There was a time when Sam enjoyed driving. Loved to get behind the wheel of a car, roll the window down, tune the radio to a station playing music he found relaxing and head in no particular direction. Drive until he found a place to stop and get a cup of coffee or an ice cream cone and find a spot where he could pull over and enjoy the solitude and scenery.
Not any longer, now driving was an action he only did when exhaustion or pain was too great for his brother to overcome and it was left to him to get them to their next destination. He always accepted with good grace, the keys when tossed at him because it was high on the list of the many things he couldn't share with Dean without fear of his brother's reaction. A list, that whenever one or more item came to light, resulted in an argument like the one they'd had that morning.
He glanced into the side view mirror; lights from cars in the lane behind him illuminated the interior of the car and seemed to reflect brighter than usual, causing him to squint. It was giving him one hell of a headache, though he supposed, if he would but admit it, stress and tension were most likely the cause of his discomfort.
It was dark, just after seven and he intended to drive for several more hours. He wanted to put as much time and distance between him and the last town he'd all but fled with this tail between his legs as he could before either his increasing headache or exhaustion forced him off the road for the night. He didn't like to run from a fight, to allow himself to be chased out of town, to admit defeat and flee, but when there wasn't a choice, he ran. He allowed his eyes to slant sideways to the empty seat beside him and clenched his teeth to keep the sigh from escaping his lips.
It was raining and the steady ping against the roof of the car was not soothing, it was stressful and added to his anxiety. The fog and overspray on the road from passing cars forced him to drive slower than he would like. It was getting colder out and while the car's heater worked, Sam didn't feel warm, felt he'd never be warm again. The cold chill that seeped into his bones was not caused by the temperature of the weather and no amount of heat or layers of clothes was going to chase the coldness away.
He pulled his eyes from the empty space next to him and forced himself to focus on the road. He should be concentrating on his driving, he needed to be, but his mind kept straying, replaying that morning's event over and over in his mind. The day couldn't have gone worse, had ended badly and likely, would carry on for the next several days.
The hunt had gone wrong, the intel had been bad and the entire situation had blown up in his face, officially declaring the day, gone-to-shit. Dean hadn't listened to him, hadn't listened to reason, had forged carelessly ahead and been taken out. Sam had been scared, so scared all he had been able to show was anger, anger that had only served to set Dean off. Words had been said, accusations thrown and Sam still felt the rejection and condemnation. Unlike Dean, he needed distance and time, not violence and alcohol.
"Damn you Dean, what the hell was that?" Sam panted, running down the alley and rounding the corner to find his brother sprawled on his back on the ground. "Shit!"
"Thought you said one spirit Sammy." he rolled onto his side, choking on a groan. "OW!" panting, he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. "I'm good."
"What did you do?" Sam bit out. "I can't do this again Dean, I can't! What the hell did you think you were doing? Is that your game now, go it alone?"
"Aww, Sammy, chill dude." Dean had picked himself up of the ground and was now stumbling around, trying to gain his balance. "Couldn't wait all day you know."
"Two spirits Dean, you take on two at one time, that's just crazy."
"Didn't know there were two. You did the research, don't you think you shudda known that?"
"So, it's my fault you went all kamikaze?"
"Then what the hell are you saying? Thought I told you to wait for me. Christ!"
"I don't take orders well." he was steady on his feet now but remained doubled over.
"Since when are you stupid? Do you have any idea how reckless this was?"
"Eh, nothing to lose, you know?"
"No, I don't know and from where I'm standing, there's a lot that could be lost."
"Don't be so sensitive Sammy." he staggered down the alley, back towards the road and away from his brother who could do nothing but stare after him.
He was tired of being an obligation, a duty, didn't want the only reason he mattered to Dean to be because of some promise. He didn't want to be a reason, he wanted his thoughts and beliefs to be trusted and honored. He wanted to be seen as a person, an equal, a responsible adult, not someone's job. He was tired of having his feelings and insecurities and fears dismissed. Dean would always be there, would always respond but Sam needed to know it was because Dean wanted to, not because Dean viewed it as an accomplishment well done.
Heavier rain forced him to switch the wipers on high and turn up the defrost. The weather was getting worse and he was beginning to think it might not be such a bad idea to find a motel. He'd planned on trying to drive on to Wyoming where Jack, another hunter they'd worked with on occasion, waited for back-up before heading into the woods to track what appeared to be a Wendigo. There was no hurry, he'd just wanted to get to the next job and forget the last one.
He felt himself shivering, turning the collar of his jacket up did nothing to stop the chills shooting down the back of his neck and suddenly it was all too much. The bad hunt, the bad info, the argument, well arguments, with Dean, the reason they'd had it out, the weather, the drive, everything was overwhelming, and now some stupid jerk was riding his ass with his freaking high beams on! Sam growled a threat as his hands tightened on the wheel. The car responded by fishtailing and he instantly eased off the gas. He stifled the urge to swing the car around, screech it to a halt, force the car behind him to a stop and get out so he could confront the asshole.
Yup, best to find a motel and pull in for the night; ahot shower, comfort food, and a movie on TV while lying in bed was in order. He'd had enough and knew he wasn't in any condition to tolerate any more. He reached for his cell, deliberately slowing down to piss the idiot off behind him even more as he scrolled for the app to reveal the closest motel to his location. Now, the moron was flicking his lights at him and that did it, Sam had had enough. He tossed the phone and returned both hands to the wheel. He would need all his coordination and strength to send the car into a controlled spin and not end up in a ditch.
Mad at his brother as he was, he would never deliberately endanger him by wrecking the car. Despite what Dean thought and said Sam was not that stupid. He glanced into the rearview mirror, foot hovering over the brake, mentally confirming his gun was loaded and on the seat next to him. He didn't intend to shoot anyone, but it was a good way to frighten and intimidate one's opponent to make a fist fight easier. Blowing his breath out, he became aware that the lights had backed off and relaxed his death grip on the steering wheel. Now that the jerk was off his ass, he raised one hand to adjust the rearview mirror. He knew he should be watching the road, but all he could manage to do was stare into the new angle of the mirror and force his breathing to slow down.
Dean was quiet, still asleep on the back seat, undisturbed by the rain and bright lights that were making Sam's vision blur and oblivious to how close he had come to ending up on the floor. Yeah, it would relieve some of his tension if he indulged in a much needed fist fight, but what he wanted and needed wasn't his first priority.
Ten minutes passed with Sam's eyes on the rearview mirror, willing his brother to at least twitch, rather than on the road with oncoming traffic and the weather. A blaring horn cemented his indecision. He pulled to the side of the road, grabbed his cell and made a serious attempt to find the nearest motel. One accident that had caused his brother his life with Sam behind the wheel was all that was ever going to happen.
He sat for a minute, listening to the growl of the engine, eyes on the rearview mirror, wondering, hoping that Dean would instinctively come to realize the car was idling and stir to ask why they had stopped. Nothing. Swallowing against the sudden urge to turn around and reach out to touch the bundle of blanket and coat, he put the car into drive and pulled out.
Twenty minutes later, he pulled into the motel parking lot, parked in front of the office, left the car idling and went in to reserve a room. Wouldn't you know, he had to stand in line? Crap, waiting his turn gave him unwanted time to think about the fight which reignited his anger and caused him to remember how mad he was at his brother.
Standing there fuming, he forgot his earlier emotional melt down. He'd leave Dean to spend the night sleeping in the car, hell, wouldn't be the first time he'd done it. Would serve the prick right, and Sam was in the mood to do it too. He sighed, searching every pocket he had in a desperate attempt to locate some aspirin. Yeah, right, like he'd be able to sleep without Dean in the room with him. Dean wouldn't care, would probably prefer to sleep in the car. He wouldn't be the one sitting up all night, worrying about where Sam was or how he was doing.
"Sir?' said the clerk for a third time. Sam reached a hand out, fingers finding the counter to steady himself as the room dipped. These severe emotional swings were wreaking havoc on his ability to remain focused.
"One room, two beds." he replied to the question asked by the clerk when it was finally his turn to be waited on. Seemed like everyone had the same idea in regards to getting off the road. Two families had been ahead of him to check in and now another twenty minutes had passed. Dean wasn't drunk, hung over or passed out, but still, Sam didn't feel comfortable leaving him alone out in the car for the length of time it was taking to check in. Was it just ten minutes ago he'd contemplated leaving him out there all night? It wasn't right or fair to leave him alone outside when he had no idea where they were or where Sam had gone.
Despite what he said, Sam couldn't shake the feeling he wasn't as ok as he claimed to be. He didn't hold out much hope Dean would be cooperative and submit to Sam's need to check him over and Sam was feeling too sick to force his brother to his will.
"Child?" the clerk asked giving him a warm smile. "Hi ya."
"Huh?' Sam had the pen in hand, ready to sign the receipt. He was too tired and preoccupied to appreciate the interest he was garnering from the clerk.
"Two beds, you keep staring out the window like a nervous mother who made the unwise yet understandable decision to leave her sleeping child in the car. You know, the mom who didn't plan on taking so long, the mom who didn't want to deal with the kid whining, the mom who felt it was more trouble than it was worth to collect her kid and drag him in here to hold and juggle and amuse when it was just as easy to leave him asleep, warm and comfy tucked into his safe car seat."
"Oh." he blushed, unable to meet her gaze. A nervous parent, really? That's how she saw him? Now that he'd been out of the car and away from Dean for more than thirty minutes, he wondered how he ever could have considered leaving him alone in the car overnight. He couldn't stop staring out the window at the car, he couldn't keep his attention on the motel clerk and Dean was only ten feet away from him with the car in full view. "No." he signed the receipt and pushed it across the counter. "Two adults." he didn't think he'd been that obvious, hadn't realized he'd been stealing glances at the car that often for so long.
"So, kinda tired huh?" she dangled the key from her finger, holding it just out of reach with a teasing smile. "You seem pretty distracted."
"Sorry." Sam pushed his hair out of his face. "Tired, you know? Weather isn't great…been doing all the driving. My brother's been asleep since we started out."
"Younger brother then?" she teased. "You haven't taken your eyes off that car."
"Mentally maybe." Sam finally glanced up to meet her look, giving her a weak smile.
"Aah, well, you know what they say….a man never mentally advances past the age of his shoe size."
"Oh God." Sam groaned. "I have an eleven-year old."
"Look me up in the morning, everyone eats over at the Kettle." she handed him the key. "Maybe I'll see you around nine or so."
Sam pocketed the key and returned to the car. Dean hadn't moved and Sam squelched down a feeling of some emotion he was reluctant to identify. He slid behind the wheel and pulled out, driving around back and parking in front of the room that would be theirs for the next two nights. Dean could whine all he wanted, they weren't going anywhere until Sam knew for a fact Dean hadn't been hurt. He didn't care how many days it took for Dean to fess up about it and if it came to a physical confrontation, so be it.
The lights from the street lamps in the parking lot blurred sickeningly and while Sam wanted nothing more than to attribute that to the wind driven rain, he was forced to admit his headache was worse. Originally brought on by his fight with Dean, it had only worsened with the drive, the weather, the traffic, the delay in getting the room and the dread of the inevitable reaction from Dean when he found out Sam had pulled off the road. He really needed to find some aspirin.
It hadn't been enough that Dean could have seriously been hurt, no, he'd had to go and get all pissy about Sam's reaction. Refusing to understand why Sam was upset over his suicidal actions was nothing new, being mad at him over it was and Sam had no idea what to do about it.
"Dean, would you wait just a damn minute?" Sam caught up with him at the car. "You're not going to do this to me again. I'm not asking you to admit you were wrong, I don't need to hear it, we both know you were…"
"Seriously Sam? Now? You pick now to call me out?"
"Then when Dean? You avoid me, you don't talk to me….."
"You know Sam, not everything is about you."
"You make it that way, not me."
"Sam." it was a warning, Sam knew it, knew he should back off and leave his brother alone, wait for some other time to have this fight but he couldn't reel himself in.
"You act like nothing you do matters, like you have nothing to lose….."
"And why the hell is that? What the hell do I have Sam? Christ, I've lost enough! What else can you possibly take away from me? I lost Lisa, Ben, Cas, I don't have my car. The only home I've ever really known is gone. I have nothing left to lose! What does it matter what I do? Who does it matter too?"
Me, Sam thought, what about me? You have me. You haven't lost me, aren't I enough?
"What more do you want from me?" Dean continued to rant while Sam had been lost in his own thoughts. "I manage to get by, it's what I do."
"No!" Sam exploded, fist punching the trunk of the car. Dean stepped back. "No, you don't get to do that, not this time! You don't get to whine about all you have lost, what all you had to give up, you don't get to do that to me. You have me Dean, I'm right here but you're too busy trying to push me away and keep me at arm's length to realize I'm not going anywhere."
"You will, you always do, it's what you do, you leave Sam and it hurts, it hurts to know you would rather be anywhere, with anyone other than with me."
"You let me go, you push me away and you pull yourself away from me, like you're doing now and I don't deserve that…..you think that doesn't hurt? How do you think I feel knowing you would rather seek comfort from a bottle than share your burden with me? You won't let me help you, would rather drink then talk, would rather lie and hide then listen and confront…"
"What do you expect? This is who I am!"
"I expect you to care about yourself! I want you to care enough to be here for me. I'm trying like hell to understand what you're going through but you're shutting me out. I know losing Cas hurts, I know you trusted him and what he did to me is something that is killing you and it's tearing me apart watching you act like this. And I'm so sorry about Lisa, I know it's my fault you….."
"Don't you dare, don't you fucking dare! Of all things you get to throw in my face, don't you dare choose that!"
"Why not? Are you saying that's not a problem? I need you here Dean, here with me, for me….."
"I've always been here for you, have been since I could carry you."
"There was a time you weren't."
"That's not fair Sammy."
"You wanna talk fair? Do you even realize the crap you put on me? Even when you came back, you weren't here, you weren't you! I know you bury shit deep, I know you don't deal with your issues in a healthy way. I swear you deliberately pull shit like this just to piss me off! But tell me Dean, tell me how the hell you know the difference between what's real and what isn't? Tell me how you learned that! Tell me how you knew to teach it to me! Tell me damn you!"
"Dean?" Sam opened the back door and slapped a foot. He was getting wetter and colder and he really wanted to be inside where it was warm and dry. "Dean, come on man, I'm freezing." he grabbed a shin and gave the leg a sharp tug. He was at the end of his emotional limit. He couldn't take another instance in his life that was out of the ordinary, an outcome that wasn't what he expected to happen. Dean was supposed to kick at him, snap at him to leave him alone; he wasn't supposed to remain limp and be dragged across the seat towards the door. Sam let him go and backed out of the open door, at a loss as to how to proceed next. Dean had all but shut down on him. Emotionally, mentally and physically, he was unresponsive and at the moment, Sam was undecided over whether to drag him out of the car or lock him in it.
He thumped his head against the roof of the stolen car, cringing at the pain that vibrated down the back of his ears, through his jaw, along his teeth and tore a whimper from his throat.
"Get off me." Dean muttered, feeling a bruising grip on his ankle. Sam ducked his head back into the car, relief over his brother finally waking up short lived as he remembered Dean was as mad at him as he was at Dean. Dean wouldn't want to be in a motel room, he'd be pissed Sam had made the decision to pull off the road for the night. He'd argue and complain and claim Sam didn't have the right to make such a decision on his own. He'd insist on getting back on the road and driving on to meet Jack. Fine, if that's what he wanted, he could fight Sam for the car and if he managed to win, could take the car and go. Sam was having none of it and he sure as hell wasn't going to put up with Dean and his mood.
Dean sat up in the backseat, car door open and getting wet because he was too befuddled to get past Sam who was blocking his way out of the car. He had no idea what the hell was going on, where he was, where they were, or why and he couldn't understand why Jack wasn't there to greet him.
He wasn't quite sure what to make of the situation he found himself in, wasn't sure what to do or where to go. He thought about just lying back down and sleeping in the car but Sam's solid presence told him he wasn't going to be allowed to do that. He really didn't feel like being around Sam; they'd both been wrong, both had said things they shouldn't have and distance between them was best for both of them.
He dallied a bit longer, trying to decide if he should risk the wrath of Sam a third time that day. No, better not. If Sam had been ok with Dean choosing to sleep in the car, he wouldn't have woken him up to go inside the motel room for the night and still be standing too close in Dean's comfort space looking ready to cry. Well, that was something, maybe.
"DEAN!" the door squeaked, the shaggy head tossed against the impediment of rain soaked hair in its eyes and a hand was reaching for his…..jaw? What the hell? He raised his arm to block Sam's attempt to take hold of his chin in a bid to force him to make eye contact.
Ok, nope, hiding in the car until morning definitely not an option. He toyed with the idea of remaining where he was and making Sam drag him out of the car, but that would only serve to either incite Sam further or upset him completely and did Dean really want to deal with that? Question was, why didn't Sam want him to stay in the car? He rubbed at the back of his neck, Sam had to be confused, he didn't want to be around Dean but didn't want Dean to be away from him, how the hell did one deal with that?
"Where's Jack?" he climbed out of the car once Sam had backed off enough to allow him to do so.
"He's not here." Sam led the way to the door. "I can't drive any more, I'm tired, the weather sucks and I'm gonna take some aspirin and lay down."
"Where are we?" he started back to the car, intending to go to the trunk and get his bag. He missed the look to settle on Sam's face, a look of devastation and fear. Dean wasn't responding to the unplanned overnight stay in the motel the way he was supposed to and it rocked Sam to his already shaken core.
"Bags are already inside." Sam said softly, knowing what was in the bag Dean wanted. Dean veered to his right and walked into the room without another word, leaving Sam standing in the rain staring after him, blinking against tears of frustration and those courtesy of the torment caused by his headache. Speaking of which, Sam raised his hands to feel his eyes, then his nose and ears before pulling his fingers through his hair to make sure his head only felt like it had been split open and wasn't currently leaking grey matter through a previously undiscovered injury.
"This stops Dean, do you hear me? No more. You need a beer, fine, you call me and we'll meet up and get you a meal and a bottle, but this?" he snatched the flask from his brother's hand and poured the contents into the dirt. "This is not how you are going to deal with losing Cas or the house or having to give up the car. You can be mad at me, you can hate me, but you don't get to make it a choice, it's not me or the bottle, it's me and you have to deal that 'cause I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. Yeah, there'll be times I'm gonna get pissed and walk away but you hear me and get it through your damn thick head, I will always come back."
Dean closed the door behind him and went to the bathroom, closing that door and locking it. He needed a few minutes to himself without Sam barging in. He eased himself onto the edge of the tub, bent over to untie his left boot and kicked it off but when it came to his right foot, he was forced to raise it and cross his ankle over his left knee. It'd been maybe eight hours since the confrontation with the two spirits and while he'd blown off Sam's concerns, he was finding it impossible to ignore his body's response to the pummeling he'd taken. Rising to his feet, he pulled his t-shirt up, having taken his coat and long-sleeved shirt off as he'd passed his bed and viewed his back and shoulders in the mirror.