A/N: I wrote this after Are You There God... and some slightly different ideas came out of it than where the show went after that. So a little AU I guess. This is my first fanfic, in fact, the first piece of fiction I've written in about 14 years.... so please be gentle. Constructive criticism welcome.
When Dean woke with a stiff neck, face pressed into a stale pillow, he thought he was in that cheap motel in Louisiana again. The one with beds as hard as a prison cell floor and cockroaches under the sink. The air smelt musty and somewhere pipes rattled and hummed.
He groaned and rolled onto his back, keeping his eyes shut to the bright light that he could feel on his face, making the insides of his eyes orange. A softer moan escaped his lips when he realised his eyelids felt stuck together. Sticky and hot. When he swallowed his throat felt like sand paper. Great.
A loud clattering and he reached for his knife, reassuringly present under his pillow. Eyes forced half open.
Another bang and his fist gripped tighter around the blade. He sat up and a wave of nausea hit him, just a small one, not enough to stop him from throwing off the covers and planting his bare feet on the floor.
"Sam?" he rasped. "Sam, that you?"
He swallowed hard, his eyes slowly adjusting. He began to make out the familiar floral pattern under his thighs, the coat that had been covering him now crumpled on the floor. The piles of books in every corner.
Not a motel. Bobby's.
He let the knife go.
And then he remembered everything. His sore shoulder hurt like a bitch. Burned.
"No, just me Dean. You want any breakfast?" the older hunter shouted from down the hallway. "I'm makin' bacon."
Deaned breathed cautiously, anticipating the smell of salty fat that would have him running for the bathroom. But he couldn't smell anything through his stuffed up nose.
"Thank god for that," he whispered, holding his stomach.
"I'm all right thanks, Bobby," he yelled back hoarsely, then picked up his glass of water from the floor and sipped gently, sat still for a few minutes until he felt steadier. Tried not to think about flesh sizzling in a hot frying pan.
He found Sam in the study, poring over books about the end of time. His little brother didn't even look up when Dean sat down opposite him.
"This is big, Dean... I mean, really big." I know that, Sam. "There's so much stuff, it's so hard to know what's real... I mean, the Bible's all well and good but..." Sam's sentence trailed away.
"I get it, Sam." Shit, that sounded a little croaky. When Sam looked up he caught Dean massaging the back of his neck.
"You sick, Dean?" Pencil dropped lightly onto the desk. "You look kinda pale."
"Just a little cold, Sam."
Sam turned back to shuffle some papers on the desk, began reconfiguring a paperclip. "I thought I heard you moaning in your sleep last night. I, uh, decided I didn't want to know. God, I'm sorry, Dean, I should have realised you were sick. After everything you've been-"
"It's nothing, Sam." This conversation was not going to become socially awkward. "I already feel better than when I woke up. Really."
Sam flicked the mangled paperclip onto the floor and picked up his pencil again, his eyes lingering on Dean for a few seconds before his head dropped back down. He kept talking, monotoning in the background, but Dean wasn't listening because the sound of spitting oil and a sudden yelp from the kitchen had him recalling why he was moaning last night, why he hadn't a good night's sleep since... just, since.
That was when he suddenly found he couldn't sit still any more. Not when Sam was talking about the apocalypse, not when Bobby was burning pig over a hot flame, not when engine oil smelt like smoke and the jukebox in the nearest bar was playing Highway to Hell over and over and over again.
"Bobby, what's your favorite cheese?" Dean asked when he got back from the dingy beer pit down the road, very drunk but only slightly swaying.
"Sit down before you fall down, dumb ass."
He found an empty armchair and fell into it.
"I think we got more important things to worry about than cheese here, Dean."
Sam threw a book across the room - a small one - and it landed in his brother's lap. Dean didn't even want to read the title. He closed his eyes in alcohol induced weariness and straight away knew it was a bad idea. Everything red and spinning and lonely.
Eyes snapped back open and looked around. If he could get far away from here, far away from where someone first said apocalypse, maybe he would stop seeing it.
"Let's hit the road, Sam. Come on, let's go." Dean got to his unsteady feet, heard Bobby sigh. He stumbled over to Sam and grasped his brother loosely by his shirt sleeve.
"Dean." That's all he said. Shook his arm free.
Dean sat back down, defeated. "What do you want me to do, Sammy? Just sit here-" his arms flopped out over the sides of the chair, "-and wait for that damn angel to come back?"
"You could read the damn book, Dean." And a gentler afterthought: "Or get some sleep."
Dean drummed his fingers on the chair's faded arms. The last thing he wanted to do was sleep. What he needed was something to do, people to save, god and the devil back in fairy tales. Something he could kill with rocksalt.
He stood up again. "Lemmee have your laptop."
Sam's hand was resting on the computer in an instant, guarding it. Or guarding Dean from it, which pissed him off more. They locked eyes for a few seconds.
"All right." Sam relinquished control.
Dean slammed the door.
He woke up two hours later at the kitchen table with his forehead stuck to the keyboard. His mouth tasted of bad breath and stale beer. Well, that's one way to get some decent sleep, he thought, as he peeled himself off the computer. Allowed his eyes to focus and started typing despite the throbbing in his head.
Ten minutes later: bingo. He picked up his cell phone.
Sam was still working when Dean dropped the open computer onto the book he was reading.
"School in Ingsburg, Colorado. Two unexplained fires in a week. One in a locker room, one in the canteen."
"You think we should stop researching the apocalypse to chase after school kids playing at arson?"
"Not kids, Sammy. Fire investigators are stumped." Dean moved around to lean over Sam's shoulder and tapped a few times on the mousepad. He thought he heard a sharp intake of breath when he touched the screen with his finger. "They haven't been able to find a cause for either of the fires. It's like the air just spontaneously combusted."
Sam squinted at the computer screen, wiped it with his cuff. "It doesn't say that here, Dean."
"No, but it's true. It's also true that witnesses said they saw a boy in the canteen-"
Sam feigned horror. "A boy? In a school?"
"-who just disappeared into thin air." Sam rolled his eyes. "And one witness came right out and said he saw a ghost."
"Sounds pretty compelling, Sam." Bobby spoke from across the room.
Sam sounded less convinced. "What's your source, Dean? Don't tell me you hacked into the police servers."
"I got a friend who's a cop a couple of towns over from there. I called him."
"Hunter?" Bobby again.
"No, just a cop who knows what we do."
Sam closed the computer. "You're sick, Dean. You know I know you're sick because you didn't deny it-"
"Just a bad cold, Sam." They locked eyes again, but Dean quickly looked away because he knew Sam was getting better at this game. "What if I told you an angel said we had to go? That pyromaniac spirits is the 17th seal and if this spirit gets to light one more fire, Lucifer's little pinky will be poking up your ass?"
"I might have believed you. But you gotta get your timing right, Dude."
Dean took the deepest breath he could manage. He was beginning to think he might have to tell Sam the truth, that he couldn't stay here because staying here meant staying still, and when he was still he remembered. What do you remember, Dean? But Bobby saved him.
"I got the research covered, Sam."
Sam's shoulders relaxed.
"Will you two eejits please just get out of here? Dean's fidgeting is driving me crazy. I'll call you if I find anything new."
So Sam gave in, after he held out for long enough to let Dean know that he wasn't in charge anymore. Went on Bobby's say so, not his. But Dean didn't care about that right now, not as long as they were getting out of here. He wound the Imapla's windows right down and turned the music right up.
"Dean, it's freezing! And I like my eardrums!"
But Dean didn't answer, because Sammy and the music sounded far away, and every time he blinked he saw.