His brother, the beach read. ~2000 words, Sam POV, cutting room floor scenes, 15x11 "The Gambler" tag.
It's cold. The second jacket he'd thrown over his shoulders is a crumpled heap in the footwell, but every movement exposes some new part of him to air and leather unwarmed by his body heat. Like he's slipping outside the chalklines at a crime scene.
His shoulders ache. His neck is stiff. But it's the hunger that woke him, that bare pang in his stomach. The unpleasant swell of his bladder. Sam knows he won't be going back to sleep.
He's alone, he thinks, the world around him impossibly quiet. Dean should be here, but he's not.
Sam has the keys, though. They're in his fist, biting ridges into his palm. He drove, and no way Dean shambles himself out of the car without waking him up. Sam hasn't slept that deep in years.
Dean's dead. Something happened before, or in the night. Something happened, or nothing, but he's gone.
Dean is breathing. Sam can hear it now, and he hopes he is not awake as he thinks he is, if these are his first thoughts that sprang to mind. Dean is breathing, slow and asleep. Sam remembers lying in bed next to his father--small enough he and Dean and John were all sharing--and trying to match his breaths to his father's. How it had felt like swimming, and then drowning.
It smells like bodies in the car. The accumulation of wet breaths with nowhere to go, too cold to leave the windows cracked. It smells like no one's showered in two weeks, except maybe Dean, who'd used that pink, pearlescent industrial soap to wash his hair in a cafe bathroom like a psychopath.
It's fucking cold. But not dangerously so, Sam figures. It hadn't been a mistake to pull off here, fall asleep, and assume they could wake up in the morning. He's not sure why Dean parked so crooked or why, when he cranes his neck to peer out the window, all he sees is tall reeds. But right--Sam drove. Sam parked, somewhere hidden. Sam can almost smell the outside, that muted green smell of pond reeds and wet dirt. The sharp cold air, which isn't a smell at all.
He really needs to piss.
And then he's outside, jeans slung around his hips, face-to-face with a shock of reeds taller than he is. He presses his back to the Impala as his boots sink, slope into the mud. He's not sure what feels colder, the breeze or his hands. He wipes them on his jeans, then his jacket. Then he grabs the reeds by the fistful, until the dew dribbles through his fingers. He wipes them on his pants again. He gropes his way to the trunk (finds peanuts) and then to the high side of the car.
"You have a bladder the size of a--" Dean greets him. Sam greets him with a tin of Mr. Peanut to the face. "--dick."
Dean tosses the tin into the backseat, back into Sam's space.
Dean presses his palms to his eyes, massages his temples. "Don't remind me."
He draws a sharp breath of the fresh air Sam's let into the car.
"How you feeling?"
"It's fucking cold," Dean replies. "Why're we parked in a bush."
They're not in a bush, and Dean knows why. The car's conspicuous as hell, and if Sam's being honest, people get picked off on highways like this all the time. The only reason they're the exception is because they know how to hide. You can be the exception if you shoot first, Sam supposes, but he's not going to do that. Nor would Dean. At least, Sam's pretty sure. But mostly, they haven't eaten in three days and Sam is too exhausted to entertain any of this.
He sucks the salt off a peanut. It was those sandwiches, he's pretty sure. The last they'd eaten. Before the cafe, the pool hall, the god, the cafe again, this patch of road.
They'd stopped off at the cafe on the way back down to bring news of Leonard. The waitress was there again, but busy, and then distant. It was hard to tell whether Leonard's death meant anything to her--whether it did, and she was trying hard to mask it, or it didn't, and she was struggling to pretend that it did. Sam wouldn't have faulted her either way: Before she brought their beers out, he overheard her on her phone in the back. Something about goddamn it Mike, you can't keep letting them leave you off the schedule. I can pull doubles here all week but these people tip like shit. Grow a pair, will you?
"Your beers, darlings," she'd said, paying them exactly as much attention as they paid her.
Dean held the bottle to his forehead for a moment, before popping the cap off and taking a long, long drought. The whole thing had bordered on religious communion. Sam watched his brother give himself over to that bottle fully and completely, in a way Dean gives himself to almost nothing these days. As though for a couple of minutes that was the only thing that existed in the world. Sam could read it all over him, from the curve of his shoulders to his jawline to the way his brow unfurrowed, let the lines around his eyes soften. This moment. It's probably the only thing he'd really been thinking about, most of the time. Not the scoop shot or Leonard or memory lane or Fortuna or even God, the whole universe, all of that shit. Just this.
His brother, the beach read.
Dean hadn't said a goddamn thing, though. And he continued to not say a goddamn thing about it, even after the bottle was empty and it wasn't enough, could never have been. Dean hit the can and Sam tested the credit card. It worked.
"Why are you wet?" Sam asked when Dean emerged, smelling pink.
Dean tipped the same $4.60 they hadn't paid the first time, for the pie they'd never received.
They didn't press their luck. Not for another beer, for food, for a motel bed. Even at the gas station before splitting town--the last town for hundreds of miles--Dean had that look. That look, when the gas pump chimed, the card took, and the gas started flowing. Like they'd gotten away with murder. When he fills the extra jerrycan he looks like he's gotten away with a massacre. Sam supposes they have. A couple, probably.
It's not that they're afraid the card will stop working. Well, maybe a little. But mostly, it's hard to shake the habit once you're there. You fall into a familiar pattern of not having, of skipping meals and sticking to the car and doing whatever you can to stretch yourself as long as possible. Once you're there, it's hard to pull back, because commitment is how you get through. You get through by forgetting possibilities.
In the car, in the reeds, in the mud, Dean exhales another long, modulating breath. He waves off the peanuts again.
"You ready to go, then?" Sam asks.
"What, you have someplace you gotta be?"
"I just don't wanna have to take up birdwatching."
Dean scowls, and massages his temple again. Gestures for the keys.
This is exactly what Sam used to fear, you know.
Him and Dean, alone. Their world only as wide as the Impala, parked at the edge of the woods with probably an 80% chance John wasn't coming back, no matter how many guns he'd had them check and clean. At least when they could spring for motels they could wait up in the light. There were other people around, even if they were weird motel people. There was a receptionist they could ask for help. Yeah, uh. We definitely wouldn't do that, Dean had told him once. Sam was seven.
It's cold, and the peanuts aren't adding up to shit, but it doesn't feel bad out here. Were Sam to self-assess, he's never really felt that whole romance of the open road thing. He doesn't loathe it, hasn't feared it in decades. Mostly, he's felt indifferent; it was just his life, and not one of the things he felt a pressing need to be introspective about. So it's not that he's feeling. It just doesn't feel bad out here.
The road is empty, the sky hanging low, heavy, and dark. They have no service in Canada, no Internet. There are no check-ins, there are no voicemails, there are no ghost apocalypses.
It doesn't feel bad.
He also doesn't feel guilty, the way he'd half-wanted Dean to feel when Dean had locked himself in his room, in his head--when he'd felt more ghost than Eileen had. Not that Dean and guilt were Sam's favorite power couple, but at least it would have felt normal. Like a sign of life.
Sam does not feel guilty. For the first time in a long time, Sam feels like they are not at the center of the universe, and that that's okay. They're not running, or hiding, or giving up, by being out here. They're not failing. There isn't someplace they should be instead, someone else they should be thinking about. A world they should be trying to save. That's all out there, and it's not going away, but it's not here now--and that's okay. They're on their way. They're just taking the long road back.
It makes him feel human. Not in the sense of colds and cavities and flat tires and whatever the hell. But as a body in space. It's cold, and hungry, but his. That's all it needs to be. He fills his lungs.
He fills his lungs, as though they are buoys that will raise him from his nightmare. He doesn't remember what it was, except that it feels like a relief to be alone, in the dark. Night 2 is colder, though they're further south. As they've pulled away from the coastline, into the mountains, there's snow on the ground again.
"You okay?" he asks Dean. He's not sure if he's deflecting or not. If he's running from something. He just knows Dean isn't asleep.
"I need to take up smoking," Dean says. "Something. Anything."
"You wouldn't smoke in the car."
"Try me. She's seen worse."
Sam wants to ask Dean if he feels the same way. About what, Sam can't quite articulate. The drive, the being alone, the silence. They've done this for a hundred million miles and it's never felt quite like this. Or maybe it has and Sam just can't remember anymore. He can't make himself ask. He's still afraid of too many things. Maybe Dean has always felt like this, and it will break his heart to find Sam hadn't until just now. Or maybe it's Sam who's alone; Dean's not here with him; Dean has lost every minute of this to alcohol withdrawal. Because that's what's happening over there, undoubtedly. Sam can't say it, and Dean's not going to bother. No one's going to say a goddamn thing. About anything.
That's the point where this--"this"--stops feeling like a reprieve and starts feeling like a death march again. Fuck heroism, they can barely breathe.
Come morning, there's that feeling again. They both slept like shit and maybe didn't sleep at all, but there it is. They roll the windows down, let the cool air whisk the breath-fog from the inside of the windshield. It's cold in their throats, and aches. They whip past a handpainted sign. As they approached, Sam had assumed his eyes were going, and he couldn't read it. But his eyes weren't wrong.
kâya pakicî! âhkamêyimo! it read.
"Where are we?" Sam asks.
"I dunno. South," says Dean.
Canada, somewhere. They're out of Mr. Peanut. They're going to need gas.
They keep driving.
"This is--" says Dean.
"Yeah," says Sam. He doesn't need to ask. This is the long road back. They are alone, together.
Right now, they're okay.