Dean watches the display on the gas pump tick upward, a steady climb toward $70, and then $80, and wonders when the fuck gas got so expensive. It almost makes him want to eat the bagel Sam hands him--complete with cream cheese and lox--because otherwise that's another $5 wasted. But he is worlds away from hungry. He's full-up on enough pep and whale and Mark of Cain to last a lifetime, or whatever's left of it.
Sam wanders and paces like a sleepwalker. He he hasn't looked up from his phone; he's been pawing through the Internet since the moment they hit town, if that's what Nebraska's allowed to call a gas station, a strip mall, and two trailers.
"I think we know more about wendigo than these guys know about killer whales," Sam mutters.
"Well, Sam, it is the Internet. The Internet's always full of crap."
"What, with the ark?" Dean hands Sam a hundred dollar bill, and Sam takes it without breaking his digital concentration.
"Sure, Dean. With the ark."
Dean watches Sam weave through the pumps and other cars toward the mini mart, head still bowed over his touchscreen, until he disappears inside. Dean should probably be on research detail, too--hell, he's had three hours of Nebraska to stare at, riding shotgun and failing to sleep.
He tells himself he wouldn't have slept, with or without the drugs. And it's not like they're a new thing, and undeniably Dean's more useful this way. As lies go, it's not that bad if it's only doing good. But then he tells himself what Sam says he's telling himself, and he hates what he keeps fucking doing.
Unlike Sam's phone, Dean's is uninteresting. Still no word from Cas.
Dean shoots off yet another text. If Cas died, Dean thinks, they'd have no way of knowing; these days angels are tatted up the wazoo, so summoning's behind the times. They'd seriously have to wait for someone to come and gloat at them.
If Dean dies, it'd probably take even longer to get the message around. For a name with so much supernatural street cred, it's not exactly parade material when a Winchester smokes out; longevity's their only selling point. There hadn't been anyone in the damn world who'd cared when Sam was dying, after all. Just Dean. Even the grief counselor hadn't cared about Sam--just Dean (at least, before she'd tried to off him, too).
But for Sam, it'd just been him. That guy who missed the memo.
Ignored the memo, Dean amends. The brother who ignored the memo, who's now that guy, playing it through to the end.
Dean's inbox is still empty.
"Good," says Crowley, peering around his shoulder. "He's still an angel, you know. You can't know what kind of hold Metatron has over him. When you step into a legend this old, even I have trouble telling the difference between Heaven and Hell."
"Was there ever one?"
"Dean, I'm touched."
"It's not a compliment. You're all sons of bitches."
"Why? Because Gadreel got one over on you? Where's your sense of sportsmanship?"
Dean chuffs. Sportsmanship? yeah right. The system's rigged.
"You should have known better; surely this is all rather Pavlovian by now. What were you doing? What did you think would happen?"
Dean lets the accusations settle and evaporate. He doesn't need to get this from the outside too: It's already messy; making it noisy doesn't help.
In the meantime, Crowley scoops Dean's bagel off the roof of the Impala, napkin translucent with grease from (--actually, Dean's not sure what part of that bagel should be greasy. None of it?)
"Get your hands off my bagel, Crowley."
Crowley takes a churlish mouthful.
"I'm a tradesman, not a charity. I've a treat for you, too, remember?" He gestures toward Sam's cooler in the back seat, but Dean doesn't bother following the motion.
Instead, Dean peeks at his phone again--nothing--and watches for Sam--nope--and finally, turns back up to the sale price on the gas pump.
"For this kind of gas mileage you may as well have invested in a decent Bentley, you know," says Crowley. "Though clearly you've a fetish for high prices and low payouts." And he gestures more expansively toward the cooler.
Sam's still tied up in the mini mart. Dean waits for the door to swing open, for that familiar two-tone step down--faint and benthic, almost silent under the growl of engines and the slamming of other people's car doors--but it doesn't come on cue.
Crowley follows Dean's line of sight and train of thought. "What, are you waiting to be spoon-fed? And because we're besties, you should know that I'm getting very mixed signals from you. Are you using Sam, or trying to spare him?"
"Crowley, if I wanted narration, I'd be narrating."
But Dean dips into the backseat, hacks off about three hundred miles worth of whale, and chews well. After a couple minutes Sam resurfaces out of the mini mart, and by that time the ordeal is just a chill in his gums when he sucks in wintery Nebraska air, a fluttering in his arms and in his chest.
Sam watches his back as he crosses the gas station, quickly appraising their fellow travelers, the makes of the cars, and finally Crowley, Dean's bagel, the cooler, and Dean. He seems satisfied by Dean's appetite (Crowley had made short work of half the bagel), his calm--his sanity, humanity, whatever else Sam thinks he's got a rubric for.
But there's something else, too; he's not just being his nosy, restive self, Dean realizes. Sam's pulse is up, and his shoulders rising with each of his quick, deep breaths.
"Guy at the register was a demon," Sam pants, matter-of-factly. It's a strained sort of calm; Dean catches the past tense. "And I think we're being followed."
Then Sam turns to Crowley. "Fuck you for that."
Crowley rolls his eyes. "Fullest full disclosure: Abaddon might be onto us."
Sam swears. "Why didn't you say anything earlier?"
"Do you not walk out the door automatically assuming Abaddon might want to kill you?"
"She's onto you, Crowley. Not us," Sam snaps. "We're warded. And by the way, I looked up your Kwa-- your Kwa'ka--" Sam pauses again. "I looked up your myth. If the story checks out, it means we're headed all the way up to the border."
"Over the border," Crowley corrects, fountain of belated information that he is. "You've thrown in your chips, and Abaddon's onto all parties interested in offing the broad. Ergo, to Canada we flee."
"Why the fuck didn't you--"
"Why the border-hopping? She scared of Canadians?" Dean scoffs.
"I own Canada. Your friend Dick Roman and I had a deal. And though he's since joined the masses of Winchester-related dearly departeds, Canada's still mine. We wouldn't be the first hunted party to bury our heads in the territories."
Sam doesn't take well to any of this new information, and Dean can tell he's doing the math again: Wyoming plus Montana plus Idaho plus Washington plus Canada plus Abaddon minus a cooler of whale, a full tank of gas, and Team Not This Again. That strained calm of his tangles visibly.
Sam punches something into his phone with unnecessary force. "Fuck it. Are we done here? Are we going?"
"Are you?" Dean asks, gesturing towards Sam's phone. He can't make out the text, but there's a pictogram of something with fins on the screen.
Sam digs into his pocket and flips Dean the keys. "Here, congratulations," he says, and haphazardly rounds around to the other side of the Impala.
Dean lights up. That's all he needs right now--any more and it's overkill. He just needs to drive, make some kind of measurable progress.
They dump themselves into the car, and Dean keys up the engine. "Where to?" he asks.
"Wait. How much does Abaddon know, Crowley?" Sam interrupts, still looking at his phone. "Does she know about the spell?"
Crowley smugly adjusts his suit as he comports himself in the backseat. "Regarding the spell, she hasn't the faintest. You don't find that kind of thing on Search the Web," Crowley explains, pointedly eyeing Sam's phone. "It's a Crowley original. But Abaddon knows you, and she knows you're on the move. And that's all that matters. Right, Dean?"
Okay, so he walked right into that one. But Dean doesn't waver. They're on the fucking clock.
"Where to?" he repeats.
This side of the continental divide's not exactly whale country, but it's beginning to feel like it is. The clouds gather like limpet mines, and the mountains fade into them in facets of dark and white until the evergreens just look like columns of heavy kelp suspended in blue white water. There's snow on the ground, tarmac dark where the road salt's melted it away, but between that and the low fog they could be driving through ocean as far as Dean's concerned. The thin streams of icy air that seep through the window seals become currents and the twist of faulty purchase on the ice feels like tide.
Dean's mouth tastes fishy and his gums tingle. It feels less allergic than the first dose, but that's not necessarily a comfort.
He just needs to drive. Eat miles and run. To "Victoria," wherever that's supposed to be--a whole lot north and a whole lot west.
In the meantime, Sam fills their silence with an encyclopedic recitation of everything Noah and his World Wide Web have to offer on killer whales--or orcas, as Sam says. Orcas which aren't whales so much as dolphins. When he's burned through all the juice in his phone, he commandeers Dean's, and continues to explain the care and feeding of dolphins. Orcas. Whatever. They're toothed whales, and there's actually a lot of different myths about them out west.
Dean's still stuck on dolphins. He's liking the sound of all of this less and less.
"Do you find echolocation intuitive?" Crowley pipes up from the back seat, as though Dean's silence were an invitation to join in.
"Do I what?"
"Not part of the John Winchester survival standards, I take it. What about whalesong, then?"
"Do I look like Yanni to you?"
"Enya, at best. Don't flatter yourself."
"No, shut up, this is good," Sam interjects. "Get this--even though killer whales do have recognizable calls, they're not that talkative. And if they're hunting, they're basically silent. So I mean, you don't have to fake a language, right? That's good." Sam says.
It's good if you're actually interested in being a whale, which Dean isn't; he's gonna be a fake whale just long enough to take delivery on a real blade. He's not planning to socialize.
"You're not dropping me off at finishing school, Sam. Lay off."
But Sam ignores him. "And here's a list of stuff that's edible to killer whales. Apparently your diet differs depending on what kind you are, and where you are, so don't eat any weird shit. We're headed for the northern Pacific, so--"
"Sam, shut up."
Dean slams on the brakes at an unexpected knot of traffic up ahead. Some kind of rockfall, probably. They finally get clear of the plains and this is what happens--dumbasses who don't know how to drive. And it's a little late for not eating any weird shit.
"I guess you'd be a transient killer whale... those ones move around in smaller groups. The resident kind don't migrate often, they're the ones with the big pods. But you'll--"
"Sam, I'm not planning to go for authenticity, here. I just want to get in, get out--"
"--you'll be alone."
"Sam." Dean bites his tongue testily. "What part of all this is supposed to be helpful?"
Sam stiffens. His tone is cool and hard and business. "Forget I said anything, then."
"Okay," Dean answers automatically and immediately. It hurts, but filling that space with white noise makes whatever's left between him and Sam feel numb and dull. Luckily Dean's been developing a taste for both of these. He pulls the Impala out of a skid, but the sudden tension inside the car doesn't dissipate.
It's not okay. Nothing is okay about any of this.
When they bump up against the traffic again--travelers rubbernecked at a single-car collision with a guardrail; not much to see, though Dean notes the car's not coming back from that one--Dean asks to see his phone. He shoots off another quick text to Cas, and glances at the webpage Sam's been reading.
It's more about killer whales than Dean ever wanted to know. Blah blah seals, blah blah social pods, blah blah communication blah blah lots of teeth. But mostly: You'll be alone.
He'll be alone.
Crowley must have this phone out, too, because he bulldozes ever onward from the backseat, a scratchy drone Dean does his best to ignore. "Spy hopping... fluke smacks... Have you developed your lower back muscles?"
Fuck this traffic.
Dean dips them off the highway and onto a service road. It's a winding single lane, designated only by an SR and a number, but it's well-maintained. It crawls up into the forest in a direction he thinks he might remember. Somewhere around here, either over these mountains or several tens of miles backward, there's a gate to Hell. This is not the first time they've crossed Wyoming under duress, and this part of the state will never stop being familiar.
Because yeah, he does kind of remember this road. It had been spring then, spring in full. They're a little earlier this time, Dean figures; but it's above freezing, the ice isn't too bad, and no one's died yet. Those are all plusses.
Dean picks up the pace. Slowly at first, then more insistently. Finish lines, he thinks. He doesn't think about the ocean, or whales, or myths; it's all interchangeable to him. Just finish lines.
At the back of his neck, he can feel something waver, cold and dark. His stomach wanders inside him and he gets that feeling again, where he wants to drink his marrow; to relieve pressure; to wash out poison.
He thinks about finish lines.
And Crowley keeps talking. "You are going to be the mutest, dumbest whale in the history of--"
Finally, Sam drowns him out with the radio. The volume's set to max from god knows when, whenever they last bothered with it. It's halfway through an old mixtape that's seen better days. It's playing the B side, or what's left of it. It all sounds like plaintive gurgling underwater. It's a rock band singing about being a rock band--though for once it's not Boston. Dean recognizes the song, and should know who it is--it's his fucking tape, and it's not like they've been switched out in the last twenty years--but he doesn't. He can't remember.
Dean turns the radio off.
There's only room and time for so much shit.
For the first time since Nebraska, there's silence. There's the whistling of air through the window seals, the roar of the pavement beneath them, small stones tinkling against the undercarriage and drops of snow and wet that fall from the trees when the wind disturbs them. Dean feels the vibrations of the Impala up his spine and in his jaw and in the cold, dark thing in his head. None of which is silence at all, he supposes. Then there's a clear bright sound, like the peal of a tiny bell stretched long and even and perfect, and Dean drives faster.
Sam asks him a question, but the vowels of it sink into irrelevance almost immediately. It's about the radio, he assumes. Or possibly the speed limit. Or road hazards. Dean mumbles something about needing to focus.
"On what?" Sam asks.
Dean kicks up the speed.
Whatever Sam reads into that, he punches the radio back on and aggressively twists the tuner until the car fills with something loud and rambunctious and heartbreakingly self-assured.
Under the music, Dean hears the peal of that small bell--like someone humming, or mumbling their way through lyrics they don't quite know (though he steals a glance, and Sam is tight-lipped, restive, his attention elsewhere). Moderate reverb, echoing out from so goddamn far away. There's only room and time for so much shit, and Dean can feel this whole whale thing staking its claim.
His head's been a demolition zone since time immemorial, but he can feel that leaking elsewhere too, now. Like things are falling apart but into place. They are instruments tuning against one another, and following themselves into a wrong key. Because it is a wrong key, and not just a different one; Dean harbors no delusions about that. But if that's what gets the job done, then his chords can wheeze and his ears are welcome to bleed all they want. He is not at liberty to care. He feels his insides sliding into new alignment, discordant remixes, and he keeps his eyes on the road. It streams out before them tight and black and serpentine.
Dean swoops around the corner and the back end goes out again, but he keeps his foot on the gas and they slide through it. They're at T minus he's not even sure, but they've got a border to hop and an ocean to dredge, and they're gonna make it.
They just need to jump.
Dean brakes before the next turn, clips the apex and rushes the minor straightaway before the road's meander takes them into the next swerve.
Better. Now, faster.
Sam makes an inarticulate noise beside him, but there's no follow-through. It's probably nothing Dean doesn't already know, anyway. The weather's nothing much, but their traction's not great; they're sliding more than they should be and the Impala could probably use some new tires. It figures that they finally locate the first garage they've ever fucking had, only to run out of time for it.
But maybe it hadn't been time. Because Dean's spent plenty of that in the garage, doing not a whole lot. It seemed ridiculous, to have the freedom and pleasure to mess with the car, keep her purring, give her all she needed when clearly he'd done such a bang-up job on that with Sam. With Kevin. If he's got the option to make up for even part of that now, he's not gonna say no.
And hey, the Impala's engine's almost new. He'd had to build her almost from the ground up after Cas got done playing God, and it's not like Sam was having her rode hard and put away wet when he was in Texas or wherever it was that wasn't Purgatory. She's got plenty of play she hasn't even begun to tap. She's been waiting all this time to make things right.
Dean's light on the brakes and early; he wrenches the car into the turn and their rear wheels slide through it. It's a little slow mid-corner but he gets her back to power quick and they exit nearly at pace.
"Dean--" says Sam.
The next one's not as neat. But Dean steers into the skid and corrects back onto their sharp black road, their one black road, and he thinks about finish lines. T minus plenty of time--if he's gonna fucking do this, he's gonna fucking do this.
"Dean!" Sam's voice is thinner this time, and dry. Dean doesn't take his eyes off the road. "You nearly sailed us into a tree, dude--"
They're out of the worst of it; several knobby hills as they gain in elevation and a set of lazier arching curves that tantalize, every time Dean catches sight of them at the crests. Another hundred miles and they're in Montana, with room to spare. Play it right and it's straightaway all the way out to the coast. And they are absolutely fucking fine.
They're more than fine. If there's something Dean loves, in only the best, uncomplicated ways, it's these roads. It's this engine. It's his hands on this wheel and his boots flooring the gas and the whistle of air through their shitty, stupid windows--which isn't anything like a bell, or an ache, or a gut-swirling heart-clenching madness. He'll deal with the end when they get to the end; because why preempt consequence.
Once it hits you, it's not like it's ever going to let you go.
They hit the first arc with all the added momentum of the slope, and the Impala leans heavy on her wheel arches as her two tons swing across her suspension.
"Dean, the car--" Sam all but yelps. It's brittle the first time and overharsh the second; he's forced to yell it over the stereo, which has taken a sudden turn towards rock's more metal years.
"The car's fine."
One more clean-ass turn, and they've practically got it in the bag. Under his breath, Dean whispers, C'mon, baby.
Flying J, Montana. Overpriced again. Too static to be comfortable.
If they're not doing a hundred westward, they're not going nearly fast enough.
Dean backs up against the trunk of the car and eases himself to sitting, hands braced on his knees. He just wants to go.
"Care for a dramamine?" Crowley asks, though he hasn't bothered with the mini mart, and he proffers no bottle or blister pack. Dean glares at him.
"I'm just saying; I've had gentler exorcisms. You seem agitated."
Dean doesn't dignify that with a response. They're still not making fast enough time. That ice and traffic out the starting gate seriously fucked them over; it's hour 14 but only mile six hundred something, and they hadn't made up as much on that service road as Dean had hoped.
As Dean needs.
He can feel his exhaustion settling in again; more aggressively after Kevin's Little Helpers, and that makes Dean regret keeping even a third of a promise to Sam. The few in his pocket aren't enough, unless he's planning to crash out in the middle of their boss fight. And his headache's back, compounded like there's shit rolling around inside him that shouldn't be there. Not that that isn't true of a normal day--but now it's making its presence known, demanding to be lobotomized or sworn in and welcomed, and Dean knows he can't do either of those. A third of a promise is infinitely worse than keeping none at all. Yet here he is.
Bare minimum, he thinks. What does he need to get them through the next ten hours.
Well, eyeballs are a must and the idea of reflexes is nice. He's willing to pass on the rest. They just need to go; they need to go now. Oh, and a heartbeat--a heartbeat is good to have, too, but if anything Dean's feels a little too loud and a lot too anxious.
They just need to keep rolling. Drive hard, drive fast. Topple in a productive direction.
"Dean, you don't--"
Dean looks up. Sam is ambling toward him with a giant wooden hot dog in his hand.
When Sam's near enough, Dean pokes it. His hand feels heavy. "You taking a souvenir?"
"You don't look so good," Sam finishes. He pulls the hot dog away, and it jangles. Bathroom keys. Then he grabs Dean's arm. "Come on; let's get something in you."
"Everyone's tryin' to give me drugs," Dean mumbles, as Sam drags him back toward the mini mart.
"What the hell are you talking about? No one's-- Whatever."
Sam parks them in front of a small refrigerator filled with limp, pre-packaged sandwiches. Small orange stickers advertise that they're 50% off after 10pm.
"Pick one," Sam orders.
Dean glares at him defiantly and scoops up an armful, presses them into Sam's chest. "Why skimp out? Let's have a picnic. Hell, three's company."
Sam, equally defiant, marches the entire stock of sandwiches to the counter, and has the cashier ring up two coffees as well. As their cashier--whose name, naturally, is Noah--bumbles his way through a series of pings and beeps, Sam asks, without looking back at Dean, "Any word from Cas? Or is four a crowd."
Noah's got nothing on Castiel's mad barista cum money-changer skills, Dean decides. But Noah's got his perks; his name tag warmly proclaims his perfect attendance here in Ass-end, Montana. And if Dean's experience is anything to go by, simple attendance is way underrated. Because while he's sure Heaven and the angelic race or whatever the hell they call themselves are probably in more trouble than two dudes dragging the King of Hell on a Canadian vacation, nothing quells the feeling that Cas is hanging them out to fucking dry.
"Nothing on my end," he says.
Then Sam shoves a sandwich and a coffee at him and the sheer inadequacy of this, the inadequacy of goddamn everything, comes up in a wave. Because it's not Cas, or Sam, is it. Not really. Dean told Cas to go and he knew--he knew from the moment he let that angel jam itself in Sam's body--that Sam was going to leave him. Dean hasn't decided yet whether Sam sticking around on the business end is a punishment or courtesy, but it's probably better than he deserves. But then, Sam did say he was selfish.
So let him be selfish.
He just wants his goddamn brother.
They have ten hours. Ten hours probably lands them closer to the dry part of Washington than to the ocean, but he told Sam they were gonna make it, and they're gonna make it. They have ten hours, and Dean just wants his brother.
He downs his coffee. It's too hot to taste like anything. "When the situation was reversed," Dean croaks, throat raw and burning. "You did stop me. The Apocalypse came knocking and you made sure I didn't answer. You're the reason I didn't answer."
And then you jumped.
"That's not the reverse."
"I wanted to end it. You disagreed."
"It's so much more complicated than that."
Dean crushes the coffee cup in his fist and pitches at the trash can outside the Flying J. Now's not the time nor place for this shit. Noah's starting to eyeball them suspiciously from inside, but fuck all if Dean wants to take this to the car, with King Smarmy in the backseat.
"Everything's complicated, Sam."
"You weren't dying. You were fine, Dean--"
And suddenly the car doesn't seem like such a bad idea. "That was 'fine' to you?"
"You said it was. You said it was fine, Dean. How am I supposed to do anything if that's all you ever give me?" This last, Sam shouts, because Dean's halfway across the gas station, and beelining it for the car.
Because if I'm anything else, the world falls the fuck apart, Dean wants to shout back, and doesn't. The world falls apart, and Sam's domino number fucking one.
Dean can't put that on him again. It's not fair.
When Dean hits the car and hastily swallows down his magic whale meat, it almost tastes fucking good. There's no numbness, though it still burns--at once hot and icy. It goes down smoother than the coffee, settles in his stomach and makes everything feel calm and distant. His blood pounds in his ears, minus the thready syncopation from earlier, and he does feel fine. Fine, awake, on deck.
But he's supposed to like these things. They're called freedom.
His hands are still shaking. Their store of whale is much diminished, and it's too easy to see how fast they're coming up on endgame. How far they are from the sea. Maybe he should pare back. But one more bite, and Dean imagines he could feel pretty fucking good. Fuck, everything's moving too fast. Nothing's moving fast enough. Maybe just one of the pills, instead. Maybe--
Sam interrupts him. "Everything's complicated. Fine. But Dean, do you know the difference between a suicide and a DNR?"
"I want to be saved," Dean muffles into the backseat of the car, and closes the cooler. He doesn't look up.
"It means I wanted to be saved," Dean says, clearer.
"Dean, that's not what you said."
Dean sighs, and takes a deep breath. They got a long night ahead of them.
"You can put it in whatever tense you want."
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