Summary: The Brothers Winchester are on their way to Bobby's so Dean can lend him a hand with a hunt. Sam is still weak from his stay in the hospital – blood poisoning as a result of a run in with Gordon and holy water as well as kidney complications from the car accident that put Dean in a coma – and he's still hearing voices. Dean will need to be at the top of his game in order to save his brother.
Action takes place directly after They're Here but you don't have to read that story first.
A/N: Thank you to Faye Dartmouth for trying to rein in this monster. You're a great beta even when the fic won't behave.
Dean and Sam had hit the road even before the sun had slouched up over the horizon. Dean was twitchy with anticipation, a cocky smile on his face, pleased to be heading away from Ellen and Ash and toward a new job. He knew he owed them for stepping in and helping out Sam but he was sick of watching them fawn over his brother. Sam was his brother, his responsibility.
Axl Rose was wailing "Live and Let Die" and Dean reached forward to turn the volume up a notch. He had his car, some tunes and his brother by his side again. Life was good.
He glanced at Sam out of the corner of his eye and saw Sam flinch as the music pulsed through the car more loudly.
Dean felt a little sheepish. He was trying to make Sam's trip as pleasant as possible, not give him a migraine. "Sorry, I guess I got a little carried away," Dean said as he turned the volume back down. "You okay over there?" Dean noticed that Sam kept pinching the bridge of his nose and squinting into the sun.
Sam rubbed the heel of his palm into his left eye. "This sun is killing my head. Do you think we could stop for some cheap sunglasses?" Sam heard the whine in his own voice. He disliked it but he was past caring -- between Guns N' Roses and the sun he really had a killer headache. He was trying hard not to be a killjoy. He owed his brother so much. Dean was transparently happy to be on the road again but with each passing mile he felt worse and worse.
"ZZ Top. I love that song. I think I've got that tape somewhere," Dean said, referring to Sam's use of "cheap sunglasses." "We'll stop up here at the next gas station. I could use some more caffeine." Dean spotted a gas station up on the right and exited the highway. Dean was so jazzed at the moment nothing could keep him down.
Sam looked disbelievingly at Dean. "You're vibrating as it is, why would you think you need more caffeine?" Sam threw an empty paper cup, drained of coffee by Dean earlier that morning, at his brother.
"Hey, hey. No distracting the driver." Dean was happy to see that Sam was getting into the spirit of things. This was exactly what he'd had in mind when he talked Sam into heading out on a new job.
Sam shifted in the passenger seat, trying to find a more comfortable position. The truth was that all of Dean's energy seemed to be zapping Sam's and he was beginning to think he wasn't up to being on the road again. He'd woken up this morning feeling groggy and dizzy, like he had a hangover. He had put it off to nerves but now he wasn't so sure.
He pushed the feelings of doubt aside. Dean had put his life on hold while Sam was recuperating. There was no way he was going to rain on Dean's parade.
Dean wheeled the Impala expertly off the road and coasted up to the gas station. He hit Sam lightly on the chest and said, "Let's see if we can find you some Daffy Duck sunglasses. I seem to recall that you were heartbroken when you lost that one pair."
"Dude, I was five. And if I recall, Dad said he'd buy me a new pair and never did," Sam said as he climbed out of the car, stretching.
As Sam commented about their father all's Dean could focus on was the part about their dad not living up to his word. Dean felt bile rise in his throat. He slammed out of the car into the cool morning air. He wasn't ready to talk to Sam about their dad yet and here he was, needling him again
Lightheadedness overwhelmed Sam and he eased himself back onto the passenger seat. Everything around him seemed to be lazily spinning.
Dean missed seeing Sam's failed exit out of the car as he stalked around the front of the car. As if a switch had been flipped Dean felt rage begin to simmer. Sam just couldn't leave it alone. He was always picking at things. Tell me how you're feeling, explain things to me…he never knew when to leave things alone.
He was about to haul Sam out of the car when he got a good look at Sam's face. Sam didn't look belligerent or snide. He looked nauseous. Dean felt his anger quickly drain away. He had told Sam that nothing would hurt him while his big brother was around and here he had been contemplating doing the harming himself.
"What's wrong?" Dean demanded. Even though Sam had been slowly mending since his release from the hospital his color hadn't yet regained its healthy hue. Right now he was sporting a "whiter shade of pale." Dean reached down and gently angled Sam's face up so he could look into his eyes. They were clear. Dean felt relief course through him. He had been afraid that Sam was sick again.
After all, Dean was happy to be on the road again but not at the risk of Sam's health. He patted Sam's shoulder and asked, "Can I get you anything else from inside? Maybe you need some food."
Sam slowly shook his head. He wasn't hungry. He had taken his meds that morning before they left so he knew he was fine there. It was just a simple headache. And now he was laying a guilt trip on Dean, making him worry about him. Again. "I'm good. I think I'll just wait for you here."
Dean looked searchingly at Sam and then sighed. Dean couldn't force Sam to tell him what was going on so he just had to trust that he was fine. "I'll be right back."
Dean thought briefly about Sam's behavior. Before their Dad's death Dean had felt a special connection with Sam and could tell what was going on with him; he only had to look into Sam's eyes to get the whole story. Now the connection seemed to have been broken and Dean had to rely on Sam to tell him what he was feeling or what he needed. Unfortunately Sam, the original caring sharing soul, had clammed up on him.
Dean hustled through the gas station mart and grabbed some essentials, including some black sunglasses for Sam and strong black coffee for himself. He itched to hit the road again. He wasn't sure why but he felt driven to get away from Ellen and Ash and immerse himself in a job. Dean didn't like all the self reflection he had experienced due to the recent weeks of inactivity. Dean was a man of action, not words.
Sam tilted his head back against the seat and tried to relax.
Sam turned his head from left and right, frantically trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. No one was there.
Sam leaned his head against the cool glass of the window and closed his eyes. His heart was racing and he was trembling. He concentrated on his breathing, trying to get it back under control.
Sam, they're here.
Why was this happening? He wasn't dreaming and he wasn't having a vision. He felt powerless but he didn't know what to do.
He wanted to tell Dean but something was holding him back. Sam trusted Dean with his life but he wasn't sure he trusted him with his sanity. Things had been more relaxed between the brothers in the last couple of weeks but there were still some trust issues. He just needed to pull himself together.
"Here you go. Someone must have snapped up the last pair of the Daffy edition before we arrived. I hope these will do." Dean lightly threw the sunglasses onto Sam's lap as he slid into the driver's seat.
Sam flinched as the glasses landed on his thigh. Dean realized that Sam hadn't heard him approaching. If he hadn't already known that Sam was still recovering from his recent brush with death this would have been solid confirmation that Sam wasn't well enough to hunt. Dean gently elbowed Sam with his elbow, "Hey, anyone home in there?"
Sam turned his head and looked Dean in the eye. "Sorry, I guess I was lost in thought. Thanks for the glasses." He quickly slid the glasses on his face. He was embarrassed that Dean had snuck up on him, especially since Dean hadn't been trying to do that.
Sam felt a bone deep weariness that sucked the remaining energy right of him. He was trying to assert himself as an equal, something his dad had never allowed, and he didn't want to appear weak to his brother. "Let's get this rust bucket on the road." Sam tried to distract Dean. He didn't want to be such a burden.
Even though the sunglasses masked Sam's eyes, they couldn't mask the defeat that radiated from Sam. Something was going on with his baby brother. But Sam seemed to be making an effort to lighten the mood so Dean allowed himself to be carried along.
"Rust bucket? You'd better watch it or she'll dump you on the side of the road and make you walk to Bobby's." Dean petted the dashboard lovingly, "It's okay. Don't listen to him. He's just upset that they didn't have the frames he wanted." Dean saw Sam's lips quirk as if to smile and then his expression flattened out again.
The Impala disappeared over a hill and wandered east toward Bobby's. The brothers were back on the road.
Dean was so wound up he felt like he could fly. His fingers drumming on the steering wheel in time to the music, he glanced at the speedometer and noticed they almost were flying – they were doing close to 100 mph. He'd made himself pull back a little even though it felt good to be moving past the landscape so quickly. Dean wanted them to get to Bobby's today but he wanted them to get there in one piece.
Dean checked his watch. Since their brief stop at the gas station earlier that morning, the brothers had been on the road non stop for six hours. He didn't know about his brother but Dean needed to stretch his legs, grab a bite to eat, feed the Impala, and relieve his bladder. Not necessarily in that order. Dean stretched in the driver's seat and glanced over at Sam. His head was tilted at an angle against the window.
"Sam. You awake?" Dean asked Sam.
Sam slowly stretched in his seat and stifled a yawn. Sam had been asleep but was now trying to wake up.
"What's up?" Sam sleepily said, turning to look at Dean. He tried to rub his eyes but his fists met the resistance of the sunglasses and dropped back down to the seat. Sam was accustomed to waking up in a coherent state but everything seemed fuzzy at the moment. His lack of focus would normally have aggravated him but he couldn't seem to pull his thoughts together enough to be concerned.
Dean smiled fondly at Sam. Even with his eyes hidden behind the black sunglasses Dean could tell that Sam wasn't quite awake. It reminded him of when Sam was a toddler waking up from a nap. All soft and warm. It was a far cry from the contrary teen Sam would morph into or the steely determination of the now grown Sam. Or at least that was how Sam had been before their dad's death. Dean wasn't so sure now. In the past his brother had always been able to focus all of his energy on whatever circumstance he found himself in – like single mindedly preparing for a hunt or getting into Stanford - but now he seemed directionless. It was disconcerting for Dean to witness.
"It's lunch time," Dean announced. They turned off the interstate into a gas station with a diner attached. Dean was out of the car and around to the passenger side before Sam could get his seat belt off. This wasn't due to Dean's haste, Sam simply couldn't figure out how to get himself out of the car.
Sam glanced blearily up at Dean. He was chagrined that he couldn't make his limbs function the way he wanted them to at the moment. He hated being dependant upon anyone but that seemed to be status quo at the moment.
"Need some help there?" Dean had opened the door and was leaning across Sam to release the seat belt. Sam allowed Dean to take his arm and tug him out of the car. Dean steadied Sam as he staggered awkwardly against him.
"Damn, what kind of meds do they have you on and how can I get my hands on some?" Dean teased Sam as he gently steered him into the diner. Sam's grogginess amused Dean to no end as he watched his usually graceful brother stumble about, long limbs flailing, but amusement slowly turned to concern. Sam thrived on being in control and he was anything but right now. The normally calm, cool and collected Sam was stumbling around like a newborn colt.
Dean felt a little better as Sam seemed to gain control of his limbs and stand without assistance. They slid into a booth near the back of the diner. Sam propped his chin on his hand and stared out the window while Dean grabbed a menu.
A short while later the requisite gum smacking middle aged diner waitress, Patti her nametag proclaimed, sidled up to the booth and said, "What can I get you two sweet young things this fine day?"
Dean smiled up at Patti and gave her his order. "Double cheeseburger, fries and a coke, please." He flirted lightly with her, being well versed in the diner service rules. He pretty much motored on auto pilot as he made small talk with her. Patti indicated that things were slow at the diner at the moment and Dean offered, winking an eye, to liven things up.
Patti batted her eyelashes at Dean, all in good fun, before turning to Sam, "And how about you, sweetie, what'll you have?" Patti turned her charm on Sam.
Dean turned away from Patti and looked expectantly at Sam. His brother had a spacey look on his face and continued to look out the window. The menu before him remained untouched.
Dean didn't think Sam was being intentionally rude but he decided he'd better order for Sam if they wanted to still make Bobby's tonight. "You'll have to forgive my brother, he suffers from motion sickness and the medicine really knocks him out. He'll have a grilled chicken sandwich, side salad, and water." Dean smiled winningly at Patti, willing her to move on from their table.
"Thanks, doll. Your order will be right up." Patti sauntered off in the direction of the kitchen.
Dean watched until he was certain she was out of earshot. "Dude, what's with you?" Dean asked as he kicked Sam in the shin under the table.
Sam turned away from the window toward Dean while muffling another yawn. "What?" Sam replied. Semi coherent at best he rubbed the heel of his hand into his left eye setting the sunglasses askew on his face.
Dean reached forward and pulled the sunglasses off of Sam's face so he could see his eyes. They still looked clear. Sam just looked exhausted. Dean was beginning to feel a little annoyed and tried to snap Sam out of his funk.
"Nothing. We're going to eat a quick lunch and then I'll put you down for another nap." Dean sat back and waited to see if his crack about a nap would penetrate.
Failing to receive any response from Sam, not even a blink, he tried a new tact. "Jesus, Sam. Maybe I need to find you a doctor."
Usually the threat of a doctor was enough to send Sam into a panic. He'd never liked them before but after his recent stint in the hospital Dean knew Sam didn't want anything to do with the health care profession. He'd had his fill of them. Sam looked concerned for a moment and then yawned again. He was too muzzy to care.
Hunger warring with concern, Dean reluctantly decided that Sam was just worn out from the extra activity of being on the road again.
Patti approached the table with their order. After setting the food in front of the brothers she quickly backed away from the suddenly silent table to leave the brothers in peace.
Dean fell upon his food ravenously. Sam slowly picked at his meal, taking just enough bites and arranging the remains on his plate so that it looked as if he'd had more than he really had. Dean wished Sam's appetite would return but at least Sam had given it a shot. He was trying despite his exhaustion.
By the end of the meal Sam had even rallied enough to listen to Dean talk, primarily about how happy he was to be on the road again.
"I feel so much better away from the Roadhouse, don't you? I mean don't get me wrong, everyone was great to us but I was really feeling antsy." Dean thought Ellen and Ash had paid a little too much attention to Sam and had found it cloying but he really didn't know how Sam felt about leaving them behind. Sam was silent for so long that he didn't think he was going to find out but then Sam surprised him by answering.
"I guess I'm relieved to be away. I can't really explain it though," Sam answered. Ellen and Ash had been so solicitous of him it was hard to fault them. At first it had been comforting but at the end he'd found it stifling.
Dean didn't want to press Sam further. He was content that his brother was beginning to share his thoughts again. Dean felt vindicated. Getting out on the road had been just what the doctor ordered for Sam in his opinion.
The brothers paid for their meal and hit the facilities before wandering out to the car. Dean filled the Impala as Sam slowly walked around the parking lot, stretching his long legs out. Dean kept one eye on his brother as he paid the attendant. Sam walked up to the car at the same time as Dean. Sam was more alert which pleased Dean.
Dean couldn't resist teasing Sam, "You need some help with that seat belt, Sam?"
Sam shot him a one finger salute in response.
Dean stifled a grin, realizing even a silent Sam could communicate when needed. "Let's see if we can make Bobby's by night fall. I'm sure you're new baby sitter is getting anxious."
Sam sent Dean a sour look before his dimples flashed. Dean felt relief flood through him. He felt that maybe everything was going to be okay after all.