He's mildly annoyed that the Hook Man lore wasn't quite what they'd encountered. A man doing a the bidding of a priest? That was a tad too judgemental in his opinion. Judgement is overdone, it lacks flair.
"Man, I hate that our hunts ruin the fun scary stories for us," says Dean, as he jumped into the car. For once, he just wants a ghost who does stuff for the theatrics and not some priest or god approved vendetta.
"Dean, I don't know how to tell you this but all scary stories are boring."
There's a pause. Then, a lurch. The rattling of metal as Sam fits himself into the car. He used to be so much shorter before he left for college. Dean's noticed it. Somehow, their car's noticed it too.
"Says the dude who reads horror novels despite their incoherent monster lore," quips Dean. They are already moving out of the town, the buildings getting more lost and lonely. All towns are alive at the center, pumping in life and mellowing out as you move outwards.
Even Palo Alto was.
Dean remembers his drive there. The way the streets lit up as he neared Sam's place, as if the streets were guiding him there. Throwing him into what must've been their heart, just so he could pull his brother out of the only life he'd ever wanted.
A life Sam had to glimpse again today, through a shoddy little looking glass. Lori, the young frat house kids, even the feel of the town. Dean hated that it was right there— this easy gateway to a life he'd taken from Sam.
"Sam, hey," Dean's can't help himself, as he asks, "Do you miss it?"
Sam doesn't hear him, at first. Or it's possible he's wondering what Dean's asking him about. Dean wants to curse at himself, because, what if Sam thinks he's asking about something else? Being with Jessica? Hunting? The semblance of happines Lori could be? The town they're leaving behind?
Any answers would suffice, truly. Sam's thoughts have been locked away and out of his reach for a while now. Dean clears his throat, and asks again, "Do you miss being at college?"
There's a world of answers that could break his heart, and a world of quietness that he knows Sam will give him instead.
But instead, Sam says, "I don't miss Stanford."
He says it so very softly. So quiet and hollow. Dean hates it.
"Well, for one, I didn't like college because of what it entails. Parties, dorms, dining common food? I could do without it," Sam gives him a pointed look. His next words seem to take him time to form. Maybe there isn’t anything else that needs saying.
Dean doesn’t expect to get anything else out of him anyways. This was just a pointless attempt at understanding a life Sam could never have. That’s when Sam starts tapping the cars dashboard. His fingers quietly making hollowed out noises, in no particular beat.
The gesture reminds him of a Sam who’d tap away at diner tables all night, waiting to tell John some detail about his day. Him telling John that he wants to stick around at his school for the next two months for a Math competition. It’s Sam telling Dean about his favourite Science teacher’s praise for a paper.
This is Sam bracing for his heartbeat to give itself a voice.
“I don’t miss college but I miss being—“
“Normal,” Dean finishes for him.
“No, Dean. I miss being safe.”
“Safe? You didn’t even salt your doors or windows,” Dean says. He remembers the day he broke into Sam and Jessica’s place, and the way he’d wanted to shake Sam up and demand to know why he had n’t given a shit about his safety. Dean doesn’t intend to raise his voice, but before he knows it he’s screaming, “You were the complete opposite of safe!”
This is when Dean expects to hear Sam scream back at him. He fucked up. This is what John would say, what Bobby would tell Sam, and it’s possibly not what he wants to hear at all.
“Well, you’re right,” Sam replies, as quiet as the highway they’re driving on.
“If I’d done what I was born to— what you and Dad always did— maybe, she’d still be here and I wouldn’t be out on this road with you,” he’s looking at Sam as he says this, and Dean realises the enormity of what he’d say. He’d point blank told his brother that Jessica’s death was on him.
Dean shakes his head, knowing that whatever he can say will only make this worse. After all, Jessica’s death wasn’t on Sam alone, Dean was the one who dragged his brother away from whatever safety he’d found.
“No, it’s because of me. I should’ve done better, but see that’s the thing. I was so lost in that feeling of safety, that I forgot what life is like for us. So, yes. I miss those years when I didn’t give a shit about hunting and the world felt like it liked me,
I miss the safety of the library. I miss how it felt to tell Jessica about my day and go to sleep with her by my side, thinking that everything in my past was forgotten. Thinking that I wasn’t the reason mom died! That maybe I could live out a safe live, where all I had to worry about was my rent or my next essay deadline.”
Dean’s eyes are on the road but everything in him is screaming at him to pull over and just scream at the unfairness of it all. His brother is bruised and broken, and today’s hunt has nothing to do with it.
“I miss it so much, Dean,” and he does, because Dean can see it in his eyes. And in that moment, all he wants is to punish and flay whoever it is that etched the universe this way. Who decided that Sam shouldn’t get a happy ending? This safe life he’d dreamt and dreamt of?
Someday, Sam will wake up without a gun underneath his pillow and without a salt line on his window. He will. And if Dean does one thing with his life, he knows it will be making sure Sammy gets to see that day.