Strangers and Angels
This takes place after Faith, which I haven't seen. I going on what the previews have been showing.
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2
Dean Winchester had a theory. It was a working theory admittedly, but he could see it more and more clearly as the days passed and he was fairly confident of it:
Every male of the species has been marked by something, seen only by the female of the species, that provides an insight into the male's identity from a female perspective.
Sam, for instance, clearly had a marker that said—apparently in flashing neon—"poor, motherless boy."
All the women Dean had ever seen interact with his little brother treated him as if they could tell, instinctively, that he'd never really had a mother. Even the girls who wanted to get in his pants wooed him with gentle, knowing eyes and baked goods.
Dean, on the other hand, was fairly confident that his tag said "smartass."
If he'd ever been marked or identified by his lack of maternal influence, it had long been overshadowed by his tendency to speak first and think later. By the time Dean had reached the age of 12, there'd been something in his nature—or perhaps it was his nurture—that forced away, rejected the attempts of any woman to mother him.
You're not my mother, said his heart, even as his mouth grinned, and he used charm and misdirection and sarcasm to maintain safe distance.
You're not my mother, said his head, even as his heart ached, and he longed for the warmth and attention lavished on Sam.
You're not my mother.
Sam pointed down the road, and Dean squinted through the wet windshield, trying to make out what Sam saw through the rain that was lashing the car, making the wipers essentially useless.
"On the right." Out of habit, Sam ignored the bite to his brother's voice. He, too, was straining to see through the pitch black and the rain. "Half a mile, maybe?"
Dean wiped a hand over his face, grimacing at the gritty, slimy feel of the mud that coated him head to toe, trying to get it out of his eyes.
The look Sam sent him was amused, and sympathetic. Dean didn't understand why Sam wasn't as pissed as he was at the moment. Because Sam was just as caked with filth as his brother. But Sam was sitting in the passenger seat, perfectly at ease, dripping muddy, stinking water all over the floor of … Dean gritted his teeth. If he thought about how long it was going to take him to get the car back in good shape, his head would explode.
"Goddamn it!" He said it again, more forcefully.
Sam looked like he was biting the inside of his cheek. If he freakin' laughs…
"Wait!" Now Dean had seen the light Sam had been trying to show him. He slowed down, peering out the passenger side window as they came to a stop.
The brothers exchanged glances. It didn't look as questionable as some of the places they'd stayed for all the fact that it was sitting on the side of a deserted road out in the middle of nowhere.
The long, low building was fairly well lit and there were maybe 10 cars parked in front of doors that were painted bright green. Dean figured there were probably 12 units along with what looked to be a diner.
He raised an eyebrow at his brother. What do you think?
Sam shrugged. Do we have any other options?
Dean pulled in.
Dean ran abruptly into Sam's back when, instead of entering the lobby after he'd opened the door, Sam stopped on the threshold, peering in.
"Dude!" Dean tried to push past his brother wanting out of the rain and the wind.
Not responding in words, Sam used his elbow to shove Dean out, actually pulling the door as shut as he could, the glass a barrier between the two men. Startled and more than a little mad, Dean reached for the handle of the door, meaning to jerk it open and shove back. But before he could put his plan into action, he caught sight of the woman behind the desk in the lobby.
She was in her mid to late 40s, dark hair sprinkled with gray and pulled back into a loose ponytail. Her right hand had dropped behind the counter when the door opened, and Dean had little doubt that she'd put it on some sort of weapon. Her smile when she looked at the men on her doorstep was welcoming, but wary.
Dean understood suddenly why Sam had shut him out, and he resigned himself to more time in the cold. The awning over the door stopped the worst of the rain, but the sharp wind carried dampness and gusts of wet with it, and Dean hunched into his coat. He stood next to the crack in the door, trying to absorb some of the heat that was escaping, stamping his feet while Sam worked his magic.
In the time the boys had been working together again, they'd fallen instinctively into the routine they'd just begun to perfect when Sam left. There were certain people Sam led with and certain people Dean led with. Cautious, middle-aged women with tired eyes and pleasant, maternal faces were all Sam.
Sam said it softly, smiling his best "I'm a nice kid, not a deranged serial killer" smile hesitantly at the woman behind the counter. The door knocked against his heels as he stood outside, and Dean could just hear the conversation
"Your sign said you have a vacancy?"
The woman's eyes flicked toward the road, and Dean saw recognition and weariness settle on her face. She sighed.
"I forgot to turn it off."
Dean felt his face fall, and he saw Sam's shoulders sag in defeat. While neither of them had been enthusiastic about the slightly rundown looking place, it had been shelter after a long, hard night. Dean swallowed back an uncomfortable feeling of depression at the thought of getting back on the road.
"Oh. Well. Sorry to have bothered you." Dean could hear the disappointment and exhaustion in his younger brother's quiet voice.
Sam backed up, the bell on the door jangling, discordantly merry. Dean had already turned toward the car.
The woman was standing up now, rubbing a tired hand over her face.
"Why don't y'all come in for a minute? Let me think."
Sam and Dean exchanged glances.
They stepped hesitantly into the room, stopping just inside the door. Dean watched the woman's eyes widen as she finally got a real look at their filthy, sodden appearance.
"Our, uh, car got stuck in the mud a few miles back," Sam offered.
The woman's tired face began to transform, starting with her eyes. Dean saw the glint of amusement there, and her hand came up to cover her mouth.
"Did it now?" she said, the faintest hint of laughter rippling under the surface.
Dean really wasn't in the mood, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw a sheepish grin start on Sam's face.
"We got it out; but it was touch and go there for awhile."
She was smiling fully now, the laugh lines around her mouth and eyes deepening. She shook her head, and the smile faded somewhat as she watched them, considering for a long moment. She seemed to come to a decision.
"I do have a room. It just hasn't been cleaned yet."
A young male voice behind her turned the woman around. A boy Dean would guess to be around 14 stood in the doorway, one hand on the doorjamb, the other out of sight. He wasn't looking at his aunt; his eyes were fixed on the two strangers in front of him.
"Jacob, we have a couple of new guests."
The boy's expression remained guarded, and he shifted slightly. Dean wondered if the kid was getting a better grip on the shotgun Dean was pretty sure he was holding.
"We don't have any rooms."
"You and Michael can clean out 11 before you go to bed. Since you're up."
The surprisingly adult look on the boy's face was abruptly replaced by one familiar to parents of teenagers the world over—affronted indignation.
"But…" His voice cracked in outrage.
"It won't take you that long," his aunt said, unconcerned. Ignoring the muttering behind her and the angry smack of a hand on the door as the kid turned to go, she looked at Sam and Dean.
"Why don't y'all wait in the kitchen?" She moved toward the swinging door her nephew had disappeared behind.
"We're pretty…" Dean finally spoke, gesturing stiffly toward their muddy clothes, and the dirty puddle that was forming around their feet. A sudden, uncontrollable shiver shook his whole body.
She smiled in sympathy.
"The floor's linoleum. It'll clean." The smile turned into a grin as she rolled her eyes toward the back of the lobby, in the direction the kid had stomped off. "Teenage boys are good for some things."
Sam looked at Dean for guidance, and Dean grimaced slightly. Might as well.
Following his brother, who started after the woman, Dean found himself stepping carefully in Sam's muddy footsteps, trying to minimize the mess they were creating.
Both boys paused as they entered a surprisingly homey looking kitchen. Dean looked around as he stood uncertainly in the doorway with Sam. There was a battered table straight out of the 50s standing in the middle of the room, covered with books and papers and the remnants of cookies and empty glasses that had surely once been full of milk. In the corner stood an ancient refrigerator plastered with photos and drawings and report cards. The supper dishes were stacked neatly next to an overflowing sink, and the makings of lunches took up the rest of the small counter space.
Dean raised an eyebrow at Sam, who returned the look.
Jo had moved to the back of the room and opened a door out onto what looked like a porch.
"There's a mud room through here." She flipped on a light, and Dean could hear cabinet doors being opened and closed out of sight. He trailed after Sam into the alcove.
"Strip down as far as you're comfortable. You can put your clothes in there." She pointed to a large sink. "There are towels on the washer and some quilts. Shoes outside. I'll get the boys to clean them off for you once they've dried. Oh." She rooted through another drawer, and pulled out a couple of pairs of socks. "You can put these on, too."
And then she was gone. Bustling out and closing the door behind her.
Dean felt like his head was spinning as he stared at the door. Did she really expect them to get naked while she…? He turned to Sam, mouth open to protest, but Sam had already shucked off his jacket and was tossing it in the sink. He started on his shirt, cold fingers fumbling with mud-caked buttons.
"What the hell are you doing?"
Sam looked up, surprised. "What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Are you kidding me? You're just going to strip? In a house with a strange woman and a bunch of weird kids? You know that boy had a gun, don't you?" Dean was speaking in a fierce whisper. "Maybe she wants us to impregnate her and that's why she…"
Sam was looking at him with genuine concern. He reached out a hand and placed it on his brother's forehead. "Do you have a fever again?"
Dean swatted the hand away. "Dude. Stop."
Exasperation and amusement warred on Sam's face.
"Man, she's a nice lady who can see that we're soaked and cold and she's just trying to help." Sam struggled out of his shirt, dropping it on top of his jacket in the sink. Reaching behind him, he grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled the long-sleeved t-shirt he wore underneath over his head. "And we just saw one kid."
"She mentioned another one," Dean mumbled.
"Dean, come on." Sam began to wrestle with his soaked jeans, cursing as he realized he'd forgotten to take his shoes off first. He crouched down, jerking at the matted laces, looking up at Dean through gritty bangs.
Sam's voice was gentler than Dean thought he probably deserved. "I'm tired. I'm freezing. I'm hungry. Let's just …" He paused. "Can we just…?" …let somebody be nice to us for a change? Can we just … stop?
Staring down at his shivering brother, Dean realized that his own teeth were chattering from the cold, and he clenched his jaw shut, wrapping his arms around his chest. He moved restlessly around the small space.
Finally rid of his shoes and his pants, Sam stood in his boxers, gooseflesh standing out starkly on his pale body. He grabbed a towel and started to dry himself off, but his eyes were on Dean.
The worry and uncertainty in Sam's eyes settled like a weight on Dean's chest. Dean knew that his brush with death had shaken Sam. It had shaken them both. Deeply. And it had made Sam careful of his brother in a way that Dean wasn't comfortable with.
Dean—sick, pale, dying—had opened Sam's eyes to the possibility that Dean was, in fact, vulnerable. So, Sam was no longer willing to take Dean's "I'm fine"s at face value. He watched his brother, anxious like he'd never been before, looking for signs of hurt or weakness. It made Dean jumpy. And touched him.
Dean wasn't sure why he was fighting this so hard. He could tell Sam that something didn't feel "right," that they should keep going. But that would be a lie. The truth was, if he stopped, Dean was deadly afraid he wouldn't be able to get started again.
Starting in Rockford, he'd taken body blow Sampullingthetriggerpathetic after body blow StoplookingformeSambrokenattheendofhishospitalbed and somehow he'd managed to keep going. To the next job. To the last job that had been nothing, but had almost killed both of them. Again. Because he'd been slow and Sam had missed something in his research. He didn't know how much longer he could do it. And he didn't know how much longer Sam could do it. And he knew Sam didn't know either.
Dean blinked at his brother, forced out of the reverie he'd slipped into. He closed his eyes, and leaning against the washing machine, slid slowly to the floor.
"I'm just so goddamned tired, Sammy." It wasn't an answer. It was just all he had in him at the moment.
Wrapped in a quilt, Sam moved close and let himself sink down next to Dean.
"I know," he said quietly. "I am, too."
Dean tilted his head back, letting it rest against the washing machine. They sat, shoulder to shoulder, for a long moment.
"So." Dean sighed. "Your spidey sense isn't tingling or anything?" Sam's silence was answer enough. Dean nodded his acceptance.