It's only seven pm, the sky outside the smudged window a dark blue. Spindly trees reach into the abyss and streak by. Sam stares wistfully, cheek smushed against his fist. He's been awake for sixteen hours and sitting for most of them. His legs ache, his stomach is growling, and his brother somehow isn't hungry yet. In fact, Dean's been busy with disc two of Zeppelin's greatest hits for the past hour, and if Sam has to hear Kashmir one more time he might yank the wheel over at the next exit and throttle him.
Their mission- case, Sam corrects; what is he, twelve?- is in Albany, reports of a poltergeist haunting a roadside mall strip. The interstate is practically paved with diners, neon lights and all glistening in the rain-slicked streets, but Dean won't look past the road in front of him. His forearm rests on the window ledge, the opposite hand just barely grazing the leather wheel. He's totally in his element. A serious case of road lust, Sam notes. Since he'd dragged Sam from Stanford Dean had been happier and more alive than Sam had seen in years. Decades.
Light reflects from the headlights onto the road, casting a soft glow on both brothers. Dean leans into it like he's just come into the sun from a long winter; Sam slinks into the shadows, resigned and constantly tired in an even deeper way than he remembered from his youth. Under Dean's watchful eye he'd been a little stifled, always sheltered and never kept fully in the loop. John had treated Dean as his soldier and it still showed; the hardened and practiced way Dean carried himself in fake uniform, how he refused to open up even after multiple fifths of whiskey, and it was especially obvious how relaxed he was when John was finally gone. Sam wondered if he felt a little lost without John's orders. He wondered further if Dean was struggling to figure out what exactly he was feeling. Surely the eldest Winchester felt guilty for his joy in the lack of structure. To keep himself grounded he must just forget his own needs.
Sam pities him and admires him all at once. Through all the moves, all the close calls, and late nights, Dean had stuck by his side. Not just stuck, refused to leave. Even when Sam got older and wouldn't admit to his night terrors, he'd wake up with the sun, his older brother snoring next to him on top of the sheets with his jeans and muddy boots still on.
Sam takes a deep breath and sighs, relishing the air flowing. On a big enough inhale, if he gets comfortable enough in his seat, flannel sleeves under his jacket snug against his torso, the hole in his chest feels a little less cavernous. Even at the thought of the word cavernous, his stomach growls loud enough to be heard over a heavy drum solo. Finally Dean looks over.
"Dude, was that you?"
Sam's lip curls up at the side facing his brother. "Yeah," he replies, "Sorry." He isn't.
Dean raises an eyebrow. "How long have you been hungry? That's the sound of a starved man." Sam opens his mouth to reply but Dean chuckles and continues, turning down the volume without looking, "Yeah, I could eat. Know any decent burger joints around here with beautiful waitresses?"
Sam breaks into a full smile. He knows he doesn't have to say anything, just looks over at his brother and shakes his head slightly. Dean returns the grin and turns back to the road. Led Zeppelin continues and the road does as well.
They get food and get on the road.
They settle for a quick drive-through. Both brothers agreed that they needed to find a place to crash as soon as possible. Dean attempted to flirt with the girl at the window but had made a bit of a fool of himself by knocking his big head on the top of the car. Twice. She'd been good-natured but Sam didn't see her wave goodbye as Dean swung around to the next window to pick up their order. A usual salad for Sam, bacon cheeseburger for Dean. Water for the younger and a Coke for the elder. Now with fuel in their bellies, it was only natural to make a stop for the car. Besides, Sam wants a pack of gum. He hasn't had a toothbrush in at least two weeks and is starting to feel a little gross.
Dean parks Baby by the closest gas station, a stone's throw from the McDonalds they'd just exited. Sam takes a swig of water and hops out of the car eagerly.
God, how good that feels! His muscles groan in almost pornographic pleasure- or was that him?- as he kicks out a couple times, then takes long strides toward the little rest shop. The metal handle hoists outward easily, perhaps because he's so eager, but Sam doesn't notice. Spearmint is calling his name. He takes one more gargantuan step, grabs two packs, and beelines for the bathroom. A couple minutes later he's walking back out the door at an easier stride. He can see Dean rolling his eyes through the rolled-down window.
"I'm not using your toothbrush." Sam clambers into the car and reaches out both arms. One grabs another swig of water and the other yanks the door shut. It shakes the Impala and Dean hisses through his teeth.
"Watch it, Sasquatch! That's my woman you're manhandlin'."
"Good thing you never let me drive, then," Sam mutters, tearing off the plastic wrap and flicking open a pack. Dean eyes it watchfully.
"I might if you toss me that other pack," he deadpans. Sam complies without blinking and pops a piece in his mouth, chewing quickly. He closes his eyes, places the gum under his tongue, and takes a long swallow of water. The added ice numbs his mouth, burns down his throat like tequila, and sends a small shiver through him.
A sharp rap at the window snaps him out of it. Dean's looking at him expectantly, stubbly chin gnoshing open-mouthed at the gum. Like tobacco, Sam wonders, Does he think he looks cool? More pertinently though, was Dean serious? Sam cranks down the window and asks.
Dean scoffs. "C'mon, bitch. You're always naggin' me." Sam pauses a moment more, the words bouncing like marbles between his ears before they rattle down a hole and he processes. Dean will never admit it, but he hates night driving. Once the sun's faded and Dean's drank the last of the gold from the sky, he tends to get sleepy without caffeine or loud music. Sam's caught him dozing a couple times before but didn't bother Dean after he woke him up.
This is probably for the best, anyway. Sam doesn't care for the road. The surroundings are much more interesting to him. Maybe it's been the months as a passenger, maybe it's his night-owl tendencies, but Sam thinks he'd be a better driver under these circumstances. And besides, Dean's tugging the door open now. Sam doesn't protest.
Once the brothers are in each other's seats, they swap dinners and Sam steps on the gas. He drives with a half grin facing the window until they've been on the freeway a while.
"Does this mean I get to pick the music?"
A beat passes. Sam looks over to see that Dean's pressed his lips together, eyes crinkled at the edges and twinkling.
His cakehole's shut.