infrared scanner.
Sam scowls and uses his flashlight to cut though a gauzy mass of cobwebs. "Did you order that off the back of a comic book, or what?"
"What're you talkin' about? This thing totally works." He brings it up to eye-level and turns in a circle, casting reddish light all around the dank room.
Ten minutes later, Dean looks up from the knobs. "Anyway, what the hell do you mean, are we friends?"
"Do you think we'd - I don't know, get along, if we weren't related?"
Dean jimmies a stuck door knob, and finally slams his weight against it, opening up another musty, stale-smelling room. "Dude. We wouldn't be who we are if we weren't related."
Sam rolls his eyes. "Okay, for argument's sake, let's say that we were."
"So," Dean says, waving his scanner around again. "You wanna know if I think we'd get along if we were the same people we are now, and weren't related?"
He looks thoughtful for a moment. "No."
"What?" Sam turns his flashlight into Dean's face in surprise.
"Dude, come on. The music you listen to? The chest-beatin' atonement every day? The only reason I haven't left you by the side of the road with a, 'Will Fortune-Tell For Food,' sign is 'cause I sang you to sleep when you were five. There's no freakin' incentive to not weed you outta the gene pool if you're just some person."
Sam huffs. "Why do I even talk to you?"
Dean laughs, and his stupid scanner make a promising beeping sound. He shoves it victoriously in Sam's face. "'Cause we're buds."
They catch wind of a demon in Georgia. Ellen's voice is severe on the line as she passes the tip along.
"You seen my Jo out there?" she asks, like an afterthought.
Sam thinks about what he remembers of Duluth. "No."
She laughs, a short huff of breath into the receiver. "Not like you'd tell the truth, anyway. Tell her to give me a call, when you do."
Dean produces a tape from out of nowhere - Sam's been through that shoebox more times than he can count, it wasn't in there before - and they listen to the blues as they cross the state line. The songs sound old and tattered, like books that have been overly dog-eared, and Sam wonders about the things in Dean's life he wasn't there to see. He has to admit, it fits the scenery.
"Cassie?" he finally asks.
"I guess she fucked some taste into me," Dean says, unapologetically.
"Nah," Sam says later, because Dean fast-forwards past half of the other side, which is mostly contemporary. "You're just sentimental and lame."
It's still rolling around in his mind as they thread their way past Atlanta. "Do you think you'll ever have a family?" he asks abruptly. "Like, a real one."
"What, all the African kids I'll send my coffee money to don't count?"
Sam just looks at him.
"Uh, I don't know. Yeah, sure."
"Really? And just, what, raise your children on the road?"
"Yeah, what's wrong with that?"
"Kids need stability. It's totally selfish to have them if you already know you're not going to provide them with what they need."
"You turned out okay," he points out. Sam's not sure if that's an argument for Dean's parenting techniques, or the fact that it's possible to grow up on the road.
"Uh, no," he says. "I'm in the car that I live in with my brother, and we're on our way to exorcise a demon. That is pretty much the opposite of okay."
"Yeah, well." Dean looks over at him. "You were okay."
"That's my point, Dean. You live this life, you pay all kinds of prices. It's not fair to have kids just so you can raise them to live like this."
Dean stares out the road for a minute, and then looks over at him directly. "Are you tryin' to talk me out of havin' the future kids that I haven't given any thought to havin' outside of this conversation? That you started?"
"No! I think you should have kids, I just don't think you should use Dad as your template for good parenting."
"So what, I should give up hunting and settle down? I thought it was what I'm meant to do."
"I thought you didn't believe in that destiny crap."
"I don't. Jeez, just shut up already."
It's not the first or even third time Sam watches a demon pour out of someone, but he digs his nails into his palm as this one shoots out the window. It put up a real fight - it had been keeping a fairly low profile, killing off religious leaders in the area for months. It wasn't just around, it had an agenda, and it's exactly the kind of thing it feels good to waste. He's lost track of his own thoughts about the cosmic tally and the purpose of it all, but he knows that these are battles he can win, even if he doesn't have a fucking chance in the war.
"I'm real proud of the two of you," Bobby says later. "Just don't let this go to your heads. You're still a couple of snot-nosed punks, and don't you go thinkin' any different. This don't mean you're invincible. You hear me?"
Sam does, but it doesn't change anything. He feels alive and happy, and he only has to glance at Dean to know he's not the only one. The demons in the world are getting stronger, more deadly, and they just sent another one straight back to hell. It's hard to not ride that high for all it's worth.
"Hot damn," Dean says as they pull out of Blackshear. He slaps his hand on the dashboard. "This is the fuckin' life."
Foster, Oklahoma is a tiny little town with lots of tall buildings. It has an awkward feeling to it, like whoever settled it back in eighteen-whatever was envisioning it one day being a metropolis. Instead, it's an industrial little bedroom community to the nearby towns. There are several tall, brick churches that run way up into the sky, and clusters of Victorian houses that have fallen into various states of decay. Most of the places have little plaques on the front reading things like, Miller Home, and JR Bryson House, as though the things they used to be can make up for the things they are.
"Christ," Dean says, navigating down another narrow, bleak street. "I'd go nuts and kill myself, too."
"Yeah, it's not exactly homey." Sam peers out the window at the silver-white sunlight, glaring all around spring clouds.
"On the other hand." Dean abruptly veers into the parking lot of a tiny drive-through place called Has-T-Freez, nestled behind a laundromat and another towering house. "Never underestimate the motivational power of a deep-fried hot-dog."
"God, I want four of them. And fries. The curly kind."
"When you get all saggy and fat, I'm gonna laugh." Dean pulls them up behind the car at the window. "Remind me again what the deal here is?"
Sam rolls his eyes. "Five of the residents have thrown themselves off the roof in the last hundred years. All of them women, all of them between the ages of thirty and forty. It's become some kind of local landmark - people call it... uh, the Widow's Den."
"Sounds kinda sexy. You think it's some sorta angry spirit?"
"Maybe. I don't know, there's not a lot to go on, really. Most of the stuff I could turn up was just little pieces for the local newspaper. Some reports of people breaking in. We'll have to hit the local court house, maybe, and check out land titles."
"I think I got a badge for that. When was the last swan-dive?"
Sam digs around in his bag for the information he printed off on their last library visit, surfacing as Dean places their order.
"Thank you," he says, taking Louis Alcott's credit card back with a leer. The girl smiles, pink in the cheeks, her dark brown ponytail swaying as she turns away from the sliding window.
"Hey, Aqualung," Sam says, clutching his ream of print-outs. "Zip it up."
"Dude, what? She's hot."
"She's sixteen if she's a fucking day, Dean."
"Yeah? That's legal somewhere."
There are things Sam doesn't want to think about, and there are things Sam really doesn't want to think about. "When you were failing to graduate high school, she was making macaroni art. In the first grade."
"You're a fucking killjoy, you know that?" Dean hunkers down in his seat, resting his wrist on the top of the steering wheel, elbow locked.
"Better than a pedophile."
"I hope they spit in your fries."
"Yeah, I'll be sure to share them if they do."
In Oreveille, Kentucky, he's kept up all night by these snap-shot dreams of Dean's mouth. It's not like the kind of complex, detailed visions he's been suffering through - more like short gasps of ideas, like when this whole psychic thing started. He drops into sleep and Dean's tonguing at his collarbone, at that vein in his left forearm, the edge of his hip. It's hot and sticky and leaves him sweating into the sheets.
He drowns himself in coffee the next morning, and has savage little daydreams about committing suicide in the middle of Starbucks. He could just end it all, right here. They could build him a funeral pyre out of Sugar in the Raw packets.
"You didn't know I was possessed," he finally says, out of nowhere.
"What're you talkin' about?"
"You didn't have a clue," he says, sort of surprised by it even as it comes out of his mouth. "I knew that shape-shifter wasn't you the second it showed up, and you were cruising around with some demon and had no idea."
Dean sets his danish down. "I'm tryin' to eat, here."
Sam just stares at him.
"What do you want me to say, man? It was spewin' the same crap I've heard from you before. It wasn't exactly a jump of logic that you'd be askin' me for - for that - when you thought you'd wasted some guy. You were doin' that when some random spirit was takin' people out in Connecticut."
Sam scowls. "So, what, I'm just so predictable that I could be replaced by a - a Sam mandroid, and you wouldn't notice?"
"I'd notice! I noticed when you were possessed."
"Yeah, when I had someone tied up and put a knife to their throat. Apparently you don't know me well enough to suspect something until I start going all Ted Bundy on people."
"Dammit, Sam." His face goes dark, and he draws the corners of his mouth up in this irritated expression. "I know every freakin' thing there is to know about you. I know you don't eat pizza without pineapple on it. I know you only use one kinda shampoo, and consider hair products beneath you. I know - " Dean's voice is getting all growly now, and Sam sinks a little lower in his seat - "Jodie Foster gets you all hot an' bothered, and you're the only person on Earth who beats it after watchin' Silence of the Lambs. So don't go tellin' me I wouldn't notice if you were friggin' replaced by a mandroid. Forgive me if, yeah, lately we tend to have a lot of our conversations more'n once. That's your fault, not mine."
Sam goes kind of sullen. "Eat your damn danish," he finally mutters, and unfolds the newspaper in front of him.
Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, Washington. The Impala moves across the nation like a fingertip across a map, their path getting increasingly erratic.
Sam's always the shotgun navigator, no matter how many times he might swipe the keys and takes a shift at the wheel. Dean's total crap at being co-pilot, always failing to notice when they're about to head into two knuckles worth of unpopulated nothingness, and should probably fill up the gas tank. Sam's a tense driver anyway, out of practice from four years of taking buses and riding bikes. He gets a cold twist of fear in his chest whenever he hears sirens, and automatically takes the complex back roads that put them two days off schedule. Avoiding being seen seems like the logical thing to do, even if Dean doesn't seem to feel that way. Or isn't smart enough to be afraid.
He only bitches about it once, when he's fighting with an unfolded map, trying to find Bakersfield, not Bakersden - he glares over at Sam and snaps, "Maybe if you stayed on the fucking interstate, which is the big fuckin' blue line - "
And Sam just looks at him, once. It's the closest they come to hashing out Dean's status as a wanted man, even when Sam comes clattering out of a gas station in Elkhorn, Wisconsin with this strained set to his lips and careful measure to his stride. Seeing it in print like that, Dean's yearbook photo from some long-forgotten high school on a crappy over-Xeroxed flier, warning that he's armed and extremely dangerous - it's the kind of thing that sounds funny in theory, and leaves him with such a knot of fear in his stomach that he almost has to open the door and heave before they make it across the Illinois border.
He had weird ways of warding off homesickness when he was at Stanford. There wasn't really one place to miss, but he found himself aching for the miscellany of life on the road. Complementary mints and travel-sized shampoo, greasy diner bacon and dingy all-night gas stations. If he shut his eyes in his dorm bathroom and breathed in the scent of his toothpaste, he could almost believe he was in some nameless motel, with Dad and Dean on the other side of the door eating Twinkies for dinner and about to come knocking for their turns at the sink.
There were times, too, he'd miss Dean. He'd get to thinking about the two of them holed up in one of their crappy apartments, watching MTV all night and making fun of the hip-hop videos - or driving around a boring town, drinking Route 66 sized slushies and looking for something to do. He'd start to miss the good times, and start to forget the bad times, and wind up stretched out on his bed with Judas Priest blasting in his headphones, pretending that he'd lost another bet and was enduring a period of radio purgatory.
He never really believed he had given up hunting. In the back of his mind, he had it all envisioned - the four bedroom house, Jess and him and a bunch of kids, and weekend trips with the guys to go take down werewolves and restless spirits. If that was having his cake and eating it, too, then that's exactly what he intended on doing. If he really wanted to leave it all behind, he'd have changed his name - another fake ID, another town, another life. He learned the disappearing act from a master. But he never wanted to slam that door shut - he was one of them; they were part of him. Maybe family isn't everything, but it's something, and now it's all he has.
"What're you mopin' about?" Dean demands, tossing his toothbrush into his bag.
"Everything," Sam grunts. "Right now, how freakin' unsanitary you are."
"Oh, yeah?" Dean smacks his lips. "See if I ever give you mouth-to-mouth."
"I'm not exactly planning on any underwater excursions, but I'll keep that in mind."
"You weren't plannin' on getting goosed by a swamp monster yesterday, either," he points out, pulling on a red flannel shirt. It's plaid.
"Grizzly Adams called," Sam says dryly.
"Oh, you two still talk? That's sweet. Come on, I'm starvin'."
The motel rooms are always the same. The details change, wallpaper and tchochkies varying depending on the region. Cowboy figurines in the Southwest become pinecone-printed sheets in the Northeast. Sometimes there's a local attraction, a place with stained glass in the windows, or themed rooms. Sleep on the same lot of land Abraham Lincoln slept on! Whatever. A hard and unforgiving motel bed isn't all that different from another, and every room feels as anonymous as the one before.
He wakes up in one with a Native American theme so lacking in cultural sensitivity that he's kind of offended, and he's pretty sure the Winchesters are French or something. It's morning, and the light streaming in through the curtains isn't harsh enough for it to be any later than seven or so. Dean's still asleep - at least, it sounds like he is from his breathing. Sam blinks heavily and turns to look, and suddenly goes too warm all over.
Dean's sprawled all sleepily, thin motel blankets twisted around his legs and leaving his chest and arms bare. He's idly scratching his stomach, eyes still shut and breaths deep and even, like he's clinging to the edge of a dream. And he's - he's got morning wood. Seriously, his boxers are all tented up, bulging around the curve of his cock, and his fingers are rubbing against the line of hair over the elastic. Sam suddenly feels so dirty that sweat prickles his neck, and, oh god, he can almost remember the way Dean's skin tastes right there. Sick heat pools in his belly, and all the breath goes out of him.
He hasn't dreamed about this before, but this - this could be it.
He could slide over to Dean's bed, rub his hand over his prick. He could just do it, instead of trying so hard not to. The very idea makes him go all raw with adrenaline, and he's so hard it hurts. He reaches down, just to adjust his cock, but he's practically shooting off as soon as his fingers brush over it. Three rough tugs, and he's creaming himself like a teenager, ropes of come plastering the fabric of his boxers to his skin. He bites his bottom lip, holding his breath until he goes dizzy, hand not stopping until he's wrung out every drop.
In a coffee shop in Indiana, Dean flips a quarter across his knuckles and reads a newspaper. Sam's busy scanning for anything interesting in the nearby states when he pitches forward across the table, hands clutching his head.
It's almost a relief when the images shooting behind his eyelids are of flames and ceilings.
"Booya," Ash says two hours later, when Dean's done hovering over Sam like he's going to spontaneously combust. To him, this is the first vision Sam's had in months. "I got your number right here. Wellston, Iowa. You got a few days."
Sam practically whistles the whole way to Iowa, gunning the engine as soon as Dean falls asleep, like if he drives fast enough he can leave the last few weeks behind. Like he can escape the shame and the wrongness, the tired melancholy that's constantly at his heels. He wants to throw himself at the demon and just have done with it. Get it, be gotten, however it might pan out. Anything to escape this half-alive state he's in, clutching too tightly to his brother and the memories of his girlfriend.
They spend a week in Wellston, after pulling Jason Riley's wife from their burning bedroom. There's no showdown, of course, and in the end Sam's not totally convinced it was ever even there. The only interesting thing is the guy, who had known they were coming since they crossed the state line. It doesn't really help anything, but finding another psychic feels like a good omen.
"Least we saved someone," Dean says. "That's gotta be enough, right?"
"Yeah," Sam says, slamming his door. But it's not.