Life at Sea
Some people might think it's weird.
Sam stands back from the stone, squinting in the sunlight and studies the letters and numbers carved there. It probably takes some effort, he considers. Granite isn't soft. Wonders if it's done by hand or if they use a machine these days.
He kneels a few feet back from the stone. Doesn't dare touch it, won't dare to bring flowers or wreathes or ribbons, or even something a little more appropriate. No, the stone remains bare and clean, looks polished like the waxed hood of a car in the midday sun. That feels appropriate, Sam thinks.
He reads over the name again, reads over the numbers and does the math in his head. Subtracts this from that and comes up with a number.
As a kid, he'd done it constantly, unconsciously. 1923 minus 1845. 1965 minus 1882. 1900 minus 1808. Seventy-two. Eighty-four. Ninety-three years old. The grave markers without dates always bothered him a little. An itch between his shoulders. He wanted to know.
Sam rocks back on his heels and sits down in the grass, pulls his knees up and clasps his hands.
He doesn't want to know this one.
It's too small. It's too short. Not even thirty. Not even close. Barely time for a breath. A brief inhale, exhale, and he's gone.
It's somehow worse than the children's' graves he's seen and not for the obvious reason. The difference being the difference between never getting to start and never getting to finish.
Sam squints at the stone until his eyes start to water from it and he closes them with a sigh.
Finally at rest.
Some people probably think it's weird.
It's fixing to be summer again when they get into Oklahoma. Only early spring, though really, and unseasonably warm. Tornado weather.
Sam got rid of his jacket fifty miles ago and glancing over at him, Dean decides that he looks fairly cool. The breeze from open windows ruffling the sleeves of his t-shirt.
It's no use sweating it out, so Dean leans forward and lets go of the wheel with one hand. He shrugs his jacket off one shoulder, gets it caught around his elbow, and ends up shaking his arm and wiggling around like ants have crawled up his shorts trying to get it off.
Sam snorts and sits up to help. It's funny; sometimes Dean forgets how soft Sam can be. He acts like he's dealing with glass and pudding as he eases the jacket off and folds it into a neat bundle between them on the seat.
"Thanks." Dean swallows and leans back, trying to get comfortable behind the wheel again.
Sam nods and presses a fist against his lips as he gazes out the window.
Oklahoma, Dean thinks, is one place he'll never miss. It's a wasteland. Nothing worth looking at and no one worth talking to. The panhandle, in particular, gets him every time. There must be something supernatural there, the way the wind kicks up like a devil for no reason at all. He's certain of it, but never cared enough to check it out. Never cared to spend enough time there to check it out.
There's a reason no state wanted that little strip of paradise.
"Do you think--" Sam pauses and scratches at his forehead before starting up again. "Do you think we'll come this way again?"
Aw, take it straight to—Dean bites his tongue. Physically, bites down on it, because seriously. "Why the hell do you got to be talking like that?" He glares at his brother, or tries to anyway.
Sam gives a pitiful shrug. "Just thinking about it, I guess."
"Well, quit. Quit thinking about it."
"I can't help it."
"Yeah, you can. Man, we could think over that kind of shit day and night, anybody could, but we'd make ourselves crazy doin' it."
Sam nods, shrugs.
"Alright." Dean sits back, turns the radio up a notch. That settled. No more of Sam and his depressing, emo babble. Dean doesn't want to hear it. He's got plenty else to think on.
He turns his attention back to the road, eyes focused on that yellow dashed line down the center of the pavement.
Beside him, Sam snuffles and sighs.
Dean reaches over to switch out the cassette for a new one. They'd been listening to the same thing since Albuquerque. The tape is winding through, in a quiet space between songs. Dean drums his fingers on the wheel, waiting.
Sam makes a horrible noise like he's choked on a bumblebee and it's flown out his nose.
Dean nearly jumps in surprise, looks at his brother, and oh…no.
Sam's chewing hard on his lip and then he makes that noise again.
Dean cringes when he looks at him, the way his eyes have gone bright red, nose running as much as anything else.
Sam won't meet his eyes and Dean watches him struggle to take just one even breath, in and out. It's too late for that though, too far gone. Sam shakes his head once-- no what, Dean doesn't know-- before he doubles over onto his knees.
He's shaking and he's choking and barely breathing through all of it. He loops his hands over his head, like they'd had to do for tornado drills in Midwestern grade schools.
Dean considers pulling over, considers putting a hand on his brothers back, but it's no good. He bites his lip and focuses on driving. Reaches over to turn the radio off.
Sam cries for a while.
Eventually, Dean fishes out a warm bottle of water from under the seat.
Sam'll be dehydrated by the end of it.
Sam doesn't like it here. Not in the cool, early months of the year when a chill hangs around well into the day. It's too warm for the furnace. Too cold to go without. And Bobby still leaves his windows open all through the night.
Sam tugs at the sleeves of his sweatshirt, pulls them down over his wrists. Never could find sleeves long enough to cover his skin properly. He settles back into the armchair in Bobby's front room. It's a nice chair, soft, but not too soft, wings that make it feel cozy and a nice gray color. If he had a place to put it, Sam would seriously consider pinching it while Bobby was out somewhere.
"My grandfather died in that chair," Bobby says suddenly. He settles onto the couch opposite Sam and rests a bottle of Corona on his knee.
Sam shifts forward uncomfortably.
Bobby breaks out into a wide grin. "I'm just messing with you."
"It's funny," Sam remarks calmly.
"Yes, sir." Bobby tips the bottle up to his lips and downs a generous amount of the golden liquid. Sam wonders how many he's had yet.
He looks toward the hall Dean disappeared down a while ago. It's dark now, a black void. Sun was still setting when Dean went to bed.
It seems Dean is always tired lately, but it's not exhaustion, it's not slouching shoulders and purple smudges under his eyes. It's that settled, relaxed sort of sleepiness that comes after a long day of hard work.
"It's better," Bobby says. Sam looks over at him. He sounds syrupy, like he's melting. "A lot better this way. Won't be…won't be so bad now." Half of a smile.
"Just because we got this doesn't mean I'm going to quit."
"I know that, Sam. I'm just saying. I'll sleep easier knowing his soul ain't…knowing he isn't going down there."
Through the window, Sam can hear the rumble of a worn engine, far away and out on the road. It fades after a moment.
"If we got this far, I think we can fix it? The rest of the way?" Sam says it like a question. Doesn't mean to.
It was a fairly easy deal to keep Dean's soul from going to hell when they actually sat down to think about that part of it. Following the Catholic beliefs, Dean had adorned a brown scapular that afternoon. Swore never to take it off. It was odd to think that the thin cord and talismans beneath Dean's usual worn t-shirt would save his soul from hell. None of them would question it though. Holy water and crosses worked well enough.
That was only half the battle though. In order to actually save a life, to reverse a death, you needed a demon to make a deal. And the problem with that, they've found, is that it's hard to find one that'll even look at you when your soul has already been bargained for and bargained over. It's a little like trying to get a loan.
Or buy a car.
"Sam, we know it for a fact that there's a hell." Not answering any questions.
"So, I guess I always thought, that's pretty good evidence for the alternative as well."
Sam doesn't say anything.
"This is better," Bobby repeats. "If it…if it had to be one of you..."
"What?" Sam feels a jump in his blood and the only thing that keeps him in that gray chair is the not undue exhaustion weighing down his bones. "What the hell's that mean?"
"Just what I said. Don't get upset, Sam, you know it's the truth. Your brother wouldn't survive without you." Bobby takes another drink. "I saw it myself and I'd rather not lose both."
Sam blinks, unfocused gaze fixed on his shoes. Doesn't know what to say. In his mind, he sees Dean fading away, like some disease has a hold of him and ain't letting go. It's terminal. It's terminal, it's not going away. This is it.
Sam nods vaguely and picks at the gray upholstery of the chair.
It's getting late.
Dean saw a billboard once that said the average person spends an hour a day in the bathroom. 7 hours a week. Thirty hours a month. That's two weeks a year.
He kind of figures that he probably spends a little more than that, seeing as bathroom time is the only time he gets a little breathing room from Sam. And it's not like Sam time is a bad thing, it's just that a guy needs his space occasionally.
Dean exits the restroom and pauses to let his eyes adjust to the sun. It's warm enough to make him feel sleepy and he hasn't had any coffee in awhile. He starts over to the car, bouncing a bit, knees a little wobbly after too long in the car. He feels like a sailor on shore leave, trying to find his footing on solid ground again.
Sam is in the driver's seat, mouth stuffed full of a gas station hot dog.
"What, did somebody forget to feed you again?" Dean asks, sliding into the passenger seat.
Sam glares. "I gah you some jush." He chews and points at a Styrofoam cup sitting on the dash.
"I knew there was a reason I kept you."
Sam waves him off and leans forward to start the car.
"Please swallow that chunk of ground worm before you start driving. 'Cause if you choke and hit something." Dean pats the dash gently. "There will be hell."
Sam waves him off again, this time with a lot fewer fingers.
"Nice, Sammy. That's real ladylike of you."
Sam makes a face, chewing furiously and then swallowing.
Dean checks his watch.
"You know what?" Sam finally spits.
"Give me the coffee back."
"Give it." Sam swipes at the cup, but Dean holds it out of reach, mocking.
"Make me, bitch."
"I'm not kidding."
"I'm not kidding."
Sam sits back and crosses his arms, glaring out the windshield. "I hate you."
"Aw, I love you too, honey."
Sam just shakes his head as he shifts into drive. "Which way are we going?"
Dean swallows a stomach-full of coffee. "Eighty to twenty-five--" He points north. "Seventy-six, twenty one, seventy-six again--"
"It jogs. Then fifty-one, fifty, and onto green."
Sam frowns. "Bobby's?"
"You got it."
"Won't hurt to see what he's up to."
Sam shrugs. "I think he would call if he found anything."
Dean shrugs. "I want to talk to him."
"You know, there's this new thing called a telephone. It's amazing. It lets you--"
"I want to talk to him." Dean enunciates his words carefully. Always felt like a little of his message was lost over the wire. Couldn't really tell if he was being understood or not and he couldn't risk misunderstanding when it came to important topics. Especially when that topic was who was going to look out for his baby brother when he wasn't around to do it. Dean was avid that Bobby understands that, even if he had to shake it into him.
Sam finally gets the car going at a conservative speed. They'd be at Bobby's within a day.
Dean sits back to enjoy a break, mulling over what exactly to say to Bobby. It was uncomfortable to ask so much of someone. Even though it was Bobby, he wasn't blood, and you just never could be sure. But, there wasn't anyone else, no one at all.
Dean feels sick just to look at Sam, his mouth pulled up in concentration, hands at ten and two on the wheel. He glances over at the weight of Dean's gaze and smiles crookedly. "What?"
Dean shakes his head. "Just thinkin'." Making plans. And that was oddest of all, looking so far into the future, calculating time so carefully. It had never been important before. No, there's was a life spent at sea, rocking and rolling with the waves, never seeing much beyond the horizon. They'd finally gotten to the edge of the world.
"Don't hurt yourself," Sam quips.
Dean snorts and reaches over to swat his head.
Summer comes early to the Midwest. It's hot and it's miserable and Sam can't breathe quite right with all the moisture in the air. Feels like trying to inhale through a stuffed nose.
He blinks out of a stupor when Dean turns right into a gravel parking lot. The sign out front reads Miller's, but then everyone is either a Miller or a Yoder around here. The faded hamburger and ice cream paintings below that tell him more. "Food?"
"Food." Dean nods intensely and steps out of the car.
It's a walk up joint, more ice cream stand than burger bar. Dean stands in front of the window, rocking on his heels as he studies the menu. Sam joins him after a moment.
"Only if it's real."
They both jump when the window slides up. A man with creased red skin and a ball cap leans out. "What can I get ya?"
Dean orders quickly, while Sam continues to squint at the menu. Dean drums his fingers on his pant leg, waiting. "So, how 'bout that rain?" he asks the man in the window.
The man frowns. "Hasn't rained in two weeks."
"That was Virginia," Sam presses quietly.
"Oh." Dean laughs. "I meant that rain."
"We're moving," Sam informs the restaurateur.
"Shut up and order," Dean tells him.
"You drove that all the way from Virginia?" the restaurateur asks, gesturing toward the car.
"Would have put it on a trailer, myself."
Dean shrugs, a genuinely wistful smile on his face. "Yeah, well, how many chances do I get to drive the old girl cross country?"
"I'll give you that." The man straightens and readjusts his cap. "Made up your mind yet, son?"
Sam nods. "I'll have a hamburger."
"Twenty minutes to decide and you want a hamburger?" Dean shakes his head. "I swear to God."
"No mustard, please."
The restaurateur smiles and shares a commiserating look as he accepts Dean's cash. "Kids."
When their food is ready, they carry it around the back to a picnic table and sit down to eat. The tables are set up on the edge of a wild cornfield. The sun is hot and the stalks are an alive, oppressive presence at Sam's back. He hunches his shoulders.
"Hey, Sam," Dean says. "You can sell it if you want."
Sam frowns. "Sell what?"
Dean nods casually toward the parking lot.
"I mean…later. Help pay for your tuition and whatever."
Sam shakes his head.
"I'm serious, Sam. It's worth a lot more that way."
"I won't sell it."
"I want you to, so you can go back to school."
"Who says I'm going back to school?"
Sam shrugs. "Probably…maybe."
Dean shoves a handful of onion rings in his mouth, chews, and swallows. He glances back over at the Impala. "Could you maybe let me know? You know, whatever you decide."
"I've decided. I'm not selling it." Sam gazes over at the car. In fact, he realizes, he doesn't particularly care what it will take to keep it. What it will take to pay for college or an apartment or anything. The car will stay.
"Good to know," Dean says and chokes on a swallow of Cola.
Sam reaches over to pat him on the back.
El Solecito motel is, in fact, not very sunny. The walls are an odd shade of brown and there's what Sam thinks is a poisonous form of ivy growing over the railings outside. Wireless Internet, but no cable and the carpet smells like avocados left in the sun too long.
Sam settles back in a chair and tries not to breath too deeply.
"You want to check out the town?" Dean asks.
Sam jumps to his feet. "Yep."
Dean leads the way across the burning blacktop parking lot and takes a shortcut around the pool. Apparently, they're walking.
"Hey, maybe we could stop at the library, if they've got one," Sam suggests. "They probably do, in fact I think I saw one a little ways south, by that school, and it couldn't hurt. They might have something about the deal or a demon, I mean, you never know and we need to work on that, I mean--"
Dean shoves Sam in the pool.
Sam swallows one mouthful of surprisingly clean and chlorinated water before finding his way to the surface. "Dude," he chokes, coughing and spitting.
Dean has an irritatingly controlled smirk on his face. "Sometimes you've just got to shut up, Sam."
Sam manages to wrestle his waterlogged shoes off his feet and pitches them at his brother. Dean sidesteps and the shoes hit the pavement with identical wet smacks.
"I think you've got an appointment with the hair dryer tonight, Dean."
"You can dry your own shoes out, dude."
"No way. If you hadn't…" Sam trails off. There's a potted plant at the corner of the poolside that looks a bit like witch's hazel. They could use some of that. He glances around the rest of the patio. It's not so bad. The sun has come out and El Solecito actually looks kind of…nice. He leans back, treading a bit of water, jeans and t-shirt heavy.
"Well, that sucks."
Sam turns to see Dean. "What?"
"You're not supposed to enjoy it."
Sam floats up onto his back. "It's nice. We should have gone swimming earlier."
"You ruin all my fun, you know that?"
"The water's fine, Dean."
Dean stands there for a moment, squinting at the water, before he shrugs and steps out of his shoes. Socks follow.
Sam grins. "You're kidding?"
"Nope." Dean removes his jacket and lays it carefully on top of his shoes, before tugging and cuffing his jeans up to his knees.
It makes Sam laugh a little to see Dean's shins, thin and scarred and scabbed over like an eight-year-olds. It makes him laugh harder when Dean performs a nearly perfect cannon ball like it's his job or something.
He ducks away from the splash, but when Dean comes up, Sam is quick to shove him back under and Dean is quick to return the favor.
When it's all said and done, nobody's won, and they're both too tired to fight anymore.
Sam floats away on his back.
Dean pulls himself out of the water and stands there dripping for a minute. "I'm going in," he finally says.
Sam waves okay and closes his eyes against the sun. Wonders if there are any good Mexican restaurants in town. Wonders if Dean is up for lunch yet, dinner, whatever it is. Thinks, of course he is. Still, he hangs out awhile before climbing out of the pool and schlepping back over to the room.
Inside, it's quiet save for the ticking of the ineffective air conditioner. Dean is lying on the first bed in his still damp clothes, curled over and entirely asleep.
Sam moves over to the window, switches the air conditioner off and opens the window. He turns back to his brother and reaches out to wake him.
A warm draft of air flows through the room.
Faltering, Sam lets his arm fall to his side.
It's probably the worst thing you could do, to wake someone from a deep sleep.