SUMMARY: Dean is in serious trouble after Sam finds out a secret he's been keeping from their time apart.
DISCLAIMER: I don't pwn Supernatural.
WARNINGS: Violence, some swearing. Set after Scarecrow, so spoilers up until and including that episode may be referred to.
NOTES: This is my first Supernatural fic! I'm British so I don't know much about American geography, and have made up most of the place names in the story, I hope you'll forgive me. Also, I spell some stuff differently. I hope you enjoy it.
Running On Empty
Yesterday had been an average day. They hadn't been killed, which was always a plus, but both Sam and Dean Winchester had come away from their latest battle with war wounds. Dean sported an award winning collection of bruises along his right side from being dragged along the floor at an alarming speed by invisible forces, and Sam had bruises of his own, along with cut up arms from defending his head against flying objects, including cutlery. Some lousy ass poltergeist had gotten the better of them in Knoxville. It shouldn't have happened, but both brothers knew the reason it had.
Since their father had called them to send the brothers to Burkitsville where the couples had been vanishing, the hunts had been different. They were still walking, still breathing, but they were tired and hungry, and the degree of these complaints had only been growing with time. Sam and Dean were weary, and they were making mistakes.
"Dean, this next one can wait. We should pull over and get some food," Sam told his brother, who was driving. "I wouldn't mind some decent sleep some time this month too," he muttered. He suspected if he actually made contact with a comfortable bed, he'd probably be out for a full twenty-four hours, and that was just fine by him.
Dean didn't take his eyes off the road. He looked like he was deep in thought, but driving always had that effect on him. "Sleep now, save time," the older brother shrugged, picking up Sam's quiet comment. "And I think there's some pizza left in the back."
"Four day old pizza and car sleep are not exactly what I had in mind," Sam answered back. "Besides, you need to sleep to."
"I'm fine," Dean dismissed, just like Sam predicted he would. "But you're right, we should stop and eat," he added, surprising Sam somewhat.
"I saw a sign for some services about a mile back. They should be coming up soon." Sam pushed himself up from his slouched position in anticipation of actually getting out of the car. They'd been driving for hours. Well, Dean had been driving for hours. Sam had offered to take over more than once but Dean had insisted he was fine. Sam guessed his brother just needed more time to think things over.
Their father's cryptic phone call leading them to Burkitsville, not to mention the brothers' own argument afterwards, had shaken things up, but Sam had thought they had worked through it. Apparently this wasn't the case. Though such a conclusion hadn't been spoken aloud, Sam had been observing Dean's behaviour with more and more concern over the weeks. He'd been doing everything less. Less talking, less sleeping, less eating. He'd just been less Dean.
Sam was tired and hungry as hell, but even when they'd had opportunities to rest, Sam would wake up and find Dean just sitting, staring. Sometimes he'd stare at his cell and just look...well, sad. It was disturbing. What made it worse was that Sam didn't know what to do about it. Dean was stubborn at the best of times and when it came to physical or mental state, he was unbearably so. Sam wasn't exactly a great role model for a healthy state of mind either. He'd only be a hypocrite if he tried to be some kind of counsellor to Dean.
So they just pushed on. Kept hunting, kept not talking, kept barely getting enough sleep. But edges were fraying. Sam knew it couldn't last for much longer. Dean agreeing to this rest stop seemed the first positive step in days, and Sam had instantly perked up because of it. The thought of hot food was already making his mouth water. On the sign he had seen, it looked like there was a motel up ahead too. Maybe after eating he could convince Dean to stay there awhile and they could both get some sleep.
Dean got out of the car and stretched unenthusiastically. He didn't really have much of an appetite, especially for greasy truck-stop food at this ungodly hour of the night...morning? What the hell was the time anyway? Whatever it was, Dean's stomach was turning at the thought of ingesting anything, yet he knew Sam would try to make him. The older of the pair knew he could go on for at least another couple of days. Dean was well practised in this kind of lifestyle and knew his own body's limits, no matter what his brother, or his father, or anyone else tried to argue. He was hoping they'd make it until after the next job before resting up, but they hadn't made good time and Sam needed to eat and sleep. Dean couldn't deny his little brother any much longer.
"Go and order some food, I'm going to book us a room," he yelled at Sam, who was already headed towards the diner like a moth to a flame.
Sam turned around and waved in acknowledgement, and Dean swore he could see his eyes light up with glee. Dean was well aware of Sam's concerned gaze over the past weeks, and had been secretly thankful that his little brother hadn't worked up the mettle to say anything. Anything along the lines of 'are you alright?' or 'what's wrong' would only serve to piss Dean off, mainly because he didn't have any answers to give.
Couldn't he just be a moody bastard for five minutes without someone trying to analyse him? Actually, that had never been much of a problem until Sam came back into the picture. Come to think of it, no-one except Sam had ever tried getting him to 'open up' or talk about his feelings or any of that crap before. That was kind of pathetic, but kind of nice too. Dean made a little promise to himself to try and not be such a moody bastard to Sam from that point. It would be tricky though, what with his brother's tendency to be quite irritating most of the time. That was nothing new though. That was what brothers were for.
He booked a room at the motel, an activity Dean had performed so much that he barely even noticed it had taken place, and headed over to the diner. He still had no idea of the time, and nothing around him was very telling. The sky was a strange shade of purple, it had to be dusk or dawn but Dean honestly couldn't say which. He hadn't slept in a while and he kind of lost track of time. From the looks of the place, it was buzzing twenty-four seven, being on a common trucker route. There were quite a few people around, it didn't look that bad compared to some of the usual dives the brothers found themselves in.
When he entered he spotted Sam in a booth next to the window. "You order yet?" Dean asked as soon as he slid in opposite his brother.
"Not yet, they're really busy. I got coffee though," Sam told him, taking a gulp from his own cup.
"Sweet," Dean sighed. The full to the brim mug of caffeinated nectar was truly beautiful to behold. He savoured the smell for a moment before taking a long sip.
"Want me to leave you and the coffee alone? I can see this is a private moment," Sam said, grinning.
"I don't care who knows. I'm going to marry this coffee, Sammy," Dean replied, then added, completely deadpan; "Will you be my best man?"
Sam laughed. Dean was surprised to find he'd almost forgotten what it sounded like, it had happened so little lately. Sammy really did need to stop and rest for a while. His mood had instantly shot upwards at the prospect of food and sleep. Dean supposed he could try to get a few Zs in himself but recently it had been a fruitless venture. He just couldn't shake his insomnia lately.
"You get the room?" Sam asked.
"Yup," Dean replied, jangling the keys.
"My god, I swear I could crash for a week," Sam said, resting his chin on his hands and rubbing his eyes.
"Yeah well, one night will have to do, we gotta get to this next gig," Dean said, simultaneously trying to catch the eye of the waitress so Sam could get some food.
"One day, you mean," Sam corrected, eyeing him suspiciously.
"Yeah, whatever," Dean replied, hoping Sam wouldn't pick him up on it. No such luck.
"Your sleeping pattern is totally screwed. So is mine. We should have slept before the last job."
Dean frowned, mirroring Sam's. He knew the last job hadn't gone smoothly, and they hadn't talked about it, but he didn't want to talk about it now. Or ever, really. He would get his wish for a little while. The waitress came over to take their order. She smiled politely, while quietly mulling over the fact that the pair resembled beaten-up drug addicts because they looked so washed out.
"I'll have a full breakfast, please," Sam asked the young woman, practically drooling as he said it.
"Nothin' for me, thank-you," Dean said, flashing her a patented 'melt you where you stand' smile. Even when he was running on empty, Dean could still work it.
The waitress returned the smile and started to leave but Sam stopped her. "He'll have a full breakfast too."
"Dude," Dean said, annoyed. "What are you doing?"
"Don't 'dude' me. You're eating. I'm not going to let you run on coffee."
"'Let me'?" Dean repeated incredulously. He really didn't like that new tone Sam had conjured up out of nowhere in the last five minutes.
Sam challenged him with a glare, and Dean decided he was too worn out to argue. Besides, maybe when the food came it would revive his waning appetite. He mumbled an irritated 'whatever' to let Sammy know he wasn't happy, and the pair sat in silence until their meals arrived.
Half an hour later and Sam's plate was empty. Dean had actually eaten more than he expected to, but left a lot. Sam suspected he was just being stubborn, but considered it a small victory anyway.
"So, the next gig's pretty much the same thing as in Waterstone," Dean began, back to business as usual. "A quick binding and purging spell should do the trick. We'll be in and out in a coupla hours. No problem."
Sam had tried to listen to Dean but he could feel a killer headache coming on. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, drawing Dean's attention.
"Headache," Sam replied quickly, but he was starting to suspect that this wasn't a normal headache. It felt like one of the headaches that made people look at him funny and occasionally call him a freak.
"Joe Every-Headache or Sam's Special Blend Headache?" Dean inquired with concern. It wasn't as if he could do anything about the second, but there was some aspirin in the car should it be the first.
Sam couldn't reply. The vision had filled his head with pain and he was just trying to keep it together.
The vision was like a dream. A painful, messed up dream. There were flashes of the interior of an empty house. It looked pretty run-down. Sam tried to take it all in. He could only follow where the vision was taking him, not control where it went, and it wasn't like he could rewind and play it back; these things only premiered once.
After more flashes of the house, it came to Dean. He was standing in an empty room where the paint peeled off the wall. Dean himself looked like hell. He was covered in dust, bruises and blood. He was standing as if it took all his strength to do so. His skin was drained of colour and his eyes were wide with fear.
Though he tried, Sam couldn't see what Dean was standing face to face with. Then there was a voice, jagged and sickly, and Sam guessed it had come from whatever Dean was standing in front of. "Time's up," it said.
Then Dean whispered something. Sam barely caught it. "Eight-hundred days."
And then it was all over. Sam opened his eyes and it was as if nothing had happened. The only trace of the vision was in Sam's head, in memory and in the lingering headache.
"You alright?" Dean asked. "What did you see?"
Sam wasn't sure what to say. His vision hadn't really made any sense, and it was pretty vague. The paint-peeling room wasn't exactly a unique location, and Dean wasn't wearing the same clothes he had on now, so he couldn't tell when exactly when he would be meeting this...whatever it was Dean had been facing. As cryptic visions went, this was up there with the best of them.
Sam had to think about this, about what it meant. Dean had clearly been in trouble, and the 'time's up' statement from the mystery bad guy hadn't exactly been friendly. And just what was the significance of the 'eight-hundred days' Dean had spoken of? Had he recognised the thing?
"Sam," Dean repeated, interrupting Sam's rapid train of thought, his own fret-levels rising with every second Sam didn't answer him.
"This next job," Sam finally replied. "Where is it? Is it a house?"
"A house, yeah," Dean told him, waiting for more information.
"What kind of state is it in? Are there people living there?"
"No, it's been empty for years. The owner couldn't sell with Casper the Unfriendly living it up in there so he emailed me," Dean explained. "Is something bad gonna happen there? Do we need to get there today?"
"No, no, we're okay. I just...think we need to be more careful. I'm not sure it's going to be a routine hunt."
"What did you see?" Dean pushed, unhappy with just getting the sketchy details.
Sam decided there was no point in keeping anything from his brother. He had never had a vision that wasn't a foretelling of something very bad. He decided there and then that he wouldn't leave Dean's side, not for a second. Not until he was sure his brother was out of danger.
"I saw you. You looked pretty banged up. You were in this room with something, but I couldn't see what it was. It said 'time's up'." Sam was surprised to hear how short and succinct he had made the painful, confusing vision.
Dean raised an eyebrow. "That's it? A little vague, don't you think?"
"Then you said something," Sam continued, getting ready to gauge Dean's reaction.
"Something witty and debonaire, I hope," Dean smiled, and went for another sip of coffee.
"You said 'eight-hundred days'."
End of Chapter One
Next Chapter: No-One Said It Would Be Easy