A/N: I told a few people what this chapter was going to be about. I lied. Or rather – the story changed itself. The cougar will be in the next chapter. (Unless things change again!)
Dad was in a weird mood, Sam decided, but he couldn't figure out why.
First weird thing - they weren't out of the motel and back on the road at the crack of dawn. Sam knew it wasn't because Dad overslept - because Dad never overslept. Including this morning, because when dawn finally made an appearance at the end of Sam's endless, sleepless night, Dad was up and starting his day. He was making coffee and humming some old rock tune when Sam finally, finally, drifted to sleep.
Second weird thing- Sam fully expected to be rousted out of his lumpy roll away bed as soon as the coffee was ready and the bathroom was free, never mind how few minutes of actual sleep he'd gotten. But he wasn't. He woke up, all on his own, at nearly eleven am. He pushed up on his elbows and looked around. Dad was at the table, cleaning weapons. Dean was stretched out on the vinyl covered sofa, reading a gun magazine.
Neither of them seemed to notice Sam was awake until he asked,
"Weren't we heading to Illinois today?"
Dad looked up from his work.
"Later. We're just gonna hang out and regroup today."
That was the third weird thing. Over the years, Sam had come to realize that 'hang out and regroup' was what Dad said when something had spooked him and he needed to figure it out, or when he was hurt and didn't want Dean and Sam to know how bad, or when one of them was hurt and Dad didn't want to let on how scared he was about it.
What was he 'regrouping' about today? The slice on his arm from their little confrontation last night didn't look that bad; Dad did seem to be favoring that arm at all now. So, what could it be?
Sam didn't ask, Dad would never say anyway. Sam would get Dean alone sometime later and find out what was going on. For now, he rolled out of bed and used the bathroom. He was still fully dressed, and getting undressed to take a shower just to get dressed again would be too much trouble so he skipped the shower and went out to the kitchen cupboard and made himself bowl of cereal. With the couch all taken up with Dean, he took his breakfast and sat at the table with Dad.
After a few mouthfuls of cereal, with nobody saying anything about what was going on, Sam asked,
"Was there any more about the fire?"
"Still smoldering when I went by there this morning." Dean said from behind his magazine. "They think a homeless person started a fire inside the building to keep warm and - pfft. The whole block is toast. The cops said the city wanted that whole section torn down anyway. I wonder where 'Dumb and Dumber' will hold court now that it's done."
"Don't worry," Dad said. "They're still running." He flashed a smile over at Sam but it disappeared fast. "You get enough sleep?"
Sam shrugged and ate a spoonful of cereal.
"Yeah. I guess. I don't know."
Dad and Dean both looked at him and Sam put all his attention on finishing his cereal, and they didn't ask him anything more. When he was done with breakfast, he rinsed his dish and spoon and turned to ask Dad,
"You want me to help you clean the weapons?"
Because 'resting and regrouping' never meant doing nothing. Unless one of them was hurt, there was always some chore to be done.
But Dad shook his head.
"No, I've got it. I thought maybe you and Dean could hit the closest car parts store. We still need to replace the windshield wiper."
Dean tossed his magazine down and swung himself up from the couch, like he'd just been waiting from the word from Dad to get moving.
"Sure. C'mon, Sammy. Let's hit it."
Sam looked from Dean to Dad, and then from Dad to Dean. Weird thing number four: nobody ever suggested Sam go to a car parts store. Dean or Dad in a car parts store was like Sam in a bookstore – never-ending interest in absolutely everything on the shelves. So Sam rarely went to a car parts store because he was always bored and Dean and Dad knew that. And now Dad was deliberately sending him and Dean was deliberately taking him.
Maybe something was going on with Dad that Sam had no idea about.
So when he was in the car with Dean and they were headed for the strip mall down the road, Sam asked,
"Is Dad okay?"
"Yeah. 'Course he is." Dean said easily, not like he was trying to hide something.
"How come we're 'resting and regrouping' then?"
That question made Dean huff out a breath. When he answered, his voice was tight.
"Because of what happened with you last night. "
"Me?" Sam was surprised. "They didn't lay a finger on me."
"Right." Dean answered. "Dad told me what happened - you went nuclear on them, Sammy. Dad said he's never seen you like that."
"Is that why I got sent with you to buy windshield wipers? So you can talk to me about it?" Sam asked. "They hurt Dad. They pissed me off. That's all."
"No, that is not all. You haven't been sleeping, you hardly talk. Something's going on."
Sam stared at Dean. Some thing was going on? Some thing? Try a million 'some things'. Each and every one of them more sharp, pointy and pokey than the last.
And none of them that Dad or Dean would understand.
Sam turned to look out the passenger window.
"Nothing's going on."
"Fine. Don't tell me." Dean muttered. "But Dad doesn't want to go anywhere until he knows you're okay."
Finding the right windshield wiper didn't take long for Dean and, surprisingly, in a few minutes they were back in the car and on their way back to the motel. Nothing more got said about the night before and when they got back to the motel, Dean stayed outside and got started switching the wipers. Sam opened the door to go back into the motel room.
Dad's back was to the door, he was putting the last of the weapons into the duffel. He didn't seem to know that Sam was there and Sam watched him for a little bit.
In Sam's whole life, they'd hardly stayed in any motel or town or even the same county one night more than they needed, once a hunt was done, unless one of them was seriously hurt, or the car was out of commission. Dad was always action and movement, find a hunt, get to the hunt, finish the hunt, find the next hunt. With no break in between.
But now Dad was planning on staying here at least one more night because he was worried about Sam. Because he thought Sam needed the breather. Because he cared about Sam.
"Hey, kiddo. You back already?" Dad asked, looking up from the duffel.
"Yeah. Dean didn't look around or anything. He just got the wipers. He's out putting them on now."
"I'll see if he needs a hand."
Dad shouldered the duffel and headed out the door, giving Sam's arm a squeeze as he walked past him, and Sam smiled at him without even needing to hunt the smile up. It just happened.
"Hey, Dad? Can I help you put the wipers on?" He asked. And the smile Dad gave back to him was the kind Sam hadn't seen on his face in a long time.
"Sure thing, kiddo. C'mon, let's show Dean how it's done."
And Sam followed him out to the car.
To be continued