They miss Lebanon's freeway exits once, twice, a final time, and they keep driving. Two weeks ago, Sam came home to the bunker as Dean had left it. He's the one who reset the furniture and catalogued the mess; he knows why they don't go back.
They don't talk. It's not an easy silence, but Sam's known worse. The radio's jacked, all underwater static--something Dean noticed before they'd even lurched forward into that first quarter-mile, but let pass without commentary. There's a part of Sam that wants to dig through the glovebox (would it be a disaster? when had they organized it last, or opened it?), find that cardboard sleeve filled with tapes. This was cardboard that had, against all, outlasted everything, everyone; and there's a part of Sam that wants those tapes. But the rest of him would be furious if he even touched them.
Sam resettles and turns to his window. There isn't much to see; just Kansas, the end of its summer unseasonably cool. There are round bales in the fields, and every so often the cylindrical skeleton of some other thing, the function of which Sam's never been able to parse out. Irrigation, maybe. The sky touches down far out at the horizon, dust-smeared and hazy. If there's part of America that's beautiful, it's this.
They drive through a flotilla of insects and the windshield shows it. So will the grill. Their front plate. When they stop for gas, Sam will wipe it all down. Sometimes Sam forgets, since it's Dean's ride--and was, for so many years, Sam's prison--but he loves this car. He tries to track the last two weeks on her interior, the state of her backseat, the dirt pounded into her floor liners, but there's nothing really new or significant. He steals a glance at the odometer, but he doesn't remember when he'd last looked. How many of those miles weren't his.
They stop well before dusk, not for gas but for beds. What Dean had been up to the night before--you know, prior to their night with the werewolves--Sam doesn't know, but Sam hasn't slept in 42 hours. The plan seems sound.
Dean: "You got any cash?"
It's the first thing anyone's said in hours, and the air almost isn't ready for it. Figures, Sam thinks, and rummages in his pockets; somewhere, he's got a fifty and change for the motel. But when he looks up, Dean's pulling out money and handing it to Sam.
There's a moment then, or the impression of one. Sam realizes his misinterpretation, and Dean his mistake. Sam watches Dean's features twist, a stricken hiccup, before his affect vanishes entirely. "Sorry."
They get separate rooms, not adjacent. Sam wouldn't even know where Dean's was if he weren't in the habit of looking at that kind of thing. And they sit separately at the diner across the street. It serves breakfast all day, and Dean orders coffee.
Sam orders a harvest omelet. Dean must get bored waiting for Sam (if that's what he's doing), because somewhere between the half of Sam's omelet that's full of zucchini and the half that's full of bell pepper, Dean calls the waitress back--two fried eggs and a side of bacon. This is when Sam reminds himself to stop staring. Obsessing, really.
As far as the omelet goes, Sam's pretty sure the zucchini and the pepper should have been mixed together. But whatever.
Dean nurses a second cup of coffee (stop obsessing) and Sam doesn't wait, just leaves. It occurs to him he hadn't come from the bunker with any plans outside Garth's hospital visit; he doesn't have his laptop, or any of Kevin's final masterwork. Just a toothbrush in his jacket pocket, opposite his gun, and whatever Dean hadn't bothered to remove from the car.
But then, maybe he'd bothered.
Regardless, he's still back at the diner and Sam's not. Sam grabs yesterday's paper from the motel's pamphlet rack. A local map, too. Since he doesn't have his phone charger, 3G's probably not the best idea. There's a PowerPC (good god) in the corner of the lobby he can use if he needs it. It's all very old-school. Sam chuffs, and the A/C blusters. Sam's somewhere between feeling nostalgic and annoyed as fuck at the motel's dial-up. He works toward nothing in particular for a few hours.
Then Dean calls.
"What you got?" says Sam.
"What'd you find?"
But Dean hasn't found anything, if he's even looking. He just wants to know when they were planning to head out tomorrow. "Motel does a continental from six to nine."
Sam looks up at a sign. "I can see that." He turns around. But Dean's not there.
"Where're we headed?" Dean asks.
"I dunno. I dunno yet. Away from Grantsburg."
If there's anything Sam expects, it's Dean at his door, ready to reprise whatever it is they hadn't managed to say that morning. Ready to say the usual Dean stuff, or possibly unusual Dean stuff. As the years wear on, Sam's found Dean knows two spaces: a space of irritating predictability, and non-space. This non-space is home to things unhinged, incomprehensible, and distinctly not okay. To what degree, Sam's not equipped to figure out.
But Dean doesn't come. Midnight proper passes, and Dean doesn't come.
The separate rooms, Sam hadn't asked for. Had not, in fact, assumed--though apparently Dean had. It's exactly what Sam wants, and exactly what's right, and nothing of what Sam wants, and not right at all. He lies back on the stiff bedspread, which smells of smoke, and stares at the ceiling for the duration of someone else's shower. Then he takes his own.
He stops thinking about Dean. He thinks about Cas, and Kevin. Garth. Charlie. He thinks about Gadreel, and then he thinks about Dean.
He thinks about the Olympics next year. There's a chance the world will still be around then. There's also a chance that some athlete, God-fearing, will ski faster and harder than his body could humanly stand. Win Gold even as his heart's bursting, re-knitting, reconfiguring itself away from the athlete and ever toward his angel in residence.
Sam's phone wavers between one and zero bars of battery life. Goddamn Samsung, he thinks.
He watches Wheel of Fortune; it's a college special, and one of the contestants is wearing a Stanford sweatshirt. She looks extremely young. Then Sam watches an infomercial about John Deere balers.
And he's decided, this time he's not sure what he expected. He's not sure what he expected Dean to be doing with his evening. Jacking off to motel porn, maybe. Keeping company with a couple forties. Working. When Dean opens the door, it's not clear to Sam that he's actually done much of anything. The beds are undisturbed, the TV is off. The bright procession of lightbulbs above the sink shine bright, but Dean has nothing unpacked but the knife that killed Sheriff Pat (clean now). The little soaps are still in their wrappers.
"Weird motel," says Sam.
"Yeah, no divider things."
"More like a dorm room, right?"
Dean wouldn't know.
"I just wanted to say," says Sam. And Dean says, "No."
No, Dean doesn't have anything. He doesn't know. He doesn't have anything figured out at all.
Maybe that's what Dean's been trying for all this time.
And you know, Sam can feel it. Dean's about to say something that's going to screw this up even more. It's bubbling in his throat and Sam can feel it.
Well, fuck that. Because that, Sam can save him from.
"I just wanted to say," Sam begins again, "that for almost every decision I've made in my life--all the important ones--it's always been the exact opposite of what I really wanted to do."
This stretches back to being eighteen years old and then some. Sam's not sure if Dean can actually track where he's coming from with this; Sam's not even sure if this is a part of him Dean even recognizes as Sam. But Sam's not going to explain himself.
"It's also been exactly what I really wanted to do."
Dean's expression doesn't change.
"That kind of thing. Those kinds of things… It's always been both. And I just. I wanted to let you know. So when you--" No, Sam's not going to do that work for his brother. That's not how this works.
"I know it's always both," says Sam. "I understa--"
"Okay." And that's all Dean says.
"Like, right now, part of me wants to be here," Sam continues. "Part of me is sure it's right to be here. With you."
That, Dean does almost answer. But Sam keeps going. "The other part of me only wants to be here because it kind of wants to beat the shit out of you." This is a lie; there is no "kind of."
"Just--stop. You don't have anything to say to me. Don't pretend you do."
Because Dean doesn't, and Sam knows he doesn't. Not yet, and maybe not ever. There's a good chance they will never have the downtime, with its hazy far-flung horizon, that Dean would need for that.
"You brought a pillow with you," says Dean.
Dean's got that look again, that stricken hiccup. He looks like he might shut the door in Sam's face, absent himself from Sam so he can go back to doing his mostly nothing alone.
Then he steps aside, and Sam steps in.