Wow, I don't even know where to start. After so long without posting, I'm so nervous. I guess part of the magic is that it always feels like the first time, especially with long stories… Because this is going to be long, I hope you bear with me.
And speaking of bearing with me, I have to send the biggest of hugs to Megan, my beta for the ride. I wonder why she hasn't killed me yet, despite my non-native insistence in/on hesitating with prepositions (^_^) rambling against the natural flow of the language AND messing with the speakers' marks in dialogues. I'll never thank you enough for the time you're committing to this, hon. But I can try. THANKS!
Okay, so this story is a sequel of my previous story Insomnia. I don't know if it's a good idea, really. As a reader, I know it is a pain to be told "to understand what's happening here, you're going to have to go and read this previous story with a zillion pages before you start". And yet, here I am, inflicting the same kind of torture on you. Although I think Unleashed Fury will be more enjoyable having Insomnia in mind, I've also tried to make it self-explanatory. Don't hesitate to tell me if I haven't succeeded.
Right, enough of stalling. I hope you guys enjoy the reading.
It always started the same. A road unrolling at night, his loyal Chevy's rumble enveloping him while indistinguishable music, whose beat he could not grasp, played in the background. He was alone. Felt alone as if the loneliness had seeped into his bones and settled there. An anxious knot of anticipation tightened the pit of his stomach, and despite how tired he felt his pulse quickened. Somehow, he knew he needed to stop, that it was imperative. He strained to slow down, to veer to the left or to the right, to halt the car's inevitable direction, to steer it anywhere but where it was headed.
He knew what was to come; yet the fear that gripped him was as intense and incapacitating as it had been the first time.
The darkness of the deserted road seemed to engulf him, creeping inside the car and lapping at his arms, his thighs, sinking deeply into his chest. He choked on it and despite his frantic efforts, his vision blackened. All that remained was a light in the distance, rushing impossible fast to meet him. And when his vision cleared, he saw her. Her small, young face and scared bright eyes.
Light washed over her as she stood frozen, mouth half-opened in shock, in the car's path. Dean gasped and slammed on the brakes with all his might, as he tried to turn the wheel with sheer force. His biceps tensed as he puffed a growl, but all his efforts were in vain. The scene unfolded in painful, slow motion. Yet, as much time as he had to react, he still could not do a damn thing to stop it.
The girl cried and the terrible sound of her scream mingled with the metallic thud of her frail body wrapping around the Impala.
Dean bolted awake, his heart ramming against his ribcage in a sick reminder of the reverberations of the crash. His lungs burned as he panted for air, and when he swallowed he tasted copper in his mouth. The girl's cry echoed inside his skull, making him nauseous, and he opened his mouth to breathe… to puke…to let out a scream himself.
A warm hand came to rest on his chest, gentle and firm, grounding him in present. The cry that had been about to leave his lips escaped him in a rush, leaving him winded, but more aware of his surroundings. As the cobwebs of the nightmare faded to the edge of his consciousness, he blinked harshly to clear his vision and rein in his spinning senses. A glossy Metallica poster reflected the morning light to his right, near the window. He was tangled in his sheets, which had ended up wrapped around his legs and torso because of his struggles. The room would have been suffocating, if it hadn't been for Sam leaning over him. Solid and real.
"Sammy." Dean's voice was hoarse.
His little brother gave him a brief smile in return, barely twitching his lips in the dim light. He didn't say anything or take his hand off Dean's chest, and Dean was so stupidly grateful for it that he might have cried. That alone was evidence enough that he hadn't been totally with it to begin with. Sam could sense it, and he lingered there for a few seconds longer, until Dean managed to even out his breathing and his pulse recovered.
Eventually, Dean was finally awake and his mind processed where he was: his room, Sam's apartment. Philadelphia.
"You with me?" Sam asked with a low voice, as he withdrew his hand.
Dean rubbed at his eyes and let out a mortified groan. The clock on his nightstand announced 5:37 AM in bright red numbers. It was almost a record for him during the last three weeks. Even so, it was definitely too early to feel human.
"Did I wake you?" He muttered roughly, squinting to look at Sam.
"Nope, I was up." His brother assured him. "Want some breakfast?"
Sam got to his feet and turned his back on Dean, heading toward the kitchen as he spoke, not allowing Dean the chance to check the potential lie in his eyes. Not that he needed to see Sam's face to see that he was worried about him. As much as he hated it, Dean didn't seem capable of stopping the nightmares that plagued his sleep, and he had about the same control over Sam's concern.
At least Sam had mastered his hovering techniques, fully Dean-tailored now. He hadn't asked him how he was feeling, or what the nightmare had been about. Both questions were pointless, given that Sam could guess the answers easily.
Sam still had to polish his subtlety regarding his attempts to get food into Dean, but there were worse things, he supposed. After all, Sam had taken him into his place…well, their place, when Dean had been at his lowest, and he had been making a valiant effort not to be intrusive. And although it was true that he was eating and sleeping very little, it was better than it had been before, when he had not been able to sleep more than an hour and a half during two interminable weeks.
"Sure." Dean said, humoring him.
Dean wasn't really hungry, but it was the least he could do. Not only had he woken up screaming like a terrified girl, but he had also spaced out on Sam right after he had come to Dean's rescue. At least his humiliation was worth the pleased, little smile that touched his brother's lips when Dean acceded to eat.
Dean's day started as the previous ones had. They got up, had breakfast, followed by Dean letting Sam push him into a run before the younger's classes started. They had been doing variations of the same routine for the last two weeks, as soon as Dean was able to jog without keeling over at every corner. It felt good, and it helped him rebuild his strength, which made him feel even better. They would run up to the campus gym, Sam showered there and left for his morning classes, while Dean stayed and did machine work, until he ached all over, because he knew that the more he tired out during the day, the longer he would sleep at night.
At first, overexertion hadn't been necessary, as Dean had crashed, and crashed hard. For days, he had barely woken up, only to eat and go back to bed. His mind and body had been pushed over their limits and he needed to catch up on fourteen days of insomnia. Unfortunately, as he had recovered a little, he had begun dreaming of Lillian every night.
The thirteen-year-old girl he had killed.
Sometimes, when he was exhausted enough, the nightmares would let up until early in the morning and he would manage to get some sleep. It wasn't optimal, but it allowed Dean to function. Sam had realized this too and barely gave Dean a moment of respite, knowing it distracted Dean from his demons during the day, and it kept them at bay at night. As much as Dean wished that Sam didn't know about the nightmares, they were hard to hide when Dean kept waking up yelling in the middle of the night. Having his own room gave him some measure of privacy, and he wanted to believe that he didn't wake Sam every single time. Sometimes, he simply came to with a muffled start, too late or too early in the night, and he liked to think that Sam had remained asleep across the hallway, even though his gut told him otherwise.
Only when it got really bad did Sam come into his room to pull Dean back to reality with a gentle hand on his chest as he had done today. Dean hated feeling so needy, but the only times he had managed to go back to sleep were when his little brother had decided to stay the rest of the night in the room with him, his steadying presence by Dean's shoulder ensuring them both a few more hours of rest.
That night's bad dream had been especially nasty and not even the hours Dean spent at the college gym took his mind off the phantom feeling of the car shaking beneath him, or the haunting image of the girl in front of his headlights. Relentlessly, Sam picked him up for lunch after his classes and walked Dean around after having forced him to eat a sandwich that tasted like cardboard to Dean's dejected senses. When Sam had time to study, Dean didn't know: they spent the afternoons together, and Dean had only seen Sam sit down with his books a handful of times.
That worried Dean too, but Josh, Sam's college friend, had assured him that the youngest Winchester was doing great in class. He had only stopped attending to a couple of the courses —those in the afternoon apparently— but Josh was enrolled in those too and he passed Sam the notes every week. From what Dean had heard, it was a first for Josh actually making it to all his classes.
If he was only doing it for Sam, it meant something in Dean's book.
In appreciation of this, whenever Josh suggested going out, Dean accepted and paid for the younger man's drinks. Josh was fun, and keeping up with his vitality didn't give Dean very much time to brood. And of course, getting home slightly buzzed and absolutely wiped out for the day was a plus. Usually, going out with Josh put him down until five or six in the morning.
That day, Dean got home around midnight, hoping his night with Josh would let him sleep, but knowing it would be pushing the proverbial Winchester good luck too far for it to actually happen. Sam was still up, of course, hunched over his beloved computer, just as Dean had found him so many times before, when he had come back from another seedy bar. Only, this time, his little brother wasn't researching a hunt, and Dean hadn't been hustling for money. He found himself smiling at the surreal idea of normal, let it wash over him for a second and rode the pang of guilt out that accompanied the calmness of being established somewhere.
"Did you find out who killed Kennedy, yet?" Dean saluted.
"Do you realize that a tequila shot contest is not an actual sport?" Sam retorted, unfazed.
The older Winchester snorted, walking into the living room, and met Sam's eyes briefly as they flashed up from the screen, shooting him a quick, appraising look.
As fine as I'm gonna be, Sammy.
"Have you had dinner?" Sam asked. And without waiting for a response adding, "There's pasta in the kitchen."
"We had hot dogs earlier." Dean shrugged. "If Josh drinks on an empty stomach, he doesn't last more than three beers."
It was Sam's turn to snort. "Don't tell him that or he'll think you're daring him."
At Dean's mischievous smile, Sam rolled his eyes.
"Right." Sam shook his head, "My bad."
Dean smile widened, part buzz and part genuine satisfaction at the noble art of annoying his little brother. He even took the liberty of cuffing Sam on the head on his way to the bathroom. Sam predictably bitched about it, but he did so without any heat. As a matter of fact, it had been a while since the last time Dean had seen Sam so relaxed. God knew the kid had his own inner demons to fight, some of which Dean didn't understand completely.
He took his sweet time in the bathroom, still not used to the idea of having his own towels and a glass for his toothbrush. He hadn't had much to drink that night and by the time he finished washing his face, Dean was almost completely sober. It was actually for the best, because he didn't have a good memory from the last time he had gotten smashed. The damn PTSD —and, seriously, he couldn't believe he was thinking of that term being applied to him— had barely allowed Dean the reprieve of passing out, before putting him through the most sickeningly drunk night of his life.
Dean pressed the heel of his hands over his eyes and tried to shake off the memories. He thought of Sam instead and remembering their brief banter of earlier made him smile. As he dried his hands on a towel, a fleeting thought came to Dean's mind. The way Sam had asked him about dinner… He had thought it was little brother hovering but… could that have been little brother waiting up for him to share dinner?
He felt bad for not having thought of that. He and Josh had been hanging out quite a lot those last few days, and most nights when they went out, Sam stayed home. Dean hadn't given it too much thought; Sam didn't like barhopping, that was no secret. He enjoyed it sometimes of course, and he had joined them on a couple of occasions, but Dean felt that he owed Sam some space every now and then.
He certainly hoped that his brother hadn't felt excluded.
"Hey, Sammy?" Dean called out, as he headed out of the bathroom, "Have you eaten yet?
Sam glanced at him, half-shrugging without stopping what he was typing. The faint blush that colored his cheeks made Dean fight the urge to smile. In a way, it was nice that Sam still wanted to spend time with him, even if they had been living practically attached by the hip the last weeks. It was like being kids again; having Sam wanting to tag along with him everywhere.
"Maybe I'll have something before going to bed, after all" Dean said, changing his mind.
Sam arched an eyebrow suspiciously, but his eyes brightened under his long bangs. If he thought Dean was babying him, he didn't show it. He wouldn't even mind as long as Dean agreed to eat some spaghetti.
"I'll go heat it up…" Sam started to rise.
"I got it." Dean stopped him, with a pat to Sam's shoulder.
Dean easily maneuvered around the kitchen, preparing a light dinner for them both. He considered having another beer, but didn't really feel like drinking any more. He was starting to feel pleasantly tired and wanted nothing more but to chat with Sam a bit and then black out for as long as his mind allowed him.
Back in the living room, Sam had put away his laptop and when he tried to help Dean to carry the trays, he earned himself a shove for his troubles.
Dean's cell phone rang, interrupting their meal.
"Who is it?" Sam asked as Dean looked at the screen.
Sam remained silent, but he stiffened visibly. He abandoned his pasta and, judging by the way he stared at it, it had lost its appeal. Aware of Sam's discomfort, Dean stood up with a silent sigh and put distance between them before talking with his father's old friend. He didn't know what exactly had happened between his brother and Bobby, just that it had had something to do with the deal for his soul and how Sam had managed to break it half a year ago. Dean had asked…but both men had remained tight-lipped about it, and Dean didn't feel entitled to push. It was awkward —and unpleasantly reminiscent of past times, when Sam and John were on opposite corners of the ring—, but it wasn't his fight.
"Hey, Bobby. What's up?" Dean greeted Booby, as he turned his back on his brother.
"Hey, kid. Haven't had any FBI calls in a while." Bobby's gruff voice made Dean chuckle. A glance over his shoulder at Sam confirmed that he hadn't touched his plate yet. "Everything alright?"
"Of course," Dean said smoothly, which was both a half-truth and a huge and blatant lie as far as 'alright' was concerned. But he was fine enough. "You?"
"Fine. Listen, I may need your help with a little something here. Are you working on anything?"
"No, I… " Dean paused, looking at Sam again, but his younger brother didn't make any visible sign that he was listening. He didn't need to. "I'm in Philadelphia right now."
Bobby was silent at that.
"Is Sam alright?"
"Yeah, yeah he's great." Dean answered quickly.
Sam looked up then, guessing that he had been mentioned. Dean met his eyes and gave him a tranquil smile.
It's okay, Sam.
Sam breathed out heavily, not taking his eyes from Dean.
"You caught up there, then?" Bobby inquired.
"No…No, it's alright. Fill me in."
"It's a bit long to explain. Can you make it to my place?" Bobby asked.
Dean closed his eyes and exhaled.
"No problem." He swallowed hard and forced out a solid tone. "I'll see you soon."
Sam had returned to staring at his cooling pasta when Dean hung up and went back to the table in silence. The familiar, comfortable bickering of just minutes before had turned into a thick tension. Dean regretted it, but it was inevitable. It had felt good to stay with Sam and Dean couldn't fool himself; he had needed the time and the company to get himself together after the messy wreck he had been after New Sterling. However, he probably should have left once he had physically recovered. Staying this long hadn't been good for Sam, or for the life Dean wanted to give him. He missed his little brother like air and he was okay with texting him and calling him and dropping by as often as he could, but the possibility of actually staying was a scenario neither of them needed to envision. It only made their situation now more awkward; made them both doubt their arrangement all over again.
"Is Bobby alright?" Sam asked neutrally as Dean sat down.
"Yep, he's fine… He just…" Dean hesitated, but Hell, no point in beating around the bush, right? "He's got a hunt."
Sam clenched his jaw and nodded, while his eyes jumped distractedly around the living room furniture.
"Did he tell you what it's about?"
"Not yet. He'll explain in person." Dean said, a slight grimace in his tone.
Sam nodded again, his expression a blank mask giving nothing away. Dean took a deep breath to brace himself, because he could already hear the arguments flashing through Sam's mind as clearly as if they were spoken out loud. His little brother thought Dean wasn't at 100% yet and, well, he was right. But Sam also knew he couldn't use that card to make Dean stay, because neither of them would say no if there were lives at stake, especially when a friend asked for their help.
"I'll call Josh tomorrow." Sam announced abruptly.
Dean looked over at his brother and was close to making a joke about how he really didn't think Josh would miss him to that extent, when Sam added:
"He can cover for me until exams."
"What?" Dean said, startled. "Sam, no. You…"
"I'm going with you." The younger concluded, as he rose with his plate and headed for the kitchen.
"No. You can't…" Dean stood up and followed Sam. This was exactly what he didn't want to happen. "Please, let's not do this again."
"I'm not doing anything." Sam said mulishly, "I'm going with you and we are not discussing it."
The finality in his voice took Dean by surprise, and he could feel his anger rising. However, he was used to deal with his little brother's stubbornness, especially when Dean knew he was right. Sam had a life in Pennsylvania and Dean had already monopolized it enough during the last month.
"Oh, no you don't. Of course we are discussing it." Dean retorted, following Sam into the kitchen. "You've got your stuff to do here. That was the deal, remember? It hasn't changed."
"I can go with you and be back in time for the exams, Dean." Sam argued.
"That's not what I mean." Dean protested, crossing his arms
"Then what do you mean?" Sam demanded, turning around and glaring at his brother defiantly
"I…" Dean faltered, as he faced a very determined Sam, "I mean that you should stay here and…and you…"
And you're safe. And you're happy…
Sam sighed and his stony expression wavered, as if he could catch his brother's unspoken thoughts.
"I want to go with you, why is that so hard to understand?" Sam asked sullenly.
"Because you don't hunt anymore, Sam."
Sam gaped at Dean for a few moments, hurt filtering over his face before he finally set his jaw and schooled his features into a stern expression.
"You're not going alone, Dean"
"Sammy," Dean shook his head, "I won't hunt alone, okay? I'm going to Bobby's. Don't you trust him?"
It was brief, but Dean saw a flash of emotion flickering in Sam's eyes. Nevertheless, he was sure that it wasn't about Bobby, not entirely anyway. Whatever had happened between them, Sam knew Bobby and Dean had been in touch during the months they had been apart, and he had never been against it. This was Sam worrying too much when he shouldn't be, because that was Dean's job.
"It'll be okay." Dean assured, "Sam, I promise it'll be okay. I…I can come back here after your exams, what do you say?"
Wow, that had sounding patronizing even to his ears. No wonder Sam's gaze had hardened. Dean had pushed him into a corner and what came next was Sam using his last card, no matter how cruel it was.
"I mean you're not going there alone, Dean. How are you going to drive all the way to South Dakota?"
It was a low blow. Dean knew it and Sam knew it. But the younger's gaze remained steely and unapologetic, and only the guilty way he bit his lip gave away how little he had liked to say it. Dean felt stupid for having forgotten that little detail, which had left him vulnerable to Sam's attack, even if Sammy was completely right.
The truth was that Dean hadn't been able to sit at the wheel of the Impala since Lillian; just the thought of driving sent him into body-shaking panic.
Embarrassed, Dean swallowed down the hurt and betrayal of his brother throwing his weakness into his face, and turned around to stomp to his room. He heard Sam shuffle behind him, unsure and most probably wanting to call out to him, but "fuck you, Sam" was all Dean could think of.
Dean woke up abruptly, with a scream curling in his throat, and a gasp of air escaping his lips. For a few seconds he had no idea where he was, still caught in the fraying edges of the nightmare and shaken by the very real vibration and purr of the Impala. He could hear a Nickelback song humming in the background, and the music confused him, but before he could make sense of what was happening, the Impala slowed down. By the time Dean's mind cleared enough to realize that he wasn't driving, he became aware of his brother's concerned gaze on him.
"Morning." Sam greeted.
His tone was careful, reaching out cautiously, as if he was wary of Dean's mood. Dean grunted some form of acknowledgment, as he worked on keeping his racing heart inside his chest. He didn't remember falling asleep, but he supposed that the previous day's activity had finally caught up with him at some point during the uncomfortable stretch of silence that had ensued leaving Philly with Sam behind the wheel. Rubbing his eyes, Dean straightened in his seat and debated between asking what time it was, where they were or 'was I screaming when I woke up this time around?'
"Hung-over?" Sam asked, monitoring Dean and the road at the same time.
"Nah." Dean rasped. "I didn't drink that much last night."
It was the truth. Sam knew it. It was just his way of checking on Dean. The older peered out of the window: light was starting to filter through the darkness and cottony pink and orange clouds hung on the horizon. Sunrise, then.
"It's 5:10" Sam said, in response to Dean's unasked question, "We just passed Pittsburg."
Dean nodded, chewing on Sam's olive branch, while he did the math in his head; that meant he had slept close to four hours.
"Do you want me to pull over? Stretch your legs or something?" Sam asked.
Okay, point taken. He must look like crap.
"No, I'm fine." Dean rubbed his hand over his face, wiping the last of the sleep from his eyes.
Apart from fine, he was sorry for what had happened back in the apartment. Knowing Sam, he must have been beating himself up over it too. That thought prompted Dean to actually look at his brother, and noticed how tired Sam looked. Dean felt guilty at having checked out on Sam for so long. Their lifestyle had trained them to sleep while the other drove, so it wasn't like dozing off had been particularly insensitive, but giving Sam the silence treatment before that had. Sam was parking his dreamed college life in Philadelphia to go hunting for him, and Dean would be very hypocritical if he didn't admit that if the tables had been turned, nothing in the world would have convinced him to stay behind.
Sam just had had to be harsh because...well, because when Dean got irrational it took harshness to get through to him.
"What about you?" Dean asked, in a warmer voice. "Are you tired?"
"I'm okay." Sam muttered, eyes on the road, "But I could use a cup of Joe."
"God, yes. Me too." Dean groaned.
Sam's smile spoke of relief and they both relaxed back into a more companionable silence.
When they stopped a short while later, Sam went to fetch coffee for both of them, and Dean waited leaning against the Impala's hood, musing about the unexpected job. Bobby didn't normally ask for their help, so it had to be a complicated case. He couldn't deny that it was exciting. Taking a break had felt good, better than he could have expected, but he didn't quite feel like himself when he wasn't fighting evil. Right there, beside the car, the vibrant light of the new day bathing the open road, Dean felt in control.
"What?" Sam voice's startled him.
When the Hell had the kid gotten so fast?
"What what?" Dean covered his jolt by scooting over on the hood to make room for his brother.
"Why are you smiling?"
"I'm not smiling."
"You are, you freak!" Sam grinned. "Here."
Dean took the Styrofoam cup Sam handed him and barely managed to balance it as a bag of M&Ms landed on his chest.
"Oh, hey! Breakfast of Champions!" Dean chirped, "Thanks, Sammy."
Sam shook his head, feigning annoyance, though he obviously appreciated that Dean had forgiven him. As peace offerings went, M&M's were as good as any. They sipped their coffees amiably, leaning against the car. A glance at the lanky silhouette of his brother by his side loosened something inside Dean. Not only was he back hunting, he was hunting with Sammy.
They rested for a few more minutes, until they finished their questionable "breakfast". Sam had become pensive next to Dean, who had kept quiet in turn, waiting for Sam to speak his mind.
"You know, I was thinking…" Sam began uncertainly.
Dean threw his empty cup into a near trashcan and tilted his head towards Sam to show him that he had his attention.
"Maybe I should get a room when we get to South Dakota." The younger Winchester continued in a hesitant tone. "I don't know if Bobby..."
Dean scrutinized Sam as he trailed off, the most obvious question shining in his eyes. Dean didn't want to push, and he really didn't want to fight over it was the least he owed Sam for having saved him from Hell. Not only that, but Sam had made it out alive as well, meaning that the rest of the details hardly mattered to him. Except, of course, the rift with Bobby.
"You know, you should really give me more than that if you want me to understand you." Dean said softly.
Sam averted his eyes and swallowed.
"No, Bobby hasn't said a word. Not for a lack of me trying." Dean laughed, somewhat bitterly, "All he said was it had to be you to tell me."
Sam's throat worked as he stared at the ground. When Dean found no answers in Sam's face, he sighed in resignation.
"Anyhow, we'll get a room if you want."
Sam raised his eyes and met Dean's gaze sternly.
"Dean, you don't have to. This…whatever happened between Bobby and I does not have anything to do with you, I mean it." He said firmly.
"Sam, you are not going to sleep in a motel while I stay at Bobby's." Dean shook his head, incredulously. "That's just...that is not happening."
It was ridiculous, and as much as he understood Sam not wanting to jeopardize his relationship with Bobby, they were a team and Dean wasn't leaving his little brother alone. It wasn't sacrifice it was just common sense. Besides, it turned out that Dean didn't want to let Sam go. Dean might be getting there, but he wasn't alright. A good example being him waking up close to hyperventilation, and almost freaking out prevented only by the fact that Sam had been there.
Luckily, Sam didn't realize how much Dean's entire sense of balance depended on him. The older Winchester's mind wasn't the happiest of places right now and if Dean had to stay at Bobby's without his little brother buffer between his nightmares and reality, he would fall apart the second one of Bobby's dogs so much as looked at him wrong.
"That is…" Dean continued wryly, "Unless you've gotten to like having your own room and don't want to share anymore, princess."
He was joking, but only halfway. Not being able to control his bad dreams didn't make him any less self-conscious about them. Only a day ago he had been grateful that Sam had his own room, and had a chance to sleep through Dean's distress. But now the possibility of not having him there to just be Sammy for him brought a nervous flutter to Dean's stomach.
"You got a point, there." Sam said mulling it over momentarily, before finally replying. "Nah, on second thought, I got used to your snoring long ago."
Dean let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"I don't snore!"
"Oh, puh-lease…" Sam said and rolled his eyes distractedly as Dean gave him a playful shove.
"Come on." The older announced. "If you are done sunbathing, it's time to hit the road."
"You're smiling again. And it's freaking me out."
By the time they pulled over at the familiar junkyard, there had been silence between them for over an hour, and as soon as Sam killed the engine, it fell around them, stiflingly. They were both tired after being on the road for more than 20 hours straight, and Dean couldn't wait to get out and stretch until his very soul popped back into place. He waited, though, and met his brother's eyes sideways.
Sam must have had reached some kind of inner resolution, because he nodded imperceptibly and got out of the car simultaneously with Dean. He followed his brother without hesitation, stalling only when Bobby opened the door a few feet from them in welcome.
"Bobby," Dean greeted him cordially.
"It's about damn time." The older hunter scoffed, smiling good-naturedly. "I thought there'd be a granny at the wheel."
Dean laughed as Bobby pulled him into a quick hug, and patted his friend on the back before pulling away.
"Well, almost." He joked. "Sam was driving."
Booby looked over Dean's shoulder and something in his expression shifted, tensed, and then caught. As he tracked the different emotions dancing across Bobby's eyes, Dean pulled in a deep breath and glanced over at Sam, who had halted some inches behind him and had his eyes glued to the ground, jaw working nervously.
"Sam," Bobby muttered gruffly. "I didn't expect to see you."
Sam raised his eyes towards Bobby, his expression unreadable, and Dean stiffened in automatic response. He knew consciously that Bobby wasn't a threat to them, but Sam's uneasiness made his protective instincts flare. He was starting to think the whole trip had been a bad idea, worse than he had initially suspected, as he observed the palpable tension and awkwardness between his brother and Bobby.
"Hey, Bobby." Sam said his tone vulnerable.
It made Dean's heart clench a little and he lifted his head to look at Bobby, expectantly. When the older hunter's expression broke into a smile at last, Dean rediscovered how to use his lungs.
Bobby walked towards Sam and clasped his hand warmly. Sam returned the smile, but there was something sad about it, especially in the way they both let go after a brief squeeze. It felt like something was torn between the two and Dean could only hope it was fixable.
"How's school going, kid?" Bobby asked softly.
"Alright, I guess." Sam responded vaguely.
"Well, you know Sammy, always the enthusiast." Dean chimed in, "He's doing great."
Sam shot him a mortified look, which Dean ignored, glad to be past the first ice-breaking exchanges. To reinforce his point, he patted Sam in the back and looked pointedly at Bobby.
"You gonna let us in or not?" Dean said.
Bobby locked his gaze with Dean's and the latter narrowed his eyes imperceptibly. Almost warningly.
"Of course," Bobby nodded, "Come 'on in."
Leading the way, Bobby entered the house and Dean, who hadn't taken his hand off Sam's back —not that Sam had said anything about it— encouraged his brother to follow him with a gentle push. Sam didn't look at Dean, but advanced with him. Bobby took two beers from the fridge and handed them when the brothers reached him. Already uncapped, Dean didn't doubt they had been doused with holy water, but took a gulp anyway, and watched as Sam did the same; after tilting the bottle towards Bobby as thanks. With the test passed, they all relaxed a notch.
"Alright, old man…" Dean started, as he sat down on the couch. Bobby glared at him from the opposite chair and threw a watch it message in the shape of a paper ball at Dean's head. Next to him, Sam smiled, "What do we have?"
"Well, for starters, a smartass in my living room." Bobby mocked.
"Ha, ha, ha," Dean retorted. But Sam chucked softly at the jibe and Dean didn't have it in him to regret it. "Are you going to fill us in or keep on flirting?"
"Alright, alright. A man can't be welcoming anymore…"
Bobby sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. Both brothers focused on him, straightening in their seats automatically. The time of pleasantries had ended and they were about to talk business.
"Five deaths," Bobby started, "All over the last two weeks in the same town."
Sam winced slightly and Dean arched his eyebrows.
"That's a lot of deaths," the older Winchester commented.
Sam brother glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, but Dean just shrugged.
"What do they have in common?" Sam asked cautiously.
Bobby scratched his bearded chin.
"Well, that's the thing. I've found no pattern to connect them." He responded, "First one was Derek Peterson, a 48 year old mechanic, died by CO2 inhalation inside his car. James Ryan, 35, youngest CEO of the city, fell off his 20th window of his office. Elena Martínez, a cop who blew her head with her .45. She was 27."
Dean lowered his gaze, picturing the image in his head despite himself, as Bobby continued.
"Paul Rossi, 54, he was doing time at the penitentiary and hung himself in his cell. And finally, Janine White, 61, slashed her wrists in her bathroom."
They all remained silent for a few minutes, processing the information.
"So…" Dean responded after a while, "Different ages, and different sexes. Hell, even different races. They all died in different ways. So other than the fact that all of them could be suicides, we've got nothing."
"Don't the police suspect anything?" Sam asked, "I mean, so many suicides in a row, it's not normal."
"Well, definitely not, but the thing is they haven't found anything weird about any of the deaths, at least separately. And in some of the cases, they haven't discarded the possibility that it's murder instead of suicide."
"Maybe they all are." Sam mused aloud. "If something is pushing them to kill themselves, then it is murder. We just have to figure out how and why those specific people."
Dean looked at Sam, who was frowning as he stared at his beer bottle intently.
"Any idea?" He prompted.
Sam shook his head.
Dean knew how Sam thought. His mind would run over all the possibilities, exploring them to the very end with all their potential, until they didn't pan out. Then he started over again with the next branch of reasoning, and in that regard, his patience and persistence were admirable. Dean was better in seeing the big picture, but that connection hadn't yet clicked for the case at hand.
He was looking forward to delving into and discussing the case with Sam.
"Have you talked to the families?" Dean asked Bobby.
"I checked on the executive's family first and nothing suspicious came out of it. He was a successful man and they couldn't explain why he would want to kill himself. I also ran a background check for Ms. White. She was a caring mother and grandmother of four children. Both her house and Peterson's office came back clean of EMF."
"Sulfur?" Dean asked.
Sam pursed his lips, his shoulders tensing; the same question was likely to have been on his mind, but he hadn't wanted to ask it. They had had more than enough of demons for one lifetime and weren't looking forward to dealing with more.
"Nope, all clean." Bobby assured them, "I went to Mr. Peterson's funeral too and talked to his son. Quiet kid." He commented, "It's the only case where the family actually believed it might have been a suicide. Apparently the man was a mess, heavy drinker, lived alone... My personal impression? That kid was at the end of his father's belt now and then."
Sam tensed as Dean shook his head, disgusted.
"You think it might have been him? The son...what's his name? As revenge?" Sam said grimly.
Dean looked at him attentively, then switched his attention to the senior hunter, as Bobby answered.
"Alec, and the body didn't show any signs of violence. He got inside the car on his own volition. And it still wouldn't explain the other deaths." Bobby said, frustrated. He had obviously been thinking it over long before he had called them. Taking out a stack of printed papers and notes, he added, "This is the information I've gathered about the five of them. I was hoping you would see something I'm missing."
Sam reached out for the papers first, always the geek, and leafed through them, mulling over different hypothesis. Dean waited a minute, before he held out his hand to claim the information from Sam. It was a lot to read and not even Sam was going to be able to get through it all that evening. At least not if he wanted to keep his eyes in his sockets, and a functional amount of brain cells between his ears. What Bobby needed was two extra pair of fresh eyes, not a sluggish attempt to focus on close to 50 pages that kept getting blurry under their gazes. It was one of their father's rules for research: do it only when you were well rested or you would miss something important, and all of the innocent lives out depended on the fact that time wasn't wasted.
Bottom line, Sam had driven for close to 24 hours straight, and Dean observed guiltily the weary line of Sam's shoulders and the blood-shot hue of his eyes. Knowing firsthand how crappy lack of sleep made you feel, he wasn't about to let Sam pull two all-nighters in a row.
As if in cue, Sam rubbed his face and flexed his neck in an unconscious gesture of exhaustion, and Dean met Bobby's gaze, ready to call it a night.
Apparently, Bobby had caught the vibe too, although he was watching them both with concerned eyes. Dean repressed the instinct to squirm uncomfortably, fully aware that he didn't look so hot either. The last thing he needed at the moment was another observant hunter on his case.
"Anyway," Bobby began, confirming Dean's impression. "It's been a long day for both of you, boys. Why don't you go get your stuff and unpack? We can keep talking about this in the morning."
Sam averted his eyes and laced his fingers, tensing before Dean's eyes.
"Actually," Dean intervened, "we were going to get a room in town."
Bobby frowned, about to speak, but thought better of it as his eyes slid to Sam for a split second. The older man's jaw clenched.
"We just thought it would be more convenient for you." Dean finished.
He knew it was lame, and Bobby knew it too. There really wasn't any reason not to stay with their friend as they had so many other times, other than the big elephant in the room. Dean sent a silent plea for Booby to understand and not make it a big issue.
"Bullshit, this is your home." Bobby grunted in aggravation.
Dean's gaze faltered at the thought and he fisted his hands over his jean-clad knees. Bobby's was home alright, or the closest thing to a home they had had for quite a long time and Dean would never forget it. He didn't know what they would have done without the seasoned hunter after their father's death, when they had showed up in his doorstep, hurting and broken in so many ways that Dean's head spun at the memory of it. Bobby had taken them in whenever they had needed it, without question or judgment, and they had greatly needed it during the previous year.
For Dean, home had always been associated with the Impala they had spent his childhood crammed into. The smell of the leathery seats, classic rock pounding. And the always-present engine rumble that reverberated through them, while Dean and his brother slept and John drove through the night. However, he admitted that Bobby's house had always felt like home and giving that up hurt more than he had expected, especially for something he hadn't even realized he'd had.
When he raised his eyes again, he found Sam's on him, full of guilt, and sorrow and regret. Sam saw how hard losing part of their "home" was for Dean. And, Dean could see that Sam was about to cave. For him.
Dean wouldn't have it.
Sam was home, first and foremost, whether they were at Bobby's, in Philadelphia, in their car, or in any cheap motel room. It was something he had never doubted or questioned. And if Sam wasn't okay staying there, Dean wouldn't even contemplate another option.
"We'll be here first thing in the morning." Dean concluded, before Sam could intervene.
Bobby looked upset, but he didn't push the issue further, giving only a silent nod in response, before shrugging off-handedly as he said: "Don't expect me to make you breakfast, ladies."
Dean chuckled and rolled his eyes, glad that Bobby had tacitly agreed to let them go.
"Don't worry, I don't see you as the pancake type." Dean teased, as he locked his eyes with Bobby's to convey his thankfulness.
Sam hadn't said a word and when Dean looked at him, he realized that the younger hunter was rigid with tension. He knew he was the center of the situation and was probably blaming himself for it.
Sam jerked his head up, and raised his eyes towards his brother, although he stopped short of Dean's gaze.
"Let's go." Dean nudged him gently.
Sam stood up, his eyes sliding to Bobby for a second, pupils welling with sorry and goodbye, before walking out the door towards the impala. Dean waved his own farewell and apology to his friend, but Bobby stopped him with a hand on Dean's arm.
"You know you're welcome here, right?" He questioned seriously, "Both of you."
"Yeah, I know." Dean flashed him a quick, tired smile. "But Bobby?"
The older hunter tilted his head, waiting for Dean to finish his thought.
"I also know that since we got here, you have not looked at Sam in the eye one single time."