A/N: This is a continuation of my previous multi-chapter fic "I'd Drive All Night Just to Get Back Home," and two others that are on my author page. Thanks for reading!
"Dude. It's been an hour."
"Not by my watch."
"Your watch is two minutes slow!"
"So it's not fair!" Dean knows he's whining, but he can't stop himself. He clears his throat, tries to lower the register of his voice. "Sam. Come on. Twenty-eight minutes, thirty, what's the difference?"
Sam tears his eyes from the road to shoot Dean a pointed glare. "You agreed to this. Are you backing out now?"
"No, I just—"
"We're never going to get anywhere if we have to stop every hour, anyway. Tomorrow let's make it two hours." He lets out a rattling cough, half-real, half-manufactured to prove his point, and, true to form, it half-works. Dean leans back in his seat, drags a hand slowly down his face, defeat etched in his slumped posture.
"It's two measly minutes, Dean," Sam says. "Jesus, this is pathetic."
"I know," Dean groans. "Why do you have to be such a jerk?"
"Why do you have to be such a whiny little bitch?" Sam counters, and they both pause and grin for half a second before painting their battle faces back on.
"This was your idea, anyway," Sam says.
"No. Oh no. No, I said that I didn't want to smoke in enclosed spaces with you anymore, because I didn't want your precious freaking lungs to suffer for my bad habits – which was a caring, big-brotherly move on my part, by the way. I did not say: Sammy, will you please steal my cigarettes from me and withhold them until your stupid fucking alarm goes off."
Right on cue, Sam's cellphone lets out a merry tweet and a chirp.
"Pull over," Dean orders, and Sam does.
Dean holds out his hand and Sam sighs, reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulls out Dean's cigarettes, carefully selects one from the pack and slaps it into his brother's palm with a scowl.
Dean doesn't bother reaching in the back for his cane, just yanks the door open with a blast of cold air and pulls himself up gripping the roof, hobble-hops around to the front of the Impala and pats the sides of his jacket with mildly frantic movements that make Sam anxious just to watch.
"Sam," he barks. "Lighter?"
Sam tosses him the Zippo he confiscated earlier that morning and Dean nearly misses it, fumbles for a second before gripping it tightly and cupping his palm around it to get his cigarette lit.
"See?" Sam says, pointing. "This right here is why you need to quit smoking. Your reflexes suck when you're all jittery like this."
"Sam," Dean says, pauses to take a heavy drag, "You realize that the way we live would make it almost impossible for me to quit?"
"What are you talking about?"
"We're in the car for hours and hours every day, man. The car, where there's nothing for me to do but sit there and think about smoking." Dean takes another long drag, and Sam watches the tip of the cigarette burn to a worm of ash.
"Go easy, man," Sam says, tugging on a pair of gloves. "Make it last. It's an hour before--"
"Reset that shit right now," Dean says, gesticulating towards Sam's pockets. "Right now."
"When'd you start smoking so much, anyway?" Sam asks, taking out his cellphone and programming the alarm. "I think you went through maybe a pack a week my senior year of high school."
Dean shrugs and appears to think, exhales a cloud of acrid smoke. "I guess sometime after you left."
Sam is silent, because, duh. Guilt wells up in his chest as he looks at the frozen ground.
"I mean, we had a lot of downtime, for a while," Dean hastens to explain. "And Dad and I did our own thing a lot more, so he wasn't around to bug me."
"Right." They still haven't talked much about the four years Sam was at college, and Sam's not entirely sure what his brother was doing. Is afraid to ask. Really, really wants to, though.
"And then, you know," Dean says, gingerly pats his bad leg, stretched out awkwardly in front of him. "I was a little stressed."
"Yeah," Sam says, surprised Dean's admitting to it; but then, his brother's been more open about these kinds of things lately, in an unconscious way, like maybe he doesn't quite realize he's changing. Like he's getting used to how things are.
A few days ago Sam had been outside their motel, talking on the phone, didn't realize that Dean had come out to smoke and was standing behind him. Sam was trying to finagle a lower price on an expensive historical tour they needed for a case, and had said loudly, "Listen, I'm with my brother, and he's differently abled. Don't you have any special offers?"
After he'd gotten the price lowered by eight bucks, he'd snapped his phone shut and turned around, triumphant, only to face Dean, leaning on his cane and listening to the conversation. Sam had opened his mouth, trying desperately to think of something to say, but Dean had just cocked an eyebrow, a wry smile of amusement twisting his lips.
"Differently abled, dude?"
"Nothin'. Just never heard that one before."
"It's… politically correct," Sam had tried lamely. "I thought maybe you'd prefer it."
Dean snorted, started feeling around in his coat pocket, pulled out his lighter. "What made you think that?"
"I dunno. I've stumbled across some, you know, websites, support groups, things like that, for the, the diff—the diff—"
"Disabled," Dean supplied around the filter of his cigarette. "Handicapped."
Sam squirmed uncomfortably but shot back, "Physically challenged."
Dean shook his head, but he was smiling a little. "Dude, it doesn't matter to me. Nice names don't make it… nice."
"But I like the nice names," Sam said defiantly. "If you really don't care what I say, then I'm going with differently abled."
Dean let out a laugh disguised as an exhale of smoke. "You're fucking weird, Sam."
"I prefer normally challenged, thanks."
Dean had laughed for real then, and that was the end of the conversation. Didn't seem like a big thing, but Sam knew it was, for Dean to talk like that without getting defensive, embarrassed.
Now, standing by the side of the highway, watching his brother smoke, he realizes that Dean's been loosening up for a while. Slowly, slowly, he's accepting things for what they are.
And suddenly he thinks of a question so interesting that he can't not ask it.
This isn't going to be completely fair, because in the car just now he'd watched Dean take an extra dose of Vicodin, and his brother's noticeably chattier the harder he hits the painkillers.
But fuck it, Sam really wants to know.
"Dean," Sam says hesitantly. "Dude. Can I ask you a personal question?"
"Thought we went over this when you hit puberty, man," Dean says, nurses out one last drag from his cigarette and drops it on the gravel, stares down at it regretfully.
"Ha," Sam says weakly. "No, but really."
"You can ask," Dean says. "Can't promise I'm gonna answer." But then he grins suddenly and says, "How about this. If you let me smoke a cigarette in a half hour instead of an hour, I'll tell you anything you want. Within reason."
Sam's torn for a moment, but then he says, "Done," and takes out his cellphone to change the alarm.
Dean claps his hands together once. "Okay, then. Shoot."
"Um, when you dream," he starts, stops, thinking of how to phrase it, and Dean lets out a groan.
"Yes, Sammy, it's perfectly normal for a growing boy."
"Quit bein' a douchebag and just listen to the question," Sam snaps. "I just want to know… when you dream, when you're in your own dreams… do you have, are you…" He gestures at Dean's cane, waves his hands vaguely.
Dean's eyes widen as he realizes what's Sam's asking. "You mean, is my leg fucked up in my dreams?"
Dean's quiet for a moment, laughs a little. "That is kind of personal, Sammy."
"Hey, I warned you. But. Is it? Fucked up?"
"Uh…" Dean scratches the back of his neck. "At first it wasn't, no. Never. Actually…" he pauses, like he's not sure whether to go on.
"I used to have these really intense running dreams. Not running from anything; just running, you know, on a sidewalk or in the woods. But I haven't had one in a long time. A month, at least."
"Yeah. They were kind of more like nightmares."
"Cause you had to wake up?" Sam says without thinking, but Dean just nods. "And now?" Sam asks, taking advantage of this strange, open place he's got his brother to.
"Now? I guess now it's fifty/fifty. Or more like thirty/seventy. Twenty-five/seventy five. I mean, fuck, I don't know the exact percentage. But usually, these days, I'm either using the cane, or… or I'll be walking without it, and then all of a sudden my legs will go numb and I'll have to find a chair and sit down. Or I'll be trying to get up and walk away from something and I'll realize that I can't. Shit like that." Dean snorts, shrugs. "Dreams are fuckin' bizarre, man."
"Tell me about it," Sam says with feeling, and Dean raises an eyebrow.
"Care to share?"
Sam colors, shakes his head. "I just mean… that's weird, man. What you told me." Might be hypocritical, but he's not ready to tell Dean about his dreams, about the flames, the screaming.
"Why'd you want to know, anyway?" Dean asks curiously.
Dean nods, starts to get up from the Impala's hood, and Sam watches as he has to stop and re-think his movements when he realizes that he doesn't have his cane. He and Sam look at each other for a second, and then Dean grins without cheer.
"Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily," he sings tunelessly. "Hey. You think I can maybe get that cigarette in advance?"
Sam hands over the whole pack.