A/N: I honestly cannot tell you enough how shocked I am that you guys seem to like reading this stuff as much as I like writing it. Seriously, thanks so much for reading and commenting and making me feel like Dean in a pie shop (read: TOTALLY PSYCHED). You're amazing.
Sam wakes up feeling like he spent the night licking the inside of a sewer main. His mouth tastes so horrible that for a minute he doesn't even notice the pounding in his head, but then he sits up and all of a sudden it's pretty damn hard to ignore.
He groans a little, squints at the light coming in through his window, sees a glass of water and a couple of aspirin sitting beside his bed.
He offers a silent thank-you to his brother and then downs them, slumps back against the headboard a little and tries to remember if he remembers getting into bed. He remembers puking, though he wishes he didn't, and he remembers saying… fuck, he doesn't know exactly what, but he knows it wasn't anything he should have given voice to.
He scrubs a hand through his hair, doesn't want to go out and face his brother. How the hell did he let himself get so drunk? Dean's gonna kill him. Fuck. Fuck.
Sam pushes himself upright, does a moment of reconnaissance work. He's still wearing the same clothes from yesterday, which needs to be remedied as soon as possible, and he vaguely remembers his brother dragging him off of the toilet and pulling the blankets up around him. Which he appreciates, sure, but he really wishes Dean had made him brush his teeth, too.
He climbs slowly out of bed, grits his teeth against the surge of nausea that accompanies the movement, and carefully strips off his vaguely puke-scented clothes, tugs on some clean boxers and jeans, wiggles into a t-shirt, leaves the sling off for the first time in two weeks. Takes his time, because, yeah, he's really not looking forward to facing his brother.
Once he's finished, he opens the door cautiously, looks left and right. He doesn't see Dean anywhere, so he edges towards the bathroom, makes it without being spotted. He brushes his teeth fast and hard, scrubs his tongue and gulps some water from the faucet. He leans against the sink for a minute, stares at himself in the mirror, his too-long hair, dark circles under his eyes. He looks like shit.
He leaves the bathroom quietly, thinks that maybe Dean is still asleep, but then he hears a clatter from the kitchen. He follows the sound cautiously, reluctantly, is surprised to find his brother leaning up against the stove, stirring something in a pan.
"Morning, sunshine," Dean says easily, casts a glance over his shoulder. "There's some fresh coffee over there, if you want."
"Thanks," Sam says, fetches a mug, feels supremely awkward in the face of his brother's nonchalance. "What time is it?"
"Little after eleven."
"Eleven?" Sam pauses as he's pouring cream. "Why didn't you wake me up?"
"Why would I?" Dean asks. "Not like we got anything to do for the next couple hours."
Sam guesses he's right, but still, it feels sloppy, waking up so late.
"What're you doing?" Sam asks, sitting, squinting towards the stove.
"Omelet," Dean says. "Tomato, bacon, cheddar."
Sam's favorite. He flushes, looks down at his hands. He doesn't really get why Dean's being nice to him – he thought he was gonna get yelled at, sure as hell doesn't deserve an omelet and a cup of coffee.
Dean leans on the counter, pulls himself over to the spice cabinet with a little shuffle-hop, starts rifling through it. His movements are strangely hitched, something off, and Sam frowns.
"Dean – did – did I fuck up your knee?"
"Uh – my knee's fucked-up, dude."
"Yeah, but – you're walkin' kind of—"
"Locked the brace," Dean says shortly. "Keep it straight, for a while." He cuts Sam off before he can start apologizing. "Not your fault, Sam, seriously – I'd rather have a sore knee than be pavement jam."
Sam winces a little, takes a sip of his coffee. Rests his pounding head on his hand. Dean's jauntiness is just a little too... jaunty to be real. It's the only thing that makes Sam think that maybe Dean's feeling just as weird as he is.
"Where's your sling?" Dean asks, brows drawing together.
"Took it off. Shoulder's fine – a little stiff. Just gotta work it, get it back into shape."
"How you feelin' besides the shoulder?" Dean asks, shakes something into the pan.
"Uh," Sam says. "Shitty?"
"Ha. I bet."
Sam bristles, gets ready to defend himself, but Dean just says, "Hey, you wanna come grab these, bring them to the table?"
"Sure," Sam says, comes over to take the plates, gives a deep sniff. Despite his stomach's unpleasant burble of protest, it smells good. He's not really the kind of guy who ever loses his appetite, no matter how hung over he is.
Dean follows Sam over to the table, eases himself down into a chair and lays his crutches against the wall. His leg sticks straight out in front of him, held immobile by the brace, and he maneuvers himself around a little so it's propped up off to the side.
Sam starts eating, hesitantly at first, then with a little more gusto. His brother's a good fucking cook, even if it's just omelets.
Dean's eating too, slow but steady, bringing forkfuls to his mouth with a kind of focused, hypnotic regularity, and it's weird to watch him and remember the way he used to eat, making little noises of pleasure, destroying whatever was in front of him. Sam still doesn't really understand where his brother's appetite went, though he guesses it's hard to eat when you're in pain, and he'd mentioned the meds making him nauseous… but Sam thinks it's more mental than anything else. Which kind of scares him if he thinks too hard about it.
"So," Dean says, startling Sam out of his reverie. "What're we gonna call our club?"
"Club?" Sam asks, wrinkling his brow, then remembers a snippet of conversation from last night. "Were you really serious about that? You'll quit smoking if I – you'll quit?"
"I said I'd try and cut back," Dean corrects. "And I will."
"So how many've you had today?" Sam asks, half-smiling.
Dean makes a sheepish face. "None?"
"Three," Dean admits with a grimace. "But I've been up for like two hours already."
Sam snorts, but he guesses it's something of an improvement.
"So we're on?" Dean says,
"Yeah," Sam says, though neither of them have mentioned his end of the deal. Which he fully plans to uphold. More or less. He'll do what Dean's doing – cut back. Doesn't mean he has to stop altogether, doesn't mean he can't have a beer or two now and again, but he'll cut back, for sure.
It's just, he kind of wishes Dean hadn't mentioned it, because now he's thinking about it, and he doesn't really want to be thinking about it.
"Uh," Dean says, and Sam looks up.
"I thought maybe today – maybe we could go to a museum."
Sam gapes. "Come again? A museum? Did you just suggest – I'm sorry, was that – culture?"
"Yeah," Dean says, ignoring Sam's widened eyes. "I did a little research before you woke up."
Sam's eyes get wider. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah," Dean says, reaches over for the laptop that's half-open on the corner of the table. "Check it out. It's open till five. I figure we could go around one thirty."
Sam tugs the laptop over, peers at the website Dean's pulled up, not a little skeptical. Then his eyes register the words on the screen, and he lets out a bark of laughter.
"The Cowgirl Hall of Fame? Seriously, Dean?"
"Hell yes," Dean says enthusiastically. "This shit looks awesome, Sam. It's got art, and photos, and a bucking bronco. Right up your alley."
Sam rolls his eyes, but he has to admit, the place does look kind of interesting. "Cool," he says after a moment. "Yeah, let's go."
Dean grins triumphantly and a big chunk of half-chewed bacon falls from his mouth and onto his lap.
Dean Winchester, ladies and gentlemen, cowgirl aficionado and sworn enemy of etiquette everywhere. Sam huffs his disgust, mutters a plaintive "Fuck you" when Dean grins again and offers him an up-close and personal view of his latest mouthful. His brother's fucking gross.
But it's nice to see him smile.
After breakfast, Sam washes the dishes while Dean fidgets at the kitchen table, hands flexing over his knees, good leg tapping. He's got his jaw clamped down tight, and Sam tries to ignore the nervous energy coming off him in waves, but it's kind of difficult.
"Hey," Dean says, snaps his fingers, seems to like the gesture, because he snaps them again a few times.
"You wanna do your hair after this?"
"Do my hair?" Sam repeats, imagining Dean with a bottle of hairspray and a curling iron.
Dean makes a scissoring gesture and, oh yeah, duh.
"Oh," Sam says, one soapy hand going automatically to pat at his admittedly shaggy head. He really does need at least a trim. But Dean's a little – twitchy at the moment, and Sam's not sure he wants those jittery hands to hold anything sharp near his head.
"Yeah," Sam says after a moment. "I mean… I don't… you seem a little…" he waggles his fingers, bugs out his eyes in his best depiction of cracked-out.
Dean gets it, grimaces and rubs a palm over the back of his head. "Yeah, well. I might need a cigarette first."
"Do you have a system to this whole cutting-back thing?" Sam asks, marginally annoyed. "'Cause I see no reason to hold up my end of the bargain if you don't at least try to hold up yours."
"I am trying," Dean says, but scowls a little. "Listen, you need a freakin' haircut, dude, and if I'm not gonna smoke a cigarette, then I gotta do something with my hands. I promise I won't cut off your ear."
Sam looks at him for a moment, sighs. "Fine."
Sam, per Dean's request, dunks his head in the sink to get his hair good and soaked, while Dean digs up a comb and a pair of scissors. They go out on the balcony, and Sam's gratified to see Dean swallow and turn away from the ledge, settle himself carefully on the chair with his back facing the view to the street.
Sam fits himself a little awkwardly between Dean's legs, puts a careful elbow on his brother's bad leg, extended out beside him like an armrest due to the locked brace.
The sun is warm on Sam's skin, and his eyes drift closed as he listens to the hum of the city and the snip-snip of the scissors, lets himself relax into the sensation of Dean's fingers carding through his hair, tugging out the tangles, occasionally brushing a few stray strands off the back of his neck.
They don't really talk, except for the occasional "Turn this way," or "Lean forward a little," and Sam obeys without opening his eyes, lets Dean gently push him around. He's a little disappointed when Dean stops cutting, brushes the hair off his shoulders and pronounces him finished.
"Thanks," Sam says, gives his head an experimental shake. It's a lot shorter – doesn't curl at his neck anymore, doesn't hang in his eyes, and it feels nice, lighter. How it looks remains to be seen. He turns, offers his hand, and Dean takes it, pulls himself into a stand and gropes for his crutches.
"I am good," Dean says, examining him with a critical eye. "Dude, screw hustling – I could just offer my services as a freelance hairstylist."
"Right," Sam snorts.
"I'm serious," Dean says, following him inside. "I made you look good – that's a miracle of fashion right there."
Sam has to admit, it is a good haircut, as far as haircuts go – though they all look more or less alike to him, he can tell good from bad, and this isn't bad.
"Thanks," he says, turning his head this way and that in the bathroom mirror.
"No problem," Dean says, leans back against the wall a little. "We should probably get going."
"Okay," Sam says, distracted, and his brother edges out of the bathroom as Sam stares at himself. His hair's thick, but it's always grown incredibly slowly, so five months without a haircut isn't quite a recipe for Tarzan-hair – but it really had been pretty damn long. He runs a hand through to the tips, thinks about all the times Jess used to do that – wonders when he'll cut off the last hair she touched. Another five months, maybe less. It never ceases to surprise Sam that she gets further away with every passing day, and he has to grip the edge of the sink against that familiar surge of wild disbelief, shocked all over again that he'll never have another chance to touch her, to talk to her.
He puffs out the air that's been trapped in his lungs, squeezes his eyes shut for a moment.
He wants a drink.
Wants a drink pretty fucking badly. He's not sure what the rules are for this little game, but Dean's had a few cigarettes today, has admitted it – so does that mean Sam can have a few drinks? Or just one, just one beer, one beer and then he'll—
"Dude," Dean hollers. "Let's get a move on! Cowgirls a'waitin'!"
They take the bus, because they really can't afford a cab, and because Dean puts up a big stinking fuss until Sam throws up his hands and gives in. It's just – Dean's done indulging his stupid fucking leg. He's done. It's his leg, not the other way around, goddammit, and he's gonna ride the fucking bus even if it means he'll get stared at a little. He's faced worse.
"Lower the thing," Dean says as soon as the doors swing open. The driver peers down at him, confused.
"The thing, the thing, lower the thing," Dean says impatiently, knows he could probably articulate himself a little better, but his cigarettes are burning a hole in his pocket and it's hard to concentrate on anything else.
Luckily the driver understands, lowers the thing with a hiss and Dean clambers on, steadfastly doesn't look at the people casting him curious glances. The bus is by no means full, but a pretty young woman jumps out of the handicapped seat up front and offers him an apologetic little smile as she settles herself a few seats back. And, fuck it, Dean takes her seat, because he needs to sit down, and this kind of shit ain't gonna fuckin' change, so he may as well suck it up and deal with it.
"Thanks," he says, gives the girl his best grin, and she returns it – not apologetic this time, but genuine, and he feels a little better.
Another man shuffles down obligingly so Sam can plop himself next to Dean, and Dean holds his crutches between his legs, keeps one eye on the street names, watching for their stop. He needs a cigarette. Oh, christ, does he need a cigarette. He's gonna have to smoke one when they get off the bus, or he's not gonna be able to appreciate the cowgirls.
Next to him, Sam shifts a little, rubs his palms across the thighs of his jeans like they're sweaty. Dean hears a little click as he swallows. Jesus, what a pair.
Dean's leg is stuck out into the aisle, and he does his best to keep it pulled to one side, but people still end up having to pick their way over it when they board the bus, and he grits his teeth, goes on a long, inward tirade about inaccessibility of public spaces.
He may be afraid of heights again, but he still can't forget how it felt to think, if just for one moment, that he could fly. To think that he could somehow find a way to leave the clumsiness of his body behind, or even take it with him to a place where it didn't matter how far his knee could bend, or whether or not he his hip could support his weight.
He lets himself wonder, just for a moment, what would have happened had Steven won. What would have happened if Dean had gone over that balcony. His stomach twists a little to think about it, but… there's something not altogether horrible about the idea. He's always thought he wants to go down swinging. Maybe he'd rather go down flying.
Shut up, Winchester. He huffs a laugh at himself, earns a small, inquisitive frown from Sam that he ignores. Lack of nicotine does crazy things to a man's head. Flying, schmying. He's never going up in a plane ever again. Unless there are cigarettes on board.
"You think Marcella noticed the hair's gone?" Sam asks out of nowhere.
"Dunno," Dean says, tries to relax his shoulders a little.
"You feel okay, right? I mean—"
"Wonder if Dad's gonna call soon. It's been a few days."
"You think he'd—"
"Sam, I need to be watching the streets," Dean snaps. "Let's save the small talk, huh?"
"O-kay," Sam says, crosses his arms, doesn't say anything until Dean reaches up to push the Stop Requested button.
"No, I just like how powerful this makes me feel," Dean says, slams a palm on the button again.
Sam's jaw tightens, but he holds Dean's crutches as Dean pushes himself up. The bus driver starts lowering the thing before Dean can protest that he's fine when it comes to disembarking, and the few people waiting at the bus stop stare at him as he gets a grip on his crutches and gets himself onto the sidewalk. He kind of hopes the bus crashes and they all die a horrible flaming death.
Dean digs his cigarettes out of his jacket as soon as he's off the bus, doesn't look at Sam as he shakes one free, fingers a little unsteady as he flicks his zippo open, takes his first breath of smoke.
Oh. Oh god.
He closes his eyes, takes a long drag, can feel his body lose some of its tension. Realizes that the clench of his muscles has been doing nothing to help his leg, which aches in a way that threatens to get worse, soon. He's got some Vicodin in his jacket pocket. Pants pocket, too, actually. He's gonna have to break it out pretty soon.
He takes another drag, glances up at his brother, expecting Sam's patented look of stiff-jawed disapproval, but Sam just looks tired.
"Sorry," Dean feels the need to say, waves his cigarette a little. "I just – baby steps, right?"
"I dunno. I think you're doing pretty well."
Dean stares. "What?"
"This is your first cigarette in like, two and a half hours. That's pretty good, man."
Dean tries not to show his surprise. "Uh." Is he supposed to say thank-you? "Yeah."
Sam nods a little, puts his hands in his pockets, cranes his head around. "So where's this museum?"
"Down the block," Dean says, regrets snapping at Sam earlier. It'd be a little easier to stick with the nice if he weren't also trying to cut down the cigarettes. 'Cause, oh man. He's a hell of a lot nicer when he's not panicking for a smoke.
He's trying hard, though,he really is – he's been stuck in whiny, pansy-ass self-pity mode for too long now. That's not what Sam needs; Sam needs him to be okay. So – Dean's gonna be okay. Simple as that.
"These chicks were badass," Dean says for like, the thirtieth time as he reads a plaque. "This one's my favorite." He thumps a crutch for emphasis. "Poker Alice. Ugly lookin' thing, but." He whistles. "Badass."
Sam rolls his eyes. Dean's been making his slow way around the Hall of Fame for the last half-hour, picking a new favorite cowgirl every couple of photographs. Last one was "Big-nose Kate," whom he pronounced "Ugly, but." Whistle. "Badass."
He'd been disappointed at first, at the lack of general attractiveness of most of the featured cowgirls, but he got over it pretty quick once he'd started reading about them. Sam thinks it's pretty cool too, actually, but he's not half as excited as Dean. Even as a kid, Dean was fascinated by the West, and Sam's pretty sure Dean still pretends he's a cowboy sometimes when he draws a pistol.
They'd spent a long damn time looking at saddles, too, and whips, and spurs, which means that Sam had to endure way too many dirty jokes for his liking, dirty jokes that earned the disapproving glance of more than one visitor.
But he finds himself grinning as Dean lets out a whoop and calls, "Sam! Get your ass over here! I found a hottie! Oh, thank fuck."
"Belle Starr," Sam reads, peers at the picture. "Dean, this photo is from like, a hundred feet away. And it's black and white. You can't even see her."
"You can, too. Check out the tits. Seriously."
Dean grins, goes back to his appreciation of the photo, and Sam watches him, notices how he adjusts his grip on his crutches, wincing a little. They've been walking around for almost two hours, with just a ten-minute break for Dean to smoke a cigarette, shamefaced, about an hour in.
"I think we've seen about everything," Sam says. "Let's get something to eat." So you can sit down. And I can— yeah.
"Okay," Dean agrees. "But – there's just one more thing."
"What?" Sam asks, immediately wary of the glint in Dean's eye.
"C'mon," Dean says as an answer, and starts moving. Sam follows; doesn't really have a choice.
"Oh," he says, when he sees where his brother's led him. "Oh, hell no. Dean, you can't—no offense, dude, but there's no way you can—"
"I know I can't," Dean says, impatient, matter-of-fact. "But you can."
Sam turns to look at the mechanical bronco in the center of the room, bucking wildly as a giggling middle-aged woman attempts to stay on, fails in a flurry of limbs and high-pitched squeals as her husband cackles on the sidelines.
"No," Sam says.
"Sam," Dean says, turns big green eyes on him. "Dude, if I could, I'd be all over that."
Sam bites his lip, casts another glance at the "bronco." He's gonna lose this fight. Dean's playing the pity card, and Sam… well, Sam would be lying if he said he didn't kind of want to ride the bronco.
"And the best part," Dean says, eyes shining, "the best part is, they videotape it, and then put you in a Wild West video that makes it look like you were riding a real bronco."
"Awesome," Sam deadpans.
Dean scowls. "Show a little respect for these brave women, huh? Least you can do is put yourself in their shoes for a couple minutes. They had to do this every day, Sam. Life was hard on the range."
"I'm not saying it wasn't."
"So quit being a pussy and get in line!"
It's a hell of a lot more difficult than it looks, that's for sure, but Sam at least does better than the woman before him, who sticks around to cheer him on as he grips the fake saddle horn and clenches his thighs together around the faux suede hide, lets out a couple involuntary yelps as the mechanical bronco spins and bucks and tries its mechanical best to throw him off.
"Sit up straighter!" Dean hollers. "Lean into it!"
"Relax your back!" someone else calls, an unfamiliar voice, but Sam's too busy trying to sit up straight and lean into it to see who the hell else is watching him.
"Hell yeah!" he hears Dean whoop. "Ride 'em, Sammy!"
It's hard to keep a straight face when you're riding what is essentially a metal barrel masquerading as a violent horse, and it's the laughter that gets Sam in the end, makes him weak and breathless, until finally he loses the fight and is ferociously dislodged, tossed onto the padding beneath the still-bucking bronco.
There's a smattering of applause as Sam lies still for a moment, lets the slight pain fade from his shoulder before he pushes himself up. There's a pretty good crowd, to his surprise, about ten people, including a handful of excited children and their nervous-looking parents. Don't try this at home, kids.
"That was awesome," the attendant says, grinning as she hands Sam a ticket. "You're a natural! Just go online tomorrow and enter the code on this ticket, and you can download your movie."
"Sweet!" Dean crows, slaps him on the back.
Sam can't help but grin. "That was pretty sweet."
"You weren't half bad," Dean says. "I coulda done better, but, hey. You held your own."
"Hell yes, I did," Sam says, but he feels his smile fade a little, because even though he knows it's a joke, Dean would have done better. Dean had always been good at that kind of stuff, had amazing balance, had a natural athleticism — had being the operative word. It's still hard, sometimes, trying to reconcile this Dean with the Dean he grew up with, the invincible big brother who could have Sam pinned and tapping out in four minutes flat. Now his brother can't get himself onto a goddamn bus without help.
"You hungry?" Dean asks, looking at Sam closely as they head towards the exit.
"Starving." Sam tries to fix his smile back in place.
"I saw a Burger King down the block," Dean says. "We're a little low on cash, so—"
"No!" Sam says, startles himself with his own vehemence, but he needs a place that serves alcohol. He just wants one beer. That's it.
"All right, no Burger King," Dean says, looks a little taken aback. "Pizza?"
"Yeah, pizza's good," Sam says, remembers seeing a pizza parlor with a big Pabst neon sign in the window.
They leave the museum, step out into the orange afternoon sun, and Dean digs his cigarettes out of his pocket as soon as they hit the front steps. Sam doesn't say anything, because it's about three thirty, and by his count, Dean's only had five cigarettes, which is pretty amazing, really, though Sam can tell he's having a hard time.
The pizza place is halfway down the block, and Sam goes in to get a booth while Dean stays outside to finish his cigarette. Sam orders a beer from the person who leads him to the table, watches through the window as Dean lights another smoke with a guilty little head-turn, like he's making sure Sam didn't somehow stick around to spy on him.
I can see you through the window, you idiot.
Sam's beer comes almost immediately, cold and bitter and completely perfect, and on just the first sip Sam relaxes a little, not even realizing how wound tight he'd been. It's weird, and probably not good, but Sam feels a lot more in-control with a drink in his hand, like everything's just a little bit easier, more manageable.
It makes Sam feel better, too, to watch his brother "secretly" smoke that second cigarette, makes him feel like less of a fuck-up, because at least Dean's a fuck-up too, and can't get pissed at him.
Sam's halfway through when Dean comes inside, lowers himself down into the booth with white lips, whether from pain or anger Sam's not sure.
"What's that?" Dean asks, nodding at the bottle clenched defiantly in Sam's hand.
"What's it look like?" Sam says, a stupid comeback for an even stupider question.
Dean looks like he's going to say something, but then he just sighs, absentmindedly tugs a Ziploc of Vicodin out of his jeans pocket, shakes a few pills out and swallows them with the water that's been brought to their table.
"I'm just gonna drink this one," Sam says, relenting, because Dean looks tired and thin and his fingers are already dancing inside his coat again, twitching in the pocket where Sam knows he keeps his cigarettes.
"Your call," Dean says, and Sam's suddenly resentful of his forced, disappointed tone, so much like Dad when he was pretending to give them a choice – or rather, an order, disguised as a choice.
"Yeah, it is," Sam says, and takes another sip of his beer.
Dean looks away, adam's apple bobbing in his throat. The waiter comes over and they get a large pepperoni pizza, and when it comes Dean spends five minutes methodically picking off all the pepperoni from his slice and eating them slowly one by one.
"Could you just eat like a normal person, please?" Sam asks, cringes inside, because his tone is the same as the one a mother would use to say Inside voices, please, or Ask with your mouth, not with your hands.
"A normal person," Dean repeats, peeling off another pepperoni. "Right. Godforbid we not be normal."
"Dean," Sam says, recognizing the beginning of a very old argument.
Dean takes a bite of pizza, swallows and puts it down, leans back in the booth, uses his hands to move his braced leg out in front of him with a little harsh exhale of breath.
"You all right?" Sam can't help but ask.
Dean says nothing, just rolls his head back on his shoulders and reaches for his water.
He's clearly in pain, Vicodin not kicked in just yet, and Sam feels thoroughly exhausted by the sight. Every fucking day, he has to watch Dean go through this, and it never changes, no variation except the caliber and frequency of how much it hurts. It should be dull, boring for Sam, but somehow it feels different every time. And he can never do a goddamn thing about it.
"So what're we going to do now?" he finds himself asking.
"What do you mean, what do we do?" Dean asks. "Steven's gone. The Finklesteins don't come back for another few days. So we swim in the pool, maybe go to a movie. Check out some dorky art museum, if you really want to."
"And after that?" Sam asks quietly. "What'll we do after that?"
"Same thing we do every night, Pinky," Dean says. "Try and take over the world!"
Sam laughs despite himself. He hasn't thought about that particular cartoon in a long time. "Right," he says. "Like you're The Brain."
"Hey," Dean says, mock-offended. "Just 'cause I didn't go to some fancy college."
Sam flips him off, then says, "But, seriously, man. What're we going to do?"
"Same old, same old, Sammy," Dean says. "Shoot some shit. Burn some shit. Wait around and see if Dad needs us."
"It just keeps getting worse," Sam says, almost to himself, and Dean looks puzzled, vaguely uncomfortable. "Your leg," Sam clarifies, forces himself not to look away as Dean flinches. "You can't – we can't do this forever, man. You're… it's not getting better."
"It's not gonna," Dean says, tone suddenly hard. "No matter what we're doing."
"I'm just saying," Sam says desperately. "I'm just saying—"
But he stops, because in all honesty, he isn't sure what he's saying. The demon that killed Jess is still out there. Everything is still out there. Everywhere. And even if Dean would agree to stop – which he never would – Sam can't turn his back a second time. Not with Jess's dying eyes still piercing him whenever he closes his own eyes at night. The smell of burning hair still fresh in his nose, like it was yesterday. Can't turn his back on that.
"I've got an acupuncture appointment tomorrow at two," Dean offers after a moment of silence. "Figured I could use some. My back's all kinds of fucked-up."
It's a concession of some sort, and Sam takes it as such, smiles a little. "Good, dude."
"Yeah." He clears his throat. "Uh, your appointment's at two fifteen."
Sam blinks. "What?"
"It helps," Dean says defensively. "I just thought… I thought it might help."
"My shoulder's fine, dude," Sam says, gives it a roll to illustrate his point. It barely hurts at all anymore.
"I wasn't thinking about your shoulder," Dean mumbles. "Just – it helps – it helps your back and shit. It's just – it's good for you."
"Dean, I really don't think—"
"You're kidding me, right?" Dean says. "You forced me into this in the first place, acted all smug when I said it worked – but you're too cool to try it for yourself?"
"It's not about cool."
"So, two fifteen it is."
"Yeah," Sam says, gives in. "Sure. Thanks."
"You'll like it," Dean says, picks up his pizza again, forgotten on his plate. "We'll do, like, a spa day. We can get pedicures afterwards."
"Or, even better—" Dean pauses dramatically. "We can clean the guns!"
"Be still my heart," Sam says dryly, but smiles a little when Dean gives him a tentative, half-grin.
He reaches for another piece of pizza, but inadvertently catches Dean's water glass mid-reach, and it topples over, water splashing onto Dean's plate and into lap.
"Fuck!" Sam says, flushing, fumbling for something to sop it up with. "God, I'm sorry, man, here, let me –"
"It's okay," Dean says. "Hey, hey, Sam, it's cool. Siddown. I got it."
Dean grabs a handful of napkins and swipes them across the table, then starts blotting his lap.
"Shit, here," Sam says, starts casting around for more napkins, starts to rise, but Dean's hand clamps around his wrist, cool and firm, tugging him back down.
"Sam," Dean says quietly. "It's okay. I got it."
Sam sinks back into his chair as Dean tosses the wet napkins on the table, grabs himself a new slice of pizza, one that isn't waterlogged, then tosses one onto Sam's plate with a condescending big-brother smirk.
Sam hasn't seen that particular smirk in a long time, and all of a sudden, for no reason he can think of, he feels something settle inside of him, something that had been beating its wings in his ribcage for months, and he feels his fists unclench, feels the muscles in his jaw relax.
"Gettin' clumsy," Dean says through a mouthful of pepperoni. "We gotta train more."
"Yeah," Sam says, huffs a laugh as Dean casts a mournful look at the mountain of cheese that's just slid off his pizza and onto his already-wet lap.
"It's fine," Dean says, does his best to encourage the errant cheese back onto the crust, plucking strings of mozzarella from off his jeans.
"You're disgusting," Sam informs his brother.
"Miss Manners, watch your fuckin' back," Dean says. "I know what you are, and I'm gonna hunt you down."
Sam shakes his head, finishes his beer in a long gulp and glances out the window, thinks how he really shouldn't have another one, but man, he'd really like to.
There's a flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye, and he sees a brown bird alight itself on the sidewalk right outside the window, peck mindlessly at the cement. There's something in its beak, yarn of some kind, and Sam figures it must be making a nest.
The sun glints off the yarn, and Sam peers closer – realizes, on second glance, that it's not yarn, but rather something that looks a whole lot like human hair. Sam thinks suddenly of the trimmings they'd left out on the balcony to blow away in the breeze, and he wonders wildly if maybe this bird is holding his hair, if it will weave the strands of his hair into its nest in the eaves of some building, or maybe a tree in some park.
The bird hops once, quirks its head towards the window, and suddenly Sam feels as if it's looking directly at him with its tiny, knowing black eyes; feels as if, in that one moment, there is no distance between them; feels as if they understand one another perfectly. Then, with a rustle of shining feathers, it pushes away from the pavement and disappears into the hazy blue sky.