I've wanted to write this fic for awhile, now, but never actually sat down to do it. Was written during my commute down US-41 out of my love to set fics in places I've actually been. Enjoy!
Interstate: An agreement between two or more states.
"Four more exits
to my apartment
but I am tempted to keep the car in drive
and leave it all behind
Cuz I wonder sometimes
about the outcome
of a still verdictless life
Am I living it right?"
'Why Georgia?,' John Mayer
Rockford-O'Hare. Milwaukee. O'Hare's a dead end, endless loops around spokes of terminals filled with tired travelers and overzealous TSA agents, Rockford too far off and still clear in his mind. That leaves Milwaukee and its beer.
At least it had that going for it.
Three blocks from the abandoned warehouse, and the dizziness and numbing fatigue attributed to blood loss began pulling its black hood over Dean's head. He responded by tightening his grip on the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white and told his body they were getting the fuck out of Chicago.
The gridded streets of Chicago allowed for easy navigation, if you could tell the cardinal directions – lake to the right and that's east. Easy as pie even when the world was spinning; he took the first on ramp to the Interstate, almost smiling at the blue and red shield with a big 94 in white. It said west, and that was the general direction he wanted to go in – west, away from Chicago and that bitch Meg, off where things made sense in a small, Midwestern town kind of way.
Fifteen minutes in, and the Illinois Interstate System gave you a choice, one vaguely west and the other damn right north. His brain connected Milwaukee to Brewers to beer and he veered to the right when I-90 and I-94 went their separate ways.
Sam mumbled something to the window he was staring out, his reflection tight and angry.
"Keep your face like that and it'll freeze that way," Dean commented, mental filters sticky like their blood on the leather seats. Sam turned his head, the anger turning to a glare from his blood-filled eyes. It was dripping into them from the gashes, deep and red, leaking down the sides of his face, pooling at his neck and staining the collar of his t-shirt.
He didn't say anything, just glared and turned back to the window as the urban sprawl of the city thinned to car dealerships on the left and high trees masking suburban neighborhoods to the right.
Dean felt safer already, and less traffic let him gun the engine a bit, the rumble filling the silence. He relaxed, a bit of that fatigue weighing down his eyelids; Dean was moving out of habit, spacing out and letting muscle memory take care of the more technical movements of driving.
How elated had he been to see his dad standing in their hotel room, hear his voice after months of a voice mail substitution? Seeing him and Sammy hug and mend some of the rift between them could almost erase the words said before, those that ensured moments like those were fleeting, evanescent.
And they were. Their dad's love for them, parental need to protect his boys, was stronger then his hunting instincts and whatever they told him to do. How could they stay together when every creature they encountered would use that to their advantage?
How could Sam not see that?
"Dean," Sam said, a bit urgent and annoyed. "Dean, you – "
Sam sighed. "Missed the exit for the interstate."
"Huh?" He snapped back, pushing up heavy eyelids, and frowned at the yellow sign shouting SIGNAL AHEAD.
"The exit. You okay, man? Maybe we should find someplace," Sam suggested. He spoke slowly, words running together. Dean looked around at the shopping centers gathered around the looming traffic light and shook his head.
"Later," he commanded, and roared forward when the light turned green.
Their companions were trucks, large semi's with lights outlining monster grills, mouths running behind them, ready to swallow them up. They run in the right lane, signs every so often reminding them that trucks 'must use right lane.'
US-41 used to be the main passageway between Chicago and Milwaukee before the interstate was expanded to the west, traveled by weekend vacationers and truckers. Only the latter remain, speeding down the two lanes, intent on getting as far north as they could before turning in for the night.
Past the first stoplight with its Target and wine emporium, there's little else but trees, industrial buildings, and interior decorating shops. The highway didn't have the lighting of the interstate, and Dean found himself struggling to keep his eyes open, the darkness oppressive.
"Okay, man, pull over," Sam's voice broke through. "Really, you're swerving."
"Thought you were pissed at me."
"Doesn't mean I want us to crash," Sam admitted. "Look, there's a motel."
Twenty minutes up, there's the 'By the Way motel, a narrow white building with red doors. A diner's next door with a large gravel side lot full of semis and a sign saying, 'No Sleeping In Cabs.' Thankful, Dean pulled off the highway and slid into the first empty spot. Once the car was quiet and the engine clunked to a stop, Dean let his head fall back to the headrest and closed his eyes.
Sam shifted in the seat beside him.
"Stop your squirming," Dean told him.
"How could you just let him go after everything we've gone through to find him?" Sam asked. "I just don't get it, Dean."
"What are you really mad about?" Dean responded popping open his eyes almost painfully. "That he wasn't as pissed and mean as you've thought him to be since the day you left, or that you two made up?"
"What are you talking about?"
Shaking his head, Dean turned to face his bleeding brother. "You've blamed Dad for all the shit in your life, hell, blamed him for you leaving. Now you see he's got a weakness and isn't as bad as you imagined for the last four years."
"Imagined? C'mon, Dean! First he leaves without a word, and then comes back like we haven't been searching for him for months!"
"And what? He didn't stick around?"
Sam cut in, "Because of you!"
There's that weariness he'd been fighting since sliding behind the wheel and it washed over him in a quick shower; his stomach turned and he slammed a fist to his mouth to keep from upchucking in his car.
"We're," he tried, belched, and took a breath, "we're a liability to him. He's got to be at the top of his game to," – another, similar pause – "gotta be close, can't have us messing it up."
"You okay? You're not looking so good," frowned Sam.
"You look like shit."
A thunk of his head hitting Sam's shoulder, and Dean was out.
The night manager asked if they were some Navy boys sleeping off a wild night, rambled on about the MPs coming down from the base to bust 'em and it was bad for business. "No Navy boys," he told Sam, who explained his straight posture and clipped tones as being raised by a Marine.
"Semper Fi, kid," and he handed over the tarnished brass key to room 7.
Frequent injuries in their teens had Dean and Sam often carrying the other's unconscious or delirious forms to and from the hotel rooms of their narrow-minded father – selfish father, Sam amended. Four years away meant Dean was a little heavier or Sam a bit weaker, but he was able to compensate, and so he did.
By the time he dumped Dean on a bed, his face was absolutely pounding, throbbing in time with his pulse with blinding agony. He managed to stumble into the bathroom and flick on the sickly yellow light before he, too, passed out.
Waking to someone puking a few feet away was, in itself, unpleasant. But when your own stomach wasn't too far off from doing the same, it could be disaster.
Sam blinked and had a few seconds to push past Dean to the bathtub before he was sick himself. They continued for a minute more until Dean fell back against the wall, Sam into his shoulder, both shaking from the exertion.
"You okay, Sammy?" asked Dean, voice as raw as his throat.
"Ugg," he groaned, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "That was gross. How long have you been up?"
"Long enough to find your skinny ass laid out on the bathroom floor," Dean said. "You ever think of wakin' me up?" He shifted his shoulder slightly to playfully jostle his little brother.
"You were out cold, man."
"Whatever," sighed Dean. His head tilted back and he swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing, Sam still wedged between his right shoulder and the wall, knees pulled up in the narrow space. They're both still in their t-shirts and jackets, blood now dry and caked onto the fabric, not to mention the tender skin around their wounds.
Sam somehow pried himself from between Dean and the bathtub, and with his eyes still on what's inside, said, "We should get cleaned up."
Dean grunted, but didn't make a move to stand.
"Dude, I'm just as tired as you," Sam remarked slowly, running a hand through his hair. It stuck up where blood had dried on his forehead, and he frowned while inspecting both that and the slashes running down his cheek.
They looked worse then they were; head wounds always bled more than any others, and his were already dry and congealing after a few hours exposed to the air. He pinched two sides of one of the narrower cuts together – a little blood, but not puss. A good sign. Clean 'em out and a few stitches and butterfly bandages, and he'd be fine. Bruised and sore, but fine.
Still examining his wounds, he said, "Do you think Dad made it out okay?" Kept looking over his black eye. "Dean?"
A glance in the mirror, and he was on the ground kneeling beside his brother. Still in shirts and jacket and Dean was shivering like he was naked in a snowstorm. For what Sam could see – marks running down his left cheek, the symptoms didn't match the injury.
Not fluent in grunts, which is all Dean gave - a low grunt and sloping eyelids – he was no help. But then Dean tilted to the right and that Sam understood; bright red smeared on the generic off-white stucco of the motel's bathroom like a psychologist's inkblot. Except there, he wasn't being tested for what's lurking under the surface, he was looking for the source.
"Where, where," Sam kept muttering. He pulled back the leather jacket only to find another, larger inkblot. It looked like a rabbit hopping toward Dean's stomach.
He knew he'd found it when Dean grunted at Sam's touch. "And you didn't say anything? Jesus, Dean, you drove all that way…"
He was expecting the usual snarky comment, the backlash disguising an unease with such intense personal attention and care. Like the blood and shivering, the silence let Sam know just how badly his brother was doing.
Which was pretty bad.
"Arms up," Sam directed, trying to get Dean to focus on him. "Or I'll have to cut it off," he added.
The threat to one of his shirts – not out of sentimentality but a lack of many spares – got those sleepy eyes to open a fraction, enough for Sam to see him roll his eyes. He raised his arms just the same, hands hanging limp in the air; they're icy cold when Sam's brush against them as he pulled the wreck of a green shirt off.
Scooped around his ribs and clear across his back on the left side to the bumps of his spine were three deep gashes. They ran at an awkward angle, like Dean had been in motion when the shadow struck him. Sideways. Like a leap in front of someone.
"Goddamnit," cursed Sam. He'd gotten to the discarded duffle too easily – the shadows had grabbed Dad and thrown him clear across the room, yet Sam could get to the bag and light the flares with little difficulty.
"You've got to stop doing this," he said, mostly to himself while examining Dean's wounds with the same level of concentration used for his own.
"What?" muttered Dean.
"Jumping in front of me," Sam answered. He prodded Dean to turn towards the bathtub so he could get a better look. "I can take care of myself."
The tight spasm was a shrug. "What do you care?"
"Is this about," – Sam took a second to sigh, pull away, recoil. He shook his head while standing and wet a complementary towel hanging on the single towel rack. He spoke again when he was back on the floor, wet towel inches from Dean's side. "Of course it is. Listen, I know how much you want the three of us to be a family, but it never really existed in the first place."
Dean winced when the towel hit his skin, and tried to hide it even though Sam was staring at the very real and undeniable source of his masked discomfort. His cry of pain back at the hotel had been drowned out by those of the various shadows vanquished by Sam's brilliant use of road flares, a blessing in disguise. Dad would never have left if he'd known either of them was injured more then just the superficial facial wounds and he had to be the one to leave. Dean sure as hell wasn't going to be the one to make his dad vulnerable because he'd gotten a little banged up.
Leave it to Sam to get all worked up over a few little scratches.
"Doesn't exist?" he asked. He really, really didn't want to talk about that or any other matter related to family – not now or later. Sam had made himself abundantly clear and was doing more window cleaning while playing around with those scratches.
"Yeah. We might have had good times, but we were never happy."
"Maybe you weren't," grumbled Dean.
Sam patted the wound a few more times, then stood, wiping his hands on his jeans in long, kool-aide red stripes.
"I've got to grab – "
Sam couldn't help but feel guilty at the sad, hurt tone of voice Dean conveyed those two words. He'd consider Dean selfish if it weren't the only thing Dean had seriously asked for in the last….forever.
The trunk squeaked – how many times had Sam asked Dean to WD-40 the thing? – Sam's mind on Dean sitting on the floor in the bathroom, blood creating a new pattern on the stucco walls. To Sam, living your own life wasn't mutually exclusive to being close to family, but Dean always clung to him and Dad with both hands. Perhaps, Sam reflected as he grabbed the shaving kit full of miscellaneous medical supplies, not knowing his mother was vastly different then seeing her die.
His head was still trying to convince him that maybe Dean needed him close or he'd waste away when he crossed the space between the car and the bathroom and found Dean passed out again, design on the walls expanded to a small spatter on the floor.
The damn bathroom was probably cleaner then it had been since the stuff was put in, but Sam was happier about that because the stench of vomit's gone and Dean's not spilled all over the place. Cleaning kept his mind off the form curled up outside the door on the floor, blankets piled atop him unable to still the shivers.
Cleaning and sewing, though when it came to the latter, it wasn't all domestic and innocent.
And pacing. Wearing a track in the carpeting.
Weak sunlight seeped through the curtains, finding cracks and spaces where the hangings didn't meet up with the walls. The pattern of stripes let Sam keep his eye on Dean without having to turn on a light – for some reason, the dark was comforting, even after the shadows; he knew the sun would rise eventually, would eliminate the cause for a daeva's appearance.
Dean stirred, wiggling on his stomach – placed that way to keep him from sleeping on the slashes in his skin – and groaned at the invading sunlight. Sam knelt at his side at the first sound of movement, face squinched in concern – winced when it pulled the fresh, self-done stitches.
"Hey, you awake?" he asked. Dean blinked a few times, eyes popping wide open with each – he moved like a turtle coming out of its shell, shedding a few of the blankets atop him while he woke up.
He groaned and settled back into the cocoon. "Sam?"
"How are you feeling?"
"Like shit," he whispered in response, coughing a bit to clear his throat. "You okay?"
"Why didn't you say anything?" Sam blurted. Worry covered the simmering anger, but with Dean awake, anger slides through – he was still on the floor near Dean's head but looked elsewhere. "I could have drove, hell, Dad and I could have patched you up."
"No," Dean croaked. "Dad had to leave."
"That's your defense? Dad had to get away? I don't get you, Dean. We've been looking—"
"I heard all this before," Dean interrupted. He crawled out of the blankets a bit more, trying to get up, gain ground. Up on one elbow was as far as he got before the wound smarted; sweat broke out on his face almost instantly, but he pushed past it, moved forward with gritted teeth. "And I don't want to talk about it anymore," he finished, albeit a bit strained.
"That's a surprise," Sam deadpanned.
"Gotta work on your bedside manner, Sammy." Dean struggled up out of the blankets, groaning with each movement that pulled at his side and back – which was just about every single movement he made. By the time he sat up, he was drenched in sweat and panting, a bit lightheaded. Shit. How much blood had he lost?
He would have asked if Sam hadn't stood in one fluid movement and turned his back in search of his backpack – something over there that wasn't Dean. Fine. He could take care of himself, had planned on doing so since he realized they'd always be used against Dad so long as they were around.
Sure, his side was hurting, but his back was more; curving his spine to roll up to his feet sent such a powerful jolt of pain through his body, he lurched to the left and went down onto the edge of the nearest bed, hard mattress unrelenting. He crashed onto the edge on his wound and bounced to the floor in a jumble of limp limbs.
A few seconds were lost. When he came to, Sam was hovering, still angry, perhaps even more so then before, but Dean didn't want to deal with any of that anymore – Sam had given his ultimatum, not even one Dean could contest in any way, and talk's cheap. Sam's resented hunting for such a long time – nothing Dean could say was going to change that.
"Not going to change your mind," he muttered to himself. The room was shifting, wavering, like he was swimming underwater, looking at the world without goggles. Sam's face shifted in and out of focus even so close as it was.
"You shouldn't be moving around after all the blood you lost. All over the bathroom, which I had to clean," Sam remarked – tried to make his angry voice calm and cool.
Dean snorted as his reply and took a deep breath; his face seized up and he managed to croak, "Oh." Sam had him under the arms and dragged him to that pristine bathroom for Dean to foul it up again.
And again. Even though there's nothing left for Dean to throw up.
When he finished, Dean fell back onto the wall, winced, and rolled so his right side was against the bathtub.
"Jesus, Sammy," he tried with a smile, "I think my spine's trying to spear itself out of my back."
"Maybe we should take you to the hospital," Sam commented slowly.
"Naw. I'll be fine, just need some R and R."
A beat. "We're going to have to talk sometime."
Dean patted Sam's shoulder. "Let's deal with that when it happens.
"Made it pretty clear, Sam."
They sat quietly for a few minutes, Dean's heated breathing echoing in the small space. The wounds on Sam's forehead pulsated with every beat of his heart; 72 was close enough for him to tick off the time. It distracted him from the pain, the aches of betrayal and loss and various bruises, from the gnawing worry that Dad was hiding something serious and didn't have anyone to take care of him.
"We good?" Dean finally asked.
Good? When he was struggling to stay awake? When he sent Dad off after months of searching for him?
"You two made up, at least as much as you two can," Dean continued ruefully. "That was worth it, right?"
Sam wanted to shake him, to shout and ask how he could possibly think leaving school and losing Jess was worth making up with Dad – how any of that was worth looking for a man who told him to leave and never come back.
But sitting there in the motel bathroom off US-41 with his shivering brother with leaden eyes, he couldn't help but think finding Dean, reconnecting with his brother, filling that hole leaving his family created – that was worth losing what he ran off to find.
"Yeah," Sam found himself answering. "We're good."
Dean let out a content sigh. For now, things were fine. They might have been a fractured family, but they were still a family.