Disclaimer: I made a wish on a shooting star AND when I blew the candles out on my birthday cake, but I still don't own anything Winchester. And, alas, I am still poor.
A/N: This little bit of torture broke free of the writer's block I've been suffering. Thanks to Kelli, who has now moved to a new state with the hubby and kids but still found time to beta for me while unpacking boxes.
Sam stood at the window watching the storm outside. The thunder and lightning started almost an hour ago, the wind picked up, and now the rain was coming down in sheets. He glanced at the television when the special weather report interrupted the sit-com he hadn't really been watching. The storm was expected to intensify over the next couple of hours, the high winds were expected to cause problems, and tornadoes were possible. He rested a hand against the window frame and leaned forward. His brother was out there somewhere and Sam was worried.
After a moment longer, he turned from the window and grabbed his cell phone from the stand that separated the two double beds. He dialed Dean's number, although he knew if his brother could, he would have returned the five messages Sam had already left. He listened to the ringing on the other end and dutifully left another message when the voicemail kicked in.
Life had changed for the Winchesters since they killed the demon that all but destroyed their family when Sam was a baby. They were able to recover from their physical injuries, but the emotional ones would never truly heal. The brothers spent time recuperating with their father, trying to figure out what they wanted to do next. A simple job led to another and then another so they stayed together for a while, doing what they had done for nearly their whole lives – going from town to town hunting evil and helping innocent people.
Dean had known this wasn't the life Sam truly wanted and one night, after a few too many shots of Tequila, Dean brought up Sam going back to school. It didn't happen right away, but Sam did find his way back to Stanford. Dean went back to their father for a while, but found he couldn't stand being in the same place for too long, so he went returned to the hunt. Secretly, though, he was thankful for a home base.
John Winchester found that he was tired and had no more passion for hunting. He'd lost two of his best friends as part of the final battle and nearly lost his oldest son. Once he had time to process that, he came away feeling even more empty than before. He was proud of the work he and his sons had done, but felt guilty for sacrificing their childhoods for an empty revenge. In the end, he decided to stay a part of the world he'd lived in for so long; his role now would be advisor and teacher, but not a hunter.
At school, Sam had chosen to live alone. He had a few acquaintances that could eventually become friends, if he let them, but he generally kept to himself. He wanted to finish school, but he no longer had the overwhelming desire to have a normal life and he wasn't sure what he was going to do once he graduated. He occasionally had premonitions that he would tell Dean about and, more often than not, Dean was able to use them to save someone. He often spent his breaks from school helping Dean with hunts, though sometimes they chose to just spend time together or with their father.
With a six-week break from school, Sam arranged to meet Dean half way between Palo Alto and the small Oregon town where their father lived. His cabin was actually a fair distance from town, but not too far that he couldn't enjoy a daily meal or cup of coffee in the town's only diner. Sam wasn't sure where Dean was coming from, but he was almost two hours overdue and Sam didn't like not being able to get in touch with him.
Sam jerked awake when a loud clap of thunder shook the room. It took barely a moment to realize where he was and he jumped again when his cell phone started to ring. He grabbed it without even looking at the caller ID.
He was greeted only by static.
"Dean, is that you?" he moved the phone from his ear to look at the screen, verifying the call was coming from his brother. "Dean, I can't hear you."
Again, he heard static; though this time he could almost make out a voice on the other end. He was about to speak again when his phone beeped, indicating the call had been lost.
"Damnit." he grumbled, dialing his brother's number from memory. The call went straight to voicemail. Dropping the phone on the bed, he stood up; fingers laced behind his head, and paced around the room.
Chances were Dean was holed up somewhere with spotty cell coverage waiting for the storm to pass. That's what Sam wanted to believe, anyway. After pacing for another few minutes, Sam grabbed his phone from the bed and dialed John's number.
"Hi, Sam." John said warmly. "I see there's some nasty weather down your way. Are you and Dean all right?"
"You haven't heard from Dean, I guess."
"No. He's not with you?"
"He should have been here more than two hours ago, but the storm is really bad. I've left him some voicemails and he called a few minutes ago, but all I could hear was static."
"Don't worry, Sam. He probably got off the road to wait for the storm to pass."
"Yeah." Sam sat on the edge of his bed, running a hand through his hair. "So, you doin' okay?"
"I'm good. It'll be nice to have you and your brother here for a little while."
"Yeah, we're both looking forward to it." Sam glanced out of the window when he saw a flash of lightning.
"Sam, I can hear the worry in your voice."
"I can't help it, Dad. I don't like not being able to get in touch with Dean."
John smiled to himself. He'd made a lot of mistakes raising his sons, but he was proud of their relationship. Of course, he realized that they were probably so close because of his mistakes and not due to of any extraordinary parenting on his part, but it still warmed his heart.
"I know how you feel, Son, but I think it's a little early to be so worried. Dean can take care of himself and he likes that car too much to drive it in a bad storm."
Sam couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, you're right about that."
"Call me in an hour unless Dean calls before that. Let me know."
"Okay. Thanks, Dad."
"Everything okay?" she asked, pouring him another cup of coffee.
John glanced at the waitress. "Sam's worried; Dean is late getting to the motel."
"It's probably the storm. The radio said it was pretty bad down that way."
"That's what I told him."
"But that's not what you think." she said, knowingly.
John put a hand on hers. "It's probably just the storm."
Stella put her other hand on his. "And all this time I thought you could lie better than that."
Even after all this time, he was still sometimes surprised at how much at home this place felt. His plan was to live in a big city, somewhere he could be anonymous and go about his life unnoticed. He stopped here for the night on his way to that new life and never left. He had learned to trust his instincts over the years and they were telling him that he was home. His sons stayed with him for a while and now visited often. The townspeople were curious about their quiet new neighbor, but John did nothing to make them overly suspicious and even made a few friends.
Getting into his truck later, John thought what he'd said to Sam was true; Dean was probably waiting somewhere for the storm to pass. He had a nagging feeling, though, that something else was going on and though he didn't think it would do any good, but he pulled out his phone again and dialed Dean's number. The call went straight to voicemail.
Sam spent the next few hours pacing and drinking bad coffee while the storm raged outside. He talked to his father several times and left countless more messages for Dean. He was scared; more scared than he wanted to admit. John kept reassuring him; pointing out how bad the cell coverage was in the area where they were and how the storm was probably interfering with it as well. He told Sam again how attached Dean was to his car, and how he wouldn't put it in danger to drive when the conditions were too bad. Sam heard all of that, he understood it and it all made sense, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong.
In his cabin, John spent the night pretty much the same way Sam had, except his coffee was better. Dean would know that not being at the motel when he was expected would cause his family to worry about him. If nothing was wrong and he couldn't get through on his cell phone, he would have called from a land line. John was standing at the window, watching the sunrise, when his telephone rang.
"The storm passed. I'm still getting his voicemail."
The tone of Sam's voice worried John and rubbed his face. "Okay. I'm going to get cleaned up and head down toward you –"
"Dad, you're at least four hours away. I can't sit around here and wait for another four hours. Do you know where Dean would have been coming from? I'll rent a car and head that way and we can meet –"
"That's a good idea, if you can promise me that you'll calm down and be careful behind the wheel. You're exhausted and hyped up on caffeine; I don't want to have to worry about you, too."
"I'll be fine. Now, do you know where he was coming from?"
Against his better judgment, John agreed to Sam's idea. He didn't know exactly where Dean was coming from, but he had a general idea. They agreed on a place to meet and promised to get in touch once an hour, by land line if necessary. Sam packed the few things not already in his duffle bag and left the motel. He didn't have much choice in rental cars, but was glad to get whatever he could. He didn't have much need for a car in Palo Alto and always took the bus to meet Dean for their trips to their father's house.
Before getting on the road, Sam called Dean's cell phone again. When it didn't go straight to voice mail, he had a momentary hope his brother would answer.
Stella handed John a Thermos of coffee after he locked the box in the bed of his truck.
"Thanks." he smiled.
They walked to the driver side door, arm in arm. "Be careful, okay?" she smiled.
"I'm always careful. Don't worry."
She looked skeptical. "I know how you are about your boys."
John smirked. "They're not boys anymore. They haven't been for quite a while."
"Oh whatever." she laughed. "They'll always be your boys."
As he drove away, John glanced in the rearview mirror. Stella was standing on the porch of his cabin, watching him leave. He had never taken the time to truly define their relationship, but she was the first woman he had been interested in since his wife died nearly twenty-six years ago. Stella seemed fine with things the way they were; she never pressed him for a commitment or even indicated that she wanted one. He didn't think his sons had defined his relationship with her either, but it wasn't something they had yet to talk about.
John went around a curve and, no longer able to see the house in his rearview mirror, he turned his attention forward.
As Sam drove east, he kept a keen eye out for the Impala on the side of the road. It was almost an hour before he reached the next town and he was just coming out of the only restaurant he found when his cell phone rang.
"Hi, Dad. I've got nothing."
"You doin' okay?"
"Yeah, I'm just worried." Sam leaned against his car. "I really don't like this."
"I know. To be honest, neither do I."
"Dad, what if he's hurt or something?"
"Don't think that way, Sam."
"But this isn't like Dean. Why wouldn't he call if he was okay? He wouldn't go this many hours knowing I was waiting for him. He –"
"Sammy, don't do that. Don't think of all the negatives. Just keep focused on finding him."
Sam took a deep breath. "You're right."
"Okay. I'll call in an hour. Keep an eye on your cell signal; I don't want you out of touch."
"Yes, Sir." Sam said, out of habit. It had been a long time since his father issued an order, but he still fell back into the military responses he'd grown up with.
"Sam," John said, his voice soft. "It's going to be okay."
"Thanks, Dad. I hope so."
Mile after mile, town after town, Sam drove and looked for his brother. He became more dejected at each restaurant, bar, motel, garage and gas station. John became more worried – about both of his sons – with each phone call.
John reached an area that Dean should have driven through and started making the same inquiries that Sam had been making all day. He was asking questions in the third small town he reached when he got a lead.
"Yeah, I remember him." said the gas station attendant, handing the picture back to John. "He stopped here for gas. I suggested he pull off the road for the night because he was headed right into that big storm. We didn't get the worst of it, but he was gonna hit it."
"Do you know if he kept going?"
"Said he was gonna take his chances until it got too bad. Said he was meeting someone. Seemed pretty happy about it."
John nodded. "Thanks." He sat behind the wheel of his truck, and considered calling Sam. He had just made a call so John decided to drive to toward the next town. He kept an eye out for Dean's car, but saw nothing. In the next small town, he made the same rounds and asked the same questions. No one remembered Dean.
John ordered a cup of coffee and settled in a corner booth of the restaurant before dialing Sam's number.
"Where are you?" John asked, wearily.
"I'm not sure exactly. I –"
"Get to Lakeview. No one here saw him, but he stopped for gas about forty miles east of here in Granville."
"You didn't see his car? Was there another road he could have taken?"
"I didn't see his car and there's only one road out here."
"Sam, don't. Keep your head, Son." John said, recognizing the fear in Sam's voice.
"I just passed a sign. I'm thirty-five miles from Lakeview."
"Good. I'm at Marie's; it's on Main Street. You can't miss it."
"I'll see you there." Sam's voice was shaking.
"Sam." John said, not wanting to end the call. "Be careful."
While waiting for Sam, John looked through the newspaper for any stories about disappearances. Old habits died hard, he thought as he turned the page.
Sam held the steering wheel tightly as he drove toward Lakeview. If he lessened his grip, even just a little, his hand shook and the last thing he needed was to drive off the road. He knew last night that something was wrong. He knew that Dean's lack of communication wasn't faulty cell phone coverage. He was afraid that Dean's call last night had been him asking for help and he hated himself for not recognizing that at the time. He refused to think about the storm that had been raging outside; the storm that was too dangerous to drive in.
He thought back to after they'd killed the demon; the time he and Dean spent with their father. He had some fond memories of his childhood, but the time he spent with his family after the demon was gone was so much better. He and his father mended their relationship for the most part, and Dean finally opened up to him about so many things. He stayed with Dean to continue hunting even though it wasn't the life he really wanted. He didn't know what he wanted, other than to be with his brother.
Sam didn't need Dean's permission to leave, but that's exactly what it took to get him back in school. The transition had been hard. Harder than the first time, because their relationship had grown beyond the brotherhood of their childhood. They were friends, equals and something more. Sam realized he needed his brother; he needed his friend. He also needed to be his own person and he had to somehow find a life for himself.
But right now, he needed to find his brother.