Previously appeared in Road Trip With My Brother 4 (2007), from Agent With Style
Motel Rooms I Have Known
K Hanna Korossy
Kansas City, MO
Dean had stared at him first, then grumbled. But he finally went out to unearth from the trunk the book they had on ghosts and hauntings that Sam had wanted. He didn't let Sam in the trunk unless it was an emergency, complaining he never left things where Dean find them.
Okay, so it had been the first thing Sam could think of to get him out of the room.
Dean had left the door cracked, and Sam kept an ear tuned to it as he brought out the small pile of supplies he'd had tucked into his duffel and made the necessary preparations. He'd debated getting some streamers for the walls—anything to perk up the deadly dull, flat white room—but had decided against it. Not exactly Dean's style. No, his little display would have to do. Sam quickly swept up the trash and dumped it into his bag as he heard his brother's footsteps approach the door.
"Here's your book, Sammy—you happy now? We don't even know if this thing we're going to tomorrow…is…" Dean had caught sight of the meager spread on his bed as he tossed Sam the book, and frowned in confusion. "What's going on?"
Sam smiled at him, and dug the box of matches out of his pocket. He lit one, touched it to the candle buried in the Twinkie. "Happy birthday, Dean."
He watched Dean's gaze move over the pastry, the one wrapped package, and the card. And felt his happiness ebb at the darkness that crept into his brother's eyes. Dean's flat, "Thanks," was more painful than pleasant as he snuffed out the candle with two fingers and briskly gathered the birthday trimmings and dumped them onto a nearby chair. Dean sprawled onto his bed in its place with far more stiffness than he'd had a minute before, and started flipping through channels.
Sam buried hurt and confusion in the book he'd requested and not wanted, reading words he wasn't paying attention to.
No matter where they'd been or what they'd been doing, Sam's birthdays had always been celebrated with joy. He suspected with adult hindsight that Dean was the one who kept track and made the effort and drew their dad into the process. But Dean and John both had gotten him little presents, a small cake, sometimes took him to a movie or miniature golfing.
Dean's birthdays were a little hazier, and when Sam was old enough to know, he'd been the one to remind John more than once about the upcoming date. Until then, he wasn't sure if Dean's birthdays had been celebrated at all, and after he left, Sam was certain they weren't. Still, there was no reason to think they were a source of pain.
He turned in early, not liking the uncomfortable silence in the room, and watched Dean through half-lidded eyes until sleep pulled him under.
Sam woke in the dark, screaming Jess's name, the after-image of flames still burning his corneas.
"Sam!" Solid hands gripped his biceps, tethering him to the waking world. Sam blinked tears and the dream—nightmare—away to see the shine of Dean's eyes in the dim room. And slumped, knowing where he was now and who was with him…and who wasn't.
Dean pulled him the few inches closer it took for Sam's forehead to nudge up against Dean's shoulder and rest there. His right hand moved from Sam's arm to his back, pausing warmly there.
The nightmares had slowly decreased since Bloody Mary, and while Dean knew Sam hadn't told him everything yet, he'd stopped pushing. But the offer was still tacit in every question and gesture. Sam shook his head, murmuring a tiny, "Sorry."
"You should be. I was dreaming about Carmen Electra. On the beach, dude."
Sam coughed a laugh, but otherwise didn't move, didn't pull away.
Dean's hand sketched an uncertain circle on his back. "Sam?"
"I'm sorry about your birthday. I just thought…since we were back together…"
Dean's shoulders tightened, then relaxed. "I know. I just…don't really go in for that kind of stuff anymore, you know?"
Sam smiled into the cotton t-shirt. "Don't want to think about growing older?"
"Don't want to remember where I was a year ago. Or think about where I'll be a year from now."
The ball of hurt came back to the pit of Sam's stomach, but not for him.
Dean's hands reluctantly pulled him upright so they could see each other. "You ready to try again?"
Not really, but Sam nodded, and slipped himself free of Dean's grip so he could lie down again. Dean sat and watched him a minute before patting his shoulder and rising to return to his own bed.
They lay in silence, neither of them ready to go back to sleep.
"This wasn't exactly how I'd planned this day," Sam finally confessed.
Dean snorted. "Don't worry about it, man—it was still a lot better than how I spent it last year."
Yeah, that had been kind of what Sam had been afraid of. He curled up on his side, facing his brother but seeing only his faint outline in the dark room. "Dean."
"I'm getting you a cake next year." Maybe even some decorations, or a nicer motel room. This one was as sterile as birthdays had apparently been for Dean.
But Sam was here now. Things were going to change. It was a promise.
There was a long pause. He wished he could see Dean's face, but he could hear the emotion when his brother eventually answered.
He smiled. "All right."
Another beat. "Thanks for the tape. It's a good one."
Sam hadn't even known he'd opened it. "Happy birthday, Dean."
"Go to sleep, Sammy." But Dean's voice was warm and content, and made Sam feel the same way no matter how chilly the room was. It was what he'd been trying for with his pathetic little Twinkie, and he suspected Dean had eaten that once Sam was asleep, too. Maybe even made a wish on the candle. Sam had an idea for what.
He'd forgotten how home could be anywhere you were with the people you loved.
It was hard turning a key and opening a door one-handed, let alone when your other hand was full of six-foot-four of very doped-up brother.
"Okay, Sam, almost there." Geez, did they ever get keys that didn't stick? Dean jerked it hard, and the knob
finally turned, the door swinging open.
Sam had made himself comfortable in the meantime, shaggy head drooping until it was somehow tucked between Dean's shoulder and jaw. The dark hair tickled his chin, and Dean blew strands away from his mouth before he spoke again.
"You know how lucky you are to have an awesome brother like me? Most people would've just left you in the car to find your way in." Even if, drugs or no, Sam had huddled against the far door like a small, wounded thing. Funny how the six-plus feet could shrink sometimes.
"C'mon, Sammy," Dean said more gently, and nudged them both forward.
His brother's feet were freakishly big, too, and they tangled as Dean hurried them along. The beds in this room were against the far wall, of course, half-behind a dividing wall that tried to give the impression of a separate living and sleeping area. An efficiency pretending to be a suite, Dean grunted, but there was nothing efficient about getting his boneless brother around the obstacle course of table, wall, and finally, to bed. He dropped Sam on the edge of the farther one. His brother, eyes at half mast, immediately slumped over onto the pillow, flinching as he pressed on fresh stitches.
"Not that way, bro," Dean said with exasperation, and quickly turned him the other way, so that he rested on his good side. "That better? Sammy?"
Dean rolled his eyes. "The professor strikes again. Listen up, Sam, you need to take your meds and I need to check your stitches, and then you can go to sleep, okay?"
He couldn't help shaking his head. "I bet Jess loved how good you are with words." But he was smiling as he brushed tangled bangs out of the way. They'd done a pretty good job at the hospital cleaning the dirt and brush from the dark strands, but Sam would still probably want to wash his hair as soon as he was awake enough to realize what a mess he was. But alive, thank God.
Dean swallowed, then stood brusquely and started digging through the bag he'd gotten at the hospital, looking for the bottle of pills.
The kitchenette was an unusually well-stocked one, with an assortment of plates, utensils, and mugs in the different cupboards, and smelled like stale coffee. Dean rinsed out a black mug with a TV channel logo on it and filled it with cold water from the tap. The robin's-egg blue countertops reminded him of Cassie's kitchen, and the memory was finally more sweet than bitter now. He had no idea what Sam's and Jess' kitchen had looked like, but Dean had noticed Sam hesitate in one room they'd gotten that had soft green walls and forest green bedding, and wondered if it was a Stanford memory.
Water and pills collected, he sat down on the edge of Sam's bed and slid a hand under his brother's half-buried face. No point in trying to wake him up completely; whatever they'd given him at the hospital still had a strong hold. Which was probably good considering the damage Sam's body had taken, but it also meant Dean was in for a quiet next few days while Sam slept and mended.
Dean patted a cheek until murky brown eyes stared at him, then he slipped the pills between Sam's cracked lips. Sam swallowed automatically, draining most of the mug before water started trickling down his chin. Dean made a face and mopped it up with one edge of his shirt before setting the mug aside. Sam drifted off again with a sleepy mumble.
The stitches had been put in by an actual doctor, not Dean's amateur attempts, and his quick exam revealed they'd held for the trip. Dean taped the gauze back into place over them, then proceeded to divest Sam of as many layers of clothing as he could wrestle off the boneless, too-long limbs. Then he tucked the whole gangly package in under the layers of blue and white bedspread.
"Sleep well, ghoul-bait," he murmured, and patted one shoulder.
It was only then that Dean sagged, letting himself feel how tired he was.
He drew a hand over his face wearily, and really glanced around the room for the first time. One door, a window next to it, none in the small bathroom. Easily defensible, not something AAA usually rated rooms on, but that they'd been lucky in this time. There was no reason to think the ghoul would have traced them first to the hospital, then to the lovely Kingston Motel, but Dean was not anxious to press their luck. Tomorrow he would go hunt the creature down and make it pay for what it had done to Sam, but tonight they needed a sanctuary, a place to rest and recoup. The patterned wallpaper was a restful blue, promising the haven he sought and, Dean's eyebrows rose, there was even a pile of books on the far table by the phone. Sam would love that. When he woke up.
Dean patted his sleeping brother's shoulder again, then rose swayingly to go salt and bless the door and window and then crawl into bed. Sam would heal, Dean would shove down the fear and the memory of blood and pain with all the others, and then they'd go on. It was what they did.
Dean just needed one night of warm blue rest first, Sam sawing logs in the next bed and both of them safe.
Sam opened his eyes and instantly was wary.
It was quiet. Too quiet.
One glance confirmed the room was empty, but the bathroom door across from him was closed. Light rimmed the bottom, and even as Sam listened, the shower went on.
He grinned. Good.
He rolled onto his side carefully, and glanced down at the black carpet. What a black carpet hid, Sam usually didn't want to think about, but this time he appreciated the cover. It had camouflaged nicely the sheet of inked paper he'd left by Dean's bed the night before.
Of course, concealment worked both ways. Sam rose gingerly, testing the floor and his shoes before he ventured out of bed. The raw eggs Dean had left in the toes of his sneakers the previous morning had been a pain to clean out, but at least the soles were almost dry now.
Maybe Dean had finally given up.
Sam whistled as he collected a cup of coffee from the coffeemaker—untainted, he checked—and took a sip. Dean picked up the tune in the other room, something Sam had heard the previous day in the car but hadn't bothered to identify, and started humming in the shower, making Sam grin and shake his head.
They'd finished up their latest hunt the night before, a hitch-free salt-and-burn to end a haunting, and without a new job picked out yet, that meant a day of downtime. Sam had already scoped out both the local library and the beach on the edge of town. It was practically a vacation. He hadn't asked, but Dean would probably come, too, to sleep on the sand and watch for girls in bikinis.
He reached for his duffel. His swim trunks were probably near the bottom; it had been a while since they'd been near the coast, and most of the motel swimming pools weren't very inviting. Sam tugged at the zipper, already planning his day.
The bag refused to open. And Sam saw why as he leaned in for a closer look.
Five seconds later, he was banging the bathroom door open. "You jerk! You sewed my bag shut?"
Dean started laughing behind the shower curtain.
Sam glared at the opaque barrier, then slowly smiled. He reached over and flushed the toilet before backing out of the room.
Dean's yelp was very satisfying.
The day was as good as Sam could have hoped for. It was a little cool for swimming, hovering around seventy, but he read two books just sitting in the sand, Dean sacked out next to him. His brother woke for lunch and went to get food, only to come back grinning two hours late because he'd "met someone." Sam rolled his eyes and waited until Dean was asleep again before trailing a line of cold ocean water up his spine.
Dinner was terrific crab cakes at a local place Dean's new friend had recommended, then Sam had spent the evening looking for their next job. Dean was the one who found the most promising lead, doing what he did best and asking around. Haunted house in the next county, suspicious deaths: right up their alley. They made plans to head out first thing in the morning.
Sam found the sand that was layered liberally in his bed before he lay on it. He wasn't so lucky with the sand in his shorts. But at least Dean didn't discover the bag of water Sam had tucked between his mattress and his sheets until it was too late, either. He wasn't stupid enough to grumble when Dean shoved him over and co-opted half of Sam's bed and most of his covers.
But he would have to kill Dean after the alarm went off right in his ear at six a.m. and left his head aching the rest of the morning.
Still, Sam packed reluctantly, taking in the weird black carpet, the even weirder sketches on the wall—Dean swore they were erotic art, but then, consider the source—and two worse-for-wear beds. The offbeat room probably had helped the lighthearted mood of the past two days, and Sam wistfully found himself wishing they could stay a little longer.
"We can do it again, Sam," Dean said from behind him, reading his mind like he often seemed to. Sam glanced back to see his brother's knowing half-smile. The other half was a sentimentalism Dean hardly ever showed. Not like they'd ever had that much to be sentimental about.
Sam nodded, mouth curling. "Yeah. I know."
"C'mon." Dean nodded toward the car. "Your turn to drive—somebody kept me up all night kicking me in the legs."
Sam's smile widened. Driving: perfect. "All right," he agreed instantly.
Dean paused, giving him a suspicious look before preceding him out the door.
Sam followed, leaving the room behind without regret. He was taking "home" with him, and the two of them would find their own joy wherever they went.
He just hoped Dean wasn't feeling sentimental about the M&Ms he'd tried to hide in his jacket pocket the evening before, because Sam had plans.
The Winchesters were at war.
Not with The Demon, or, at least, that was another fight for another day. No, this time it was a pack of intelligent werewolves, and the two humans were outnumbered four to one. Odds that made you feel alive, Dean exulted, and Sam had looked at him like he was questioning his brother's sanity yet again. Dean had just grinned.
Werewolves were no small threat, either. Sam and Dean not only had to win this battle, they had to do it with a minimum of injury and without getting bitten. Besides strength, endurance, and claws and teeth, a werewolf's saliva had the power to turn anyone it sank its jaws into. Dean had learned that the hard way once, when a werewolf attack had left him unsure for over three weeks if he'd been bitten and was facing death or not. Sam had only heard the story—he'd been away at school at the time—but Dean could see it cloud his face at odd moments. The fear would make them careful.
They had some planning to do.
The room would have been unrecognizable to the motel owners. Pastel walls, carpet, and—no loss there—the sunny yellow bedspreads were all blanketed with paper. Every book they had that mentioned were-creatures, every bit of library and internet research, as well as extensive maps of the area had been brought out and, if Sam had done the reading, highlighted in bright green. Dean just read and absorbed, planning and discarding strategies.
They didn't go out often, paying more to order in. As the days dragged on and the rainbow room had pretty much turned white, they both grew claustrophobic and ventured out—only in daylight—for provisions, supplies for the fight, and Dean once to play some pool and restore their funds a little. If he came back late and smelling of perfume, Sam just shook his head understandingly and bent low over his reading again. He'd worked out some of his own stress in a long jog early that morning.
They debated plans of attack. Sam the intellectual favored trying to figure out who the werewolves' human forms were and taking them out when they were weaker, hard as it was to kill something that looked human. Dean, tactician and hunter, and Sam's big brother, knew better. It wouldn't be a victory if the kill haunted Sam afterward. They needed to be careful, plan their approach well, but they were going after these things in wolf form. He understood hunting creatures better than hunting humans, anyway, and hoped to God that never changed.
Sam had relented. Dean did him the favor of pretending not to see the relief in his eyes.
The map had taken over the one table, wolf sightings marked in red, their location and strategic points in green. Other lines—routes, diversions, escape routes—were sketched in pencil, subject to rethinking at any time. Dean caught Sam lifting one of the sheets taped to the wall to stare at the wallpaper underneath, like he was curious what they'd taken over. He grinned at Sam's wrinkle of the nose. The pastel was a little…girly. For a moment, Dean almost didn't regret they were at war.
He didn't feel that way when they went to bed, fully clothed, to sleep through a few hours of daylight in preparation for the battle that evening....
....Nor when Sam had to half-carry him into the room at dawn the next day.
There was always a comfort, and not a small one, in him being the one who was hurt and bleeding. Neither of them had been bitten, but four long claw marks slashed Dean from shoulder to hip. Shallow, or Sam would have insisted on a hospital, but messy, and hurting like every four-letter word Dean could think of, and a few longer ones.
Sam swept the layer of white off Dean's bed, fetched the first aid supplies, and got to work with tight-lipped focus.
Afterward, Dean lay on his side and watched in hazy, sleepy silence as his brother went to work on the room. Bit by bit, the pastel emerged from under the white, the room reverting to its former lack of glory. Paper was gathered into stacks or, occasionally, viciously crunched balls, collecting on the table. Their war room was starting to look like they'd never been there, like it had never been more than a place to sleep for two brothers on a road trip.
Dean watched the transformation, and wondered if Sam was trying to turn back the clock, to fix up more than just the room.
Or it could have just been the pills talking.
Finally, there was no sign of how they'd spent the last three days, The papers Sam wanted to keep had been stowed in his satchel, the rest overflowing the small trashcan by the bathroom. The cleaning lady would probably think they were would-be writers or something. Dean blinked heavily as he watched Sam, suddenly jobless, stand in the middle of the room and look lost, like he'd never seen those soft-colored walls before. Which he sorta hadn't, Dean had to concede.
"Sam," he said, wincing when it came out thicker than he'd intended. It whipped Sam's head around, though, his brother at his side in a second. Dean stared at him hard, unfocusedly. "Go to bed," he said as clearly as he could.
Sam's shoulders gave by weary inches, as if he had to break himself down a little at a time, too, but finally he took a breath, nodded. "Yeah, okay. You should sleep, too, Dean. You need more pills or water?"
"Uh-uh." It was frustratingly hard to talk. "'M fine, just…can't sleep with all your racket."
Contrition flashed across Sam's face. "Sorry." He immediately began stripping, getting ready for bed.
Dean pried his eyes open wider. "Sammy…we did a good job." His tactics, Sam's knowledge; neither of them would have made it through this one alone.
He got a tiny smile for that. "Dean?"
"Hmm?" His eyelids were just too heavy.
"I think this Barbie room's getting to you."
"Shut up and sleep, Sam," he growled with his eyes shut.
Sam snickered, but Dean soon heard the other mattress creak.
But that laugh had just made the pastel room and three days of strategizing all worth it.
New York, NY
Harvest gold wallpaper and bedspreads somehow didn't seem appropriate for a prison. Not that the Nightlight Motel had been intended for that purpose, but Sam was certainly feeling like a jail warden just then.
"Sam—" The growl was not like his brother, but then, neither was the near-hatred in the hazel eyes.
"No, Dean," Sam said with calm he didn't feel, but one of them had to stay in control. "You're not leaving."
Dean's reply was a wordless snarl. But even as Sam tensed in front of the door, the cool slab of wood pressing against his back, his brother whirled away and returned to stalking the small room. Not ready to take it to the physical level yet, but Sam figured it was only a matter of time, and then…
Wraiths weren't supposed to be able to do this. Attack you if you wandered into their territory, drain you of energy, make you forget afterward, yes. But not compel you to come to them. It wasn't like any wraith lore Sam had read or experienced.
Still, the results were hard to argue with.
Dean threw himself down on one of the hideously gold lamé beds and turned on his side, away from Sam. The rigid shoulders and restlessness reminded him of a dormmate in college Sam had seen going through withdrawal, edgy and anxious and ready to tear his—or anyone else's—skin off at the slightest provocation. Determination usually made Dean still, lethally intense. This unraveling version of his brother was foreign and frightening to Sam.
A few seconds later, Dean was rolling the other way, glaring at the clock between their beds before picking it up and smashing it against the far wall. No one would hear; the city noises just outside were too loud, but that wasn't why Sam cringed, anyway.
"Feel better?" he asked wryly.
Dean regained his feet with a single fluid movement, eyes cold and hungry as they raked over Sam. "You can't keep me in here forever." He practically spit out the words.
"I don't have to," Sam shook his head, "just until dawn. It loses its power then and we can find and destroy it before this happens again. We're almost there, Dean—you can do this."
His brother lunged at him before Sam even registered the intent, shoving him back against the door with a hand flat on his chest. "Don't tell me what I can do. You have no idea what I'm capable of, Sam."
"I know you wouldn't hurt me," he said softly. It was true of his Dean, but Sam prayed it was of this stranger, too.
Dean glared at him a moment like he was trying to decide whether or not to rip his head off. Sam met his eyes steadily, and tried not to think about the gun tucked into the back of his jeans. He would shoot Dean in the leg if he had to, to keep him from leaving, because Sam knew he wouldn't be able to beat his brother in hand-to-hand, but it was the very last option on his dwindling list.
Dean suddenly cursed and slammed his other hand against the wall next to Sam before turning away. "You're enjoying this, aren't you, you little punk?"
Sam shuddered. "Yeah, Dean," he said hotly, his own control worn thin. "I'm having a great time watching my big brother, whom I would do anything for, lose his mind to a wraith and threaten me. Next time we'll switch so you can have all the fun."
Dean looked back at him, and maybe Sam wasn't imagining the moment of remorseful sanity in the hazel eyes. It didn't last. "I should've left you to burn at Stanford," he muttered, spiteful. "Let you die with your girlfriend."
Sam closed his eyes, trying not to feel the pain of the hit. "This isn't you, man," he whispered. "I know that."
"Would you quit whining? I swear, Sam, that's all you ever do." Dean made the circuit again of the golden room, pausing to brace his hands briefly against the wall. "Dad was right about you."
"Dean," Sam shook his head. "Don't."
"Why? 'Cause you can't take the truth?"
"Because I love you, jerk. And you love me, and that's stronger than this…thing's power, all right?"
Dean blinked at him, hot words momentarily frozen on his lips. All that came out was a wrenched, "Sam…"
Before Sam had a chance to answer, Dean grimaced, then cried out, obviously in pain. He hunched over, and Sam lurched forward an involuntary step from the door, reaching out a hand to him.
He found himself flattened against the door a second later, trying to hold off a struggling Dean. But this was no attack by a trained hunter. Dean flailed as if drowning, pawing at Sam, at the only obstacle between him and the door, but enough of one. Dean wasn't landing any blows, not hurting him, even though Sam could feel his frantic need to get out.
As he tried to wrap his head around that, Dean's eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp.
Sam had to scramble to adjust his grip to keep them both from crashing to the floor. He ended up supporting his unconscious brother with one arm around his waist and the other under Dean's arm, lugging him toward the nearest gold-colored bed. Sam yanked him up on it, lifted his legs up after, then rolled him away from the edge. He lifted an eyelid to peer into Dean's eye. The pupil contracted in the wan light from the window, but there was no stir of response.
Realization hit like a two-by-four. Sam looked up. Faint morning light edged the open blinds.
They'd made it. And he'd been right about his brother.
When Dean woke hours later, memory and mortification flooding his face within seconds, Sam smiled at him and said softly, "It's okay," and meant it.
That gold room wasn't so bad, after all.
It was hard to get a little privacy when you shared a room and car with someone 24/7.
The room they'd gotten this time wasn't helping. The beds were low and lumpy, the headboards metal and scratched; Dean had snorted at the sight and wondered aloud if the motel rented by the hour. Sam had just wrinkled his nose at the unidentified stains on the bedding and the vague smell of sweat and sex in the air, and Dean already knew his brother would be sleeping in his clothes, on top of the bedspread. Dean only flopped down, picked up the remote control, and started channel surfing.
They'd gotten good at tuning each other out, and Sam pulled out his laptop, booting it up while he shuffled through his bag, looking for something. He came up with a book—big surprise—but then stood there as if he weren't sure what to do next. A particularly loud channel flicked by, and Dean saw him wince. He turned down the volume, but his brother had already put the book down and was heading for the door.
The dark head shook, and Dean wished again Sam's hair was shorter so Dean could see his eyes. But he'd always suspected that was the point. "I just need some air," Sam murmured, and disappeared outside.
He wouldn't go far. They both felt the walls closing in on them sometimes and retreated: to the bathroom, to the Impala, to take a walk. Sam fled more often, but Dean figured it wasn't just the motel rooms his kid brother was trying to escape. It was no coincidence Sam disappeared more often after a hard, stressful hunt.
Dean watched a few minutes of Wheel of Fortune, then sighed and clicked the TV off. There was needing space from each other and then there was needing space, and he had a feeling Sam was dealing with the latter. Dean tossed the remote aside and sat up, pushing a hand through his hair as he stood and headed for the door. Well, he'd find out soon enough.
Sam's head tilted a tiny bit at the sound of the opening door, but he didn't comment, didn't do more than shuffle over to make room on the step he was sitting on. Dean took that as a sign he wasn't interrupting and flopped down on the cement next to his brother.
Above them, neon red letters spelled out "Last Chance Motel" and bathed them both in a harsh cherry glow. Dean grimaced at it. "Nice view."
Sam took a breath. "I think there are some fields over there, but I was too tired to go look." His hand waved vaguely to the left.
Dean's eyebrow rose. "Yeah, probably not a bad thing—dude, who knows what you'd step into in a field in the dark."
Sam's mouth twitched, but he stayed silent.
Dean hung his arms loosely over his knees, counterpoint to Sam's closed-off body language, long arms wrapped around long legs. "I thought we'd go up 95 tomorrow, take a stab at getting through New Jersey."
Again that trace of amusement. "Tired of getting lost?"
"I told you, we weren't lost, we were taking the scenic route."
Sam laughed this time. "Right, because you're all about the scenery."
Dean growled, gave him a shove. Sam wobbled like a teeter-totter before steadying again.
The parking lot was gaudy and decaying, but in the distance, crickets chirped and some night bird started singing.
"Vermont's next to New York," Dean spoke again.
Sam's face screwed up in the same look of puzzlement he would get as a kid. "Yeah, I got an A in geography, thanks. So?"
"So, maybe Sarah's in town."
He shouldn't have been able to see the blush, red neon glow and all, but Dean did. "Yeah, she is."
Ah. He'd kinda suspected some of Sam's private moments of late had been spent on the phone. "We don't have any place to be after," Dean continued, gauging his brother's reaction. "We could swing by New Paltz for a few days."
Sam ducked his neck to scratch his head, and Dean relaxed. He recognized the embarrassed tic for what it was.
"Yeah, maybe," Sam finally said. A moment later, he added more softly, "That would be nice."
Dean's smile eventually faded. He chewed on his lip a moment, contemplating his rough, scraped hands before speaking up. "You know, after this is all over, you could always transfer to someplace in New York, finish your degree, see if things go anywhere with Sarah." It took more effort to keep his voice level now than it had when Dean had called to Sam earlier that night with sharp claws just inches from his throat.
Sam turned to look at him, and Dean could see his eyes easily now. Saw them soften, acknowledging what he was offering. You're gonna have to let me go, Sam had told him once. Dean met his gaze steadily now. I'm trying.
Sam finally cleared his throat. "You're saying this?"
Dean half-shrugged. "I'd rather have you gone and happy than stay and be miserable."
"Don't." Dean shook his head, quiet. "Just...don't."
"Dean, I'm not miserable," Sam said earnestly.
Dean tilted his head toward Sam, studying him. Almost believing him. "Okay."
"Sometimes I'm just…I just get tired. But you do know I'm not gonna just leave, right? I'll see this through to the end with you, and even then, I'm not leaving you, just this life."
"Same thing," Dean grunted.
"No. No, it isn't. Hunting isn't all you are, Dean. You're my brother, and Dad's son. That comes first."
Yeah, it did. It always had. But the Winchesters had been intertwined with hunting too long for Dean to separate the two anymore. He'd given all he had just to get Sam free.
Sam bounced into him on an elbow. "I'm not running away from home again, man."
If there was an irony in those words being spoken in that decrepit little parking lot in front of a tawdry, threadbare room, Dean didn't see it. He was too busy breathing in the vow. Sam had always been home for him, but he'd never once let himself think it went the other way around, too.
He shut his eyes, the tightness in his chest not at all unpleasant. "Don't be such a little brother, Sammy."
"Uh-huh." A smile in the words. "I love you, too, Dean."
And when they finally went back into the room, it was together.
Author's Note: This story was written before we knew Dean and Jess shared a birthday.