I have no cool stuff. Supernatural is cool. Draw your own conclusions.


But for the Grace

It wasn't anything in particular that woke Dean up. In fact, it might have been the absence of something in particular that did it, though of course there was no way he would figure that out until later, and by then he would have more important things to worry about. Whatever, he was awake, anyway, and probably he was awake for a good five minutes before he rolled over and saw that Sam was gone.

The drop in his stomach was familiar; after all, it wasn't the first time it had happened, and mostly he'd always been wrong and Sam had always come back, mostly Sam had just woken up with the freakin sparrows and gone to grab some breakfast. Except that mostly Sam didn't make his bed before he went for coffee, and to be honest, Sam's hospital corners were more kind of sloppy wrinkles anyway. And yet, there it was, a bed so goddamn neat you'd think it just came out of the package. So what did that mean?

Dean figured it meant one of two things: Sam was a freakin geek weirdo, or Sam was messing with him. Closing his eyes against the pulsing of his hangover, he decided it was probably both.

A few minutes later, he decided that there was no way that the napalm drop going on behind his eyes was going to let him go back to sleep. What he needed was some aspirin and some coffee. Maybe a gun so he could shoot himself in the head and end his own suffering. Unfortunately, of those three requirements, the only one he was sure there was in the motel room was the gun. And yeah, OK, he felt like freakin Satan himself was tapdancing on his frontal lobe or whatever, but he wasn't quite sure he was ready for the final solution just yet.

Sam. Sam would bring coffee. If there was one thing that could be relied on in this world, it was that Sam would bring coffee. Maybe if the little fucker was feeling particularly sympathetic, he would bring aspirin, too.

Of course, Dean's last memory of last night was Sam glaring at him across the bar as he finished off a whisky chaser and grinned at this smokin barmaid, and he figured the fact he didn't remember anything after that might imply that little brother had been saddled with the task of getting him home in one piece, so the sympathy might not be forthcoming after all. In fact, now that he thought about it, he seemed to be lying on top of the covers fully clothed, which was definitely not a good sign. He couldn't remember the last time he had had a hangover this bad. Where the hell was Sam with the goddamn coffee?

Sighing, Dean cracked his eyelids open again, riding out the brief intensification of Beelzebub: the musical. He struggled up into a sitting position and found himself staring at his still-booted feet. Nice, Sammy. Real nice. He seemed to recall the last time he had had to put Sam to bed because the kid was too smashed to do it himself, he had at least had the decency to remove his brother's sneakers. Mind you, that had been about seven years ago now.

There was still no sign of Sam. It wasn't until he reached the bathroom, however, that he realised that there was no sign of Sam. As in, none. No toothbrush under the mirror, no soap or shampoo in the shower, no razor by the sink. And when he staggered back into the bedroom, sure he must be mistaken, there was no duffel bag, either. And if Dean thought he'd felt bad before, he felt freakin peachy now.

Dean sank into a lumpy standard-issue motel easy chair and ran his hand through his hair. He could think of several possibilities: Sam had finally had enough of the hunting life and had wanted to practice his bed-making skills before he packed himself up and left to get a job as a night-porter at a rest home; Sam was on some bizarre neatness kick and was just about to walk back through the door with coffee and laugh at Dean for being so freaked; Sam was mad as hell after Dean's performance last night and was playing some kind of prank; something had come into the room in the night without either of them waking and taken Sam away, but had decided to cunningly cover its tracks by removing Sam's stuff and making the bed look as though it hadn't been slept in, in the hope that Dean would forget that his brother was ever there in the first place.

Prank, then. It had to be a prank. No need to panic.

Except that after Dean had been not panicking for a few minutes, he noticed something else weird. It wasn't just that there was no sign of Sam in the room: there was no sign of Dean either. Well, OK, obviously there was the mussed bed and Dean himself, but beyond that there was not one item that didn't belong to the motel. That would have been pretty goddamn panic-worthy, if it hadn't convinced Dean that it really had to be a prank, because come on, what the hell kind of monster would take his brother and his dirty laundry?

Dean's hand strayed to his cell phone, but before it got there he had a vision of Sam sitting in some yuppie coffee shop somewhere with a couple of duffel bags and grinning all over his face when he saw Dean's name on the caller ID. Dean might have been a little spooked, and his head might have felt like it would be better if it just went ahead and fell off his goddamn shoulders, but he wasn't quite ready to give in yet.

Coffee shop. Motel. No coffee shop at the motel.

Dean knew what was coming next even before he rose on shaky legs and pulled the curtain, felt it sidling up through the veils of pain in his head like a freakin crocodile or whatever. The motel parking lot was a wide expanse of grey asphalt under a wide expanse of grey sky, the monotony broken only by a few vehicles: a green Mustang, a black Volkswagen, something so battered that its original identity could only be guessed at. No Impala.

His car was gone. His freakin car was freakin gone.

Dean's finger hit the speed-dial before he even knew he'd taken the phone out of his pocket.

Sam's number rang through to voice-mail, and Dean drew in a deep breath, ready to give the goddamn voice-mail hell. Hi, you've reached Sam Winchester. I'm probably in class or in the library. Leave a message and I'll get back to you.

Dean had got as far as Sam, goddammit, before he stopped as the words connected with his brain.

Class. Library. What the hell?

OK, that sealed it, definitely a prank. A pretty elaborate and carefully thought-out one, but Dean was in no mood to be giving his brother compliments, even in the privacy of his own throbbing mind. In fact, especially not there. Prank meant Sam would come back pretty soon to crow over his victory. Prank meant Dean was pretty freakin pissed.

Prank meant Sam hadn't left him.

It was eight-thirty in the a.m. when Dean left his curtailed message on Sam's voice-mail. By nine, he had started pacing the motel room urgently, skin crawling because he'd spent most of his life in motel rooms and apartments rented by the day or week, but he had never been in one that seemed so empty. By nine forty-five, he had been outside to the parking lot three times to peer up and down the highway for any sign of the Impala. By ten twenty-three, he had called Sam's voice-mail nineteen times and left two angry messages, beyond caring about dignity by now.

By eleven fifty, Dean was behind the wheel of a rental car (a Toyota, as if his day hadn't been bad enough already) with a family-sized pack of aspirin and a gun bought cheap at a pawn shop on the seat (Sam's seat) beside him, heading for California.

It took all day to drive to Palo Alto, which gave Dean plenty of time to think, the thoughts chasing each other round his brain, surfacing every time he dropped his guard, every time the classic rock station broke up into static. He didn't want to think, but he couldn't help himself. Because hey, what the hell was he doing, driving a freakin Toyota for Christ's sake, driving west at one-and-a-half times the speed limit despite the fact that he didn't really know if Sam had gone there, didn't really know anything except that the Impala had not been parked by either of the two diners the small town where they had spent the night boasted, and all he had to go on was class and library.

And more to the point, what the hell had he done last night that had made Sam so angry that he had taken off like that, for a prank or for real, because goddamn if this wasn't one of the least amusing experiences Dean had ever had, and he had plenty to pick from. What could he have done that was so unforgivable? And why hadn't Sam just realised that he was freakin wasted like a son of a bitch and waited for morning to give him hell? Surely that would be revenge enough, especially given the headache (freakin volcano more like) that still pounded through Dean's brain.

Of course, maybe Dean hadn't done anything at all. It wasn't like he had never contemplated the idea of waking up to find Sam had got sick of the hunting life and had upped and left without a word. He liked to tell himself that he was just being an idiot, that Sam would never do that to him, but doubt still crept around the corners of his mind, the ones he didn't like to look at because they were darker than a demon's asshole.

Except that couldn't be what had happened, because maybe, maybe Sam did have it in him to abandon Dean without a backward glance, but Sam had taken his car. His goddamn freakin sonofabitch car. And in all the visions (speculative rather than psychic) that Dean had had of this moment, of him chasing Sam back to Palo Alto, he had never been sitting in a freakin Toyota.

He reached the city a couple of hours after sunset. Sam still wasn't picking up his phone, but Dean figured classes must be over by now and when he swung past the library it was locked and dark. So that left... what? He didn't really know how it happened, except that he didn't have anything else to go on, and then there he was, sitting in the car that wasn't really worthy of the name, staring across the street at Sam's old apartment. But it was still being renovated, covered in scaffolding even now, a year after the fire, and Dean knew that Sam wouldn't have come back there anyway, that no matter how much Sam wanted to pick up the threads of his old life, that was one thread that was staying broken.

Dean forced himself to think rationally, as if he was just on another hunt, picking up clues, trying to work out where a monster or a spirit was hiding. Except he couldn't exactly go and research his own freaky little brother in the library and on the internet. Well, OK, he probably could, but he was sure whatever he found would tell him nothing new and nothing he wanted to know.

But class and library notwithstanding, there was no way Sam could have more than a twelve hour headstart on him. Which meant he couldn't have found an apartment yet, even if he'd had the money for a deposit, which Dean knew he didn't, not under his own name. So that left motels and bars, places that would give him a place to stay for a small wad of crumpled bills and never ask where the money came from. Motels and bars.

Lucky Dean Winchester was pretty good at motels and bars.

The bars around the university were slick and cold, and even the ones that looked run-down had an air of trying too hard. The parking lots were full of shiny European cars belonging to college boys and girls whose parents could afford to shield them from life. There was no black Impala.

There were more bars than Dean had thought, though, and it was almost midnight by the time he started searching the further sections of town, where the bars had blacked-out windows and motorcycles and beat-up pickups parked outside. The sort of bars Dean liked. The sort of bars Sam never wanted to go into.

Dean wasn't someone who gave up easily, at least not when it came to something like this, but he'd had a long and difficult day after a night when his body had wasted too much energy trying to return his various chemical processes to a state of equilibrium or whatever (jeez, sometimes he talked just like Sam even in his own head. Freaky), and by one thirty in the morning, he was beginning to feel a crushing weight pressing down on the back of his neck, a realisation that he could scour every damn bar and motel in the whole of this shithole town, in the whole of this shithole state even, and never find Sam because if Sam didn't want to be found, there was nothing he could do. Hell, he hadn't even been able to find his father, and his father's thoughts and habits were much more of an open book to him than Sam's secretive, incomprehensible mental processes. He wasn't someone who gave up easily, and he wasn't giving up now, but he could feel despair encroaching on the edges of his consciousness with tiny, needle-sharp claws.

And then at one forty-seven Dean saw the Impala parked outside a place that would have looked like it had seen better days except that actually it looked like it thought better days were just a myth that naïve parents told gullible children. It was probably called Jed's, but the neon in the third letter had shorted out or whatever, and Dean thought he should have known that Sam would be here, because the kid was nothing if not an expert at torturing himself over the past. Je's. Figured.

He forced himself to wait after he had slid the rental into park and shut off the engine, forced himself to sit and take slow, deep breaths until his knuckles were no longer white on the steering wheel and he was able to think through the mixture of relief and rage that burned behind his eyes. When he felt himself in control of his actions again, he got out of the car (goddamn Toyota Sam, Jesus Christ I'm gonna kick your ass) and made his way over to the Impala.

He wanted to march straight into the bar and drag his brother out by the goddamn hair, but he knew just how well that would go over, not so much with Sam (who the goddamn hell cared what Sam thought right now anyway, the little punk was gonna be dead before he had a chance to complain) but with the other patrons, so he decided first to check that no damage had come to his precious car in the hours since he had last seen her. It made him feel like he was doing something, and he almost hoped he would find a scratch or something so he could be even more righteous in his rage. He briefly imagined himself as Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, spouting off Bible crap and unloading a clip into Sam's stupid puppy-dog face, and he looked freakin awesome, except he didn't know any Bible crap so that was kind of out and Dad would probably be kind of pissed if they had to use dental records to ID Sam's body, partly because Sam didn't have any dental records.

There were no dents, though, no nicks, no scratches. In fact, the car was cleaner and shinier than it had been the day before when they'd pulled into the parking lot at Motel Paradise, Nowheresville, USA. Yeah, that made total sense. Somewhere in between stabbing Dean in the back and getting some good taste in bars, Sam had stopped to wash the goddamn car.

His goddamn car.

His thoughts were interrupted by a brief burst of music and voices as the bar door opened and closed. He stood up from where he had been examining the front right-hand hubcap (oh yeah, Sammy, those hubcaps better not be damaged in any way), and squinted in the direction of the noise, trying to make out the figure stumbling out of the shadows. Too-freakin-tall, ridiculous goddamn hair, jacket that had less style to it than freakin Richie Cunningham. Oh yeah, he knew that guy all right.

"Sam," he called, leaning back on the Impala, and Sam kind of looked up and started making his way towards him, seeming slightly unsteady on his feet.

"Yeah," he said, his voice raspy with smoke, and then he paused a few steps away and screwed up his features in what might have been displeasure or anything really, the streetlight wasn't too bright and Dean didn't really care what he was thinking anyway. "Dude," he said, sounding annoyed. "Get off my car."

Dean felt all the deep breathing and calming exercises drop away, and before he knew it he had two fistfuls of his brother's shirt and had him slammed up against the next car over and was up in his face, which wasn't too pleasant an experience because the amount of tequila on his brother's breath was probably enough to burn fifty corpses and still have some left over for Christmas. "What the goddamn hell, Sammy!" It wasn't exactly articulate, but then Dean had never been the articulate type. Hence the no Bible verses thing. OK, so articulate could be cool, but probably only if you were Samuel L.

Sam's shadowy expression shifted from annoyed to surprised, with something unfamiliar flickering at the edges, but again, Dean didn't really care whatever the hell Sam had on his face if it wasn't an abject, grovelling, begging, pleading a-goddamn-pology. And even then, he didn't care that much.

"I ought to freakin deck you into the middle of next week," he breathed. "In fact, I think I will."

Sam shifted slightly under him, and then did something Dean didn't expect. He laughed. It wasn't a happy laugh, hell, it didn't even have the slightest drop of humour in it, it was more the kind of sound a shotgun made when it clattered onto a concrete floor, but goddamn if it wasn't the most enraging thing Dean had ever heard, and he was letting go of Sam's shirt with one hand and winding back his fist when Sam said

"Get in line, pal."

That made Dean pause. Pretty much for a lot of reasons, like that Sam never called him 'pal' (that was what Dean called Sam, when he wasn't calling him geek boy or Samantha or princess), like that Sam wasn't reacting at all how Dean expected him to, like mainly that Sam's face turned slightly in the light and Dean saw that what had thought was just a lock of his brother's dumb hair plastered to his cheek was actually a trail of dried and drying blood. So Dean paused with his fist pulled back like a moron, and Sam stared at him and he stared at Sam and then he said

"What the hell, Sam. What the hell."

Sam wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and said, "You said that already."

Dean stared at him some more, feeling unsure of his own righteousness for the first time since he'd spotted the Impala in the parking lot. Sam stared back, and whatever it was in his eyes, it was not an apology.

"Listen, man, are you gonna punch me or not? Because if you are, you should just get on with it. If you're not, just get off my car and let me go home."

Dean swallowed. This was not what he wanted. He wanted Sam to explain, and he wanted it to be something stupid, something ridiculous, some glitch between Sam's brain and his sense of empathy that had made him think that this was somehow amusing, because then Dean could whale on him and shove him in the goddamn car (it's my goddamn car) and be hurt OK yeah but at least only a little, at least only hurt and not bewildered and on the edge of frightened, at least not this.

Sam was watching him, waiting for a response, and Dean realised he still had his fist pulled back. He couldn't think of what to say. He was no Samuel L. "What the hell, Sammy," he said again, but the fire was gone from his voice.

Sam snorted. "It's Sam. And how the hell do you know my name anyway?"

There it was, right there.

"What?" Dean whispered, but his lips had gone numb and his arms had dropped to his sides. He couldn't do anything, couldn't move, couldn't think. He could only stare.

Sam was moving already, swaying unsteadily but purposefully away from him, and Dean vaguely registered that he was saying something now in a softer voice, a voice that reminded him less of the dull edge of a neglected blade and more of Sam, of his annoying little brother at his most annoying, solicitous, apologetic (oh yeah apologetic now), saying something about a shelter and programmes and getting his life together and that was so freakin ironic that Dean almost laughed, would have done if his vocal chords hadn't been paralysed, because his own brother seemed to think he was homeless and how the hell could you be homeless if you'd never had a home?

The words didn't sink in, not really, but the sound of the car door opening did and somewhere in Dean's brain the thought registered that Sam was going to get in the car and drive away like he had sometime in the middle of the last night, and this time Dean might never find him again. Instinct took over then, and his body came back into play, ignoring the emotions that only ever got in the way anyway, and he turned and had the gun out of the belt of his jeans in one smooth movement and levelled it at his brother's head.

"Stop," he said, because it was all he could think of to say.

Sam froze, halfway into the Impala, staring round-eyed. "Jesus," he said. "You're freakin car-jacking me?"

"Get in the car," Dean said. (Car-jacking. He said car-jacking. It's my goddamn car.)

Sam started to move further into the Impala, but Dean pulled back the hammer on the gun. "Other side," he said.

Sam looked at him. "You know, if you're car-jacking me then I'm supposed to drive. It's like a rule or something."

Typical Sam. Always got to follow the rules. "Keys," Dean said, then looked down at his palm in surprise. It wasn't the spare key that he had made Sam somewhere between Colorado and Ohio. It was the main key, his key, which made sense he supposed because Sam had stolen everything else of his. But there was--

"What the hell is this?" Dean asked indignantly, holding up the offending object that dangled from the keyring, four inches of plastic smile and neon hair. "A freakin troll?"

Sam paused at the passenger-side door and scowled. "Fuck you," he said.

Dean didn't know what he had been expecting. This day was all shot to hell anyway, and something was going on that was very, very wrong and Sam didn't even seem to know who he was so he could hardly expect him to engage in brotherly banter even at the most appropriate time, which this was so not. It hurt, all the same. And he realised that Sam had been right about something, perceptive even with God knew how much firewater in his skin. Dean felt homeless.

He had been forgotten.