“Breakfast,” Sam announces, lobbing a strawberry pastry at Dean’s body. It lands between his shoulder blades with a satisfying smack, so Sam throws another one--cinnamon raisin. Nape of Dean’s neck.
Dean flinches away, but doesn't get up. He keeps his face buried firmly in pillow. “If either of those were raisin, so help me--” he mumbles into the bed.
It's too early for this, Sam knows. He has no idea how long they were on the floor of Mackie's room, kissing at first but mostly just lying there, insensible to all. Like sad beached whales. Sam had felt legless and Dean quickly became nothing but--he became the interests and emotions of exactly one very angry leg. Beyond that, it's all muddled--they'd made it back upstairs, sleep had been involved, Sam got pastries--but it's probably still too early for this.
So Sam throws another pastry at Dean's prone form. It lands on his ass.
He’s not even sure why he's doing it--but there Dean is, and here are the pastries, and it's as good an alarm clock as any. It's too early for the day to have found any definition, and Sam feels fluid. Today so far they've hit no icebergs, must contend with no pasts--least of all what happened last night.
In less than 24 hours, they will be homeless. But one thing at a time.
“How many of those do you even have?” Dean asks finally, and gets an apple one in the face.
Dean doesn't react immediately, and for a moment it seems like he isn't planning to. He's not in a good mood, is probably in pain, probably exhausted. The day wakes with him.
Sam is exhausted, too. And if Sam thinks at all, he'll be in pain. He'll be in so much pain he won't be able to stand it. Never mind his throat--that, he doesn't care about. But his stomach feels half caved in already, sinking under the weight of some terrible thing, all undertow and yearning. Sam doesn't even think too hard about the pastries--just feels them as they leave his hand, listens as they smack plastic and squelchy against Dean’s body. Dean may have saved Sam's life last night, but he didn't fix it.
He throws another pastry.
Dean responds by gathering all of Sam's expended ammunition with a wide sweep of his arm across the bedspread. He says something about losing the high ground, Sammy. Something about a taste of his own medicine. Retaliation.
But if Dean thinks the six pastries in his lap are the end of things, he's sorely mistaken.
“There's something you're gonna want to see before you launch your counterstrike. Just so you know what you're up against,” Sam says, which stays Dean’s hand.
Sam opens his arms wide and shakes. And out of pockets, jacket linings, sleeves, his shirt, his belt, the trim of his jeans drops a veritable cascade of continental pastries.
Forty-two more, to be exact.
The look on Dean’s face is worth every empty calorie Sam’s just doomed them to this week. Sam calls that look Righteous Fucking Awe.
“And you assumed I didn't learn anything at college,” Sam says.
For about a minute, they are two brothers in a motel room with an adventure story. They have the plunder to prove it, and victory tastes sweet.
This is their one good thing.
Sam's been working all week for this.
Then Dean remembers himself and, killjoy that he is, he frowns. "Has the spell worn off yet?"
Sam shakes his head--slowly, so the colors don't smear.
"Didn't think so."
So Dean can tell, then. That Sam will only look at him askance. Not that it's personal--or not anymore.
For a spell that's supposed to deepen his planes of vision, Sam thinks he sees a lot less. He puts so much effort into blocking out light and stimuli it's worthless to seek detail.
"It doesn't hurt anymore," Sam assures him. "It's just. Colorful. I guess I feel like it's fully seeded now? And yesterday I was still working up to the plateau."
"Does it ever wear off?" Dean asks doubtfully.
"I mean, it's marketed toward Burning Man hippies and bored soccer moms. It's not exactly blood magic."
Which is a phrase poorly chosen. Sam's disgust pools at the back of his mouth and his teeth taste like metal. He tries to think about stupid things, like Nietzsche and his six 8-bit skulls and crossbones, partying on Sam's computer screen like it's 1999.
But Dean just says, "Yeah, uh. I dunno how many wastoids you know, but I'm pretty certain some of their shit never wears off, either. Though I'm beginning to see why they think Wizard of Oz is so fucking great."
Dean tears away the cellophane of his second pastry that morning, folds it in half--jam side in--and stuffs the entire thing in his mouth.
"So am I in black and white, then?" Dean asks, his mouth full.
He looks like an idiot. Then he swallows, and doesn't.
He licks the jelly from his lips, red and shiny--and ask God how Sam's not supposed to think about Dean's lips on his, after that. He can practically taste vicarious sugar.
Sam doesn't know if he wants to kiss Dean again, if he puts it like that. Kissing is so specific. But he needs to be that close to his brother; and he needs the feeling of Dean's lips.
Dean's still waiting for an answer.
It's not clear what Dean's asking--if it's a question about his humanity, his purity, or if Dean's just thinking about whether he'd look hot pre-Kodachrome. So Sam answers honestly.
"No, Auntie Em. You're not."
The light in his chest burns bright, blanching his features fluorescent and cold.
"So, you've thrown your chips in with the Lollipop Guild, clearly." Dean gestures at the pile of pastries on the floor with what will be his third. "Do you get a musical number? 'Cause I'm getting that vibe, Mr. Sunshine, and I don't wanna be in the room for that shit."
Dean swallows. Then he jaw sets. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you actually enjoyed last night."
Sam thinks, It's too early to think too hard. It's far too early to think too hard.
This he knows, though: He enjoyed the warmth of Dean's body against him. He enjoyed the relief on Dean's tongue, his desperate exhausted love. He enjoyed knowing Dean was right fucking there.
But Dean skates right past that conversation. In fact, before Sam can say anything, Dean slams the curb and drives them straight towards the edge of a cliff. He's not talking about the kiss; he's talking about everything else.
"Sam, you gotta come clean with me. If this thing tries to play nice, or break good or whatever, what the the hell were you thinking about? Are you into kinky throat stuff, or just dying? Was that the favor it was going for? 'Cause I'm hoping near-death experiences aren't really your jam. "
Dean's halfway through his fourth pastry. He licks the skin above his lips a sticky raspberry scarlet before sweeping back again, licking it clean. His teeth rip through the pastry savagely.
He seems angry, blindsided. Maybe he's tired of panicking. Sam's familiar with the pattern. This is what they do to each other, and Sam knows exactly what all of that feels like.
That doesn't mean he knows what to say.
(Things he won't say: Yes, he's into kinky throat stuff. So was she.
Yes, he's thought about just giving up and dying. But who hasn't? Maybe that's okay. Maybe--)
The truth is, Sam's not sure if he's okay. Mostly, he assumes he is, inasmuch as anyone freewheeling around the country and hunting ghosts ever is. Then he'll wake up the next day he had a vision; he's become a living nightmare; and there's something in his blood. And everything he is, everything he's lost, will hit him like a semi truck. All his faults will quake at once. Because you can't drive away from the demon on your ceiling, or yourself--or even grief, which at the very least feels like you should be able to serve your sentence and find release. Especially when you know your grief is all your fault.
No, Sam thinks.
No no no.
"How's the throat?" Dean asks. He sounds less angry, now over-anxious, like maybe Sam's acting a little too weird. But fuck, his girlfriend's dead, his brother frenched him, his blood's lighting up like a crime scene under magical ultraviolet, and God, he's hungry. He might be allowed.
"Like it can't believe you're shoving another one of those down yours," Sam replies, gesturing at the pastry wrappers adorning Dean's lap.
"Hey, there's a reason there's five different flavors," Dean points out. "You're getting a little"--his free fingers flutter around his eyes before they wrap around his neck--"and I figure the bruising's gonna come in real nice in a day or so. But I mean, other than that, you're good? You're…?"
"Petechial," Sam says flatly. "That's the word you're looking for."
He'd seen himself in the mirror. Between him and Dean's pallor, they look like the zombie apocalypse. Dean may be running his mouth, but the rest of him is in shambles far behind it.
"Fine, petechial. No brain damage, then," Dean smirks. "Any new fae traces we should be worried about? Did it come up here with us? I warded the room with everything we got."
"No," Sam confirms. "I mean, if it still wanted to kill me, it probably wouldn't have let up last night. And I looked around when I nabbed all the pastries--nothing. So that's...lucky, I guess."
"It wasn't born to touch your feelings after all. Sorry, man. But if you ever want to woo it back, my advice? Don't use these." He sticks out his tongue and lets another pastry wrapper flutter to the ground. "They're crap."
"You like them," Sam objects. "That's what, Number 6? I thought you said there were five flavors for a reason."
Dean shrugs. "Okay, the apple ain't bad. You'll like the cheese one better, though. You weirdo."
"What, now you're a danish connoisseur?"
Dean tosses three cheese danishes back into Sam's hands. And the annoying part is, Dean's probably right. Annoying, warming--sometimes it's hard to know the difference. Sam tears off a cellophane corner and smiles.
"So what's it pair with--beer or whiskey?" he jokes. But Dean doesn't joke back.
Instead Dean mutters "Yeah, I fucking wish," as he reaches for his jacket. It's splayed over his pillow.
"Take another one of these, too."
Oh, right. That's the difference.
Sam refuses the pill bottle. "I'm fine. Really."
Dean shakes it insistently. The rattle is hollow and lonely-sounding. "You're not gonna die on me like Mackie did. C'mon, down the hatch--that shit could be swelling as we speak."
"You take them."
"Oh, definitely," Dean agrees. "But I need you to be okay, man. Humor me. Just one more--it's not like I'm a drug dealer. Humor me."
It's only once Sam swallows that Dean admits he's pretty sure he tore something last night. More of his knee. The rest of it? Something new, and with it a new and electric sort of pain. A new depth to the hole they must now climb out of. Or one more bar in the gate that says they won't be.
"You're an idiot."
Dean dry-swallows two of their remaining stash and spins the cap to Locked again. That's four times what he'd been rolling with yesterday, and twice the dose he'd started with. He's going to be slop on the floor.
"We've got five of these left," Dean says. "So we gank this bitch by sundown or bust. I guess."
He doesn't mention what they'll do when the case is over and they have to keep existing. Maybe they should just invest in accelerant. At least that way they'll go out warm.
That's morbid and terrible, though. So the thing to do, Sam decides, is to retreat from suicide and talk about incest instead.
Because that's what just happened, isn't it? Textbook case.
That wasn't a chaste kiss.
One kiss, Sam reminds himself. Under duress.
But maybe it's not; maybe it's the fall of a shirt over skin and the weight of a body in a bed. It's the promise of having light blocked out, signatures erased, and the privilege of simple, physical presence. Sam's still standing at the foot of his pile of pastries, at the foot of the bed, because if he sits down with Dean he will wrap his arms around his brother. Knead Dean's brow against his own and push their thighs together. He will keep Dean close.
I can't lose you, Sam thinks again. I just can't.
"You know that I Love Lucy episode where there are too many chocolates coming down on the conveyor belt?" Sam blurts out, imperfect segue. But Dean nods.
He says, "I'm too fucking hungry for this analogy," but he nods.
"There were tags--all over that room. Like a tornado hit it. So I'm thinking maybe the serendipity's biting off more than it can chew? Like, maybe it's... broken? And getting--"
Except now Sam's self-conscious about his analogy. His mind balloons with mixed batter metaphors, truffle toppings, pastry fillings. Then it all seems incredibly stupid.
"--confused, all right? I think the serendipity is getting confused. I had this thought earlier, but now I'm really thinking it might be true."
"That's what we're going with? Why?" says Dean.
"Well. People are confusing."
Right now, Sam doesn't need a lucky penny. He wouldn't accept a spring in his step. But he has a thousand things he does want, and a million he'd do anything to keep away. Impossibilities, trivialities, fears so large they loom like obsession and maybe sound like want. Maybe if he tells himself he can't lose Dean too often it starts to sound like he wants the trauma; he wants the choking terror that accompanies the thought. Maybe he wants to be haunted--by Jess, by anything. Maybe he wants to be bled.
If Sam can't keep all this straight, he wouldn't trust a monster to. And he knows how it had felt, cord around his throat and serendipity blinding in his face. In his head.
He looks not-at-Dean and he thinks, half the time what people want is what's going to fuck them up.
Sam's heart swells and his stomach roils.
Of course it'd get confusing.
Sam pulls off his boots and shuffles toward the bed. He doesn't know what time it is--late AM. He just wants to go back to sleep. With Dean.
But by the time his fingers hit the sheet, Dean's already stealing away.
Dean still hasn't said anything about them on the ground together, and it occurs to Sam Dean might not find this confusing at all. Maybe for Dean, none of that shit can ever happen again.
Dean doesn't bother lacing his boots, and he doesn't zip his coat. He doesn't bother trying not to limp. It all seems like a recipe for disaster.
"Where are you going?" Sam asks. Because he has to, doesn't he?
"People aren't confusing. They're just fucked up," says Dean.
"I don't know that the two are mutually exclusive," Sam argues. It's clinical, and sterile, but this conversation doesn't need any more briefcase bombs. Sam can feel Dean spinning out post-detonation as it is.
Dean doesn't ask for the keys back this time, just pulls the deadlock and slides the chain free.
"Coffee, then! Goddamn it, Sam," Dean snaps. "I watched your girlfriend burn, and then I kissed you. I'm going out."
It's not until this moment, until Dean, that it occurs to Sam that this could ever be seen as an either/or--Jess over Dean, or Dean over Jess. It doesn't feel that way to Sam.
Jess is gone and Dean is his brother, and maybe Sam's willing to burn from both ends if he has to.
When the door doesn't slam shut, Sam looks up, hoping he'll find Dean turned back toward him, bared and open to him; hoping it'll be Jess in the doorframe.
Sam's not sure what he's hoping.
But when he looks up it's just Dean's back, as poised to abandon him as ever, and beyond him two bundles of Carhartt and puffy, bright orange synthetic wool. It's the two hunters from the bar.
"Jesus, what is that smell?" asks--Roy, Sam guesses. It's 50/50; they're indistinguishable in all their outdoor gear. Sam's gaze drops straight to the possum. But if it smells, he can't tell anymore.
"What's in the bag?" Dean counters.
Sam can't see any bag, not with Dean resolutely refusing Walt and Roy entry, but that he does smell. Hot grease, seasoned by its week in the fryer; potatoes, bacon, and cheese. Sam swears he can see the steam rising in the morning air. But that's just Walt's cigarette--because now Sam can smell that, too.
It doesn't keep Sam's stomach from cramping hard against its emptiness. Suddenly, all the pastries in Rime don't seem adequate. It's like these guys are just here to rub it in their faces.
"What's it to you?" says Walt.
Sam can't see Dean's face, but it doesn't matter; he's always been able to read Dean's body better than his face, or any of the words that issue from it. There's an arc to his shoulders, a cant to his legs; and more than any pain Dean's in, or any blood between him and the men before him, Dean's hungry. And he really fucking wants whatever's in that bag.
Sam's not sure why he thought they'd be able to handle something as complicated as each other. They can't even feed themselves.
"I just wanna know what I'm paying for. Poker winnings, and all," Dean replies evenly. Sam just barely catches the crinkle of his eyes as his profile catches the morning light. Zero degree smile.
"It's funereal," Roy informs him. He says it carefully, like it's his $50 word and he doesn't want to scuff it. "Funereal breakfast. We picked up Mackie's body yesterday. Drove four hours trying to find anyone'd sell us wood--everyone's bunkered up for a long winter or some groundhog shit."
"Someone's gotta do it right," adds Walt. "The funeral, I mean."
Dean's attention scatters toward Sam for a split, disheveled second. All Sam can think is he looks extremely guilty.
"Not the bunkering," Walt clarifies. It seems unnecessary.
But it drags Dean back to Walt and Roy. "That's real thoughtful of you," he says. "Did you splurge for a casket, some nice flowers? Or were you gonna just eat those too? 'Funereal' my ass."
Neither rise to Dean's challenge. "Show some respect," Roy says, his timbre bordering on tremulous. "A good man's dead, you know?"
Dean snorts. "I'm sure you'll burn him thorough, then. I mean, how dumb would we look if you got back here in time to actually help ice the thing that killed him?"
He means, You fucking cowards.
And that Sam doesn't doubt--their cowardice. But Walt crosses himself, still holding in his gloved hand what Sam can now see is a massive, grease-wet paper bag. Roy bites his lip until the red of it's the brightest thing in view, aside from Walt's hat. They're sorry Mackie's gone.
Sorrier than anyone else Sam's found. He's still not sure what to make of Sara.
"How you gonna take it out?" Walt asks, when the silence stretches taut and wan.
"With everything we have," says Dean, and Sam wonders if he runs lines like that in the mirror, like some sort of warped Lord's Prayer.
But if Roy is thinking any similar critique, he doesn't let on.
"Did Mackie smoke?" Sam asks, and suddenly Dean, Walt and Roy throw their collective attention at him. Dean looks guarded, restive, though Sam's pretty sure that's got nothing to do with him--that's on their guests. Roy looks bemused. Walt seems surprised he'd said anything at all, like he'd mistaken Sam for furniture. Again.
Show some respect is right, Sam thinks. But he just says, "Well?"
"Used to," says Walt.
"Now he mostly just gets off on watching," says Roy.
He pauses. "He used to mostly just get off on watching. Hasn't smoked in a long time."
"Then he's overdue," Dean cuts back in. "For guys with a body in your trunk, you're taking your damn sweet time."
"If you want us to swing back--" Roy starts, but apparently Dean's not done cutting.
Low and coarsely hissed, so quiet Sam suspects he wasn't meant to hear, Dean says, "It's my brother's ass on the line now. You don't get to touch this anymore."
"Go burn your bones, Roy," Dean finishes, at volume. "You too, Walt. Now get the hell out."
"We'll tell Mackie you paid your respects," says Roy, expression neutral. "We're just trying to help, man. Jesus."
Walt touches the front of his hat as they excuse themselves.
Dean sinks back against the door as it closes.
"What the hell was that?" Sam asks.
Pain whittles at Dean's jawline for a moment, before he takes control of the situation and shoves it back somewhere. Into the particleboard of the door, if the way he's leaning is any indication. He says, "The county would have cremated him eventually."
He says, "Fuck their bacon and cheese shit."
He says, "Let's just get this done."
Sam doesn't disagree with any particular point. But Walt and Roy were trying to help, weren't they? Incompletely and ineffectively, and in a way that makes Sam feel like shit, but they were here to help.
"I know we should have taken him home. Just so you know," Dean admits morosely. "I know we should have burned him, first thing. But I just--"
Sam and Dean cut corners. They made their monster wait. They didn't burn the body. They'd been tired, sick, distracted. They fucked this up. Then Sam almost died, and now Dean's probably not getting that knee back 100%, if ever at all. And Dean kissed him. And Sam kissed back.
Which means they've really fucked this up.
"The county would have cremated him eventually," Sam agrees. "I hear you."
So this is the best they got: Wait for the thing to show itself, trap it. Get the hell out of Rime. Sam's not sure if a bowl of Wheaties would have improved their plan, or at least made it more proactive, but Dean spent all afternoon carving binding runes onto a flask he'd found with Mackie's effects, so he must have some faith in the idea. Iron flask, silver inlay, binding runes--they've gone with less.
They're going to trap it, and… go from there.
In the meantime, Sam's been driving them around the strip, the motel, even as far out as the last speed limit sign, trying to figure out where it's been and where it might be headed next. They hit up Mackie's room, but it's unchanged. Messy and dazzling, but only with aftermath.
And it's not the only thing that's been through Rime. If Dean's runes aren't much to go on, Sam has too much: There are traces everywhere. Most of it is old, dully luminous the way Sam figures 6.5 billion years of Creation probably should be. But that leaves centuries of distractions to tune out, too--like the Gros Ventre and their bax'aan, the Snake, the Sioux. The French, English. Mackie Sutherland. Them. Whoever the hell else ever wandered through Rime with magic on their heels. It’s not that Rime is special, or unusual in that way. When you have a hunk of rock that’s been around for a couple billion years, it tends to get dusty. Things pile up.
It's actually comforting to lurk the perimeter of the motel, which was once Sam's only landmark and is now the emptiest thing in all this nowhere. It might be an old piece of shit, but it's newer than the ground. It's easier to pick out the streaks he's looking for. Their serendipity is probably the weirdest thing that's ever happened to it.
Sam drums his knuckles on the steering wheel, fist clenched to make them white and bloodless, with the cold stealing away the rest. He can still see the embers in his veins, though. And Dean's making a prison out of a thermos, using runes Sam's never seen before. (The hoodoo thing I told you about, he says.)
They're sitting in the parking lot past sundown, in the dark, in the snow, and they are glowing. They are carving runes. So scratch that: They're the weirdest things that have ever happened to this motel.
"Why the fuck would anyone do this to a bathroom stall? This is hard," Dean grumbles, squinting at the flask. He checks his lines by turning it in the moonlight. "I mean, pens exist for a reason."
"Make sure all your rings are closed," says Sam.
"You," says Dean, and hands the flask to Sam. "My eyes are swimming. You can tell if they're actually doing anything, right? With your Magic Eyes."
"It sounds stupid when you call it that." But Sam takes the proffered flask and holds it up for inspection. It probably looks even stupider than a Magic Eye puzzle, since to anyone else it just looks like he's holding a cup in the dark.
"This one's a dud," says Sam.
Dean's fingers trace Sam's, and his flashlight smears it with white light. Sam looks away from the brightness, eyes slit against its reflection off Dean's cheeks.
"Oh, whoops," he says, and takes the flask back. Flips his knife open and starts scratching one more line down the center of the defunct rune.
"Oh, whoops?" Sam parrots incredulously. "That's what we're going with?"
"Hey now, unless you bunkered with a couple hoodoo priests back in Cali, I'm thinking shut up. They didn't exactly send me home with a cheat sheet."
But the rune flares to life under Dean's revision. Sam's audible sigh of relief is all the confirmation Dean needs.
"See anything out there?" he asks, as he squirms in his seat. "What about over there?"
"That's just a snow flurry," Sam answers. "And no, nothing. The newest signature's still by the door to Mackie's room. But I figure we sit tight out here, and we'll be the first to know if it makes any new moves."
Sam turns to Dean. In the dark it's hard to see his brother beneath the haze of magic clinging to him. Damned if he doesn't try, though.
"It might be more comfortable if we run the heat a little," he says.
"Nah. We've wasted enough gas playing hide and seek as it is. We're still planning to drive outta here, right?" Dean replies. But he bends to massage his knee, face shaded from moonlight, because Dean’s a professional liar and the first thing you learn to lie about is pain.
"Why does it matter if Mackie smokes?" Dean asks. To his credit, his voice wavers only a little.
He shouldn't have waited so long; breakthrough pain is a bitch.
"I'm just trying to piece this all together," Sam replies. "Maybe he wanted the smokes; but he didn't, 'cause he quit. Maybe he wanted to get off, but maybe he didn't actually want to do it alone. Maybe he wanted all this shit--like, hard, fucked-up shit--and maybe the serendipity just wasn't built for that. Maybe what's been going on is all misprogrammed fate."
"So if we're fucked up enough, we can beat it at its own game? Because we might have home field advantage, in that case."
"No. I think it'll probably kill us. I'm just saying I think we all fucked it up before it fucked us."
"That's really inspiring, Sam."
"What's the deal with Walt and Roy?" Sam volleys back. He doesn't expect a real answer, but Dean's losing focus again, letting the pain wander him away. He needs a distraction from it.
"Worked a job with them once when you were at school. That's all."
"I guess he must have been there, too. I remember his face, at least."
"You 'guess'?" Sam prompts.
Dean runs his hands along the edge of the seat, and Sam imagines those hands at his neck. Dean slumps against the window, cheek leaving a hot mark on the glass, and Sam imagines that pressure at his collarbone.
Dean spider-grips his knee again.
"You know how hunts go. Lots of bullshit. They're decent trackers, but they're huge fucking cowards. So I guess that means they're smart; I dunno."
"Why were you with them?"
Dean looks at Sam. Sam's looking down at his hands, veins like garish glow sticks, but he can feel Dean's eyes. And he knows Dean's answer.
"The point is, notice Mackie's dead and they're not? They'll save themselves and leave you to drown if that's what it takes to get out alive. And I'm not gonna let that happen to you. So they don't get to fucking touch this anymore."
"We're probably gonna be out here for a while," is all Sam says. "You might want to think about-- Do you still have any--"
"Way ahead of you." Dean mimes a dry swallow. "Now I just gotta stay awake. Know any party games?"
"Can I ask you another question?" says Sam.
"You're not holding up any fingers. There, I win. Fun game, Sam."
"It's just," starts Sam. "I feel like we don't necessarily know each other that well. It's been four years, man. Stuff's different."
"Please. We know what we do for a living; I'm not sure how much more there is to know."
"Okay. I know more about you than you're ever gonna tell anyone," Dean revises. "And you know more about me than I could ever tell you."
"See that's the thing, though," Sam says. "That just means we have a bunch of shit we can't talk about. That's like, 90% of our relationship. And the other ten is stuff we didn't mean to say! I don’t even know if you saw the new Batman or not,” Sam points out. “You know, stuff like that.”
Dean snorts. “That the gold standard for intimacy these days? Chris Nolan?”
“Or like, your favorite beer,” Sam presses. “We’ve been to like five hundred--”
“Whatever’s cheapest,” says Dean.
“Or your favorite pie,” Sam continues.
“All of them!”
“My god, Sam--”
“Fine. Gas station?”
“I don’t see what--wait. Flying J.”
When Dean realizes that Sam’s waiting for an elaboration, he says, “There’s this one in Montana you always hit somehow, and it sells these weird little sheds and has a petting zoo and this rock that tells the weather. Showers ain’t half bad, either.”
“Wow,” Sam says finally, holding his mouth in a perfect O. He brings Dean's flashlight up to his face, sleepover ghoulish. “You must really like rocks.”
“Give me that,” Dean snaps, and yanks it back. “You’re just proving my own damn point.”
“I'm just trying to find something that's not covered in shit. For like, five minutes," Sam says. "So hit me with your best shot.”
Dean stays silent, like he's not about to condescend to the game. But Sam waits, and ultimately Dean allows, noncommittal, “I dunno, favorite ice cream?”
“Peppermint,” San answers promptly.
“Dude. When it comes in a tube, we call it toothpaste.”
“Right, ‘cause your palette’s so refined; I remember those Pink Panther things.”
Sam tried to describe them to Jess once--these legendary Pink Panther ice cream pops. They’re some of Sam’s sharpest childhood memories: The Pink Panther on a stick, cartoony and dripping down Dean’s chin. Its eyes made out of bubblegum--the kind that bled hot pink on your fingers when you plucked them out, candy shell cracked and grainy. Dean had loved the dumb things.
He’s stopped messing his knee, and seems to have resigned himself to moping instead. His breaths come in quiet, crystalline puffs.
“Dean,” Sam repeats. “Hello? Pink Panther? You being an idiot?”
“Right,” Dean says eventually. The puffs of his breath lose their regularity as he sucks in, holds it just a shade to long. “Right. I mean, you can’t ignore a two-fer--best of both worlds.”
Dean doesn’t remember them. Or if he does, it’s a dim and meaningless recollection.
Sam sighs. What this probably comes down to is, Dean's his brother. Because Dean is his brother, Dean's always going to do whatever he can to keep Sam protected, distracted, and happy. He'll tell whatever lie it takes. And no one, not even Dean, likes ice cream as much as Dean pretends to. If Sam can't trust him about that back then, Sam can't trust him about this now. Any of this. Maybe that's reductive, or narcissistic, but God, God, have you met Dean?
Sam turns to Dean then, because he's been uncharacteristically quiet. Sam shouldn't have even been able to have had this conversation with himself--not with Dean riding shotgun.
Dean’s settled so low in his seat his jacket’s started to turtle away from his neck, leather catching against leather and raising away from his shoulders until it looks like the mouth of a shell.
“Dude,” says Sam.
Dean murmurs nonspecific acknowledgement.
“Dude,” Sam repeats, and punches Dean in the shoulder. “Don’t fall asleep on me. Hey, are you okay?”
Dean blinks rapidly, then narrows his eyes at the dashboard.
“Yeah,” he says.
Then his head dips forward and he jumps, shaking off the temptation of sleep. He blinks some more. “Goddamn it. These meds are bullshit.”
"Are you sure you're good for this?" Sam asks.
"As long as it actually happens."
"You look pretty wrecked. I don't want you to get hurt."
"Yeah, well. That ship's sailed. I'm either gonna pass out or puke, unless our serendipitous friend serendipities itself outside in the next ten minutes. So come on, serendipity."
"Dean," Sam says.
Dean lifts his head from his hand and turns to him. Sam thinks about what it would mean if he kissed Dean then--how much one act, one second, might change what they were. Then his hip hits the base of the steering wheel as he turns, Dean's stubble scratches his chin when he misses, and Dean's lips feel warm against his when he doesn't. He pulls back before Dean has the chance to answer the act.
Just one kiss. Just to see.
"What was that for?" Dean asks.
"Incentive," Sam replies. "Don't puke in the car."
One kiss, Sam thinks. It's just one kiss. It doesn't have to mean anything--just affection. Pure, simple, stupid.
Dean still looks like he's about to either pass out or puke.
But was that a good 'means less than he thought' or a bad one?
Fuck it. "Dean, we need to talk. For real."
"Okay. I like red more than blue. Apple pies are better than the custard ones. Can we go shoot something now?"
"Forget about all that," says Sam.
Because he won't be deterred. Not from something like this. He takes a deep breath. "When you kissed me was that--was that, you know, okay? I mean I know what you said about Jess, but I guess. I mean, I thought it was okay. Like, for me. So I need to know if you, uh."
Sam cuts off.
What a mess.
"Did you follow all that?" Sam asks.
God, he hates himself.
"Kind of low on content, Shakespeare," Dean answers.
But Sam doesn't think that's funny. Literally everything about that notwithstanding, sure, it's not much to follow. And Dean's hardly in a position to be deducting points for poor articulation.
"Dean," Sam insists.
"It's nothing I haven't done before," Dean clarifies, clarifying nothing. Case in point.
"I think I'd have noticed if you had," Sam replies.
Dean quirks an eyebrow. "And why would that be?"
Sam moves to gesture towards his body, his dick, but pulls up at the last moment, ends up gesturing vaguely at the steering wheel instead.
Dean stares at him expectantly.
"You know what I mean," says Sam.
"Um, sure," says Dean. "Always, Sammy. I'm a mind reader."
Even the word makes Sam tense, though. Always. Always and no matter what. Sammy. Whatever it takes.
"Let me put it this way," Dean says. "Chicks who just got dumped? Way into me. And I've never really had a problem with rebound sex, if that's what you're worried about."
"But all we did was kiss. We didn't--" Sam objects. But that's not what he meant to say. It isn't at all.
"Doesn't matter," Dean says. "You know what it felt like. Saying it was just a kiss doesn't change anything."
"So you're saying-- You felt like that was--"
"You know what it felt like," Dean interjects. "I already said that. But if it makes you feel better, sex is just sex. Always is."
"That makes no sense." Dean can't insist it meant something in one breath and call it rebound in the next. Turn it into some meaningless hookup. Sex can't change everything and nothing, and it can't fucking feel like something for Dean but not mean anything. That's not how this works. Unless, of course, it's the only way it does.
"Do you miss her?" Dean says. It's not a question, and he isn’t wrong.
"But I still-- That doesn't--"
There's a ferocious banging on Sam's side of the Impala, and Sam grazes the top of his head on the roof of the Impala, he startles so intensely. Dean swears, and Sam makes an instinctive grab for the flask. But there's no shattering of glass, just more banging. Once Sam's ears stop running with the rush of his own blood he realizes there's also shouting.
"It's the motel guy," Dean hisses, before Sam can turn around. "Motherfucking--"
Motel Guy won't stop banging. But from Dean's expression Sam gathers he doesn't look like he's being suffocated, or otherwise terrorized. He's just mad.
"It's a good thing it's him and not the serendipity. It'd be fucking stupid if it nailed us on our own stakeout because we were only talking about fucking--"
Maybe that's what prompts him. Maybe Sam wants to normalize this under the mantle of the family business. Maybe he wants to force the meaning from it. Turn it into a tactic, a response to duress. Maybe he wants to fuck Dean silly.
Maybe, as always, Sam just wants a clear path forward.
Whatever it is, there's this drunk-warped flash of motel guy turning away from him and Dean outside that bar, averting his eyes, leaving them be. And they're in the car, out in the dark, and they just got caught, and some teenage part of Sam's just certain--this is what he's got to do.
He all but launches himself at Dean's face, grabs his lapel, and drags him in.