Neither of them have said anything since they left the rest-stop thirty miles ago, and then it was just a 'You want me to get you a drink?' And a 'No, thank you', because during the 'I'm not talking to you' afterglow of an argument they're always weirdly polite to one another.
They've been being weirdly polite to each other for two days now. The politeness of strangers.
(Reason #42 to go: Big brothers are assholes.)
Sam's wondering why. Why Dean can have manners now, when he's tired and pissed and is clearly wilfully restraining himself from bursting out with obscenities at whatever Sam says to him, but he can't seem to master the art of polite conversation on a job, in an everyday, regular, normal setting…
Sam knows his brother refuses to use his manners as an act of rebellion against normal, and he wishes Dean would grow the fuck up, because he's been doing that shit all his life and it's about time he just dropped this grudge that he doesn't even know he's holding.
Dean's usually complete crap at grudges, he's admitted before, countless times, that he doesn't have the energy or the patience for'em. Makes Sam snort out loud thinking about it, because Dean holds a few grudges that he's spent practically his entire life not backing down from. Just doesn't realize it.
Sam might admire that about him, if he wasn't so irritated with his fucking anti-social, asshole, freak of a brother right now.
Dean looks over at Sam when he hears the soft snort, shifts in his seat.
“What?” he snaps out.
“Nothing...You're just such a dick sometimes, man.”
“Oh, don't even--you're the dick here, Sam, you're the one who--”
“--I'm not the one who made that lady cry, telling sick jokes about how her husband was raped in prison!” Here we go again, Sam thinks to himself, watching Dean roll his eyes and straighten in his seat a little, preparing for the impending next round. “I'm not the cynical, insensitive, jerk who is incapable of keeping his goddamn mouth shut for a minute!”
“Jesus Christ Sam, would'jew calm the hell down? The guy was in prison, it's not like he was some totally innocent soul.”
“So he deserved to get raped? Fuck's sake Dean, you can't just -”
“What? Can't just what?”
“Nothing. Just shut up.”
“You shut up... Dude, he was a bad guy, alright? And it's not like he was even attacked by other guys, it was just a spiritual ass-raping.” Dean's smirking again, Sam knows it without even looking at him, can hear it. Dean still thinks this is funny.
“Oh my god! Do you hear yourself? You think that makes it any less severe? He still felt the whole thing! And you think saying shit like that to his wife was appropriate? How the hell would you feel, Dean?”
Seriously, how the hell can his brother think any of this is okay? Fucking Dean's probably only arguing 'cause he was bored or something.
They're prickling on each others nerves. In all honesty it's got exactly sweet fuck all to do with some lady and her husband's spiritual harassment. This just happens to be a convenient way for them to argue without dragging anything too sensitive into it.
“We wouldn't even have been there if it wasn't for you and your little freedom kink, so you've only got yourself to blame, Sammy-boy,” Dean says, and tilts forward to flick the radio on. End of discussion.
What Dean just said is true, but Sam is sure half the time Dean knows he's wrong and debates with his ridiculous points of view anyway, just to get Sam riled up. Been going on like that since Sam can remember, Dean arguing with him that black's white and vice versa. Sam snorts again, knowing and hoping it'll irritate his brother. How can Dean not realize that he's where Sam really got his stubborn streak from, maybe it is from Dad, initially, but it was picked up by Dean first, was used by Dean and passed on down to Sam after him, like a hand-me-down sweater.
(Reason #43 to go: He doesn't wanna end up like Dean.)
Sam's still pissed when they find a motel, two hours later, hasn't said a word to Dean and barely even looked at him. 'Cause he knows he can hold a fucking mean grudge and thinks Dean deserves it right now.
(Reason #44 to go: He's so fucking sick of these shitty motels. It makes him tired to his goddamned bones every time he has to set foot in a new one.)
Sam knows it should be the other way around, that he should be the one sucking up, that Dean shouldn't be speaking to him right now and maybe Dean was entitled to do more than just punch Sam once then bundle him in the car like some kind of deranged kidnapper when they'd found each other two days ago.
But thinking it's funny that some guy was molested by spirits in prison? What kind of person thinks like that? Sam's never gonna get Dean's twisted sense of humor. His brother's favorite things to chuckle at include roadkill, clichéd and cheesy porn, little kids having temper tantrums in supermarkets. Sam just doesn't get it.
“You want the shower first?” Dean asks, tossing his duffel down on a bed, rolling his right shoulder.
Sam bites his tongue. He is so not going to ask how Dean's shoulder is, even though he knows it gets a bit tender and stiff in cold weather. Even though he feels guilty that he didn't take over the driving halfway here 'cause sitting like that only makes Dean's shoulder ache worse.
Sam still doesn't know how Dean managed to fuck up his shoulder in the first place, only knows there aren't any scars on the outside that he can see, knows that it happened near El Paso and Dean said it'd gotten pulled out of the socket and tore up pretty bad, now drop it and go to sleep the last time Sam asked him about it.
“Ah, the silent treatment? Real mature, Sammy. Take a cold shower then, dude, see if I care.” Dean pulls his shaving kit out and saunters into the grotty bathroom, slithering out of his shirt and throwing it over his shoulder as he goes.
(Reason #45 to go: He's not a fucking baby and doesn't need to be treated like one.)
It's much later when Sam finally decides to break his silence. There's a red glow seeping in through the blinds, 'cause even if they did close fully they're still too shitty to actually keep any light out. They're roomed too close to the motel bar for either of them to be getting any sleep 'til it closes, and did he mention he was sick of these fucking motels?
They're both trying to sleep anyway, despite the laughing and door swinging, the quiet hum and twang of country music. Hell, Sam can even hear the pool balls snapping and clattering whenever somebody breaks if he listens hard enough.
“You wouldn't think it was so funny if it'd been a woman getting attacked in her cell at night,” Sam states, to the ceiling. He hears Dean's bed creak.
“Yeah. So?” Dean's voice is quiet in the dark.
“So why is different 'cause it was a guy?” Man, he knows Dean's not one of these closed-minded, old-fashioned, homophobic guys. He knows because he's seen Dean look at guys in bars the same way he looks at stacked secretaries, and he's pretty sure if he wasn't around all the time, Dean wouldn't restrain himself to just looking.
There's another reason to add to his growing list of arguments to go (#46: Dean won't have to pretend to be a big, invincible, completely red-blooded, meat-head any more. Dean'll be able to do what he wants, once Sam's not around for him to make 'bad' impressions on.)
“It's not different... I can't help it if I just thought it was funny, Sammy, 's just the way it is.” Dean's words are muffled, almost slurred from across the room, he must really be sleepy. He sounds further away than Sam thought the gap between the beds was.
“Dean,” Sam sighs, “That's not-...I just don't get you, man -”
“Get t'sleep, Sam.”
(Reason #47 to go: He wants to make a real difference. A difference that people can see.)
Sam's reading an incredibly biased article about how the city council think shutting down a school in the area will have a positive economic effect on the surrounding local businesses.
He and Dean just spent two consecutive nights ridding that very same school of all it's volatile poltergeists and making sure the damn things never have the opportunity to come back. Dean got thrown over the principals desk the first night, suffered two broken fingers and a concussion. Sam got stabbed in the calf with two freshly sharpened pencils that went right through his jeans, and he was so distractedly full of adrenaline at the time that he didn't even notice they were sticking out of his leg like porcupine spines until he tried to get in the car afterward.
Now the city wants to bulldoze the whole place, anyway. Typical.
The article is full of quotes from mothers who certainly Do Not approve of the changes to come. Sam doesn't approve either, but they're leaving the town right now, another job well done behind them, so it's never gonna matter what he thought anyway.
“Fuckin' punk,” Dean says, blissfully oblivious to the town and its school troubles, eyes flickering back and forth between the road and the rear view mirror. Sam twists his neck to see what his brother's referring to, but the car and driver in question chooses that moment to pull up fast in the neighbouring lane. Engine roaring dangerously. Challenging.
Dean snorts and dips his head a little, pretending to check the stop light again but also taking note that the next quarter mile of road ahead is clear.
“Can we beat him?” That question coming out of Sam's mouth must surprise his brother, 'cause Dean's eyebrows shoot up before he covers with a small grin and looks over their potential competition again before turning back to Sam.
“'68 Mustang Fastback,” Dean says, and shakes his head as the kid driving it revs the engine again.
“That's a no, then?” Sam asks. Dean's the car enthusiast here.
“It's like the car from 'Bullit' dude, that's a hell fucking no,” Dean concurs. He shoots another admiring glance at the Mustang before he turns back to Sam. “Unless I shoot one of his tyres out?” The expression he's wearing is one of pure undiluted mischief and it takes the already ridiculously meek age out of Dean's face like magic botox, leaves him looking about ten years old for a spilt second.
Sam barks out a laugh he didn't know was in there. Has a memory of all three of them in a Sleep-Eazy. Passing through Minnesota, maybe. It's cold and smells like mouldy earth, like outside that shouldn't be inside, and the TV doesn't work despite Dean's best efforts with a screwdriver and some hefty lengths of duct tape. He's being taught how to really play cards, him and Dean against Dad, and Dean's whispering in his ear the most valuable part of the lesson; “Rules-schmules, dude. If you can't beat'em? Cheat'em.”
Sam feels something in his gut flutter and settle, feels his own grin reach his ears.
(Reason #1 to stay: He'd never say it out loud, but he knows they're still best friends and remembers a time of super secret pacts under duvet forts when they always would be. It makes him sorrowful that's he's the one who's growing out of it, 'cause Dean's a lot of fucking fun and probably won't ever get any older than their favorite times together... Okay, so maybe big brothers aren't assholes all the time. )
“I think that might be considered 'bad form' in drag racing etiquette, Dean.”
The light they're waiting on finally changes and their would-be opponent screeches away from the line, winning. Dean makes a hum that might be agreement and pulls away slowly, smirking.
“You know, they're gonna knock that school down?” It must be a selfish curiosity that makes Sam say it. He wishes he could take it back immediately as soon as it's out of his mouth, guilty, for not leaving his brother in a hassle-free ignorant state. Dean spares a brief glance over at him.
“Oh yeah?” he says, like he's waiting for elaboration, the rest of the gossip that's supposed to come with that statement.
“Whaddya mean 'oh yeah'? You're not pissed off? That we just wasted a two days here?”
“Why would I be pissed off? We got the job done didn't we?”
“Yeah, but that's-”
“-Well, that's all that matters, Sammy.”
Yeah. Dean's definitely the number one reason to stay, and fuck if that one reason isn't trumping all the others that Sam's collected for going, so far.
(Reason #48 to go: No more sleaze-ball by association label.)
“Man, would you stop?” Sam hisses.
It's embarrassing is what it is. Dean's is such a pervert and doesn't consider that they're sitting together so anyone who might be watching'll think Sam's a pervert too, by association.
“What?” Dean knows exactly what.
“She's clearly underage, cut it the hell out, alright!” Sam seethes at him over the table.
“No harm in lookin',” Dean says. His gaze doesn't leave their waitress’s ass, weaving back and forth around tables and chairs, “'Sides, she's enjoying it.” Dean licks his lips, predatory, and spreads himself in his chair, keeps on watching her, unabashedly obvious.
Unbelievable. “You're sick. There's something wrong with you.” It's the only possible explanation.
Dean has more sex than anyone else Sam knows or has ever known. The guy was out until the small hours just last night for Christ's sake, there's no fathomable way he can be that horny again. Jesus, Sam hasn't gotten laid for at least a month now and he isn't slavering all over every woman that wanders past like a dog smelling heat, and he's supposed to be the teenager here.
“Knock. It. Off.” Sam mashes his foot onto Deans under the table.
“You know Sam, you're about as much fun as itchy balls... she looks legal to me,” Dean says, deadpan, finally dragging his eyes away from his prey and setting them on Sam instead.
“Yeah, you and your crab infestation'd know all about that,” Sam scoffs. “There's no way she's older than fifteen, dude. Ask her next time she comes over here if you're so sure.”
“You ask her, you're the one who wants to know so bad,” Dean leans over the table a little. “Jesus, it's not like I'm getting her tattooed or pregnant or something. Guys look at chicks, Sammy, it's what we do...You should try it sometime.”
“Your face, fuck off.”
“What? That doesn't even make any sense!”
“You don't make any sense,” Dean accuses, jabbing his fork in mid air between them. Sam groans and drags his palm over his face.
(Reason #49 to go: He can never win. It's futile. Like arguing against a twenty-two year old child with immature yet undeniable logic.)
Sam gets back to his breakfast before Dean can start mimicking everything he says. Later, when they're leaving, Dean comes strolling out of the diner doors, looking his usual swaggering, cock-sure self to any onlooker. Sam knows better...
“She's sixteen next weekend, happy? Now get in the damn car before I smack you.”
(Reason #2 to stay: He'd really miss the look on Dean's face right now. Man, talk about a Kodak moment.)
(Reason #whatever-the-fuck, to go: It's not safe, and he's always scared.)
“I thought you said it was a werewolf! Shit, Dean, you said we'd be after a were--”
“--Just fuckin' drive, Sam. Fuck!”
“What was it?”
“Hell if I know, 's dead now though... Shit, put your foot down, wouldjja Sam? I'm bleeding all over the seat here-”
“Shit. Okay, man...Where are we even going? You need a hospital?”
“Dean, don't fuck around alright. Do. You. Need. A hospital?”
“No! Just get us to a motel... Fuck! Dad is gonna kick my ass for this.”
“Fuck you! What the hell was that fucking thing?”
“I don't even- you know it looked like, Sam? A fuckin' camel... but with wings...”
“A camel with wings? I think you've lost too much blood, man... it was more like a llama, anyway. A cave dwelling llama, with really big teeth... And wings.”
“...Oh yeah, great. Whenever some chick asks what happened to my leg I'll be able to tell her a demented, cave-dwelling llama took a chunk outta me. That's a good one, Sam, tell me another...”
“Yeah, laugh it up, Sammy! You wanna step on it? We're not driving to church! I'm bleeding out here!”
“Can it, man, I can see it's stopped bleeding already. We can't afford to get pulled over, so just be patient.”
“Whatever. Just hurry the hell up.”
“Hey, you're not, like, worried about llama rabies or something are you, Dean? When was your last Tetanus jab?”
“Sam, I swear to god...”
(Reason #3 to stay/go: Dean's never been able to say no to him, and they both know it.)
Dad's probably gonna murder Dean for this. Maybe with an ax. Dad probably won't even wipe Dean's blood and guts of the blade before he comes and chops Sam up with it, too. That's how mad Dad's gonna be. Sam'd feel guilty, but he's too excited. Too nervous. He's already got butterflies. Sam's got his own shit to deal with, Dean's big enough and ugly enough to look after himself. Broken fingers and some missing thigh muscle notwithstanding. It's about time Dean took some initiative over his own life.
“Dad's gonna murder you for this.” Sam feels the need to let his brother know anyway, just in case Dean's not clear on that, 'cause Dean ain't exactly known for his bright ideas.
“Since when do you care what Dad says or does?” Dean shoots back without missing a beat.
Ah, touché. Sam's so not gonna push it right now so he decides not to say anything for a while. Dean can be as bitchy as he wants, doesn't alter the fact that they changed direction last night and are now heading straight for California. Heading straight for California as fast as Dean can make the Impala can carry them 'cause they both know that Dean was sent out with a strict mission to find his baby brother and haul his ungrateful, scrawny, run-away ass back to home-base for Dad to kick black and blue.
They both know Dad's expecting'em back tomorrow afternoon, and when they don't show? They both know Dad's gonna slip into that eerily, deceptively calm mood he goes into sometimes, he's gonna climb into his fully loaded truck, and he's gonna come fucking looking for their rogue asses himself. There aren't many scarier thoughts than that.
“How come you changed your mind?” Sam knows he shouldn't even talk. He shouldn't be doing anything that might snap Dean out of this phase he's in. He knows Dean's as impulsive as all get-out on a regular day and could turn the car around and change his mind again like a passing breeze, but Sam has to ask. Has to find out why.
Dean doesn't say anything, doesn't even acknowledge that Sam's spoken, but he doesn't turn any music on either. Sam's somewhat of an expert on these Dean-isms by now, so he waits it out. He's still waiting it out an hour later. Dean'd visibly winced when he'd changed gears and Sam had forcibly suggested they stop for the night somewhere. Either that or Dean could let him take over the driving.
So here they are. Another fucking dilapidated motel next door to a rowdy truck-stop bar, and Dean still hasn't answered the question. Sam knows Dean hasn't forgotten, knows his brother's still just thinking about what to say, how to say it. Probably needs some lubricant in the form of whatever cheap, foul-tasting, alcohol he can get his hands on, to help the words slip out.
Jesus, the guy's like a freakin' Ent or something. Dean'd probably take that as a compliment if Sam told him so and that's why Sam doesn't. (It took Dean three weeks to finish 'The Lord of The Rings' the first time he gave in and read it, and the only review he gave when Sam asked for his opinion was a minimal, “It sucked.” But he picked it up and read it again a few days later, so it can't have sucked that hard.)
(Reason #51 to go: Boundaries and personal space will actually exist.)
Dean's lounging on Sam's designated bed when Sam comes out of the bathroom. Shower was lame, like everything else around here.
“Get'cher dirty-ass boots off of my bed, dude,” Sam says, his wet towel splatting right in Dean's face.
“You wanna go check out that bar, maybe?... Have some beers, find us a couple'a cowgirls?” It doesn't sound appealing in the slightest. Even if Dean hadn't mumbled the words like he was ashamed to be suggesting such activities. Sam thinks going to a bar is the last thing he wants to do. Dean sits up, doesn't even throw the towel back. In fact, he starts folding it meticulously in his lap.
See, now this is why Sam just took off without telling anyone. He doesn't want the image of Dean doing weird shit like folding a towel to break his heart and make him not want to go. But it is. It fucking is.
“No, man. Why'nt we just stay in, huh? I'll even let you control the remote.”
Dean closes his eyes. A second too long to be a blink, then he's dropping the miserable look off his face quick before Sam gets a chance to really see it and is letting his smart mouth take over again. Putting internal his freak-out on hold for now.
“Uh, there is no 'let', Sammy... And put some clothes on, dude, what are you? Trying to be an incubus now? You should know you can't seduce me.”
That's better, Sam thinks. That's more like it. Sam rolls his eyes and turns away to get dressed, hiding his smile and not bothering to correct Dean's deliberately inaccurate reference to an incubus. He has to wait another couple of hours and half a bottle of nasty alcohol before he gets his answer. They're both jammed, knees and backs braced, in the cramped strip of carpet between the beds. Drinking vodka that Sam's pretty sure Dean stole, 'cause no way would he have wasted good money on something that tastes and smells exactly like fucking nail polish remover.
There's a deck of cards that got shuffled over and over but never got dealt. The ace of hearts is slowly disappearing under one of the beds, never to be found again.
“Xena or Wonder Woman?”
“Ohhh, good one Sammy... Uhm... Xena.”
“Dude c'mon, she's a warrior princess! I guess you'd choose Wonder Woman?” Dean says it like Wonder Woman is a skanky, flea ridden, Super girl-wannabe-hooker. Like Dean wouldn't do her in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
“Of course I would,” Sam says, “After all, she is the sane choice, you freak.”
(Reason #52 to go: California girls.)
Dean snorts and takes another swig from their toxic vodka, grimacing and making the appropriate 'blaeagh' noise, before thrusting the bottle back into Sam's hand.
“If I took you back you'd only run away again, right? Hell, I know you're not happy, Sammy. You want out, and you could'a gotten into a million colleges for all I know,” Dean says, head tipped back, eyes on the brown, damp stained, ceiling. “Nope, you'd just run away again. Without leaving a note next time and I wouldn't even know where to start looking for you... 'Least this way I'd know where to find you... If anything happened.”
(Reason #53 to go: He's wanted this since he found out what college was. Wanted it and worked for it. And he never asked to be a fucking hunter, he never wanted any of Dads shit put on his shoulders too. He shouldn't be forced to stay when it's not safe and he doesn't want it and there's a perfectly good avenue out of it, just waiting for him, beckoning for him, out in Palo Alto. College is the right thing for him to do. He deserves it.)
He only half wakes up. Dean's nudging him, pulling him upright and shushing him back to sleep at the same time, pushing him onto a bed, which yeah, it's a helluva lot nicer than the floor. Sam's aware when the bed dips next to him, feels the heat from Dean's body, a full length radiator against his flank.
“Get'n your own bed, dude.”
“This is my bed, drunk-ass, ” Dean tells him, and doesn't go anywhere.
Sam wakes up when Dean slaps at his sore, punctured, calf and orders him to rise and fuckin' shine, princess, places to go, people to screw, in a voice that already sounds too much like their Dad’s. Dean's already packed the car too, so all Sam has to do is take a piss, wash up, and then climb in.
The car's warmed up inside, engine idling like lion purring. Dean chucks a bottle of water into Sam's lap and reverses out of the lot alarmingly fast, spraying all their neighbour's windows with gravel.
“Thanks for doing this, Dean.”
Dean squints against the morning sun, and leans over Sam's lap to rustle around in the glove box for his sunglasses. Pretends he didn't hear. Happy to remain in the fortress of solitude that is his internal freak-out. They're passing road signs for Carson City and Reno and arguing about--of all things--the fucking prophet Nostradamus and his credibility, when the song comes on the radio.
“He thought his visions were divine intervention, messages from god, dude... He said he invoked an Arch angel... C'mon man,” Dean snorts, sceptical as ever. But hey, at least he's not creepily silent anymore.
“Studies these days say he most likely induced his own visions, with the herbs he used to burn while he meditated, and apparently his abilities were hereditary. He said he came from a long line of visionaries, and learned the rituals he used from his grandfather, who was--”
“--Shhhh. Shuddup, listen,” Dean cuts Sam off, mid-argument. Sam opens his mouth again, to swear maybe, 'cause he hates when Dean does that. But then he hears, as Dean turns up the volume, those familiar guitar chords that everybody recognizes.
Dean sets sail his grin over at Sam, turns it up just like the voice on the radio instructs, fingers already tapping out the beat on the steering wheel, mouthing along with the words, remembering it. '-Carry me home to see my kin, Singing songs about the Southland-'. Sam sighs and turns to look out of the window, stubborn. Then groans in fake agony when Dean starts singing along, loud and deliberately off key when the chorus comes along, trying to goad Sam into doing it with him.
Sam surprises himself by keeping up in his head. He does know all the words to this one. He remembers a sweltering hot day when Dean first officially inherited the Impala and played this song over and over in homage to the state they were in at the time. Both of them shirtless and sticky and speeding down bumpy, badly kept roads, gleeful in the knowledge that Dad would never approve.
All the windows open so the sweet, cool, fresh air could rush in and soothe them. He and Dean were singing along, top of their lungs, voices in a perfect natural harmony that they've always just had. Sam remembers feeling like that was freedom.
Dean's head's bobbing now, too, and he turns to sing the words at Sam, 'Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth!' Sam feels his own traitorous feet tapping, his vocal chords straining from not singing when the chorus starts up again. Sam has to reach over and grab the wheel, 'cause of course, Dean needs both his hands to play the air guitar during the lead break.
“Jesus! You're supposed to be driving! Dean!” Sam can't even scold his brother properly. Impossible to keep a straight face while Dean's being an imaginary one man band and looks like he's loving every second of it; eyes squeezed shut in concentration, shaking his head, feeling it.
Sam gives, and chimes in for the last verse, 'Now, Muscle Shoals has got the swampers, they've been known to pick a song or two!' Which only serves to earn him a rough and boisterous kiss from Dean, mmwwahh-ing all up one side of his face. Sam swears at it and wipes it away immediately, as Dean modifies the next lyrics to 'Sam, YOU get me off so much'.
Sam, being an expert in Dean-isms by now, guesses that's Dean's way of telling him 'you're welcome, baby brother'.