Chapter 1 - To know better
Chapter 1. To know better
"When I swore to myself that I'd never go back there…"
Sam would be lying if he said he hadn't noticed the shaky edge to Dean's voice when he spoke those words. He would be lying if he said it hadn't surprised him. But in that moment it was nothing but plain pressing urgency that was driving his every impulse. Urgency to go to the woman in his dream and save her. It was as if a freaky automatic pilot had switched on in his brain and taken control of his actions since the vision had woken him up. They had to save her. They just had to. That's what they were supposed to do, right? Save people.
Sam would be lying if he said he felt any remorse for using that particular psychology on Dean, as he would be if he said he had actually thought about it at all. All that mattered to Sam was the knowledge that his older brother wouldn't let an innocent woman die just because he wasn't crazy about going back home. Of course, Dean didn't retort. He just clenched his jaw and started packing, all the while avoiding Sam's gaze.
Twenty hours later, they were headed to Lawrence at full speed. At first, Sam had been frantic about not being there on time to save the family, and his continuous finger tapping and nervous glances to the speedometer should have been on the brink of finishing Dean's patience. For some reason, though, they didn't, and after a while, Sam resigned himself and relaxed a little.
Day slipped and night came over again to find them still on the road. In all that time, Dean had been at the wheel, gripping it so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. He hadn't said a word since they left the motel. Well, that wasn't exactly true. Sam had offered to drive a few hours ago, and Dean had barked at him to shut up.
"I'm driving this bitch as fast as I can, Sam, so do me a favor and leave me alone!"
"Okay…" Sam had muttered, taken aback by Dean's reaction. Not that he was unfamiliar with his brother's bad temper now and then, but had he just called his baby "bitch?"
Stealing a glance at Dean's tense jaw and noting how fixedly he stared at the road, awareness started coming slowly into Sam's brain that his brother had actually tried to tell him something at the motel room, and he was feeling a bit guilty —no, actually very guilty— for having missed it. No, he wouldn't lie; he had overridden it. "Too late", he thought. If he tried to get to Dean now, he might infuriate him. Besides, his older brother would prefer being soaked in boiling oil before letting him pick up that conversation. Sam sighed. Sometimes silence was the best option, and now was definitely not a good time to push Dean.
As the road raced past his half-closed eyes, Sam started to doze off. Angry with himself, he blinked awake and tried to focus on what their next steps would be once they got to Lawrence. But his thoughts kept coming back to Dean.
I swore I'd never go back there. And yet, "there" was exactly where they were driving to, because Sam had wanted it. "No, because there're innocent people in danger," Sam reminded himself, "He knows that. He understands." He is strong. He is unbreakable…
Sam woke up with a jolt when the car ran off the road all of a sudden, and he was pushed against the passenger's door. Dean corrected the direction quickly with a sharp turn and swore under his breath.
"Dean!" Sam complained, a bit disoriented.
"Sorry, something got in the way. Go back to sleep".
With his heart still pounding, Sam eyed his watch to check the time. 5.45AM.
"Where are we?"
"Couple of hours from Lawrence."
"Man, you really should let me drive," Sam said, rubbing the back of his neck.
Dean frowned, without taking his eyes off the road. Although he might have wanted to pretend he wasn't tired, his whole body language was screaming the opposite message. Anyway, if anything, that only made him edgier.
"And you should stop fucking bugging me, Sammy," he grunted back, stressing his kid brother's pet name. "But that's not going to happen, is it?"
Upset, Sam clicked his tongue and looked away. God, he hated when Dean did that: throwing his concern back at him harshly, so that he would stop worrying and get angry instead. They called it 'the exasperation trick". And despite the fact that Sam should probably be used to Dean's lame strategy, it always worked as the older expected it to.
"Yeah, crashing the car 'cause you fell asleep sounds much more appealing," Sam attacked back with an offended tone.
He hadn't wanted to say that; he hadn't meant it. Dean was the biggest control freak on Earth, and though that made him an annoying pain in the neck most of times, Sam was aware his big brother was especially hard on himself. That's why he seriously doubted Dean would ever do something as irresponsible as driving when he didn't feel capable of it. And Sam knew Dean would never do that if his little brother was on board. But that was the thing about words. They couldn't be taken back.
Dean's hands gripped the steering wheel tighter as he fixed a hard, inscrutable look on Sam. They stared at each other for a couple of seconds until Dean shook his head lightly and looked back to the road with a deeply hurt expression.
"Go to hell, Sam."
Sam clenched his fists and shut up, because it was obvious that neither of them was in the mood and he'd blow it again should he try to fix it. After a short while, though, he broke the silence.
"Dean, you have to stop."
"Sam, I swear if you say that again…"
"Dude, the gas. We're running out of gas."
Dean stole an incredulous glance at the gas marker and bit his lip. At first, he remained stiff, not wanting to give in. Then, as resignation –and a weird feeling of resentment towards the Impala- overtook him, part of his façade vanished and he let out a weary sigh. Of course, Sam noticed and wanted to say something, but before he could do that, Dean turned on the radio and Black Sabbath roared down the road, shutting him down.
At dawn, they stopped at a gas station about 20 miles from Lawrence. Metallica had replaced Black Sabbath a while ago, and neither of the deafening bands had allowed the brothers to talk since their little fight. "Well, that was exactly the point," Sam said to himself. The good side was that it had also given them time to chill and when the music was turned off, the silence was only awkward, not bitter.
Dean pulled up the brake and turned off the engine. He didn't step out of the car right away, but remained sitting with his eyes fixed on the steering wheel around which his hands still maintained a death grip. Now in daylight, the dark circles under his eyes were especially noticeable, and the redness surrounding that mesmerizing hazel green color look he and his brother shared, told that he was making a big effort to keep them open. Sam shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
"Dean…about earlier, I…"
"Never mind," Dean cut him off with a shake of his head.
Sam looked away.
"I'm sorry," the younger said anyway.
"Yeah, me too."
Dean's soft response made Sam turn to face his brother. Dean wasn't looking at him, however, but at the wheel, where his grip had loosened and his fingers were now tapping. The older Winchester cleared his throat and said:
"Take care of the tank, will you? I have to go to the bathroom."
"Great," Dean nodded, still tapping thoughtfully.
A second later he tapped the wheel harder, as if he had just made up his mind about something, and he stepped out of the car without looking back. Sam sighed and tracked his brother's resolute strides until Dean disappeared around the corner. Then he stepped out as well and cringed at the stiffness in his limbs.
"Fill her up," he said to the approaching guy while he stretched and breathed in the refreshing morning breeze.
The guy nodded and pulled out the gas pump to fill the Impala's tank. In the meantime, Sam sat on the hood of the Impala to take in the landscape around them. It was weird, he thought, to be here. He couldn't say he remembered much of Lawrence. From what he had been able to piece together by talking with his Dad and Dean, their family had left the town when Sam was five. So rather than real memories about the place, Sam only had second-hand knowledge of the time during which they had lived there. That would probably be different for Dean, he thought, instinctively eyeing the corner of space where his brother had disappeared. Yeah, all this would be more familiar to Dean. He still might remember. The thought left Sam with a light sensation of uneasiness, and it took all his will power not to go and check on his brother.
He is strong…
Sam was startled a minute later by Dean's sudden reappearance, and he quickly averted his eyes from the space he had been staring at during the last 60 seconds. Suddenly, Sam's heart was pounding inside his chest, and it was because for a moment he'd sworn Dean's eyes were bright with tears. But he had probably imagined it, because when he dared to look up at his brother again there was no trace of them.
"Hey…" Sam started.
"Hey. Are we done here?"
Sam hesitated, as the familiar "You okay?" question was brushed away by his big brother even before he had the chance to ask it.
"Yeah, I'll go pay," Sam said. Dean nodded, or so it seemed, because he was giving his back to Sam.
The younger Winchester entered the gas station to pay for the gas and used the opportunity to grab a couple of donuts. Maybe he should get them some coffee too; yep, that would be nice. He paid for it all and headed to the Impala, but he slowed down his pace as he approached the car. Dean was already sitting behind the steering wheel, but he was now leaning against it, his eyes closed.
"You're such a stubborn asshole," Sam murmured to himself.
But that was good old Dean, the only person Sam knew besides his father, whose philosophy of life worked completely upside down compared to the rest of the world. The safest way to know if Dean needed help was to check if he accepted it, and then to think the opposite. Dean wouldn't mind giving Sam dirty looks whenever he took too long to go to the trunk and pick up his bags. Simply taking the time to put his jacket on or to tie his shoelaces seemed to be reason enough for Dean to complain that he was nobody's butler and to throw Sam's bag at him in irritation. But, for example, if Dean was hurt after a hunt, even barely walking, he would be damned if he let Sam carry his stuff. What's more, he'd resolutely grab Sam's belongings too, so as to prove to his brother's evaluating eye that he needed no one. At least, if his kid brother didn't hurry to grab it himself.
The key, Sam had learned, was not giving Dean the chance to accept a hand or not. The key was giving it to him matter-of-factly, without asking for permission.
Startled, Dean opened his eyes when a bag of donuts landed in his lap, and he looked up to find Sam handing him a cup of coffee.
"I was thinking," Sam started, in a casual way.
"Really?" Dean arched an eyebrow but took the coffee.
"We might find a motel before checking on our old house and crash there for a couple of hours."
Dean rubbed his forehead and glanced suspiciously at his brother.
"I thought we had to hurry."
That was low, to use his own anxiety against him. But Sam didn't fall for it and forced a sensible tone.
"We do, but it's 7AM on a Sunday, man. We can't get a whole family out of bed and expect them to believe the first thing we come up with. We have to think of a strategy."
Dean frowned and sipped his coffee. Sam feared what he was trying to do was too obvious for his brother –and it was– but at least he had been smart enough not to insist on driving, and Sam had the idea that Dean gave him credit for that. In fact, Sam was pretty sure his older brother was ready to let him win, just not before pricking a bit further.
"You're the visionary," Dean mocked, and he still sounded aggravated at Sam for hiding his little "secret" from him. "If you say so."
Sam pursed his lips.
Not biting it, Dean. Not biting it.
"All right then," the younger concluded, and tapped at his brother's window frame before heading to the passenger door.
All things considered, he was pretty satisfied. They had gotten to Lawrence almost in a blink of an eye (that, he had to thank Dean for), and after a bit of rest they would be prepared to stop whatever evil was attacking the family in his vision. Hell, they might even be nearing the end of this damn crusade and close to destroying the thing that killed their mom. The thing that killed, Jess!
All things considered, Sam's mind repeated. Dean drove silently at his side, with a blank expression back on his face. "He's just tired," Sam chastised himself. "And he's going to be pissed if you don't stop looking at him."
But then, he wasn't yelling, nor looking daggers at Sam, nor anything that Dean should be doing, just because he was Dean. God, he even had agreed to use some rest when Sam had suggested it! Sam had seen Dean tired and sleepless many times before, but never like this. The idea that there was something else going on with his brother nagged at the back of his mind.
I swore to myself that I'd never go back there… Oh, yes. He had heard the words, but he hadn't processed them. Until now, when he saw Dean's breath catch as his eyes flickered on a "Welcome to Lawrence" sign and then lingered a bit on the rearview mirror.
"Mmm?" his brother replied, immediately paying attention to the road again.
"Are you, uh…Are you gonna be okay with this, man?"
Sam would be lying if he said he didn't realize how terribly late that question sounded now. Worse, how perfunctory it may sound to Dean. But he would be lying too if he said he had been able to predict how this particular hunt would affect his big brother. Because, okay, this wasn't like any other gig, but he was just as sure that there was nothing in the world his brother couldn't deal with. Yeah, Dean had definitely done a hell of a job on him. For years he had drilled into his baby brother's brain what had been an absolute truth during his childhood and something adulthood had not completely erased from his subconscious. Dean was strong. Dean was unbreakable. Sam knew that.
"Let me get back to you on that," Dean muttered.
He should have known better.