The change was practically undetectable; their forced smiles covering up the festering bitterness and the ever-growing void that suddenly existed between them. Only they themselves could feel it. Only they themselves knew it was there.
On the surface things seemed perfectly fine. They still laughed and joked, they still worked smoothly together on simple jobs. But underneath it all, something in their foundation had cracked. Their fights were becoming more frequent and more ferocious.
Motel rooms were suddenly too small and so full of tension it was sometimes difficult to breathe. And the atmosphere in the Impala, which had always been full of easy conversation and companionable silence, was now so airtight with emotional strain that an hour long car ride had started to border on torture.
For Sam, anyway.
Dean didn't seem to care.
The older brother had an air of impassiveness about him that was rock solid. Sam had seen it a thousand times over the years, but had never, not once, had it directed at him.
It was an air reserved for randoms and impolite strangers, drunken patrons of local bars he was trying to hustle out of their money.
It was a bubble of indifference and coldness that Sam had always been kept inside of, close to his brother's side and away from the rest of the world.
Now it seemed like Sam was the only person in the world who was standing on the outside looking in.
Because it was Sam, he'd tried to talk about it. He'd tried to start conversations and even a few dreaded chick-flick moments in the hopes of working out whatever problems they had, and dammit, they had a lot of them.
It was almost staggering when he sat and thought about it; the arguments, the lies, the secrets. In an effort to keep Dean safe and happily oblivious, Sam had pushed him away until he'd started pushing back…with a brotherly hurt and an angry violence that Sam hadn't seen coming.
He'd been met by a brick wall wearing his brother's face, and for the life of him, he didn't know how to make it better.
And he wanted to, so badly that he could hardly see straight.
The sudden collective gasp, coupled with disbelieving laughter and a few hands clapping pulled Sam from his reverie and he focused his eyes on the scene before him.
The stool he was sitting on was only a short distance away from the crowded pool table, where said big brother was currently grinning like the metaphorical cat that ate the proverbial canary. Sam knew the routine well—pick your mark, wait for him to challenge you, lose a few games in order to create a false sense of security…and then when the testosterone level and the bet gets high enough, suddenly tap into your hidden talent and take the guy for all he's worth.
Sorry, dude…beginner's luck, I guess.
It was the oldest trick in the demon hunter's handbook, and Dean Winchester was as natural as they come.
And there it was. Right there. The indifference and the coldness.
The man Dean had been playing was nearly red in the face with fury and all Dean could do was keep on grinning, the silent threat of violence and bodily harm that was aimed at him across the pool table doing nothing to rattle his cage.
From his seat on his stool, Sam watched as the crowd around the table slowly started to disperse, leaving his brother alone to collect his winnings.
It was a two-way conversation, words being thrown from both men; but it was specifically Dean's voice that Sam was used to listening for…so it was only Dean's voice he heard.
"Hey man, it was your idea to make it a hundred bucks a ball."
$1500. No wonder the guy's pissed.
Sam highly doubted it was the all other man's idea, but he had enough sense to keep his mouth shut.
The man said something, and in response, Sam could practically see Dean's defensive hackles rise. He stood a little taller, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
A few more anxious seconds passed and the breath that Sam let out when the man went for his wallet was enormous. With everything else they had going on, a bar fight was the last thing either of them needed.
Social awkwardness and a concussion? No thanks.
The wad of bills exchanged hands and, as if to rock the boat further, Dean stood there and deliberately counted it. Eventually seeming satisfied, he sent the sore loser another thousand-watt smile and moved away from the table, pocketing the money as he approached.
The second their eyes met, the smile disappeared and Dean motioned to the door. "Let's get outta here."
The order was a familiar one, and it was an order Sam had absolutely no trouble following.
Standing from his stool, Sam quickly snatched his jacket and his small folder of research and made to follow his brother to the door. He felt eyes on them as they left but neither man turned around.
They pushed their way out into the parking lot and Sam let out yet another big breath. He couldn't help but smile at Dean's back as they walked. "So…fifteen-hundred, huh?"
"It was beginner's luck."
"Yeah, sure it was."
"It should last us a while." Dean glanced over his shoulder briefly. "You get anything done in there, or did you spend the whole damn time spacin' out?"
Looking down at the pavement, Sam swallowed hard. "The lunar cycle's right."
"According to the police reports I snagged, both victims had their hearts missing. Animal-like ferocity. Same old story."
"If there are, they didn't come forward."
Dean didn't say anything.
"At least we know where to start, right? The bodies were found down by the docks…so…that's probably the hunting ground."
They'd reached the Impala—Dean sliding in behind the wheel and Sam rounding to the passenger side. The engine revved loudly to life and once both brothers were situated in their seats, Dean hit the gas, the tires nearly squealing as the car practically flew out of the parking lot.
The motel room was silent, almost painfully silent.
Sam was at his usual seat at the small table, the laptop and several texts open in front of him…Dean was in his usual spot, sitting on his bed, leaning back against the headboard with his legs crossed casually at the ankle.
The older Winchester held a toothbrush in his hand, cleaning his teeth lightly as he stared down at the magazine in his lap.
Sam wondered briefly if Dean had gotten so into whatever he was reading that he'd forgotten he was brushing.
He couldn't stop the small smile at the sight and decided to take another crack at lightheartedness. "Hey, uh…Dean?" Dean pulled his eyes from the magazine and looked over. "You've been brushin' your teeth for nearly ten minutes."
Sucking the moisture from the bristles of the brush, Dean pulled it from his mouth. "Bad breath is a turn off, Sam."
"Yeah, but ten minutes?"
He'd been trying to make a joke, trying to get rid of the disgustingly heavy funk that now always seemed to be between them.
It backfired in his face.
Either not getting the humor or not wanting to, Dean threw aside the magazine and stood up from the bed. "Fine, whatever."
Sam watched as he practically stalked into the bathroom; there was the sound of running water and then the clatter as the toothbrush was thrown down to the counter top.
Before he could stop himself, Sam called out, "Dude, I was only kidding."
Dean said nothing.
"What's your problem?" A frown found its way onto the younger man's face; he could hear the squeak of the faucet and then the sudden silence as the water was turned off.
There was still no response, no answer of any kind.
So he sat there and waited.
Waited for the explosion that he could just feel brewing in their little universe.
One thing Sam was good at was gauging his older brother's silence; he knew every possible vibe and every feeling. That moment wasn't even close to being an exception.
The silence starting to grate on his nerves, he let out a sigh. "Dean?"
"I don't have a problem, Sam."
There was another loud clatter. "No. I don't." Dean suddenly emerged from the bathroom doorway, avoiding Sam's eyes as he snagged the car keys from the very end of his bed.
Sam sighed again. "Where you goin'?"
"I'm goin' out."
"Yeah, Sam, out."
Sam caught his lower lip between his teeth for a moment, watching as Dean slipped on his jacket and pulled on his shoes. "So you don't have a problem, huh? You don't have a problem, but you wanna book the second I bring it up?"
"I gotta get outta here—"
"We've been here an hour and a half!"
"An hour and a half too long." Adjusting the collar of his jacket, Dean snapped, "I don't have to explain myself to you. I'm goin' out, I'll be back later."
"And what about the werewolf?"
"Later? What the hell is that, later?" Dean didn't answer, but started towards the door; Sam instantly felt helpless. "Dean, will you just talk to me please?"
"What the hell do you want me to say, Sam?" His eyes flashed; the usually light and cheerful green deepening to a dark and stormy green. The change was instantaneous and the younger brother instantly found himself wondering what in the hell he'd done in the last hour to rile Dean up so much.
He couldn't think of a single thing.
Feeling slightly nervous but trying his damndest not to show it, Sam said, "I just…I just wanna know how the hell we got like this." Dean's face was ice cold and Sam felt anxious goosebumps rise on his skin. "We never used to be like this, things were different-"
"Your damn right things were different." The familiar deep voice was loud and angry; Sam had to fight to keep from flinching. "We used to be brothers…we used to be a team!"
"And we still are-"
"We still are? No, we're not. Not even close."
He swallowed hard. "Dean…I just wanna talk about this-"
"You wanna talk? We are talking!"
"I'm talking, you're shouting."
"You want me to talk? Fine-" As if needing something to do with his hands—to stop himself from decking his little brother in the face—Dean stripped off his jacket and threw it to the bed. Sam couldn't contain a flinch that time. "You wanna know why things are different?"
"Things are different because while I was gone? You turned into a demon's bitch. She calls, you go runnin'…she shows up, you follow her lead, screw what I think about it. You're sneakin' outta here in the middle of the damn night, thinkin' you're all slick. Lemme tell you, Sam, you're not as smooth as you think."
Sam at least had the sense to look ashamed; he pulled his eyes away from his brother's furious face and looked down as he sheepishly started picking at the gouged surface of the table.
"You don't trust me anymore with the shit you're runnin', hell, half the time I have no freakin' idea what you're up to-"
"I told you what I'm doing with Ruby."
"You mean besides bangin' her?"
Sam took a deep, measuring breath and shook his head. "I told you—she's helping me find Lilith."
"Helping you find Lilith. Yeah, ok. Was that before or after she talked you into her pants?"
"She didn't talk me into anything, Dean."
"Oh, so it was your choice to have that little human/demon love connection?"
That damn brick wall was still wearing his brother's face, and Sam couldn't help but think all he was doing was bashing his head into it over and over again.
His explanations weren't helping, in fact, they were making things ten times worse. He couldn't meet Dean's eyes because of the disgust and fury he saw in the green-gold depths. And as much as it irritated him, drove him absolutely crazy…he couldn't defend himself.
Yeah, ok, sleeping with Ruby had been stupid. Not one of his more intelligent decisions. But none of that mattered. If she was going to get him to Lilith, he could forget the revulsion he felt within himself.
Forgetting Dean's revulsion was another story.
Dean was watching him and he raised his eyebrows to show he was waiting. "Sam?"
"It wasn't my idea, Dean…it just kinda happened, it wasn't planned-"
"It wasn't planned? She's not a drunken prom date, Sam! She's a demon! A hell-bitch! What makes her so much more trustworthy then all the other smoky bastards we've ganked since we were kids?"
Sam groaned and nearly banged his fist on the table in frustration. "She wants Lilith dead as much as we do!"
"That's what she's told you! For all you know, her and Lilith are best freakin' friends, playin' you like the idiot you are!"
"Idiot. Thanks a lot."
"You're trusting a demon, Sam. You're willingly, voluntarily, listening to what she's sayin' and takin' it seriously. What the hell do you expect?"
"I expect you to trust me!" There was a sudden burning in the back of Sam's throat and he mentally kicked himself; his emotions were exposed, his nerves were raw and chaffed. He could feel his own explosion brewing—while Dean's explosion was in anger, Sam's was going to be in tears and upset. "I've always trusted you. For years, it didn't matter what it was—you said jump and I jumped, because I knew it was the right thing to do. I've always trusted you. I'm asking you to trust me now."
A short silence fell in the room where all they did was stare at each other. Two pairs of eyes—one furious, one tearful—locked together from across the table.
Sam knew what Dean was going to say before he'd even opened his mouth.
"By askin' me to trust you, you're askin' me to trust her." He slowly shook his head. "I can't trust her Sam…I won't. I can't do it."
Moisture was pooling in Sam's eyes and he tried to keep himself from blinking—the second he blinked, a tear would fall. Hell no. "And if she leads us to Lilith?"
"She won't. It's a game, man…a trick, to get you right where she wants you."
"And where is that?"
"As far away from me as possible."
Those hadn't been the words Sam had been expecting. He found himself blinking in mild surprise. "Away from you?"
"I don't trust her as far as I can throw her and she knows it. She's usin' you…and to use you…she has to get you away from me."
"You don't seriously believe that, do you?"
Dean groaned angrily. "If that's not what her game is, then why all the sneakin' around? Why all the midnight meetings? Why didn't you tell me about her when I first got back?"
"Because you'd just gotten back. I was too busy trying to convince myself that you were really here; I wasn't thinking about her."
"You lied to me, Sam. Right to my goddamn face, you lied."
"I asked you, out right, if you'd been messin' with your Shining while I was gone…and you told me that you hadn't, because it'd practically been my dyin' wish." Dean snorted bitterly and his eyes flashed again. "So don't tell me that you weren't thinkin' about her. You were thinkin' about how to protect her from me the day I got outta the Pit."
"I didn't want you mad-"
"And you're convinced that what you're doin' is a good thing?"
"I'm killing demons and hunting down Lilith! Of course I do!"
"If you believe that it's such a good thing, what reason would I have to be pissed about it?"
Sam sighed and raked a hand through his longish hair.
He was suddenly very tired.
"I can't make you understand, Dean." He said quietly, his eyes going back to the surface of the table. "I can never…ever…explain it to you in way that makes sense."
"Yeah, because it's bullcrap-"
"No-" Sam shook his head and finally raised his eyes, in no way embarrassed for the tears that were still gathering. "I can't make you understand…because it wasn't you who watched your brother get dragged into Hell."
His voice broke and he cleared his throat, still shaking his head.
He was so friggin' tired.
He wanted so badly for Dean to understand. He wanted the support of his family, the support of the one person in the world he couldn't live without—he knew he couldn't because he'd already tried.
But the fact was that Dean was bigoted when it came to the supernatural, he'd been that way since they were teenagers…since they were old enough to understand that something supernatural had killed their mother and what exactly that meant.
If it's supernatural, we kill it. That's our job.
The words were two years old, but they were just as true two years later as they'd been the day Dean had first said them. Sure, he'd made exceptions for Castiel and the heavenly-haloed…for that one nest of vampires back in Red Lodge…
But Dean's exceptions when it came to the supernatural were few and far between.
Sam had just hoped that his own trust in Ruby would make the difference…
"No, Sam…I only had my brother die in my arms, kneeling in mud."
And with that one sentence, the conversation was over.
Sam couldn't continue it, and from the look on his face, Dean couldn't either.
Sam ran his hand through his hair again and sniffed as quietly as he could. In his peripheral vision, he saw Dean reach down and grab his jacket—he didn't even bother putting it on as he walked to the door again. "I'll be back later."
And as easily as that, he was gone. The loud bang of the door shutting and the emotionally stunned little brother sitting at the table the only signs he'd been there in the first place.
Sam sat there in silence for a few minutes, trying his best to decompress. The pressure in his chest was astonishing—the insane mental stress, the upset, the anxiousness. He felt like he could spontaneously combust at any moment; like every single emotion on the human spectrum had just coursed through his veins, making him feel sick to his stomach.
But the sadness he felt? That, more so than anything else, was the worst of it all. It was like scalding hot water pulsing through him, pounding in time with his heartbeat and making absolutely everything hurt.
Only his big brother could instill that kind of sensation. It was only for his family that Sam would allow himself to feel that way.
Dean was his family.
The stubborn ass was all he had left.
Running his hands roughly down his now tear-stained face, Sam let out a loud breath. He was exhausted and going to bed sounded like the way to go—but he couldn't deny the intense draw of fresh air and personal space.
After all, if Dean could take space, why couldn't he?
And so he stood from his chair, subconsciously smoothing down his shirt as he slowly crossed the darkened motel room. The Impala was gone—Dean having taken the keys—but a cab or a city bus could get him across the city to the docks in no time at all.
The glowing red display of the alarm clock beside Dean's bed announced cheerfully that it was just after four in the morning. Sam knew he should get some sleep, try to relax his over-active brain and take the time to slow his mind down. But he knew that he wouldn't be able to. After a conversation like that, it would be next to impossible.
Grabbing his own jacket from its place on his bed, he made quick work of slipping it on. His favorite handgun was sitting there as well, just inside his duffel, and he grabbed it, ejecting the magazine to reassure himself that it was loaded with silver bullets…just in case.
He loaded the full clip back into the gun with a gratifying click, releasing the slide and loading a round into the chamber. Then, as Dean had taught him, he set the safety before stashing the gun in the waistband of his jeans.
You don't wanna be shootin' off one of your butt-cheeks, Sammy. An ass that's out of proportion will make you the butt of some really bad jokes. The butt of bad jokes, get it?
Sam couldn't help but chuckle to himself, hearing the voice of a seventeen-year old Dean clearly in his mind.
That had been the day Sam had been given his very first nine millimeter Beretta. He'd been given the gun when he was thirteen…he was a perfect shot by the time he was fourteen.
Grabbing the spare room key, he shoved it into his pocket for safe keeping along with the hand-drawn map of the city docks he'd made earlier that afternoon. He had a trail in his mind and if he was lucky he'd be able to make some leeway in their investigation.
If a werewolf was hunting down there, there was bound to be clues…a path of some kind he could follow.
Their plan was to go directly to Bobby's—only a little over an hour away—once the wolf was taken care of. Sam was longing for the routine of Bobby's house, the feeling of lightness that overcame him the second he crossed the rickety old doorstep. The older hunter was the closest thing the brothers had to a father, and they loved him as such. With things the way they were with Dean, Bobby's company would make all the difference.
Ensuring once more he had his key, his map, his gun and enough money for either bus or cab fare, Sam quickly wrote a note for Dean and then left the room, pulling the door gently closed and locking it behind him.
He brought the Impala to a gentle stop right outside their room door and then sat there for a moment, letting the engine idle. The familiar sound calmed him—most of the time it gave him pleasure-goosebumps, but at that moment he needed an anchor that wasn't his little brother. He needed an anchor because of his little brother.
It was a rare occurrence, but it had started happening more and more often.
Dean was feeling guilty.
The short drive around town hadn't done a damn thing to make him feel better. Any philosophy that driving would clear his mind was completely blown out of the water; he had a headache, so he couldn't listen to music…and the silence had only given him more time to think about the horrendous conversation he and Sam had had before he left.
He was starting to piss himself off.
With an angry sigh, he cut the engine and then pushed his door open. The parking lot of the motel was quiet as he slid from the car; he could hear a dog barking somewhere off in the distance, but that was it. No crickets, no nothing. It was too damn cold.
Dean noted as he approached the door that there was no light shining through the curtains in the window. He wasn't surprised that Sam had fallen asleep; the kid read when he was supposed to be sleeping, and when he finally did manage to sleep, he was usually up and out the door at some ridiculous ungodly hour.
The term "insomniac" flashed through Dean's mind, and he shook his head, unlocking and opening the door as quietly as he could.
The room was just as eerily silent as the parking lot. There was the distinct hum of the ancient heater in the far corner, but there was no Sammy-is-sleeping sounds; there was no gentle snoring or even breathing, no restless tossing and turning, no shifting underneath the blankets.
Dean's big-brother-spidey-sense was tingling and without hesitation he reached across and flipped the light switch. The room was suddenly bathed in light and his eyes went immediately to the bed on the far side of the room.
The bedding was untouched.
His voice was anxious and unsure as he continued to study the room.
The bathroom light was off, the door wide open—no Sammy there.
The pathetic excuse for a kitchen was nearly too small for the kid to stand in, let alone hide in—no Sammy there, either.
And Dean very much doubted his little—but truly enormous—brother was hiding under the bed.
Making his way into the room, his eyes scanned over Sam's untouched bed again. And there, thank Christ, was a small piece of paper propped up against the alarm clock.
Dean lunged for it, his eyes trailing across the words written in Sam's handwriting.
Gone down to the docks, Addison and Highway Seven – 4:12.
He immediately redirected his eyes to the glowing digits of the alarm clock.
The relief Dean had felt when he'd seen the note was completely erased as the dots connected in his mind—Sammy was gone…he was going down to the docks, where they were sure a werewolf was hunting.
The annoying little bastard had gone to a werewolf's hunting ground…on his own.
Dean's fingers clenched and before he knew it, the note was crumpled in his tight fist.
As if he didn't have enough reasons to beat the tar out of his pain in the ass little brother.
The list just kept on growing.
The air was damp and cold as he walked. The two layers he was wearing were completely useless—goosebumps had long since erupted on his skin and he pulled his jacket tighter around himself.
The twenty-five minute cab ride down to the industrial section of town had been interesting enough. Sam was sure they'd taken the longest route possible through the downtown core; he remembered Dean saying the trip could be made in just over ten minutes if they stuck to the back roads. Two lanes, no streetlights, hardly any traffic.
The steadily growing meter attached to the dash was just one of the reasons he preferred buses.
The disgustly gross cherry-pop-it scent contraption-with a smell that in no way could be considered air freshener-was another reason.
The driver had been genuinely curious as to why such a 'decent looking young man" was heading into that part of the city at such a late hour. Sam had pulled an explanation out of his ass, ignoring the skeptical eyes staring at him in the rear-view.
Fantastic. Now the cab driver thinks I'm a junkie.
Oh well. People had thought worse of him in his lifetime.
Sam had been walking for only a few short minutes. Passing under a small wall lamp attached to the side of the building, he managed to check his watch-4:42am.
He tried to keep his footsteps as silent as possible, not exactly sure who—or what—was around. The weight of his gun against his lower back was incredibly comforting. He'd already reached back to let his fingertips lightly graze the cold metal, just to reassure himself that it was there…loaded and ready if he needed it.
It was almost funny to think of how any other person in the world would feel with a nine millimeter automatic sitting against the small of their back.
Sam doubted very much incredible comfort was one of the emotions they'd experience.
As he rounded a corner of a dark and presumably deserted warehouse, he froze at the familiar feeling. The prickling of the back of his neck, goosebumps exploding again but for a whole different reason.
He was instantly aware of it.
He was being watched.
Thirty meters back, crouching behind a dumpster on his left.
Yeah, there was something.
Trying to gain control of his suddenly skyrocketing anxiety, Sam finally made his way around the corner. As soon as he was out of sight of the dumpster, he whipped his hand back and grabbed his gun—as silently as possible, he removed the safety and readjusted the slide, making sure the first round was loaded.
A single soft click from the gun echoed into the silence and Sam bit the inside of his lip, mentally cursing up a storm. Whatever was following him would now know he was armed.
If it was the wolf, the only thing that knowledge would accomplish would be increasing the savagery of the initial attack.
Element of surprise. Eliminate the weapon. Incapacitate the victim. Go for the jugular.
His theory was proven correct.
The violence and the suddenness of the assault was in no way lost on him. He hit the ground, his shoulder slamming into the rough concrete before he'd even realized what had happened.
He knew within the depths of himself that it was the wolf. There was long brown hair…electric blue eyes, pupils contracted…a mouth full of ragged, sharp, bloodstained teeth.
The weight on Sam's chest was nearly crushing. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. Terror made his heart clench and he found himself struggling to stay conscious.
The strangled voice inside his head was loud, screaming, begging to be let out. But even though his lips were slightly parted, no sound came out. Just the harsh, ragged inhalation and release of his panic-striken breathing. He felt his face twist in agony and he fought to scream, fought to make any kind of sound.
There was a flash of mangy teeth and claw, a blinding pain, and then nothing but darkness.