Leaning against the passenger door of his car, hands loosely inside his pockets, Dean closed his eyes and tilted his head back, enjoying the mild warmth of the afternoon sun on his face. He breathed in and out a couple of times, calmly, and reopened his eyes to let his gaze wander idly over the dorms. A bunch of students passed by the street and the sound of their laughter drew Dean's attention for an instant. Not willing to risk meeting the strangers' eyes, he looked down when they got closer.
It had been a little over five weeks since Sam and he had left Lawrence, a little over five weeks since they had hit the road with the first light of morning. Snuck out of the trashed room to be more precise, not even bothering to check themselves out. Looking back now, Dean couldn't help but smile a little at how unlike Sam such a behavior had been, yet how his little brother hadn't wavered in the least.
I must be perverting him.
Dean chuckled silently and then sighed. Those last weeks had been really rough. They had spent the first week after leaving their hometown just driving away with no other destination than that which put miles between them and their nightmares. Dean had allowed Sam to take over the wheel without much of a protest. He had felt exhausted and so much as if he had lost his way that directing the Impala seemed pointless. He had slept practically through the entire first couple of days, and later on he had remained awfully quiet for a while. Other than tossing worried glances at him every 30 seconds, Sam hadn't pushed it and, for that, Dean thought, the kid deserved credit.
Dean hadn't been the best of company during the second week either. For him, the delicate balance in their brotherly relationship with Sam —which determined that he was the protector and not the other way round— had been compromised, and Dean was so ashamed and angry at himself for having made a scene back in the motel that he could barely look at Sam. From silent brooding he had passed to a guilt-ridden, passive-aggressive treatment that should have had Sam bailing on him at the first opportunity.
But for some reason, Sam had seemed determined to take all the crap Dean was throwing at him. After days of using his best exasperation-garnering techniques on his little brother and then clashing against Sam's wall of jaw-clenching, tongue biting countenance, Dean had started to consider that maybe, only maybe, he could bring himself to admit that, at the time, leaning on his brother had felt good. And that there was nothing wrong about it.
Somewhere in the third week, they had fought. Dean didn't even remember how it had started, only that early hours of morning had found him at a bar, staring blankly at a tequila shot. He had wanted to get wasted, but after a couple of drinks the numbness that had started to creep up his body had frightened him. Dean had felt sick of tail spinning, and had known that he needed to regain control, because no matter how lost he felt, the road of destruction he was headed towards wasn't the best of paths. The balance had to be restored, and Dean couldn't do it on his own. So, he had called Sam and had asked him to come and get him.
And Sam had come. And he had gotten him. Amongst the tension of the last days, it had been their turning point. Sam had downed the shot, and then Dean and he had sat outside the bar for a couple of hours just talking about nothing in particular. When Dean had sobered up, Sam had handed him the car keys with a stern look. They then had smiled to each other for the first time in days. And it had felt so good that Dean was able to sleep the whole night without nightmares.
Out of those five weeks, it had been only during the last two that he had been able to think about the events of those couple of days when they had been back home. Until then, he had refused to let his mind go there at all. One day, while he drove and Sam dozed, he had allowed himself to remember, if only for the sake of testing himself and had managed not to choke on his grief. Maybe he was healing, maybe he had simply rebuilt his walls. But the fact remained that he was back, and that was what had mattered.
Later, when Sam had woken up, Dean had asked him if he was okay. He had realized during his musings that he hadn't asked his brother this question after everything that had happened and he felt terrible because of it. What kind of big brother was he? Sam had arched an eyebrow and looked at Dean as if he had grown a second head. Uncomfortable, the older brother had rolled his eyes and grumbled something slightly resembling, "Whatever, dude, just asking." It had elicited a grin from Sam, who had turned to contemplate the landscape through the window.
"I'm fine," Sam had softly said after a while.
"I've missed you."
Then six days ago, Sam had mustered the courage to tell Dean there was something he needed to do. Dean hadn't been too surprised when his brother explained what. More than that, he had been proud of his brother's bravery, and he knew it was his turn to have his back.
They had been in Palo Alto for the last three days, looking for any trace Jessica might still be around. Thankfully, when they had scanned the area they found nothing out of the ordinary. But it had been hard for Sam anyway; the pain wasn't only intense, but also too recent. Dean had obliged and checked out Sam's place as many times as the younger brother had considered necessary, even when he was already convinced there was nothing there to find. He wasn't very good with words, and that was his way to be supportive.
They were about to leave now, since Sam was finally satisfied. The younger hunter had wanted to visit the dorms alone one last time, and Dean was waiting for him across the street by the car, with too much time to think. About Lawrence, about the last month. About their father.
They hadn't heard from John since he had left them in Kansas. Of course, that wasn't a first. But while Dean was slowly coming to terms with his mother's death, he wasn't handling his father's reaction very well. It wasn't that he didn't understand it, because he felt like he deserved John's anger for what he had done to the man's wife. But the thought that was tearing him apart was that his father had ordered him away from the hunt, which was the only thing he knew how to do and the only thing that made them a family. Even if he had sometimes doubted his father's love for him, his father's trust in his abilities had always been a fact he cherished over any other part of their relationship. Now he was no longer a son and no longer a soldier either. He was nothing, with nowhere to go, and no purpose to follow.
Of course, he could disobey John's order and keep on hunting. His brother and he had been hunting on their own for months now, and they were perfectly capable. Besides, as far as he knew, Sam had no intention of stopping for the time being. Funny, he thought, because Sam of all people should have felt relieved and eager to take his father's 'permission' to leave a life he hated and had run away from not so long ago.
Maybe he was only doing it for him. Sam had been doing a lot of things for him lately.
Anyhow, they had seen evil too often by now to re-learn how to ignore it, and Dean didn't have it in him to step aside and allow other people to get hurt when he could do something to prevent it. Jennifer and her family were probably alive because of that. But that didn't mean he didn't miss his captain's blessing.
His thoughts were interrupted by Sam's return. The younger hunter exited the dorm building and walked gloomily to the Impala. Dean straightened up and sighed when his brother, eyes low and suspiciously bright, came closer. Once by the car, Sam took a moment before raising his eyes and meeting his brother's questioning look. He rewarded Dean's concern with a brief smile, an unspoken "I'm alright" that made Dean's expression soften.
"You ready?" Dean questioned, eyes fastened on Sam's.
The younger brother snorted, a more relaxed smile lingering now on his lips.
"Nah, it's okay," he said, shaking his head and opening the passenger's door to claim his seat.
Absently scanning the familiar surroundings while chewing on his bottom lip, Sam remained silent while the Impala made its way out of the city. Well aware that the younger man was troubled, Dean kept an inconspicuous eye on his brother but decided to give him a bit of space and also to give their Impala a bit of time to work her magic. Their little sanctuary had always had a soothing effect on them. Even when they couldn't talk anywhere else, they were able to do so in the car. And to tell the truth, Dean wanted to talk too.
"I called Missouri this morning," Dean commented, stealing a glance towards Sam to gauge his reaction. His little brother cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Yeah, well," Dean waved a hand to play it down. "I was pretty rude with her. I figured I had to… you know…"
"So, how's she doing?"
"She's okay," Dean answered. After a beat, he added, "Jennifer is alright too."
"Good," Sam said, smiling honestly and resting his head back on the headrest. His voice fell down to a whisper. "That's good."
"She asked about you," Dean pointed out.
Sam grunted absently and rolled his head to look through the window.
"She wanted to know if you…" Dean continued tentatively. Sam insisted on avoiding his eyes. "Huh…you know," the older hunter said and then cleared his throat. "These dreams you have…"
"I haven't had any since then," Sam cut his brother off.
"Yeah…Okay," Dean said, shrugging. But he wanted to make sure, and so he pushed. "So no weird vibes lately, no spidey sense tingling…?"
"No, Dean, nothing. Will you drop it already?" Sam protested.
Dean bit his lip. Sam was getting defensive and he really didn't want to upset his brother. He was just…
"She seemed kinda worried."
"She shouldn't be." Sam grumbled back.
"Because…if there was anything, I mean, you know you could tell me. You would tell me…right?"
Sam ran his right hand through his hair, gripped the back of his neck, and left his arm like that so that he could use it as a pillow against the window.
"Yeah, Dean. I'd tell you," Sam replied softly.
Dean nodded, momentarily satisfied. But only momentarily.
"Because…" Dean started again. Sam sighed but Dean ignored it. "I know maybe after the way we left you think that…But you know if anything happened, or if you, huh, felt that you…If you wanted her help, you know I would…We could go back."
Sam turned at that, and Dean felt his brother's eyes boring a hole in his head.
"If you needed it," he concluded, swallowing uncomfortably.
When Sam didn't answer right away, Dean felt compelled to tear his attention from the road and shift it onto his brother. Sam was looking at him with a mix of surprise and adoration that made Dean uneasy. And at the same time a bit warmer inside.
"Dean, you don't ha-…"
"Just so you know it," it was Dean's time to cut his brother off.
Sam smiled and resumed staring at the passing landscape.
"Thanks," he muttered.
Dean released his breath, nodded, and focused on driving for the next few miles. Sam was quiet for so long that Dean thought he had fallen asleep. But when after half an hour of silence Dean tossed a look at his little brother, he saw Sam had his eyes half-closed and was wearing a pensive frown.
"What is it?" he asked his little brother curiously.
Sam's frown deepened, but his only answer was a small shake to his head.
"I know there's something going on in that freaky head of yours, Sam," Dean insisted, trying to insert a bit of humor. "C'mon, you may as well tell me."
"It's silly, Dean," Sam said wearily.
"So it's something," the older hunter reasoned.
Sam huffed and looked down, eliciting a worried frown from Dean. Now he was sure, because Sam was wearing that face, the "I'm beating myself up over something, and please tell me it's stupid so I can stop feeling like crap" face.
Perhaps Palo Alto had been harder on him than he had had given away.
"You want me to pull over?"
"No, Dean. It's nothing," the younger man answered firmly. Too firmly for Dean's liking. And with a voice too thick with emotion for his big brother to buy it.
"Yeah, right," Dean grunted and pulled the car over to the side of the road.
Unfazed by Sam's low grunt of annoyance, Dean killed the engine and turned around to face him.
"Spill," he said flatly.
The younger man scowled at him defiantly, but Dean didn't recoil. He could tell something was seriously bugging Sam, and he wanted to fix it. Hell, he wanted his big brother role back, once and for all.
"Dean," Sam whined. It didn't work. When Sammy gave up in the glaring contest and pursed his lips, he looked achingly young. "Man, really. It's stupid, can't we just leave it?"
"Well, obviously it's not stupid to you. So, you don't want to talk about it? Fine. But don't keep from talking about it, because you've got it in your head that whatever it is isn't important. That's just lame."
Sam's chin trembled as he set his jaw.
Dean arched an eyebrow and coaxed his brother to go on. At least, he hadn't started with "I don't want to talk about it," so there was still hope.
"I was thinking about Jess, okay?"
Dean nodded in understanding. He had expected something like that.
Sam sighed and drummed his fingers nervously on his knee.
"And about Mom," the younger brother muttered.
"Uh-huh, what about them?"
"Stupid, I know. Humour me anyway."
The younger man took a deep breath.
"Mom…when she…When it happened, and she stayed instead of moving on," Sam said, struggling with the words. "She did it because she loved us. Because she couldn't leave us, right?"
"Yeah, Sam," Dean said.
Sam remained silent for a few moments, his Adam's apple wobbling.
"I loved Jess, Dean," Sam said bluntly.
"I know you did."
"And I sure as hell needed her, man. I-" Sam had to pause to steady his voice and stop it from shaking. "I just thought maybe she…"
Dean frowned, finally getting where Sam was trying to go.
"I told you it was silly!" the younger Winchester said, averting his eyes and pressing himself against the car door and window.
"You cannot seriously be thinking that anyone's love for another can be weighed depending on whether their spirit moves on or not!" Dean said with his voice raised.
"I know that, Dean. I know that," Sam defended himself. "I don't mean that I wanted her to stay, okay? I know it would have been a thousand times worst. I was…only wondering."
Dean exhaled, eyeing his brother carefully. Sam was visibly uncomfortable now and showed no intention of looking up anytime soon.
"You wanted to know what was on my mind," Sam said through clenched teeth. "That was it. Now, can we leave it?"
Dean nodded tensely and drove the Impala back to the road.
"I know what you meant."
"You do?" Sam asked and dared to look at his brother across the front seat.
"Yeah, I think so. But there's a glitch in your reasoning, college boy," Dean said, offering him a mild smile.
Sam merely blinked.
"Sammy, when Mom died, she stayed because he loved us, right? But most importantly, she stayed because she worried about us."
Dean met his brother's gaze and saw that he had all of Sam's attention now like he always did when he allowed himself to open up. The older brother licked his lips and went on.
"We were kids, and the house was on fire…And think about it, would you really leave at ease knowing that you were leaving us with Dad?" Dean finished with a nervous chuckle.
Sam smiled, his dimples showing just a little. The smile almost touched his eyes. But he said nothing, and for that Dean was grateful. He couldn't take Sam seizing the chance to criticize their father now.
"I'm sure that Jess loved you," Dean said. Damn, who wouldn't love you, kiddo? "But she was able to leave in peace, because she wasn't worried. She knew that…it would be hard, and it would hurt but…" he cleared his throat and looked at Sam hesitantly out of the corner of his eye. "That eventually, you'd get over it. That you'd be alright."
Sam's jaw loosened a bit as his smile broke into a low, short chuckle. And, as if by magic Dean relaxed instantly.
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Sam said vaguely.
Dean was surprised at how easy that had been. But when looking for the reason, Sam's eyes spoke for themselves.
"After all, she got to meet you."
Damn, damn brother connection.
Luckily for Dean's recently recovered sense of pride, his cell phone buzzed in that very second and interrupted the moment.
"Can you take it?" he asked Sam.
"Where is it?"
"In my jacket."
Sam shifted in his seat and reached out for his brother's jacket in the back seat so that he could retrieve the phone from its pocket.
"What is it?" Dean asked.
Looking over to Sam, he discovered his brother was smiling. His heart sped up.
"Coordinates?" Dean breathed, reluctant to get his hopes up.
Sam turned to meet his eyes. Grinning, he showed Dean the screen with their father's short, bare, absolutely Winchester-like notification of acceptance. Of forgiveness. Of trust.
"Yeah, Dean," Sam said, and Dean beamed. "Coordinates."
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