A/N: Well, had a pretty stressful day today and when that happens, if I'm in the right mood, I write something. So, here is a one-shot with mentions of the events of the past few episodes of season 8 so beware of spoilers. Thanks to any and all who have a look.
Sam and Dean are in the Impala after a hunt and Sam reflects on the brother he sees sitting next to him.
Disclaimer: I own NOTHING!
A cramp in your neck is what wakes you, the stiffness that resides there telling you it's been locked in that position for far too long, your head leaning to the side, resting against the pane of glass that separates you from the outside world. You don't remember when you fell asleep but you do know that when you folded yourself into the car it was night and now you can see a slight lightening in the sky above, the dawn slowly climbing up from the depths.
There is a jacket draped over your chest and in an instant you know it belongs to Dean. It's not until you slowly untangle yourself and emerge from the cocoon that your brain registers the distinct chill in the air that swirls around the interior of the Impala.
Your sleep crusted eyes drift towards the driver's side and you take in the fact that the window is rolled down, automatically clicking into place the reason for the drop in temperature. Your eyes glance to your brother and you notice there is a slight shiver rolling through him, no doubt a consequence of the elements assaulting him where he sits. You notice his left leg is fidgeting and that he is tapping out a rhythm against the steering wheel with his right hand. His lips are silently moving and you figure he is absorbed in the lyrics of whatever song is playing in his head.
You want to call him on it; on how he should have kept his damn clothes on if he felt the need for some fresh air, but on closer inspection you notice how tired he looks; the dark circles beneath his eyes, the pallor of his skin. No, scratch that, he doesn't look tired, he looks exhausted. Dean, you decide, is running on fumes.
You close your eyes and think back on the hunt and you suppose it's only natural; inevitable even that Dean would look like crap. It's pretty much a given outcome when you battle a spirit, get the wind knocked out of you when the thing makes you do some kind of twisted aerobatic maneuver through the air, and then land on the ground with a thud. Of course, and in true Dean-esque fashion, he had gotten up quickly, brushed away the pain like it was a speck of dirt on his skin and charged a second time, the spirit having reappeared right next to you as you hurriedly tried to light the match.
With the spirit taken care of, Dean followed up his first performance with an encore of 'I'm fine', although there was a distinct weariness in his tone. Before you could offer a rebuttal he had climbed into his beloved car and started her up, effectively ending your speech before you could utter a single word.
As you left the graveyard behind you and you gazed at Dean's profile, it shocked you; how he looked so old, the creases that embroidered his skin having all but eroded the youth that once resided there. You did take the opportunity to ask him if he was okay and, thinking about it now, when Dean had stated again that he was fine and that you should get some sleep, you didn't offer much resistance; truth was you had felt the weariness creep into your bones the moment you felt the material of the seat mold around your frame.
Although he hasn't said anything yet, you're pretty sure he knows, as you do, that you are a bit off your game; that you're a bit slower, that you run out of energy a bit more quickly, and that you've been sleeping a bit longer. Who knows, maybe the spirit you came up against even knew it, making Dean run interference with it when it decided to target you.
It comes to you when you take a moment to gaze out the window and the trees that line the road; it isn't the latest hunt that has drained your brother; that has weighed like lead so heavily on his psyche, it's you.
The trials. You are doing the trials and not Dean. You are going to have to face, as Dean referred to it, 'God's obstacle course' and your brother, your life long protector, is going to have to watch from the sidelines as you go through whatever lies ahead, and that knowledge is already taking its toll on him.
You don't want to worry him; you had listened intently to his speech and you know he wanted it to be the exact opposite of what it is, of this; he practically begged for it not to be you. So you have kept the nosebleeds, the headaches and the stiffness in your joints to yourself, but you also know that Dean is not an idiot, and another glance in his direction makes you doubt that you have kept anything from him at all.
Which has lead you to this moment; the two of you on the road and Dean looking like he's going to drop any second. You look at your watch and then look again, sucking in a shallow breath; Dean has been driving for eight hours straight.
Now it all makes sense; the open window, the humming, the tapping on the wheel; all in an effort to keep awake so you could rest and build up your strength for the journey ahead.
You hesitate; you figure he'll just brush off your concern and you really don't want to get into a fight so you don't say anything at first, but you think it's kind of odd that he still hasn't said anything; hasn't given any sign of awareness to your return to the waking world. You rustle in your seat, clear your throat and stretch out your neck, but none of that garners any kind of response. You let a bit more time go; you watch for any variation in his face or body language but when none are offered you decide to lean in closer, and it's just enough to hear the phantom lyrics that Dean has been busy quoting, only they aren't lyrics at all.
"Damn it. It's supposed to be on me. On me. Not Sam. Not this. It's supposed to be me. Please, let him be okay. Please."
You lean back and wipe a hand down your face, unsure what your next move should be. When the car slowly starts to drift into the other lane; when it takes Dean a bit too long to notice, the decision is made for you.
Dean needs to sleep; you can figure the rest out later.
"Dean," He flinches slightly as your voice seems to thunder across the confines of the car, the fidget, tapping, and words halting all at once, like you just startled him out of a dream. "You look beat man, how about you let me drive for a while?"
His reaction to your voice as you finish seems a bit sluggish; he seems to be in slow motion as he turns slightly towards you. There is no annoyance or anger in his features, only the hint of a smirk and what seems to be subdued relief at the question. You kick yourself for not asking sooner.
"Get 'nuff sleep S'mmy?"
His voice is course and raw and you start to think maybe he got hurt more than he let on, cuz the jerk does have a bad habit of doing that, but you just smile and hope the pang of sadness you feel for him doesn't reflect in the features of your face.
"Yeah, I'm good, Dean. Now it's your turn."
His movements as he pulls the car over and opens the door do not raise any alarm bells; the lethargy you see doesn't scream out concussion or bruised ribs, just weariness and exhaustion; collateral damage from the newest storm cloud that now hovers directly above his head, and yours.
You slip into the driver's seat and feel a small touch on your arm as you put the car in gear. Your gaze tracks up from Dean's hand to his face; he is looking right at you, the clarity and intensity he holds in his gaze enough to take your breath away. The grip on your arm intensifies and you instinctively cover his hand with your own.
"I'm good, man. Now get some sleep."
You release your hand and swallow the lump in your throat as he squeezes your arm one more time before letting go to bunch up the same jacket he had covered you with and fold it into a makeshift pillow.
Dean utters just one more phrase as he tries to get comfortable in the same position you just held; before he slips into slumber, his body and mind finally giving in to what they desperately crave.
You shift your eyes away from your now sleeping brother back to the road ahead, the sensation of tears rising within them.
"Anytime, Dean" you whisper out into the night, "anytime."
The End. Thanks for stopping by :)