Chapter One: Bravest Face
Dean hoped he was doing the right thing. He hoped he wasn't making things worse for his brother.
He turned up the radio as 'Trampled Underfoot' by Led Zeppelin came on and tapped his hands against the steering wheel in time with the music.
They had only been driving for two hours and were only now entering the city of Kalispell. It was very large and industrialized, commercialized; the opposite of tourist-oriented Whitefish. Dean peered at the numerous buildings of steel and metal, many painted a brilliant white that gleamed coldly in the sunlight.
Dean saw that Sam was also looking out the window but he was sure his brother wasn't seeing what he was.
"Why don't you try and rest, Sammy?" Dean suggested, his voice raised to be heard above the loud music.
Sam turned to Dean with sad eyes and didn't reply.
Don't push him, Dean thought, but hoped that Sam would eventually fall asleep with the motion of the car, as he had done so often when he was a kid.
The trip to Lawrence would normally take a day but Dean planned to take it slow. There was no way Sam could spend twenty-four hours straight in a car, and heck, even Dean wasn't too keen on the prospect.
Dean had it all figured out though- drive for a few hours and then take a break at a rest area before heading out again. Pick motels which were mostly deserted in case Sam had nightmares and eat take-out food, no going to sit-in restaurants- and they'd arrive in Kansas in a few days.
We can do this, Dean thought, easy as pie. Just gotta be careful, take the proper precautions and everything will be fine.
Dean was not only worried about Sam having a hallucination in public but he also was aware that the Leviathans were still out there. He and Sam just had to keep a low profile and not draw attention to themselves.
Dean looked over to see Sam was still staring out the window like the passing buildings were the most interesting things the kid had ever seen.
The eldest Winchester brother sighed and turned up the radio even louder.
"Going on a road trip, Sammy?" Lucifer asked.
Sam didn't turn around to face the Devil sitting in the back seat. He didn't want to let Dean know Lucifer was there.
"Go away," Sam muttered under his breath.
It's not real, it's not real, it's not real, Sam though furiously and nearly pressed his nose against the passenger's side window as though the sight of the factories and shops and pedestrians outside would ground him.
"Where are we going?" Lucifer wondered and Sam looked back.
The Devil was lounging with his back against the door and his legs up on the bench seat. He was flipping through a discarded NSRA 'StreetScene' magazine that the car's previous owner had forgotten about.
"Missouri," Sam answered and looked away when he saw that his brother was peered at him with a concerned look on his face.
This seemed to grab Lucifer's attention and he sat up, leaning forward, setting the magazine aside.
"Why?" he asked, head cocked slightly to the side.
Sam shook his head and didn't answer.
"Maybe big brother's finally gotten tired of looking after you, Sammy. Maybe he got tired of you," Lucifer informed Sam.
"No," Sam argued, "Dean said he'd never leave me."
"Don't be so naïve, Sam," Lucifer chastised.
Sam frowned and looked back again, "What… what do you know?"
"It's obvious, isn't it? Dean's doing the only thing he knows will get you out of the way for good," Lucifer explained, "He's going to have you committed."
Sam's mouth gaped open in shock. He remembered Dean saying that they were going somewhere because he had an idea that should fix him- he couldn't mean a hospital, could he? Sam thought that Dean had promised never to leave him.
"Just think about it," Lucifer continued, "No more Dean, just you and me."
Sam did think about it. He thought about being trapped in some asylum where people thought he was crazy. He thought about being stuffed full of medications that wouldn't work. He thought about Lucifer always being there, like a malignant shadow that never left because Dean had given up on him.
Sam gave a watery gasp and Dean looked at him, saw tears beginning to overflow and instantly pulled the car over to the side.
"Sam, hey, Sammy what's wrong?" Dean reached out to take hold of his brother's hand but Sam snatched his arm away and glared at him.
Lucifer chuckled, enjoying the rift he'd caused between the brothers.
"Don't do that!" Sam snapped.
"Do what?" Dean asked, completely oblivious to Sam's conversation with the Devil. He had heard Sam muttering to himself for the past couple of minutes, peering into the backseat but Dean had ignored it since Sam didn't appear particularly distressed.
"Don't act like everything is going to okay and that I'm going to get better 'cause I know exactly what you're planning to do! I know where you're planning on taking me!" Sam accused and Dean sat back, baffled.
"Sam, I have no idea what you're talking about," Dean confessed and then he looked at the rearview mirror which afforded a glimpse of the backseat as though he too could see Lucifer.
"I've told you before: Don't listen to that douchebag, he's lying," Dean said, knowing what must have caused Sam's outburst.
"No Dean, you're the one who's lying," Sam answered and fumbled with the door handle.
Dean watched as Sam opened the door but didn't move to get out of the car.
"What's in Missouri?" Sam asked without looking at Dean.
"What's in… wait, what?" Dean was confused now.
"That's where we're going, like you said: Missouri. So what's there? A mental hospital? Somewhere you can stash me because you don't want me around anymore?" Sam said, his voice devoid of anger now just sounded sad.
Dean blinked at his brother for a second and then he laughed.
"Don't laugh at me!" Sam snarled, "It's not funny!"
Dean sobered up, "No, I'm not laughing at you… I'm laughing at me 'cause I'm a moron."
Sam stared to his brother, now it was his turn to be confused.
"I said Missouri but I didn't mean the state… I meant Missouri Mosley, you remember her? The psychic who helped us out with the poltergeist in our old house?" Dean answered, no longer in the mood to laugh.
"Missouri… Mosley," Sam said slowly and he heard Lucifer growl angrily from the backseat.
"Yeah, Sam," Dean confirmed. He should have been more specific. God, he really was an idiot sometimes.
"This doesn't change anything, Sammy," Lucifer said, "No matter what you do, I'm never leaving you."
Sam ignored the Devil and closed the door quietly. He felt sheepish and stupid that he'd actually listened to and believed Lucifer.
"What do you say we take a little break at the next rest stop we see, stretch our legs, and get some fresh air?" Dean asked as he pulled the car back onto the road.
"Okay," Sam said softly.
Trust Dean, trust Dean, trust Dean, trust Dean, Sam thought and dared to peek into the back to find that Lucifer had disappeared.
Sam slumped in his seat with relief. Everything was going to be okay because he knew that Dean wasn't going to leave him.
Dean was exhausted by the time they stopped for the night. It had been a long day- after he had explained to Sam that they were going to Kansas and not Missouri, that Sam was in no danger of being taken to a hospital- Sam had been very quiet.
The kid barely said two words for the rest of the day and that worried Dean. At least now they could rest and regroup. They had made it to Billings and had pulled into a road-side motel that had no cars in its parking lot except for that of the owner.
The main office and rooms were made to look like old-fashioned log cabins, kind of like Rufus' back in Whitefish.
The elderly man at the desk hadn't questioned Dean when he asked for the cabin the farthest from the road.
"Like yer peace 'n quiet, do ya?" he asked in a wheezy voice.
"Yeah," Dean nodded; peace and quiet, right.
Sam had been asleep when they pulled in and Dean didn't bother to wake him when got the room key- he'd be gone for a minute anyway- and was still unconscious when he returned and drove down the unpaved path to their cabin.
Dean parked the car and ever so gently put a hand on his brother's shoulder, "Sammy, wake up."
Sam sat up abruptly and blinked at his brother.
"We've stopped for the night," Dean said and Sam stepped out of the car.
Dean stretched and felt his back protest the movement. He was getting too old for driving all day.
Both boys grabbed their duffle bags from the trunk of the car and Dean unlocked the door to their cabin.
Dean had to admit that it wasn't too bad looking: it was a one-room with wooden floorboards and cream-coloured walls, green and brown and grey rugs covered the floor, a small gas-burning fireplace in one corner, a wooden table and chairs in another, a bar fridge and two beds with clean white sheets. A tiny bathroom off to the left contained a small bathtub and a sink and toilet squished side by side.
The thing that annoyed Dean though, was that the old-fashioned heater was cranked up to the highest setting and it made the room stiflingly hot.
Dean set his duffle down on the bed closest to the door and crossed to room to turn off the heater.
"You'd think it was the middle of December," he muttered and turned to look at his brother.
Sam was wringing his hands together nervously and had not moved from the doorway.
Dean stepped forward to his younger brother and took a hold of his wrist gently.
"S'okay Sam," Dean coaxed, "Just relax, that's it."
Dean had Sam sit on the bed and dug around in his duffle bag before pulling out a bottle of water and handing it over to his sibling.
Sam took the bottle gratefully and took a few sips.
"Wish they had a TV," Dean muttered as he realized that not only was there no television set. The radio and telephone usually so common in motels were also absent.
"Guess they want you to get away from all that technology," Sam answered, surprising Dean slightly.
Dean grinned and nodded, "Could be worse I suppose… they didn't have to put in a beer fridge!"
Sam smiled politely at Dean's joke but it fell somewhat flat. Dean had stocked up on bottled water and juice boxes when they had gone through Butte. Beer was the last thing on Dean's mind when he had to do all of the driving and keep his mind sharp in case his brother needed him.
Dean yawned, covering his mouth with his fist. He could really use a long nap but he didn't want to go to sleep before Sam.
"Is it just me or is it getting hotter in here?" he asked his brother as sweat beaded on his brow and upper lip.
Dean moved away from the bed and crossed the room again to the heater. The stupid thing was still on, pumping warm air into the already unnecessarily arid room.
"Damn thing's broken, I think," Dean grumbled and turned the heater off once again.
Dean decided to forgo a shower and look after his brother's needs instead.
He picked up Sam's duffle bag and grabbed an old blue t-shirt and a pair of grey jogging pants from the pile of clothes he'd stuffed into it just before leaving Rufus' place.
"Bathroom," Dean held out the clothes to his brother and Sam took them.
Dean waited while Sam complied and closed to door after himself. He heard the shower turn on and thanked whichever god was listening that Sam was still lucid enough to take care of his own personal hygiene.
Almost thirty minutes later the water turned off and Dean was startled awake. He had sat down on his bed to wait for Sam and had fallen asleep unintentionally.
Gotta remember to drink lots of coffee, Dean thought, gotta stay awake for Sam.
Sam stepped out of the bathroom in his t-shirt and joggers, his damp hair hanging lank around his face and Dean couldn't help but notice that it almost reached the kid's shoulders.
Memo to me: Get Sam to cut his hair when all this is over, Dean thought.
"Feeling better now?" he asked and Sam nodded with a slight smile. No matter how shitty either of them felt, a nice long shower always seemed to take the edge off, at least if only for a little while.
Dean ran a hand through his short-cropped hair and eyed the heater. It had remained silent for at least thirty-five minutes but now it rumbled to life and Dean sighed.
The eldest Winchester sized up the heater and kicked it with his booted foot once. The damn thing needed to learn who was boss around here.
The heater spluttered and chugged to a stop with a sigh. Dean smiled in satisfaction.
He grabbed his duffle bag off the bed and headed to the bathroom, leaving the door open a crack as he brushed his teeth and took a piss.
When Dean poked his head out to check on his brother he saw that Sam was lying in bed, atop the covers, fast asleep.
Dean sighed and stepped out of the bathroom, put his bag down at the foot of his own bed and turned out the overhead light, leaving both of them in darkness.
The eldest Winchester sat on the edge of his own bed and just listened to his brother's breathing.
Sam stared at the ceiling- his breathing shallow and rapid, his heart pounded painfully in his chest and a shiver ran up his spine even though the room was still unbearably warm.
He turned his head to the side and saw that Dean was slumped to his side, leaning against the headrest of his own bed, snoring softly.
Sam shivered again, more like a tremble this time, and closed his eyes; bit his lip to hold back the cry that fought to escape.
He rolled onto his side and curled his legs up, making himself into a tight ball.
Sam didn't react when he hear his brother stir.
"Sammy? You 'kay?" he heard Dean's voice ask, thick with sleep.
Sam didn't answer, pretending he was still asleep himself.
After a few minutes Sam heard the sound of his brother lying down. He breathed a sigh of relief. Dean didn't need to stay awake with him every time he had a nightmare, it wasn't fair to him and although Sam really, really wanted his brother right then, he told himself he could handle it on his own.
It had just been a nightmare and he knew that nightmares could not hurt him. Sam knew that, of course he did, but the memory itself was painful and tore at him, sweeping away all other thoughts within his mind and taking dominance. It was too powerful to be dismissed with the assertion that it wasn't real because it had been real. For one hundred and eighty years it had been Sam's reality. That was what made it so terrible, Sam couldn't escape Hell even in his sleep; it followed him even into his subconscious mind.
Sam let out a quiet groan and heard his brother move again. This time Dean actually stood up and came around to the side of the bed.
Sam opened his eyes and saw his brother's silhouette looming over him in the darkened room.
Sam was determined not to show his brother his fear- it was a little too late for that but he didn't care- and spoke, "m'okay".
Dean didn't say anything but Sam saw his head bob in the gloom and he moved away, back to his own bed.
Sam continued to keep his eyes open- he did not want to fall asleep again- and waited for the slow coming of morning.
Dean sipped at his take-out coffee and maneuvered the car down the sleepy early-morning streets of Billings.
It was a little after six a.m. and both boys were more or less ready for a long day of driving.
Sam had fallen asleep again before they had hit the breakfast place and instead of waking him, Dean had just gotten his brother a decaf coffee and a bagel because the last thing they needed was for Sam to be hopped-up on caffeine.
Dean wanted to make it to at least Casper, Wyoming and if they were lucky stop in Fort Collins, Colorado. He grimaced at the thought of driving all that way but Dean knew it was for Sammy and he could suck it up and get on with it to help his brother.
Dean turned on the radio, if only for some background noise, and smiled when Metallica's 'Ride the Lightning' came on. He fought the habit of turning the radio up to the highest volume and settled for a dull roar.
With a quick glance at his still-sleeping brother, Dean put Billings in their rearview mirror and headed towards Wyoming with high hopes.
1. Chapter title comes from a song by Rush of the same name.
2. Thanks so much to SPN Mum, lizziemarie0529 and sarah for reviewing the final chapter of Frailty.
3. Thanks to everyone who alerted and favourited Frailty.