Author's Note: Hey everyone! Oh my goodness, I'm so sorry about the crazy long delay. For the past month I've had writer's block for this story so badly that if I got a sentence a day? It was a GREAT day lol I'm not too sure about this chapter, but at this point I don't want to leave it hanging anymore. I just wanted to thank every single one of you that has stuck with this story since it started--each and every review or alert I got was wonderful and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it! You're all amazing! I hope this chapter is ok and that you all enjoy it :o)
Disclaimer: Even after a solid month since my last posting, nothing's changed, still don't own them.
PS--Is everyone enjoying the fifth season so far?
Dean couldn't help but smile.
Sam stood by the kitchen sink holding a truly enormous coffee mug in his hand that Dean just knew was filled to the brim with orange juice.
Dean knew that because just earlier that morning his younger brother had engaged in an absolutely hilarious argument with Bobby, practically demanding permission to drive to the nearest store and buy a couple cartons of vitamin C to replace the ones he'd gone through.
Permission had been denied for two reasons; one, because Sam was still under the umbrella of a protective older sibling and wasn't allowed to drive…and two, because Bobby was just too damn stubborn.
Sam, in retaliation, had hidden ten dollars under the microwave and planned to call Bobby from the car to tell him about it.
Life is never dull.
A few drips of orange juice snaked their way down Sam's chin and he instantly blushed, setting the mug down on the counter and frantically grabbing for paper towel.
Dean's smile widened.
His most prized possession, his little brother.
Orange juice dribbles and all.
"Got a hole in your lip, Sammy?"
A loud gulp. "Shut up."
Dean snorted, rolling up a pair of jeans and half-hazardly stuffing them into his duffle.
They'd moved their bags down into the kitchen that morning after having come to the silent agreement that it was time they hit the road again. Sam was doing well enough to sit in the car for a longer period of time and both brothers were getting antsy staying in the house. They weren't designed to stay in one place longer than a couple days—Dean especially—and after nearly two weeks, the monotony was wearing them down.
When Bobby had argued with them saying that they should stay at least another few days, Dean's response had been short and to the point—"When you start sleepin' 'cause you got nothin' else to do? It's time to get the hell out."
The words had been said good-naturedly and warmly, Bobby simply shaking his head in response.
"So where are we headed?"
"I dunno. Figure we'll head to the nearest interstate, drive for a couple hours."
"Do you want me to start looking for a job somewhere?"
"No!" It came out a lot louder than he intended and he was instantly embarrassed—Sam simply looked over, eyebrows almost disappearing his hairline. Dean cleared his throat, trying to appear casual. "No, let's uh…just take it easy, y'know?
"Yeah, well…you're still kinda wobbly—"He ignored Sam's sudden scowl. "—and we got nowhere to be."
"Do we ever have a plan?"
Touché was written all over Sam's face as he zipped his bag closed in one swift move. "Yeah, guess you're right."
"Let's just worry about makin' sure you're ok. Then we'll talk about getting back to work."
"You're a fusspot, Dean, you know that?"
Under normal circumstances he'd make a joke—a sarcastic rejoinder to minimize how blatantly true Sam's words were. But as he stood there and took in the teasing smile on his brother's face, Dean decided that after everything the truth was the way to go.
"Yeah, I am. Deal with it, dude."
His worry for his brother was the only thing Dean didn't mind being transparent about.
And Sam's smile only got bigger.
The heavy trunk of the Impala slammed down and Dean sighed, wiping dust from his hands. His baby was covered in a grimy layer of dirt and he very nearly made a face at the state she was in. Instead, he settled for patting the trunk in a silent but heartfelt apology.
The creak of the hinges drew his attention and he watched Sam toss his duffle bag half-hazardly into the back seat. He winched slightly at the movement of his shoulder. "You ok?"
Sam nodded and rolled his shoulder gently. "Little sore."
"You take those pills I gave you earlier?"
"Yes Florence, I took them."
Dean made an exaggerated ha ha face and sighed, squinting in the harsh afternoon sunshine.
The salvage yard was relatively quiet, the only sounds being the loud and cheerful barking of a dog way off in the distance and the clank of metal on metal.
He was the first person to readily admit that silence made him nervous. It wasn't part of his everyday life, what, with the growl of his car…the loud percussion beats and guitar solos…Sam's constant nattering when he was awake and his soft snoring when he was asleep.
The familiar sounds around Bobby's house helped him relax and he leaned casually against the side of the Impala, folding his arms across his chest.
He'd shed his leather jacket the moment he and Sam had stepped outside—it was too friggin' hot—and the black t-shirt he was wearing was already feeling like a second skin.
"Hey, you alright?"
Dean nodded absently, glancing over. Concern was written all over Sammy's face; the kind of concern that Dean both chafed at and loved...the concern he hated because it instantly made him feel better. "Yeah, why wouldn't I be?"
"I dunno, you just seem out of it, that's all." He came closer, shoving his hands sheepishly into the pockets of his jacket. "Long couple days."
The breath of laughter that escaped the older man had no humor in it whatsoever—just weariness and a long-lasting heartache. "Yeah, Sammy," he started, his voice quiet. "Long couple days."
He didn't have to look over to see the expression on the kid's face in his minds-eye; eyes wide and impossibly sad.
The eyes that should've been labeled a weapon of mass destruction when Sam turned four.
"You uh…want me to drive for a bit?"
Dean blinked. "Say again?"
Sam visibly swallowed. "Well, I mean—you're really tired, Dean."
"And you're not?"
"You're not drivin', Sam., so park your ass in the passenger seat."
Sam was about to open his mouth to continue the pointless bickering when Bobby emerged from the house, shaking his head as he started towards the car. "You two startin' already?"
"I'm not startin' anything—" Dean motioned to Sam with a quick nod of his head. "Francis over here wants to drive."
"Dude—" Sam scowled. "Don't call me that."
Bobby rolled his eyes and thrust an incredibly heavy duffle bag into Dean's hands, effectively putting an end to the conversation. "Put a couple things in there that I thought you boys might need—couple things for your med kid, new pain killers, gauze for that shoulder."
Dean nodded quickly, grateful. "Thanks."
"Yeah, Bobby, thanks for everything."
The older man waved a hand dismissively. "Don't go thankin' me. You two idjits just take care of yourselves, please? For Christ sake?"
Both brothers nodded, echoing the same words, "Yes, sir."
Bobby studied them for a moment and then sighed, scratching underneath the peak of his baseball cap. "Yeah…yes sir means no."
The hunters exchanged a few more words and manly pats on the back. Even though he held it in, it was always difficult for Dean leaving Bobby's; despite the fact that he was bored and antsy it was the one place (besides his car) that he felt at home, felt the most comfortable.
It was as close to an apple-pie life as he was ever going to allow himself to get.
The rumble of the Impala was added to the familiar noise of the yard and once Sam was situated in the passenger seat Dean sent a wave out the window and hit the gas, leaving a cloud of dust in the car's wake.
Bobby remained on the front steps with a hand held up in a wave and the brothers watched him in their respective mirrors until they hit the main road.
The wave of relief that overtook Dean at that moment was nearly enough to make his hands shake—they were both alive, Sammy most importantly, and they were out on the road again. No destination in mind but that had never stopped them before.
He just wanted to drive; his girl eating up the blacktop, the sun shining through their open windows and his brother riding shotgun. He wanted normal.
"You think Bobby'll be mad about the money for the orange juice?"
Dean felt a smile break out and he couldn't help but breathe a laugh. "I think you'll hear about it."
"Yeah, I think so, too."
There was an answering smile in Sam's voice.
Dean spoke somewhat embarrassedly, "So you sure you're ok over there? I tried to grab the best pillow."
"I'm ok, Dean." He rolled his head on the headrest—Dean tracked the movement in his peripheral. "Glad to be back in the car?"
"Bet your ass I am. Came close to forgettin' what my baby looked like."
Sam chuckled quietly, snuggling down under the blanket that Dean had forced him to take from the bedroom. "Yeah, right, like that would ever happen."
"Hey, you never know."
"Dean, nothing could make you forget your baby."
Dean's fingers constricted around the steering wheel and he cleared his throat awkwardly. "No, there's…there's one thing."
The silence in the car, even with Metallica's Sad But True playing in the background, was thick enough to choke a hippo. Chick-flick alarms were going off like air raid sirens in Dean's head but he pushed the warnings aside, his eyes glued to the road in front of them.
He sensed Sam open his mouth to respond but beat him to it. "I'm just…glad that you're ok, Sammy."
"Yeah, thanks to you and Bobby."
"Hey, you did all the work."
"But having you there…made it easier, Dean."
A lump formed in the older man's throat at the completely unabashed sincerity in Sam's voice—there was gratitude there, as if there was anywhere else in the world Dean would've rather been than sitting at his little brother's bedside.
Sam went on.
"Everything that happened, man…the stuff with Ruby and Lilith, going after the wolf solo—"
"Yeah, about that—you ever pull that crap again, I'm shippin' you back to Bobby's in a crate."
Sam barely smiled and paused for only a second. "I keep screwin' up and…I don't know why."
"It's not about screwin' up, Sam."
"Then what's it about?"
"It's about you bein' lied to all the damn time." Dean's eyes narrowed against his will. "It's about you bein' scammed into believing that you're doin' good when you're really not."
"Do you really think that?"
And there it was. The same voice that Dean remembered from years of childhood. The voice of a little brother shyly asking a big brother for his approval...for his agreement.
He couldn't help but sigh. "Look, man, I know that you mean well. Ok? I do. But Ruby doesn't mean well. She's not doin' this outta the goodness of her heart—if she's even got one." Dean muttered those last words quietly and then continued on in a regular voice. "I don't know what her end game is but I know that whatever it is, it ain't good."
"And if she's telling the truth?"
"She's not." He repeated the words firmly but he injected an undercurrent of softness only because he knew that Sam would detect it. "You remember what I said to you the night I went to the Pitt? Dad's deal, my deal, then Ruby? It's just strategy to her, man, that's it…just a way to get you where she wants you."
"You don't know that."
"But I know you. The Sammy I knew woulda known right away that anything to do with Yellow Eyes was bad news. Using that psychic thing is bad news."
Sam barely moved but his words had the effect of a seismic shift. "Yeah, well, that Sam didn't watch his brother die."
And that freakin' lump was back in throat.
"Yeah, I know." Dean could hear how rough his own voice was but pushed down any embarrassment; after what they'd just been through, they had no time for it. "But I'm here now, dude…I'm not goin' anywhere."
Sam sounded so much younger than his twenty-six years that Dean couldn't help but give him what he wanted. "Promise." Then after a second, "She's no good, you gotta stay away from her."
Another silence choked the inside of the car but it wasn't as loaded as the previous one. Dean knew without the slightest thought that this new Sam didn't appreciate being told what to do—after all, the guy had been alone for four months, he was used to making his own rules and going his own way. If there was anyone who understood what it was lie to go from hunting alone to hunting with a partner, it was Dean.
When Sam had first left, hunting on his own had seemed impossible. But like everything else it was something he got used to; he didn't like it…but he got used to it.
When Sam had finally returned to the hunt, it had taken weeks before he stopped getting goosebumps at the sound of slow footsteps right behind him…weeks before he got used to his little brother's familiar breathing patterns in sleep and the sound of the shower running at ungodly hours of the morning.
It took weeks for him to get used to hearing his brothers screams again in the middle of the night when he was caught in the throes of a nightmare.
While Dean'd been gone Sam had gotten a little harder, a little colder. It set Dean's teeth on edge to think of his little brother putting in his own stitches or crawling back to the Impala, too injured to carry his own weight.
It didn't matter how old Sam got—he wasn't supposed to put in his own stitches…Sam wasn't supposed to crawl.
No Winchester was ever supposed to crawl.
He felt his fingers tighten around the steering wheel almost forcefully enough to crack the plastic. It was only after releasing a deep and calming breath that he loosened his hold.
"Dean. Can I ask you something?"
Uh oh, that question can't lead to anything good.
He simply nodded, knowing that Sam was watching him.
"You know that I really do wanna help people, right?"
That hadn't been what the older brother had been expecting.
It was so unexpected that all he could do was blink stupidly for a moment.
He got his wits back quickly. "Yeah, I know that. No doubt." Dean reached over, affectionately swatting Sam's knee. "Can I ask you somethin' now?"
"Yeah, of course."
No hesitation whatsoever.
God, Dean loved that kid so much.
"Do you trust me?" Dean looked intently at his younger brother, maintaining eye contact as he asked the question, a small sliver of fear in the back of his heart that he might not get the answer he was anticipating.
"Yeah, you know I do." Sam didn't falter in his immediate response.
As relief flowed through him, Dean released the deep breath he hadn't been aware he was holding until the answer spilled from his brother's lips.
Some things never changed.
Didn't matter how stoic he tried to be or how strong he was, he never got tired of hearing his not-so-little Sammy talk like that. He just chose to keep his ridiculous happiness under very strict wraps.
"Look, how 'bout we just…find a motel and take it easy for a couple days? You know? Hole up and watch the Creature Feature, maybe play some pool for fun." He smiled fondly. "What do you think?"
It was an offer—an invitation for them to just be them. Two brothers on a road trip together who were simply looking for a good time and some well-earned recreation. Nothing more and nothing less.
Sam nearly started vibrating in his seat with obvious excitement.
Because, above everything else, Sam was a little brother and he reacted almost physically whenever his cool big brother said he wanted to play with him.
The kid nodded, his eyes almost comically wide. "Yeah, Dean…sounds great."
And it did sound great.
The last few weeks had been some of the worst in Dean's memory. He knew that the thoughts and images would be with him until the day he died (again). Watching his little brother suffer, how could they not stick with him? But he also knew that they'd be better—better brothers, better friends, and better partners— because of what they'd been through.
As Bobby had once said to a grieving Tamara, the world had become a much scarier place. Sam's encounter with the werewolf and the resulting poisoning was proof enough of that.
Sam had been lost while Dean had been away, just as Dean had once upon a time been lost without Sam. There were still issues to work through, lies to unravel and trust to be regained, but at least they'd taken the first few steps towards something positive.
Because underneath it all, they were still brothers. They were family.
And if you couldn't stick it out for your family, then you couldn't stick it out for anyone.