"What time is it?" Dean rasps. Some of the syllables catch in his throat, still sticky with sleep. He sucks in breath as his knee reminds him not to move.
"Tennish," Sam says, "PM, that is." Sam's attentions flick down to his coffee, half-empty, and he wonders if he should offer Dean any. Sam hadn't actually expected him to be awake.
"And you say I don't know what that word means," Dean grumbles, as he attempts to extract himself from the bedsheets.
"What do you want me to say?"
Dean waggles an arm, still mummified by sheets. Then he lets himself crumple again, dead limp.
"Uh, Dean?" Sam probes, because this he hadn't expected. Dean is suddenly very still, and it's startling how much Sam feels that. For a split second, it's like finding him in that basement all over again. Or the river.
Then the bed becomes a flashbomb, a surge of white as its contents explode upward and outward, and Dean issues from it at pace. Limping only a little, he grabs the duffel from under the ironing board and marches toward the bathroom. If he'd grabbed a gun, Sam might have assumed Dean was planning to blow someone away, there's so much force to his chain of movement.
"I need a shower," Dean explains. Sort of.
But when Sam moves to join him in the bathroom, Dean says, "Dude, that wasn't an invitation. We can't do beds and bathrooms."
"But what if your knee--"
"Then leave me on the floor," Dean replies as he slams the door shut. He sounds half-serious.
Sam dumps the rest of his coffee in the trash and shoves John's journal to the bottom of the duffel again. Twelve hours of research, and Sam doesn't feel like he has anything worth acting on. Maybe he and Dean will be able to salvage it together, but that's going to have to wait.
He tries not to listen as Dean pukes his guts out again, on the other side of the bathroom door, and kneads his forehead. Even if Dean's been sleeping, Sam hasn't. His head aches and his eyes burn and he's so tired he feels like puking, too.
Dean makes it through the next twenty minutes without slipping to his death or otherwise raising the cavalry, at least. When he re-emerges, he says, casually apologetic, "Ran out of hot water. You didn't need any, did you?"
He's scrubbed pink and dribble from his hair is quickly blotching the back of his shirt--the same one he's been wearing since their bax'aan adventure.
"This is the only shirt I own right now! The ER cut my other one. What's wrong with my shirt?"
"Like four feet of storm runoff and bax'aan blood, for starters. Just use one of mine, jesus."
Sam jumps to the duffel and tosses the first shirt he finds in Dean's face. Dean sniffs it, then hobbles to the side of the nearest bed. Sam takes a seat at its foot. It's the possum bed, and Sam can see the one-too-many possum joke on Dean's lips.
Dean leaves it. Instead, he says, "Freshly washed and everything. That's peak generosity, Sammy."
"Aren't you cold?" Sam asks. Dean pulls off his old shirt and throws it into the duffel, but then Sam feels the bed bounce as Dean flops backwards onto it.
"Too much California will do that to you," Dean admonishes, but he sounds out of breath. Overambitious shower, apparently.
Sam could turn around, point out Dean's inevitable gooseflesh, but when that reaper saved Dean's heart, it didn't touch the electrocution burns. The burns are superficial and by this point mostly just discoloration, but that almost makes it worse. Dean was a dead man walking and according to the scars, it wasn't even that big a deal. Sam doesn't want the reminder.
"Put a shirt on, will you?" Sam says, and hopes he keeps the pathetic out of his voice.
"Don't like what you see?" Dean answers coyly. Then Sam feels him roll onto his stomach and crawl over the bed toward the nightstand, muttering profanities all the way.
Sam's not sure what part of that plan seemed like a good idea, but when he does finally turn around, Dean's backed up against the headboard, still half-undressed. He flips open a small tac knife and starts sawing at a pill against his open palm.
Add that to the list of things Sam thinks Dean is just a little too good at.
But Sam can imagine all this having been their ideal morning scenario, had it aired before 10PM. Dean seems fine now. Tired but unruffled. Completely separated from the night before. And if that's the kind of magic eighteen hours will do, maybe Sam should give it a shot.
Again, though, it's hard to trust. Being with Dean feels like standing on a knife edge and knowing at any unexpected moment, Dean will let it slide right through him. Cut him to ribbons.
Sam's phone chimes.
Dean quirks an eyebrow. "You made a friend already? What did I miss, Rime's Speed Date Night?"
"It's just someone from school."
Dean seems to accept this. He swallows half the pill and places the other half, like a shotgun pellet, on the nightstand. Then he admits, "My god, it's cold in here."
Sam's phone chimes again.
Dean has that look on his face again, like he has a smartass joke it would have been better to swallow. This time, he fails.
"So… Was Jess your only girlfriend, or was this like, a Playboy Mansion-type situation?" Dean asks.
"Fuck!" Sam shouts, in tandem with the fifth chime. Then he puts his phone on silent.
When he looks up, Dean's popping Sam's shirt over his head. It falls over his chest and pools gray at his belly, and a sharp strange feeling lances up Sam's spine. It washes warm over his shoulders, and Sam twists in his jeans.
Then it's just Dean wearing a shirt.
So maybe Sam's more exhausted than he thought.
Maybe he should just go to sleep.
"Do you think it'd be better?" Dean asks, as he flees back under the covers of the better bed. He sounds tentative, which makes Sam wish he had any idea what Dean was talking about.
"Do I think what would be better?"
Sam slides his laptop between the bed and the window and climbs into bed as well.
"If you were back at school, and you had people, like, around, who missed her, too. Do you think that'd, you know... Would that help you?"
Sam had assumed Dean's act would extend to his dialogue--that what happened in Rime last night would stay strictly within last night. That's Dean's personal style, after all. But here he is, bringing Sam's shit up.
Sam's heart feels like Dean and Jess just T-boned each other at an aortic intersection. If Sam has to look Dean in the eyes right now, he will probably cry. He hasn't yet, about Jess--not really. But that streak isn't going to break tonight.
Yes, he should just go to sleep.
"I think I'd be pissed at everyone around me, no matter where I was. Because they're here, and she's not," Sam says instead. The honesty is not freeing.
Dean doesn't say anything.
On the windowsill, Sam's phone glows silently. Jerry, Take 6.
He should just go to sleep. He's told himself this enough times; it almost feels like a good idea.
He should just go to sleep.
"You got a pen?” Dean asks.
Sam tilts his head noncommittally at the nightstand between the beds, and the ballpoint diagonal across the motel stationery. He doesn’t open his eyes, but he hears Dean’s watch smack the tabletop. It’s so quiet he can hear Dean’s fingers scrape over the paper and the bedsprings whimper as Dean cranes into the light.
When Sam looks over, Dean is squinting at the pad of paper as he plays with its angle with respect to the light.
“I wouldn’t get too cozy with your blanky there, Sammy,” Dean says. “Whoever had this room before us had a grand old time, if I’m seeing this right. Kinky bastard. Shit artist, but you can get the gist. Look--”
“I don’t want to know,” says Sam, and closes his eyes again.
“Suit yourself,” Dean replies. He still tears off the first page of the stationery pad and floats it over Sam's chest. Sam lets it lie, sight unseen. But now all he can hear is the skritch of the pen, or the continued warp of the bedsprings any time Dean moves. Even Dean's breathing is too loud.
“Can this wait until morning, Picasso?”
“God, I hope not.”
“If you’re gonna try to draw the Mona Lisa naked, I’m out of here.”
“You’re the one who said Leonardo,” says Sam.
“DiCaprio? Catch Me If You Can? Oh, never mind.”
Dean takes a deep breath and lurches off the bed, as if propelled by the force of his exhalation. It sounds sort of like he doesn't stop until his palms smack the wall; there's a soft thud as he slides down the wall to the ground. Sam hears rustling as Dean eviscerates the duffel, then paper when he fishes out John's journal.
"Okay, seriously. Does this need to happen right now? I'm trying to sleep."
"It says it's open 24 hours," says Dean, and holds up a business card. From the bed, it just looks like a black blotch.
"Credit card offer. Got a couple promo codes," Dean clarifies. "They might work."
“And those... are in the journal?”
“Everything Dad knows about every evil thing,” Dean confirms, and starts humming hold music.
"And this didn't come up 'til just now because…?"
Dean shrugs. "Wasn't thinking straight."
Sam rubs his eyes, pushes his fingers through his hair. He tries not to be angry about this. "You're making this teamwork thing really hard; you realize that, right? I can't tag in and cover your ass if I never know where you left off."
Dean mutters something too low to hear, but Sam thinks part of it sounds suspiciously like "at least I" and "not just fucking coordinates."
So much for sleep.
Sam sits up.
"I found a spell we might be able to use, by the way," drowning out the tinny bleating of the hold music. "I thought I should wait and loop you in before I went off and did anything with it."
He tells Dean about the fishnet fae--serendipitous will o' the wisps of good fortune and warm fuzzy. "Remember the glimmer I thought I saw?" Sam asks.
"I didn't see anything on the body," says Dean. "I thought you said these things were invisible."
"Are you saying I didn't see anything?"
"I'm just trying to keep the facts straight. You've been seeing a lot of things."
"This wasn't a vision," Sam objects tersely. "It was a glimmer. And I think Mackie was on the same track. It could make sense--it's usually kind of a Japanese thing, though there's been sightings all across the US. I looked in the journal, and apparently, Dad found some in Seattle. Anyway, I looked up a map and we're sort of near Camp Minidoka, so it'd make sense if--"
"Yeah, that makes sense," Dean nods.
Dean rolls his eyes. "Come on. Who hasn't seen Bad Day at Black Rock? I know what internment camps are."
Sam wishes Dean could have told him that three hours ago. He sighs. "My bad, then. Sorry," he says. "Long story short, I found a spell that's supposed to let you see like, the heat signatures stuff like that leaves behind. So we'll be able to track it, and see what it's been up to."
"Is murder usually a thing they 'get up to'?" Dean asks.
Sam frowns. "That's the thing. They're supposed to like, give you lucky pennies. High end of the spectrum, the case Dad worked had some that were helping these guys...catch fish? Like, they try to grant dreams. Sort of. Like I said, Dad just wrote 'more fish.'"
"Classic, cryptic Dad." Dean chuffs. "But okay, so--no free yachts, but maybe an extra twenty-pounder jumps in the boat. Except ours just killed a guy."
"Maybe Mackie wished for an orgasm so mindblowing he stroked out."
"The serendipity could have misinterpreted what he was doing--what he was dreaming of."
"Maybe Mackie wanted to die," Dean counters.
Sam tenses involuntarily. "Why would you say that?"
Dean just shrugs. "No reason. I just figure everyone who's ever been to Rime probably thinks it at least once. Also, this hold music is a fucking desecration--Muzak meets Zep. See, that'd be another reason right there. I could probably name another fifty, easy."
Sam doesn't think any of this is all that funny. "We can keep brainstorming tomorrow. But we should at least go down and rule out a ghost for sure."
"We could," Dean agrees, but he couldn't sound more noncommittal. And whether it's just crumbs in the toaster or it's the house burning down, Sam hears alarm bells. Everything's fine and then it's not; then it's wound too tight, and everything is by the book--everything is training wheels on. Then it's worse. Then everything's fine again, except maybe it's just another kind of meltdown. Sam's not sure what to think. He can't function without some rhyme and reason.
Sam's about to call Dean out, but at that moment the creditors take Dean off hold.
The moment passes.
Ten minutes later, Dean hangs up with the promise of two credit cards in a PO box in Colorado sometime next week. It's a relief, a huge one, but it's still too far off to feel like it.
"Congratulations," Sam tells him. "Now, ghost?"
"Ghost," Dean acquiesces. But pain drags at the creases near his eyes. When he tests his knee, a shudder scatters up his body like a stone, bangs his teeth into a grimace. Everything is not fine again.
"I can go alone," Sam suggests. "The room's already salted. And it's just a ghost."
"If it's a ghost," Dean corrects. "Which we have zero proof of--which is even less than the speck we have for this fairy thing. Though I guess I wouldn't be surprised if the motel guy were stashing bodies. He does kind of seem like the type."
"If it's not a ghost, then it's even less of a risk; it's just a serendipity. I promise not to dream, jack off, or act extra wistful in its presence. I'm way more prepared than Mackie was."
Dean still doesn't look convinced, but this is idiotic. They've never been joined at the hip and Sam's not sure why they'd have to start now.
“What would your game plan be? I mean, if you were working this alone--what would you do? What has Dad ever done?" Sam asks, seeking hypocrisy.
"Do you wanna hear about Dad, or me?" asks Dean.
Sam rakes his teeth against his lips. It hadn't entirely occurred to him that the answers would be different, and Dean knows it.
"I just wanna know where you're at with this," he says.
He's about to apologize, but the first word out of his mouth is "Dad," anyway, and this strips Sam of any desire to apologize for anything. It's just the same old shit--like the last four years never happened. Dad this, Dad that. Yadda yadda. As expected.
But then Dean says, "This case, though? Time was, Dad would've walked away. Pretended he's just another guy and gotten the hell out.”
"That doesn't sound like Dad," Sam responds immediately.
Dean looks like he’s about to develop a sudden, erotic fascination with the ironing board. He keeps stealing glances at it, away from Sam. There’s something about the way his bones settle in the room that make it feel like he’s about to pounce on something. But he says, "Do you honestly think he'd have made it home all those times, if that weren't true?"
"He had us. He had to make sure he came back."
“But how do you just walk out like that?” Sam asks, feeling stupid.
"I’ve never figured that out.”
Dean's gaze twitches sharply back to Sam’s own, holds there. It makes Sam feel like he’s not allowed to blink, Dean looking at him like that. He adds, “Maybe someday."
"Seriously? That's your takeaway--be more like Dad? You realize he's the asshole in your anecdote, right? And what makes you think he was going anything for our benefit? He never even called me back, Dean. You were dying."
"And you took care of that. We're not kids anymore. It's different now."
"Which you seemed pretty pissed about last night. So if you're gonna keep spouting bull, at least pick a party line and stick to it. I'm tired of this whiplash shit, Dean. I just am. What the fuck is your problem right now?"
What isn't? is probably the better question, but Dean's better at leveling with a shitty situation and graciously accepting its terms than anyone Sam knows. Sam fucking hates it, and he's fucking grateful for it, and he needs to know what happened to it. Because it's not just pain. It's not just drugs. Sam knows better than to believe in anything so simple.
Dean speaks. He is round-eyed, big green wide-open doors to his soul, which is a panic room. And honestly, Sam has no idea where this came from. It's not the pressure point he'd been expecting.
"It's different now," Dean repeats. And he doesn't hold back. He's meltwater effluent: "I don't think he thinks he's coming back from this; I think he's letting us go, Sam. He thinks we're gonna need to know how to do this without him, and that's why we have to find him first, and I just--you, Dad, even me. I just want things more like they used to be. I just--"
"Whoa. Hey, uh. Hang on a sec," Sam says softly, because Dean might be getting a little ahead of himself. Sam doesn't even bristle at Dean's ever-faithful nostalgia. Suddenly they're right back where they were last night--where if Sam moves wrong, Dean gets hurt. Which means Dean gets hurt.
"If you don't believe me, whatever," says Dean. "But you weren't around to watch that dial turn, man. Maybe it's always been about the demon--and fucking sue him, Sam, of course it was--but not like this. I didn't even know if he was alive until we stepped into that fucking motel in Jericho. So maybe fuck the job. Fuck the demon. And fuck Rime."
"You don't actually mean that."
Dean breathes deep. "But I can't do that to you again."
"Do what?" Sam asks, exasperated.
"Leave," Dean says.
"Die," Dean says.
"Not after Jess," Dean says.
"Not after Jess?" Sam questions. "Dean, you're not making any sense. One thing at a time."
"You said you wanted to know where I was at."
It's just--it's a lot. Sam says ghost, Dean says Dad, and suddenly they're talking about Jess. Suddenly they're talking about everything, in an asphyxiating chain of association. When Dean starts talking like he's only around because he can't let John die, and because Jess already has, it sours Sam's stomach. Dean makes it sound like he thinks the main problem with him dying is that it might make Sam fucking sad.
Dean has his boots on now. When he makes it off the floor, he goes for his jacket and walks straight past Sam to the door.
"Where are you going now?" Sam asks, in an exhausted flatline.
Dean puckers his lips. "I'm kinda feeling poker."
Fucking seriously? Sam thinks. "There's no way you're good for that."
"You're the one who wanted to go ghost-hunting," Dean points out. "Give me the keys."
This is how Sam ends up standing outside of Rime's Bar None, keys unrelinquished. It is bar none the last thing Sam wanted for his midnight.
“We need to talk,” Sam says.
Dean's trying to figure out how to open the bar’s heavy door without inviting too much torque, resolutely blocking Sam’s intervention. "That's all we've managed to actually do so far," he grunts.
"We need to keep talking, then. There's too much, and it's getting dangerous--whether there's a hunt or not. It's fucking desperate."
Sam breaks off when he hears a noise off to his right. It’s dark, light impaired by the cluster of insectile corpses gathered at the bottom of its bulb, but Sam sees them now. Or he sees a woman’s legs, bare and lily white--even in the cold--skirt hiked up to her hips. Her ankles clasp each other like a bracelet, encircling a man’s round butt. The man's pressed against the bar's outer wall, head knocked back and mouth gaping pleasurably.
Sam quickly looks away.
Dean finally gets an elbow over the door and pries it open, wedging his body through. He nearly smacks Sam off the step in the process.
Then Dean disappears into the bar.
As Sam lets the door sucker shut after him, he tries not to think about the bills clasped tight in the girl’s hand, the other looped tight around the man’s neck. The way she and her hand bobbed as he thrust into her, money caressing his back.