When Dean returned from the men’s room yawning and scrubbing a hand over his face, Sam was digging in the crates of books and files in the back seat. He piled a few in his arms, cursed when one slipped out, and stacked a few on the top of the car as he bent to gather up the loose papers strewn in the footwell.
He froze when he found a sketch, the left edge ragged where it had been torn out of a book, and stained with a thin line of rusty brown. D. W. was pencilled in at the bottom.
It was a sketch of Sam. Sam, shirtless, leaning up on one elbow and smiling. Dean had gotten their father’s eye for detail, and it showed in the way he’d carefully rendered the snarls of Sam’s bedhead and the sinuous lines of his muscles. A sheet was draped over Sam’s hips, barely hinted at with light lines, and there was no background, only Sam.
His dream of earlier hit him full force, and more came to him, memory strong enough that it felt like one of his visions.
“What, am I one of your French girls?” Sam asked. His body was tired and sweaty and sweetly sore.
“Shut up and be still,” Dean said, grinning at him.
Just as he had been then, Sam was still. He stood, mouth half open, frozen in place.
"There's construction on the interstate," said Dean, folding a map and stuffing it in the glove compartment, "Faster to take the county roads til we hit Saint Louis. Need a hand back there?"
“No, I’ve got it,” Sam said quickly, slipping all the loose sheets into a book along with the sketch. He climbed into the passenger seat beside Dean, and then they were on their way.
There was something about county roads that Sam loved. The narrow blacktop and the way that the Impala seemed to take up the whole width of the road, as if it had been made for her and only her. The way that the sun flickered through the trees in quick dazzles of light. He watched out the window for a while as they took a heavily tree-lined road, smelling dust and pollen and earth.
Then he turned to his books. The sketch, the dream, they stayed at the back of his mind, but he kept them firmly there, locked away as he pored over pages. He found another mention of the woman, one that brought up a memory of standing on a seaswept outcropping of rock, the sky dark and heavy with unshed rain, Dean a warm and steady presence at his back. His bedrock, always.
Words swam up beneath his tongue. They were beginning to come to him in full passages, as if it were some language in which he’d once been fluent, and was now beginning to pick up again after years of disuse.
Dean turned down the music. “Anything in there that’ll stop a priestess?”
Sam looked up, and Dean continued, “You were talking in your sleep.”
“Oh,” Sam said, and his eyes went unfocused. The priestess. Memories and intuition wove themselves together, and he spoke slowly. “Whatever they did to me at Fort Cloud… I’m the weapon. I’m the one who has to stop her.”
He watched the trees go by for a few seconds, fingers tracing the binding of the book in his lap. “But not alone,” he said. “I need you with me, you’re a part of it. You keep me… balanced. That’s not the right word. Human, maybe. The things I have to do kind of... tear me apart.”
"I ain't going anywhere," said Dean, one side of his mouth lifting into a smile, "Who else would sit in a car with me doing...this?"
He popped in a tape and did a crude impression of Mick Jagger as Honky Tonk Woman pulsed through the speakers, pooching his lips and gyrating his head to the beat. Shouting over the refrain, Dean said, "We stop for a room tonight, I'm gonna load up on ammo. We're lucky we can put on the hurt without you going atomic."
They checked in near the Pennsylvania state line, and Dean sank onto his bed and pulled off his boots and lifted two beers from a brown paper bag. He hadn't had a dirty thought about Sam all day, and felt the worst was past.
Sam sat on the bed opposite him, placed a book on the blanket beside him, and accepted a beer. After a swallow, he dangled it between his legs and stared at Dean for a few long seconds, his expression serious.
“Dean,” he said, his voice quiet.
Taking this for battle nerves, Dean asked, "What's on your mind?"
The sketch tucked away in the book seemed to burn beside Sam. He stared at Dean, taking in the easy confidence and sincerity in his face. Always there for Sam.
Sam took a deep breath and decided that now was not the time to open a chapter that perhaps neither of them could handle. He took a swallow of beer.
“I’m starting to feel strange,” Sam said. “Like the magic is coming back, like it’s in me. You know that other language? Well, I caught myself thinking in it earlier, came to me just as easy as English.”
Dean listened, watching beer foam over the lip of Sam's bottle and spill down his hand. Sam needed a haircut. And how old was that flannel shirt he had on?
"Well that's good. That's great even. It means you can control it, right?" said Dean, unsure, "What kind of things do you remember?"
Taking Sam's wrist in his hand, Dean began pulling stray threads from Sam’s sleeve.
Sam watched this idly. “Yeah, I hope it means I can control it.” Dean turned his wrist over, worrying at a long thread. “I remember… a lot of it’s mixed up. I killed a monster the size of a house just by squeezing my hand into a fist. If I tried hard, I could kill a person with one word. Not even said out loud, just in my head. And the way I used to burn hot when I was hopped up on demon blood… it’s different, with this kind of power. I burned cold. I’m already starting to feel the power in me, it’s like this throbbing, tidal thing, and I’m already getting cold all the time.”
He took a drink of his beer, and it was a frozen bullet sliding down his throat. He shivered and placed the bottle on the floor. Dean’s hand was warm on his skin. “I dream a lot about water. Being on the coast, being on the beach. Being pulled under by the priestess. I can’t tell if that happened, or if it’s going to, or what.”
Dean had gone still, thumb running up and down Sam's vein, but he caught himself and placed both hands flat on the bed. "I could run you a bath or...I don't really need the extra blankets, or..." His gut tightened, desperate to keep his hands at his sides. "I could find you a girl."
Sam laughed. “Thanks, but I’ll pass,” he said. “And water doesn’t really sound all that welcoming right now, either. I think I will take you up on an extra blanket tonight, if you don’t need it.” He knew with a guilty pang that Dean would give it to him even if he did need it, would probably insist on giving Sam all his covers, because Dean was Dean and Sam was Sam. And Sam always came first, whether he wanted to or not.
Not wanting to sleep in his jacket, Dean pushed their beds together, all of the blankets on Sam with the spare coverlet shared between them while the TV glowed across the room. Batman punched the Penguin, WHAM, KAPOW, ZOWIE, and Dean sat against the headboard, alternately drinking his beer and experimenting with the worm in the jar.
"Check this out Sammy."
Taking out his walkman, Dean slapped a pair of headphones on either side of the jar and pressed play. The worm gave a little flick, then settled. Dean pressed stop. "Yeah yeah, Steely Dan is an acquired taste."
He tried a second tape, and the worm hunched into a ball. Dean's eyes narrowed. "So you don't like Queen. Huh. How about..."
He popped in a third tape. Pressed play. A high, nearly inaudible hum came from within the jar. The worm appeared to look around for the source of the music, its head swelling, and with a pop painted the inside of the jar in a collage of fine blue viscera. Dean pumped his fist in the air. "HA! I knew it!"
Sam grinned and scooted closer, dragging the blankets with him, to better examine the remains of the worm in the jar. “Too bad the Men of letters didn’t have Walkmans… what’d you play it, anyway?"
Sam's body was very close, but Dean was too eager about his experiment to be alarmed. "Blue Oyster Cult. I was trying to think what could disrupt Mermaid Radio, confuse the signal, ya know? And if any band is gonna sneak cosmic subliminal messaging in their music..." he twisted one of the headphones around and pressed it to Sam's ear, "Dude, guitar solo."
They lay on the pillow, heads touching, finishing the On Your Feet or On Your Knees tour album and then Don't Fear the Reaper and then Dean insisted they listen through the live version of Veteran of the Psychic Wars for the, as he put it, 'sweet ass riffs'. "I'll hook up a loudspeaker system to the car tomorrow. If we can broadcast this riding through Arkham, maybe we won't need so many bullets."