Sam flinches and maybe jumps the tiniest bit when Dean whirls and plunges his silver dagger in the broad chest of the Bruce Campbell figure.
"Dean!" he protests.
"What?" Dean sounds genuinely confused.
"How did . . . how do you know that that's the shapeshifter?"
"What, you want me to pull the ears off of all the creepy wax figurines first? Just to verify?" Dean pulls the knife free and wipes it clean on the shifter's ugly shirt.
"No, but -"
"Had to be this guy, Sammy," Dean says, a sneer curling his lip. "No way they'd make an Ash and not give him a twelve-gauge double-barreled Remington with a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger."
"Yeah, okay, Dean," Sam says, rolling his eyes. Trust Dean to make Army of Darkness into some kind of sacrosanct text, no deviations allowed. "Whatever you say."
"What's with all the movie-twisting shifters running around anyway?" Dean mutters under his breath.
And there. That's honest indignation in Dean's voice, because Dean really does love the movies. Sam hides a smile, remembering how often a good movie cheered Dean up, how much fun Dean could make even the dumbest Saturday afternoon TV flick.
It's not until later that Sam realizes that Dean never did explain how he knew which figure to stab through the heart.
Since the angel with the burning hands pulled Dean out of Hell, Sam's spent a lot of time watching his brother sleep. Or try to sleep.
Dean's been running until he drops, not bothering with niceties like stripping down or getting under the covers. He just stops, either crashing into bed like a felled tree or crumpling like his bones have melted. And there's nothing to give him away until he sleeps, and then the hitches in his breath, the tiny whimpers that stay strangled in the back of his throat, are all that Sam has to go on. An angel is all that can take Dean out of Hell, but apparently nothing in either heaven or earth can pull Hell out of Dean.
It's uncomfortably like watching over him in a hospital room, this weary, intense attention to Dean's breathing, the harried motion of his eyeballs beneath thin skin smudged with exhaustion. It's even more uncomfortably like what Dean's life must have been like for the long years of their childhood.
Dean had always paid attention to the soft sounds of sleep and silence, listened for the telltale catch in Sam's breathing, made sure his little brother was fast asleep before he let himself relax and settle in for the night. Dean was always ready in case Sam said he wanted a juice box, or a guide to the bathroom when they were in a new place and Sam didn't want to have to crack his eyes open against the bright light of a bare light bulb.
And more often than not, Dean's only company against the darkness, against waiting for Dad to come home, was a movie with the sound turned down low, the color moving across his pale face like a shadow. A near-hush, broken only by the sounds of a person nearby; that's how Dean tracked the shifter in the wax museum.
Here, now, there's not going to be a panacea for the terrors that crowd Dean's mind. Sam doesn't know if there's anything that will work - time, maybe; winning the war they're in, probably. But all he can offer is comfort, kindness in a form Dean can accept.
Dean can still quote every line of Beverly Hills Cop, and gleefully demonstrates his freakish ability when he finds the downloaded file on Sam's laptop. Dean's body is loose and relaxed as he sprawls against the pink, padded headboard of his bed, one leg kicked out straight in front of him, the other flopped to the side in a signature crook. His face is glowing from the monitor's light, and he's grinning like he doesn't have a thing on his mind, no younger brother he barely knows anymore, no handprints burned into his shoulder.
"'Disturbing the peace? I got thrown out of a window! What's the fucking charge for getting pushed out of a moving car, huh? Jaywalking? This is bullshit!'" Dean's voice jumps an octave to mimic Eddie Murphy's, every cadence timed to a fraction of a second.
Sam shakes his head disbelievingly, and looks up to catch the sparkling grin Dean throws his way. "Thanks, Sammy."
It's entirely possible that Sam is being punished. Or that maybe - could it really be? - that the angel who marked Dean as a soul worth saving is doing double duty and manipulating the television listings for basic cable channels across the country.
Because it's like an epidemic - every single place they stop has Beverly Hills Cop playing at night. In western Pennsylvania, a stone's throw from their last two shifter cases, Dean's got a sixteen-inch hero in his hands that gets cold while he recites the dialogue of the TBS showing, complete with silences whenever the station muted out the curse words. Sam supplies all the curses in his mind and tries to concentrate on his research.
In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a day and a half later, Dean's sweating through an hour of calisthenics while barking out a pitch-perfect rendition of the TNT version, including every gleeful shout of "motherscratcher!" Sam wonders whether flipping someone off is aerobic.
Dean looks looser behind the wheel as they drive to Cape May, and even in the tiny Victorian bed-and-breakfast that's all Sam could find with a vacancy, Dean finds the movie on the TV set once more. "Sweet!" Dean grins, like it's a rare treat. "I'm gonna take a shower. Don't touch that dial, Sammy."
Sam can hear the high-pitched bleeps The Family Channel employs; Dean's making the same bleeps, the acoustics all messed up from the pounding of hot water echoing off the tile.
Sam buries his head under his pillow, but it's clear that Dean is sleeping for longer stretches, up to three hours at a time. What's one more round of the Axel F theme, weighed against his brother's rest?
This time, in New Brunswick, Sam has a plan. He'll just keep clear of the room and keep his mouth shut, so that if Dean somehow does manage to find the movie again, he'll be free to enjoy it. Maybe he can do laundry; that should eat up several hours.
But of course when he gets back from Stuff Yer Face with two huge strombolis, Dean's industriously going through the duffels with their dirty clothes, sorting them according to how many scoops of powdered detergent it will take to get the mud, blood, sweat, and gunk out of them. He's even setting aside ones that need to be mended, all while keeping one eye on the television, and mouthing along with every casually tossed off "motherhumper" that Sam is certain was not in the original script.
Dean looks over at him, face lighting up when he smells the fried onions in his boli. "Check it out, man," he says, pointing with Sam's burgundy boxers to where Axel is conversing with the manager of the art gallery. "What're the odds, huh?"
Sam smiles weakly and tries to drown his sorrows in a stomachful of meat, cheese, sauce, and dough, chewing as loudly as possible to keep the dialogue from being tattooed across his brain.
They're in north Jersey, following Dean's hunch that Azazel might have left some clues the last time he was in the area, over two years ago. Sam keeps replaying what Dean told him of his time-traveling adventure, thinking of what Mom must have been like, how different Dad evidently was, and he understands why Dean needs to follow up on this slender chance.
He understands why Dean begged him not to use his powers, not when they came from a poisonous source, but he's not sure what the value of his promise is, not when he hasn't been tested since the words dropped from his lips.
"Dean," he says quietly, looking up from Dad's journal and across the suddenly vast divide between the two queen-sized beds.
"Yeah, Sammy?" Dean says, setting their guns and knives down in neat rows at the foot of his bed, and spreading a towel to keep the oil from the cleaned weapons off the fabric.
"Nothing," Sam says, subsiding.
Dean looks at him for a long moment before nodding and snapping the TV on. "Hey!" Delight sparks bright on his face as the television comes to life. "Remember this?"
How could Sam forget? It's the eighth showing in a row of that damn movie -
"This is the old-school Channel 11 version, Sammy! The best one they ever did!"
How does Dean do that, find something small to take joy in, and let that be all there is to it? Sam wants to shake him, maybe, or wrap him in cotton like something delicate. Dean still doesn't understand what his absence meant, what it was like trying to soldier on with only a void next to him instead of his big brother. There has to be a way to get that through to him.
"Are you paying attention, Sammy?" Dean asks while the opening credits roll over shots of the worst of Detroit, and he strips down the first shotgun. "You used to love this one."
Vague memories rise up in Sam's mind, of clumsily edited speeches and nonsensical, Jabberwocky-worthy words to replace all the cursing. "'Listen, monkeychuckers!'" Dean parrots along, then laughs his ass off.
"Seriously, man, who thought 'monkeychucker' was a good way to get around saying 'motherfucker'? Cause I want to meet that guy and shake his hand."
Dean looks over at him then, the smile slipping off his face when he realizes Sam isn't having the time of his life. "Hey, you got any room over there? This bed's getting crowded."
Sam shrugs, his shoulders tense, and Dean caps the oil, wipes his hands on the rag, and plants himself right next to Sam. "Remember how many Saturdays we spent in front of the TV watching these movies?"
Sam can't move, can't even breathe; Dean is so close, so much like he used to be before he knew he was God's chosen warrior, before there was an angel who could swoop in and succeed where Sam had failed and failed and failed.
"Well, I do," Dean says, apparently taking Sam's silence as denial. "And you'll always be my little brother." He pulls the knife - Ruby's unprecedented knife - from his boot and tosses it down; it lands across where their legs are pressed against each other, rocking slightly and catching the light until it slows and stills. "And I trust you."
The words are like Dean's warm hand in the darkness so many years ago, better than a breath of air after nearly drowning. Sam elbows Dean in the ribs and picks the knife up to tuck it inside the journal. "Shhh. Movie's on."
The next time Dean yells "monkeychucker!" Sam's screaming it too.