The end is in sight.
Dean's drunk, but it all becomes crystal clear to Sam …
Sam reflected that this all seemed horribly familiar; another night; more frantic hours searching dark, deserted streets for an absent brother.
He drove street after dreary street, mile after mile, nauseous panic rising within him; searching and scouring; scanning the face of every solidly built, short haired figure that emerged from the darkness.
Visiting every bar, strip club and seedy watering hole that the town had to offer, he fought his way through the massed undesirables, inadequates, hookers and drunkards that congregated there; scanning the pool halls, searching the mens' rooms, hunting for his brother.
Once again, his partner in his fruitless search was the Impala; her headlights cutting through the darkness; a search beacon for her beloved boy.
Sam's head was spinning; adrenalin pumping blood around his body in torrents, the fear gripping his pounding heart like a vice.
Time had begun to lose it's meaning, all Sam could concentrate on was his purpose; it became a game of numbers. He was twenty miles out of town; given that Dean had been on foot, and one of those feet was not exactly in peak condition, logic suggested Dean couldn't have got anywhere near this far.
He had searched eighteen joints that looked as if they could have attracted Dean on a bad night. He had been hit upon by five women, and had narrowly avoided two fights. He had phoned Dean's number twelve times; he was looking for one seriously screwed up brother and so far had had exactly zero success.
Eventually, he looked at the Impala's clock. It was 1.30 am, and he was exhausted; sleep dragging on his eyes making a continuedsearch impossible. Reluctantly turning the Impala round, he headed back to the motel, coaxing his heavy eyes to stay open long enough for him to make it back and hoping against hope that Dean would find his way back to the motel when he was done.
What he didn't expect to find as he stepped into the room was Dean sitting on his bed, four empty beer bottles littering the floor round his socked, bloodstained feet and a half-emptied bottle of Johnny Walker black label cradled in his lap.
Glassy eyes looked up at his gaping brother.
"Sh'mmy …" he slurred
It was a comically long time before Sam regained the power of speech, and he resisted with all his might the overwhelming urge to scream out his panic stricken fury to the listing, heavy-lidded figure on the bed.
He took a deep breath to level his voice out; the last thing he needed to do was hurt or scare his brother. "Dean, thank God; where have you been – I've been searching everywhere for you."
"Sat in the park S'mmy. Bough' some beers in the store down the road and sat 'n the park. Watched the ducks."
Sam shook his head, and rubbed a hand over his face; of all the places he thought of searching, that's the last place that would have even crossed his mind.
"Bars roun' here are shit, S'mmy."
Sam smiled in weary agreement; "yeah, I know bro', I've been in each an' every one of 'em."
His anger dissipated as Dean looked up at him, a lop-sided smile playing on his pale, drawn features. Sam walked over and sat on the bed next to Dean. Dean didn't push him away or resist, but leaned woozily into his brother's solid presence.
Sam reached up and squeezed Dean's shoulder, "Dude; don't ever do that to me again, I've been worried sick".
Dean turned and looked at him, "sh'rry…"
He was cut off as Dean spoke, his words slurred and quiet as he hugged his bottle; "S'mmy – 'm sorry I've been a freakin' dick"
"Dean…" Once again, the word was cut off.
"Done a lot of thinkin' while I was watchin' the ducks". He raised a hand to his mouth and stifled a soft burp; "been feelin' like a duck las' few weeks. All calm on top, an' paddlin' like hell to stay sane un'neath."
He turned to Sammy and smiled sadly at his own joke.
Sam's hand moved down to rub his brother's back. "Dean …"
He rolled his eyes and smiled as his attempt to speak was cut off again.
"I jush' wan' you to know, I think you should go. You deserve better'n this friggin' crap, an I don't wan' you worry'n about me; I accept it an' I'm happy for ya."
Sam stared at Dean, "what? What the hell are you talking about?"
"You're goin' back to Stanford – new intake starts 'n the Fall. I saw the email S'mmy." He took a long draught of the whisky and paused as he relished the burn at the back of his throat.
"Dean, I don't understand – what email?"
"I din't mean to pry; it was a few weeksh'go when we were workin' that ghoul job in Texas an' I wen'into the emails to look for the map that Bobby sen' us, an' I saw one from Stanford".
He looked up at Sam's blank face, "Sorry man, I know I shouldna, but I was jus' curious. It was all application forms and course dates, names of tutors an' stuff."
Sam's head slumped. "... and you thought … Oh my God."
The pain behind the watery green eyes was palpable; This man who would throw his body in front of the worst horror imaginable without a second's thought to save a frightened child, was facing his deepest and most crippling fear; his fear of abandonment, of losing his brother. That fear was a raw wound burned on his soul by the life he had been forced to lead and the knowledge was more than Sam could bear.
He turned to face Dean; "Dean", his spoke as softly as he could, "Mrs Moore – Jessica's Mom phoned me a few weeks ago and told me her nephew was planning to go to Stanford: I told her I would talk to some people I know there and send her some information to give him a headstart; the sort of stuff that he wouldn't find on their website".
He paused for a moment to see if the explanation had sunk in; "I'm not going anywhere you moron!"
Dean looked up.
"Jeez Dean, I sent that stuff to her weeks ago." Sam paused, "that's why you haven't been sleeping isn't it; you've been torturing yourself about it since then;" he shook his head, "why didn't you say something dude? Why didn't you talk to me about it?"
"I din't wanna make you feel like you hadta stay for me … sorta thought that you – um … well, it looked like you … ah …"
Dean gave up, looking down into his bottle, then back up at Sam.
"Feel stupid now."
Sam smiled weakly, "I'm a different guy to the one that went to Stanford; this is my life now, good or bad, I couldn't go back to conventional; not now." He sighed, "'fraid you're stuck with me, bro'"
"Oh damn," murmured Dean, staring down at his lap with a watery smile.
"I'll tell you something else," Sam added with a mischevious grin, "you ever snoop through my emails again, and I'll kill you!"
Dean wiped his eyes and snorted, "like t'see you try!"
Sam stood up, stretching before he reached down to gently pull the bottle out of Dean's hands. "Well, dude, I suggest we turn in. It's nearly three in the mornin', and I wanna be fresh and rested to enjoy your hangover tomorrow!"
Dean's eyes flickered open, blinking wetly as bright sunshine filtered through the room's grubby window. He winced as his head reminded him that he was going to pay heavily for last night's indulgences; yes, Sam would gloat and Dean would snark; but life was good.
Glancing across at the long lump snoring softly in the bed across the room, he smiled and burrowed further down among his bedclothes; the warmth of his rested body, conspiring with the softness of the mattress to surrender him totally to the blissful pull of sleep.
Long lashes drooped with a sigh, and he quickly sunk once again into delicious, undisturbed oblivion.
Goodnight Dean, sleep tight!