It really felt like they'd been on the road for days on end.
Dean was uncomfortable and hurting and tired, but he knew that Sam must have been feeling at least as bad as he was. Probably even worse. No, definitely worse. Well, maybe minus the hurting part, but everything else he could see right there, written all over his little brother's drawn and exhausted features.
Sam shifted for the umpteenth time now, rearranging his huge and lanky frame in the driver's seat as best as he could, rubbing at tired, heavy-bagged eyes to keep them open and focused. The heat was turned up, to an actually comfortable level for Dean, but he knew Sam must have been hot, he had donned his shirt some hours ago during their last pit stop, drove only clad in a t-shirt now and still he seemed to be sweating a bit. Yet Dean knew Sam didn't dare open the window to let some fresh air in, even just a crack, to keep the temperature in the car up for his brother's sake.
Dean still seemed to have a hard time getting truly warm.
The older Winchester smiled to himself, drew his jacket a little tighter around himself before clumsily fumbling with the window's crank handle, having to twist his body to reach it with his left hand, lowering the pane a bit. He couldn't quite suppress the soft groan that escaped from deep inside his throat at the movement, bit back and swallowed down just a second too late.
Immediately Sam was fully alert again, straightening himself in the seat, shooting a worried glance over at him. Nothing like the opportunity to fuss and fuss some more over his big brother to get the kid to focus again. Dean barely suppressed an exaggerated eye-roll at the thought.
"What is it Dean? You want me to stop? You gonna be sick? Need something for the pain?"
The very sincere look of worry tugged at Dean's heart, yet he couldn't help but smile at his little brother's rapid-fire questioning and lifted his hands, well, his left one anyway, in mock surrender.
"Chill, Sammy. Just letting some fresh air in before you fall asleep at the wheel…wouldn't want you to wreck my baby!"
Sam pouted at that, shot him a slightly annoyed look.
"You care about that car more than you do about me or even yourself. Don't you think that's kind of…odd?"
Dean didn't need to think about the answer for more than a second.
"Jealous much, Sammy? I mean, come on. She can't protect herself. She's completely at her driver's mercy. And right now I don't think I want to be at your mercy anymore. You look like you might drop any minute… Besides…she's way prettier than you!"
Dean watched Sam rub his hand over his face again, ruffling his tousled hair, shaking his head slightly. But from the look on his face he could see that his little brother knew how accurate the statement had been, even delivered with this slight touch of disarming humour Dean used to get his point across without coming right out in the open.
"She's a car, Dean…"
"And your point is…?"
Another shake of the head, lips twitching slightly before settling on the serious expression again.
"We still have a way to go, Dean. I'll be alright. We can rest once we get there…or rather – I can rest then. You should get some sleep now. It will still be a couple of hours until we get there and you really need to get all the rest you can get."
Dean huffed, slightly annoyed and yet just a bit proud at the persistence Sammy put up in order to spare him.
"OK, while were at it…again…might I ask, where exactly there is? You keep making a big secret out of this, but I would really like to know what to prepare for, you know? Should I get dressed up or something, put on some makeup? Because my pallor still is a bit off and I wouldn't want to stand out at the party…"
Sam gave him a scrutinizing close look then, eyes so intensely trained on Dean that he shifted unconsciously away from his brother, couldn't keep his face quite as straight as he'd intended.
"Eyes on the road, Sammy…" He finally quipped, his own eyes darting between his brother and the windshield.
Sam looked away again, but the smirk that lit up his face was unmistakable.
"Now that you mention it…you do look a bit roughed up. So maybe that party at the playboy mansion would not be going too well for you…"
"Oh ha-ha, Sammy, you are hilarious. And by the way, chicks dig scars, so I'd probably score way higher than you. Not that would be anything unusual…so you need not worry about me, little bro!"
"Yeah, you wish…"
Dean settled back again, tried to find the most comfortable position for his aching body to rest in. It was hard going. There was hardly a place left on his head that wasn't covered in either gauze and stitches or just plain angry bruises, which made resting his head on any surface available darn hard to start with. And as if that wasn't enough, his chest still felt like held in an iron grip by some freaking giant, squeezing with all his might whenever Dean decided that shifting his position would make him more comfortable right now. At least his arm was more or less steady now, the cast plus a sling Sam had insisted on making for him keeping it as still as possible and while the angry throbbing and stabbing still shot through the limb on a steady interval the pain meds took the worst edge off for now. It had to make do for the moment.
Still he thought that he just might feel a tad more comfortable in a warm, soft bed right now, spread out flat so breathing wouldn't bother him all that much, watching some game or a movie, sleeping. He loved his car, he truly did, and most of the time he felt most at home when driving her or at least riding in her, no matter where to, but right now he really just yearned for some chance to lay back, give his body time to heal, stop moving…just for a little while.
Being on the road was the only life he knew, true, but there were these rare times when he wished that, just for a little while, he'd be allowed the luxury of coming home again. A memory so far off and long gone that he hardly remembered the feeling at all. Dropping his jacket and shoes upon coming through the door, slumping down on his sofa, turning on his TV, drinking a beer out of his fridge. Sleeping in his own bed. Maybe having some nice girl lying next to him, one whose name he'd remember in the morning, who he actually knew...maybe even loved…
Once upon a time he wouldn't have traded this life on the road for anything. Lately, he wasn't so sure anymore.
The only thing still holding him together, really, was right here, next to him, driving the Impala. He'd feel at home wherever Sam was. Them being together as brothers, partners, friends. That was all he thought he ever needed, even more so since his dad... Maybe, with his little brother's help, he'd get through this, after all.
They would get through this…
Dean again shifted in his seat, rotating his body towards his brother, taking in a sharp breath when his rips protested the change in posture ferociously.
Sam's eyes shot over to him, the typical worry-crease instantly appearing between his eyebrows, lips pinched in a thin line. Dean could see the question in his brother's eyes as clear as if he'd screamed it at him, a question he was oh so used to answering by now.
"I'm fine, Sam. Really. I just…I'm just tired." He volunteered the only answer he would be willing to give.
The only acceptable answer, as close to the truth as he'd ever get.
He shot Sam a lopsided smile, closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the bench-seat, trying to ease out his breathing. A not at all uncomfortable silence settled between the brothers again and Dean felt himself relax, muscles growing heavy and warm. Yet there was something still nagging him and he didn't think he'd be able to fully relax without getting this out of the way, out of his mind.
Better get it out, then, over and done with. A bit of weight off his chest.
"I'm sorry, Sam…"
Dean kept his eyes closed, his body as heavy as possible. Still he could feel Sam's eyes shift towards him, could feel his brother's gaze burn into him so fiercely it was almost physically noticeable.
"Sammy, the road…"
Dean almost jumped out of his skin, tearing his eyes open and bracing himself on the seat with his good arm when suddenly the Impala skidded to a stop as Sam pulled it over to the shoulder of the road, cranked the gear into park and rotated his body around so he could face his older brother.
"OK, so, let's take a break. But you know, maybe we should have looked for a motel first. Or a diner at least…you look like you could need a nice, strong, black coffee…"
Dean tried to make light of the situation, take some of the pressure off, already regretting that he'd started this. Maybe it wasn't the time, after all. He should have known that Sam would jump at the opportunity for him to spill his heart out.
Still, some things needed to be talked. And he really did feel the need to explain himself. Strange feeling, that. Maybe that still was Isabella talking, still her inside his head, messing him up. It figured…spend some time with a woman and she sure as hell was gonna mess with your head like that, get you all emotional and…mushy. That had to be it.
Sam's voice was soft but imploring. No doubt had he understood perfectly the first time around. Why was it that he always needed to say things over and over again Dean asked himself ruefully. Why couldn't anybody just freaking listen to him the first time around?
"Nothing, Sammy. Just forget I said anything."
"Sam…" Mimicking his little brother's "I'm so freaking annoyed" tone to the spot.
A silent battle of wills ensued, only that this time Sam seemed to win far too easily. Dean finally looked away, wedged his body into the space between door and seat, facing his brother yet still leaving some space to turn away when the need arose.
"It's nothing…really. Just said that I'm sorry, that's all."
"OK, I don't really get it. What is it you're sorry for, Dean?"
"I don't know…just…everything, you know. For acting the way I did, back at the… For taking that bracelet with me. I mean, come on, I should have known, hell, for all I remember, I did know, I just couldn't stop myself from taking it."
Dean flicked a quick glance over at Sam before averting his eyes again, fingers meticulously picking some loose threads at a tear in his jeans.
Sam unconsciously chewed on his bottom lip before answering in his softest, taming-a-wild-animal-voice.
"You know that you can't blame yourself for that, right? I mean come on, she messed with your head, man. Spirits can do that, confuse you and all…look at what she did with all the other guys she's gotten her hands on."
"Yeah, but I should have been stronger. I mean, with what we do, what we know… I knew who she was and still…couldn't fight her off. I knew it was all kinds of wrong, but still…you should have seen her, man. The need and love... She really thought she loved me, you know? I don't understand why I couldn't … I wanted to, I really did, but somehow… Wasn't strong enough, Sammy."
He kept his eyes cast downward on purpose, let his eyes be shadowed by his lashes so Sam wouldn't be able to read him quite as clearly. A tactic he'd learned long ago, one he was able to pull off without much effort anymore. Worked quite well with the ladies, too. That looking at them from underneath the lashes-thing…quite the catch usually. Made them swoon on the spot. Dead on.
Only, Sam didn't swoon. Not even a manly passing out or anything.
Bad enough that his voice gave away so much already, the last thing his little brother needed to see was the self-doubt engraved in his mind, spilling out for the world to see through his eyes.
Jeez, how he hated this weakness…the once part of his body he hadn't learned to have complete control over…that would betray him time and time again.
And as if that wasn't bad enough, there still was this nagging feeling that he had failed her, had failed Isabella, however sick and twisted that was. The way she'd looked at him…had made him feel loved and needed… Had failed Sam, too, hadn't been able to keep this away from him, be strong for him.
"Dean, come on, don't do that to yourself, not again."
Dean drew his brows together at that remark, but Sam wouldn't let him interrupt.
"You can't keep blaming yourself for everything that goes wrong. You fought her, did the best you could. You are only human too, believe it or not. There is only so much you can do, hunter or not. The odds were clearly stacked against you, but still you survived, right? You got out of there in more or less one piece, that's all that counts."
"Yeah, right. Just wasn't entirely my own doing…if you wouldn't have come, I'd still be down there, rotting away…"
An involuntary shiver ran through him before he could suppress it.
"And your point is? I saved your ass, big deal. Not the first time and probably not the last one, either. It's not like you've never saved my butt ever before. That's why we are such an amazing team, you know."
Sammy's attempt at humour was touching and not ineffective, too. Dean raised an eyebrow the way only he could – as a kid Sammy had tried in vain to copy his brother's motion but had failed time and time again.
"Sam and Dean Winchester, the dynamic duo!" Dean huffed happily.
"Yeah…what a blast!"
Sam actually laughed at that, the mood lightening considerably even when their amusement had all but subsided and they were back to sitting in silence. Still not off the hook, though, Dean could feel it.
"You'd be Robin, though, boy wonder and all…you do know that, right?" Dean said seriously.
A raised finger was all the answer he got to that and Dean again smiled happily.
Another minute or two of silence before Sam unconsciously cleared his throat again and Dean knew that he was so not getting off the easy way here.
"Dean, just promise me…don't take this personally, alright? You got out of there. You fought her off, held on until I came. That's more than most people would have accomplished! You are the strongest person I know…the most stubborn too…"
Ah hell, soul-sharing time. Dean feverishly wished that he'd be able to get up and pace, anything to put a little distance between him and his brother, keep his walls in place. He wasn't so sure he'd be able to in the close proximity of the Impala.
"Don't forget dad…"
Dean's voice actually broke at that. Amazing, how after all this time he still couldn't talk about their father without almost choking up.
Sam kept his eyes steadily on him, though, not looking away this time.
"Yeah, Dean. I didn't forget…still meant what I said."
OK, this was turning into something completely different now. Dean couldn't help but stare at Sam wide-eyed before he needed to force himself to look away so Sam wouldn't see…
What could he possibly say to that? Thank you? Well, that didn't even begin to cover it. How could Sam still have this kind of faith in him, after everything? He hadn't really proven to be very trustworthy of late, had he? Hell, he had practically lied to his own brother in order to hold on to some stupid trinket he'd gotten off some freaking ghost chick who had wanted to kill him. And she hadn't even been his freaking type… If that didn't prove how damn weak he really was, he didn't know what else would.
Dean wrecked his brain as to how to get out of this…he could hardly walk away, go take a shower or something, the way he'd usually handle an awkward situation. Cracking a joke somehow didn't seem fit, either. And he didn't really trust his own voice not to betray him when speaking up just now, so he remained quiet for a while longer.
Sam had finally averted his gaze as well, looking at a particularly interesting spot on his right thigh, apparently. The eerie quiet in the car stretched into minutes until finally Dean cleared his throat to draw Sam's attention to him again.
"OK, now that the whole soul-baring has officially reached an awkward level…I probably should tell you thanks…you know, for getting me out and warming me up and everything…"
Sam nodded, a small smile playing across his lips. Dean knew that Sam understood what he really wanted to say, though …knew that it really meant thanks as well for what had been said earlier.
"Ok, well…you're welcome. You know…"
"Yeah Sammy, I know. And thanks for not making a big deal out of it… You'd certainly have some pretty impressive bargaining chips there, from what I remember…" Better not think about what else he might not remember now.
To that, Sam only smiled, raising his eyebrows as if seriously considering it.
Well, Dean had to hand it to the kid, he did show some freaking greatness there. Dean wasn't all too sure if he'd been able to hold back on some opportunity like that himself.
"Now, how about we get back on the road. Go to wherever you want to take us? I really think I could use some sleep in a decent bed soon – you know, without being strangled by some lovely ghostly lady…"
Sam again smiled, held his eyes a bit longer before shifting back around to start the car and pull her back onto the road.
Dean studied his brother's profile from underneath half-closed lids for a while, finding a few more lines of worry and weariness in Sam's otherwise boyish features. Hunting had done that to him, and watching out for his older brother, accepting a destiny still unknown to him, to them. Dean knew all of it, but other than that there was also something else there, some new kind of determination, so much more mature than when they'd taken to the road again together. Definitely a whole different Sam than the one that had left his brother and father to go off to school.
And damn was Dean proud of the man he'd become.
Dean found himself smiling as his heavy eyelids drooped shut repeatedly, still fighting it, though. He didn't want to let go just now, just when he was beginning to relax, to feel better, wanted to savour that feeling a little longer while he could still appreciate it.
"Go to sleep, Dean. I'll wake you once we're there…"
"And you won't tell me…"
"No, I won't. You'll find out soon enough. Get some rest. Let me take care of you for once. I've got everything under control."
"Yeah, I know that…" Dean mumbled before he finally allowed his tired eyes to slip shut.
Yeah, I know. Dean's always falling asleep at the end of my chapters…hope you forgive me for that. It's just an imagery I love…
So, hope this here hasn't been too emo or anything, but I just figured there were still things left to be said…I'm a sucker for chick flick moments…and this here gives me the opportunity ;-)
So, next chapter's definitely going to be the last one now…no more brilliant ideas coming up, rest assured!
Also, thanks for the wonderful reviews and kind words, you guys rock, in honest!
Going to work on the last chapter now…can't believe It'll be over soon… *sniff*
Till then – as always: take care and don't be afraid to leave a review, I won't blame you ;-)