Dean was fidgeting. Sam stole the occasional glance at him and wondered if maybe he should just surrender the keys and let Dean drive a while. Anything to save him from wherever his mind had taken him in his boredom. The act of driving the Impala had been his sanctuary once, and it was cruel of Sam to deny him that now, after all Dean had been through. But still, Sam wasn’t entirely sure it was a good idea. Dean seemed OK for the most part, but he still wasn’t quite himself. Also, if he wanted to be completely honest with himself, Sam had become used to sitting in the driver’s seat during his brother’s absence.
It was selfish Sam knew, but during the months that Dean had been in Hell, paying off a debt he should’ve never owed in the first place, and even before that, during those long, hellish months Sam spent hunting the Trickster, driving the Impala had become Sam’s sanctuary too. It was the one thing that kept Sam from going over the edge in his grief, because it was the one thing that connected him to his dead brother. But now that Dean was back, alive and well, for the most part, Sam was afraid to relinquish the task of driving. The smooth leather seat over the past few months had come to fit Sam like a glove, contouring to his body perfectly, the driver’s seat had become home. Sam thought perhaps he should worry more that so far Dean hadn’t insisted on driving since his return, but Sam was glad.
But looking at his brother, at the distant look in his eyes, the way he fidgeted, Sam did worry. Dean was always moving, so the mere act of fidgeting shouldn’t bother him, but the way he was dealing with his restlessness seemed so wrong.
Normally when found with nothing else to do Dean would be tapping his fingers to the beat of whatever was playing on the radio, or whatever song might be stuck in his head. But now his hands were twisting almost as though he was trying to wring out a wet towel, or wash his hands. He was tapping his foot with a nervous energy, as though he had way too much caffeine, but that just wasn’t the case. His eyes were fixed on the road ahead of them, but they were unfocused, and it was clear Dean was somewhere else entirely. Dean’s mind had taken him somewhere he clearly didn’t want to be.
It wasn’t like him at all to be acting this way, at least not before his death. It was almost as though he was sitting in an airplane about to crash 40 minutes into its flight instead of riding in the sanctuary of the Impala.
“You OK?” Sam asked.
“Fine Sam.” Other than those two words, Dean hardly gave him any acknowledgement.
Sam found himself faced with two options. Ignore Dean and let his mood run its course, or do whatever he could to distract Dean from whatever was bothering him even at the risk of pissing him off. After all, Dean had only returned two weeks ago, and even though Dean couldn’t remember what happened to him during those four months in Hell, the experience still had to have left some sort of imprint on him. On the other hand, while for the most part, Dean seemed to be relatively OK, if not a little off, his behavior led Sam to suspect that Dean remembered more than he let on.
Sighing Sam decided that if he let Dean’s mood run its course, it would only cause misery for the both of them. “Hey man, I’m beat, care to drive a little while?”
Dean snorted softly.
“When did this happen anyway?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, you letting me drive my car.”
“Dude who says anything about letting you drive? I’ve been driving all day,” Sam said, “I am wiped. I can use a break.”
“Yeah, like I haven’t pulled that one on you before,” Dean grinned, shaking his head.
“I’m not pulling anything Dean, I… wait, you did? When?” Sam caught himself before starting a tangent and shook his head, forcing himself back on topic, “Look, I’m not trying to pull anything I just want…”
“A break, yeah, yeah I get it,” The grin faded from his lips, morphing into a frown, “Just pull over.” He sounded like he was agreeing out of obligation.
“What? You don’t want to drive, is that it?” It suddenly occurred to Sam that no one else but Sam had driven the Impala since that night in New Harmony, when Hell took his brother away. Dean hadn’t driven since he came back, but this was the first time it was really brought up. He hadn’t thought about it until that moment. Sam had just become so accustomed to being behind the wheel that he failed to notice that Dean hadn’t argued or said anything. Sam swallowed back a twinge of guilt—he should’ve noticed. Once upon a time he would’ve noticed right away.
“Pull over Sam,” irritation tainted every word.
“Well is it? You used to love driving.”
“Yeah well, in case it isn’t obvious, things have changed,” Dean snapped.
“All right, fine, jeez,” Sam huffed in defense. But it was true. Things had changed. Dean had changed, but then who wouldn’t be different after going to Hell and back? Even if he didn’t entirely remember…
Silence fell over the impala for a moment. “So do you want to drive or not? Look, I know things have been strange since you came back, but this, this isn’t going to help any.”
“What are you talking about Sammy?”
“You!” Sam exclaimed, “Don’t you think I haven’t noticed?” He silently berated himself because he didn’t notice, not really. He had been too glad to have his brother back and too focused on the hunt, too busy personifying his father that he failed to see what was right in front of him until it was suddenly there, plain as day. Painfully obvious. How could Sam have missed it?
“You don’t want to drive anymore, you barely eat, you don’t sleep, you don’t watch TV, you certainly don’t seem interested in finding Lilith, you don’t even listen to music anymore! It’s like you’ve lost interest in everything!” OK, maybe Sam noticed more than he gave himself credit for. But really, wasn’t Dean’s behavior to be somewhat expected? He had survived Hell for crying out loud!
“Well maybe I have Sam,” Dean sighed, “maybe I have.” Sam watched as Dean glanced away, defeat and despair washed over his expression.
“It’s OK you know,” Sam said quietly. “Maybe it’d help if you talk about…”
“Dude,” Dean snorted, “things might’ve changed, but how I feel about chick flick moments? That hasn’t changed. So you gonna let me drive or what?” All irritation and defeat was gone, hidden behind a tone that was frustratingly light. Despite having to learn how to read his brother all over again, Sam could see right through it.
Shaking his head with a grin designed to mask his guilt and worry Sam pulled over with ease. After a slight hesitation he opened the door and traded places with his brother. Dean slid into the driver’s side as though he was a teenager taking his first driving lesson. He seemed nervous and Sam could see a slight sheen of sweat on his forehead. As Dean closed the door he exhaled methodically and placed his hands on the wheel, but made no effort to start driving.
“Dean?” Sam cocked his head, “You uh… OK?”
“Yeah,” Dean breathed, “Fine. This just feels, I don’t know…weird I guess.”
“You didn’t forget how to drive did you?” Sam asked. It wasn’t as strange of question as it seemed to be. There were a lot of random things that Dean seemed to have forgotten about his past life. Nothing really major, he could remember the big things that mattered, like his family and friends and their freaky lives, but there seemed to be random holes in his memories.
“No, no. It’s like riding a bike it’s just that… it’s been a long time,” Dean shook his head, his eyes downcast as his hands caressed the wheel. “As you might’ve noticed, I’m having a hard time getting back in the groove of things.”
“Yeah,” Sam shrugged. He glanced at Dean and could see a hint of shame in his expression, “but it’s OK. I guess this sort of thing just takes time.”
A skeptical chuckle was his reply.
“Dean you’ve been through a lot. We both have.”
“I know,” Dean sighed, “Look, I’m fine. Just give me a second.”
“Don’t worry brother, you’ll find your groove in no time.”
Dean heaved a dramatic sigh, “Yeah, yeah.” He cast his brother a look that warned Sam to drop it.
Sam sighed and settled into the passenger seat, which felt oddly foreign to him. He watched as Dean took a breath, adjusted the mirrors and turned the key, putting her into drive. The impala rumbled and Dean visibly relaxed as they headed on down the highway.
A small smile crossed Sam’s lips. For the first time since coming back from the dead, Dean seemed more like himself. It was like a piece of him was missing but he didn’t know it was gone until he found it again. Maybe that was all Dean needed, to get back in the groove of things. Maybe he needed to start doing the things that made him feel happy, at home, alive.
Since Dean came back Sam decided they should take a break, so the past two weeks were spent traveling on a traditional road trip. Meeting up with old friends, doing actual touristy things for once. Through it all though, Dean seemed to be going through the motions, like he was floating, detached from everything around him but Sam had brushed it off as normal for someone who went through a trauma like Dean had. Sam thought that Dean just needed a break but now that the veil he didn't know existed was lifted from his eyes and he could actually see and acknowledge the change in his brother, Sam began to suspect that he was wrong.
Dean needed a hunt.
There was only one hunt that truly interested Sam though. Dean may be back but Sam still wanted to see Lilith fall. Even though Dean sold his soul and went to Hell by his own choice—dumb self-sacrificing ass!—Sam needed a scapegoat so he ultimately blamed her for what happened to his brother. She was after all, supposedly the one who had held Dean’s contract and for all Sam knew, still did. That thought terrified Sam. Dean may have escaped Hell, but did he fully escape his deal? What if she came for what she believed to be rightfully hers?
Sam needed to hunt Lilith, whether Dean was safe from her in that regards or not. She was trouble and needed to be stopped, even if it wasn’t personal. But Sam wasn’t sure if Dean was ready. The holes in his memory, for all Sam knew could affect his hunting abilities not to mention the fact that emotionally he wasn’t all there, definitely not on top of his game. What they needed was an easy hunt.
Snorting bitterly Sam realized that just because a hunt seemed easy, didn’t mean it was. How many times had they gone on a seemingly easy hunt only to find it wasn’t easy at all? Sam shook his head, glancing at Dean. That Rawhead was supposed to have been an easy hunt, and Dean almost died. The Hookman was supposed to have been easy too, and Sam had his friggin’ arm impaled by the silver hook after the body was torched. Then there was that freaky painting. Then there was Madison. Then there was the investigation into the disappearance of Dexter Hassleback. As Dean put it, that case was supposed to be ‘small fry’, but it turned out to be anything but when Sam ended up reliving the same day over and over again. That hunt would probably haunt Sam the rest of his life.
There were several cases that should’ve been considered easy salt ‘n’ burns—simple, straightforward—and while some of them were certainly easy, completed without a hitch, there were some that turned out to be more than they bargained for.
They needed a hunt that they already knew was simple. Guaranteed.
Shifting his eyes to his brother Sam frowned. Dean was focused on driving, he seemed a little bit more relaxed, but still he seemed to be somewhere else. When Sam looked back to the road again, he saw that they had crossed the border from Arkansas to Texas and a light clicked on in his brain.
“There hasn’t been a lead on Lilith for a while and we’ve taken too much time off. I think it’s time we go back to hunting. What do you think?”
A non-committal sigh. “Whatever.”
Sam ignored Dean’s indifference. “I heard that there’s a possible vampire’s nest nearby. In Austin. Want to check it out?”
Dean risked a quick glance at Sam, “Where’d you hear about that?”
“Bobby,” Sam replied. That wasn’t true though. He had learned of it a long time ago, a lifetime ago it seemed, but with Dean in Hell, Sam was too preoccupied with other matters to deal with it. One thing was for certain though, he knew this one would be easy. He knew it for a fact. Easy enough that it would definitely get Dean out of his post-Hell funk without much risk.
Dean accepted Sam’s answer without question and continued to drive in awkward silence. Sam tried to get some sleep, but he couldn't get comfortable enough to doze off. He tried to read and catch up on some research but his eyes kept drifting towards his brother who seemed to be more at ease, but the distant look in his eyes betrayed his lingering anxiety.
A few hours later they were in Austin. When Dean started to pull into the first cheap looking hotel they came across, Sam stopped him.
“Don’t go there. It has a really rank stench.”
“How would you know?” Dean asked, raising his eyebrows. “Had we been here before?”
“I was here before when you were…” Sam’s voice trailed off. He’d let Dean finish that sentence himself. He didn’t want to bring up the subject of Hell, but he also didn’t want to tell him about a certain Wednesday. He had been there before, but at the time his primary hunt was the Trickster. Dean didn’t need to know about that particular dark time in Sam’s life. Ever. He would just have to be careful to not let it slip that Sam had not only been here before, but hunted this same nest of vampires before in an alternate reality.
“I see,” Dean nodded. “So know of any other good motels?”
Sam shook his head so they drove around a bit, finding a motel that looked cheap but decent. At least this one didn’t smell funny. When they pulled up next to the office, Sam started to get out, but Dean stayed where he was, clutching the steering wheel and staring off into space. He began to nervously fidget again.
“Dean you coming?”
“You go ahead.”
“OK,” Sam replied, trying to hide his worried sigh. He went in and got a room on the second floor. When he came back to the car, Dean hadn’t moved an inch. He wasn’t fidgeting anymore, instead he was perfectly still, his eyes were staring blankly into space. He looked like he was catatonic, and for a second Sam was seized by a hint of panic at the thought that maybe he was.
“Hey, Dean?” Sam swallowed back his worry as he opened the door and slid into the passenger seat. “Dean?” he waved a hand in front of Dean’s face. Dean blinked but didn’t respond. “Earth to Dean.” Sam took a deep breath, and snapped his fingers in front of his face. Nothing. “OK dude,” Sam murmured, “you’re starting to freak me out, so if you could just snap out of it now, that would be great.” Sam nudged him. Still nothing. “Dean!” he snapped.
Dean blinked and glanced at Sam, as though nothing unusual just happened. “Hey Sammy, find a room OK?”
Sam’s jaw dropped, and he seemed unsure of whether he should snap at him angrily, ask if he was OK, rush him to the nearest psychiatrist, or pretend nothing happened. He decided snapping would get him no where, showing concern would take them a step backwards, a psychiatrist would have him committed for sure, that is if Dean didn’t drive the shrink insane. That only left one option.
“Yeah, room 212. It’s in the back.”
Dean smirked and drove to the other side of the building. His mood seemed to have suspiciously improved since snapping out of his bizarro trance. There was none of the snark that Dean used to be famous for, but he was smiling.
Sam smiled back, trying to shake the new worry brought on by Dean’s most recent episode. Seeing Dean in a trance like that—that was new. He understood Dean had a lot of shit to sort out, which explained why he seemed so off, so not like himself, but this was definitely new territory for Sam. It was hard enough trying to figure his brother out without factoring in new symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
With an overcompensating cheerfulness, Dean declared as he grabbed his duffel from the trunk, “Y’know Sammy, you’re right, I think a good old fashioned hunt is all we need.”
Sam nodded, hoping he was right. If he was wrong, Sam didn’t know what he’d do.
Season 4 AU, so there are no spoilers after "No Rest for the Wicked" but anything before the season 3 finale is fair game.
Expect some drama, action and of course, hurt/comfort because I just cannot resist! Also if someone can tell me how I can select multiple genres and characters when I upload a story, that would be awesome. I just can't seem to figure it out.
"Supernatural" is not mine unfortunately, however sometimes at night I dream a little dream of Dean and that makes up for it. All characters you recognize belong to the excellent Kripke.