Sam's phone rings while he's in the diner, so Dean's sitting in the Impala with the engine idling when the display flashes up Bobby Singer.
"Sam?" comes Bobby's voice, as Dean picks up, before he even has time to bring the phone to his ear.
"Nope," says Dean, settling back into his seat. "This is his handsome brother." He smirks, even though Bobby is six hundred miles and change away and can't see --
"Don't smirk at me, dumbass," Bobby says. Dean grimaces, which has the intended effect.
"How'd you go with that poltergeist at Cedar Mills?"
"Torched the bastard," Dean announces, corner of his mouth quirking up, but Bobby doesn't call him on it this time.
Instead, he just chuckles, tired and low. "Yeah. I thought you'd like that one."
"You got another case for us, Bobby?" Dean asks.
"There’s always another case,” says Bobby. “There’s never gonna be a shortage of things that go bump in the night. Evil doesn’t take a holiday, Dean. But that doesn’t mean you can’t.”
Dean is nodding along to Bobby’s words when Bobby changes tracks on him.
“A holiday?” he says, not even trying to hide his indignation.
Bobby presses on. “If anyone’s earned a break, Dean...”
“I don’t want a break.” He doesn’t want to admit the next bit, not to Bobby or Sam or anyone, but he can hear Bobby’s disapproval coming through loud and clear. “Bobby, we can’t stop,” and he doesn’t entirely know if he means himself or Sam or the both of them together, but he does know it’s the truth of the matter. They’re strapped into this train until it goes off the rails and takes him with it, and they’ve just got to ride it out until the bitter end.
It’s not news, not to any of them.
They both fall silent for a moment, and it's easier on the both of them if he pretends the choked noise Bobby makes is just him clearing his throat. It might even be true.
Dean’s distracted, staring through the dusty windshield of the Impala.
He can see Sam through the window, and he thinks about the last time he let Sam walk into a diner alone. He tracks Sam's every movement with his eyes, steadfastly refusing to think about who will watch Sam's back when he's gone.
A deal's a deal - and anyway, he's been living on borrowed time for awhile now. Eventually someone was bound to collect. At least this way he got something in return. The something in question chooses that exact moment to look up from the diner counter, gives him a hesitant wave. Dean raises a hand in a silent salute. Sam hunches over in that ridiculous way he always does, as if he can somehow make himself smaller.
"You still there?" Bobby asks, finally.
"Yeah, Bobby," Dean says, sinking his head back. "I'm here." He wonders if Bobby hears the unspoken for now that seems to hang after his sentence. He figures he probably does.
“How are you?” Bobby asks, and adds, “Really,” just as Dean’s mouth opens to shape the word ‘fine’.
“Tired,” Dean says, with an honesty that surprises him. Bobby’s quiet, and Dean feels a crawling unease. He doesn’t want Bobby to think he’s complaining. He’s not – not really. He choose this.
"I did the only thing I could do," Dean says, words to fill the silence, and he’s not sure whether he’s saying it to remind himself or Bobby. Maybe both of them.
Bobby sighs. "I know," he says, and Dean's chest feels tight all of a sudden, because Bobby does know that, but that doesn't mean he understands it and Dean's tired of explaining. It's impossible to put into words all that Sam is to him.
"You boys should come visit sometime soon," Bobby says. He says it clumsily, too quickly - and it takes Dean a moment to realise Bobby has probably been working up to that line their whole conversation, and Dean's a selfish bastard, he is, because he suddenly remembers Bobby grabbing his face that day in the salvage yard, looking in Bobby's eyes and seeing his own brokenness reflected back at him.
It's always hard to explain how much someone means to you.
"Yeah," Dean says, and he's distantly proud with how casual his tone remains.
Another silence – and it’s Dean’s turn to break it this time, saying the only thing that’s been running through his head since he kissed a pretty girl with cold lips at the crossroads and his brother woke up from the dead.
“Bobby - you and I both know there's no way out of this except one," Dean says, voice pitched low, for all that he's alone in the car.
"You and I both know your brother isn't going to give up," Bobby says. Dean isn't surprised at the implicit admission that Bobby has given up. If there was a way, Bobby would have found it by now- but there isn't, so he can't. He knows it. Dean knows it.
Sam knows it too -- he just won't accept it.
Dean doesn't jump when Sam raps on the window, but it's a close thing. Sam swings upon the passenger door, clutching two plastic bags. The food in there smells awesome and Dean flashes Sam a grin, which Sam returns, before his eyes flick across to the cell phone Dean has cupped to his ear.
"Who's that?" Sam asks, as he closes the car door and attempts to balance the two bags of food on his lap. Against all odds, gravity included, he manages.
Sam's eyes brighten noticeably, and he impatiently swipes his hair back from his forehead. "Let me talk to him," he says, holding out his hand for the cell.
Dean passes it over, wordless. Saying goodbye has never been something he’s good at.
Sam's speaking to Bobby in a low undertone, and Dean tunes it out, letting the words drift on by. They don't matter. This conversation is entirely for Sam's benefit, and deep down Sam must know that as well, because when Dean reaches for the bag next to him and digs through it to unearth a slice of pie, Sam just shoots him a fondly exasperated look, instead of the usual glare he'd get for starting dinner with dessert.
Dean’s finished the pie, and is making a solid start on the jumbo cheese fries before Sam finishes up the conversation with Bobby and turns to him.
Dean passes him the cheese fries and Sam takes them automatically, but he doesn’t do anything with them, just holds them in his hand, attention still fixed entirely on Dean as he says, "Bobby thinks he's got a lead," and his eyes flash with something like hope.
Dean ruthlessly extinguishes the answering spark of hope in his own chest before it has a chance to ignite. He told Bobby the truth - he is tired. Tired of pretending this has any end except blood and hellfire, hellfire and blood.
No ending except this, ever. He can't let it.
"Bobby got a case for us, too?" Dean asks, keeping his tone even.
Sam's smile dims, but he nods. "Wraith," he says.
“Well, then. What are we waiting for?” Dean says. “We got a wraith to kill.”
Sam is about to say something else, and Dean doesn’t have it in him to have this argument again, not tonight, so instead he says “Eat your cheese fries, Sam,” and pretends not to see the look on Sam’s face. Sam being Sam, he doesn't want to let it slide, not without a fight, and Dean being Dean can't take another one.
“Dean –“ Sam begins, staring at the container of cheese fries clutched in his hand, like he’s wondering how they got there, and Dean flexes his fingers, knuckles white from gripping the wheel.
"Where are we headed, Sam?" he asks instead, because he knows now that there are a finite number of moments like this they will have. This night does not belong to him alone, and he is not the one who will have to carry the memory of it, when memory is all that is left.
Sam pores over the map spread across his lap, and Dean keeps darting glances across at Sam, to reassure himself that Sam's still there, still breathing. He splits his focus between Sam and the road ahead -- he doesn't need to look in the rear-view mirror to see the hellhound loping along behind.