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Sliding Over Empty Spaces

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I love driving.
Maybe it's because I spent so much of my childhood in this car. I know every line of her, every inch of her interior and the rub of her carpet floorboard on my knees when I crouch there as Sam stretches out, exhausted or sick or coloring and using all of his lean lanky body to do so.
I know how my Baby vibrates and shakes when she roars over a hill and the steady, comforting shift of weapons in the trunk. The grit of salt that is always in the seats from our last job and the clatter of tapes in the passenger seat floorboard.
I know exactly how far to drop the window to still hear Zeppelin and that dropping it completely is almost a religious experience as I fly through the mountains following Dad to the next hunt. Then it's just the roar of the wind and rolling road and the feeling that this is right. The best and only place for me.
The only thing that doesn't feel right is nights like tonight. When the Impala is empty and I'm alone.
It's different when Dad is driving in front of me. Not quite home, but--it worked. I made it work.
Sam had been gone away to school for four years.
I parked Baby at Bobby’s, and spent the first six months riding with Dad because I couldn't handle the empty space where my brother should be. Six months hiding from the inevitable.
Dad hated it. He likes his space and he expects me to handle my shit. We were crashed at Bobby’s, and I'd had too much to drink. When I woke up around noon, Bobby was in the garage, tinkering with an old Mustang.
“Yer old man pulled out before sunrise. Caught a job in Arizona. Said he'd call in a day or two, tell you where to meet him.”
I didn't say anything. There was nothing to say.
My family leaves me. It's what they do. I learned that a long time ago too.
I stayed another week, and the third day, I finally unearthed Baby.
My family leaves me. But she never did.
She was always there, gleaming lines and curving invitation and just enough memories that she felt like home when I leaned over her engine, hands greasy and knuckles ripped up, until she purred like a fucking kitten, as happy to see me as I was to see her.
And that was that. I didn't have my brother and that was his choice. It sucked.
It hurt.
So fucking much there were days all I did was drink until everything faded to black, even that fucking night when Dad and Sam screamed themselves raw and he took that fucking bus out of our lives. Even that fades.
Bobby keeps an eye on me and I skip through the country working jobs and spending my down time with him.
Dad chases whatever leads he can find on Yellow Eyes and we work together, sometimes. When he finally relents and admits somethings are too big to do alone. The rest of the time, I take my own cases, and the ones he points me at.
But it's different. I'll listen to him. I do. I’m a well-trained, good little soldier. But it's kind of distant. Hurt. Still angry because fuck it, I miss my brother.
I miss Sam.
I keep thinking I won't. That I'll get back in the Impala with lunch and his absence won't hit like a punch in the gut of loss, followed up by a right hook of worry.
Four fucking years and that still hasn't let up. I've accepted that it won't.
I spent half my life worrying about and protecting my baby brother, and the other killing every evil thing the world is too blind to know exists.
Letting Sam go? Letting him walk into the night, knowing he was alone and unprotected? That was--still is--the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
There were more nights than I like to think about I woke screaming in Bobby’s guest bed, or on his couch. Never when Dad was around. Even my subconscious knows not to be weak around Dad.
But after a bad hunt, after I landed back at Bobby’s and he patched me back up, stitched me back together--Sam’s job, in another life--I’d pass out in the room we grew up in, listen to his heavy footsteps pace away, his worry like a blanket that was comforting and suffocating and the nightmares came.
They always came. Sammy, torn up and dying and me a world away, unable to do a damn thing to stop it. Screaming, bleeding, burning, my name on his lips as he tried to hold his spilled guts in.
I’d wake up screaming, and it’d bring Bobby running, and then I broke. Fell the fuck apart until he poured enough whiskey down my throat to finally shut up the demons and let me sleep.
Being weak bothers me. Dad raised us hard, like warriors, and I know why. I’ve seen the evil shit. I’ve killed it. There isn’t room for weak in the life. Weak gets you killed.
But Sam is my weak spot. And having him exposed. It fucked me up in the worst way. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I could have been strong, and with Bobby the only witness to me falling apart--I didn’t care.
Bobby had never judged me, never asked me to be stronger than I was capable of. And he missed Sammy too.
The first year or so, anytime a job took me to the West coast, I’d steal a car and cruise the streets of Palo Alto. Lurk on campus and down the street from his apartment complex, until I saw him.
He never saw me.
He was too happy, too wrapped up in his world. His friends. Jess.
So fucking apple-pie-life that it hurt.
One night, I saw him checking the window, and I watched him sprinkle salt down, flipping a butterfly knife in his hand, absently, as he stared into the darkness.
I quit going to Palo Alto after that.
Sam didn’t need me. I think that hurt more than anything.
Not the leaving. The fact that even though he left, he didn’t forget. He wasn’t in danger. I forgot--I taught the kid. I trained him. He lived the life, and hated it, but he wasn’t stupid. He didn’t get on that bus and forget almost twenty years of instincts and training.
So I gave him what he wanted, because god knows I could never tell Sammy no. I left.
I drove away, ditched the stolen car in a parking lot and climbed into Baby, and worked. Hunted until I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, and met up with Dad to crash.
I stayed away from Bobby.
Bobby, with all his memories of Sam and the closest thing we got to happy, growing up. It was a dick move, just leaving the old man like that. But Bobby always understood me, sometimes better than myself.
He sure as fuck got me better than Dad did.
So I stayed away and he let me.
And time slipped away. If sometimes, I still glanced over to the passenger seat and seeing it empty jolted me with fear--well, I learned to live with awful shit. This is just one of those things.
I taught myself to not look. To let my gaze slide over the empty spaces Sam should be. To stop listening for him behind me on a hunt, or asleep in the backseat, or showering in the bathroom of a shitty hotel room.
The ache never went away.
But I didn’t mind. Not really. I could handle being miserable.
If he was happy, and safe, I could handle anything. I’d walk through hell to keep that kid safe and happy.
Which is why I hate this.
I’ve been sitting outside his apartment for hours. Watching. Waiting.
He’s in there, with that hot little blonde. I wonder, vaguely, if she knows he’s the best thing that could ever happen to her? That she’ll never find better than my Sammy.
I wonder if she knows how fucking lucky she is.
I do. Because he chose me, once. I was his whole world, the person he shared his life with.
He is going to hate me, for this.
I dial Dad’s number again.
That’s the problem. Dad is a dick, an obsessed bastard, but he’s also Dad. He checks in, if only to tell me where I should go next.
But it’s been a week, and I’m strung tight with nerves. Bobby says something big is happening. That he’s on the trail of something big.
Maybe Yellow Eyes big.
And I can’t do this alone. I shouldn’t do this alone.
Even if it will fuck up his neat, happy little life.
I slide out of Baby, and rub my fingers along her hood as I walk away. And even though I know how much I’m fucking up Sam’s life, I can’t help but feel a little bit happy.
Because in a few hours, my family will be whole. My brother will be where he belongs and the road will roll away beneath the tires as Baby eats up the night.
I square my shoulders, and slip through an open window, leaving the salt line undisturbed as I slip into the kitchen, making just enough noise.
And swallow my nerves, my fear, my excitement, my half-formed hope, as I wait for my baby brother to come back to me.