Afterward, after he and Bobby wash his brother’s body and wrap it in the sheets Sam strips off the bed, after they get the worst of the blood and gore wiped off the walls and all of Dean’s shit stuffed into his duffle, after he’s loaded their bags into the trunk and Bobby’s helped him bury Dean’s body – his body, and how the hell is Sam supposed to wrap his mind around those words? – after all that, he slides back into the front seat of the Impala and rolls the window down. The sky above them is a flat steel gray that hides the sun and washes the color out of the trees. Out on the highway, a truck rumbles past. When the sound of its tires on the asphalt dies away, all Sam can hear is the thudding of his heart against his chest.
Booby’s hands, hanging awkwardly at his sides, curl into fists. “Where you going?”
Sam doesn’t have a plan for this. He thinks he probably should, it’ll be the best way to keep Bobby off his case, not to mention make decisions like “left or right” a lot easier, so he shrugs and squints out at the road. There’s another truck going by, Peterbilt cab and a gleaming steel trailer with a shield-shaped logo on the side.
Route 66 Transport, it says. Sam throws a last glance around the flat Illinois prairie and lets the shape of a grove of spindly trees burn itself into his retinas. “Crossroads,” he says, more to himself than to Bobby, and twists the key in the ignition so he can pretend not to hear Bobby’s response as the big V8 engine, Dean’s baby, Dean’s pride and joy, rumbles to life.
Crossroads, he’d said, but which one? He’s pretty sure he’d opened a vein over every intersection in the Upper Midwest and most of the mountain states looking for a do-over on Dean’s deal, so heading north is out. Which leaves south, and west, on a road Dad mostly refused to drive.
“Route six-six,” as the song had it, toward a place where he’d once found something useful, and might again.
He doesn’t really notice the miles passing. He makes it through Missouri as the sun sets and so Oklahoma isn’t much more than a succession of winking lights showing him where the oilfields lie. The Texas panhandle is empty miles of parched ground broken up by windfarms and carrion birds hanging motionless under the sky. New Mexico is redder and rockier and even drier, the windmills replaced by random piles of rocks and the birds by nothing at all. A hundred miles outside of Albuquerque, his eyes burning from lack of sleep-, he figures out why Dad never took them this far into the southwest: too much sun. Evil may pass through, but there are no corners here for it to lurk in. No dark roads, no hidden groves, no ancient places –every motel, every truck stop, even the endless ribbon of highway, is staked out flat, wind-scoured beneath the high endless sky. And as far as he can tell, mighty slim pickings on the souls front too: even the trailer parks look mostly abandoned. Clearly, he’s not going to find any demons here: he’ll be lucky if he can find something to eat and a safe place to park until the sun goes down, get in a little shuteye before figuring out what to do next. He slides forward on the seat and peers into the distance.
As if pleased that he’s got a plan, finally, the road glimmers back at him. His stomach lets out an exploratory growl. “Yeah, yeah. Last time we saw that it was nothing but a semi. Don’t get your hopes up,” he warns it, but the mirage isn’t, for once, and ten minutes later he’s pulling off into the parking lot of a battered-looking truck stop. There’s a line of gas pumps, a diner, and around to the back, where Sam pulls in next to a ’61 Lincoln and a dust-covered Subaru, a laundromat.
And yeah, that’s a good idea too. Throw the contents of his and Dean’s duffles into one of the big industrial machines, head into the john and take a leak, grab the closest thing to a salad the diner offered – he may not have seen much of Route 66 but he’s spent a lifetime doing what he’s got planned now, him and Dean – and that’s when it hits him, bends him double until he’s got his arms wrapped around the steering wheel and his eyes tightly shut against the memories that he’s been keeping at bay since way before they heard the first hellhound’s growl three days earlier.
That doesn’t work either, any more than thinking Route 66, of all roads, would get him any closer to Dean.
A minute, two minutes, ten, and there’s the sound of doors slamming and the Lincoln roars to life next to him. Startled, he glances over to his left but the car’s inhabitants, two boys no more than nineteen, brothers from the looks of it, are ignoring him in favor of adjusting the radio and firing up a joint. They give him a cheery wave once these tasks are done and pull out, kids taking Dad’s classic wheels out for a spin, nothing more, and Sam drops his head back on the steering wheel and listens to his own breathing until the sound of the car’s wheels is gone.
Thing is, laundry was always Dean’s chore anyways, even if he bitched about it and tried to talk Sam into letting him do the shopping instead. But Sam always put his foot down over that deal. “Dude, you’ll just come back with porn and nachos. At least if you fuck up the laundry we both suffer.”
Dean hadn’t said anything more about it, sliding Lynyrd Skynyrd into the tape deck and flipping it over until they’d listened to the entire thing at least three times. Which Sam figured was for his benefit. Neither of them really liked Skynyrd, that had been Dad’s thing, and it was Dad, too, who insisted on all kinds of what Dean privately called Army shit, like lists and divisions of labor and Sammy staying in the car or back at the motel. Dean’d gotten over that part, at least.
But not, apparently, the part about being annoyed at Sam for refusing to swap chores, or his insistence on fucking with the process. A couple weeks later, they’d chased a crew of wreckers through the southern edge of the Bitterroot and across Idaho before catching up to them in Coeur d’Alene. Once the crew was dead and decapitated and their brimstone-fired lanterns sent back to hell, Dean had driven them across the border into Spokane.
He’d checked them into a motel, tossed Sam the keys, and let himself be dropped off outside the Twin Peaks Wash and Fold, waving Sam off with a cheery wave and a reminder about not forgetting to grab a couple pairs of socks.
Sam had patted his pocket. “Yeah, yeah, socks, ammo, first aid kit stuff… I got it all here, Dean.”
Dean had rolled his eyes, shouldered both duffles and headed into the laundromat, leaving Sam to find a Wal-Mart.
“You get everything on the list?” was the first thing out of Dean’s mouth when Sam walked back into the Wash and Fold.
“Yeah,” he said shortly, jerking a thumb toward the Impala and trying to make it clear that he’d written the list, he knew what was on it, he’d bought it all, for crap’s sake, couldn’t Dean leave it alone for once? “Gauze, alcohol, duct tape, a bunch of other random shit – c’mon, Dean, let’s just go.”
An expression he couldn’t read flickered across Dean’s face, but he hadn’t said anything else. A month later, once Sam figured Dean’d forgotten the whole thing, he added a couple more notes to the list and slipped it into Dean’s pocket while he was showering. “Your turn to do the beer run, dude!” he’d yelled through the door. By then they were back at Bobby’s, and a month closer to Dean’s deal coming due.
Then he’d gone and buried himself in a pile of old grimoires, the one place he was pretty sure Dean wouldn’t follow him. Two could play at most of Dean’s games, after all, and if his brother wasn’t ever going to talk to him about how he felt, what he was going to miss, well, Sam was willing to let him.
He hadn’t seen the list again.
Once the sky above him is dark behind its curtain of stars, Sam Winchester rolls himself to a sitting position and pushes open the Impala’s door. Her back seat made a way more comfortable bed when he was thirteen, he thinks, grimacing, and stretches out to his full height and then some, reaching his hands high above his head and stretching out his fingers until the thumbs reach the constellations Dean had taught him approximately a million years back.
“See, the Dippers are there,” Dean had said, pointing north. “Which means Orion is here, just above where the trees stop.” They were lying on the back of the Impala. Dean had slipped Sam a beer and now he wanted his brother to see the shapes in the heavens, moving Sam’s hands to touch them one by one. Sam had held his breath, pretty sure he wouldn’t see the shapes Dean was gazing at so raptly but not wanting to let his brother think he wasn’t trying.
Now, the shapes are clear, and so is the road in front of him. Sam thinks he’d known then what he needed to do, just like he knows now: there’s no kind of evil that will help him here. He needs the kinds of dark roads where evil crouches, a place where the right words at the right time will percolate all the way down to hell.
He needs, he thinks, to turn the car around and head back to the places where things are afraid of him. And he needs to do it now. The laundry, he decides, can wait.
That’s Dean’s chore, anyways.