"I usually charge $150 an hour."
What happens in Branson, Missouri stays in Branson, Missouri.
Sam's response is fuzzy over the phone. "Dean, it's his birthday," he repeats.
Dean heaves a sigh and from across the parking lot, watches Kevin become someone he's not. It's his birthday.
Kevin's checking in under a pseudonym, charming and flirtatious. He gets his room key. He puts in his request for no maid service--if you know what he means; he leans against the desk. He takes the ballpoint the desk girl'd been chewing and fucking commands it.
Judging by the flourish of his elbow, his signature is bold and loopy.
From the other end of the line: "Dean?"
"Sorry. I'm just"--he wipes his free hand down his face--"Missouri's kind of a haul for a combo plate, man. And falafel tastes like shit."
"You didn't have to go, if you're tired. I'd have taken him." I'm fine, you know, Sam insinuates. "Hell, you could have let Kevin drive."
"You're kidding, right."
Sam says that like it's supposed to mean something.
Inside, Kevin winks. And that's a blush in response, if Dean ever saw one. He thinks maybe this is Kevin's best attempt at being him; at being Dean Winchester. The last time someone had played that game, things got simple, and then messy: Kill Lilith. Jumpstart Apocalypse.
Dean wonders if that's really Sam's opinion of him--simple, and then messy.
He doesn't think so, but maybe it should be.
Kevin's done. He whistles, and gestures toward the second floor.
Dean rolls his eyes. Kevin "Solo" is an asshole.
"Can't talk now, Sammy. I'm being summoned."
Sam ignores him. "You could stay the night, you know. Get some sleep, keep him company. It's his birthday." Christ, Sam's really harping on this birthday thing.
"Yeah, cuz I'm who he wants at his party," Dean scoffs, and hangs up.
But when he meets Kevin "heed my whistle" Solo at the foot of the stairwell, Kevin's shaking. Outside, in the sun, away from the desk and the jailbait, Kevin says, "I thought she was going to kill me. I just kept thinking--she might be--"
It's not Dean Kevin's trying to be. (Bullet dodged, Dean figures.) Kevin couldn't have seen that from Dean, not this year. They haven't known each other long enough for Kevin to have stolen the act; because if Dean was ever that person, it wasn't in this century.
Kevin Solo's afraid, and he's the job. That's all.
Barb Schiller pulls up her pantyhose and tells Dean he's gonna be a tall one--she can tell. She has twin sons in the grade above him, and they got tall quick.
Dean zips his fly and tries to shake the lipstick out of his hair.
Dean leaves his fuck-up on the wall and starts over on the wall adjacent.
"Dude, you're acting like a zombie," says Kevin, from the bed.
Dean doesn't look back. It's not like Kevin knows that the sigil is--well, that the sigil isn't. Whoever invented this kind of magic, it sure as hell wasn't God; even to a Prophet of the Lord, it's strictly gibberish. (There we go. This one, this one's legit.)
Dean can't remember who they learned it from. Maybe Ruby.
Fuck. One off day, and suddenly the whole world wants to be an echo chamber when it grows up. "You're real good company too, ticker tape," he says. "Six goddamn hours across flat-ass Kansas, and the only word you said was 'falafel.' Over and over again. You realize that, right?"
"It's almost seven," Kevin points out. Speaking of falafel. "And I don't know what time they close. We should go soon, you know?"
"You're not coming," Dean says. "You can have whatever you want, but you're getting it in a doggie bag. These ain't therapy watercolors I'm drawing, here."
Dean shakes the can and sprays another sigil over the door. He coughs, and tells Kevin to open a window.
Kevin drops back onto the bed with an exaggerated thud. "Wouldn't opening a window kind of defeat the purpose?"
"Fine, huff paint. I don't care."
"Food is like, the one thing that isn't totally shitty about the world. I don't want it in a fucking doggie bag."
"Oh, I hear you. And you're not coming," Dean says again, because apparently the first time he hadn't been clear.
"I don't know the menu," Kevin objects truculently. Which officially lands him in whiny bitch territory. But this isn't about the falafel. It's about that year he spent alone. The nine months on a boat. This month in the bunker. Going on seven hours with nothing but Dean.
He still says, "And God said, let there be smartphones."
"What, you can't protect me from the tzatziki monster?"
"Put that fan against the window. It'll clear out the smell."
"I'm not just some sheltered kid, you know," Kevin says, unprompted. There isn't a damn reason in the world Dean would have wanted to have this conversation right now. Or ever. "Everyone always thinks that, but it's not true."
Yeah it is. It's true.
(How many times have you fixed a room like this, Dean? How many monsters have you locked out? How many times have you trapped yourself in a no-tell motel, just like this one?)
"Just fucking do the window," Dean growls. He doesn't even have the grace to be original in his shittiness. There's a pattern, and it yokes around him like this is what he was born to do. Family business and all.
Then he backtracks. "The faster we get this done, the faster you get your falafel. I'll bring you dinner."
And he backtracks some more. "This is the best I can do. Look, I'm sorry."
But Kevin's not listening to him. He's just a kid; he's over danger, like it's some fad. He can't stand it anymore, and he's waiting for it to go out of style.
He's just a kid.
If Dean could've known himself at Kevin's age, it'd be all he could do not to shout. You are so stupid, you are so fucking stupid. And you have no idea what's coming for you.
"I'm sorry," he says, over Kevin's muttering. Kevin just speaks louder.
"--and like, people always write about like, overcoming the adversity of being Asian in whitebread fucking America, or like, taking their first transnational flight or something."
Dean has no idea what Kevin's talking about anymore.
He's not sure if Kevin's even talking to him, if he'd understand if he'd bothered to listen from the top, or if this whole episode was as unmoored as it seemed. There's a little spittle at the corner of Kevin's mouth--dry lips, voice hoarse from all the falafelfalafelfalafel-ing from earlier--so either explanation's on the table. Basically what Dean gets is, Kevin's mom made sure they traveled a lot, even if it meant eating nothing but rice and oxtail soup for weeks on end. (Euphemism? Dean's not sure. Oxtail?) She'd get promoted and end up spending more time at work, she'd send him on Mission Trips without her, he'd learn about a God no one in his family even believed in.
"I was learning Arabic, you know," says Kevin. "From freshman year. Online, at the mosque, at the community college--"
"I thought you were Vietnamese."
"I am." Kevin scowls. "And I was gonna be President. Do you even read the newspaper?"
"Not that section. Not my problem," Dean says.
"The front page isn't your problem?"
"Look, you can be the president giving some big, fancy, patriotic speech, or you can be Rosie O'Donnell on a tabloid; if you don't need your ass stuck in some shit motel room with Demonology 101 on the walls, I don't really care--"
"But it's America it's the fucking United States, it's the whole world--I've known what I was gonna do with my life since I was fourteen, you have no idea how much I-- how much my mom-- I had this whole other life, I knew what I wanted, I--" His voice breaks across a half-hearted sob, but he keeps going.
Kevin Tran used to have a whole other life. Now he doesn't.
"But you don't get it," says Kevin, helpless and breathless.
Dean won't look at him.
"You don't get it," Kevin echoes.
Kevin's spilling his heart and soul out and Dean's barely fucking listening. He's not sure if he can; but mostly, he's not sure that he wants to. And he's not sure if he cares. He'd like to think he does, because he owes the kid that much, right?
But Dean owes a lot of people a lot of things.
"I'll just get you a couple combo plates," Dean interrupts. "You can keep the rest in that mini fridge. Rations for the week."
Kevin looks like he's been slapped. But on to new lost causes.
"Check it for mold first," Dean orders.
He slams the door behind him.
And when there's no more whiskey, he goes for a walk. Because if you've had that much to drink, that's kind of all there is to do.
The sun goes down in Branson, and all the streets get unfamiliar, and Dean just keeps walking. There are bars he could hustle and fights he could start and bush he could shag, but he doesn't. It never quite gets cold; and with the neon and the streetlight and the haze of the city at the skyline, orange and murky, it never gets quite dark. He walks through pockets of still, warm air stuck in narrow alleyways. It's that whole urban jungle thing, and it's like these pockets are the only places that aren't filled with ghosts.
The riverfront downtown is okay. But the night is still, and the water is too glassy. When Dean can see his own disasters in the people around him, and he can see that same bullshit--his same bullshit--taking root in them, he never wants a better look. He doesn't need a damn riverfront. It's almost like seeing the trueforms of demons, those disasters.
But not quite.
Dean crosses town, which ends too quickly, and he ends up on the outskirts. There's an "odditorium" there that's made to look like it's been cracked in half. He wonders how many funhouse mirrors there are inside that piece of shit.
He buys an entire season of some TV show off some girl camped out in an alleyway--40 bucks and a light.
"Paper or plastic?" she asks, cigarette gray and flaccid between her lips like this isn't the first time it's been lit.
Dean looks around. Yeah, it's really an alleyway.
"Sorry," says the girl. "Family business. Used to work the cash register. You know Vasken's?"
She nods towards Dean's load, which he remembers for the first time. It's like 20 pounds of what is now cold and soggy falafel.
Yeah, Dean knows Vasken's. It's a deli, and the falafel is shit. Or all falafel is shit.
"Plastic," he says.
"Good," says the girl, and proffers a small plastic grocery bag. She takes a swig from her paper one. "Hey, don't leave. You're forgetting this."
"Thanks," Dean says. He takes his lighter back and lugs the falafel and his stupid DVDs back to the motel.
It's probably after one by now.
Dean knows how long that means it's been; he knows how late he is, and he knows what it feels like to be on the other side of that door.
Dean knows that when he walks in, it won't be with an apology, or even an explanation. It will be like this was the plan all along.
(And maybe it was. Maybe it had been.)
The light's still on. Even from here, the smell of pizza is unmistakable, thick like grease.
He fumbles with the lock.
"I usually charge $150 an hour," says the girl, sitting cross-legged on the bed next to Kevin. She's wearing sweats, but maybe that's nerd sexy.
"Falafel," Dean announces dumbly, and sets the Styrofoam tower on the desk by the window.
Then he walks right back out.
"You're right," says Dean. "That's not a prostitute. That's a child."
"Her name is Jackie," says Kevin. "She's a tutor."
"And I'm twenty-two in six weeks," calls Jackie, from inside.
God, he's getting way too old for this.
"Jackie's from neighbor," says Kevin.
Dean struggles with the syntax.
"Neighbor, Michigan," Kevin clarifies.
"Neighbor, Michigan, where I'm from?" he clarifies again.
"And you're what, lovers in the nighttime?" Dean tries to recover lost ground. Six hours for a booty call ain't bad, though. It beat six hours for falafel. "I thought you had a girlfriend."
"Had," Kevin agrees stiffly.
Really just gunning for the home run grand slam, aren't you, Winchester.
After a deep breath and a beat, Kevin says, "Jackie was in my Arabic class. She transferred to U of M, Linguistics. And I need her help."
"What, they teach God Speak as an elective?"
"Core curricula, actually," says Jackie from the window. She's moving the fan. "But I quit last year, anyway. No degree."
She still seems too young for sarcasm. Dean remembers twenty-two (Sam left). He remembers Sam's twenty-two (Jess died). But all of that was a long damn time ago, and Jackie seems too young.
"I came out here to be with my dad," says Jackie. (Cue sob story, which Dean doesn't hear.)
Kevin's eighteen. He's eighteen fucking years old.
And on his birthday, he's still just trying to explain Jackie. He swears he's on the job. "I mean, the words are in me. But Arabic's grammar is a lot more elegant than God's, and I needed--I need someone with training. I need help--"
Jackie is from Neighbor, Michigan and she's not Dean, or Sam. That's all the explanation she needs.
"Great, uh," Dean flounders. "You do your thing then, I guess."
"You ready to switch to beer?" asks Jackie, still perched at the window.
Dean's pretty sure he does not look or smell that drunk.
(Jackie says something about her dad.)
"Whatever," says Kevin, and retreats inside.
"Whatever," echoes Jackie, and closes the window.
Jackie shrieks something in a language Dean doesn't know, but he gathers it was funny. Kevin thinks so.
Dean figures if this is how it's gonna end, the whole universe falling apart as though it were all some cosmic joke, God may as well be the punchline. He slides down the stucco of the motel and sits his ass on the gummy concrete.
He looks out at the skyline, orange and rotten with light. It's 2AM.
C U SOON, he texts to Sam. It's a useless message, but why the hell not. It seems responsible, and forward thinking, and like the sort of thing Sam would appreciate. Birthday presents for everyone.
Twenty minutes later, Dean's phone vibrates. It's from Sam:
?? is something wrong?
If his babble was true, Kevin's ordered at McDonald's in five countries, each one in a different language. Vacations were field trips, and the Happy Meal was always Lesson One. Dean rolls through the Drive-Thru, and in English he orders something so uninteresting they don't even ask if he wants his receipt.
Little black coffee, shoved unceremoniously through the window. He nurses it in the parking lot.
When the clock hits five and the building opens, Dean wanders inside for a bathroom.
Business before sunrise isn't booming. Dean is alone with the smell of Lysol and pearly, industrial soap. He'd have to bend down to see the mirror.
Apparently, he did grow up tall. Though this bathroom was also designed by an idiot.
Jeans slung slow around his thighs and dick in hand, Dean gets to work.
He's been putting his dick in things longer than Kevin's been alive. There's a chance that he and Mrs. Tran are closer in age than him and Kevin. Which might make her Linda, and not Mrs.
Well, at least that makes this less awkward.
He works at his erection, thumbs and fingers quick and none too gentle. Stops just before the going gets good. Goes again. He's got plenty of time. His personal best with this shit is in the high teens, but he's not getting anywhere near that tonight. Big finale, whole hand. He palms the sink with his free hand when his legs go weak and his vision whites out. He could see in the mirror now, if he wanted to.
He leaves the bathroom smelling of more Lysol and soap. Nothing's different.
But who the fuck is he kidding; Dean's not maintaining. And Kevin is not a weapon.
Dean wants to leave. He wants to just fuck off and leave Kevin behind, and for a wild, crazy instant he wants to leave all of this behind. But he told Sam he was on his way. And Kevin should not just wake up to a note, its bare scribble some dumb promise that won't be kept. He deserves better than that.
So Dean stays.
"That is massively creepy, dude," Kevin schnurs from deep within his pillow. "I thought you left."
Apparently the kid's a light sleeper; it's been like two minutes.
Kevin shoves off the coverlet and scoots to the foot of his bed. He finger-combs his hair.
Dean says, "Happy birthday." He gestures towards the coffees he brought, which are holding vigil over the untouched mountain of Styrofoam and falafel.
At first, Kevin regards him quizzically. Then he says, "Oh, right. I lied; my birthday's in December."
"Well," Dean says. "Come December, you can have more falafel."
Kevin is kind enough to look slightly less than mortally unimpressed.
(He's just a kid.
He shouldn't have to be a part of this. He should be more than a game piece.)
"Seriously, though, what are you still doing here?" Kevin asks.
It's a decent question.
"C'mere." Dean insinuates a one-armed hug. A meaty clap on the back. Whatever. "I'm leaving, okay?" he says. "Come here."
Kevin goes, parrots the motion. When they release each other neither of them are sure what that had been worth. If it had been worth anything. If it even needed to have worth.
"Three days," says Dean. "Put this shit away and watch some HBO." He looks at Jackie and all the bullshit falafel he carted all over the city, and feathers out a pocketful of soft, crumpled bills. He doesn't remember anymore how much it takes to feed two, so he guesses high. Can't ignore inflation; and not starving; and--a disaster buffer, or something. Though if Dean has his way he and Sam won't leave the bunker for anything short of 47 virgins; they're gonna sit tight for once; fuck everything.
Before he leaves, he inclines his head toward the beds. "Charm her with some sad violin songs."
Kevin makes a face. "First of all, it was cello, Grade 8. But not international; just Michigan. Youth symphony, second chair. Should've been first, obviously--it would have changed everything. Second chair is what lands you in this shithole, instead of Princeton."
"I don't speak orchestra," Dean says. As for sarcasm, Dean's fluent. Kevin's a budding talent. Dean's of the school where this is comforting.
Sarcasm is solid; and it's a good sign, he tells himself. It's good enough.
"You know, man, I--" he starts.
"Don't say anything," Kevin advises. "Stop trying to like, say something."
There's nothing Dean can say to him.
Kevin says, "See you on Tuesday. And I can take care of myself, you know. I'm a fucking adult."
I was a child, not a weapon. Now I'm an adult, and not an infant. I'm a fucking adult, and we are equals. I deserve to know. I deserve to know it all, Dean.
"I got you some DVDs," Dean says, and looks at them for the first time. The bag smells like smoke and gutter spoils. "Game of Thrones?"