One Art

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident

The art of losing's not too hard to master

Though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

- Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art"

The silence felt thick and wet, a humidity which refused to pass through the open windows. Dean stared stone-faced ahead, eyes firmly set on the windshield and the road beyond. Sam tucked his feet against the dashboard, clenching and unclenching his fists in his lap.

Fight. Fight. Fight. It was his best-learned instinct, and every lesson he'd ever heard rushed home now: Finish the job. Don't walk away from a fight. Never obey the enemy. Don't give away the upper hand. If you can't beat 'em, give 'em something to remember you by.

Every fiber in him told him to stop, to get out of the car, to run back into the house and punch the old man square in the jaw. Finish it. Finish it.

"I hate him," Sam said, one small concession to the furious hunter warring tooth and nail to kill the bastard. "I fucking hate him." Dean didn't answer, just let the statement hang between them until it felt like shrinking away. Sam arched an eyebrow. "So where are you planning to sleep?" He tried to control his voice and keep the tremor at a minimum, but there's no hiding anything from Dean and he caught his brother's sharp glance. "I mean, I doubt Stanford will let you crash in my dorm room all year."

That earned a small chuckle that died quickly. "I'm going back, Sammy. I'll take you as far as the bus station."

Sam froze, and even the hunter in him couldn't think of anything to say except, "Are you fucking nuts?" Dean simply rolled his eyes, finally reaching for the radio and flicking it on. Sam wondered idly how long he'd been itching to do it. But Sam, gritting his teeth, kicked it off with his foot. "Dean. Answer the question."

"First off, the next time you kick my radio you're getting out of the car and I'm not going to stop for you to do it," he growled, hands tightening on the wheel. "And secondly: no, Sam. I am not fucking nuts."

Sam ignored the first half of Dean's statement and answered flatly, "He'll kill you. He might hurt me, but he'll kill you."

"No, Sammy, he won't," his brother snapped finally, his voice tight. "It's my job to take care of you. I'm taking care of you. Can we drop it?"

And because Dean didn't ask for anything, but he'd asked for this, Sam obeyed. He turned his head to watch the darkness plastered to the window. Then, "I just don't know why you follow him blindly. It's not like he's ever given you a reason to."

"I said drop it." A command this time. Dean's voice grated against Sam's ears. Each word was sharp and clear and crisp and Sam thought: he's barely holding on. Big, bad Dean Winchester is about to cry.

"Dean," he begged, pushing his brother because there was no one else to push. "Seriously. Help me, dude. Give me some reason to believe that you've got an opinion of your own in there."

Knuckles turned to white and it was several seconds before there was any reaction. Dean turned the wheel suddenly, the Impala screeching off of the road before it halted in a patch of crass. The headlights flicked off and Sam could just barely see the outline of his brother's face. "You want an opinion?" Dean snarled. "Fine. I think that you're a selfish sonofabitch. I don't buy that 'higher learning' shit for a second. You're going to Stanford to run away, because you're scared out of your ass that one of us is going to die hunting and that it's not going to be you. You'd rather be cut off from Dad and me then watch us get wasted by a demon and you're hiding behind your brains to do it. That's my fucking opinion, Sam."

They sat in silence and then Dean shifted. "Are we done now?"

Sam found his voice hiding in a pool behind his eyes. The hunter in him dove in. Returning it to its natural place, "Done what? Self-projecting? I'd say so."

"You asked my opinion. I gave it to you. I'm sorry it's not what you were looking for."

His voice suggested that he felt anything but sorry; rather Sam got the distinct impression that Dean wanted to knock out all his teeth and leave him stranded in the dark. "That's not the reason," Sam muttered finally as his brother started the car. Dean snorted, turning up the radio to drown out the silence and whatever else his brother might say to fill it.

Sam looked out of the window, at the darkness that gave birth to demons and fire and little boy warriors only to swallow them again. The hunter clawed at him, begging to grab a weapon of some sort and fuck something up. Waste what you can or die trying.

"That's not the reason," he repeated.