Notes: At the SPNpairingbingo (Live Journal), Balder12 tied for third place and won her choice of a fic. She asked for "Sam/Cas (slash or friendship)". Though, at the time, I'd never written a slash fic (that wasn't canon), this idea came to me right before she requested the pairing, which was fortunate. Now, you can read it as a friendship story, or you can read between the lines and see a ship forming in the distance. Your choice.
Disclaimer: I don't own any rights to Supernatural.
He can't sleep. It's a few degrees cooler than Hell inside the car, and Sam wishes he could take back that second cup of iced coffee he drank when he thought he'd be the one driving. An injured Dean, however, doesn't make for a less stubborn Dean - Sam shoots him an glance and knows that despite the hum at his lips, his jaw is tight, his eyes are too focused on the road, and he's in pain. Jerk.
Sam sighs but doesn't try telling him to pull over. Halfway through rolling his eyes, he glances up at the rearview mirror. It's still odd, seeing someone back there, but the spot is Castiel's now. It belongs to him.
Odder, still, is seeing the ex-angel's head tilted back against the top of the seat, where his battered old raincoat is wadded into a pillow, and his eyes are shut, the hot breeze from the open windows stirring his short, dark hair above his glistening brow. He looks peaceful. The sight makes Sam smile, despite his own aggravation at not being able to fall asleep himself. No one would ever guess that guy, snoozing in the back, almost ended the world.
Sam wonders if anyone would ever guess that he nearly did the same once. He'd almost forgotten that they had that in common.
Castiel stirs, sitting up so straight the lap belt digs into him, and he blinks owlishly at the open window, his blue eyes bright with excitement for a moment. He must feel Sam's stare, because his eyes dart to the rear-view mirror and his lips twitch right before his near constant frown deepens.
"I dreamt I was flying," he says.
The wind catches the words and tosses them outside and Dean is probably too distracted by his own burning wound to catch them, but Sam still hears.
Shit. Sam frowns back, resists the urge to tell the man he's sorry. Instead, he thinks, you'll fly again, Cas. Even though he has no clue how to make that true.
Sam wonders if maybe, despite the lack of his Grace, Cas can't read minds on occasion. Like now, when his eyes soften with comfort and he nods slightly, leaning into the seat to fall back asleep.
Heat ripples off the old Impala, and when they park her in front of the motel and pull themselves out of the mirage of home, the sun covers them with a fresh blanket. Sam thinks there should be some relief, out in the open instead of cooped up in a metal shell with two other full grown men, but instead life sends him out of the frying pot and into the fire, once more. Less literally this time, thankfully.
He sucks in a breath, and its so hot and damp it tastes like it came straight from someone's mouth and into his. Without a word, he takes off toward the front office, getting a room and hoping the pair standing at the trunk doesn't lay into one another before he gets back.
The moment of blessed relief is too short lived, and he returns with an old-school key in hand to see Dean's backside as he totes the cooler toward the ice machine at an aggressive pace. Castiel still stands where he was left, at the bumper, sun glaring down on him and three duffel bags, one a bit newer than the others, at his feet.
Sam slips up to the ex-angel, picking up his own baggage and watching the corner of the motel, where his brother disappears between vending machines.
"He's bleeding again."
The statement startles him, and he shoots Cas a look. Despite the heat index, Sam still finds it strange to see the man without his battered tan rain coat or suit jacket, the sleeves of his button-up shirt rolled up to his elbows. He has other clothes, too, newer and more normal ones. They became a necessity, after…
Sam lets that thought drop, determined not to go there today, but that doesn't mean the fight that was brewing in the car fades with it.
It's been difficult, since they've started traveling together. It's not that Cas is a third wheel; Cas is a whole different bicycle. And since none of them, over the weeks, have felt up to sharing their feelings about Heaven's new closed-door policy, the tension is thick.
The oven they're currently standing in only makes things worse, Sam knows. He also knows his brother. Very well. Well enough to see that a few scratches thanks to a ghost, plus a fresh sunburn on his freckled cheeks, is going to leave Dean a pain in the ass to deal with tonight.
"And you made the mistake of pointing it out to him?" Sam asks, smiling. "Let me guess, you also told him he shouldn't be carrying anything while he's injured, which is why he's currently shoveling ten pounds of ice onto the beer?"
Cas stares up at him, head cocked slightly in that way that always reminds Sam of a cat observing the irrelevancy of the human race. "He's…angry with me," Cas answers.
"No, he's not." Sam's surprised, because that feels like the truth. Dean might be aggravated with life-the-universe-and-everything, but he isn't mad anymore, even if he pretends to be. Neither is Sam, even if he thinks he maybe should be. That maybe it shouldn't be so easy to step over the baggage between them. But it is. "He's having a crap day. He'll get over it."
"Thank you, Sam," Cas replies.
Sam doesn't question it. Cas thanking him is right there with Cas saying sorry; it's a salutation, a morning and evening occurrence.
Dean is having a crap day. And he will get over it. But not tonight. This conclusion comes to Sam when he gets out of the shower to see Dean putting the toe of his boot through the AC's plastic grid panel. It shatters, dry-rotted with age, but the air conditioning continues to make the same low buzz and put out hot air.
Sam runs a hand over his head, brushing his damp hair back, and steps over. There's the light scent of electricity and smoke coming from the unit, so he switches it off. He's worked on enough of them to know when one is gone for good. This one should probably be salted and burned.
"Done now?" Sam asks, and tries not to grin at the almost comically pout on Dean's ruddy, sunburned face. He's pretty damn certain Dean doesn't realize he's wearing that expression, which goes to show just how exhausted the eldest Winchester is.
"Yeah," Dean huffs.
Sam sees the jerk of his brother's head, knows there are more complains stuck in his throat, but apparently, Dean's too give-out to bother pitching a fit. Sam understands. The AC is shot. The room is too small for its two singles and fold-out sofa. Oh, and the fold-out sofa doesn't fold-out. Instead, one cushioned corner sticks up at an angle.
Dean eases down onto the edge of the bed, ripping into a cold burger they'd picked up on their way in, and Sam gets to work patching him up. Something feels like it's missing, and he realizes it's a pair of blue eyes watching him with intense curiosity. For someone who's spilled so much blood and lost so much of his own, Castiel now is extremely aware of every injury that occurs between the three of them. Apparently human wounds aren't as interesting unless you understand human pain. Which he does, now, and Sam is itching to one day ask him how pain feels different to an angel.
Dean shrugs his good shoulder and gives a long blink, communicating with a glance that he's tired as hell and in no mood for questions. "Went to ask for more towels." He grunts and tosses the rest of the sandwich onto the tiny side table. "And to see about a new room."
"There aren't any other rooms open. We got the last."
"Yeah, well, he insisted."
Cas comes back with a stack of towels, a borrowed box fan, and a fresh blush at his cheeks, which serves as a reminder for Sam, who met the leering elderly woman running the front desk. Dean's already laying down by then, TV at a low hum across from him, and he doesn't say no when his friend sets up the fan closest to his bed. Dean does seem to realize something is off about then, though, and his brow wrinkles when he takes another sleepy look at Sam's clean jeans and t-shirt.
"You goin' somewhere?"
Sam gives Cas a sideways glance, makes a final decision, and grabs Dean's keys off the table. "Cas and I are gonna go waste a couple hours while you get some decent rest."
He doesn't say it's because Dean's in a mood that would sour milk, but they all know it's true. It's a testament to how crappy he feels that Dean doesn't argue or request pie before Sam can push Cas out the motel's door. He'd put money on his brother snoring instead of bitching two minutes from now.
For a moment, Sam expects Cas to insist they not leave Dean alone, but the man's brow is wrinkled in thought. "How will we be wasting our hours?"
Sam nods for Cas to take the passenger's seat in the Impala and the other man does, patiently awaiting an answer as he buckles up. It'll be getting dark out soon, but the sky is still coral and lavender and blue, with plenty of light to see by. It would be easy just to drive in circles or visit a bar, but Sam has a plan.
They passed the old painted sign for the park not long after "I dreamt I was flying," and Sam remembered a scene from a lifetime ago: the old tracks clicking against the metal wheels of the cars as they slow down, and him, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jess, a heavy rail on their laps popping as it released, her warm breath against his neck as she leans in and tells him she feels like she has wings.
Sam figures it should feel the same for everyone, even fallen angels.
Funland Amusement Park is old and dying. It's rust on chipped paint, bored seasonal workers, the rank scent of sour soda and tobacco beneath the whiff of greasy carnival food. The only semblance of life is in the repetitive, overly charming music playing from the scratchy speakers above and in the sounds of the rides, the click of wood on metal, whoosh of air as speed gathers, whistle of brakes as they stop. And there aren't many visitors at this time of day, just the occasional group of teenagers who laugh like hyenas, the random family enjoying a sticky-hot evening - Sam isn't sure where they fit in here, but no one so much as gives him a second glance when he asks for two adult tickets an hour before the park closes.
Near the front gate is a garden of half-sized dinosaurs, once animatronics, now scrap metal. A T-Rex with his foam insides and metal skeleton showing gives Sam the stink-eye, tiny claws holding up an "Area Closed" sign, and Sam begins to think he was wrong to come here. When he looks over his shoulder, Cas looks like his usual unenthusiastic self, standing too-straight, a small frown on his face, awkward as ever. But Sam can see it: Cas' eyes are bright as they sweep over the rides ahead.
Sam smiles, shaking his head, and tells him to come on, before the park closes. He doesn't ask if Cas has ever been on a thrill ride (or what passes as a thrill ride here), because he knows the answer. Cas has lived a thrill ride. He's traveled between Heaven and Hell, he's been blown to pieces and fallen from buildings. Yet, he's excited about something as mundane as visiting a park, and Sam can tell because he feels the same. They're birds of a feather, when it comes to this. It doesn't make sense and doesn't have to. Sam is just glad his instinct was right.
A pudgy kid with acne locks their lap bar into place, gives the rest of the roller coaster's cars a look, and sighs when he realizes they're going to stay empty. When he steps away to pull the start lever, the cars jerk against the track.
"Here we go, folks," the boy announces dully, as if he's reading from a script.
Cas looks as if he's patiently waiting on a bus, and a burst of laughter crawls its way up out of Sam's throat before their cart even exits the loading area. Cas jumps slightly, startled by the sound, and gives him a questioning glance.
"Sorry, man, it's just… this is supposed to be fun." Sam huffs at the mere thought, smirking when Cas doesn't respond. "Just try shutting your eyes, Cas. I think you'll like it better."
Cas faces forward before they make it to the first incline, and he does as he's told. Sam holds down the uneasiness in his stomach at the sudden change in direction, that is to say 'up' and…
Sam laughs again, this time out of relief. He's not staring ahead when they roll up the next hill but at Castiel, whose eyes are still closed, who's smiling serenely. Who looks happy. Like he did when he was dreaming.
When they get off the ride, Sam feels like he's floating and Cas is standing close, his frown gone. "I would like to try cotton candy," he announces.
It's the most carefree request he's made, ever, and Sam feels a weight lift off of him. "Then you're getting cotton candy," Sam replies.
It hits him on the Ferris wheel, which he doesn't remember ever wanting to actually ride. It hits him when they're stopped high above the park, looking out at the lights off a small town a few miles away. It hits him when he realizes that they're pressed together, the backs of their hands held flush, without it feeling all that weird. It hits him when he sees that the frown hasn't quite returned to Cas' face, even though it'll surely be back by tomorrow.
It hits him that he's…Sam shakes it off. Reboots his thoughts:
It hits him that Dean's going to give him hell tomorrow morning when he hears about their night. The plus side is that Dean'll be in a much better mood when he's laughing and accusing his brother of basically taking Cas on a date. Which, Jesus - he wipes a hand down his face, holding back a self-deprecating grin - to any normal person this might look like a date, so it's fortunate Cas doesn't process like a normal person. And neither do I, apparently, Sam thinks.
"Sam," Cas says, drawing his attention. The man's blue eyes are sparkling, even if he still looks as if he could be waiting on a bus. "Thank you."
His evening salutation.
"You're welcome, Cas."