A/N: Vaguely inspired by a Bob Seger song - Turn The Page. (Not sure if he wrote it or covered it, but it's his vesion.)
The particular line: "Strung out from the road" just set the bunnies running. Dean's sick and alone and driving Route 50 - nicknamed 'the Loneliest Road In America'.
Beta'd by the inestimable RoweenaC, who steered me clear of unintentional Wincestry nastiness... *shudders* Previously posted for Impaladreams on UnGen. Still all yours hun. Thanks for an amazing day!
Quiet rush of dusty road under the tyres, the distant hum of the engine that throbs up through the seat, through his knuckles, wrapped white around the wheel. He shivers, coughs and sniffs and scrunches down in his seat with a wince and a quiet breath that hitches in his throat.
Licking dry, cracked lips he frowns, sets his shoulders again and drives on.
"This freakin' road ever gonna end?"
The mumble almost makes him start, his own voice unfamiliar in the silence. He smiles wearily, flicks his eyes up and catches his reflection's gaze in the mirror. The road in question really does stretch on forever, disappearing over the horizon ahead and behind and he cracks the window, tilts his head toward the gap.
Breathes in the warm air rushing past, tastes sand and sun and spice and doesn't notice his shoulders relax.
Letting the air go slowly, carefully, he feels something crackling in his lungs and clamps his jaw shut again against the cough tickling the back of his throat with barbed claws. It fades, slowly, never quite goes away and he peels one hand away from the wheel to scrub at his face. The motion in the mirror catches his eye and he flicks another glance up at the pale, tired stranger watching him from the glass.
Jerking his eyes away, he scowls as he glares through the fly-spattered windshield at the dusty road unwinding in the moonlight. He yawns until his jaw pops, shakes his head and watches a route sign blur past with a rough laugh that snaps something loose in his throat.
Coughing into the crook of an elbow, he hunches forward in the seat, takes his foot off the gas and lets the car roll to a halt in the middle of the desert, shivers and feels sweat roll down his back as he curls forward, hacking wetly.
"Damn," he mutters when he can drag in enough air to manage it and rests his head against the wheel. The engine growls somewhere below the buzzing in his ears, trembles through his bones and he clears his throat, shoves open the door and spits onto the sandy road.
The faint breeze reaches in, tickles along his jaw, across his brow and he sighs, swings his legs out and sits in the open door. His t-shirt sticks to his back, pulls tight across his shoulders as he props his elbows on his knees and drops his head into his hands, pressing the heels of his palms into his gritty eyes until sparks ignite in the dark and mutters again, "Dammit, Sammy."
Leaning sideways until his shoulder fetches up against the door pillar, he feels every empty inch of space behind him, and his eyes prickle. He sucks in a breath, ragged with the tension in his throat, a lump the size of a house seems to be lodged in there and he coughs again, pointlessly. It scrapes sandpaper raw in his throat and he forces down a whimper as he sinks bonelessly back, stretching along the seat. One hand drops to the phone digging a hole in his side, brushes against it but he just can't find the energy to pull it out, just lies there staring at the ceiling wondering why the loneliest road never used to feel so damn empty.
He drifts, can feel the heat in his skin, some idle, bored voice in the back of his head telling him he's fine, he'll be okay, he's always okay. It sounds like Sammy and his eyes burn again.
So, so quiet beneath the rumble of the engine that he imagines he can hear the world breathing, tries to match his heart beat to it and he's almost got it, almost found that perfect balance, perfect rhythm when the phone lodged against his ribs vibrates and his pulse trips into double time.
"Y'ello?" he croaks into the phone, not even bothering to look at the caller ID. Way he feels right now, if it's someone chasing him, they're more than welcome to catch him and put him out of this misery.
Now he looks at the ID, pulling the phone away from his ear to frown at it until a tinny yell demands his attention again.
"Wassit, Sammy? Sam. Sorry. Sam. 'Cause Sammy's a chubby twelve y'r old, righ'? Whas' wrong, Sammy? Dammit."
"Dean, what's wrong?"
"Tha's wha' I said. You called me, Sam," he enunciates carefully, hears Sammy in his head anyway. It almost covers the sigh from the phone.
"Where are you, Dean? Are you hurt?"
He shakes his head, realises Sam can't see him through the phone.
"I'm fine. You said so, I'm always fine, 'member?"
"You sound like crap, Dean."
"I gotta bit of a cold. 'S'all."
"You're sick? Where's Dad? Where are you?"
"He hadda go help Caleb wi' a… a… I can't 'member. Dog? Maybe."
"Alrigh', don' get yer panties in a twis', Samantha. 'M on Lonelies' Road in 'Merica."
He can hear the frown.
"Route 50's over 400 miles long, Dean."
"Oh. 'M in the empty bit."
"The empty… for christ's sake. Have you taken anything, Dean? Any meds?"
"Nah. Make me all… fuzzy."
Sam laughs down the phone and it sounds like home.
"Don't think you need any help there, dude. Look, are you safe? Off the road?"
He flails a little until his free hand finds the seat back and drags himself up to peer along the arrow-straight road.
"'S nuthin' out there."
"Okay. Dean, get the blanket from the back, alright?"
"'M not cold, Sam."
"Just… humour me. Okay? Grab the blanket from the back seat."
"Alrigh'. Hol' on."
He scrambles at the leather until he can stretch aching joints over the seat and snag the rough, tattered wool. He tries not to see the old stains on it as he wraps it half-heartedly around his shoulders. He's better at most housewives at getting blood out of clothes, but the wool defeated him a long time ago. He still tries, now and then, when the sight of all those stains leaves him cold and sick inside, scrubs the wool with white vinegar until his hands sting.
He fingers one stain now, feels the scar that arcs across one hip and remembers driving down the same long, endless road that stretches out before him.
"You 'member las' time we drove this road, Sam?"
The phone goes so quiet he wonders if the call's been dropped except… he can hear someone breathing, faintly, a quiet, strangled hiss that screams of rigid control and white-knuckled fists.
"Yeah. I remember. After that poltergeist in Ely."
"She tossed you right into the wardrobe, dude. Looked like something out of Loony tunes."
"And you drove over a hundred miles with a piece of banister stuck in you."
The smirk dissolves into a frown at the edge in Sam's voice.
"Well wha' was I s'posed to do, Sam?" It comes out defensive, a little sullen and he grimaces at himself. "You couldn' stay conscious for more'n half a minute."
He huffs out an irritated sigh, wishing he could find the amusement in the memory again. Coughing a little, he snuggles down into the blanket, tucking the stain out of sight. On the other end of the phone, Sam echoes his sigh, only his brother sounds pissed and resigned and somehow sad all at once.
"Yeah. I know. I just…"
It feels like the pause goes on forever as he sits in the car and breathes roughly, shivering, listening to the engine fill the space between them like it used to.
I miss you, Sammy. I miss you here beside me, pulling faces and bitching about the motel and the last crappy diner we ate at and the music and all of it.
He could say it now, he knows, say it and in the morning pretend it never happened, blame it on the fever making him a little nuts. But he doesn't want to break the silence. Living out of a car, no matter how big it is, you learn pretty damn fast how to just sit side by side and not need to fill the quiet. Until this moment, he never realised it was the silences that didn't feel the same anymore, never figured out it wasn't his brother's voice he missed at all. It was the steady, comfortable presence on the other side of the car that fit against him, its absence a gaping hole in his side.
So he sits and shivers and listens, watches the stars wheel past, lets the world turn away from him as he coughs now and then, feels his eyelids grow heavy. And somehow, every time he starts to lose his grip the steady, comfortable presence on the other end of the phone mutters in his ear.
"You hear about the guy in Washington? Disappeared from his office, turned up a half hour later in Boston?"
"Yeah. Was a pair of 'shifters. Tryin' to make a killin' offa World Weekly."
Sees Orion slip below the horizon, the constellation lying on its back and he decides that's a good idea, squirming down until he stares up at the roof, idly spotting nicks in the lining.
"Dean? You ever go back to that diner in Florida?"
He tries to laugh, it comes out as a choking splutter instead and the quiet becomes tense and drawn again before he can get his breathing back under control.
"No. Florida's a bitch."
"I liked it."
Sam huffs, fake-pissed off and now there's a smile in his voice.
Dean grins faintly, lets his eyes slip out of focus and sighs into the dark. Counts his heartbeats as he listens to the quiet, frowning as a bug zips at his ear, getting louder and louder until its buzz is words instead.
"Come on. Wake up, man."
He blinks, wonders when his brother got so scared.
"S'mmy? Wha's wrong'?"
"Dammit, Dean. Stay awake, okay?"
"'m fine, Sam."
"I know." That edge of panic is fading, replaced with a bitterness that's somehow worse and he forces himself up, squashes himself into the corner so he can stay up when the world turns traitor and tips away underneath him. "Dean, have you got a head wound or anything?"
He shakes the head in question, feels pain flare through it but it's not the sharp, ice-pick-through-the-skull hurt of concussion.
"Okay. So it's just the cold?"
He nods carefully.
"How long have you had it, Dean? How long have you been sick?"
He frowns, wondering how his brother saw him…
"Week or so, I guess."
"A week? Jesus, Dean. When did Dad leave for Caleb's?"
He can't remember what day it is, the calendars faded into suns and moons dancing around him, no more sense of time passing than he does of the world turning.
"What day 'sit?"
"It's Tuesday, Dean."
He counts back in his head, laboriously, the numbers feel strange and unfamiliar like they did when he was a kid and needed his fingers to count.
"Three days. Caleb called on Friday, Dad left nex' mornin'."
"So he left you when you were sick?"
"Dean, you're out in the middle of freakin' nowhere, no-one to watch your back and he's off playing pest control with Caleb!"
"Sammy…" he whispers, knows the quiet will stop his brother when shouting won't and feeling like a heel for manipulating him. Still. He's tired and he aches and dammit Sam's right, Dad shouldn't have left when he was sick, the hurt from waking up Saturday morning to find nothing but a note on Dad's bed, just seven curt words and a string of co-ordinates: 'Gone to Caleb's. Black Dog. Wednesday am, 39.17, -118.01'
But the ache in his throat every time he remembers the door slamming on the echo of don't you ever come back is so much worse.
"Jus' don't, man."
He coughs again for effect, sucks in a breath when it sends pain ricocheting around inside his ribs then can't stop, curling onto his side as he chokes and heaves and fights for air, Sam's voice yelling at him a thin anchor.
He blinks out, loses time again, only knows it by the outright terror in his brother's voice as Sam threatens to call the EMT's out.
"Don'. 'M… k…" he wheezes and through the haze he's sure he hears his brother sob breathlessly.
He concentrates on breathing slowly, trying to pull in enough air in tiny sips to snap off the retort that's hovering on his tongue.
"Don't say it, Dean. Just don't."
He feels his lips twitch, realises he's trying not to grin. Don't poke the bear when it's mad, only, the bear can't see him.
He grins, wide and as packed full of smug as he can make it.
"And quit grinning."
It drops off his face so fast he could swear he can hear it hit the floor and he gapes at the phone for a full minute before he realises it's talking again.
"Sorry, Sam. What?"
"I was saying, do you remember teaching me to drive?"
His brow wrinkles, a barely healed scar puckering and he rubs at it absently, idly catalogues it as he thinks. Pissed off waitress in Omaha. Haunting the diner where she was killed in a robbery gone wrong. Nailed me with a damn ladle.
He smirked. Sam would've gotten a kick out of that one.
"Dean? You remember it?"
He does. They found themselves not so far from here, along the same empty, endless road two weeks before his brother's twelfth birthday. Sam had waited patiently, confused as Dean stopped the car at the start of one of those straights that seem like they could just go on and on all the way 'round the world. The sun had hit the back of his neck as he hauled open the passenger door and shoved his brother across the seat with a muttered, 'You're driving, squirt' and settled back in the seat, eyes closed to slits as his brother fumbled with the stick and the pedals and the parking brake.
"You nearly burned out the gearset."
Sam chuckles softly.
"The fact that I nearly ran us off the road three times in a hundred yards didn't bother you?"
He smiles, shivers a little and tugs the blanket higher around his shoulders.
"I knew you'd figure out steering before we crashed."
The drawl makes him a little uneasy, a little nostalgic. It always has, hearing that twang of a state they never crossed until Sam was eight in his kid brother's voice.
"And you weren't ready to grab the wheel, of course."
"No," he answers, honestly, hopes that Sam can hear it because it's as close as he can get to I trust you, Sammy. I trust you with everything I have.
A breeze flicks sand at his ankles, a few grains finding their way into his boots as he lies on the bench seat, legs sticking out the open door, soles planted firmly on the road. He lifts one boot, digs inside with a finger until the sand filters down into the hollow under the arch of his foot, then the other as he listens to Sam on the other end of the line.
"What are you doin', Sam?"
"Working. We've got a test tomorrow."
Now he knows why the sounds filtering down the phone are familiar. His throat aches with a thousand memories of his brother flipping through school books, pencil scritching across paper.
He lifts a hand, peers blearily at his watch.
"It's three in the morning, Sam. Get some sleep."
That's another familiarity, dragging his brother to bed when Sam fell asleep with his head pillowed on text books and ancient manuscripts.
"I'm almost done."
Dean takes a breath, ready to command his brother then shuts it with a snap. Opens it again.
"Why'd you call me, Sam?"
"I don't know. Wanted to say hi."
He quirks an eyebrow.
After eighteen months, you just wanted to say hi? Uh uh, little brother.
He hears his brother sigh, hears a pen clatter to a floor a hundred fifty miles away.
"I wanted to check in, Dean. That's all. I just… I had… I wanted to check in," Sam finishes lamely. Dean listens, doesn't laugh at his brother's sudden inability to communicate. He's had those feelings, gut-wrenching certainty that something's wrong and he's too far away to do anything more than dial the number and hope it gets picked up. And he hates being helpless, never mind that almost every single time he's had that feeling, it's been a lie; there's always the ring of truth, of this time it's real.
He shuffles his shoulders, trying to get comfortable again. Hears a mattress creak in the distance and smiles softly. If he closes his eyes, it's almost like the hot leather under his back is another crappy bed in another crappy motel, almost like the fever beading sweat across his brow and down his spine is just bad air con.
Almost like his brother's there in the next bed.
He drifts, the band that's been clamped around his chest for three days easing and he can breathe again.
Sighs out, "Thanks, Sammy," and slides into sleep like it's home.
I don't know if it's possible to burn out a gearset on an automatic - any mechanics out there?