OfTheDamned (bythedamned) wrote,
OfTheDamned
bythedamned

SPN_Gen Big Bang: Riding Shotgun 2/5


Title: Riding Shotgun
Author: bythedamned
Artist: kalliel
Warning: character death
Word Count: 32K

Summary: "Sam doesn’t know how he can say his brother is dead when there’s still someone on this earth who looks at him like that." 
For the Winchesters, death is never the end.      Written for the 2011 
spn_gen_bigbang



Part 1 ~/~ Part 2 ~/~ Part 3 ~/~ Part 4 ~/~ Epilogue

~*~

2010
 
~*~
“Zep Four,” Sam calls, propping his elbow up through the open window. He has to yell to hear himself over the sound of the engine and the summer wind rushing in. He doesn’t know if the same goes for Dean, but he raises his voice all the same. “Too easy, gimme another.”
 
The tuner in the dash blinks slowly, flipping through static and long distance stations like every other possessed radio Sam’s ever heard. Dean hasn’t quite figured out how to dial straight to the song he wants, but knowing Dean that’ll change soon enough. Three months under his belt and he’s already faster.
 
“Your only station for soft rock, less talk— -mantha, who requested some Beatles— haven’t had that spirit here since—”
 
The crooning dissolves into white noise for just a moment before a faint intro by some 80s hair band spools up, coming in soft and then perfectly clear. Sam waits, has to think about it and is hoping the chorus will tip him off before Dean times him out, but there’s no such luck.
 
“Aww, Sammy. You’re losin’ your touch,” Dean says, from wherever he’s currently enjoying the ride. Sam asked once, and Dean had said he preferred the carburetor most of the time.
 
“What, not the fuel injector?” he’d taunted, but the disgruntled shock and ‘of course not’ had taught Sam better than to try and understand.
 
“I know it’s Def Leppard,” Sam calls into the dash. “Gimme another verse.”
 
“No can do, Sammy. Another point for me.”
 
“We never even had that one on tape.”
 
“Them’s the breaks,” Dean says, and the car fills up with static again.
 
The next song is unexpected, odd tinkling and talking that sounds like it could be ghost radio again before the guitar jumps in, and Sam knows this song. Knows it.
 
“Dean, this is Radiohead.”
 
“Nope, the album’s called—”
 
“I know the album, Dean. You sure you didn’t get some wires crossed? You never let me play this in the car.”
 
There’s a silence, rumbly and taut, but if Dean can make a streamlined piece of metal shrug that’s exactly what Sam thinks he’s doing. Sam just blinks and shakes his head. He remembers being twelve, checking in every muggy gas station for the day The Bends finally made it to the podunk towns they visited, and then stealing off into the bathroom to get one good listen in before Dean started making fun of him. He’d blast Bad Company from the car, drowning out the noise from the foamy headphones he and Sam shared, until there was no point trying to listen at all. It was only when Dad was on a hunt, the car gone and Dean less pushy, that Sam got to lay on his bed and listen to his own music.
 
The mechanical click of the stereo shutting off brings Sam back to the here and now, and then Dean says, “Sammy?”
 
“Could we leave it on? Just, I mean, just for the rest of the song?”
 
“Sure thing, kiddo. But I’m up, two-one.”
 
“What? I got two of ‘em.”
 
“Yeah, but you never actually said The Bends.”
 
And now Sam’s pretty sure Dean’s giving the Impala a smirk. He scoffs, ready to protest, but then the whole album starts over from the beginning, and Sam’s content to just settle back and listen. Besides, if there’s one thing Sam’s learned from this game, it’s that Dean never actually keeps score. Which is… weird.
~*~
 
Dean’s stuck in the parking lot, because the Lazy Pines motel apparently has a busy season, and Sam had to park in the neighboring lot of an old carriage house. Dean’s gotten just close enough that Sam can see him through the open door, and he’s scowling at a Prius parked haphazardly across two spots.
 
“This plan sucks, Sammy.”
 
Sam gives one last tug on the zipper of his duffel and swings it over his shoulder. “Why?”
 
“Well, for starters, I was being optimistic when I called it a plan.”
 
“How is it not a plan? Find her remains, add salt and bake at 350. Same as always.”
 
“How bout the fact that she was adopted? Who knows what her birth parents kept. Hair, dolls, dirty diapers.”
 
Sam raises an eyebrow as he catches up to Dean, both turning to head towards the car.
 
“Whatever, you know what I mean.”
 
“Uh huh,” Sam says noncommittally, biting down a smile so Dean won’t know he’s goading him on just yet. 
 
“I just don’t like the idea of you ghost-proofing yourself for a hunt. We’re not on the same side of the salt anymore.”
 
“It’s just a contingency plan, Dean. Besides, don’t you see how this gives us the advantage? If I get stuck behind a salt line – which I won’t – you can still torch the remains.”
 
“How?” Dean demands, slouching into the passenger’s seat before Sam can even reach over to unlock the door. “With all that salt I’m gonna have?”
 
“You can still torch ‘em. How many times have ghosts tried to light us on fire?”
 
“Only the ones who died in a fire in the first place.” Dean’s hand flicks through the air in a way that drives it in and out of view in the strong sunlight, and Sam’s eyes keep trying to track it until Dean says, “Come on, Sammy, think.”
 
“I am thinking.” Truth is, they don’t exactly know how Dean will match up against other ghosts. Sam had maybe been, possibly, avoiding that. Just a little. It’s not that Sam thinks Dean would get any ideas, or that he’d be more susceptible to alternative haunting attitudes. Just that… yeah. It hit a little close to home these days. But Bobby had called this one in and Sam had run out of excuses. It was a friend of a mom of a hunter, etc. etc., and Sam had been forced to say yes.
 
“You got a better idea?” Sam asks. “Spill it.”
 
Dean doesn’t answer, face wooden, and Sam gives up. Dean’s been pushy as hell about their hunts lately, always calling things out as too risky or badly planned, and Sam just doesn’t know how to answer.
 
Once upon a time, the Winchesters were a well oiled machine. Three parts or two, shiny-new or worn down and pissed off, they knew how they ran. They worked. Dad made demands, they fought, and then shit got done. Dean wanted to gank something reckless, they fought, and then shit got done. Sam wanted to settle down, slow down, but still. Same old song, and it only had the one verse.
 
Sam’s never been on this end of the fight before. He doesn’t have twenty years of rationalizing why this Dean acts this way, says these things, and his lines don’t come so easy anymore. This is not the brotherly fight he can have with his eyes closed.
 
Since when is Dean gun-shy? Cautious, sure. Taking the front line so Sam could fall back? Sure. Even before– even last year. Even at the swamp, Sam thinks, but he squashes that thought down. Because now, no amount of planning seems to satisfy Dean. Hell, if being invisible and wielding 2,000 pounds of metal doesn’t give Dean the advantage, he doesn’t know what will. And still, Dean wants them to hang back.
 
Sam jams the keys in the ignition, ready to move on even if they have to argue, but the sharp twist of his wrist doesn’t spark a growl from the engine the way it should. He turns the key again, listening to the engine click, sputter and die, before dropping his hand and looking at Dean, annoyance fresh and clear on his face.
 
“That is not a better idea.”
 
Dean huffs, but the car comes to life.
 
When they pull up outside Sunny Day Retirement Center, Sam idles by the curb. This wasn’t a hard one to trace, neglectful orderlies choking on their own tongues at the hands of one Melinda P. Henderson, 1916-1995, and given how deserted the whole neighborhood east of the tracks is, it’s about as easy as a suburban hunt can get. She was even cremated, so they get to skip the grave-desecration part.
 
The summer sun has kept the sky a hazy pink and orange well into the evening, and Sam can still read the name of the Home. The sign is decrepit, paint cracked and painfully neglected, but even if it were fresh Sam thinks he still wouldn’t have gotten a good vibe. The logo has an art deco feel, a rudimentary sun with rays in two colors – burnt orange and brown – and Sam wonders where the yellow went. Then he wonders what it’d be like to have a room in there. How much of their lives they had to dump to move into a single room, and whether or not they got to keep their car nearby.
 
Finally, Sam asks, “Are we going in together?”
 
Dean materializes out of the dash. “You bet your ass we are. Winchesters don’t wait in the car.”
 
Sam almost laughs. Apparently, Dean’s mood has rebounded quickly, and Sam’s more than happy to go with it. That excuse had held very little weight against Dad and Dean back when Sam was trying to use it, back when the best thing he could find on the radio was Sting and the Police, but somewhere in the past five years it had become a suitable battle cry.
 
“Alright. Mrs. Henderson’s old room should be right along that wall, so my best guess is she hid something in the wall or under the mattress.”
 
Dean nods. “Got it. Let’s roll.”
~*~
 
As it turns out, Mrs. Henderson didn’t hide jack shit in the wall. Or under the mattress, or in the sink pipes, though the hairball Sam found in there had to have at least three people’s DNA tangled in it. Sam’s still poking around hopefully, looking for loose floorboards, but Dean’s just sprawled out on the bare mattress.
 
“There’s nothing here, dude. Let’s go.”
 
“We can’t know for sure without the EMF. Maybe I should check the closet.”
 
They had experimented with that, Dean trying to will himself off the supernatural spectrum so Sam could use the EMF meter faithfully, but he might as well have been trying to resurrect himself with wishing wells and fortune cookies.
 
“Yeah, but.”
 
Sam turns, letting his spine snap crackle and pop as he stands up. “But?”
 
Dean looks wary, almost confused even. “I don’t feel anything.”
 
Sam smirks, slapping a hand across his heart. “Words hurt, Dean.”
 
Dean rolls his eyes, but he sits himself up and his smile is fond. “Shut up, Sammy. I mean, shouldn’t I have some spidey sense going off?” His hands pat his own chest, awkward without a weapon to hold.
 
“I don’t know. What, you have some sort of ghost-sonar?” That could come in handy.
 
“No.” Dean drums his fingers along his knee. “Just that generic oh shit feeling, right? Like that wolf we just took out. Or the vamps in Missouri. And Indiana.”
 
“I don’t know, man. I mean, that happens on every hunt.”
 
But Dean shakes his head, sits up even straighter. “No. I mean, before. I feel it beforehand.”
 
“Oh.” Sam blinks hard, trying to take in that new information. “So, like actual spidey sense.”
 
“I guess so. Yeah.”
 
Sam, actually, thinks that’s pretty fucking cool. His brother did always want to be a super hero when he grew up, and now— well. Posthumous or not, that gives Dean some pretty awesome bragging rights, even if this Dean isn’t so into cashing those in anymore.
 
“Dean, why didn’t you tell me?”
 
“I did. Usually in the form of Run, Sammy!
 
Sam grins, and promptly abandons his search of the vacant room. “Yeah, alright. Let’s head to the dining room.”
 
Which is all well and good, as far as plans go, until Mrs. Henderson herself catches wind of it. She’s faintly illuminated in the hallway, that subtly flickering glow that Sam was oddly starting to associate with safety, and he shakes his head to snap that thought away. He can’t let six months of conditioning replace twenty seven years of instinct.
 
Sam lifts his sawed-off, leveling it with one hand and inching a finger under his collar with the other. It’s stuffy in the abandoned Home, more so now that they’ve been drawn away from any windows, and Sam takes a slow, turbulent breath.
 
The ghost just stands calmly, but with a wicked glint to her smile as she eyes him. He primes the gun so he can shoot with just one hand, the other still pulling at the neck of his t-shirt, and waits for the ghost to make her first move. It’s a slow reaction, her gaze drifting as if by accident to Dean five steps behind his brother, but once she spots him she’s all wails and fury. In a flicker she’s closer, spilling into all of Sam’s vision and pressing one unyielding hand up against his throat.
 
Her mouth is open in a shrill, unending scream, and as her fingers start to close around his windpipe, she cries, “Get your own!” Her voice is inhuman, too high and grating to be natural, and the rational part of Sam – the part not struggling for breath – wonders why Dean still sounds normal. Or, possibly, if it’s just a matter of time.
 
Her grip is a vice, and Sam’s chest burns with the need for oxygen. It’s not just the breath being choked from him, it’s his lungs too – the feeling that even if he could open his throat for a breath it would do no good. Wind whips through the narrow hallway, tousling Sam’s hair to slap at his face but leaving the two ghosts untouched.
 
 “Get your hands off him!” Dean yells, and then he’s not behind him but looming over the ghost instead. Without an instant’s pause he swings at her head, but with no weapon to speak of his fist just glides right through her, in her but not making contact. It looks, more like a double exposure of an old photograph than the wispy, smoke-like consistency Sam’s used to with iron, or salt rounds.
 
Sam wheezes, scrabbling to get his gun level again, and it’s not so much an aim as it is a desperate shot, but he manages to get a load of salt to graze her side. Dean’s right behind her though, and when it catches him full in the gut he’s gone like the trail of smoke from an untended cigarette. The old woman’s ghost sputters, giving Sam just enough of a moment to sustain himself with another breath, and then she’s back with an even stronger grip.
 
It takes Dean a full thirty seconds to come back, and Sam’s starting to give up keeping his eyes open, but he hears the familiar, “Son of a bitch!” He doesn’t see how, but within seconds his throat is blessedly unpinned, and he falls to his knees. Air is no easier to take in now, though, and instead of taking oxygen in he can feel wetness coming out, cool water rattling in his lungs and dripping painfully from his nose and mouth.
 
He realizes, belatedly, that he’s been choking on water all this time, slowly building up in his lungs even before the ghost had touched him, and he was going to die drowning in tap water, just like the ghost had during her routine breakfast.
 
“Dean!” he tries, but nothing makes it past the liquid in his throat, drowning him where he sits, and all he can manage is a weak thump of his fists against the floorboards. It’s enough, though, garnering Dean’s attention and Sam manages to look up through blurry vision when he yells out.
 
“Sammy! Run!”
 
He can’t, though, can barely move, and it hardly registers that Dean’s still fighting, one forearm under the old woman’s throat. She’s thrashing, kicking back viciously, and he can see Dean wince when she lands a solid blow. Both milky white as they are, so very much the same, it looks like Dean’s just attacked an old woman.
 
The drowning stops abruptly, and then Dean’s in his face, hands whisking over him with just the suggestion of touch.
 
“Sammy? You with me?”
 
His head jostles in an attempt to nod.
 
“Follow me.”
 
He waits for Sam to stand, more difficult than it usually is, and then heads into the nearest room. As soon as Sam’s by his side, he surges forward, through the solid plaster and plywood of the wall, and is gone.
 
Sam curses silently, confused and alone, and he moves back out into the hall. The ghost is back – the one trying to kill him, not the one he’s hoping to see – and he stumbles as upright as he can toward the north end, where he hopes there’s an actual door.
 
Dean catches up with him halfway there, saying, “Dammit, Sammy, I said follow me.”
 
He’s panting, still in pain with each breath, but says, “I couldn’t get out that way.”
 
“You should’ve just tried. It worked fine.” And Sam can’t deal with that faulty logic right now.
 
“I’m not dead, Dean.”
 
“’Course you’re not, Sammy. You’re fine. We’re getting out—”
 
“Door!” Sam manages. “I need a door!”
 
And then Dean’s on it, searching ahead even as Mrs. Henderson closes in on their trail.
 
“Here, Sammy!” Dean calls from an alcove further up, and Sam hopes like hell that it’s a door both ghosts and humans can pass through.
 
Thankfully, Dean’s pretty good with following direct requests, and they tumble out into the open night air. Dean’s gone, again, but Sam’s learning to get used to that. Instead of at his side, Dean comes running around the side of the building from the front, stopping before he reaches his maximum distance from the car like it’s an invisible electric fence..
 
“Come on, Sammy.” He pinwheels an arm in the air, urging him on faster, and then flickers back to the car as Sam sprints there.
 
Sam sets up a salt circle in the parking lot, piling it thick so the low wind won’t carry it away, and then pulls the matches and gasoline in with him.
 
“Dean?” he asks, “what now?”
 
“Same as always. I fight, you burn.”
 
“Burn what? We didn’t find what’s tying her here.”
 
“The whole thing,” Dean says without skipping a beat, and Sam just gapes at him. Sure, it’s deserted, but burning down a whole building just to get one ghost?
 
Dean, though, doesn’t care. “Quickest way,” he says, like that settles it. And for him, it probably does. Sam insists on hunting, and Dean insists on protecting Sam while he does it. And Sam, choked and winded and exhausted, can’t think of another option. He nods, slowly, and makes his way to the Home steps.
 
“Fine.”
 
He’s got the wooden steps and front porch doused, and is just cupping a light match in his hand when the ghost appears in the doorway. She makes no move toward him, but the wails she lets out say she would if she could. It’s a good sign that she can’t leave the building, whatever’s keeping her around probably really is in there, but Sam still wants to put as much distance between them as he can.
 
Incensed by her impotence, the ghost rattles the whole frame of the building, and Sam drops the match and stumbles back.
 
Dean, useless, waits at his side.
 
It’ll take some time for the whole building to catch, and Sam can only hope the area really is deserted enough for it to get far enough in time. They have to stay and watch, just to make sure, so he turns to head back to the salt.
 
He makes it halfway before he’s struck, hard, at the base of his skull. He drops like bricks, tumbling and haphazard, and only tries to open his eyes once before his vision swims and he closes them again.
 
Behind him, he can hear Dean shouting and the crashes of unleashed furniture being tossed from the porch. He hears pieces land and shatter beside him, and the longer he lays there the more his breath slithers from him, leaving him panting and chilled. Sam can feel the lapping in his lungs, more accustomed to the feeling now. It isn’t a steady rise, more like the ebb and flow of the ocean, as if the amount of water in his lungs actually expands and shrinks as he tries to breathe .
 
When he looks back, just once, he can see Dean full-on pummeling a haggard old woman, and he has her pinned to the floor just as he yells, “Get in the salt!”
 
Thankfully, the lake in his lungs eases up just at that moment, and he crawls fully into the circle before he passes out.
~*~
 
“Come on, Sammy. Jesus. Wake up, you gotta wake up.”
 
Sam blinks his eyes open, pulse thudding in time with the throb in his head, then wishes he hadn’t.
 
“Dean?”
 
Dean’s voice is all thrashed relief, desperate and oh-so-close. “Sammy?”
 
“Dean,” he groans again, and attempts to roll over. It’s a rough process.
 
“You gotta break the salt, kiddo.”
 
“What?” Sam’s mind is like mud, murky and impossible to reason through, and it takes Dean two more tries to get the message across.
 
Eventually, Sam flings an arm out, spreading a hand out along the pavement until he feels the tiny grains on his palm and under his fingernails, and then he brushes them aside.
 
Dean’s relief is audible, but nothing much changes aside from his hands sending a chill down different parts of Sam’s body as he checks for injuries. Even as he murmurs to Sam and makes him answer he’s still essentially unable to help Sam up, and Sam lies on the rough asphalt panting and wincing until he can do it himself. Dean’s hands against Sam’s forehead feel nice, though, a soothing counterpoint to the throbbing from the back of his neck, and he lets himself relax into it until Dean gets too loud, telling him not to fall asleep.
 
Dean won’t stop talking, keeping him awake and urging him up. If Sam can just get in the car he’ll take care of the rest, he swears, and though Sam believes him nothing on this earth short of an actual hand to help him up will make him go any faster. He just needs to lay there.
 
It’s half an hour before Sam can sit up, and another fifteen minutes before he can pour himself into the car. It jostles his head and he groans, but his seat belts buckles itself for him and before Dean can even ask him to drive the car’s taking off, an urgent but safe 50 mph.
 
Sam lets his head loll against the window as they make their way back to the hotel. It’s uncomfortable, curling up for a front seat nap on the driver’s side, but he never gets to ride shotgun anymore. That’s Dean’s spot now, even when he’s taking over the car, because Sam’s supposed to be the responsible one here. When they’re driving, or shelling salt rounds, or meeting witnesses. He feels it catching up to him now, how tired he is. And his head hurts.
 
And still, when they get back to the motel, Sam has to roll himself up from the driver’s seat and find his keys ‘cause he’s the only one who can. It may take him three tries, but that’s on Sam too.
 
Dean hovers as he crawls into bed, trying to convince him to take his boots off first, but for Sam that doesn’t rank above getting comfortable and tanking out, so he doesn’t.
 
Sam’s just about to slip back into unconsciousness, soothed by the faint glow of Dean so close and his arm cooling the soreness at the back of Sam’s neck, when Dean’s talking slips into a tone much more thoughtful.
 
“Hey, Sammy? Do you think possessing something is the same as haunting it?”
 
Sam grunts.
 
“I mean, I’m camped out in the Impala, but is she really what I came back for?”
 
Sam mulls the question over. Reason and logic has been slowly returning since he woke up but, no, that still doesn’t register with him. He just says, “Sleep,” and Dean lets it go.
 
In the morning, his phone is crying insistently from the pocket of the jeans he’s still wearing, and it takes Sam long enough to fish it out that it stops ringing. That’s fine by him. He nuzzles back into the pillow, thinking about another four hours of sleep, when it goes off again.
 
“’lo?” he asks groggily.
 
“Sam? You up?”
 
Dean, who never quite let all the petulance from his childhood go, would have once upon a time said something passive aggressive and predictable. Like I am now or only since I knew you were calling.  Sam, though, sometimes feels even younger.
 
“No.”
 
Bobby’s probably rolling his eyes on the other end.
 
“How’s that hunt going?”
 
“’s done. No problem.”
 
“Yeah?” Bobby asks, his drawl as unamused as ever. “You sound a little worse for the wear there.”
 
Sam shakes his head, regrets it, and repositions the phone so he can speak a little more clearly. “Don’t trouble yourself, Bobby. We’re fine.”
 
Bobby’s silence broadcasts his disbelief, and Sam adds, “Really. Safe and sound.”
 
“Sam?”
 
“Yea?”
 
“Now, when you say ‘we’…”
 
Sam realizes his mistake far too late. He stumbles to cover it, but Bobby’s one of the few people – possibly the only person – left alive that Sam has trouble lying to. He has to try, though.
 
“Me. I mean me. I’m just concussed. Wasn’t thinking.”
 
“You know, I ain’t seen you around for a bit. You wanna maybe swing by? Got some transcripts I could use your help with.”
 
“Bobby,” Sam says, forcing himself up to sitting with a groan. “I’m fine. Just sore and a little out of it. I’ll be fine by the weekend.”
 
“Yeah. You sound fine.” His sarcasm is laid on thick, but it’s not unkind. It’s familial, even, and Sam might have softened a bit more if he wasn’t getting that nitpicky care-taking routine in spades these days.
 
Besides, Sam can manage on the phone, but he doesn’t know if he can lie to Bobby’s face. Or, either way, he doesn’t want to.
 
“I’m fine,” he says, with more emphasis that doesn’t quiet resonate with the ‘responsible adult’ vibe he’s hoping to put out. “I’ve got another hunt lined up, anyway. East. I can’t even swing around for another couple weeks, at the least.”
 
“Great,” Bobby says, “I’ll see you by the end of the month then. You take care, Sam.”
 
Then there’s the clatter and click of an old fashioned corded phone, and Sam sighs. Dammit.  
~*~

They’re pulled off into a clearing on the side of I-80 in New York, and Sam’s balancing an empty coffee cup on his open palm. The day is still, and flat. The humidity sticks to him, making even his light tee too hot and his jeans downright uncomfortable. A breeze would be merciful but, as it is, not a single leaf is wagging. There’s not a thing to knock the paper cup from Sam’s open hand except divine intervention.
 
Or if Dean could get his fucking act together.
 
He’s been trying, there’s no denying that, and if he were alive there’d be sweat dripping down his temples. But no matter how hard he stares or how constipated he looks, Dean can’t manage to tip it over.
 
Sam’s pretty sure he should be able to by now. Not that he actually knows a damn thing about the timeline of ghosts’ abilities, but they’d fought new ghosts that’d given them a good thrashing, and if those ghosts could figure it out on their own, probably without even knowing they were dead, Sam and Dean’s ghost should be able to figure it out together. Theoretically.
 
Most spirits, despite their knack for chucking large objects at Sam’s head, had turned out to be a pretty quick and painless pastime. After Sam had come out the other side of his concussion, Dean had filled him in on what exactly happened. It was like that demon, the first time Sam ever saw this Dean fight. Once he’d figured out how to make contact, they’d basically just beat the shit out of each other.
 
One ghost to another, they could grab, hit, shove, and all around affect each other bodily which, these days, leaves Sam free to sneak off and torch the body. Because as much as ghosts could do a person serious harm, they aren’t exactly packing. They can’t light each other on fire, or tear through ghost-flesh with a bowie. Add to that that when ghosts are tired, or weakened, they just disappear and Sam’s willing to bet Dean can’t actually be killed in a ghost fight.
 
Actually, he isn’t willing to bet, but it’s a comforting last-ditch thought anyway.
 
They’ve taken out quite a few in the intervening months, and that’s all fine and dandy, but he doesn’t want to become Sam Winchester: Ghost Hunter. There are other things, bigger things, that Sam wants to get back to. Things that have taken hunters down and deserve a little vengeance served up piping hot. And if Dean’s going to be upping his ghost mojo anyway…
 
Dean’s tried swinging at the cup, barreling full into it from twenty feet away, and then focusing his Jedi mind powers on it, but they’ve still got squat. If the cup was an animal, it’d be sitting in the field munching on grass, looking more comfortable and secure in the face of a predator than an herbivore had any right to. It’s put Dean in a right foul mood, and Sam’s not far behind him.
 
“Dean, it’s alright. We’ll try again later.”
 
“No,” Dean grunts, eyes intense and focused, and Sam thinks if he could just translate that energy into action they’d be in business.
 
“Fine. So, what do you do when you go for other ghosts?”
 
“Nothing. I just hit them.”
 
“Yeah, but how?”
 
Dean rips his eyes from the cup to glare at Sam, but he knows the anger isn’t really intended for him. This Dean probably can’t get mad at him.
 
“I just do! It’s like being,” he swallows and looks away to shrug. “It’s like being alive. You swing your fist and you know it’s gonna hit them because your fist and their face are in the same place at the same time.”
 
“Okay, so just know that you’re gonna hit the cup.”
 
Dean looks at him like he’s still concussed. “It’s on a different plane of existence.”
 
“So’s the Impala,” Sam says. “I know you can do this.”
 
But he can’t. They’ve been at it for an hour and he still can’t. After another fifteen tries, five of which are from the Impala because Dean thinks he’s ‘stronger’ in there, Sam calls it quits for real. Of course, Dean continues to bitch and moan until Sam promises they can try again the next day, except it’s incredibly rational bitching, focusing on Sam’s safety and theorizing on the logistics of ghost-to-ghost-to-reality warfare.
 
They’re about thirty miles from the county line when Sam says, “Dean, put some tunes on, would ya?”
 
The stereo blinks, so Sam knows Dean’s present and aware, and then Nirvana starts playing softly throughout the car.
 
And the thing is? Dean fucking hates Nirvana.
 
“It’s fine, Dean,” Sam calls, because when he pictures Dean tucked away in the engine sometimes he still feels like he has to yell to be heard through all that metal. “We can listen to a different album.”
 
“It’s alright,” he answers, voice overlaying Cobain’s through the radio.
 
“No, really. You can pick something else.”
 
“Really, Sammy. I don’t mind.”
 
“Dammit, Dean.” He smacks his palm on the steering wheel, and then wonders if that counts as hitting his brother. Which of course leads him to feeling guilty, and then angry that he’s guilty, and so on in a loop of aggravation that bleeds straight into his voice. “Just pick something else.”
 
The album fades immediately, but after a full thirty seconds go by Sam realizes Dean’s not going to play anything else. He probably doesn’t know what to choose – doesn’t know what won’t make Sam mad, like just because the game has changed he’s forgotten all the rules he learned before.
 
The silence lasts all of ten minutes before Sam’s pulling into the first motel he sees – it’s not even dinnertime yet but what the hell – and gets out of the car.
 
“I’m going to that diner by the corner.”
 
Dean revs the engine and pushes the driver’s side door open. Sam just looks at it, and turns towards the road.
 
“Sammy.” Dean’s instantly at his side, barely visible in the wan sunlight, but all too easy to hear. “Where ya goin’?”
 
“I told you. The diner.”
 
“That’s almost a mile back. Hop in the car.”
 
Sam doesn’t even try to look at him. “I’m walking. I’ll be back before sundown.” Which, of course, does nothing to actually dissuade Dean from following him.
 
“Sammy,” Dean says, just a little bit upset and a lot confused, and it’s just… lacking. There’s just nothing there. The Dean-ness that Sam was so used to, the commands and the derision and the no nonsense way he stood his ground that always let Sam know when he really cared, they’re all gone.
 
“Don’t call me that,” he snaps.
 
“It’s your name,” Dean answers, still too meek.
 
Sam stops, actually plants his feet and looks at where he’s pretty sure Dean is. “It’s Sam. My name is Sam.”
 
“It’s Sammy too.”
 
“Not always. Not when I’m pissed, or whiny, or we’re just sitting in the car and there’s no goddamn reason to call me Sammy.”
 
“Sammy,” Dean starts plaintively, and Sam speeds up. “I don’t know why you’re so pissed.”
 
“I’m not mad.” Sam puts absolutely no effort into making it sound convincing.
 
“Don’t worry about the coffee cup, alright? We’ll try again tomorrow.”
 
“It’s not about the coffee cup! Can’t you just, I don’t know, man up? It’s fine. We’re pissed, we’ll get over it. We don’t have to hash this out like pre-teens in the girl’s bathroom.”
 
And yes, okay, he’s pretty sure he’s heard that – those exact words – come out of Dean’s mouth before, and the irony of how he’d fought them then isn’t lost on him, but this is different. He just needs Dean to… to… be himself for five fucking minutes.
 
They round another few bends in silence before Dean speaks up again. “I thought you liked hashing things out?”
 
Sam just groans, and takes his time spooling up the energy to answer that one, when they round a final crop of trees and find themselves practically on the doorstep of the diner.
 
“Hey, Dean?” Sam asks, a little cautiously. “You here?”
 
“Yeah, Sammy. ‘M right here.”
 
“Can I, uh, can I see you?”
 
“What’s up?”
 
There’s nothing for a moment, and then Sam sees a trick of the light to his left. It’s like Dean’s walking in from another dimension, like all those sci-fi movies with invisible portal doors in the middle of open scenery. First and arm, then a head and body, and then the rest of him come into view, stepping out of the sunlight and into the shade. Dean’s really here.
 
“Dude,” Sam says. “You just walked three quarters of a mile.”
 
Dean blinks.
 
“From the Impala.”
 
There’s a pause while that sinks in, Dean looking around and back down the road and then finally back at Sam. His mouth falls open.
 
“Huh.”
 
Dean just walked the whole way, at least double his typical range and that, as they say, is something.
 
“Huh,” Sam says back.
 
Dean rubs the back of his neck, trying not to smile.
 
It doesn’t really solve anything, but it diffuses the day a little, and Sam makes himself smile so that Dean will too.
 
“I’m just gonna run inside for a doggy bag. Ten minutes.”
 
“Sure,” Dean says, staying his ground.
 
At the same time, someone from behind Sam calls, “Hey, feller.”
 
Sam turns, pivoting through the dirt of the parking lot. He sees that the guy really is talkin’ to him, and says, “Yeah?”
 
“Who you talkin’ to?”
 
Sam looks at the guy, worn jeans, cigarette-stained fingers and an air of comfort that just screams that he’s a regular, and then back at Dean. Who waggles his eyebrows and waves.
 
“Huh,” Sam says again.
 
On the walk back, Sam tucks his hot food under his arm and looks at Dean, who’s sticking to the shade so that he stays visible. “Hey Dean,” he says, and since this isn’t his real brother – not all of him, anyway – he figures he might want to hear this. “Sorry I yelled.”
 
Dean brightens up, not just metaphorically but luminescently too, and grins. “It’s okay, Sammy. ‘S been a long day.”

~*~
 
A month later, they’re holed into a room with a twin bed and no sink, waiting out the worst blizzard Kansas’s mustered up in some ten odd years, and Dean moves a penny across the table. Sam laughs and Dean huffs, but they both call it a win.
~*~
 
2011

~*~

Quail Springs, Oklahoma is a city big enough to have a Best Buy, and Sam pulls out one of the good credit cards to get them a GPS. It says its name is Jill but Dean calls it an idiot and a bastard, and disappears into the engine whenever Sam turns it on.
 
By Missouri, the thing’s nowhere to be found. Sam asks once, gingerly, whether Dean’s seen it.
 
Dean says Jill was a very nice lady, and it’s too bad she can’t see more of the country with them.
~*~
 
Dean’s still not the best to bring along on interviews. Even if no one can see him, they can feel him, and a skittish family member is a quiet family member. It is helpful scouting out places Sam can’t reach, though, like basements and air ducts and pretty much any room someone’s trying to keep Sam out of.
 
He still doesn’t want Dean anywhere near Bobby’s, though. Dean’s presence is like a storm in July: chilly with just a touch of humidity, but notably out of place. Besides, Sam doesn’t know what wards he’s got up, and he doesn’t want to raise Bobby’s guard any. Dean doesn’t take well to staying in the car, but Sam manages to convince him that, this time, he’s not just being brave or petty. Bobby really can’t know.
 
It took them the better part of a year to roll into Sioux Falls, and by that time Bobby’s voicemails had gone from concerned, to panicked, then to angry and back again. Sam’d only even returned a handful of them, avoidance his strongest weapon where Bobby was concerned, but for all his vim and vigor he still hugs Sam in like he’s just returned from a treacherous tour of battle overseas.
 
The whole place smells like whiskey and leather and gunpowder, and Sam had forgotten how comfortable it was here. Not that he has any interest in seeing his old room, the one that had housed him through his teen years and then later through his grief, but the sofa in the study is nearly as comfortable as the Impala.
 
Bobby asks after him, congratulating him on hunts well done and checking on some stitches that could use a second opinion. The name Winchester has been coming up more, apparently, but ever since Dean died both the demons and angels have fucked off to their respective dimensions and now it’s good things Bobby’s hearing around town.
 
Sam laughs and gives him an aww, shucks grin, and Bobby says, “Damn, boy, I’m just glad you’re not drinking yourself stupid.”
 
His smile fades a bit at that, feeling almost like he has to justify not being more of a mess, but Bobby’s as good a friend as he is a father and doesn’t press the issue. Instead, he pulls out a heavy fabric-bound tome, and hefts it onto his desk.
 
“What’s that?” Sam asks. “You still got some transcripts to go over?”
Bobby snorts. “What, you think you got here in a timely manner? Got a real prickly guy just come into town for some trade, and I could use you there with me.”
 
“Sure thing,” Sam says, all cool and casual, until Bobby actually starts heading for the door. “What, now?”
 
“You got someplace else you need to be?”
 
“What? No,” Sam swears. “No.” Then he stands up to grab his coat and jingles his keys. “I’ll drive.”
 
No way is he leaving the Impala behind for God knows how long, and especially not without telling Dean first. He’d probably blow a gasket or, worse, follow them. Sam has no idea how he’d explain that one to Bobby, short of proving the existence of memory charms and then dabbling with them.
 
Bobby stares at him like he’s lost a few screws along the way, and a bit like he did when he was shut in upstairs, but says nothing.
 
He whistles when he sees the car, running a finger down the edge of the trunk and lifting nothing but the finest layer of dust from that day’s drive. Luckily, it’s below freezing, so Dean’s personal storm cloud won’t register if they stay outdoors or in the car.
 
“Lookin’ good, Sam.”
 
“Uh. Thanks.”
 
“You know, I kinda thought I’d be hearing from you more once you set out on your own,” he says, lowering himself into the passenger’s seat. “If for nothing else than to keep this ol’ girl running.”
 
Sam starts it up with a smooth rumble that puts him at ease, and Bobby takes to admiring the car again.
 
“Didn’t know Dean’d taught you so well,” he says and then, with a somber reverence that the car really does deserve, “He’d be damn proud.”
 
Sam swallows and looks away.
 
“You got that converter?”
 
“What?”
 
“Seem to recall, Dean was sniffing around for a new torque converter. Didn’t think he found one before – well.”
 
Sam can pass his silence off as grief, which is a relief, even if he does feel like a bit of a shit acting more fucked up than he is over his own brother’s death, but only for so long. Eventually he says, “Yeah. I, uh, followed up one of his leads. Found one in a few weeks.”
 
When his eyes flicker to the rear view mirror, he’s relieved to see Dean there. It’s just bright enough that Sam thinks he couldn’t see him without the backdrop of the black seats. He does wish Dean could take this conversation for him, though, or transplant thoughts directly into his brain so that he wouldn’t have to BS his way through this conversation. He doesn’t have a clue about converters, or even that the Impala had needed one.
 
“How much it go for?” Bobby asks, and Sam knows he’s just talking shop, trying to stick to the mundane, but Sam’s out of his depths like a preteen at Senior Prom. He doesn’t even know what ballpark to aim for. He could say a few hundred and hope that sounds about right – he can deal with some ribbing at being ripped off, or boast a bit about getting a great deal, once Bobby leans one way or the other.
 
Behind him, Dean catches his eye in the rear view mirror again and says, “Tell him we got it for two fifty.”
 
Sam nods, mostly to himself, and looks to Bobby to regurgitate the answer. Even as he does, though, Bobby’s gone stock-still and is clutching at the seat like it’s made of salt rounds. Slowly, slowly enough that Sam has time to cringe, Bobby tucks his chin back over his shoulder, and then he swears.
 
“God dammit, boy! What did you do?”
 ~ Part 3 ~
Tags: big bang, fic, gen, h/c duh, rating: pg-13, riding shotgun, spn
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