Disclaimer: Really? Do I need to do this? I'm not normally a safety girl. Sigh… they're not mine. No money. Just pleasure. See? I told you I wasn't a safety girl.
Time Frame: Takes place in Season 5, after I Believe the Children are Our Future
SUPA-DUPA: Thanks to the lovely MAZ101 for reading this through and catching things my eyes skimmed over. I love her ers… that she gives me. Warms my er… heart.
One More Thing: If you are use to reading my other stories, I feel compelled to warn you – this is a bit darker and maybe a little odder than my norm. There are going to be times where you wonder what the hell is going on and it's suppose to read that way for a couple of chapters. There will still be angst, lots of swearing, action, and beautiful men. But, it's a little different. So, enough of this already. On with the, er… story.
Chapter One: Somewhere in Between
She left the diner too damn late. Twelve hours of crappy customers and shitty tips with no lunch for herself. Bo begging her to stay for another four hours. Even promised her his tips which coming from him showed how desperate he was. But it was already too damn late.
"Fuck it." She punched out as the clock ticked twelve minutes past five and that was nine minutes later than she usually stayed. Five o'three, anything past that and she knew he started to worry.
It was moments like these – feet killing her, too much change and not enough dollars – where everything seemed to be wrapped in a suffocating bubble of instant Karma. A dead battery on her cell phone, hitting every damn red light in town, Johnny Law and his white crusader that followed her for 2.7 miles.
It felt like something was beating the air out of her.
"Shit." She needed a cup of coffee. Iced. Double shot. Her fingers drummed on the steering wheel, keeping time to Twilight Zone, her head shaking offbeat to the rhythm. She closed her eyes and tried for a few seconds to calm her nerves. In reality, there was nothing to be worried about. Mickey always stayed in the house. He never wandered outside to play until after she got home. He was eleven and such a good boy. A never fighting-no smoking-yes ma'aming-straight-A student. This was no big deal.
Except in the pit of her stomach, she kind of thought maybe it was. The last couple of nights had been particularly bad and when he had woken her with a quiet "Mom?" nothing had seemed to settle well with her since.
Her eyes automatically opened at the sound of his voice. It was pitch black in her bedroom, but she could still see his outline against the dark. "What is it, Mickey?"
"I…" he stopped not wanting to continue, but his throat was tight and she could hear him swallow. "I saw a monster outside my window."
Even then she felt her heart sink. Plummet. It was happening again. Dead husbands meant dead fathers and for months after Charlie had died, Mickey had seen things.
Still, she got out of bed. She walked him back down the hallway, turning on the lights, letting him see with his own eyes that there was nothing in his bedroom. Nothing out the window. It was all just the way he left it. Then she sat down on the edge of his bed as he crawled back under the covers. She couldn't help but notice the tremble of his chin.
"Mickey," she started gently, "do you need to… do we need to see somebody again?"
But he was shaking his head, his big brown eyes following hers. There was a thump behind her and for a second, she felt the blood whoosh through her body as she whipped around.
It was just Whiskey Joe, the cat. He pawed his way up the length of the bed and nestled himself under Mickey's arm. She reached out and stroked her son's hair away from his face as he stroked Whiskey's fur. The rumble from the tabby was enough to vibrate the bed.
"It wasn't like that," Mickey finally spoke up. "It wasn't like when dad died." He looked up at his mother. "This was real."
It took every ounce of energy left in her to nod at him. To look at him and make him think she believed him when she knew damn good and well that she didn't. "What did you see exactly?"
He nodded to his window. "There were eyes staring back at me. They were orange and they were shaped like an animal. Or a devil."
A weighted pause pulled between mother and son and her gaze drifted away, landing on Whiskey Joe. His eyes ticked and narrowed at her and she found herself gesturing to the cat. "Maybe it was Whiskey."
Mickey looked at his pet and turned its face up so he could look in the cat's eyes. They were round and some would say orangish in color. "No," he said after studying them. "It wasn't him."
Great, she thought. Back to fucking square one.
And with that, she was almost angry with herself that she was allowing his overactive imagination to control her today. Last night had been more of the same except this time he was screaming, tears filling his eyes. She scratched the thought of coffee and shifted gears to Vodka. Straight up. She flipped off a guy wailing on his horn, cussing under her breath as she shagged ass to get home to the always-safe walls that kept them secluded from any dangers in the world.
So it surprised her when she found the front door was ajar when she reached it. The hinges were busted and there was a large boot print embedded in the worn wood. She stopped and stared at it for a full ten seconds, keys in her hands, ready to unlock the deadbolt.
That's when she got the shakes.
She pushed the door open and sucked in a breath too heavy to fill her lungs. Her eyes darted from one wall to the other. Toppled furniture. Broken glass. TV set busted. Her china cabinet destroyed.
It was the aftermath. She could hear it inside her head – the crashing and the busting – but now, it held an unnerving silence.
"Mickey?" She called out, her body walking into the wreckage. The glass snapped below her feet like hard candy between teeth and a cold breeze glimpsed her skin. Eyes were watching her.
She turned too fast, too clumsy, too scared to see the yellow-orange eyes of Whiskey, his too fat tabby body curled up against the wall. He released a growl deep in his throat and even that was wrong.
"Mickey?" Louder this time, desperate. Her hand guided her to the banister at the end of the stairs and her fingers slid on something slick. Trembling, she turned her palm up to see what she already knew was there.
"MICKEY!" she screamed, running up the staircase to find the bedrooms in perfect condition. And empty.
The police called in the missing person report. A young detective explained to her in simple words that she would be allowed to go in and grab certain personal belongings to get her through the next week. The house would be a crime scene for days. Tests and pictures and samples and boxes were taken out the door. Nothing, though, came back in. There were only two things missing: her area rug and her son.
"They'll find him," her neighbor soothed, a warm hand on her back. "And then they'll catch whoever took him."
She nodded, sighing a disbelieving, "Yeah." And let him pull her into his embrace.
"Hey, Sarge!" a too-eager rookie called out the front door. He lifted up what was left of the curtains. They were ripped, shredded into fine ribbons. "What do you think of this?"
The Sergeant was already up the steps of the porch with an evidence bag, shushing the young officer, his finger pointing in the direction of the distraught mother. They bagged the curtains, marking it with yellow tape and didn't look over their shoulders when they left the house. They barely even acknowledged her as the squad cars pulled away.
Her neighbor released his hold on her and picked his shovel up, getting ready to scoop rocks out of an old trash can and refill them on his gravel driveway.
She started slowly toward her front door, ducking under the police tape, feeling more alone than when Charlie had died. More helpless, more cold as her hair stuck to the tape that separated her from what was left of her life. She stopped as she crouched down, her fingers reaching into the dirt and pulling up something sharp, curved, and pearlish in color. She frowned at it. "What do you think this is?"
Her neighbor rested his weight on the shovel and took it from her hand studying it long and hard. Finally he shrugged. "Tooth." He said it so nonchalantly that her interest suddenly peaked. His mouth turned down as he pocketed the item and then his cold green gaze raised up to meet hers.
She felt her stomach tighten, realizing that this moment had been saved for just the two of them. The wind kicked up, blowing her long blonde hair off her tear stained face. Her arms pricked with goose bumps as they held each other's eyes.
He gave her his best Joker smile. "It's all in the details, Gracie."
She swallowed a lump down, feeling her throat rub dry against the rawness of her insides. A wave of nausea rushed her as her own blood flooded a warning to her body. "What is… in the details?" she asked hesitantly.
His smile unimaginably broadened and with a wink, he answered, "The Devil."
She was almost able to scream as the shovel swung, but the blow came too fast and before she could register that her body had been dragged across the yard, it was too late. She was on the floor of his house and he was standing in front of her, the door shutting quietly behind him, the lock clicked into place.
She dug her elbows into the wood planks and started a blind scamper behind her, never taking her eyes off his hovering form. Then something stopped her from behind. She glanced over her shoulder and saw her blood soaked area rug. Rolled-up and stuffed with God knew what.
He grinned and licked his lips. And now she screamed.
He was dreaming again.
Freak. Tortured, with a dash of contempt. The hits kept on hitting – one to the stomach, a couple across his jaw – he could feel the crack – back to the stomach until he was lurching on the floor. Monster. Hands strung up above his head. Too tight to get loose. Atrocity. A knife held in a fat hand, slicing his chest open until he could see his heart beating rapidly under the protection of his ribcage. Abomination. And then the best part – the blood – shaken not stirred. Fiend. He was sure they were going to pry his mouth open now. Let him have a taste, watch him morph into the evil they already knew he was.
But they didn't. Not this time. Instead they ripped his artery in half and poured it directly into his heart. Murderer.
Sam's head banged against the passenger side window and he shifted nervously, like he was falling, his hand flying first to the dashboard for balance and then to his chest, fingers shaking to the hammering of his heart. He took in a series of quick breaths as the thrumming calmed and he started to wake from the cold, swallowing extra spit, blinking wildly to remind himself where he was.
The rattle and hum of the Impala was like a mother singing a fucking lullaby. She did that to him. Consoled him in leather and metal and wrapped an invisible hold on him, lulling him to sleep. That and the fact that his brother was in the driver's seat. For some reason sleeping in the car had been some of the best hours of sleep he'd had since he couldn't remember when.
Except for when he had the nightmares. They still rocked him pretty hard and when the bough breaks, the goddamn cradle always spun out of control.
His eyes slid over to the dark figure at the steering wheel. It was way past midnight and if Dean thought he was driving through another night, Sam was going to have to call him on it. They were, after all human, and sleep kind of came along with the job title.
His first instinct was to lie. Nod his head and say everything was great, but he found himself shaking his head. Honesty winning out to half-truths.
"What?" Dean asked, glancing at Sam and then back to the road.
Sam kept the tempo with his head until he was able to clear his throat and find words he had long stored away. "Just, a bad dream."
He could feel Dean's concern before he found his brother's eyes.
"Just a regular bad dream," Sam clarified. Jesus, he hadn't had a vision in a couple of years. But nothing would surprise either one of them anymore.
They'd had their asses beaten all across the States and they'd lost. This time they hadn't just lost their lives, though. They'd lost their way. Which was worse. Truth and trust on the line in the big fucking game of Life. It was the beginning of the end. And that's exactly where the Winchesters came into play. Dean lit the fuse and Sam ignited it into a forest fire.
They were doing a fuck up job saving the world so far.
Sam saw Dean veer his body to the left, the seat crunching as he turned, knew he was looking out the window harder than before. A few signs whizzed past the windshield, but Sam wasn't paying much attention. He was busy watching out his own window. The view was the same it had always been his entire twenty-six years. They were moving forward, backward, side-to-side, while the rest of the world, night or day, stayed still.
He blinked slowly, still coming down off the tail end of his dream. You're safe, he thought, catching the moon peeking out behind fluffy gray clouds. Dean's here… he stopped himself from finishing the thought. They were getting their groove back, becoming partners in this cluster they caused, finding one another at the middle of the road, rejoining again as family. Not Little Brother. Not Big Brother. Just brothers.
We're all we got.
Sam closed his eyes. Dean was right. He'd been right to call Sam, to meet up with him. To start the process of forgiveness. And Sam couldn't be more grateful. He could feel a warmth swell under his fingertips, his heart bouncing somewhere inside him. It reminded him that he wasn't broken anymore, but the cracks were still there. He opened his eyes and watched as the moon sped along with them. And wondered if it knew where they were heading.
Sam craned his neck to the left. Dean's eyes were set straight ahead on the road. Sometimes he still held Sam at an arm's length. Sometimes he still looked at Sam with a glint of fear in his eye. Sometimes Sam wondered if they were both just kidding each other. Maybe Dean wouldn't be able to save the world because he couldn't save Sam.
And that thought? Always left Sam choking.
Because that's how it worked now. It was the unspoken truth. They were past the time where they hunted monsters in the dark. A nest of vampires? A shifty shapeshifter? They all seemed like teeny tiny ants compared to what they battled now. It was a vacation to get a lead on a malevolent spirit.
"I saw a sign for a diner up ahead." Dean's finger pointed into the waiting black. "Open twenty-four hours."
Sam rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hand watching as the next town approached. Small streetlights with soft hues of yellow lit the way as Dean pulled the old Chevy into an open spot in front of a really worn down restaurant sporting the name Swing Inn and turned the ignition off.
Then, there was the pause. Sam waited for it. The engine off, the music dead and Dean breathing, looking ahead – never at Sam – and Sam didn't know why. What was he waiting for? What was he afraid of? Sam felt his heart thud ba-boom-boom through four long beats before Dean finally reached his hand for the car door.
In all honesty, the sound of the squeaky hinge made Sam's eyes water. It didn't take much to cause the reaction anymore. A whole year of fighting his tears and fighting himself was catching up with him in ways he wasn't quite prepared for. His emotions were high. It was hard to keep his anger in check and even harder to keep the tears from erupting.
Dean flung the door open to the diner and a whiff from the homemade eatery made Sam's stomach growl. He felt his arm tingle and his cheek twinge all the way up to his salivary glands. It still happened. The black desire was there and he felt his body call out to him. He was drained and hungry and it was in these moments when he remembered that food wasn't the only thing he craved. But his mind and his body weren't on speaking terms either, so for as long as it took, he would ignore it.
The diner was covered in yellow. Mustard colored booths, pale and paler yellow striped wallpaper, creamy yellow plates. It was just about enough to make him sick and suddenly Sam's stomach wasn't talking as loud anymore.
Dean slid into the first available table easily, maneuvering his body at an odd angle where it pointed out of the booth more than in. Sam sat still, watching his brother's strange dance of positioning himself within proximity, but pushed away from having to look at one another.
Sam's fault, that one. Promises broken. Choosing evil over family. He deserved a little cold shoulder therapy.
"Hey, there." Two menus were slapped down in front of each of them. Sam saw the curve of Dean's mouth lift to the waitress and his own eyes skated across to the older lady. Thin, with dark hair tumbling over her shoulders masking hints of gray.
Dean pushed his menu back. "Coffee."
She lifted her pen and tapped her notepad twice. Sam narrowed his eyes. She looked bored, probably tired, though. It was a twenty-four hour joint. "Black?"
A nod from Dean and then nothing.
She turned towards Sam and gave him a half a smile. She didn't warm to him right away, her body stiffened for a brief second and he felt his cheeks flush. He had always been put on Old Lady Patrol during their hunts. It was just a known fact – older women seemed to notice how cute his dimples were or how he needed a haircut. But that was then and this was now. Lately Sam didn't have the fuzzy-safe effect on people that he used to. Without the dimples? He looked less like Innocent College Student and more like Shady Van Guy.
Sam was sure he was going to O.D. on coffee one day and tonight could possibly be that magical number but his shoulders involuntarily lifted up and down. "Sure. The same." If he drank any more fucking coffee his blood was going to bleed black. His stomach growled again and he rubbed his hand over his eyes. Sleep and dying. Right now, that was all that was on his mind. And he couldn't shake the feeling that neither was going to relieve him from this misery any time soon.
She gathered the menus in one clean swipe and skittered away, back to the counter where she easily poured the coffee into plain yellow mugs and then retreated to her customers with a long sigh.
"Thanks," Dean said with a smile, immediately putting the cup to his lips and blowing.
She lifted a curious eyebrow at Sam, who knew the coffee would be like any other crappy cup he'd gotten in a dive like this – hot and strong – and then decided to use the steam to warm his hands.
"Holler if you need anything," she called out, voice uninterested turning to the booth behind the brothers and continued her conversation with the locals.
Sam took the quiet moment to settle his back into the cushion of the booth. He looked around the small room, noting pictures of the Mississippi River, lava lamps, a mounted catfish. He glanced out the big, front window into the dark and realized then that the last time he had his eyes open, he had been watching the sunset.
"How long did I sleep?" he asked, leaning across the table, shoving the coffee aside.
Dean shrugged. "Few hours."
Dean didn't bother looking up. "Don't think I haven't noticed you haven't been sleeping. You just conked out. I thought you needed coupla hours."
Sam wouldn't argue. He couldn't. He hadn't slept much since his visit from Lucifer. Something about knowing an angel of darkness could find him there, contort his face into past loves, touch him places only few had, make him offers, tell lies and see realities. Sam shuddered. "Where are we?"
"Illinois. Outside the Quad cities."
That explained the pictures of the Mississippi. Sam nodded, taking the cup of coffee and rolling it between his hands. They had been back on apocalypse duty. Saving the world vs. saving a town. Cas had given an order, gave a demand for them to complete a job, and they couldn't do it.
Of course, neither could Cas. Killing a half demon child wasn't as easy as he thought. It didn't matter if the boy had beat him to the punchline – with class. He still had hesitated. The kid was human, too. Born from a daughter of God. Innocent. Flawed. Special.
Sam blinked away the moisture from his eyes. His hands were above the coffee mug now, the steam forcing his palms to sweat to the point of pain. He pulled them away and looked over at Dean.
His brother was staring back and at first Sam thought he was just watching Sam's bizarre game with the coffee until he noticed how incredibly still Dean had become. Sam frowned at him, but Dean shook his head lightly. He was listening, just not to Sam.
Sam could hear the sketchy voices filter over the booth from next door, two men and the waitress batting ideas and theories off one another.
"What're we payin' taxes for then, huh?" One of the guys, a husky tone, was asking. "They ask for a departmental raise and this is what we get with our money?"
"Curtains were shred." The other guy. Quieter. "What does that?"
There was a pause. Then the husky man, "Cat?"
"Oh, for God's sake." Quite-guy was making a scrunched face that Sam could see over Dean's shoulder. "Fat ass tabby cat couldn't have done that." Another pause. "They weren't just scratched. They were mangled. Like a wild animal."
The waitress was rubbing bony fingers up and down her skinny arms. "Shut up, Billy. I can't even think like that."
Sam could see Billy's face ease. "Sorry, Gloria. Just… just thinkin' out loud." The guy watched her sympathetically for a long minute. "I want them to find her, too. First Mikey goes missin'-"
"Mickey." Quick and bothered. Personal. She knew him.
Billy didn't correct himself. "And now with Gracie gone. It's just…" he lost his words then and Sam wondered if he was being careful or if he wasn't sure which road he should venture down.
"Weird," the husky man finished. "And you know what I heard they found?"
Sam watched as Dean's muscles tensed.
"I heard they found scales."
"Scales?" Billy was scrunching his face again. "You mean like a reptile?"
Shoulders were shrugging. "Guess so. Like a gator came in and ate them."
Billy laughed without really letting loose. "You mean, you think a gator came into the house, ripped up the curtains and then ate Mikey and Grace?" He drowned out the absurdity of the thought with a couple of low chuckles.
The husky guy squared his stance and Sam could see a long finger pointing in Billy's direction. "That's how Captain Hook bought it."
Which caused Billy's chuckle to escalate.
Dean's hand was signaling the waitress before Sam had a chance to clear his throat. "Excuse me, sweetheart?"
Gloria tilted back to the other booth, giving the Winchesters her tired, her poor, her don't-fuck-with-me-now attitude. "Check?" she guessed.
Dean smiled, letting it spread up his checks to his eyes. "Yeah, that'd be great. And, can I ask, I over heard your conversation… someone is missing?"
Dean was itching. He'd been Jonesing for a hunt for weeks now. And Sam? He just really wanted it all to be over with.
Gloria was tearing the bill off her white pad, handing it reluctantly over to Dean, her blue eyes glimpsing at Sam every so often.
He made sure to have a sweet smile on his face, tipping his head and dimples toward her.
"Uh, huh," she finally said. "Two people. Gracie Reimer and her boy, Mickey." Her eyes gained distance. "He went missing first and then the next day, she was gone, too." There was a painful beat as Gloria bit her lip, sucking the pink into her mouth for a few seconds and finally, "Gracie worked here for nine years. Shit, she trained me. Hard ass worker. Mickey was only two when I met her. Such a sweet kid. I just, the thought of anyone… anything…" She shook her head back and forth and there wasn't any point in continuing on. The only words that would come next would only scare her.
The boys got the gist. They'd become pretty fucking good at reading the signs for Help and Danger and I'd Turn Back Now If I Were You.
"This place is the Swing Inn?" Dean asked, voice level. "I assume it has rooms for the night?"
Gloria huffed a response. "Sure. Sixty bucks a pop and the owner will only accept cash."
Sam looked out the window with a sigh of relief as Dean counted out the bills. It would feel good to stop and rest, not be the ones moving for once. He heard Dean clear his throat and glanced over at him. Eyebrows wagged an excited word of Hunt at him and Sam tried to smile and mask how the word Scaredshitless was trying to escape him.
The motel room wasn't as yellow, which was a relief. In fact, for the most part, it was basically a nice neutral tan. It had more boring pictures of the mighty Mississippi and another lava lamp. Not very imaginative and it smelled like almost all of the motel rooms they'd ever stayed in. Must and mold covered up with pine and mint. Cheaper than the normal cheap, even on their budget.
Well, Dean thought, at least it's clean.
Sam had booted up the laptop when he entered and began a more detailed search on the disappearances of the mother and son. Dean was unpacking some of their gear, checking barrels, sharpening any dull spots on the Bowie, filling flasks with Holy Water, restocking the First Aid Kit.
He was listening to Sam type over the music on his computer. U2. Jesus, Sam knew – he knew – that Dean didn't get them. But he let it drop because Sam was right about certain things. Dean called the shots. Dean took the wheel. And when the driver picks the music, there's only one station playing.
So he listened to Bono shout out a few lyrics and before he knew any better, found himself humming along. I waited patiently for the Lord/He inclined and heard my cry/He lift me up out of the pit/Out of the miry clay.
Dean stopped and let a small smile slip. Sam's hair was tented into messy tufts from the nap in the car, his clothes wrinkled, his eyes longing for more sleep, his body unhinged from pure exhaustion. Dean cocked an eyebrow. Sam looked like a cross between one of the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are and Night of the Living Dead. But he didn't want to tell his kid brother that because that kind of a comment might lead to pushing and yelling. It was a level playing ground now.
"You look like somebody beat you with an ugly stick."
Sam looked back to the computer screen. Not even a flinch. He started reading: "Local newspaper says Gracie and her son Mickey have been missing since last Monday and Tuesday."
"Of last week?"
"Yeah," Sam flicked his fingers, counting. "So like, nine and ten days ago. Says that the place was definitely broken into. Boot print on the door, door ripped off its frame, place trashed, kid gone and then… the next day, the mom's gone, too. No note, no calls, just gone."
"And no bodies?"
He felt Sam's eyes on him as Dean tossed the duffel on the floor and then sat on the end of the mattress to pull off his boots. God, that felt like Heaven. He wiggled his toes.
"No." Sam shook his head. "But those dudes were right. The curtains were shredded. A neighbor says he found an odd tooth. And there are rumors that there were scales found around the yard, in the living room."
"What kind of scales?"
"I don't know." Sam read on. "The neighbor claims to have a couple of them."
"Guess we pay the neighbor a visit tomorrow." Dean stretched out on the bed. "Shut the light off and get some sleep."
Sam nodded and closed the lid to the laptop. His feet shuffled along the carpet, his fingers peeled off clothes, dressed into others. The going back and forth from the bathroom to his bag was aggravatingly too many times. Dean gave up keeping count.
"Sleep, Sam." Dean felt a muscle bounce, tried to squeeze his eyes harder. The room was staring a tilt-a-whirl from too many hours on the road. He'd driven seventeen straight, Sam took over for eight and then Dean had continued on for another twelve. He should have slept while Sam had the wheel. But his brain wasn't letting him. He couldn't get it to shut off. Just four hours, that was all he'd need, but too many tricks had been played on him. Zachariah had messed him up. Trying to teach him one lesson and by God, Dean had told him to stick it where the sun shined.
He wasn't going to be some suited-field commander for an archangel in this Heaven/Hell war. Especially when the angels he knew didn't play fair. They were just as dirty as the lot of Hell's bitches he'd met.
Sam was sitting on the edge of his bed now and Dean was waiting on him. He swung his arm over his eyes and willed his brother Lay down. Go to sleep. He wanted to bark the order, old habits and all. Instead he now found himself waiting even longer and that wasn't helping him find sleep faster.
But that was a big piece of Dean's problem. He'd rather drive, rather go somewhere he could keep busy, rather find the Colt, rather get their ducks in a row before they had to fight Lucifer. They weren't running from him, just preparing for him and right now? They were ill-equipped. Hell, they probably always would be, but there was no point in walking in when he knew Lucifer could grab them by the balls. Then everything else that mattered would follow.
Whatever you do, you will always end up here. You and I will end up here. I win. So, I win.
He made a face under the protection of his arm. Why the fuck did it have to be Sam? Why his brother? Why his family? Why him? He cleared his throat in an effort to signal to Sam that he was ready, even though he knew the worry was still gonna rob him of the sleep his body craved. That and the edgy tension that had started as a buzz off his brother's shoulders way before they got the keys to this stinking room and now was car alarm loud.
"Sam," he sighed and tried hard to not growl his brother's name.
The light shut off. Dean removed his arm and started the slow crawl to his stomach, his hands reaching under his pillow, gripping the handle of his knife, the sheets feeling amazingly sweet on his wrists as he slid down, even letting his toes feel the stretch.
His eyes fluttered open and shut and then open again. Sam was still sitting on the edge of the bed. Dean blinked. It was beyond black in the room but yet Dean knew exactly where Sam was, could see the slight movement of his body, his profile catching on soft patches of gray. He watched as it looked like shadows maliciously skipped around his brother, trying to touch, but even they were afraid to ask permission. Dean felt a sudden need to chase those shadows away and even that irritated him. Handing over the keys might have been symbolic, but dammit, handing over control was a completely different story.
"You're not tired?" he asked because it was less concerning than You okay? It said less, was more specific. No open-ended questions needed at forty-two hours since sleep.
But Sam wasn't moving and it didn't look like Dean was going to get off that easy and for fuck's sake, Sam, he just wanted to get some sleep. He felt his entire body pull him down to the mattress, like a heavy weight was pressing an imprint in the middle of his shoulder blades. "Sam?" It was muffled, blocked by the cheap motel pillow. Prickly feathers stabbed his cheeks. Smelled like cigarettes.
"I'm sorry… just go to sleep."
Dean raised his head. Okay, that was something. "You?"
He could see the movement of Sam's bangs. Negative.
"Okay." Dean agreed, but it was a whisper. Dean nestled deep into the sheets and tried to block out the fact that Sam was statued on the other bed and was going to stay like that all night long so Dean could sleep. He gripped the end of his Bowie and hung on tight trying to shut out what was keeping Sam awake. Dead girlfriends burning on ceilings. Dropped coffee cups that wouldn't spill over. His brother back from the dead. Yellowed Eyed Demons and Black Eyed Demons and knowing that out of every son of a bitch in this terrible world that it was you who was the chosen one to ride Lucifer to his reign.
This. This was their fresh start.
He decided to begin again. "You can sleep, Sam. You don't need to worry."
A sarcastic huff was his response.
"You want me to –"
"No." Sharp with a pinch of embarrassment.
Jesus Christ. Dean wanted to ignore him but a lot of good that was going to do either of them. He pushed off the bed and reached over to the wall, flicking on the light.
Sam was following him with darker circled eyes, watching as his brother threw the covers off him and pattered to his duffel. He shoved everything from fake badges to iron rounds out of the way until he found what he was looking for at the bottom of the sack.
He stood up and turned to Sam, flashing him a deck of cards, featuring the Best of Playboy's 1990's Magazine covers.
Sam didn't even notice.
"Come on. Get over here." Dean flopped into a worn down discount chair at the small round table and started shuffling. How many times did he and Sam play late night poker when dad was away? How many quarters and dimes did that boy owe him?
Sam slid into the opposite chair and slammed down a handful of change. He counted seventy-nine cents.
Dean reached down and checked his leather jacket adding his own to the till. He started to count, but Sam was too quick for him. "Eighty-three." They divided the mound quickly into two equal piles of eighty-one cents and then Dean handed over the deck.
Sam kind of stared at it like Dean was offering a piece of gold or a gifted amulet. The thought caused his hand to swiftly rub the back of his bare neck and chase the invisible line of where his necklace should be. Honestly it felt worse than being naked. He felt unguarded.
Sam took the deck and shuffled twice, the ruffle of the cards sounding ten times as loud in the small room. He dealt each of them two cards and then lifted to take a peek. Dean watched him curiously. Sam's left lip ticked up. Low suits. No pairs.
"If you like to gamble, I tell you I'm your man."
Sam tilted his head to the left and looked up at Dean. "Dude, don't even start."
Dean smiled. "What?"
Sam frowned. "You know I can't concentrate when you sing that shit."
Dean rolled his hand to signal Sam to reveal the flop. "Motorhead rocks."
Sam flipped the cards. "Yeah, in 1982." King of Hearts. Jack of Hearts. Eight of Clubs.
Dean drummed the table with his fingers. "I raise you… twenty-five cents."
Sam was studying him.
"You win some – you lose some – it's all the same to me."
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Did you even look at your cards?"
Dean looked away.
Sam flipped his cards again, staring at them like he could make them magically change to a couple of ladies or a pair of deuces. His lips ticked again to the left and Dean tried not to notice the long exhale Sam released.
"It's just a game," Dean reminded him with a small smile.
But Sam's jaw tightened. "Yeah. Well, you cheat."
Dean waited him out. He started humming again and Sam's eyes flicked up to his. Dean shrugged like he was the man in black, holding all the chips. "Something keeping you up?"
Sam's upper lip stiffened for a half second. "No."
"Whatcha been dreaming about?"
"Candy canes –"
The room was forced into a deafening silence. Dean's ears almost hurt from the words Sam wasn't saying.
"Even if he finds you while you're sleeping, he can't do anything to you. He has to get your permission face to face, you know."
Sam was glaring now. "What is this? Are we playing Dr. Phil or poker?"
Dean's hand reached across and tapped the quarter in the center of the table.
There was a long sigh as Sam rechecked his cards one last time. Same lift of the lip followed by a hesitant, "I call."
Bingo. Sam was in his pocket now. Dean shook his head as his brother flipped the turn and their eyes met. King of Diamonds.
Dean rubbed his hand over his mouth, scuffed his fingers down his throat. He knew Sam's hand was low, had to be. To the left, low – to the right, high. Unless he'd learned some new tricks in card playing since he'd been to Hell. He drew in a deep breath. "All in." And shoved the change into the pile.
Sam shifted and cast a chilly gaze Dean's way. "You haven't even looked at your cards, have you?"
Dean just smiled. "The pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say."
"Fine!" Sam yelled and pushed his remaining silver into the pile. "All in."
Dean chuckled. "Shuffle up and deal, Sam."
They each eyed the last card, begging to be plucked off the top of the pile. Sam's right hand clenched into a fist for a brief second so Dean carefully laid his open hand near.
"You ever think about saying yes?" Sam suddenly asked, his throat bobbing with each word.
There wasn't any clarification of what Sam was talking about. Didn't need to be. "No." Easy answer, not even a second guess.
Well, that was a question Sam had never tired of. Always with the why's – Why did mom die? Why does dad leave all the time? Why don't we have enough food? Why are we moving? Why are you telling me what to do? Why did you sell your soul for me? Why couldn't I save you? Why wasn't I strong enough? Why me? Why you?
Sam and his stupid goddamn questions.
Dean's voice lowered, making sure Sam heard him. "Because Michael and Lucifer have already had their fight. This one… this one's ours."
"You don't… ever think…" Sam's eyes were jumpy, his voice damn near impossible to hear. "You won't be strong enough?"
Oh, that. Dean kept his stance, staring at Sam like he could cut through all the crap with an invisible blade. Head-to-Head poker was nothing like Head-to-Head arguments with his brother. And playing reckless was only going to get Dean shut out. "You gotta be bigger than the bear."
Sam sat still and Dean took that as still having the floor.
"When a bear charges you do you run away? Do you do nothing? Or do you charge back?" Silently, Dean settled back, felt his shoulders fall, watching Sam. They were out of synch, trying to figure out which dance they where dancing because each misstep was a wedge driving them further apart. Sometimes it was words, sometimes it was actions, sometimes it was nothing at all that caused the tango to get tangled. "I'm going to keep saying no because I'm in this fight to fight. Not them. They had their time."
Sam dropped his eyes but Dean held on. He wanted him to feel this in his heart, know that there was no choice. Not for Dean. He knew what mattered most to him. Integrity. Honor. Truth. Sam.
Sam stared at the last card and Dean waited him out.
We keep each other human.
"You know you're going down, right?"
Dean's brow furrowed.
"I gotta killer hand."
There was almost a triumphant sound to his voice and if Dean had been any other player, he might have second guessed his play. "One more card. It's still anybody's game."
Sam peeled off the last card and glared across the table. "I don't share your greed, the only card I need is…"
Dean watched as the river came up, Sam pulling it slower than normal and both blinked in disbelief as the Ace of Spades stared back at them.
Neither said a word for a full ten seconds.
"We've never done that before, have we?" Sam whispered.
Dean's face lightened. "Not that I can remember."
They stared at the lone suit for another moment and then Sam flipped over his cards. Four of Clubs. Eight of Diamonds. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged at his brother.
You have to let me grow-up.
Maybe, Dean thought, but I still got your number. He nodded and threw his never-before-seen-cards over Sam's. Two of Clubs. Five of Spades.
Sam shook his head in disbelief. "I win."
Dean winced a little at the words. "This time."
Sam's head was still shaking. "But, you never looked at your hand. How… why did you go all in?"
Dean leaned back in his chair, pushing its front legs off the ground. "'Cause I was never betting on the game, Sam."
It was like a whirlwind of action. Sam was up turning abruptly from the table, away from Dean. His hands brushing through his hair, hot and tempered, his shoulders rising and falling too fast to keep his breathing in check. Dean couldn't tell from the back of him if it was anger, guilt, or frustration that was taking over, but he sort of figured Sam was somewhere in between all of it.
They were infamous for always being in between.
"Dean –" Sam warned and he had to wait because it didn't take Oprah to decipher that if Sam wasn't going to break, his voice sure as hell was. "You think…"
Dean didn't move. He barely breathed.
"It has to be… face to face?"
Fear had changed for Dean. Before it had been about shooting first and asking questions later, protecting Sam and waving big sticks around to keep evil at bay. Now it was like a big ass claw closing down on him and all he had was the stick. Pushing a piece of wood in between metal teeth that was going to rip him apart regardless of what he did.
And it was the same, too. Because no matter what he told himself, he still did what he could to protect Sam. Even when he had no idea what he was talking about.
"Has to be for me, right? It would be the same for you. Same kind of enemy, really."
It was a seemingly endless amount of minutes that passed and Dean hated the feeling of being helpless, as he noticed Sam wipe at his face. There was no sniffling or sobbing which was a good thing, but he wasn't sure if he gave Sam anything useful, anything that he needed. And throughout history, he always knew that Sam needed.
Still, he kind of found himself bracing for a fist.
Sam cleared his throat. "Okay."
There was a gesture with his head towards the bed. "Sleep."
Dean nodded, knowing Sam couldn't see him, but nodded anyway. Job apparently well played. "Okay." He got up before Sam could change his mind, left the cards where they lay, and eased back down into the rumpled blankets. The light turned off as he turned his body to the left side and he watched as Sam awkwardly glided into his bed.
The room was inky with darkness, but Dean knew that Sam was facing him, could feel his eyes palpating across the distance of the two beds. He wanted to fix his gaze back, but it had been almost forty-three hours since his last sleep and the room was spinning faster than his heart rate. If he didn't sleep now, he was either going to hurl or die of a heart attack.
And right now, he could have happily slept like he was dead.
"You gonna stare at me all night?" Sam's voice toggled in the night.
Dean's vision twirled as his eyes opened. "If I have to…" It came out slurred, though, and his eyes slowly shut again. So close to sleep… and he didn't have to watch out for Sam anymore. He was all grown up.
There was a short pause and then Sam was saying something about turning around so neither one had to look at the other. Dean thought he agreed and rolled over, hearing Sam's bed squeak as he moved the other way. The prickles of the feathers soon floated away and Dean's head sunk deeper into the pillow like it was a bed of sand.
Sam moved again, bringing his drifting attention back. Dean wanted to say something, give Sam words of reassurance to help him fall asleep. Something that was brilliant, something that would give them both a healthy eight hours.
"You need to relax, Sammy," he drawled like he was secretly from Tennessee. It wasn't what he wanted to say, wasn't what Sam needed to hear, but his body was unwinding in places his mind wasn't caught up with yet.
It seemed forever and came too soon when Sam simply answered, "Thanks for having my back, man."
Huh, Dean thought as the world went topsy-turvy, that was a pretty good one. The room spun again, filtering in colors from the day to mix with the black. There, in the distance behind his eyelids, Dean could see a dark-haired woman. Tight curls against her head. She curled a long finger toward him, beckoning him to her. He took a few come-hither steps, seeing she was wearing nothing but high heels. Her dark skin bathed and shimmered in a mystical, soft red light. He fixated on her breasts, extra large for his taste, and quizzically wondered how they stayed so perky. Must not be real, but as his hands reached out in front of him and cupped them softly, a smile spread across his face.
I'll be damned, was his last conscious thought. They were.
Playlist: 40 performed by U2 (song was inspired from Psalm 40)
Ace of Spades performed by Motorhead
Twilight Zone (in reference to) performed by Golden Earring
A/N: It will all tie in together, really. And there's action a coming – Promise. I have the first four chapters written, this will probably be six chapters long and I will update every three – four days. Thanks for reading!