Author's Note- This was written for Julie, who presented me with this plotbunny in the first place. Thank you, and Happy Birthday!
"Okay Sam- tell me what song this is."
Sam turned away from the passing scenery to stare at the Impala's stereo. "They've only played four notes, how should I know?"
Dean sighed dramatically, complete with an exaggerated eye roll, and then dropped his hand heavily on top of the steering wheel. "Through the Never, Sam, come on! It's Metallica- you should know this!"
Sam raised his eyebrows and his hands in naiveness. "Sorry, I must have been learning about molecular science while you were memorizing every rock song known to man."
"Hey, don't forget about hunting demons," Dean interjected coolly with a pointed finger. "I was doing that too."
Sam gave a small smile and turned his head back towards the window. They were on the long stretch of dirt road that lead from Nowheresville to OneHorse Town. Nothing but flat fields of wheat for as far as the eye could see. Under a bright sun and blue sky, the Impala thundered along, kicking up an impressive trail of dust from its rear tires. The Winchester brothers were currently in between 'jobs'- however, it wouldn't stay that way for long.
They had been on the road for nearly a year now, checking out every story that even smelled of the paranormal. Mysterious murders? They were there. Objects moving on their own accord? They were there. Family members being possessed? They were there. Frogs raining from the sky?
Well, maybe not every story.
Their ultimate goal, of course, was to find the supernatural power that had killed their mother and, years later, Sam's girlfriend. Find it and slay it, slowly and painfully. Sam had been an infant when his mother was killed, but he was well aware of the pain her death had caused. Judging by the level of vengeance Dean and their father displayed, she must have been quite a woman. Jessica had been quite a woman herself- maybe even the woman- but now Sam would never find out. And for that, he was vengeful.
He and Dean were hunters, and damn fine ones at that. But their pray was far more dangerous than turkey or deer or even bears. Their pray could outthink them, could fight back, and could kill them without even touching them. Every day of Sam's childhood had been spent in training, learning how to defend himself against invisible forces. Dad had showed him how to load and fire a gun, Dean had taught him the fine art of bow hunting. Sam had sparred against Dean in hand-to-hand combat until neither brother had a weakness and such matches became grueling, hour-long events that ended in stalemates. Sam had loved the training at first, caught up in the spirit that his family exuded so freely, but then over time, after seeing his friends grow up and away, Sam came to resent what he had become. He loved Dean dearly, but Sam yearned for more friends. Friends that didn't sneak up on him just to prove a point. Friends that weren't able to wrestle him to the ground and sit on him.
Friends that weren't an older, demon-hunting brother.
So Sam applied to college. And got in.
That move had cost him dearly- the disappointment and resentment of his father and the cold shoulder of his wounded big brother. Sam felt like a traitor amongst his own family. He couldn't blame them really, they were like dogs with a bone and couldn't help what they had become. So he slung angry words at his father, gave his gun-slinging, full-of-himself brother one last hug, and left.
Abandoned them… for a normal life.
And it was everything he thought it could be- until the night that Jessica was stuck to the ceiling and burned alive.
So here he was, the estranged Winchester boy returned to his nomadic roots of ghost-busting, this time with a new reason for being here. Now he felt the pain that Dean and his dad had felt all along. Killing this thing became a mission, one that he would not let go until justice had been paid.
Silence filled the air and Sam brought himself back to the present. He looked at the car's stereo and a few seconds later, a new song filtered through the speakers at his calf.
"Okay Sam- what's this one?"
"Dean, I don't know. Don't I at least get to listen to the lyrics?"
Dean growled in mock frustration. "It's Nothing Else Matters, come on! You're not even trying. What are you gonna do when I'm in a nursing home somewhere and you're out hunting by yourself? I'll be too busy flirting with the nurses to take all your phone calls."
The smile that had crept over Sam's face fell as Dean's words began to sink in. "Wait a minute, nursing home? You know something I don't?"
Dean glanced at him, then back to the dirt road before them. "What? Old people go to nursing homes, it's what they do."
Sam twisted towards Dean slightly. "Yeah, but how old are we talking here?"
Dean raised one eyebrow and looked at Sam again. "I don't know, like ninety? Why're you looking at me like that?"
And suddenly it hit him, harder than the proverbial ton of bricks.
Sam couldn't breathe. "I guess… I just figured that you know… we'd catch the thing that killed mom and you know… be done." His hands turned cold despite the warm summer air.
Dean laughed. "Be done? Hunting? That's a little selfish, even for me. We're the best there is at what we do, and you wanna stop after we get justice for mom? Tell me you're joking."
Every word added more weight to Sam's chest. He struggled to take a breath, knowing full-well where he was headed if he couldn't calm down. His ears were ringing and black dots danced at the edges of his vision. He hadn't had a panic attack since he was six.
After all, you couldn't aim a gun and breathe into a paper bag at the same time.
He ducked his head, raising a trembling hand towards Dean in a gesture to stop the car. His throat was tight and his lungs burned, but no air would come. He was suffocating.
"Shit, hold on Sammy."
The Impala's nose dove towards the dirt as Dean stomped on the brakes. Sam had to swing his hand out to catch himself on the dashboard. The car quickly came to a complete stop, rocking backwards as dust swirled around them, and Sam pushed open his door and swung his legs outside. The world was darkening quickly, and Sam rested his elbows on his knees and hung his head between his shoulders, then prayed.
Even in his haze, Sam heard the driver's side door squeak open, followed by heavy, crunching footsteps and soon there was a hand on his knee. He risked a look up and saw Dean crouching in front of him, his shoes flattening the road-side weeds into the dirt.
"Just calm down, okay buddy? Take a deep breath, you know the drill. Keep your head down."
Sam could barely make out the words for the ringing in his ears, but he nodded anyway. His arms and legs were leaden and numb and the world looked distorted through the pressure in his eyes. His vocal chords were making embarrassing noises as he tried to suck in oxygen.
"No, Damnit- listen to me Sam… just calm down. Slow down, okay? Breath in… breathe out… jeeze, do I have to wipe your ass for you too?"
Sam closed his eyes to concentrate and found he was coherent enough to offer a small smile at Dean's barb. He focused on breathing and counting, in and out… in and out… and soon his body began returning to normal. The numbness stung and itched as feeling came back to his limbs. Slowly, his head stopped spinning and the ringing left his ears.
When he was somewhat calm, he risked looking up. Silence surrounded them as a gentle breeze blew across the never-ending fields.
"What the hell was that about, huh? You haven't done that for a long time."
"It's never gonna end," Sam breathed, his voice sounding disconnected even to himself. "The hunting will never stop."
Dean blinked and let his hand fall from Sam's knee. "Come on Sam, you make it sound like a curse or something. It's not that bad, right? We see lots of places, lots of girls, we get to shoot stuff…"
"What if I just wanna be normal, Dean?" Sam asked, feeling his strength returning. "What if I don't want to shoot guns or bows or know how to perform an exorcism?"
"Then I think a lot of people would suffer needlessly."
Sam was taken aback. "Jesus, Dean, don't you think that's a lot of pressure? Don't you think hunting is a job that should be chosen, not appointed?"
"So what, you're blaming Dad now?" Dean rose to his feet. "You owe Dad a lot of respect, Sam. You'd be dead by now if it weren't for him."
Sam shook his head. "That's not what I meant," he said softly, knowing the subject of their father was a touchy one for Dean. "I want to know why it's so wrong for me to want a normal life!"
"It's not wrong," Dean replied, looking Sam in the eyes. "It's just impossible."
Sam pushed himself to his feet. The breeze kicked up again, combing though his hair and the fields around them. "Why don't you care?" he exclaimed. "Are you really that brainwashed that you don't even want a wife and children? A house? A dog? How can you just accept that you're doomed to wander the planet, risking your life every time you throw down the anchor for a woman in peril?"
Dean stepped into him then, and Sam took a small step backwards. "Don't ever think that I don't want that dream-life," Dean growled, jabbing a finger at Sam's chest. "You don't think I wasn't jealous when you left for school? Knowing you'd finally get the friends you always wanted, a girlfriend or five…" Dean trailed off as his eyes lost focus and began seeing what might have been. "Of course I want that. I am American, after all."
Sam watched Dean's hand fall to his side. "I really hurt your feelings, didn't I? When I left, I mean."
Dean's eyebrows furrowed as he stiffened. "No, of course not. You didn't hurt my feelings- come on, gimme a break. You're the crybaby in the family."
"It's okay, I know. The shape shifter told me, remember?" Sam saw straight through Dean's macho-act. "I understand, you know. If maybe your feeling were hurt… a little bit."
Dean looked like he was going to deny his feelings, then his expression changed. "No, I don't think you do know. You walked out, Sam. I know you had this dream in your head, but the minute you walked out that door, you ruined Dad's dream. He loved Mom. Still does. I still do. You're lucky that you can't remember her, but maybe if you did, then you'd understand why we have to do this."
Sam felt a swell of anger. "I do understand," he shot back. "Just because I can't remember her doesn't mean I don't know what I'm missing! You know how hard it was seeing the other little kids bringing homemade cupcakes to school on their birthdays, or have their mother pick them up in a minivan? Moms make normal Halloween costumes, they love you know matter how badly you scored on tests, and when you go to college, they call to check up on you!"
Dean was back in his face and Sam wondered how long it would take someone to find his body out here on the side of this country dirt road. "Dad was there Sam. He checked up on you more than you'll ever know. And don't give me that shit about not calling- you never picked up a phone either."
Sam's lower calf hit the car as he backed into it, effectively stopping his retreat. "You heard how things went down," he said in defense. "It wasn't pretty. Things got said. Feelings got hurt. Then one day just led into the next, and I just never… it's not like I don't care about him." Sam looked up hopefully, but Dean was still fuming. Stalemate. Sam swallowed and decided to change subjects. "So what happened while I was gone? Tell me one of your secrets."
"What makes you think I have secrets?" Dean replied, still testily. "We hunted."
Sam rolled his eyes and cocked his head.
Now it was Sam's turn to push. "Bloody Mary."
Dean winced. Honest-to-God winced. "Oh. That."
Sam mocked him. "Yeah, that."
Dean moved further back, stepping into the thorny milk thistle that sprouted at the edge of the road. "What happened to 'to each his own'?"
Sam merely looked at him.
Dean stood there for a moment before he was visibly struck with an idea and squared his shoulders. "I'm the big brother, I'm allowed to have secrets. You, my geeky little brother, are not. So now I ask you, what are you hiding?"
Sam grinned. "No. If you can have secrets then so can I."
"Damnit Sam, we're not talking about cookies here!" Dean shot back, and Sam's smile fell. "I'm serious," he said more calmly. "How am I suppose to protect you if you have all these deep dark secrets?"
"Who said you need to protect me at all? I'm a big boy now, in case you haven't noticed."
"Dad said," Dean replied. "But even if he didn't, I would anyway, cuz you're my baby brother and I sorta like you."
Sam snorted. "Thanks, I sorta like you too." The grinned shyly at each other in a rare moment of compassion. "But I'm still not telling."
"Screw you. Get back in the car," Dean ordered, moving towards the Impala's nose. "We gotta make up for all this time you lost."
Sam turned in a circle where he stood, the dirt crunching under his shoes as he faced the car. "Time I lost?"
Dean pulled open the driver's door and it groaned in protest. "You're the one who went all 'girly'. I couldn't let you vomit in my car, could I?"
The brothers ducked inside the car simultaneously and it dipped under their weight. "Yeah, like I try to suffocate myself. And were you touching my knee?"
Dean made a face of disgust and turned on the engine. It rumbled to life and the car shuttered slightly. "What? No. That's sick, man."
"You were! You really do care about me!"
Dean pulled the Impala back onto the road without even checking the mirrors. "Dude, shut up. You said it yourself, you were dying."
Sam leaned back against the seat as Dean turned on the stereo and turned up the volume, blasting Metallica through the car and into the wide open country, effectively drowning out all further conversation. He smiled to himself, feeling a little bit better even if his fears weren't resolved. The overwhelming sense of duty still weighed heavily on his mind, however much he didn't want it. He only knew one thing- that he would stay by Dean's side no matter what. He had never left it, not even in college, because if he had ever found out that Dean was in trouble, Sam would have packed up and left that moment.
Because while some secrets kept them apart, even more held them together.
Sam looked through the windshield as Dean drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and realized, for the first time, that life really wasn't just about destinations.
It was all about the journey.