Timeline: August 2005.
He might have called overwhelming numbness, but those words were too strong for the nothingness he felt.
Green trees and grass slid by him in a blur as he stared out the passenger side window of the Impala, letting his mind wander. They'd left Vermont two days ago and were following Dad to some dumbass little town in Illinois where Dad intended to work a case and Dean intended to enroll Adam in his senior year of high school.
Adam rolled his eyes at the thought.
School sucked. As if it wasn't bad enough to have to suffer through boring-ass high school classes, it meant he'd be stuck in the motel left behind alone while Dad and Dean hunted.
"You ok over there?" Dean asked loudly over the Led Zeppelin cassette he had blaring in the car.
Adam gave a small shrug, not looking away from the window.
Dean leaned forward and grabbed the volume knob, turning down the music to a low hum in the background, "Hey space cadet. You haven't said a word in like two days, what's the deal?"
Adam scowled and ignored him. He didn't have the energy to argue with his brother.
"Seriously you alright?" Dean said again and Adam knew his brother was glancing back and forth between the road and the side of Adam's head trying to get a read on him.
"Just tired," Adam mumbled and leaned his head against the window glass, wishing Dean would just shut up and leave him alone already.
"Hmmm…." Dean said but didn't push any further. He just leaned forward again and turned the volume back up on the cassette letting the familiar roar of Houses of the Holy fill the car.
The diner restaurant was like a million others they'd been to over the years. Hard plastic booth seats yellowing with age, a wobbly thin plastic table held up by one hard metal post in the center, sticky around the edge where it hadn't been wiped clean.
They'd stopped at the little roadside place to stretch and grab dinner, not that Dad or Adam were eating anything Dean noted, staring across the table at his younger brother.
Adam was slowly and absentmindedly tearing apart the French fries on his plate, breaking each starchy stick into smaller and smaller pieces, without ever taking a bite. Dean studied Adam as he worked on his fries, breaking each one in half then in half again, making a stack on his plate.
"You gonna eat or build a fort with those?" he teased, but Adam ignored him as if Dean hadn't even spoken.
Dean glanced over at his father sitting next to him, hoping to catch his eye and maybe draw some attention to Adam. But Dad was deep in his research; one hand tight around a mug of black coffee the other gripping the stack of notes.
No help there.
Dean glanced down at his own plate and grabbed the last remaining onion ring, running it through the pile of ketchup he'd made and stuffing the whole thing into his mouth in one bite, contemplating.
Maybe it was happening again, this thing with Adam.
Dean remembered the time after his brother's first kill, tiny 13-year-old Adam shaking like a leaf from wild nightmares, thin from days without eating, silent and distant for months.
It started with not eating. Dean could remember yelling at Adam, screaming at him to ' just eat the Goddamn food!', which of course only made his brother throw up when he did finally force down a few fries. Dean cringed at the memory. At least he knew better now. He wouldn't push the issue but he'd definitely be keeping an eye on it.
If the nightmares started up again, then Dean could be sure they were dealing with it again. Adam was already spacing out and not talking much, just like he did then. And if the middle of the night screaming started Dean knew he'd have to make a play to try to help his brother. They couldn't go through that again. That was two solid months of misery for everyone.
Back then Sam had wanted Adam to talk it out. Dad wanted to leave Adam alone. Dean had just wanted to distract him and make him happy again. Wracking his brain he couldn't remember the exact thing that had finally pulled Adam out of his melancholy and shit he really needed to remember.
But maybe this was different though; maybe this wasn't something as bad, something a traumatic as his first kill. That shifter had been posing as a human and Adam had gotten pretty banged up in the hunt. Dean stared across the table at his brother, who was still stacking broken fries, knowing there was nothing physically wrong with him. Dad had assured him that Adam hadn't been injured, had never been infected, and didn't suffer like Dean did under that stupid fucking dream demon.
So what the hell was up? And was it worth the awkwardness of an after-school special moment to try to figure it out? Dean frowned at the thought.
The sight of the single-wide trailers, rusting and sinking was a comforting sight. He liked to study them as they passed, examining the faded paint or the sagging canopies. He'd count the cars in the yard or lining the gravel driveways making bets with himself about how many might actually run. Seeing the tiny buildings, the junk-filled overgrown yards reminded Adam that there were others like him, other people with one bag of clothes to their name, struggling to make it through a week, knowing there wasn't much in their lives to look forward to.
Dean had told him they'd reach the little town of Spring Valley in the next few hours, but Adam couldn't have cared less. What did it matter where he was?
It didn't matter.
He didn't matter.
His thoughts drifted to Sam, wondering what his older brother might be doing on this August day. Probably going to class, maybe working his part-time job, maybe out for a run. He briefly wondered what time it was in California, but quickly gave up the mental math when he'd looked down at his own watch to find out he hadn't adjusted it back to central time after Vermont.
Adam would never go to that goddamn state again.
Not that it was Vermont's fault. Not that he didn't already know that Dean cared more about Sam than he did about Adam.
It shouldn't have hurt the way it did. Adam knew that Sam and Dean were close in a way that he could never be. He knew that they had a shared past that he couldn't imitate or recreate. Logically he knew all that crap. But listening to Dean, listening to him chose to 'Save Sam' instead of Adam that was a pain Adam couldn't put into words.
"Hey, twilight zone," Dean called out, "You gonna perk up today? Or do I gotta take you to get some ice cream or something?"
Adam shook his head in irritation but didn't turn from the window.
Dean chewed his inner cheek, glancing between Adam and the road. He had to figure this out. Had to help Adam shake off whatever this was, in hopes that he wouldn't fall deeper into the pit of misery he was creating for himself.
"Come on man, sack up," Dean teased, a little more harshly than he meant to. He wanted to be understanding and patient like Sam was, but he also just wanted to move on, get back to having fun with his brother, and living his life, "I know a great donut spot near the town we're going to. They've got those maple donuts with the bacon on them…. amazing dude… Amazing,"
"Gross," Adam mumbled, but Dean took the acknowledgment as a win.
"Dude you haven't lived till you've had maple and bacon. The sweet, the salty. Heaven on earth," Dean said lightly, his own mouth-watering at the remembered sweetness of those delicious fried dough balls.
Adam was silent again and Dean frowned.
"Seriously kid, you gotta knock it off with the Sad Sally crap," Dean said.
Adam turned to glare at him, which again Dean again took as a good sign. Fun distractions didn't work, fine Dean would get him mad. Any feeling was good. Anything that kept Adam in the world and not staring off into space, creeping everyone out.
"I mean it," Dean continued, working to rile his brother, "You act like someone ran over your dog. Toughen up, dude."
"Shut up Dean." Adam ground out, glaring at him before looking back out the window.
"So Vermont was a shitty hunt," Dean said, noticing that Adam's eyes cut to watch him as he mentioned the state's name "Who cares? We got the bad bitch. Done. Moving on."
"Come on." Dean goaded, "You gonna pull this touchy-feely I-need-a-hug shit after every hunt?"
"Shut the fuck up Dean," Adam growled and Dean knew he'd hit pay dirt. He'd forgotten how good he was at pushing his brother's buttons, how easy it was to find the exact thing that would send Adam over the edge and ready to throw punches.
"Do you need to talk about your feelings?" Dean teased again, watching his brother tense.
"I swear to god dude," Adam snarled and Dean watched from his peripheral as Adam clenched and unclenched his fists, clearly trying to control his temper.
Good. Get the kid pissed. Better than being sad or whatever.
"It's just one hunt dude," Dean said, switching gears, "You gotta put that shit behind you,"
"I'm fine," Adam shot back, "I'm not the dumbass that got infected."
Dean felt fury spike at the well-placed taunt. Touché.
"Only cause you were too much of a chicken shit to talk to her," Dean spat back.
"To the monster…" Adam corrected, spitefully.
"Shut the hell up," Dean barked, pissed that his irritate-your-brother plan had been turned back on him.
They were quiet for a few more miles before Dean spoke again.
"Look that hunt was shit. And it was my fault…." he started, not looking at Adam as he spoke, trying to fight his own embarrassment, "I don't know what happened when I blacked out…
"Nothing happened Dean," Adam said, staring at the road in front of him, "Don't worry about it,"
"Oh, nothing… right…" Dean replied sarcastically raising his arm to flash the white bandages wrapped around his wrist.
Adam just shrugged.
"Look… Whatever happened… It wasn't me," Dean continued, sneaking glances at his little brother, "You know that right?"
"Yeah…it's whatever Dean," Adam replied quietly, sinking further down into the sun-warmed leather of the front seat.
"I just don't want… I don't know… I don't want…" Dean stuttered, trying to figure out what he wanted to say, how to say it without feeling awkward. "Look…It was shit and I don't remember it and I'm sorry," he finished in a rush.
Adam looked over and stared at him, "You need a hug?" he deadpanned.
"Fuck off," Dean snapped.
"Yup," Adam replied with a shrug, turning back to stare out the window.
"So that's how it is then?" Dean asked, frustrated with his little brother.
"Guess so," Adam mumbled.
"Terrific," Dean spat gritting his teeth.