Chapter 1: Something to believe in
'There is this guy, right? I see him sometimes when we drive away from a scene. Sombre-looking, wears a trench coat. At first I thought he was a journalist, but he never makes any notes or anything. He just stands there, observing. So, then I thought he might be a pyromaniac. Not that he sets the buildings on fire, but like a passive pyromaniac. Someone who hasn't progressed to setting fire himself yet; he's still in the stage where he just likes to watch. Except he doesn't really watch the fire,' Dean chomped and it was a miracle that they could understand what he was saying. Sam eyed the copious amounts of food disappearing into Dean's mouth in between sentences with distaste. Not that the food wasn't good; it was excellent. The problem wasn't the food itself, but the way Dean was packing it away.
'This is really good by the way, Jess,' Dean said and Jessica smiled at him.
'Yeah, I can see. But you should tell Sam that; he made it.'
The older Winchester gave his brother a thumbs up and continued his attempt to finish the meal in record time. Dean knew exactly what Sam was going to say next. Something about showing appreciation for the spaghetti and respect for the cook by actually chewing. It was the same story every Friday evening. Tradition demanded that Dean swung by his brother's apartment, only two blocks from his apartment, and ate a decent meal. It was like Sam's service to the community: the feed your brother project. Dean would wolf the food down, Sam would protest and Dean would ignore him. This time, however, Sam didn't object except with his stare.
'So?' Sam said.
'So?' Dean repeated and Sam flinched when a strand of spaghetti dropped from Dean's mouth to his plate. Unperturbed, Dean scooped it up immediately and he winked at Jess. She tried to hide her amusement from Sam, but he noticed nonetheless.
'What about this guy?' Jessica asked.
'I don't know,' Dean said as he slurped up the last of the spaghetti and wiped his chin with his knuckles. Sam clacked his tongue disapprovingly and handed him a kitchen towel. Satisfied, Dean leaned back in his chair, wiping his hands.
'I've got a weird feeling about him. Like he pops into my head out of nowhere sometimes, you know?' Dean added. Jessica, also finished with her meal now, nodded, while his brother looked mystified. It was amazing how Sam was forever whining about how fast Dean ate, while Jessica ate almost as fast and he never said anything about that. Must be because he's sleeping with her, Dean thought. They waited with infinite patience, while Sam meticulously polished off the last of his spaghetti.
'So, you remember the party, Dean?' Sam asked, as they got up from the table. Jessica started to collect the plates. They had a nice system: one of them cooked and one did the dishes. Neither of those ones was ever Dean, which was fine by him. He was ridiculously incompetent at both. Aside from his laziness, this was probably the reason he mostly ate fast food; someone else did the cooking and no plates were needed. The way Dean ate, cutlery wasn't even necessary.
'Yeah,' Dean answered hesitantly. He had hoped Sam wouldn't bring it up. The boys went into the living room area, while Jessica stayed behind in the kitchen. In the beginning Dean had been worried she might feel left out, but she liked to hum a bit to herself while doing the dishes. Also, Dean suspected she felt much more comfortable listening to their conversation from the kitchen, than being in the midst of it. More often than not, Sam and he could be pretty obnoxious. Regularly, they got into petty squabbles and all she had to do was call out a warning from the kitchen and they would be shamed into silence.
'You gonna come?' Sam asked and he looked expectantly at Dean. It was the eye routine. Sam had gotten really good at it over the years. Those puppy eyes would look at Dean and he would find himself promising the most insane things. That was how Sam had roped him into painting their apartment and helping him move their stuff there. To be fair, without the eyes he would have been convinced too, but Sam used them for practically everything.
'Depends. Are you gonna try and humiliate me again?' Dean said. Muted noises could be heard from the kitchen: soft humming and occasionally the clanging of a plate against the sink. They sat down and Sam suddenly avoided eye contact and drew a circle on the couch with his right hand. Great; Dean knew what that meant.
'There is someone I want you to meet,' Sam announced. It was a sentence Dean had heard numerous times before and nothing good had ever come of it. Nor would there ever, Dean thought. He sighed.
'Sam, don't tell me you said that to him.'
Yeah, that had been a stupid question. Sam followed the same pattern every time. Someone, usually a fellow student from Stanford, would seem perfect for Dean and Sam would go about arranging a date with the subtlety of a rhinoceros.
'You always do this. You build me up like I'm some prize and then they see I'm just a dumb jock,' Dean protested.
'You're not a dumb jock,' Jessica objected from the kitchen. It was nice to know that they were proud of him and all, but Sam had the dubious talent to wax lyrically about him to just about anyone. With Sam studying pre-law and Jessica doing medicine; two of the most challenging studies out there, Dean had been told, you would think they had more important things on their mind than to hook up a lowly fireman.
'The point is that you make it awkward long before it needs to be awkward. If you say, 'This is my brother Dean' at the party than that will be embarrassing enough, because you're so obvious, you'll practically telegraph that I'm single and that it is a sort of blind date,' Dean explained for the umpteenth time. It was embarrassing and awkward. Probably worse than internet dating and Dean prayed he would never have to find out. But who knew? It would not be unlike Sam to write a dating profile for him without telling him about it.
'I'm sorry. Jessica and I just...'
'...want me to be happy. I know. But I am happy,' Dean finished. Do not think about that statement; I am happy, he thought. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
'By the way, the last time you set me up it turned out it wasn't my sparkling conversation that attracted him, but my abs,' Dean admonished Sam. His brother didn't even look ashamed; instead he rolled his eyes.
'Like you mind.'
'Actually, I did. Did you know he said I wasn't 'at his intellectual level'?' Dean said. That had stung. The guy had obviously been a major douche bag, but it had still stung. Now Sam did look a little remorseful.
'He's a snob,' Sam offered and Dean wasn't comforted in the least. What did it mean to be a snob? You thought you were better than someone else and no matter how much of a douche bag the guy had been he had still been about a bazillion times smarter than Dean. So, there was this nagging voice in the back of Dean's mind that told him that the guy had every right to feel better than him. He was better than Dean.
'He's an asshole,' Jessica yelled from the kitchen and her input did placate Dean a bit. Amused, he leaned towards the kitchen and scolded her.
'Jessica Lee Moore, watch your language.'
'Who have you invited?' Dean asked and Sam settled back, as if they were now going to have a much more relaxed conversation. The younger Winchester started to rattle of names of several mutual friends of Jessica and his, some study group members and his new favourite professor. Every few weeks Sam had a new favourite professor; Dean called them his crushes. His brother strenuously objected to this term, so of course Dean bandied it around every chance he got.
'Ah, your new crush,' Dean teased and Sam opened his mouth to reply, but to Dean's surprise he shut it again. Calmly, Sam smoothed the fabric of his pants, before triumphantly gazing at his brother.
'At least I've got crushes. When was the last time you liked someone?' he responded and Dean was silent for a second. What a low blow, and that after they had just discussed why it was hard for Dean to allow himself to like someone. He didn't even have a diploma, aside from the one from kindergarten that you got for being able to tie your shoe laces. The only reason he had landed a job as a fireman was because their dad's old friend Bobby had pulled a few strings. Dean wasn't good enough, and his lack of education wasn't the biggest problem.
'Dean, I don't get how in all other matters you're arrogant as hell, but in this area you're so insecure,' Sam stated with a weary voice. Insecure wasn't the right word, Dean thought; he was secure in the knowledge that he wasn't worthy.
'I don't get this whole occult obsession of yours either,' Dean snapped. It was Sam's weakness. Dean's brother was emerged in courses on civil law and criminal law and any kind of law you could think of, but still Sam insisted on following extra courses entirely unrelated to his major. It had started with a few religious courses. Dean had objected, because he was afraid that they might take up time that Sam needed to study something useful. Par for the course, Sam had ignored him and now he often busied himself with books about werewolves and witches and vampires. Ridiculous nonsense that distracted him from actual schoolwork. They had gotten into quite a few fights about this subject already.
'Now boys, play nice,' Jessica chided as she came into the living room. For the rest of the evening they chatted pleasantly. It wasn't until Dean was walking home, after another reminder from Sam about the dreaded party, that he wondered about liking someone. Not since the fire 22 years ago had he wanted to have what Sam had now with Jessica, because if he didn't have it he couldn't lose it either. Now, however, he discovered he might want it after all. Too bad that he didn't believe he deserved to have it.