On Tuesday night, Dean is working the so called graveyard shift right up until closing time. The work's easy but the tipping's bad, and usually he avoids those shifts to spend the evenings with Sam. Now though, with Sam temporarily staying at the Roadhouse and him trying to fit in being a one armed waiter around Cas' schedule, the shift is kind of perfect.

"Sam," Dean says, looking up from where he was deeply engrossed in his inappropriate-origami with the napkins, feeling slightly shell shocked.

"Classy," Sam snorts.

"Charlie got folded hers into a pretty accurate vagina," Dean says, frowning at his piss poor attempt, "I don't know how the hell she managed it."

"Maybe I've just seen more girl's bits than you, Dean," Charlie says, appearing with napkin-vagina balanced on her left hand with a grin.

"Charlie, this is my brother Sam," Dean says, "Sam, this is Charlie."

"I bought you pie," Sam says and Dean feels his whole face light up, because Sam is awesome. "Ellen cooked it earlier."

"Hey, Charlie, take a break. You need to try some of Ellen's pie."

There's exactly two customers in the whole place, so it's not like anyone's going to mind if they take a pie break. Charlie's got a complex about authority figures, anyway, which is why she's working at some shit-tip diner rather than getting her second PHD from some fancy university: from what Dean can work out, she's a frigging genius who used to work for google before they found her making anonymous donations to wildlife charities from the google bank account. Now she's 'taking five' before she faces up to how things are 'IRL' and has to get another proper job.

Charlie scrunches up her napkin vagina and grabs them all forks.

"So what do you do, Charlie?" Sam asks, blinking up at her with the big puppy eyes. Dean should have known that Sam only came because he mentioned Charlie.

"This and that," Charlie shrugs, "table top games, mostly."

Dean spends the next twenty minutes demolishing the pie and accidentally occasionally offering strategy advice as Charlie tries to explain the concept of larping, because he's seeing a couple of holes in Charlie's plan… even if he doesn't want to get involved in anything as horrifically geeky as that. Really.

"You sure you're not coming on Saturday, Dean?" Charlie asks, "I'll let you borrow my chainmail."

He's so tempted.

He's saved from trying to convince himself he's not going larping (except maybe it'd be kinda fun?) by the arrival of a couple of customers.

"This is your moment, Charlie," Dean grins, "Go ask whether or not he works out."

Charlie throws her napkin at him and Sam's laughing and, god, he's missed that sound.

0o0

"Dean," Sam says, as he pulls into the parking lot outside their building, "did you pay someone to wash the Impala?" He'd spent the rest of Dean's shift chatting with Charlie (or otherwise nosing into Dean's excuse for a life, but it's all good publicity and he feels better now he's had his daily dose of Sam) and called Cas to say he'd be giving Dean a lift home instead.

"No, I ain't having no stranger touching my baby."

"Did you somehow get Cas to do?"

"Cas is vicious," Dean says. Cas is kind of bad ass and, after all the shit Dean's given him about his car, he's pretty sure Cas wouldn't wash the Impala even if Dean paid him in fancy coffee.

"So, you washed her yourself? With one arm? You must have looked ridiculous."

"Sam," Dean deadpans, "that car is the love of my life, I gotta keep her in shape. That skank next door gave me a weird look, though, I gotta admit."

"What about pie?" Sam asks.

"Well, yeah," Dean grins, "Maybe pie is my mistress, but the Impala is my wife."

"I'm pretty sure that's illegal in this state."

"The day you move to college, I'm skipping town and getting hitched to my baby."

"I think it's illegal in every state," Sam grins, "There's gotta be some kind of therapy for that."

"Uhuh," Dean says, "but there's societies and shit too. Pretty sure there's a term for people who love their car a bit too much, if you get what I'm saying."

"Dean," Sam complains, "gross."

"Google it," Dean says, "I dare you, Sam, google it."

"You're a bad influence," Sam says, but he's grinning.

"Don't knock it," Dean says, nudging him with his good arm, "maybe one day, when you've gone through puberty, you'll find you're car-sexual."

"This your way of telling me you're sexually attracted to the Impala?"

"Nope," Dean says, "this is me saying I'd accept you even if you were. Acceptance is key, Sammy boy. Although, not the Impala, she's mine. You can prize the keys out of my cold, dead fingers, but otherwise you don't get her till I'm ninety and too wrinkled to drive."

"Good to know," Sam says.

"Your homework tonight is to watch car porn."

"Dean."

"You gotta learn about the messed up stuff in the world, Sam. I'm just trying to do my duty as big brother." Dean says, reaching over and pressing the first of his good arm into Sammy's shoulder.

"Whatever," Sam says, "I'll leave you and the Impala alone. Don't injure yourself, now."

"Bitch," Dean says, struggling to undo his seatbelt and push open the door with his left hand.

"Jerk," Sam calls out the window. Dean makes a point to pat baby's head as Sam's pulling out the parking lot, and he's grinning even in the moment that the car turns and Sam starts driving away from him. Maybe one day, in the not-so-distant-future, this will be what his relationship with his brother will be like. They'll just have jokes and talk about dumb stuff, without Dean driving him places and nagging him about work and being the parent like he's always been.

The dull numbness of Sam's absence is still gnawing at his stomach (because it's so unnatural… he's supposed to take care of Sam, that's his job, and Sam's still not old enough to be left out on his own…), but there's a light somewhere off in the distance where, maybe, he could still have jokes and phone calls even when Sam no longer needs him anymore.

Maybe.

He's halfway to calling Cas in the kitchen when he realises he doesn't need to and he only saw him like, six hours ago anyway.

0o0

Sam is brandishing a copy of the newspaper Dean has purposefully been avoiding and he doesn't look particularly happy.

"Dean," Sam says, and then the newspaper has been slammed on top of the bar. He's sort of working (in that, now Sam isn't making him stay away from the Roadhouse, Ellen is giving him pity shifts and he's pretending not to realise they're pity shifts, because he needs the money), but Jo's also manning the bar and Sam clearly isn't bothered by the boundaries of Dean's shift. "What the hell?"

Unconsciously, he turns to the place just behind him that Cas usually hovers in (because they've been spending stupid amounts of time together, as Dean is an invalid and Cas has an apparent desire to be an amateur chauffer and has too much heart for his own good), except Cas isn't there because he's in one of the booths with a scotch and his homework equivalent.

"Sam," Dean says, his chest tightening slightly. He hates it when Sam is mad at him, damnit, but he's not gonna feel bad about this one – if Sam understood even half of the shit Dean would be prepared to do, and has done, in order to keep them afloat then he'd understand that selling this little portion of his soul isn't that big a deal.

He'd sell his whole soul for Sam, if his soul was worth enough for someone to want to buy it.

"Dean," Sam says, blinking puppy dog eyes (and his he starting to grow, at long freaking last?), "Dean, you wouldn't even talk to me about this."

"Yeah," Dean says, and he doesn't want to think about that fucking awful interview with Crowley. He especially doesn't want to think about whatever Crowley wrote in the god damn interview. He'd questioned the police enough to know that Ronald Resnick was an single, orphaned, only child (probably part of the reason why his grapefruit was so mixed up because, Jesus, he didn't seem to have anyone at all), but that made it worse in some respects; maybe no one was left to get offended about whatever Crowley had made up, but that meant there was no one left to defend Ron's memory.

"Is any of this even true?"

"I don't know, Sammy, I haven't read it," Dean retorts. He'd received a copy, courtesy of Crowley (who probably found the whole thing just hilarious), and he'd passed it over to Cas to read with a single cursory glance at the front cover. In fact, he'd passed over the responsibility of dealing with Crowley to Cas completely, in return for Dean advertising Cas' tutoring services to the few people he knew in his college classes.

Maybe he hadn't exactly made friends at college, but his sudden improvement in his ability to actually do French seemed enough that Cas now had a few too many people paying for tuition.

Still, he didn't have to give up his fancy coffee under the new arrangement.

"How can you not have read it? What if his family reads it?"

"He doesn't have any family," Dean snaps. He knows this, in part, because he'd asked the police. He'd also sat by the guy's hospital bed for thirty minutes (during in which he very much wanted to die, because goddamn he should have been able to save someone like Ronald Resnick) and harassed the nurse for some details about next of kin, so there was someone he could make it up to. Eventually, the woman had snapped at him and told him there isn't anyone and he'd been chucked out so they could take the body to the morgue.

"Dean,"

"Fuck, Sam, do you understand how much those goddamn pain meds you insisted on cost?"

Sam visibly recoils.

Dean can feel a sickly feeling of shame dislodging and expanding in his chest. These are the things he doesn't want Sam to know about him. Intrinsically, he knows that Sam knows that Dean's hands aren't exactly clean… he got caught up in some of Dad's stuff, and he helped out on a few jobs for Gordon… but, he doesn't like Sam's awareness of these facts. Once upon a time, Sam Winchester had idolised their father… and their Dad had lost that, completely. Dean's already lost a lot of Sam's respect, but he can feel the last of it siphoning away with that latest declaration; Sam has been able to justify bits and pieces that Dean has stolen, because from big chain stores it doesn't seem like anyone really loses out… but here, someone loses out.

Ronald Resnick loses.

"I can't believe you, sometimes," Sam says, and he sounds like he might cry. He slams into Ash on his way to storming upstairs, and Dean throws his dishcloth at the bar feeling vindicated and shitty.

Jo doesn't say anything.

Clearly, she agrees with Sam.

0o0

Dean's loudly and obnoxiously flirting with Pamela in the kitchen, because Sam hasn't talked to him in like a week and Cas asked to borrow his Dad's Journal/Dean's log of finances so, obviously, he doesn't trust the bits of advice Dean offered to him over the dozens of coffee dates (but, not dates, obviously) scattered across the past few weeks.

"Your brother's here," Charlie says, leaning into the kitchen and raising her eyebrows, "And the dreamy one."

"She means Cas," Dean says in answer to Pam's raised eyebrows, before his heart skips a beat because Sam. He's fully aware that he's stupidly co-dependent and entirely too emotionally invested in his brother, but… it's a tough habit to break, particularly when it involves trying to convince himself that putting his brother first is wrong.

"I was trying to explain fanfiction to Cas,"

"God, I barely understand that," Dean mutters, "good luck with Cas."

"He got lost at shipping."

"How long have they been out there?"

"How long has your fine ass been clogging up my kitchen, Winchester?" Pam asks, waving him out, "get going. See you tomorrow."

"And Sam's reading this brown leather journal thing?"

"What?" Dean asks, blinking.

He steps back out into the front of the dinner and has about thirty seconds to appreciate the fact that, yeah, his brother is reading his journal (goddamn it, Cas), before Sam is up and crossing the dinner and throwing himself at him.

The hug, which is more Sam clinging to him for a few seconds before letting go, is shortly followed by one of those too-precious-for-this-world expression that are both equally frustrating and affection inspiring, depending on the mood he's in at the moment of delivery.

"You're not supposed to read that," Dean says, voice gruff with permission. "You… Sam, I got this sorted."

He's always wanted Sam to feel secure in the way that he never did (because homes burnt down and fathers left, but Dean was supposed to be that stagnant steady force that anchored Sam's childhood to something solid) and all his failings are listed in that book. Every month they almost didn't tie over, every time Dean had to nick peanut butter and bread to make sure Sam had lunch…. Every shortcut and back alley that Dean shouldn't have taken is scribbled down, even if it's just in code.

"Yeah," Sam says, "I… I see that." It's not sarcastic or even scathing. Sam is serious. Sam has read about how they just about scrape by and, instead of worrying about it, he's just nodding and agreeing that Dean has it covered.

Dean manages to breathe and fall into the seat opposite his brother.

"You worked out the system?"

"Think so," Sam says, and then Sam begins pointing out the different columns and colours and the calculations in the margin and they're talking about this month, back when Dean was eighteen, when they got to the end of the month with nothing surplus but twenty bucks. It's Cas' method of getting him to talk about his family all over again and, maybe, he's not ready to talk about proper feelings and stuff with Sam… but this is a start.

"I didn't realise."

"That we were barely managing?"

"That you had such a system,"

Sam's finger is hovering over a page where Dean snuck out and worked extra nightshifts in order to buy Sam a birthday present, and he's uncomfortably aware of the weariness pressing in from his eyes and the bone tired feeling of being overworked, all the time, and that maybe Sam is properly seeing how hard Dean has been trying for the first time.

"You wanna come over and watch a film with me and Cas?" Dean says, "I have the rest of the night off."

"It's nine PM," Sam says, frowning.

"I know it's a school night, Sammy," Dean grins, "but I'm your legal guardian and I say sack off sleep and let's watch a western."

"No, I mean… finishing at nine isn't a night off, Dean," Sam says, standing up and tucking the journal under his elbow, "Especially when you're injured and you have exams."

"I'm not working till the afternoon tomorrow, Sammy, it's fine." Dean returns, heading for the door and nodding at Cas to let him know that Dean doesn't completely hate him, even if giving Sam the journal was a totally douchebag move. Clever, but douchebagy.

"But you have college," Sam says. "Shouldn't you… be trying to get an early night?"

"If you don't wanna watch a film with us…"

"No," Sam says, cutting across him, "I'm coming."

Dean grins as he holds open the door for his brother, smiling slightly.

"One last thing…"

"Sammy," Dean sighs, "no more girl talk, we're done."

Sam's furrowing through his bag and pulling out his copy of the newspaper. Of course Sam had been carrying it with him since their last argument, because that's just the sort of thing that Sam does.

"Can I borrow your lighter?"

Dean reaches in his pocket, but comes back empty handed (except a dollar bill he'd forgotten he had, which is a small bonus) and remembers that he'd chucked his lighter in a fit of nicotine-craving pique.

"Wrong jacket," Dean says, lamely. Sam looks at him. They both know he only owns the one leather jacket and he's pointedly not looking in Sam's direction, because Sam looks so frigging self-satisfied it's not even funny.

"You've given up?"

"No," Dean grunts, because he hasn't. He had a cigarette yesterday. He wants one now. His self-control is piss poor, taking about it doesn't really help, and tomorrow or the next day he'll give in and buy another lighter. There's a reason he didn't mention this one to Sam and why his moody replies had even discouraged Cas from asking for progress.

"Dean!" Sam beams.

"Watch it, Samantha," Dean grumbles, shoving his fists in his pockets and heading over to Cas' car.

"I'll just throw it away then," Sam says, scrunching the paper into a ball before crushing it into his bag. He regrets throwing away his lighter, if only because it'd be nice to see that particular mistake go up in flames. In the grand scheme of things, he can't muster up enough of himself to feel appropriately guilty for the god damn article, even though he feels like he should… but, a lot of people have died on his watch, and frankly that takes up more of his head space than a bunch of lies he flat out refuses to read.

He needs to get Sammy to college.

He'd do it again.

"Sorry," Sam says, quiet enough that Dean can pretend not to hear, "I get it now."

0o0

Honestly, Dean thinks the place kind of sucks.

It's crawling with vegetarians and vegans and health nuts, but they talk Sam's language (one full of vegetables and different types of soil composite, apparently) and if Sam wants to go nuts over a particular variety of cabbage, Dean is more than happy to stand back and let him. Even if he draws the line at participating.

"Dean," Sam says, wildly salivating over a bag of carrots.

"I didn't even realise vegetables had different breeds."

"How can you not know that?" Sam asks, handing over what seems like an extortionate amount of money for that number of carrots, especially when they look a funny coloured and all different shapes.

"Maybe I got laid instead,"

"Ha ha," Sam says, pushing the bag of carrots in his direction to have a conversation with an overly enthusiastic man selling celery juice. Dean tunes out of the conversation, pulling out his phone and drafting out a message to Cas.

Farmers market V. good idea.

Sam is still talking to the farmer about fresh coriander, or some shit, when Cas replies.

Have you talked to him yet?

Dean types back a no, shoves his phone in his pocket and tries extra hard to listen to some of the crap Sam's talking about. He drifts out of the conversation again in a few minutes and ignores his phone's insistent vibrating.

It doesn't feel right, this. It goes against his instincts, even if he's talked about it with Cas and Bobby and Ellen and they all came to the firm agreement that it was definitely the right thing to do. He's just not sure whether he's doing right by himself or by Sam and he sure as shit doesn't trust the other's to give him a straight answer.

Sam buys him some fruit smoothie thing and grabs the keys to the Impala out of Dean's pocket.

"We need to go back now, right?"

"Yeah," Dean says, even though he feels terrible about it. He couldn't even manage to clear a whole day free to talk to Sam about this, because work calls. "You got enough greenery?"

"Yes, Dean," Sam says, climbing into the driver's seat of the Impala (which makes him pretty uncomfortable, but baby needed a drive and well… he's trying to make a point with Sam here). They're driving for about twenty minutes when Dean's just about decided that he likes the smoothie Sam bought him and they really need to talk about this, like, now.

"Pull over," Dean says, craning to glance at the side of the road. Sam pulls over. Dean steps out onto the road, leaning against the hood of the Impala and taking another distracted sip of his smoothie. Sam's beside him in a few seconds, which is the unspoken rule that it means they're going to have a talk. "So," Dean says, "I don't know what your plans were, anyway, but… Sammy, I don't want you to think that I don't want you there, because I do, but… till the summer starts, at least, we all think its best if you stay at Ellen's."

Sam stares at him.

"You've got finals," Dean says, "and it seems stupid to up and move you now. You… the whole point of stopping in Kansas is so you have some freaking continuity." Sam's eyes are boring into the side of his cheek and Dean's a hundred percent sure that Sam's taking it exactly how he thought he would, how any sixteen year old kid would, as if Dean didn't want him there. Dean closes his eyes and forces out the rest of the reasoning, even though he hates himself for it. "And I've got exams, too," Dean says, "and I'm working and revising and I… I don't have time to do all that and look after you, too. Just for now. I know you don't take much looking after, Sam, you're not a kid, I just mean –"

"- Dean, its fine," Sam interrupts.

"– no," Dean says, "It's not. I'm supposed to… I'm supposed to look after you, Sammy."

"You can do something for yourself for once,"

"It's only a few more weeks," Dean says, "then you're moving back in whether you like it or not."

"Yeah," Sam agrees, then his face breaks out into a small smile.

"What?"

"I just… wow, Dean Winchester, taking his exams seriously."

"Should've known you'd be fine with it as soon as I mentioned freaking college," Dean mutters, pushing himself off the hood of the Impala and walking back round to the passenger seat. He feels lighter, nevertheless, and finally pulls out his phone to read the new messages (three) from Cas that he'd ignored earlier.

Once again, you're being ridiculous. Sam will understand.

Dean, your brother appreciates you doing things for yourself.

Trust me.

"Cas has done a real number on you."

"Shut up," Dean says, taking a sneak sip of his smoothie that Sam definitely saw, "and change the freaking music station."

"You know the rules, Dean," Sam says, lightly, "driver choose the music, shotgun shuts his pie hole."

Dean slumps in the passenger seat trying, and failing, to feel grumpy about the fact that he just travelled a stupid number of miles to look at some vegetables and talk to Sam about his feelings; instead, there's a happy buzz somewhere in his bones that's entirely related to the fact that Sam's driving the Impala, and he's going to move back in (right after the freaking exams), and the growing belief he has that what he wants has worth and that, maybe, everything is going to work out.


All I'm going to say here is that writer's block completely sucks, eurgh. Anyway, it's done with now... if only I didn't have so many essays to hand in before Christmas. Oh, well.