Author: Cheryl W.
Disclaimer: I do not own Dean, Sam or any rights to Supernatural, nor am I making any profit from this story.
Summary: With fatal accidents piling up at a small time race track, the brothers need to find out who's scaring off the competition. No slash.
Author's Note: Time line is Second Season, after Playthings. Please note: I am no way an expert at racing, race tracks or racing rules, but I'll do my best to keep things at least half way believable.
Chapter 1: Driving Distance
Maneuvering the Impala along Delaware's Route 1, Sam jerked when Dean's phone came to life. 'Little jumpy?" he taunted himself, instantly looking to his brother curled against the passenger door, relieved that Dean hadn't noticed his reaction to the rude interruption to the quiet. It took a few more bars of musical notes from the phone before Dean lazily stretched his 6'1" frame in the passenger seat, rubbed at his still tired eyes and reached for the phone.
"Yeah," Dean mumbled, struggling to remember where he was, let alone who he even wanted to talk to on the phone. Before the caller made a reply, Dean put the facts together: Impala, Sam driving, getting as far away from their latest gig in Ohio as possible. Then a voice he didn't recognize was speaking in his ear.
Sam, dividing his attention between the road and his brother, could hear the sound of the caller's voice but was unable to decipher the words. It left him struggling to read Dean's body language to gauge the caller's news. Tension didn't set his brother's shoulders back nor did Dean's mouth tighten, instead his posture eased. Looking to Sam, he raised his eyebrows twice in that 'I've got one on the hook' gesture. Handicapped by only getting Dean's side of the conversation, Sam wondered if a new gig was the good news or the bad.
"Yeah, I did do some work for Tom Snyder," Dean affirmed, pulling his look from Sam and trying to determine what state they were in by the scenery he spied out the windshield.
Sam had never heard of Tom Snyder and it rankled a little. 'More things I don't know about, another gig Dean and Dad did while I was at Stanford.' Somewhere along the line, that time had turned into a sore issue with him in a way he hadn't ever envisioned. He couldn't term it jealousy…and yet, now with his father gone, those four years were time Dean had gotten to spend with their father and he hadn't. 'Hadn't been allowed to, not with dad's parting words of "if you're going then stay gone."" Shutting down that line of thinking, Sam concentrated on Dean's replies to the mystery caller.
"But you're not buying that."
"Oh I think I can hold my own." Uncertain why, but the cockiness in his brother's tone had Sam's gut clenching.
"My brother's with me this time…" Sam felt a jolt of warmth hit him because there was something in Dean's tone: pride, maybe even gratitude or happiness. It was not the tone an older brother used when they had been saddled with their little brother's unwanted presence. But then again, even growing up, Dean had scarcely adopted that tone, that attitude toward Sam. Instead Dean had been tolerate of his little brother tagging at his heels, had even made concessions so Sam wouldn't be left alone too much or feel out of place when he hung out with Dean and his friends.
Dean's laughter broke Sam from his memories and he was treated with a snide look from his older brother, which evoked a "what?" look to shoot from his eyes. But Dean's words were not for him when he spoke again. "No, he's mechanically challenged." The barb rolled off of Sam easily, 'Yeah, well I never said Dean wasn't a jerk about teasing me!?' he mentally advised.
"How about a reporter?"
"Yeah we'll keep it low key."
"Trust me, no one will guess we know each other."
"No. There's no way we would ever get pegged as brothers." Whatever warmth Dean's earlier words had generated, these words turned Sam's insides to ice, ice that broke off into a million sharp edges and pierced every vital organ he owed but did a special assault on his heart.
Numbly Sam heard Dean signing off with "See you at 7 tonight," but his brother's prior words were too loud in his head, too harsh, too painful, maybe too true. 'No. There's no way we would ever get pegged as brothers.' Sure, they counted on that for their cons, right? Their covers held together on the sole foundation that what they said, who they said they were, and were not was believed, unshakably so. That no one ever made the connection, realized that they were brothers instead of law enforcement partners, or two strangers staging a confrontation to soften up their interview subjects. But what Dean said, how he said it, it seemed more a disconnection, a denial, more a sever to the ties of brotherhood than a deceptive slight of hand, a 'look over here and forget about what you're seeing over there' illusion.
Sliding his phone into his pocket, Dean gave a rare genuine smile to Sam, a light dancing in his eyes that had made a rare appearance since their father had died. "Now this gig I'm gonna love."
Somehow that comment, coupled with Dean's disassociation with him, only churned Sam's building hatred for their new job to a higher degree. He struggled to keep his tone even, interested, as he made a one word reply of "Yeah." Keeping his focus on the highway stretched out before him, he tried to loosen his tightening grip on the Impala's steering wheel.
Oblivious to his brother's cool response, Dean pulled a map from the floor and unfolded it, his finger tracing a route as he talked, "There have been some freak accidents, too many for this guy, Bruce Garner's peace of mind. He wants us to come in, get our take on things."
"Freak accidents where?" Sam asked, while he maintained his attention on the road ahead, his brother's enthusiasm and deliberate vagueness setting his teeth on edge.
A smile blossomed across Dean's lips as he abandoned the map to face Sam. "On the Smithfield race track," he supplied like a boy who was telling his friends that he had been drafted to a pro ball team.
Dread hit Sam, making his voice lower in tone as he countered, "So, I'm the reporter. What are you supposed to be?" But he knew the answer already, had no need to ask but couldn't relinquish his false hope so easily.
Wearing his most cocksure expression, Dean announced, "You're looking at the future winner of the Smithfield races."
Sam's response was instantaneous, emphatic, cast in iron. "No."
Misinterpreting Sam's refusal as a scoff at his odds of taking home the championship, Dean protested, "Come on, Sam, I got a shot at it."
"No. You don't.. because you're not racing, Dean!" Sam shot back, his voice rising, his eyes flaring with stonily resolve as they slammed into Dean's.
"What? Why?" Dean said, surprising both himself and Sam when his tone was one seemingly belonging to a small boy denied a treat he was certain he had finally earned.
It was not often Sam heard hurt in his brother's tone and he certainly didn't expect it to crop up over something as commonplace as the prospective of a new gig. Suddenly he felt like he knew just how hard it was to say no to a child, to your child, when their eyes were brimming with pleadings and their lips were starting to tremble. Shooting Dean a look, wondering if he was purposefully manipulating him, Sam only saw confusion in his brother's green gaze.
In that moment, Sam considered relenting, letting Dean have what Sam instinctively knew he wanted, badly. To race, to get a chance to lay claim to a trophy, to win just once in life without violence, without sacrifice, without blood and loss in the mix. 'To go over 175 mph on a race track, to have other drivers trying to send him into the wall, for him to maybe get wrecked, to lay still and bloody in another vehicle, it's crumpled metal once again entombing him…'
"No way are you racing, Dean!" tore from Sam as memories seared into him. No, it would not happen again, he would not risk Dean again, would not lose Dean, not to the randomness of a car accident or the predictable hazards of their lifestyle …or the dangers involved in racing.
With Sam suddenly sounding entirely too much like John Winchester, Dean found anger sweeping away his earlier hurt. Lancing his hard eyes into Sam, Dean challenged icily, "Oh yeah, and why is that, Sam?"
Shooting a look to Dean, reading the anger, the challenge in his brother's eyes, in his body language, Sam felt his chest tighten in apprehension. He couldn't say racing was too dangerous. No, that would be the biggest joke in the world, not in comparison to their jobs. And somehow he couldn't force the other words from him, the real reason that the thought of Dean racing made him want to pull the Impala over and lose his lunch.
Hiding behind the guise of logic, Sam volleyed back, "Because the last thing we need is more media coverage Dean!" as if it were oblivious, as if it were the truth. Reading Dean's mounting protests, Sam rallied his campaign. "Any race is going to generate some news coverage and we can't take the risk that either of our faces show up anywhere, not with the FBI after us."
Begrudgingly Dean knew Sam was right. They could not offer up any breadcrumbs to the Feds. "Well it's not like I was going to be in the race anyway," Dean sullenly returned. "Our job is to take care of things before the race and be out of the scene before the 'gentlemen start your engines'." But an instant later a smile again lit up Dean's countenance. "Wait, my cover's still doable. Because of the accidents, Garner, the race tracker owner, has refused any media coverage until the day of the race…except for ace reporter Sammy Cole," and Dean gave a backhanded slap to Sam's chest. "So I go in there, do my whole race car driver routine, you do your Clark Kent impersonation and we solve this thing and bail, long before the cameras show up."
Whatever congratulatory thoughts Sam had on his quick logical excuse for Dean not climbing into a race car halted brutally. 'Leave it up to Dean to find a loop hole in any sane reasoning.' Knowing that a full out and out refusal of his brother's plan would only cement the idea more firmly in Dean's head, Sam conceded, for the moment. Slipping into the role he had come to realize he had been borne to play, Dean's hunting partner, he asked "So what's up with the accidents? It's not like they aren't common occurrences in racing, right?"
"According to the Garner, there have been six accidents on the track in the last three months, serious crack ups. Four of the drivers are dead and the other two aren't going to be sliding into a race car for a long while. Five of the accidents happened doing practice runs," Dean supplied, grateful for the truce Sam was offering, even though he knew it was only temporary.
"Any chance it is just sabotage?" Sam hazarded, surprised to find himself wishing that the culprit would turn out to "simply" be human treachery.
Dean shrugged. "Good possibility. The next race, a NASCAR representative is coming to check over the drivers, see if any of them have the stuff to make it in the big times."
Sam whistled, "Talk about high stakes to win. Definitely could make cutting your competition's brake line very tempting."
Swiveling his eyes from the road to his brother, Sam asked incredulously, "And you want to get in the ring with these guys? It's like swimming with sharks when there's blood already in the water."
Dean's eyebrows bounced and his eyes glimmered in excitement, "Oh yeah."
A gruff bark of "No way," slipped out of Sam's mouth, destroying his earlier plan to play it cool, to maneuver Dean later, with better words, with stronger logic, with something Dean would respect better than his little brother worry.
"Hey, that's my cover and a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," Dean drawled, showering Sam with his smug smile.
"You're not doing it, Dean. You hear me," Sam growled, eyes swiveling from road to his brother like an intense tennis match.
But Sam's tone struck a nerve with Dean, sent his smile to the four winds. "You don't call the shots, little brother. You're not dad," a lethalness, a bitterness in his voice, in the cast to his eyes.
Jaw jumping, Sam slammed his foot down on the brakes, pulled the car over, nearly had the Impala's passenger side wheels in the grass before the vehicle halted.
Hands bracing against the dashboard as the car came to a stand still, Dean grumbled, "Oh great, you leaving again. Well this time remember to take all of your crap, including your dirty laundry."
Sam's face scrunched up in surprise as he incredulously turned to Dean, "I'm not leaving!"
"Oh so I guess I should thank you for that," Dean coldly returned, eyes cutting into his brother. "Thanks Sam for not doing what comes naturally to you."
"Screw you, Dean!" Sam instinctively retaliated.
"No, Sam, screw you!" Dean growled back instantly. "I'm done begging you to stay. You wanna go then go…."
"Why don't you just finish it," Sam taunted, a dangerous air stirring between the brothers that wasn't commonplace. "If I'm going I might as well just stay gone, right?" he repeated his father's sentiments, didn't think he would ever forget them, no matter how much water went under the bridge of his relationship with his father.
Instead of spiking anger in Dean, his brother's words evoked sadness in him, made Dean's voice come out quiet, his eyes shadowed as they held onto Sam's. "That just made it all the easier, didn't it? You never planned on coming back anyway. Dad saying that..it just allowed you to make a clean break, guilt free."
"Dean I…" Sam began, always lost when it came to the subject of his leaving Dean, of his act of severing the ties that he had always counted on to be with him forever.
"Don't lie, Sam. Not to me," Dean lowly insisted, but he climbed from the car and slammed the passenger door before Sam could make a reply.
Surreally Sam tracked Dean as he walked in front of the Impala, couldn't put the pieces together, didn't want to, not until Dean yanked open the driver's side door.
"Out," Dean ordered, hard eyes on Sam, abandoning the idea of pleas, of Sam caring that he didn't want this, that he wanted family and brothers and together. Wanted it and was cursed for that need, was poisoned by that desire, by that pipedream that he kept clutching to like a man holding onto a electric, barbwire fence with his bare hands.
Fear shot through Sam as his eyes swung up to Dean's and he couldn't find the mercy, the affection his brother always kept in reserve just for him. Afraid to get out of the car, shaken with the belief that if he did, Dean would leave him standing numbly along the highway, Sam chose instead to slide across the seat to the passenger side of the car.
Snorting, knowing his brother's tactics, Dean got into the Impala, put the car in gear and sent it skidding back onto the highway. He tried to shut out the presence of his brother, to pretend it was just him and his baby and the road. Struggled to shut down the painful memories of looking in his rearview mirror as he headed toward Burkitsville, seeing Sam standing alone on a dark highway, of waking up and finding Sam gone the morning after he had told him what their father had revealed about Sam's possible destiny. Waking up abandoned by his brother after he had frigging begged Sam to give him some time to think things through, to come up with a game plane
Biting his lip, Sam wanted so badly to defuse the argument, to smother the burning fear that was only stoking higher in him. Could do neither, not alone, not without his brother's help, not without his brother's strength there to see him through the emotional minefield. His anguished eyes on Dean's closed profile, Sam quietly said, "You almost died in a car accident, Dean. Doesn't that register with you?"
Surprised at his brother's words but unable to release his anger, his fear that Sam would leave, wanted to leave, Dean curtly denied, "That wasn't a random car accident, Sam."
"Doesn't matter, Dean. You were sitting in a car, in your car dying and if you think I'm ever going to forget that…." Sam choked off the rest of the words, had to before his voice broke, before he let Dean see that there were worst things than having your Dad tell you 'if you're going stay gone.'
Sam's emotions snarled Dean's heart as they always did. Shooting a look to his brother, Dean saw the remembered terror and pain in his brother's blue expressive eyes and his anger began to dissolve, to be replaced by his need to protect his little brother, to wipe away the hurt in his brother's eyes. "Sam, there's no such thing as a safe gig. They all have their risks…"
"So don't take more risks, Dean. Stop being so reckless!" Drawing in a steadying breath, Sam sought to present his case rationally. "You keep telling me how you're staying with me, that you're not going to die. Well you're right, what we do..it's dangerous, deadly…which means you have to do everything you can to be safe, to survive. And that means not setting yourself up as bait for every job we do."
"I don't…" Dean began, voice quiet instead of rancorous.
"Yeah…" Sam just as quietly cut in, "yeah you do and it's got to stop."
Eyes now gentled by Sam's display of honest concern, Dean gave his brother a quick look, saw the pleading in his brother's demeanor. "Sam, it was Bruce Garner's idea to make me a driver," he deflected, hoping to sway Sam's mind, to make his brother see that it wasn't his idea to play Speed Racer. No need to gloat at how friggin' wonderful the idea was. Sam's calm words sliced into the fantasy in his head of racing at 175 mph, weaving between race cars, heading for the checkered flag.
"Go in as a mechanic instead," Sam offered, his voice even, logical, but his eyes gave him away, held the same plead they had since he was five years old. 'Please Dean, do it for me.'
"Come on, Sam," Dean instantly protested, "I can't figure out stuff if I'm stuck on the sidelines."
Shifting higher in his seat, feeling like Dean had unknowingly given him a hand hold, Sam countered, "I'm a reporter. Can't get more sidelined than that."
"That's where Geekboys do their best work," Dean sallied with a toss of a smirk to his brother. But he couldn't see any melting in his brother's resolve, could only see his brother's shoulders hitching higher, his eyes darkening. 'Ah crap, he's not gonna let this go.'
Abandoning pride and posturing and everything else that was weighing him down, was making him lose this argument, Sam entreated, "Please Dean, just tell Garner that you want to be a mechanic. That way you can check out all the cars, rule out mechanical problems."
Dean didn't even disguise his displeasure as he whined, "Sam, I want a shot at racing! I know you think hunting's all I ever wanted out of my life but it's not!" Gripping the steering wheel, Dean cursed himself for allowing the confession to slip free, purposefully kept his eyes on the road, away from Sam. Knew Sam would be wearing some look of pity or sorrow or..something that Dean didn't want to see, didn't want his brother to wear for him.
Sam looked away, out the passenger window, knew he should rescind his request, should let Dean have what he clearly wanted. But he couldn't get the words past his constricted throat, couldn't give up what he wanted, namely his brother alive, well and in one piece.
At his brother's unexpected silence, Dean chanced a glance to Sam, could see the desolation in the set of his brother's posture, in the emotions still tainting the air in the Impala. Leaving the quiet stand, Dean turned his full attention back to the road ahead.
As he and Sam left Bruce Garner's corporate office, Dean could feel his brother's eyes on him. Knowing that he wasn't going to be able to avoid the chick flick moment, he decided the best he could do was control it. "Don't make a big deal out of it," Dean growled, shooting Sam a stern look which did nothing to diminish his brother's goofy smile.
"No, never," Sam returned, raising his hands in surrender, smiling from ear to ear.
"Ah don't…" Dean whined, realizing that Sam wasn't going to let things rest without playing out an entire Hallmark scene.
"Don't what?" Sam asked, vying for innocence but his dancing eyes refused to dim.
"Don't you dare thank me for wussing out," Dean growled, still feeling humiliated at the look that had come over Bruce Garner face when he had opted out of portraying a driver. Pointing back to the office they were leaving, Dean snarled, "Did you see the way he looked at me, Sam!? He thinks I'm scared to get in a racecar!"
Sam's jaw jumped, he hadn't missed the older man's disgusted look to Dean, nor the man's pointed slam, 'Maybe I've called the wrong people to handle this. Someone getting spooked by rattles in their houses is something you can deal with, getting in a race car, going fast, dealing with people dying…guess that's something else for you guys.' And it had taken all of Sam's control to not defend his brother's courage to the pompous jerk, to not take a menacing step forward to do…crap, he didn't know what to the other man.
To Sam's surprise, Dean had accepted the insult without retaliation, had simply said, "You've called the right people. We'll make sure no one else gets hurt."
"You better," Garner had shot back, the coldness in his brown eyes and the set to his time lined, yet strong features conveying that he wasn't a man who handled disappointment benevolently. He had followed that up with a restatement of the terms of their agreement of employment: "And don't blow your covers. I don't want anyone learning that I did something so pathetic as to hire some lame "ghost hunters". You screw up, let even a hint drop that the new reporter and mechanic even knew each other, let alone are brothers, I won't pay you a cent." (Like that was some leverage he wielded over them, like they were actually used to getting paid in their line of work.)
Even that threat Dean had taken without outward anger, "Don't worry. No one's going to find out who we are or what we're doing here." But what Sam heard his brother saying was 'No one's going to find out we are brothers.'
Now, as Dean walked ahead of him, outpaced him in the stride for the Impala, Sam's smile fell away. He knew it was stupid to feel hurt by the deception they were about to undertake. They had played a thousand cons in their lifetime, had scarcely ever cast themselves as brothers. Had even a time or two played the role of adversaries like they did in the bar in Rockford, Illinois. 'Yeah, and we all remember how well that went. Couple hours later and I'm turning psycho on Dean and trying to murder him with rocksalt and an unloaded gun,' Sam thought morbidly, still carrying guilt over the incident from over a year ago.
Climbing into the passenger seat of the Impala, Sam looked to Dean, found himself anticipating the start of his brother's brain storming, of being Dean's sounding board and partner. Startled, he almost intercepted his brother's hand as it headed for the volume tuner on the tape deck. Instead he felt a jolt of sadness as his brother turned the music up, let that sound take the place of brain storming and partnership and, seemingly, brotherhood.
And Sam realized what he truly feared, had feared since their father had died and Dean had closed himself off from him: that their bond was breaking, that Dean was busy cutting their ties while he was desperately cinching them. That Dean had come to realize that being brothers, being his brother wasn't worth the terrible weight that his father had placed on his shoulders, that he himself had laid on Dean's shoulder when he had exacted from Dean that 'kill me to save me' promise at the Bed and Breakfast.
Staring at his brother's closed off expression, Sam felt the distance growing between them as it had been since their father's death, since the revelation of his pending fate. He knew that, though he could reach out and touch his brother, he had never been so far away from Dean than he was right then. Suddenly one fear trumped them all: That their new charade would become real, that some cruel twist of fate would allow the connection to his brother that he felt so strongly to be buried so deeply that it would be undetectable, not only to the Smithfield race organization…but even to him.
Thanks so much for reading!
Slow start I know but the action will pick up.
Have great day!