A/N: Thanks to wild wolf free17 for a wonderful and speedy beta read.
--weechesters at ten and fourteen here.


Feels Like North


If you know someone who tries to drown their sorrows, you might tell them that sorrows know how to swim. - P.S. I Love You, H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


Sweat was making salty lines down the side of Dad's face, Dean noticed. The shimmery little tracks could almost be mistaken for tears in the dark car.

"Hey Dad," he said, carefully casual, and gestured out the windshield. "I could…I could drive for awhile."

John's eyes didn't move from the road. "I got it," he said and swiped the sweat out of his eyes with a shirtsleeve. "Just need to find the highway."

Dean nodded in reluctant assent and smoothed the map out over his knees. It was Iowa this week, land of cows and corn and not much else. He'd yet to find any of the roads they'd traveled on the map. It was always township road 21 or 24 or 38, gravel and soft concrete, not likely to be on any map.

Up ahead, a lone streetlight appeared on the road, marking an intersection. John took a left there without slowing or signaling and Dean twisted around, trying to read the road signs as they passed in a blur.

"This north?" John asked, wringing his hands around the wheel.

Dean squinted at the map. "Um…"

"Feels like north. Northwest, maybe."



"Yes. Yes, sir."

John nodded stiffly and stomped on the gas pedal.

Dean watched as the speedometer climbed to seventy, then eighty, and kept inching higher. The night world outside flew by in blurred, thick lines of blue and black and tan.

Usually, he didn't mind speed, enjoyed it even when he was the one behind the wheel and could feel the resistant power under his foot. But Dad didn't seem to be focusing too well, not on the road or anything.

Dean let go of the map, it's edges wrinkled where his palms had been sweating and gripped his seatbelt where it came across his chest instead. Carefully, he gave it an experimental tug.

"Sam sleeping?"

Still holding his seatbelt, Dean turned to see.

Sam was the same as he'd been for the last hour or so. Asleep on his side, knees nearly pulled up to his chest.

"Yeah, he's sleeping."

John's eyes darted up to the rearview mirror and back. "He's…is he okay?" He sounded wired and weird to Dean's ears, about to jump out of his skin, maybe.

"He's fine, Dad," Dean said carefully. "He's asleep." Like most ten-year-olds were at one thirty in the morning. Dean didn't think they even had a choice in the matter. Anyone under twelve just sort of passed out when the clock struck midnight.

It was no consolation to John though, not when he was like this, needing a drink as much as they needed a place to sleep.

The car gave a little lurch as it shifted into a higher gear.

"Dad," Dean tried again. "I could drive if you…if you want."

"Dean, you're not even…you can't even…" John took a breath and reached up with a loose, clammy fist to rub at his chest. "No."

"I was just--"

"No," John repeated, a little louder, harder, just on the edge of anger. "For God's sake, Dean, just be quiet." The way he said it, it really almost sounded like a joke.

Calmly, Dean attempted to fold the map into a more manageable size. The things were really a test of your intelligence and after a few moments of rustling paper, John irritably snatched the paper from his hands and shoved it onto the dash.

"Forget it," he muttered. Then, without warning, he was braking and swinging a fast right. Gravel spun out under the tires and a dust trail shone like glitter in the moonlight behind them. "East," he said in a tone that didn't call for a response.

Dean suspected it wouldn't matter how old or smart he got, he still wouldn't understand why Dad got like this. Even when he'd done everything exactly right.

"Damn nowhere towns," John said, flexing his hands on the wheel. "Damn lack of boarding. Damn lack of shit." The car pulled right and the tires slid in the grass at the shoulder. John jerked the wheel straight and cursed. "Damn alignment. Damn grass."

Dean tried not to listen, but couldn't help flinching with every other word. He slouched down and leaned his head against the window.

It was warm in the car, thanks to the heater, but the glass was frosty cold. Winter was coming in fast this year. Dad would be wanting to head more south soon, where it was warmer and there wouldn't be salt on the roads to rust out the Impala's belly.

"Damn gas tank," John cursed and just like that, he was easing off the gas and onto the brake.

Dean leaned over to see the gauge hovering halfway between a quarter of a tank and empty.

"We'll need it to drive out in the morning," John said, braking lightly, and then sharply.

In a move that had Dean clutching his seatbelt again, John swung left into a field of tall, dead corn, mowing over a few stalks in the process. The wiry leaves scraped over the roof and windows, like nails on a chalkboard all around.

He pulled in further, the tires bumping over the raised rows and thick roots, until the car was surrounded on three sides and hidden from the road.

When he cut the engine, the silence was sudden and startling.

In the backseat, Sam shifted, mumbling something about flowers and TV.

John still held the wheel with both hands, white knuckles like polished bone in the light from the harvest moon. His eyes went up to the rearview mirror. "He alright?"

"He's fine," Dean said. He didn't even have to turn around to see, just knew it. Sam was sleeping good lately, like he should, dreaming about flowers and popcorn probably.

"You can share the back then," John said from the side of his mouth. "Stay warm that way. Drive out in the morning."

Dean frowned at his words. He almost made it sound like he wouldn't be around to be driving out with them.

"Dean?" John asked the windshield.

"Okay," he agreed reluctantly. "Yes, sir."

John waited another minute and then when he did move, it was slowly, like even just breathing hurt too much. He leaned over across his son and reached under the passenger seat.

Dean sat very still for a moment, not sure what his dad was doing until he'd sat back up holding a large, unlabeled bottle of amber liquid. Dean realized his intentions then. The lack of a motel or a bar wasn't going to stop him and he really wouldn't be there in the morning. Not mentally anyway.

"Dad," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut tight and trying to think of a good reason not to. "It's…it's cold. Don't." The words were little more than breathy suggestions and he couldn't be sure John had even heard.

John turned the bottle over in his hands. He glanced over at Dean and then out the window, frowning deeply, like the world was his mystery to solve.

And then, with a shake of his head, he was opening the door, out and gone.

The icy breeze that followed sucked the last of the heat from the car. Sammy was moving around more in the back, maybe looking for a blanket that he didn't have. "Dean?" he asked.

Dean turned around, got to his knees on the seat and paused.

From the back window, he could see Dad standing out on the road, almost framed by the tall lines of corn stalks. A moonlit silhouette, head tipped back, bottle held loosely at his side.

"Dean?" Sam asked again.

"'S'okay," Dean said and slung one leg over the back of the seat. Ducked then, but still knocked his head on the roof and tumbled over the rest of the way, landing in a messy heap in the foot well.

"What are you doing?" Sam asked sleepily.

Dean pulled himself up onto the seat and whispered "Move over."

Obediently, Sam uncurled and scooted back, pressed himself into the seat to make room.

Dean lay down there, on the edge, the seat warm where Sam had been. Almost immediately, sleepy muppet-hands began to pull at the front of his army drab jacket.

Sammy had always had hands that were too big for the rest of him. It'd been a point of concern when he was first born, Dean remembered. The doctors thought he might've had some kind of gigantism. The hands and the feet always gave that away apparently, but he was fine.

Those doctors would probably laugh to see him now, Dean thought. Sammy was tiny for his age. Dean couldn't remember being anywhere near that small when he was ten. When he was five, maybe.

With a sigh, Dean unfastened his coat, allowing Sam's big, chilly hands and bare arms in, and pulled it over the kid's back. "Where's your jacket?"

"Don't got it."

"No kidding."

"Are you mad?" Sam asked politely.

Dean squeezed his eyes shut. "No. Not mad."

"Good," Sam sleep-whispered and curled in further, a warm bundle against Dean's chest.

Dean couldn't say for how long Dad had been gone now, but it felt like awhile. Couldn't say for sure that he hadn't passed out in the middle of the road by now, or been hit by a passing truck, or been abducted by the children of the corn. Couldn't say for sure that hadn't happened, 'cause it was possible. It could happen.

Or maybe, he was just sitting out there, drinking slowly until he could breath again. He wouldn't be drunk, not stumbling or slurring, but he'd be careless and inattentive, not his self, not theirs.

Maybe, he was just sitting out there, drinking slowly, just enough so that when he came back, he wouldn't be Dad anymore.

Dean almost wished for the children of the corn to get him.

Sam's breaths were even and warm against his shirt, and without quite realizing it, Dean began to count them, tapping a finger on Sam's back for each inhale and exhale.

If he got to five hundred, he wagered, and Dad wasn't back yet, then he would go get him.

When he'd counted to five hundred, he went back to zero and started again. If Dad weren't back this time, he'd for sure go look.

Halfway through the fifth count, the sudden smashing tinkle of glass on concrete nearly stopped his heart.

Breathless, he moved to sit up, but Sam's arms pulled further around his back, icy fingers creeping under his shirt and hanging onto his belt.

"Don't, Dean, don't. It's cold."

Dean had half a mind to pry Sam's hands off and scramble outside. But he also had half a mind to stay right here, where it was warm and safe and he could at least do that much right. He could at least do that right for Sam.

Dean took a shallow breath, the most he could manage, and held it, listening, listening. All was silent, quiet and still until he felt dizzy and about to burst and he had to let the air out in a choked sort of splutter.

"Sammy?" he asked desperately.


"You…you're okay?"

"Mm-hmm," Sam hummed and Dean could feel the vibrations deep in his chest.

The driver's door creaked open then, and with it came a draft of cold, biting air, alcohol and dirt and Dad. The car rocked with the weight as John flopped across the front seat, cursing as he tried to get comfortable in the too small space.

Dean pulled Sam closer and closed his eyes tight, and after awhile, when the wind had stilled, and John quieted, and Sammy's mumblings had faded into snores, he slept.