He was a simple man.
Chevies, cheeseburgers and chicks. It was what life was all about. At least, that was what life was for. What it was generally about, unfortunately, was less simple.
“Dean! I told you, we can't use that account again! You gotta burn that one!”
“My Baby needs-”
“She's going to have to wait till we can score some cash!”
“When was the last time you got us a new account anyway? Why am I always in charge of the finances in this marriage?”
The bitchface his brother tossed back on his way into the copy shop was enough to melt the paint off the door he slammed behind him.
Dean sighed, and sat back in the driver’s seat to wait. “It's okay, sweetheart. You know I'm gonna get you what you need. Sammy's just in a bad mood because...because he's Sammy.” He slipped his fingers beneath his sunglasses and rubbed his eyes. “I'm tired, Baby. Don't tell Sam. He's a pain in the ass brother hen.”
He took hold of the steering wheel, and began beating out the rhythm to one of his favorites. But it wasn't long before he was drifting. He didn't bother trying to keep himself awake. Sam would be busy with those IDs and registrations for a while. Part of the challenge was keeping the copy shop employees from noticing the felonies being committed. Sam would hack the copy machines’ computers and erase any photos of them, of course. That all took time. So Dean let himself fade away, cradled in the only childhood bed he could truly remember.
The flutter of wings startled him. “Son of a-Cas!”
The angel narrowed his eyes. “Hello, Dean.”
“Where the hell have you been?”
He sighed and looked out the window from Sam's seat. “Hell.”
Dean blinked at him. “Hell? Why?”
“I learned something disturbing about someone wreaking havoc. Someone we've thought had perished in the days of the Apocalypse.”
That was never good. “Okay. Who?”
Castiel turned back to face him, and blood streamed mercilessly from his eyes.
Dean slammed backward against the car door. “Cas! What's wrong with-”
“I can't fly, Dean.”
A brutal flinch crushed his chest. “What? But you just-”
“My wings are broken, Dean. And that's on you. It's all on you. And it's never coming clean.”
He could hear a high-pitched noise screaming somewhere behind him. He should leap from the car, run. Take Sam and run, fast as he could. But he was paralyzed. And anyway, Castiel was family. He couldn’t leave him if there was something wrong.
“Alastair did this to me, Dean.”
“No,” he sputtered out. “N-no, Sam killed him.”
“Sam?” Castiel began to laugh, and blood sprayed out from him in a gory smear. “Sam. You mean the Boy King? You mean Lucifer's meat suit? You think he really killed Alistair? Or do you think perhaps he simply pretended to? Dean, at the time, they were on the same side!” The laughter was nauseating.
At last, Dean's fingers found the door handle. But they slipped uselessly. There was blood everywhere. His fingers could not get traction. “That's not true. Sam was never on the side of the demons! Sam's always tried to do right! How can you say that? Sam’s family!”
“You're a moronic mess.”
He looked away from the door to find that Castiel was no longer there. The sneering voice belonged to the King of the Damned, and not his angel friend at all. “Crowley.”
“Hello, Squirrel. Where's your Moose?”
“What are you doing here?”
Crowley’s eyes rolled in exasperation. “I'm here to defend your daft brother.”
“The big pigeon has made an accusation. I'm here to set the record straight.”
Dean stopped fighting with the door handle. “You're defending Sam? Against Cas?”
“Your pet angel seems to think Sam aligned himself with Alistair, the Great Kinkmaster of legend. I'm here to remind you that the bloody harpist himself wasn't exactly forthcoming with support before the bloody Apocalypse either. He wasn't on your side then. He isn't now.”
“Cas is-He’s family! Of-of course he-”
“He waited just long enough to come to your aid, didn’t he? Just long enough, so that there was nothing you could do to stop Sam killing Lilith. Then he was on board! How could you think he wasn’t just like any of the others, who wanted the seals to be broken? He wanted the Apocalypse to be won, not prevented!”
Dean’s head was swimming. It was probably because he was losing so much blood. He couldn’t focus. Where was the wound?
“Get that tied off, son.”
He blinked hard, and tried to make his vision obey him. At last, Crowley’s face came back into focus, but it wasn’t Crowley’s at all. Why had he thought Crowley was there? “Dad?”
“You’re going to bleed out, Dean.”
But his arms were too heavy to move. “Then help me!” he moaned. “We’re family!”
“I’ve helped you as much as I could. You’re on your own now, Dean. And as for Sam? If you can’t save him-”
A wave of frustration flowed through him, and he heard himself shouting. “I’m not killing Sam!”
“Um. Glad to hear it?”
Dean startled awake and slammed his knee into the dash. “Goddamn-”
Sam was staring at him from the open passenger window. “Is it safe to come in, or should I be on my guard?”
The older man rubbed clammy hands over his face, and sat up properly. “What the hell are you talking about?”
His brother slid into the car with a smirk. “I’d like to know what kind of dream has you mumbling that you’re not going to kill me.”
“What?” he demanded irritably. “Shut up. I don’t know. I just...Cas was bleeding, and Dad was Crowley, and...Shut up. I don’t know.”
Sam snorted. “Dad was Crowley?” He gave a low whistle. “That’s a dynamic I never would have attributed to your bromance.”
Dean scowled, and started the Impala. “You done?”
“That depends. I think there’s a joke in there somewhere.”
“There isn’t,” he assured him. “Not one you’d survive making.”
Sam shrugged and tossed his folder full of paperwork onto the back seat. “What’s next on the Laundry Day agenda?”
It was one of those days. For their entire lives, the only consistency had been the recurring event called Laundry Day. It was a day between hunts, when they found a small town to run errands of all kinds, including, of course, cleaning their clothes. Now that they returned to the bunker regularly, they often could go without finding a laundromat, but it would always be called that anyway.
They pulled out of the copy shop lot and headed back toward the highway.
“You cutting my hair?”
“Not if I can get out of it.”
Dean shot him a glare.
Sam groaned. “Yes, I’m cutting your hair.”
“Am I cutting yours?”
“No. I got it.”
“Can I cut yours?”
“I said no.”
He snickered a little, then turned on the music. “You need anything at the drugstore? Tampons, midol?”
“Screw you.” Sam lay back wearily. “But we can use some aspirin. And gauze. And I’m going to start wrapping my wrist again.”
He glanced at his brother. “What’d you do now?”
The younger man was his best friend in the world, and always would be. But sometimes Dean didn’t realize something was wrong until Sam had been hurting for far too long. The kid had always been stubborn, and he wouldn’t admit to pain if he could help it. Even now, he tended to downplay his injuries. “It’s no big deal. The damn spirit from Wichita.”
He did some mental calculations. “Dude, that was five weeks ago.”
“Yeah. I wrapped it for about two weeks-”
“Yeah. I thought it was fine, but it gave me trouble this weekend when we were getting our asses handed to us by that hopped-up vamp.”
Memories of super-vamps flashed through his mind, and he recognized them as the root of his exhaustion. “Sam? You think they’re getting stronger, or are we just getting old?”
His brother looked up from his wrist. “You’re kidding, right? Both. Because that’s how it works.”
“How what works?”
He couldn’t argue with that. “So explain to me again why it’s not an evolutionary thing?”
Sam took a breath to launched into his lecture.
Dean liked the way, if he caught his brother in the right mood, he could explain things without making Dean himself feel like an idiot. It was nice.
“So it would be different if they bred like natural animals, right? But they don’t. We know now that weres do. I mean, I guess some of them. Garth’s buddies did. Anyway, vamps, so far as we’ve always known, they don’t breed. They convert. So genetics aren’t a factor. I guess if the werewolves breed, evolution would be a factor there. But with the born werewolves also mixing with the Bittens, that would make it-”
“I don’t want to think about Garth breeding. Go back to the vamps.”
Sam seemed to agree. “Right. So genetic adaptation happens over generations, when a spontaneous gene mutation proves useful to survival.”
“What if it isn’t useful?”
“If it doesn’t make a difference to survival, it will get carried on like anything else. That’s where variation, even among siblings, comes to be. Various possibilities from parent genes, and occasional mutations.”
“I’m better-looking than you. That a variation?” he teased as he pulled the car into the pharmacy lot.
His brother rolled his eyes. “You’re a mutation, and not a useful one,” he shot back. “Anyway, if a mutation is detrimental to survival, it won’t get passed on very long, because the individual who has it will die off before getting to make lots of babies, or it won’t be as attractive to mates, so it won’t get to reproduce.”
“Not attractive to mates. Again, you.”
“You’re an asshole. Do you want me to teach you or not?”
He was beginning to wonder, but he nodded. “Okay. I apologize, Professor. Continue.”
“So, long story short, a useful mutation gets passed on through reproduction. But vamps, they don’t reproduce.”
Dean turned off his car, then snapped his fingers. “But they do. Through their own blood.”
Sam considered. “Okay, but…” He shook his head. “It’s still not the same. There’s only one parent in that case.”
“The human getting turned is the other source of genes for the new creature. He's his own second parent.”
Dean raised his eyebrow as Sam’s voice faded off.
The younger man frowned. “I mean, he’s…”
It wasn’t often that Dean was able to stump the college boy. But he didn’t have time to enjoy it.
Sam shook his head. “The point is it isn't natural, dumbass, so it doesn't follow natural adaptation. They're not animals. They're freaking vampires. That one this weekend just figured out how to enhance his game. It was more like steroids than punctuated equilibrium.”
Dean made a face. Sometimes Sam just used phrases like that whenever he felt like Dean was catching on to something. His kid brother was insecure like that. “Okay, well, I know what steroids are, and I don't like the idea of fangs using them.”
The younger man shrugged. “I missed the episode where they asked our opinion. About anything. Ever.”
He pushed out of the car, and the two of them strolled into the pharmacy. They disappeared into separate aisles as always. It was kind of nice the way he and Sam seemed to coordinate without communication. Some days, Dean would head for the first aid items, and other days, like today, he took care of the toiletries. Either way, Sam seemed to already know which job was his, and, like today, he went to work picking out painkiller, gauze and wraps without a word or even a glance at Dean.
A small smile came over him as he looked through the shampoos. Sure, they annoyed the hell out of one another. But they were two halves of a whole. Dean liked that. Sam and his Baby were the only safe things Dean had ever had. It was why he was so lost without them.
When he hit the floor, it was as much a surprise to him as to the elderly lady nearby. He tried to lift his head, but an overwhelming weight negated the effort. He groaned groggily. “Sam?” he ground out in a weak voice.
“Shh. It's okay, honey,” the woman was saying. “They've called someone to help you.”
“No, I-” He squinted up at her. She was kneeling beside him on the floor between the toothpastes and the mouthwash, and she was sort of petting his hand. “Where's Sam? My brother, where-”
She looked up and shrugged. “I don't think there's anyone else here, honey. Now, just be still. You hit your head hard. No reason to make things worse.”
He might have ignored her advice if he felt at all capable of rising. “What happened?”
“I don't know,” she admitted. “Looked like a seizure from where I stood. But they've called an ambulance, and-”
“No,” Dean moaned. His head throbbed nastily, and his limbs did not want to move. “No, I gotta-My brother, he's here, he just…”
She patted his hand. “It's all okay, honey. Here they come now.”
“Sam!” he shrieked hoarsely. But the voice he was expecting did not respond, and before the EMTs even made it to his position, the world went black.