Sleeping that night wasn't the easiest thing I've ever tried to do and when I opened my eyes again, two wiseacres I know too well and not near enough were already awake and at the trunk of their car, packing things in. I was the last one up.
I might never live this down.
"Early enough for you?" Dean asked way too cheerfully when I carried my gear out to my truck a few minutes later, and Sam snickered. What'd I say? Wiseacres.
I just grumbled a wish that they'd run out of washer fluid on a muddy spring day and stowed my bags.
"We gonna trade insults or we gonna get breakfast?" I asked.
"We can bring it back for you if you need a little more shut eye." Dean offered, still too cheerful for so early in the morning.
The glare I sent him only made him grin.
We checked out of the motel and found a diner a couple blocks away. They only had booths and Sam still had his sling on and Dean orchestrated the seating so Sam's bad arm was to the wall, and Dean was on the outside of him. I sat across from them.
"Hey - sausage gravy. I haven't had that in years." Dean said as he looked over the menu. He sounded like it was as good as winning the lottery.
"What's got you in such a good mood?"
"I don't know. It's a nice day, the coffee's fresh, the waitresses are pretty." He winked at one of those waitresses walking past. "What's not to be happy about?"
Sam was smiling, but the eyes he had fixed to the menu had dark smudges under them.
"What about you Sam? How're you doing this morning?" I asked.
"I'm just wondering what to get for breakfast that I can eat one handed."
"I'll cut your food for you Sammy." Dean offered. "I'll even feed you if you need me to."
Sam started to answer back, he took a breath, lifted his finger to make a point, thought better of it, shook his head and went back to his menu.
Dean smirked and shot me a grin. Razzing Sam has always been his favorite past-time. Or second favorite anyway since shortly after puberty. He's the only one who can razz Sam that I know of. The only reaction anybody else who tries it ever gets is puzzled seriousness or the glare of death.
I could see me offering to feed Sam. Well no - I couldn't. He'd have to be actually dying for me to risk offering and even then I doubt he'd accept. Even at his sickest, even at my house, even with John right there, it was Dean and Dean alone who ever had that kind of care of Sam.
"What can I get you fellas today?" Our waitress wasn't a sweet young thing but she was worth paying attention to. Dean ordered his breakfast like he was on top of the world. Sam and me ordered a little less enthusiastically. When the waitress walked away, Sam turned to Dean.
"Move out. I have to use the restroom."
Dean slid out to let Sam get past him.
"Call if you need help." He said and Sam grumbled something that sounded ancient and lethal as he walked away. Dean took his seat again opposite me.
"Sam get any more sleep last night?" I asked him.
"Some. He's never been a heavy sleeper. You'll have to remember that."
"Dean, I been thinking."
"What?" He lost his 'top of the world' demeanor. He knew I had something serious on my mind.
"Have you talked to Sam about any of this? About what you expect him to do after you're gone?"
"Any time I try, he just says again that he's gonna save me. He doesn't want to hear anything else."
Yeah, that sounded like Sam.
"Then how in the hell am I supposed to convince him of anything if you can't?"
"Because you have to. Dammit Bobby - Sam'll follow your lead. He just needs somebody to be there. You know how he is."
"Yeah, I know exactly how he is. I know when you're gone Sam's gonna be a lost soul who thinks he's got nowhere to turn and I can't make him turn to me. You want this to happen, you gotta talk to him."
The waitress brought our coffees and we smiled politely and tried to sound like we weren't discussing one brother going to hell literally and another one going figuratively until she walked away again.
"I'm working on it Bobby. I am." Dean said.
"I hate to have to say this boy but - work faster."
"Work faster on what?" Sam asked, suddenly back at the table and neither Dean or me realized before it was too late.
"Uhh - uhh -." Dean looked at me for an answer and I didn't have one and I don't know that it wasn't because I wanted this finally out in the air.
Dean slid out and stood, wanting Sam to slide back in. But Sam didn't slide back in. He was getting an idea we were discussing him and it wasn't putting any joy in him.
"What were you talking about Dean? Work faster on what?"
I decided to put my two cents in. I never had kids but I'd spent enough time with John to remember the necessary tone.
"Sam - sit. Or do you want the whole restaurant looking at you two arguing?"
Well he looked at me and if there was any weight behind his psychic crap I was about to be toasted like a marshmallow. So I did the only thing I could do - I looked back at him like he could damn well go ahead and try.
He gave. He didn't give in, he just remembered that I was an old man and that he had manners. He slid back in and Dean slid in next to him.
"What were you talking about?" It was a demand, not a question.
No sense in beating around the bush I figured.
"What about me?"
"About - after I'm gone." Dean said. Guess he decided to join the fray.
"Dean - how many times do I have to tell you? You're not-." Sam gave fast look around at what his audience might be. "You're just not. I won't let it happen."
"And if it happens anyway Sammy -."
"It won't. All right? It just won't. I won't let it."
"Well that's great Sam, but we still need a Plan B for you."
That only made Sam angry.
"No. You know what? No. You think I'm gonna lose you and turn right around and - what? Go back to school? Get on with my life? Forget you? Is that what you want me to do? Forget it."
"Shut up. Get the hell outta my way. Let me out."
Dean got out of his way and Sam marched himself out of the diner. Dean sat down again.
"Which one of us is gonna say how well that went?" I asked.
Good thing Dean doesn't have any psychic crap or I woulda been a toasted marshmallow right then. It was probably only the waitress coming with our food that saved me from anything more lethal than the snarl on his face.
"Y'got an idea yet what you're leaving me with Dean? What magic you're expecting me to work? Y'know there's no spell or charm or key yet can hold still the force of nature your brother is like this."
"Just promise me you'll try."
"I will Dean. You know I will. But Sam's - different. He always has been. You're his default Dean, it's you or nobody. Losing you is gonna kill him. He may keep walking around, but he's gonna be dead. He's dying already. You know it."
Dean lost the snarl and closed his eyes and for a minute I wasn't sure he wasn't gonna lose a few tears. I wanted to kick myself for being an idiot. Of course he knows what this is doing to Sam. He's just been keeping up a brave face for his little brother. He's known all along.
"Promise me you'll keep trying." He asked me. He didn't open his eyes until the sentence was gone. "You're gonna be all he has left."
'And he's gonna be all I have left.'I thought but didn't say.
"Want me to go see if I can't work some magic right here, right now?"
"No, it wouldn't work anyway. He's not ready to listen." Dean slid Sam's plate of pancakes in front of himself and started cutting them up. "He's gonna take the sling off like that'll show me since I'm the one who keeps telling him to wear it. Then he'll fume for awhile and swear at me for a minute or two. Then he might swear at you a time or two." He kept his eyes on Sam's plate and his work. "Then he'll remember that time is running out and he'll come back in and sit down like nothing happened. Nothing much, anyway."
I stared at him until he looked up at me.
"You got this all written down somewhere or are you expecting me to remember it?"
He gave me the toasted marshmallow look again.
"Anyway," he huffed at me. "You should know how Sam is."
"I know how Sam is." I told Dean. "He's smart and stubborn and proud and funny and obsessed and loyal and brave and family is more important to him than breathing and I knew all that about him the second I knew his name was Winchester."
Dean tried to glare at me again but I could see the pride in his eyes. Sometimes Winchester just summed up everything.
And that's when I realized.
"Dean - Sam's different from you. He's different from me, from John, he's different from every hunter I ever met. Sam's different 'cause he's still got hope. And God help us all the day he loses that."
It took a long minute but finally,
Finished with the pancakes, he pushed the plate back to Sam's spot and looked up. Just by his expression - victory quickly quashed into nonchalance - I knew Sam had come back into the diner.
Sure enough, that tall shadow crossed my shoulder and Sam set himself down across from me, waving Dean to stay in the booth and just slide over. He had his bad arm crossed against himself and his sling crumpled almost into invisibility in his hand. He didn't look up and he didn't say anything.
Dean looked at Sam, he looked at me, he looked back at Sam.
"I cut your pancakes up for you." He said, bright like he'd been acting all morning. He exchanged their plates, then passed the syrup over.
Sam got started eating his pancakes and drinking Dean's coffee and not saying anything. Dean looked at me and rolled his eyes, but then we all three ate our breakfasts and the quiet was unfamiliar, but I figured these boys obviously knew how to work their way outta their own fights so I let the silence alone.
I looked at 'em once in awhile. I've known them most of their lives and I recognized the 'looking everywhere but at you' attitudes they were sure employing now. I bet Dean memorized every car out the window and Sam counted every crack in the linoleum, anything but look at each other.
The waitress filled our coffee and left the check and I made sure to finish my breakfast before the boys did, and for as much as they weren't talking, they were eating mighty slow.
Both boys are different. Different from each other. Different from other hunters. Different from most everybody else in the world. They got less than in worldly possessions than any person I ever met, but they got more in each other than any other person could hope for.
Might be I was gonna have the care of Sam in three months time, but I had the care of both of them right now. And they both needed to hear what might be a lie and a truth both at the same time – I had to tell the one that we were gonna save his brother and tell the other that I'd do what he wanted after he was gone.
"I want you both to listen to me." I said. They're hard-headed but they're polite so they looked at me. "You know that if anything ever happened to one of you, the other has a home and a life that we'd piece out outta whatever is left. And you both know that if one of you is in danger, there's no rock in this world or the next that we won't turn over to take care of it. So why don't we all quit worryin' about what ain't here yet and get to work on what's in front of us?"
I really thought I was gonna get a 'yessir' out of 'em they both looked so caught out. But they looked at each other like they were spying and muttered, "Yeah, okay, you're right," and something else I didn't quite catch and I picked up the check to go pay and left them to finish eating and start figuring out that I know them enough to know what I'm talking about.
Sure enough, as I was paying, Dean walked past and thumped my arm. But then kept going so he wouldn't have to actually say out loud that I was right. Sam followed behind slower and I was paid and ready to head out as he walked up to me. We got in step together and when we got to the door he reached out with his good hand to open it for me.
"Thanks." He said, giving me that look that's apology as much as gratitude - half sorry, half desperate, and all Sam.
"It's nothing you gotta worry about kid." I told him.
He still had the sling crushed in his hand and when we were through the front door I asked him,
"You need help with that?"
He looked where I was indicating and blew out a breath before smiling.
"Yeah, I do."
And before I could even start to offer the help, Sam took some long strides away from me and shook the sling out of its crumple.
"Hey Dean – you help me with this?"
And I was left standing alone on the sidewalk of a Georgia diner.
Story of my life.